by Alex Cosper (12/27/12)
The early 1960s coincided with the "New Frontier" of the John F. Kennedy Administration, giving the era a spirit of youthful optimisim. Many of the popular songs of the early sixties, though, were about death, usually romanticized or glorified, as in "Last Kiss" by J. Frank Wilson. There were several morbid ballads of the era, but there were also upbeat new sounds. "Telstar" was a wavy keywoard instrumental that became the first number one song in America by a British act, The Tornadoes. The Ventures led the way with instrumental surf rock, which was the musical bridge between fifties rock and roll and sixties psychedelia.
Surf music became trendy in the early sixties thanks to a series of beach movies and beach songs. The Beach Boys began to appear on the charts in 1962 following succuessful instrumental surf music by The Ventures, from the Pacific Northwest. Several one hit wonder artists, along with Jan and Dean, had surf hits in 1962. The beach theme expanded to girls and cars. One of the biggest surf hits was "Wipe Out" by The Surfaris in 1963, the same year "Surfin' USA" by The Beach Boys was big.
Elvis Presley had become more of an adult middle of the road artist by the early sixties, with songs such as "It's Not or Never," "Are You Lonesome Tonight" and "Can't Help Falling In Love." Ray Charles continued to be the leading artist in R&B, which directly affected rock and roll music. His mix of ballads and fun spirited dance songs from "Georgia On My Mind" to "Hit the Road, Jack" made his an overall top artist of the era.
Rock and roll had become more tame in general in the early sixties, at least on the charts. There were several remakes of lounge classics throughout the period. It was somewhat of a pop resurgence of an earlier era, while at the same time there were wild dances such as "The Twist" by Chubby Checker, which was a number one hit in both 1960 and 1962. By late 1963 the charts were full of ballads, but the song "Louie Louie" by The Kingsmen marked a new direction for rock. The song incorporated a Jamaican beat, which gave rock a more international sound. The early sixties was the beginning of artists from outside America begain to have big American hits. Kyu Sakamoto sung "Sukiyaki" in Japanese while the Singing Nun sang "Dominique" in German.
The 4 Seasons and The Beach Boys emerged as a propotypes for bands to follow: self-contained musical line-ups that did their own songwriting. Early Motown hits such as "Do You Love Me" by The Contours helped create a fun dancefloor atmosphere. "Twist and Shout" by The Islely Brothers helped escalate R&B music in this era. As much as it was a period about energy, the early sixties marked the beginning of new voices that would change the world. Bob Dylan began putting out folk recordings in 1962. The following year he released "Blowin' In The Wind," which became an anthem of the decade, covered by many artists.
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