At the beginning of the 1960s, many Americans believed they were standing at the dawn of a golden age. On January 20, 1961, the handsome and charismatic John F. Kennedy became president of the United States. His confidence that, as one historian put it, “the government possessed big answers to big problems” seemed to set the tone for the rest of the decade. However, that golden age never materialized. On the contrary, by the end of the 1960s it seemed that the nation was falling apart.

Popular Culture

The counterculture movement dominated the second half of the 1960s, its most famous moments being the Summer of Love in San Francisco in 1967, and the Woodstock Festival in upstate New York in 1969.  Psychedelic drugs, especially LSD, were widely used medicinally and spiritually as well as recreational throughout the late 1960s, and were popularized by Timothy Leary with his slogan “Turn on, tune in, drop out.”   Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters also played a part in the role of “turning heads on.”  Psychedelic influenced the music, artwork and films of the decade, and a number of prominent musicians died of drug overdoses (27 Club).  There was a growing interest in Eastern religions and philosophy, and many attempts were made to found communes, which varied from supporting free love to religious puritanism.



Beatles in America
British Invasion: The Beatles arrive at John F. Kennedy International Airport, February 7th, 1964″
 The 60′s were a leap in human consciousness.  Mahatma Gandhi, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Che Guevara, Mother Teresa, they led a revolution of conscience.  The Beatles, The Doors, Jimi Hendrix created revolution and evolution themes.  The music was like Dalí, with many colors and revolutionary ways.  The youth of today must go there to find themselves.”  – Carlos Santana
Popular music entered an era of “all hits”, as numerous artists released recordings, beginning in the 1950s, as 45-rpm “singles” (with another on the flip side), and radio stations tended to play only the most popular of the wide variety of records being made.  Also, bands tended to record only the best of their songs as a chance to become a hit record.  The taste of the American listeners expanded from the folksinger, doo-wop and saxophone sounds of the 1950s to the Motown sound, folk rock and the British Invasion led by The Beatles in 1964.  The Los Angeles and San Francisco Sound began in this period with many popular bands coming out of LA and the Haight-Ashbury district, well known for its hippie culture.  The rise of the counterculture movement, particularly among the youth, created a market for rock, soul, pop, reggae and blues music.

Significant events in music in the 1960s:

