The Six Years That Changed Everything
This Month, Revival Peers Into Rock Music History From the Years of 1963 to 1968
The Colorado River carved the Grand Canyon over eons. A meteor shook the earth and eradicated the dinosaurs in a comparative heartbeat.
Some changes are geological, glacial. Some are seismic, rocking the world and salting the soil with their fallout. The story of the music of the 1960s, and the decades that followed, is one of violent impact and lingering residue.
The Beatles obliterated the landscape in 1964, and the earth refoliated over the ensuing years in dramatic and unpredictable bursts of creativity. The Beatles, of course, did not do this alone. Tremors preceded them, and aftershocks followed: The Beach Boys, The Supremes, Bob Dylan, The Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix, Aretha Franklin. By 1968, when the pandemonium subsided and the world fell into a regular rhythm, the culture had transformed from black and white to a post-psychedelic palette that would be blended into hues that colored the next three decades of popular music.
It was all there. The roots of punk rock in the brutal minimalism of “Louie Louie,” ”Wooly Bully” and ”Wild Thing.” The cornerstones of hip-hop in the primordial funk of James Brown and Sly Stone. The rudiments of metallic riff-rock in the calamity of “Helter Skelter,” “Purple Haze” and “You Really Got Me.” The singer-songwriter and Americana movements in the reflections of Bob Dylan, Simon & Garfunkel and The Band. Ample imagination burst forth in the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s, to be sure. But the elements of nearly every pop music style of those years can be found in the scattered debris of the Six Years That Changed Everything.
The Beatles’ White Album celebrates the 50th anniversary of its release on Nov. 22, 2018. While the effort to pinpoint the beginning of any epoch is fraught with uncertainty, we do pick our mileposts, and the White Album – technically titled, simply, The Beatles, connoting some fresh start — is where the genesis of modern rock is memorialized in holy writ. In the beginning, there was Elvis Presley; seven days later, Rocky Raccoon.
In an effort to trace the story of this transformation, on the first three Sundays in November, Revival, 90.9 The Bridge’s weekly voyage into the past, will devote an hour to each of the years from 1963 to 1968, moving chronologically through that span so you can hear for yourself how the history unfolded, and not how it’s sometimes remembered.
One popular retelling points to the arrival of Elvis Presley in 1956 as the moment that changed everything. But that moment passed. After dominating the charts for two years, Elvis joined the Army, and upon his discharge in 1960, he set his sights on making movies and a different kind of music than the songs that first made him a star. Moreover, by the start of 1963, almost anyone who could have been considered his peer had vanished from the scene. Buddy Holly was dead, Chuck Berry was in prison, Little Richard had turned to religion, and Jerry Lee Lewis saw his career disintegrate in the wake of his marriage to his 13-year-old cousin. While the influence of early rock and roll and rhythm and blues remained on the radio — thanks to the likes of Chubby Checker, Del Shannon and Dion and the Belmonts — the forces of restrained, polite society resumed control of the charts with the iron grips of their velvet gloves. Want proof? Percy Faith scored the top hit of 1960 with “Theme from a Summer Place,” and Acker Bilk did the same in 1962 with “Stranger on the Shore.”
Some narratives are contrived, yet still inevitable. The assassination of President John F. Kennedy on Nov. 22, 1963 marked the end of a cultural moment and rendered a bright red line between everything that came before and everything that came after. The American release of The Beatles’ single “I Want To Hold Your Hand” five weeks later did the same. The Beatles and the wave of artists that came with them didn’t eradicate the past, and they didn’t try. Titans of a prior age, artists like Frank Sinatra, Louis Armstrong and Tony Bennett, would continue to resound in the culture. But this new wave wrote a new future, one that burst with levels of electricity and topical concern previously without home on AM radio. Unfathomable in 1963, “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” and “Like A Rolling Stone” proved unavoidable in 1965.
And on it went, from the debut of the teenage Stevie Wonder, to civil rights anthems by Sam Cooke and James Brown, to the subcultural rumblings of the Velvet Underground. By 1968, the psychedelic summer of ’67 had receded, and the age of album rock — one that would predominate for the next quarter century or longer — had begun.
Revival will explore the full history of those years on the first three Sundays in November. We’ll move through the era as it happened, from the quaint to the ridiculous to the sublime; from the prologue of 1963 to the eruption of 1964; from 1965’s creative explosion to 1966’s cultural reaction; and from the hallucinatory haze of 1967 to the clear-eyed realizations of 1968. We’ll hear the culture remade in the span of 108 songs.
So please join us on the first three Sundays of the month — Nov. 4, 11 and 18 — from 10 a.m. to noon, as we explore the six years that changed everything.
—Michael Atchison hosts Revival, Sundays from 10 a.m. to noon, on 90.9 The Bridge. He is the author of three books, including the novel Mellow Submarine, which Publishers Weekly calls “a fast-paced delight.” He's on Twitter at @MichaelAtchison.