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.

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#Music Evoking #Memory

Supposedly the sense of smell is the most evocative of the senses in terms of memory. Whenever I catch a whiff of flowers beginning to fade I am ten years old on my knees behind the blackboard, changing flowers from  one thick glass vase to another, the water green and smelly. There are worse memories.

But music  – ahh now for me that really strikes a chord – ok I couldn’t help myself. I listen to all kinds of music now, but as a teenager once I’d passed the pop phase, protest songs were about the only thing I’d listen too.  With a bit of Dave Brubeck,Miles Davis and Rolling Stones thrown in. Classical music was something I had to force myself to learn to like, which was a shame as there were wasted years of enjoyment. Same with opera. So my knowledge of both is sketchy at best .

In my novel Radio Echo, music is a constant theme. Raffaella grows up in an apartment above Cafe Musica, where local musicians come to play , either bringing their own instruments or borrowing ones, Raffaella’s father kept for that purpose. A musical impromptu get together is not unusual in Italy, especially in small towns. I’ve seen people show up of all ages, playing mandolin’s, accordions guitars or drums. The music would change from traditional Italian to jazz to 60’s folk depending on who was playing.

Here are some links from you tube that encapsulate the progressions of the music in Radio Echo. As a novelist it’s important to incorporate as many senses as appropriate in setting the scene. Music is often one that’s forgotten.


Trio Lescano’ were the Italian ‘Andrew Sisters‘, extremely popular in Italy in the 30’s and 40’s, with their close swing and jazz harmonies. They were actually Dutch, but in 1941 they became Italian citizens.Two years later their fame ended as their mother was Jewish. They were first cancelled from all radio programs, then arrested and imprisoned on allegations of espionage. The accusation was “their songs contained encoded messages for the enemy”. Once the war was over, after a two years’ silence, Trio Lescano wanted to bid farewell to their Italian audience with a final performance broadcast live by the radio on 1 September 1945. The three sisters then moved to South America, where their artistic career continued.

On a completely different note , Stefano, the son of the family in Bologna, played classical duets and Schubert’s Fantasia in F minor, the duet for four hands, was one of his favorites.


Later in the novel we move to Cole Porter’s Song “Night and Day” referencing Django Reinhardt and Stefan Grapelli. This is a 1938 rendition:


I couldn’t mention Reinhardt and Grapelli without including this fun little video of the members of the Hot Club of France playing “J’Attendrais”


Music is everlasting and a few bars can transport one back in time with such power it’s often overwhelming.

I’d love to hear your musical associations or if anyone else uses music in their writing.



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