  • Elvis Presley returned to civilian life in the U.S. after two years away in the U.S. Army.  He resumes his musical career by recording “It’s Now or Never” and “Are You Lonesome Tonight?” in March 1960.
  • Motown Record Corporation was founded in 1960.  Its first Top Ten hit was “Shop Around” by the Miracles in 1960.  “Shop Around” peaked at number-two on the Billboard Hot 100, and was Motown’s first million-selling record.
  • Folksinger and activist Joan Baez released her debut album on Vanguard Records in December 1960.
  • The Marvelettes scored Motown Record Corporation’s first US #1 pop hit, “Please Mr. Postman” in 1961.  Motown would score 110 Billboard Top-Ten hits during its run.
  • The Four Seasons released three straight number one hits.
  • In a widely anticipated and publicized event, the Beatles arrive in America in February 1964, spearheading the British Invasion.
  • The Mary Poppins Original Soundtrack tops record charts.  Sherman Brothers receive Grammys and double Oscars.
  • First week of June, 1963, Lesley Gore at the age of 17 hits Number one on Billboard with “It’s My Party” and in January 1964 with the Number 2 hit “You Don’t Own Me” behind the Beatles “I Want To Hold Your Hand.”
  • The Supremes scored twelve number-one hit singles between 1964 and 1969, beginning with “Where Did Our Love Go”.
  • The Kinks release “You Really Got Me” in late 1964, which tops the British charts; it is regarded as the first hard rock hit and a blueprint for related genres, such as heavy metal.
  • John Coltrane released A Love Supreme in late 1964, considered among the most acclaimed jazz albums of the era.
  • The Grateful Dead was formed in 1965 (originally The Warlocks) thus paving the way, giving birth to acid rock.
  • Bob Dylan went electric at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival.
  • Cilla Black’s number-one hit “Anyone Who had a Heart” still remains the top-selling single by a female artist in the UK from 1964.
  • The Rolling Stones had a huge #1 hit with their song “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” in the summer of 1965.
  • The Byrds released a cover of Bob Dylan’s “Mr. Tambourine Man”, which reached #1 on the U.S. charts and repeated the feat in the U.K. shortly thereafter.  The extremely influential track effectively creates the musical sub genre of folk rock.
  • Bob Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone” is a top-five hit on both sides of the Atlantic during the summer of 1965.
  • Bob Dylan’s 1965 albums Bringing It All Back Home and Highway 61 Revisited ushered in album-focused rock and the “folk rock” genre.
  • Simon and Garfunkel released “The Sound of Silence” single in 1965.
  • The Beach Boys released Pet Sounds in 1966, which significantly influenced the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album released the following year.
  • Bob Dylan was called “Judas” by an audience member during the Manchester Free Trade Hall concert, the start of the bootleg recording industry follows, with recordings of this concert circulating for 30 years – wrongly labeled as – The Royal Albert Hall Concert before a legitimate release in 1998 as The Bootleg Series Vol. 4: Bob Dylan Live 1966, The “Royal Albert Hall” Concert.
  • In February 1966, Nancy Sinatra’s song “These Boots Are Made for Walkin'” became very popular.
  • In 1966, The Supremes A’ Go-Go was the first album by a female group to reach the top position of the Billboard magazine pop albums chart in the United States.
  • The Seekers were the first Australian Group to have a number one with “Georgy Girl” in 1966.
  • Jefferson Airplane released the influential Surrealistic Pillow in 1967.
  • The Velvet Underground released its self-titled debut album The Velvet Underground & Nico in 1967.
  • The Doors released its self-titled debut album The Doors’  in January 1967.
  • Love released Forever Changes in 1967.
  • The Procol Harum released A Whiter Shade Of Pale in 1967.
  • Cream (band) released “Disraeli Gears” in 1967.
Jimi Hendrix Experience
  •  The Jimi Hendrix Experience released two successful albums during 1967 Are You Experienced and Axis: Bold as Love that innovate both guitar, trio and recording techniques.
  • The Beatles released Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band in June 1967.
  • The Moody Blues released the album Days of Future Passed in November 1967.
  • R & B legend Otis Redding has his first No. 1 hit with the legendary Sitting on the Dock of the Bay.  He also played at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967 just before he died in a plane crash.
  • Pink Floyd released its debut record The Piper at the Gates of Dawn.
  • Bob Dylan released the Country rock album John Wesley Harding in December 1967.
  • The Bee Gees released their international debut album Bee Gees 1st in July 1967 which included the pop standard “To Love Somebody”.
  • The Monterey Pop Festival in 1967 was the beginning of the so-called “Summer of Love”.
  • Johnny Cash released At Folsom Prison in 1968.
  • 1968: after The Yardbirds fold, Led Zeppelin was formed by Jimmy Page and manager Peter Grant, with Robert Plant, John Bonham and John Paul Jones; and, released their debut album Led Zeppelin.
  • The Band released the roots rock album Music from Big Pink in 1968.
  • Big Brother and the Holding Company, with Janis Joplin as lead singer, became an overnight sensation after their performance at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967 and released their second album Cheap Thrills in 1968.
  • Gram Parsons with The Byrds released the extremely influential LP Sweetheart of the Rodeo in late 1968, forming the basis for country rock.
  • The Jimi Hendrix Experience released the highly influential double LP Electric Ladyland in 1968 that furthered the guitar and studio innovations of his previous two albums.
  • Simon and Garfunkel released the single “Mrs. Robinson” in 1968; featured in the film “The Graduate”.
Woodstock Festival, 1969woodstock
  • Sly & the Family Stone revolutionized black music with their massive 1968 hit single “Dance to the Music” and by 1969 became international sensations with the release of their hit record Stand!.  The band cemented their position as a vital counterculture band when they performed at the Woodstock Festival.
  • The Gun released “Race with the Devil” in October 1968.
  • The Rolling Stones filmed the TV special The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus in December 1968 but the film was not released for transmission.  Considered for decades as a fabled “lost” performance until released in North America on Laserdisc and VHS in 1996. Features performances from The Who; The Dirty Mac featuring John Lennon, Eric Clapton and Mitch Mitchell; Jethro Tull and Taj Mahal.
  • The Woodstock Festival, and four months later, the Altamont Free Concert in 1969.
  • The Who released and toured the first rock opera Tommy in 1969.
  • Proto-punk band MC5 released the live album Kick Out the Jams in 1969.
  • Captain Beefheart and his Magic Band released the avant garde Trout Mask Replica in 1969.
  • The Stooges released their debut album in 1969.
  • The Flying Burrito Brothers released their influential debut The Gilded Palace of Sin in 1969.
  • King Crimson released their debut album In the Court of the Crimson King in 1969.


