Title: What effect has music had on society during different decades?

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Title: What effect has music had on society during different decades?
Group 7
Group Members:

Olivia Tholke

Stephen Thomas

Radiance Whelchel

Joe Zoller
Class: EDP 101A

Our group chose to examine the effect music had on society during each of the relatively recent decades. The decision to choose this as our focus was made due to each group members love for music, but also the fact that each member varied so much in which time period of music speaks to us most. We also discussed how society nowadays is clearly different from what it was like say in the 1960s or say in the 1980s. Connecting to class and lectures, we felt this topic is relevant in several different ways. Our group decided to delve into the decade that speaks to us the most and further analyze what affect the music of the time had on society. We begin with the 1960’s and travel all the way to current times. We think of this as: from The Beatle’s to Lady Gaga.

It is hard to argue that there has been a more influential two years in American music history than the ‘British Invasion’ of 1964-1966. The invasion would lead to an American music revolution fueled by the likes of The Beatles, Herman’s Hermits and the Rolling Stones that would not only change music but society as well. It would internationalize popular music to every corner of the world, creating an unprecedented fan base for rock & roll while striking fear in the hearts of parents, churches and governments. While many bands would play their part in the invasion, the Beatles would be in the driverseat of change on a global scale.

The ‘British Invasion’ began in February of 1964 with the Beatles trans-Atlantic flight from Britain to New York City. The group members, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr, would be performing on the Ed Sullivan Show, an American variety show on CBS, for their first performance in the United States.1 When asked about success in the American popular culture scene, John Lennon replied, “The thing is, in America, it just seemed ridiculous- I mean, the idea of having a hit record over there. It was just something you could never do.”2 Just two months after landing in America, the Beatles would have all top five songs on the Billboard Singles chart by April 1964. The Beatles are the only band to date to ever achieve this feat. The following chart expresses just how strong the Beatles affected the music scene in 1964. The Beatles would go onto sell over a billion records and set the record for the most number-one hits at 20.3


Despite their incredible success, record sales are only a detail in the overall revolution that the Beatles sparked half a century ago. The United States still had World War II and the Korean War fresh in their minds. The country was in the heat of the Cold War. US President John F. Kennedy was assassinated just 77 days before.5 At the time, America was in the middle of the Vietnam War. Tensions between the sexes, races, and generations were reaching a boiling point. The National Organization for Women, the leader in the women’s rights movement, was created two years after the Beatles’ arrival.6

The United States was also in the middle of the violent civil rights movement, featuring rioting, protests, police abuse, the Black Panthers and the Weathermen extremist groups. The youth population was also looking for a way to distance themselves from parent generations, looking to blaze their own trail. The country appeared to be on the verge of implosion. Things were ugly for America, setting the perfect stage for a young, hip British group to make its appearance to the American youth. They were young, parents were skeptical about their influence, and they provided American teenagers with something they could call their own. This time, the British could not be denied.

In retrospect, it seems as though the Beatles arrived in America in the midst of a ‘perfect storm’ for a music group to establish themselves as the icon of their generation, using everything happening around them to be a voice for the youth and their future. From Elvis Presley to Alice Cooper to Prince to Eminem, American popular music has seen its share of social shock and change of the status quo. However, it is hard to argue that any other musical artist or group penetrated the American music scene from outside with more success and social influence than the Beatles. From the PBS The Sixties: The Years That Shaped a Generation:

“The ultimate pop phenomenon, they appear everywhere in the '60s: on TV, movie screens, magazine covers, lunch boxes, dolls, dishes and more. Beatlemania influences hairstyles and clothing, but most of all, the Beatles revolutionize music. The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame puts it this way: "They literally stood the world of pop culture on its head, setting the musical agenda for the remainder of the decade."7

While the British Invasion changed American society, 129 days from fall of 1966 to spring of 1967 would change so much more. At the time, musicians would get in and out of recording studios as fast as possible so as to avoid the high prices for usage. However, after experiencing the success of the previous two years, money was not an inhibitor for the Beatles. The Beatles would spend this time in the recording studio producing their eighth album “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”. According to BBC’s Chris Jones’ review of the album, “The reason it took 129 days to piece together isn’t due to the band’s indulgences – on the contrary, The Beatles were extremely disciplined during their studio sessions. It’s simply because guiding an album this complex to fruition in those days took a long time.” The Beatles had the monetary means, talent and vision that enabled them to avoid settling for the status quo of music production.8 They were able to implement brand new technology, allowing new ways of producing sounds to fulfill their vision for the album. Some of these effects included the wah-wah pedal, fuzzbox, and the Leslie speaker. They also used the direct input technique, which allowed, for the first time, for the guitars to be plugged directly into an amplifying circuit for recording.9 These revolutionary techniques changed the way music would be created. The following chart expresses where the popularity of the Beatles stands today, 45 years after they first arrived in New York City.


