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Let It Be or Beat It - A comparison between 60s and 80s music periods

By Ella Gullfeldt.



The 60s was the era where pop music was introduced as a term. Pop music (short for popular music) developed from the rock music genre that came in the 50s. Pop music attracted a wide audience and especially young people.


The most famous band from the 60s was The Beatles. This was a British pop and rock band that was formed in Liverpool in 1960. They are known as one of the most successful bands of all time with over 1,3 billion sold records. The Beatles created music that was inspired from different genres and can be described as a mixture of different influences. Their music and style developed over time. Beatles originally played more simple pop, rock and roll and skiffle, but as they came further into their music careers, they started to experiment with and take inspiration from genres like heavy rock, heavy metal and psychedelic music. The Beatles were extremely popular and had a large number of fans, not just in Britain, but all over the world. The Beatles split up in the beginning of the 1970s, but they had a huge influence on the music produced after them, because of their curiosity and how they discovered new ways to play music. The Beatles last album was Let It Be from 1970.


The Beatles kicked off something called the British invasion. This means that pop and rock music and other cultural things from Britain spread and became popular in the United States. One such famous British band was The Rolling Stones that started out as a rhythm and blues cover band in the early 60s and later became known as the greatest rock n’ roll band in the world.

But it wasn’t only rock music in the 60s. Another popular genre from this time was soul music, that developed in the 50s out of the American blues and gospel tradition. In the 60s, soul became a part of the civil rights movement as it encouraged black pride and social justice for Afro-Americans. One great soul singer in the 60s was Aretha Franklin known for famous songs from the 60s such as Respect (1967) and I Say a Little Prayer (1968). The record label Motown records contributed to the development of soul music in the 60s featuring artists such as The Temptations, Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder. The Motown sound that was a mixture of soul and pop music became almost like a music genre in itself.


The 60s were a time of great belief in progress and the future. It was also a time where the cold war between the east and the west took off. The Soviet leader Chrusjtjov gave the order to build the Berlin wall in 1961. The arms race between the Soviet Union and the United States was a reason behind the peace and love countermovement that influenced music during this time. The hippie style and flower power were introduced in the mid-60s. Music festivals featuring several artists where a lot of people came together became popular. One such festival was the Woodstock festival that took place in the state of New York in 1969 where artists such as Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix performed. Many musicians in the 60s wrote political songs with the aim to impact society. One example is the American singer-songwriter Bob Dylan whose songs influenced the peace movement and the civil rights movement.

Just like the 60s, the 80s was characterized by several different music genres. The variety in the 80s was large but the sound was generally more upbeat and had a happy tone in it.

The rock genre continued to have a very wide audience in the 80s. Many new versions of Rock were developed. These new types of rock had a lot more melody in them and were softer and “nicer” than earlier types of rock. Like the original rock, it had a focus on image, song, and guitar sound. The virtuosity and skills of the musicians became very important in the 80s, guitar solos were particularly appreciated by the audience. An example of one of the new rock genres in the 80s was glam metal. This style centered around the glamour, tight clothes, makeup and tufted hair.

The 80s is often associated with the synthesizer. This is an electronic music instrument which can create almost an infinite amount of different sounds. It looks very similar to a keyboard. The first digital synthesizers came in the beginning of the 80s and became a very popular instrument, especially in pop and rock. The synth-pop was a music style that was very wide spread during the 80s and that had a large audience. There were also other electronic genres that were created in the 80s because of the increased use of digital recording. Examples are techno and house music, that were developed further during the 90s.

In the 80s the soul music of the 60s was developed further into a genre called R&B. It was created by mainly afro american artists and producers that mixed soul with other genres like disco, funk, hip hop and pop. The disco music, which was outfashioned in the early years of the 80s, helped form a R&B originating from the post-disco.