The highest-grossing film of the decade was 20th Century Fox’s The Sound of Music (1965).
Some of Hollywood’s most notable blockbuster films of the 1960s include:
  • 2001: A Space Odyssey
  • The Birds
  • Bonnie and Clyde
  • Breakfast at Tiffany’s
  • Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
  • Carnival of Souls
  • Cool Hand Luke
  • The Dirty Dozen
  • Doctor Zhivago
  • Dr. Strangelove
  • Easy Rider
  • Faces
  • The Graduate
  • Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner
  • Head
  • The Hustler
  • Ice Station Zebra
  • In the Heat of the Night
  • The Jungle Book
  • Lawrence of Arabia
  • The Lion In Winter
  • Mary Poppins
  • Medium Cool
  • Midnight Cowboy
  • Night of the Living Dead
  • The Pink Panther
  • Planet of the Apes
  • Psycho
  • Rosemary’s Baby
  • The Sound of Music
  • Spartacus
  • The Wild Bunch
The counterculture movement had a significant effect on cinema.  Movies began to break social taboos such as sex and violence causing both controversy and fascination.  They turned increasingly dramatic, unbalanced, and hectic as the cultural revolution was starting.  This was the beginning of the New Hollywood era that dominated the next decade in theatres and revolutionized the film industry.  Films of this time also focused on the changes happening in the world.  Dennis Hopper’s Easy Rider (1969) focused on the drug culture of the time.  Movies also became more sexually explicit, such as Roger Vadim’s Barbarella (1968) as the counterculture progressed.
The Spaghetti Western genre was a direct outgrowth of the Kurosawa films.  The influence of these films is most apparent in Sergio Leone’s A Fistful of Dollars (1964) starring Clint Eastwood and Walter Hill’s Last Man Standing (1996).  Yojimbo was also the origin of the “Man with No Name” trend which included Sergio Leone’s For a Few Dollars More, and The Good, The Bad and The Ugly both also starring Clint Eastwood, and arguably continued through his 1968 opus Once Upon a Time in the West, starring Henry Fonda, Charles Bronson, Claudia Cardinale, and Jason Robards. The Magnificent Seven a 1960 American western film directed by John Sturges was a remake of Akira Kurosawa’s 1954 film, Seven Samurai.
The 1960s were also about experimentation. With the explosion of light-weight and affordable cameras, the underground avant-garde film movement thrived. Canada’s Michael Snow, Americans Kenneth Anger, Stan Brakhage, Andy Warhol, and Jack Smith.  Notable films in this genre are: Dog Star Man; Scorpio Rising; Wavelength; Chelsea Girls; Blow Job; Vinyl; Flaming Creatures.