If anything can prove what affect on society they had, this does it. Not only did they change music during the time, they songs have survived the test of time and are still heard on a daily basis today. From the influential 1960’s we transition into the booming 1970’s.

The 1970’s were also a time of music evolution. But more specifically it was the age of Disco. Disco is a genre of dance music that was mostly heard during the mid to late 70’s. “Disco comes from the word "discotheque;" a term used to describe the nightclubs people went to during the 1960s and 70s” (Estrella). Disco music was meant to be danced to and made people want to dance with its funky beats. “In the seventies disco spawned a lifestyle that confronted white, heterosexual America with a composite bogeyman—a lifestyle devoted to rampant promiscuity and avid, recreational drug use, peopled by newly liberated gay men dancing to up-tempo black rhythm and blues. Disco, in short, brazenly confirmed all the old fears that under the right conditions the passions aroused in clubs might overflow their bounds and foster a broader ferment” (Braunstein). At first, Disco music appealed to genres of people mostly including gay men or women, African American and Latinos. “According to music writer Piero Scaruffi the disco phenomenon spread quickly because the "collective ecstasy" of disco was cathartic and regenerative and lead to freedom of expression” (Disco). Disco played an important role in the music, fashion and film industry.

Disco music was appealing to people because of its funky beat and fun lyrics. When disco music played people couldn’t help but get up and dance. There is a connection between certain tones and emotions and disco music brought joy to its listeners and that is why it was so popular among the masses. Popular disco songs still recognizable today include “Funkytown” by Lipps Inc., “Stayin’ Alive” by the Bee Gees, “She’s a Brick House” by The Commodores, and “YMCA” by The Village People. Disco music influenced the music scene, including nightclubs. The most famous dance club in the disco era was Studio 54. Studio 54 was a world-famous nightclub known as the “disco palace” in the 70s and 80s. “Studio 54 was originally a New York City Broadway theater, then a CBS radio and television studio and in the 1970s it became a discothèque” (Studio 54). Disco affected the youth in the sense that anyone who was anyone was at Studio 54 and everyone else wanted to be there. Along with never-ending disco music, Studio 54 was also known for the celebrities, sexual encounters, and the rampant drug use that occurred there. Disco music affected the social scene immensely.

Fashion in the 1970s was heavily influenced by disco. “The 1970s were an intensely tumultuous time, with various cultures and subcultures coming out into the open at once” (Missy-J). Disco-wear included platform shoes, leisure suits with butterfly collars, shiny spandex tops and Lycra stretch disco pants. To get into nightclubs like Studio 54, people had to stand out to get noticed and allowed entry into the club and they did this through their clothes. Polyester was THE fabric of the decade. All leisure suits, like the one John Travolta wore in Saturday Night Fever. Disco influenced fashion because the clothes worn to nightclubs were not everyday wear. Disco was different and people had to dress accordingly. Fashion also includes the hairdos of the 70s. Hairdos include, most popularly, the Afro, long straight hippie hair and the Farrah Fawcett feathered hair.

The film industry is what helped to mainstream disco. The most popular example of this was Saturday Night Fever, which was released in 1977, the peak of disco. Saturday Night Fever was about a man, John Travolta, who lived for Saturday nights at the local disco club. Saturday Night Fever was a disco outlet for those who may not be able to go to the nightclubs. It helped spread the word of disco.

Disco influenced many aspects of people’s lives in the 1970s. Disco was appealing mentally, it made people happy and wanting to dance when they heard it. Disco was a stimulus, it stimulated people’s senses and that is why it became so popular in the mid to late 70s. Disco played a part in almost every aspect of people’s lives, including what they wore to what they listened to and what they watched. In the music industry it laid way to a new genre called pop, where we progressed to in the 1980’s and even all the way to today.

Music is often used for a source of equilibrium and understanding its place and impact will only add to the satisfaction people get out of life. “Music is a very easy additive to your external environment that can really benefit you” (Music and Entertainment in Our Society 1). People should let music have a positive impact on their mind, soul, and spirit. This section investigates how people as well as society have a certain reaction to certain types of music in different genres during the 80’s, whether it be positive or negative. Also how certain genres of music affect the psych of a person.

In the 1980’s, people witnessed the emergence of pop culture, glam metal, and electronic music, use of a synthesizer, and the introduction of hip-hop as well as sampling. The 80’s continued the genre of pop culture from the 1970’s. So if you haven’t guessed it quite yet the top genres that have impacted society the most during this decade are rock, pop, hip-hop, and country music.

