The 1960s

Dec. 28th, 2013 01:00 pm
peterbirks: (Default)
When did the 1960s start? The obvious answer is, January 1 1960. People took more notice of decades in those days. I do not remember the passing from the 1950s to the 1960s, but I do remember the passing from the 1960s to the 1970s. I went to a New Year's Eve Party at a council flat off the Wandsworth Road. A pop TV programme was on, of which I only really remember The Who.

But social movements and decades do not neatly coincide. And how one defines "the sixties" depends on your parameters. Politics? Economics? Fashion? Music? Literature? Film?

I possess two well-known books on that decade - The Neophiliacs by Christopher Booker and The Pendulum Years by Bernard Levin. It would be easy to write 200 pages on how the Age of Austerity morphed into the era of "You've Never Had It So Good" and then morphed again into the end of that Macmillian era -- so beautifully drawn by Timothy Birdsall in an early Private Eye, depicting Bacchanalian excess at the heart of the Conservative government.

But this is more of a personal memory, written down now because, I realize to my horror, far fewer people are alive who remember the early 1960s than those who do not.

We are defined by the age and by our age. I was too young to remember Bill Haley, too young to remember early Elvis. But I was just old enough to remember the release of She Loves You, a copy of which was played on my treasured Dansette (well, it was my parent's Dansette, but I was the one who used it).
But I was too young for Philip Larkin's comment on sexual intercourse beginning in 1963 which was, as Larkin (b 1922) wrote: "rather late for me". It was rather early for me. And it wasn't true. Sexual liberation was more rumoured than fact.

I was quite distinctly defined by pop music. And so my measure of the start of the 1960s is pop-related.

I was reminded of this while watching a compilation of 1960s hits. With the benefit of time, it's easier to see the flow from the 1950s through the 1960s to the 1970s. The "new music", so hated by my father, in terms of The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, really consisted of nice middle-class white boys in sharp suits and ties, adapting the blues music of American blacks. If you wanted a real innovator in UK terms, you had to look to Lonnie Donegan.

No, it was not "She Loves You" that defined the beginning of the 1960s, not for me.

While watching that 1960s music compilation, I realized that the real groundbreaker was Sonny and Cher's performance in 1965 on Top Of The Pops of "I've Got You Babe". The tune was not radical, but the words represented the San Francisco ethos that would become famous three years later with Scott Mackenzie.

More important than the words, though, was THE LOOK. Compare the collarless shirt of Sonny Bono with the suit and ties of the Dave Clark Five, Gerry and The Pacemakers, The Beatles, Freddie And The Dreamers. Sonny and Cher had the look of the 1960s as we now remember it. Sonny and Cher showed, for the young me, the way that things were going. They, not The Beatles, represented the events of 1968 that were still three years away. While the Beatles went to Wales to see the Maharishi, the Sonny and Cher look represented what would be seen on the streets of Paris that same summer.

So, that's it. For me, the 1960s started in 1965, with that performance on Top Of The Pops.
Don't let them say your hair's too long
'Cause I don't care, with you I can't go wrong
Then put your little hand in mine
There ain't no hill or mountain we can't climb.

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