1969: Does Music Capture the Heart of an Era?

In 1969, I was a sixteen year old and like all teenagers, listened to a lot of music. For me, it was Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Simon & Garfunkel as well as Van Morrison, Jimi Hendrix, The Who and The Rolling Stones.

Music vinyl covers from the sixties

Music vinyl covers from the sixties (Photo credit: Falcon Writing)

My current WIP, Under The Bed, is set in 1969 in NYC, a year that began with the inauguration of Nixon as President. 1969 fell in the shadow of the previous year, which saw the height of the anti-Vietnam War protests, and the assassinations of both Martin Luther King Jr.and Robert Kennedy.The ’68 Democratic Convention in Chicago was another scene of protest and riots.

Writing the Sounds of Silence, and Changing Times

Writers try to include most of the senses in any piece of work , but sound is one that can be overlooked. We do the same in normal life, often accepting background noise until it becomes annoying and then we’re surprised by how good it feels when it stops.

Music is something altogether different. Within a few bars of the song it has the power to carry you back in time, and evoke an emotion. Dependant on the music and the year, it can convey the popular culture of the day. In the case of the 1960’s it was often making a political statement.

 Woodstock -August 18th 1969

English: This photo was taken near the Woodsto...

English: This photo was taken near the Woodstock music festival on August 18, 1969. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The biggest music event of 1969 in the USA, was Woodstock. One of the the first big music concerts, it defined an era in its anti-establishment ambience and brought together an incredible collection of musicians including Jimi Hendrix, Jefferson Airplane and Janis Joplin.The backdrop of anti -Vietnam War sentiment was prevalent, epitomised by Hendrix own iconic version of the Star Spangled Banner.(FYI Hendrix himself had served in Vietnam in the 101st Airborne). Here’s a 1 minute excerpt from an interview with Hendrix talking about his rendition.


 Isle of Wight – August 30th 1969

The UK equivalent of Woodstock in 1969 was the first Isle of Wight Music Festival.Personally it was a turning point, where I changed from being a halfhearted teenybopper to a definitely wannabe hippie. Bear in mind, at sixteen, I was still living at home and going to school, so I was hardly turning on, tuning in, and dropping out. But the experience of the Isle of Wight was truly amazing, not only from the perspective of having music 24/7 – big names like The Who and Bob Dylan – but I’d never been exposed to such an “anything goes” atmosphere.This is a great 2 minute home movie which captures the feeling.


I came back from the festival saying things like “it was really too much,man” (i.e. really great) and started hanging out with a completely different crowd. I felt I’d found myself, and other kindred spirits. We developed into a close circle of friends who hung out and shared all kinds of new experiences in the following five years.

Music. It all came down to the music, which in that era at least, was a political statement. I suspect teenagers of all generations feel the same when they take a stand, and feel different.


Simon and Garfunkel Mrs Robinson UK EP

Simon and Garfunkel Mrs Robinson UK EP (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The way we listen to music has changed dramatically since 1969, when it was a much more social event, and music far less readily available. Who remembers going to their local record store and using the headphones in a sound booth to check out whether or not to buy an album?  OK, I’m dating myself, but you get the point. We take music and all kinds of sounds, and the way we receive them today, for granted. However we listen, the right music at the right time strikes a chord, and captures the emotions we have as individuals. As writers, in using music in our work, we can evoke an era and/or capture the heart of our characters.

Over to you. What part does music play in your work? What were you listening to in 1969? If you weren’t old enough to remember, then what were your key teenage years, and what part did music play? Come join the discussion, and please share this post on your favorite social media.

 Many Thanks!

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  1. Music has the same effect on me. It can take me back years. It can even bring tears to my eyes if the memory evoked is a sad one. Music is a magical thing and transcends time and space.
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  2. Music has always been a big part of life for me. Growing up I went through walkmans like they were candy (this was a time when they were new too). Even while in the Marines we didn’t always have television but everyone had a radio with tapes or a walkman. I listened to almost everything, still do.

    Punk and metal interspersed with the one hit wonders in the 80s, were my musical choices. Today I still have quite of that available but I have added more to the collection. I love how we have sites like last.fm, pandora, and Iheartradio that use algorithyms to mix and match music from so many artists.

    Something I carry over from the old days is the hunt. It has become so easy now to just look online for an artist or song. You can download entire libraries of a groups music. I still prefer to look the old fashioned way. Going through stacks of cds looking for artist from bygone eras, trying to find that one specific song from that artist, that fuels emotional memories.
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    • Sounds like you’re quite the expert Jon. I like all kinds of music, though , despite my love of early Iggy Pop, heavy metal was not one of my favs.
      I also love how you can find music in all sorts of ways now, tho I agree finding old cd’s is a real pleasure. It almost feels like being able to hear old recordings on YouTube for example at the drop of a hat is like cheating. Thanks for the comment:-)
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  3. This brought back so many memories for me. It was an amazing time and one that changed us, not just the music, which was huge, but the way we saw the world. It seems that each decade has it’s music, event icons and change factors, don’t you think? The eighties were the same where we emerged from apathy. Loved this piece AK. 🙂
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  4. Personally love music and listen to everything from Wagner to ABBA.

    Agree that music caputures an era and bring back memories.

    But suddenly, in 2004 I believe it was, “Is this the way to Amarillo?” was suddenly No. 1 in the UK charts and played everywhere. And wherever you are nowadays they are playing music from the 60s, 70s and 80s. So it’s getting a bit confusing. Teenagers today most likely think it’s their music and belongs to this era. Interesting perspective, isn’t it:-)
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    • You are totally right Catarina about all the retro stuff that is on all the time! I’m a bit baffled by it to be honest. While I’m not a fan of Abba I do like a whole range of music. It was a huge revelation to me when I finally realised how fabulous opera is. So I like to keep an open mind and am always on the look out for new music. Thanks so much for your comment:-)
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  5. My husband and I are always talking about Woodstock. He was in the air force then. We were just dating then. (How is THAT for dating myself!) But his orders were, “Do not attend.” I guess I was supporting him and we didn’t go. It’s a time that even though we were not at the event, we have the music to remind us of the way things were.