Significant events in the film industry in the 1960s:

  • Removal of the Motion Picture Association of America’s Production Code in 1967.
  • The decline and end of the Studio System.
  • The rise of ‘art house’ films and theaters.
  • The end of the classical Hollywood cinema era.
  • The beginning of the New Hollywood Era due to the counterculture.
  • The rise of independent producers that worked outside of the Studio System.
  • Move to all-color production in Hollywood films.
  • The invention of the Nagra 1/4″, sync-sound, portable open-reel tape deck.
  • Expo 67 where new film formats like Imax were invented and new ways of displaying film were tested.
  • Flat-bed film editing tables appear, like the Steenbeck, they eventually replace the Moviola editing platform.
  • The French New Wave.
  • Direct Cinema and Cinéma vérité documentaries.
  • The transition of traditional animation to limited animation.


The most prominent American TV series of the 1960s include: The Ed Sullivan Show, Peyton Place, Star Trek, Doctor Who, The Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits, The Andy Williams Show, The Dean Martin Show, The Wonderful World of Disney, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, The Beverly Hillbillies, Bonanza, Batman, Dragnet, McHale’s Navy, Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In, The Dick Van Dyke Show, The Fugitive, The Tonight Show, Gunsmoke, The Andy Griffith Show, Gilligan’s Island, Mission: Impossible, The Flintstones, The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, Lassie, The Danny Thomas Show, The Lucy Show, My Three Sons, The Red Skelton Show, Bewitched and I Dream of Jeannie. The Flintstones was a favoured show, receiving 40 million views an episode with an average of 3 views a day. Some programming such as The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour became controversial by challenging the foundations of America’s corporate and governmental controls; making fun of world leaders, and questioning U.S. involvement in and escalation of The Vietnam War.
Walt Disney, owner of Walt Disney Co. died on December 15th, 1966, from a major tumor in his left lung.


Significant fashion trends of the 1960s include:

  • The Beatles exerted an enormous influence on young men’s fashions and hairstyles in the 1960s which included most notably the mop-top haircut, the Beatle boots and the Nehru jacket.
  • The hippie movement late in the decade also had a strong influence on clothing styles, including bell-bottom jeans, tie-dye and batik fabrics, as well as paisley prints.
  • The bikini came into fashion in 1963 after being featured in the film Beach Party.
  • Mary Quant invented the mini-skirt which became the rage in the late 1960s.
  • Men’s mainstream hairstyles ranged from the pompadour, the crew cut, the flattop hairstyle, the tapered hairstyle, and short, parted hair in the early part of the decade, to longer parted hairstyles with sideburns towards the latter half of the decade.
  • Women’s mainstream hairstyles ranged from beehive hairdos, the bird’s nest hairstyle, and the chignon hairstyle in the early part of the decade, to very short styles popularized by Twiggy and Mia Farrow in Rosemary’s Baby towards the latter half of the decade.
  • African-American hairstyles for men and women included the afro.

Science and Technology

The Space Race between the United States and the Soviet Union dominated the 1960s.  The Soviets sent the first man, Yuri Gagarin, into outer space during the Vostok 1 mission on April 12th, 1961 and scored a host of other successes, but by the middle of the decade the U.S. was taking the lead.  In May 1961, President Kennedy set for the U.S. the goal of a manned spacecraft landing on the Moon by the end of the decade.
In 1966, the Soviet Union launched Luna 10, which later became the first space probe to enter orbit around the Moon.
The deaths of astronauts Gus Grissom, Edward Higgins White, and Roger B. Chaffee in the Apollo 1 fire on January 27th, 1967, put a temporary hold on the U.S. space program, but afterward progress was steady, with the Apollo 8 crew (Frank Borman, Jim Lovell, William Anders) being the first manned mission to orbit another celestial body (the moon) during Christmas of 1968.
On July 20th, 1969, Apollo 11, the first human spaceflight landed on the Moon.  Launched on July 16th, 1969, it carried mission Commander Neil Armstrong, Command Module Pilot Michael Collins, and Lunar Module Pilot Buzz Aldrin.  Apollo 11 fulfilled President John F. Kennedy’s goal of reaching the moon by the end of the 1960s, which he had expressed during a speech given before a joint session of Congress on 25 May 1961: “I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth.”
The Soviet program lost its sense of direction with the death of chief designer Sergey Korolyov in 1966.  Political pressure, conflicts between different design bureaus, and engineering problems caused by an inadequate budget would doom the Soviet attempt to land men on the moon.
A succession of unmanned American and Soviet probes traveled to the Moon, Venus, and Mars during the 1960s, and commercial satellites also came into use.

