How the Sixties Transformed Modern Music

In ten years, popular music moved from simple and primitive to an art form as complex as any other. At the beginning of the sixties popular music was only listened to by screaming teenagers. By the end of the sixties it had become an art form appreciated by people of all ages and had the respect of even the most serious musician and critic. In this course we move our way through this critical decade, listening and discussing the music that transformed popular music.

We are thrilled to confirm that Peter Fitzsimmons, the renowned journalist and author, speaker, international rugby player and 60’s music lover will be our special guest during one of our sessions. Peter is a particular expert on Dylan and will join us in that session.


  • Coming out of the fifties: The fifties were the rock and roll generation and it dominated that ten years. Chuck Berry, Elvis, Fats Domino, Little Richard … While this was exciting and in its way revolutionary music it was hardly sophisticated and it was seen as music for the kids. No respectable, well-educated adult would be caught listening to it. Of course that changed forever as the sixties progressed, where today popular music is something enjoyed by people of all ages and at its best is taken seriously even by serious musicians. But, this was the music that led the way in the fifties and the early sixties Various tracks for fifties and early sixties (up to 1962).
  • The beginning of the revolution: The Beatles led the way throughout the sixties but even they were influenced heavily by the rock and roll of the fifties and it shows in their early records. They weren’t alone, other bands like the Rolling Stones were too (mixed with blues). But, even this early in the decade we start to see the shift to a more complex and varied form of pop music with artists writing their own material and pushing the genre in different directions. Will play various tracks in 1962-64 period
  • The explosion – Rubber Soul: Arguably this album was the most influential album of all time. It gave the first hint of what was possible and what was to come. The writing was complex, the arrangements ranging from classical to soul to rock (but with a twist). This was no longer simple pop. This was an album and probably the first album that a 40 year old university professor would not be ashamed to be seen listing too. Bob Dillon of course was doing the same in the US. Tracks from Rubber Soul, Dillon and other artists of the 64-65 period.
  • Getting Wild – The hippie movement and drugs: 1966 and 1967 saw the drugs and hippies and psychedelia impact on music. The Beach Boys release Pet Sounds and the Beatles do Sgt Peppers and Revolver. Albums by The Kinks, Spencer Davis Group, Stevie Wonder, Ray Charles, The Who etc etc. But there was far more going on than this. We will look at these big albums but also the less well known ones.
  • Pop grows up: In the last two years of the sixties popular music became very serious. Each artist was trying to outdo the other in terms of complexity. Pink Floyd, Frank Zappa, Joni Mitchell, Iron Butterfly, Led Zeppelin, Jefferson Airplane etc. The musicianship was first rate. These guys were virtuosos and could hold it against the best in Jazz and classical music. Simple three chord songs were gone. Key changes, complex melodies, longer song structures, complex time signatures and the use of every instrument ever invented was the groove of the day. The studio too, since Sgt Peppers had become an instrument in its own right. Producers and sound engineers became stars and helped bend music into even more complex forms. Their was now pop music for every age and taste and pop music as we know it today was born.