The influence of music in the 1950s and the early 1960s

Updated November 21, 2016

One of the most influential singers of the 1950s was Elvis Presley, whose "ducktail" haircut, black trousers and open-necked shirts sparked a new trend in fashion. Teenagers listened to rock 'n' roll music on 45-rpm record players and transistor radios, and began to assert their independence from their parents. The 1960s saw social unrest and an emphasis on civil rights and ending violence. The music of that decade greatly influenced teens who developed their own hippie subculture, often referred to as "sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll."

The Elvis Influence

Elvis Presley's music, dance moves, clothing and his attitude embodied the rock 'n' roll culture of the 1950s. The songs he chose were greatly influenced by gospel, African-American blues and even Southern country. Other performers such as Chuck Berry, Little Richard and Fats Domino were accepted after Presley became so popular with the youth of that decade. Buddy Holly, Roy Orbison, Jerry Lee Lewis and many others followed in Presley's fame. Presley and these singers influenced music trends, dance styles and fashion, and were deemed to have launched a form of sexual liberation and alleged teenage rebellion.

The 1960s Music and Society

During the 1960s, singers and performers often seemed to choose songs to reflect news headlines. Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, The Jefferson Airplane, and the Beatles were only some artists who represented the youth counterculture of that decade. Hippies spread messages of love, not war, and music was an integral part of their lifestyle. Folk music and huge rock concerts were popular featuring politically charged songs -- such as "Blowin' in the Wind" and "We Shall Overcome" -- with messages exposing American social problems. After the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, there seemed to be widespread drug use and drugs were often mentioned by bands such as The Grateful Dead with songs like "White Rabbit," the Beatles with "Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds." San Francisco became a hub for rock music and the hippie movement, especially the Haight-Ashbury area. They often were known as "flower children." Motown soul music reinforced civil rights unrest and the fight for equality. Female singers of the 1960s, such as Janis Joplin and Grace Slick, reflected the dawn of the feminist movement. Aretha Franklin sang "Respect." Artists often participated in demonstrations or protests. For example, the song "Street Fighting Man" was apparently inspired by protests in England that Rolling Stones singer Mick Jagger had participated in.

The Musical Influence of the Beatles

The Beatles, four young men from Liverpool, England, -- featuring John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr -- had a tremendous influence on culture, hairstyling, fashion and social attitudes in the early 1960s. The group impacted society through its statements, physical appearance, and social attitude. The band's social awareness was featured in songs contributing to the overall rise in social consciousness during the decade. Beatlemania influenced music trends and popular culture for many years.

Rock 'n' Roll's Influence on Fashion

Elvis Presley introduced blue suede shoes, the Beatles burst onto the scene with unique hairstyles, and Nehru Jackets were all the rage due to the influence of rock stars of the 50s and 60s. Other fashion trends set by music artists or bands of those decades were the "uniform" look where band members all wore the same suit, the tough leather look started by the Rolling Stones, casual clothing reflecting the Beach Boys' surfer music, and hippie fashions including tie-dyed shirts, fringes and long dresses.

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About the Author

Dawn Sutton began her writing career in 2004 with an article on Internet counseling for a psychology journal. She writes numerous Internet articles on a variety of subjects including health, travel, education, crafts and much more. Sutton has published the books "The Manual" and "God's Girl" and numerous feature film scripts. She has a master's degree in social work from the University of Toronto.