Other scientific developments

1960 – The female birth-control contraceptive, the pill, was released in the United States after FDA approval.
1965 – AstroTurf introduced.
1967 – First heart transplantation operation by Professor Christiaan Barnard in South Africa.


As the 1960s began, American cars showed a rapid rejection of 1950s styling excess, and would remain relatively clean and boxy for the entire decade.  The horsepower race reached its climax in the late 1960s, with muscle cars sold by most makes.  The compact Ford Mustang, launched in 1964, was one of the decade’s greatest successes.  The “Big Three” American automakers enjoyed their highest ever sales and profitability in the 1960s, but the demise of Studebaker in 1966 left American Motors Corporation as the last significant independent.  The decade would see the car market split into different size classes for the first time, and model lineups now included compact and mid-sized cars in addition to full-sized ones.  The popular modern hatchback, with front-wheel-drive and a two-box configuration, was born in 1965 with the introduction of the Renault 16,many of this car’s design principles live on in its modern counterparts: a large rear opening incorporating the rear window, fold-able rear seats to extend trunk space.  The Mini, released in 1959, had first popularized the front wheel drive two-box configuration, but technically was not a hatchback as it had a fold-down trunk lid.  Japanese cars also began to gain acceptance in the Western market, and popular economy models such as the Toyota Corolla, Datsun 510, and the first popular Japanese sports car, the Datsun 240Z, were released in the mid- to late-1960s.

Electronics and communications

  • 1960 – The first working laser was demonstrated in May by Theodore Maiman at Hughes Research Laboratories.
  • 1961 – Unimate, the first industrial robot, was introduced.
  • 1962 – First transatlantic satellite broadcast via the Telstar satellite.
  • 1962 – The first computer video game, Spacewar!, was invented.
  • 1962 – Red LEDs were developed.
  • 1963 – The first geosynchronous communications satellite, Syncom 2 is launched.
  • 1963 – First transpacific satellite broadcast via the Relay 1 satellite.
  • 1963 – Touch-Tone telephones introduced.
  • 1963 – Sketchpad was the first touch interactive computer graphics program.
  • 1963 – Video recorder The Nottingham Electronic Valve company produced the first home video recorder called the “Telcan”.
  • 1964 – 8-track tape audio format was developed.
  • 1964 – The Compact Cassette was introduced.
  • 1964 – The first successful Minicomputer, Digital Equipment Corporation’s 12-bit PDP-8, was marketed.
  • 1964 – The programming language BASIC was created.
  • 1964 – The world’s first supercomputer, the CDC 6600, was introduced.
  • 1964 – Fairchild Semiconductor released ICs with dual in-line packaging.
  • 1967 – PAL and SECAM broadcast color television systems started publicly transmitting in Europe.
  • 1967 – The first Automatic Teller Machine was opened in Barclays Bank, London.
  • 1968 – Ralph Baer developed his Brown Box (a working prototype of the Magnavox Odyssey).
  • 1968 – The first public demonstration of the computer mouse, the paper paradigm Graphical user interface, video conferencing, teleconferencing, email, and hypertext.
  • 1969 – Arpanet, the research-oriented prototype of the Internet, was introduced.
  • 1969 – CCD invented at AT&T Bell Labs, used as the electronic imager in still and video cameras.