The wide spread of rock has resulted in a type of cultural imperialism that has resulted in various cultures creating their own type of Rock music. “Rock music inherited the folk tradition of protest song, making political statements on subjects such as war, religion, poverty, civil rights, justice and the environment: examples include supporting the Anti-Apartheid Movement (e.g., Peter Gabriel's "Biko"), and the political protest messages in 1980s hardcore punk (e.g., the Dead Kennedys)” (Music in the 1980’s 3). Political movement made a huge debut with the single called “Do They Know Its Christmas?” (1984) as well as a Live Aid concert held for Ethiopia to help raise awareness for world poverty and to help collect funds for AIDs. Also as everybody knows rock music has always been associated with rebellion against any sort of social normality or political restrictions. Not only was rock a part of this huge rebellion era, but it also stood up against the adult dominated culture in society for most teenagers. Thus being a tool for diverting youth from any political limitation.

Rock music has a few effects on the brain. The human brain treats durations as being similar, therefore treating them the same. In addition the loudness of the music is interpreted by our brain is not existent in the world. “Several odd anomalies exist in the mental representation of amplitude, such as loudness not being additive the way that amplitudes are (loudness, like pitch, is logarithmic), or the phenomenon that the pitch of a sinusoidal tone varies as a function of its amplitude, or the finding that sounds can appear to be louder than they are when they have been electronically processed in certain ways-such as dynamic range compression-that are often done in heavy metal music” (Levitin 69).

However in the 1980’s the pop scene made a contribution to the impact of music on society with artists such as Michael Jackson, Madonna, and Prince. These artists used more of a visual appeal and took advantage of the use of a microphone to a whole new level to produce a better intimate relationship with their audience. What these artists could take advantage of the immense amount of new technology, the music flourished. The pop generation was also responsible for booming a mass amount of media, including film, radio, television, and video. “Pop music dominated the music industries of America, which came from the British Pop of the mid-60’s” (1980’s in Music 3). This further resulted in different regions and countries creating their own pop music.

In psychological experiments the subjects are sometimes paid for their part in the experiment, this is often done around campus for some of the psychology students. Some psychologists make announcements for a “memory experiment”, which causes some of the subjects to feel a little uneasy once they find out what they are getting themselves into. According to David Levitin “A lot of subjects complained vociferously upon discovering the details of his experiment” (Levitin 153). After influencing the subjects to give it another try the results seemed to be exactly around where he expected them to be, even though they thought they were going to ruin the experiment. In this experiment “This turned out the be convincing evidence that people were storing absolute pitch information in memory; that their memory representation did not just contain an abstract generalization of the song, but details of a particular performance” (Levitin 153). In addition to singing these correct pitches it was noticed that each subject showed vocal affections of the original singers. For example like the “ee-ee” that is often made by Michael Jackson in “Billie Jean” or the “Hey” from Madonna in “Like a Virgin”. Once Levitin recorded his subjects he noticed that with the original they were using a memory representation in their head that happened to be as he put it “astonishingly accurate” (Levitin 153).

In the world of hip-hop music such things as graffiti art, break dancing, rap music, and fashion became a large part of African American and Hispanic culture. These were all major highlights of an up roaring artistic movement. People were channeling all the violence and problems of everyday life into something else. Around this time the introduction of music videos change the world of entertainment forever, especially through the mass media movement stated before. So many musical artists became such incredible icons and made strong social statements during this time, such as Run DMC, Dougie Fresh, and Public Enemy. These artists came out with songs such as “It’s Like That” and “Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos”.

Furthermore “Rhythm and rhythmic patterns influence our ability to appreciate a given musical genre or piece” (Levitin 241). People are drawn to music such as hip-hop or latin style music because they have very high complexity of rhythms. This often gives listeners more enthusiasm to want to get into the music that they are listening to. “For other listeners, rhythms that are too simple are the deal breaker for a style of music” (Levitin 241). Especially in hip-hop the impact of the music on society really starts with the beat that is created and it goes from there. In country music however it deals with what type of chords are played, since a lot of country music uses guitars or stringed instruments. “All of us, even without musical training can tell the difference between these two, E and E-flat, even if we don’t have the terminology to name them; we hear the major chord as sounding happy and the minor chord as sounding sad, or reflective, or even exotic” (Levitin 40). In songs like “Johnny B. Goode”, “Blowin’ in the Wind”, “Honky Tonk Women”, and “Mamma Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys” the music, which is country, uses only major chords. “For brains to accomplish this, networks of neurons must form abstract representations of musical structure, and musical rules, something that they do automatically and without our conscious awareness” (Levitin 41).