The disco music of the 70s also gave rise to hip hop music. The origins of hip hop music can be traced to live performances in the poorer areas of New York in the 70s where the music was made by creating “breaks” by using two record players and DJ mixing table. Other DJ techniques signifying hip hop are scratching and beat making. Hip hop music is also called rap music after the vocals that are talked or rhymed (rapping). In the beginning, hip hop was performed live by DJs. The first hip hop record was produced in 1979. During the 80s, hip hop exploded and became very popular as part of a wider culture that included art (graffiti) and dancing (breakdance). Hip hop is related to R&B, disco, electronic music and funk. It is also a kind of poetry or spoken word.

During the 60s artists had started to develop something similar to music videos, but it wasn’t until the 80s that the music video became a real succes. A big reason for this was the founding of MTV in the US 1981. This was a TV-channel completely devoted to playing music videos. When MTV came, the music videos were just as important as radio to spread the music. The first music video ever played was Video Killed The Radiostar with The Buggles.


Micheal Jackson was one of the most famous artists of the 80s, and he is still today one of the most famous artists of all time. He is known as an american pop singer, an incredible dancer and music writer. When Micheal Jackson started working with music he was only a small child. He played in a band with his brothers called the Jackson 5. They released several songs which got very famous like “I Want You Back” and “ABC”. As an adult, Michael Jackson continued his career as a solo artist. His album Thriller is the best-selling album of all time with 65 to 105 million sold copies (there are different opinions about the exact amount). Many people think that Micheal Jackson revolutionized the way we do music videos. Some of his most famous music videos were for the songs “Thriller” and “Beat it”. Micheal Jackson and his music has influenced a lot of pop, hip-hop, and R&B artists that came after him.


Madonna is another very famous artist that started out in the 80s period. She is an american singer, musician and songwriter. Madonna gained a lot of attention because of her way of pushing the boundaries in her songwriting in popular music and the visuals she uses in videos and on stage. Madonna’s music is especially in the genre of pop and she is often called the “Queen of Pop”. Her breakthrough came in 1984 with the hit Like a Virgin.

Other famous artists from the 80s are Prince, Bruce Springsteen and Whitney Houston. The 80s was also a great era for Swedish pop music. In the early 80s ABBA continued its success from the 70s. In 1986 the Swedish heavy metal band Europe had a huge international hit with the song The Final Countdown. The same year, the pop duo Roxette was formed. Roxette gained a large international audience towards the end of the 80s and the beginning of the 90s.


A similarity between the two periods is that the rock and pop genre was central in both eras. A lot of music created in the 60s was still very popular in the 80s. Most pop and rock songs were generally structured the same way with verses and a repeated chorus and the main instruments were the electronic guitar, drums and keyboard. The music created in the 80s period was largely based on the music type that was typical for the 60s period, but the 80s music was more advanced and developed. In the 80s new techniques and ways to create music were invented. Instruments such as the synthesizer gave room for much more opportunities for music creators. It was possible to create new structures with digital sound in songs, possibilities that were not available or invented in the 60s. The synthesizer gave sounds that can’t be made with acoustic instruments. I would also say that the music in the 80s was more blended than in the 60s. Artists sampled from many different genres and created their own music. If we take hip hop as an example, that is a big blend of disco, R&B, electronic music and funk. It also became common to create music by blending in music from other musicians. Another part about the 80s period was that the music video and MTV was introduced. This created a new and more visual way to spread music compared to the 60s, when the main media for new music was the radio.Therefore, the look and style of the performing artists became a central part of their act and an important way for musicians to market their music.

Personally I like music from the 80s more than the music from the 60s. I am a big fan of the synthesizer that I believe brings a very cool sound to the song. I also think that 80s music is more happy and positive than 60s music. Another probable reason why I think I like 80s music more is that I am more used to it and have listened to it much more than I have listened to 60s music. I also have more memories connected with 80s songs than 60s songs. However, while completing this project, I have started to listen to some artists from the 60s that I really like. One example is Aretha Franklin who I believe has a great voice. I also love some of the late Beatles songs like Hey Jude and Let It Be. I especially like the lyrics of some of the songs from the 60s and the message of peace and understanding. So if for one reason or another I had to either Beat It or Let It Be - I would definitely Let It Be.