    Music and memories go together better than almost anything.

    Thanks A.K.
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  6. That is really interesting about your husband Pat. It was really awful how it took a while for people to realise you could be against the war but still support the troops.

    And yes we have both dated ourselves here! Music and memories are indeed the perfect match.
    Thanks so much for the comment Pat:-)
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  7. Music – the scrapbook of our lives!
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  8. Music has played such an important role in my life. I remember locking myself in my room when I was angry at the world and blasting my favorite songs for hours on end. My first cassette tapes were Madonna’s True Blue and Prince’s Paisley Park albums. From there, I just sort of branched out to all sorts of eclectic stuff, including classical music and opera. I just couldn’t get enough. I went through a heavy metal phase and worshipped Motley Cure and various bands of the same ilk. I fell in love with the Red Hot Chili Peppers. The list goes on, but I do have a special place in my heart for Bob Dylan’s music. He is the master.
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    • It’s always been a great escape for me too, and like you, different music at different times. As a teenager, perhaps it’s one of the first adult things that we can (hopefully) have control over, make our own, and find others that can express our feelings better than we can ourselves. And of course open us up to new ideas we’re bursting for at that age. But at any age, theirs a solace in music that nothing else brings. Dylan is indeed a master , but I confess I don’t give much air time to his more recent work. Laziness as much as anything. It takes time to get to really get to know new work of anyone.Thanks for the comment Jeri:-)
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  9. One of the things I remember most is cleaning the house every Saturday with my mom in the early ’80s. She would always blast funk, R&B, disco and the occasional pop song.

    We had one of those console-style record player/radios and it was massive inside; large enough for me and three other kids to hide in if it had been hollow inside. My mom would load up a stack of records and as the music played we’d dust and vacuum and sweep and dance around while we sang in horribly tone deaf voices.

    It was always a good time even though we were engaging in the most mundane of activities!
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    • That sounds fabulous Adrienne, and the console totally wild. They were never that big in the UK (pun intended!) though I think we had one very briefly when I was little. Music sure makes mundane jobs a lot more un, and some of my earliest memories are of singing with my mother. Thanks so much for sharing this experience:-)
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  10. Music is essential to my life. I played the cornet in grade school and high school and gained such an appreciation for music. My late husband and I had a favorite song that would always bring us to our feet at a wedding or at a piano bar. I attended the NY Philharmonic regularly and I’ve become addicted to the reality music show here in the U.S. “The Voice.” I don’t know much about pop music but I’m really enjoying it. Always good to spread your wings a little!
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    • How fabulous to learn an instrument like the cornet up to high school level. I always loved music too, and sang from an early age and played instruments from about 12. I’d really wanted to learn the piano, but my parents thought it was something I would tire of. I’ve tried to learn at various points in my life, but have found it hard to continue after about 6 months. I do love it though, and wish I’d learned early on. I agree with you Jeanette that it’s great to explore new music at any age. Spread you wings ? – definitely. How wonderful to have had a special song to have shared with your husband too.Thanks for sharing your experience.
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  11. I was not born in 69, but I can say that I listen to the same people/bands today. Legendary times 🙂
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  12. I’m looking at a quote right now by Albert Schweitzer that says, “There are two means of refuge from the miseries of life, music and cats.” (It’s on my cat calendar) 100 percent agree! Music is an escape, a release, an inspiration. It can fire you up, mellow you out and set the scene. It’s also a time machine, and can send you to different times of your life in a heartbeat. Couldn’t live without it!
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    • What a fabulous quote. And I love how you call music a time machine. Spot on. It can do all the things you mention and what’s so wonderful is it’s an everlasting spring. Always something new to discover. I was reading the other day how it can be good for insomnia. I’m mixed on that one as sometimes it can stir too many emotions to relax back down from. Other times it really does lull you to sleep in a lovely way. Thanks so much for stopping by:-)
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  13. A.K., This post just brought back a flood of memories for me. I believe I was listening to the same music that you were. My husband and I just watched a documentary on Joan Baez. It was excellent. I’ve been reading “The Wrecking Crew” by Kent Hartman. It’s about the unknown studio musicians who recorded most of the soundtracks in the ’60s and early ’70s. It’s a great read that you would probably thoroughly enjoy.
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    • Fantastic Sherryl- it’s always great to share music with people, and the book you mention definitely sounds worth checking out. No doubt there’s all kinds of musicians that were unrecognised for the work they did. Perhaps even more so now actually. Thanks so much for the comment.
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  14. In 1969, I was settling into civilian life six months after returning from Vietnam. It’s fair to say that protest songs and TV series like Mash were not my favorites. But, years and years later, we got four couples to gather at our house in Maine for some fun. Everything was wonderful about it, but when I broke out my Doo Wop video collection, it brought down the house. Singing and dancing and smiling ’til our faces ached. My favorite?: What’s Your Name?

    • In can imagine why protest songs & Mash etc. were not your favorite Larry. I think I’ve said to you before how appalling and insensitive of people were who treated returning troops badly, linking them with the politics of the war itself, without valuing their service. Sounds like a trip down memory lane with a Doo Wop collection was a great night. Go Larry! There were some great songs from that era in there. I remember “Time of the Season’ (what’s your name -who’s your Daddy…) – looks like there’s been some recent remixes too. Or maybe I’m mixing it up with another song.
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