As music moved from the 80’s into the 90’s it took a different path. That hip-hop, pop and hard rock, moved from the rebellion and the violence of the Cold War and the Post Vietnam era to a newfound peace that the world had not known for 50 years. Instead of the electronic beats that made artist like Blondie famous, we saw calmer music more focused towards similar peace movements like those of the 1960’s. Bands like Oasis used a much more relaxed tone that brought people an idea of calm and “chill” that hadn’t been heard for years. This new type of music sparked its own generational style that was typified in 90’s teen flicks that promoted good times, and relaxation. Along with the calmer tones of the artists in the 90’s there was a growth in a music style called grunge, made famous by the short lived, but iconic band Nirvana. Grunge was the answer to the acoustic feel good movement that was created by Oasis. It was loud, aggressive, but more importantly is was fun. Grunge was a way for people to let loose with their friends, a music to play in the background of a great summer party, and a way to release from a period that was more reserved following the coke fueled 80’s that involved living hard, fast, and wreckless. This decade I believe was the final time that we would see the emergence of an iconic band that we would follow for decades ahead. Examples of these including U2 and Bon Jovi.

In the current timse we live in, the 2000’s, we have seen an even larger revolution in music style. True we still listen to our calmer, more chilled musicians like Dave Matthews and John Mayer and we still have our louder grunge type music like Stone Temple Pilots. But the “revolution” of this decade comes not within the notes, but in the life span of the band. It is a sad but evident truth that bands in this current age of pop, are more “flavors of the week” rather than truly great bands that we will still be able to watch on tour thirty years from now. Artists like Justin Beiber or Miley Cyrus wont have their final reunion tours like the Rolling Stones have had, in fact in ten years no one will be able to remember who the even were. Along with this we had seen a resurrection of a popular movement in the 60’s and 70’s and that is using music as a political vehicle. The Iraq war has become a hot bed for music protesting the issues of the Bush administration. Bands like Green Day and artists like Eminem have gained a lot of positive and negative attention for their take on the war and their feelings. But in an era where your music career lives from pay check to pay check any publicity is good publicity. The age of music we live in now will be known more for “performances” and technology, rather than epic concerts and beautiful lyrics.

Thus we wrap up our analysis of the affect on society that music has played over the different decades. As one can see each decade certainly brought it’s own uniqueness as well as its certain messages. From the british invasion discussed in the 1960’s all the way to the “flavor of the week” artists of the 2000’s we all can agree that music plays a significant role in our lives. We hear both political messages and inspirational lyrics in music nowadays, thus it does play a role in society. Thank you for this wonderful opportunity to take a closer examination of this topic.

Additional Works Cited:
Levitin, Daniel. New scientist. Dutton Adult, 2006. Print.
"Music and Entertainment in Our Society." That's Entertainment. Music and Entertainment in our Society, 2009. Web. 17 Apr 2010. .
"1980's in Music." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation Incorporated, 15 April 2010. Web. 19 Apr 2010. .
Braunstein, Peter. "Disco." AmericanHeritage.com/Disco. AmericanHeritage.com. Web. .
Disco. (2010, April 15). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. April 17, 2010, http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Disco&oldid=356175394
Estrella, Espie. "What Is Disco Music? - Disco Muisc, Dance Music of the 1970s." Music Education. Web.

Studio 54. (2010, April 17). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Studio_54&oldid=356492810
Missy-J. "Fashion Through The Ages - 1970s." Guise. Web. .

1 Dorsey, Tommy. "The Ed Sullivan Show." The Museum of Broadcast Communications. Web. 19 Apr. 2010. .

2 Leopold, Todd. "When the Beatles Hit America." CNN.com - Breaking News, U.S., World, Weather, Entertainment & Video News. 05 Feb. 2004. Web. 19 Apr. 2010. .

3 "The Beatles." Rollingstone. 28 Mar. 2010. Web. 19 Apr. 2010. .

4 “Beatles Record Sales. Music Industry Newswire. http://musicindustrynewswire.com/META/min0409_beatles-sales.gif

5 Leopold, Todd. "When the Beatles Hit America." CNN.com - Breaking News, U.S., World, Weather, Entertainment & Video News. 05 Feb. 2004. Web. 19 Apr. 2010. .

6 The National Organization for Women. Web. 19 Apr. 2010. .

7 "The Beatles." PBS. Web. 19 Apr. 2010. .

8 Jones, Chris. "Review of The Beatles - Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band." BBC. 23 Apr. 2007. Web. 21 Apr. 2010. .

9 Martin, George; Hornsby, Jeremy (1994). All You Need Is Ears. New York: St. Martin's Press.

10 “Beatles Album Sales by Year” Nielsen Company. http://www.billboard.com/photos/stylus/101833-2-beatles_albums_by_year.jpg

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