The Sound of the Sixties

The 1960s was an exciting decade for young people, as it was the first time that the fashion industry geared clothing towards the youth market. In addition, the sound of the sixties was quite unique, spawning plenty of young, fresh music, including bands that have survived into the 21st century.

As a decade defined by the emergence of a unified youth movement and also by the freedom enjoyed by young women, although rock ‘n’ roll was enjoyed by the youth of the 1950s, society was still geared towards men at this point – and for many young women, getting married meant the end of any hope of a career as they became a home-maker.

All of this changed in the 1960s, which is recognised as an era of second-wave feminism that was born in the US, before spreading across Europe. The aim was to increase equality for women, so they could choose whether to be a housewife, or to have a career outside the home.



The Beatles

Photo Credit: United Press International

Apart from the focus on women’s liberation, the decade spawned some legendary bands including the Rolling Stones (who are still going strong today), the Beach Boys and the Beatles.

The Rolling Stones formed in London in 1962. Playing blues and rock, they led the British invasion of bands that broke into the United States’ market in 1964. Today, 56 years after they first formed, the Stones are still playing live gigs all over the world and recording new material.

American rock, pop and surf band, The Beach Boys, was formed in 1961 by brothers Brian, Carl and Dennis Wilson. They created a unique fusion of 1950s rock and roll, R&B and jazz-based groups to create the signature sound of a generation. It was dubbed the “California sound” and personified the US youth culture of surfing, fast cars and teen romance.

The Beatles formed in Liverpool in 1960 and became the most famous band to come out of the UK in the decade. Paul McCartney, John Lennon, Ringo Starr and George Harrison were followed by armies of adoring female fans wherever they went. Their music, rooted in rock ‘n’ roll, skiffle and beat, led to the phenomena known as Beatlemania – young fans at live gigs worked themselves into such a frenzy of screaming that they would often faint!

The music of the ’60s led to a number of new dance crazes, including the Madison, the mashed potato, the twist, the shake, the Watusi and the hitchhike, to name but a few. Older people called them “fad” dances, as they didn’t understand the way they came and went with such rapid regularity.



Young people associated with the Beat Generation literary movement were known as Beatniks. The movement began in America and devotees followed the writing of people such as novelist and poet Jack Kerouac, and author John Clellon Holmes, who was considered to have written the first Beat novel, Go, as long ago as 1952.

The movement was stereotyped in popular culture, depicting followers as typically wearing black turtle-neck sweaters, dark glasses and berets, with a passion for playing bongos! Of course, there was much more to it than this.

Men commonly adopted the trademark look of trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie, often having goatee beards and wearing horn-rimmed glasses. Women often had long, straight, natural hair, rebelling against the middle-class culture of going to the beauty salon.

The music favoured by the beat movement in the US was modern jazz, played by the likes of trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie and saxophonist Charlie Parker. Kerouac spent much of his time in New York jazz clubs, including Birdland, the Royal Roost, the Open Door and Minton’s Playhouse.

The movement spread to the UK and in 1960, a group of Beatniks in Newquay, Cornwall, were vilified by neighbours, who objected to their long hair and free-and-easy lifestyle. This resulted in TV presenter Alan Whicker interviewing them for BBC TV’s Tonight series.


Fashion trends

Influencing the iconic fashion trends, the music scene was the voice of the 1960s generation.

Previously, fashion houses had focused on mature and wealthy ladies, but during the 1960s, the social revolution and the subsequent power of the young adult market was too big to overlook.

Couture by new designers, such as Mary Quant and Biba, filled the catwalks. Celebrity hairstylists became a phenomenon in the ’60s, the first of whom was Vidal Sassoon. His iconic creation (the classic bob) was designed for Mary Quant in 1963.

It was the style that revolutionised women’s hairdressing, as it was the first genuine “wash and wear”, natural style. Women could literally just wash their hair and go out, leaving it to dry naturally and fall into perfect shape. As a rebellion against the backcombed, rigid styles of the 1950s, it was part of the women’s fight against the shackles of society.

Quant herself was a fashion icon, as was Jackie Kennedy and Brigitte Bardot, with women everywhere following their seemingly effortless style. Among the popular women’s fashion items were winkle picker shoes, with feet squeezed into the long, pointed toes – they were often agony to wear!

With the belief “there’s no such thing as too short”, Supermodel Twiggy inspired women to wear simple clothing, like the miniskirt, that didn’t require a massive amount of thought or extra effort.

Other popular items for women included “Babydoll” clothing, shift dresses in bright colours and pastels, turtleneck jumpers, chunky sweaters, stirrup pants, catsuits, bell-bottom trousers, low-heeled vinyl boots and shoes, pencil skirts and pop art jewellery.

Although long, straight hair or short bobs were popular styles of the era, a dressier look was the beehive. Developed in 1960 by Margaret Vinci Heldt (owner of Margaret Vinci Coiffures hair salon in Chicago), long hair was pulled up into a conical shape on top of the head and held up with hairpins to resemble the shape of a beehive.

Stars who made the beehive popular included the 1960s girl band, the Ronettes and 1970s new wave band the B52s – the style is still copied today. Most notably, the late Amy Winehouse always wore her hair in a giant gravity-defying beehive, as did British singer Mari Wilson in the 1980s.


Retro artists

Welsh singer Duffy is famous for her ’60s inspired look, while her music is a mixture of soul and blues, containing more than a hint of nostalgia.

Just as the beehive has made a comeback in the modern era, so has the music, as there are plenty of bands around who still play the sound of the sixties. Cover band Tight Fit released Back to the 60s in 1981, showcasing a compilation of retro hits.

Texas singer and songwriter Leon Bridges took the music world by storm with his debut album, Coming Home, in 2015, playing an unashamedly 1960s retro sound, while his countryman Ray LaMontagne’s six albums all have hints of Otis Redding, Van Morrison and Tim Buckley.

The sound of the sixties is alive and well in the 21st century – and long may it live on!


Sound Planning

While the sound of ‘60s music is great, not all sounds are as welcome!

As experienced acoustic consultants, we specialise in the design, supply and installation of noise control products, such as acoustic enclosures. Please contact us to find out how our bespoke solutions can provide help with any noise-related problems, including local authority planning issues.


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