On a previous post I mentioned that I thought that rock music was one of our generation’s greatest gifts to society. Now, the first thing I want to make clear is that Baby Boomers did not create rock music. The Baby Boom era did not begin until 1946. Bill Haley was born in 1925. Chuck Berry was born in 1926. Elvis Presley was born in 1935. So the first generation of rock musicians were not Baby Boomers. Technically, even the Beatles were not Baby Boomers. George Harrison, the youngest Beatle, was born in 1943. No, we Baby Boomers were not the creators of rock music – we were the generation that brought it from an obscure offshoot of country and jazz and made it mainstream. We supported it with our dollars, and adopted it as the music of our generation.
There is actually a lot of musical real estate under the rock umbrella. It ranges from blues rock like The Rolling Stones to country rock like the Allman Brothers to folk rock like Crosby Stills & Nash to hard rock like Led Zeppelin. Most Baby Boomers embraced one or more of these flavors of rock music. And those that didn’t probably embraced pop rock bands like Gary Lewis and the Playboys or the marvelous Motown stable of artists like The Supremes and The Temptations.
It’s no accident that the seminal Baby Boomer event was a music festival. That’s how important the music was. Rock music reached its zenith in cultural influence at Woodstock. While I wasn’t fortunate enough to attend, I own a copy of the wonderful documentary that was directed by Michael Wadleigh and recommend it to everyone. It’s one of those films you can run in the background and just revel in the music without getting wet. As marijuana slowly becomes legal across the country, the film may make a big comeback.
The thing that strikes me about watching the Woodstock film is just how broad a spectrum of music it featured. Richie Havens opened the concert, followed later in the night by Ravi Shankar, Melanie and Arlo Guthrie. The next day Santana, The Who and Jefferson Airplane rocked the crowd along with John Sebastian, Sly & the Family Stone and the Grateful Dead. Jimi Hendrix closed the weekend event. This was the music of a generation, and the generation showed up in force to hear it as the ‘60s came to a climax.
By the early ‘70s we were entering the heyday of the singer-songwriter. Bob Dylan had dominated this field in the 1960s, but as the new decade got under way, James Taylor, Jackson Brown and Carole King were climbing the charts.
Notwithstanding the popularity of folk rock groups like Seals & Croft and America at this time, as I arrived on campus for my freshman year, it was Layla that was blaring out of dorm rooms everywhere. Eric Clapton’s epic rock anthem was released in November 1970 on an album that Eric made with Duane Allman, Bobby Whitlock, Carl Radle and Jim Gordon under the fanciful name Derek and the Dominos. The album is such a classic it was inducted in the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2000.
Throughout the ‘70s, groups like Yes, Deep Purple and Pink Floyd kept the rock flag flying. Radio stations like WNEW-FM in New York, WBCN in Boston and WMMR in Philadelphia played entire album sides without commercials. And it was good. It was very good.
And now here we are in the 21st century, and not only is our music still alive, it’s more accessible than ever. As I write this, I’m listening to Smoke on the Water by Deep Purple. But I’m not listening to the radio, or a record, or even a CD. I’m listening to the online music service Spotify. We now can get ‘60s and ‘70s music on demand via the Internet from services like Pandora, Spotify, Rhapsody, and many more. And when I feel a need to hear “Stairway To Heaven,” I can just say to my Iphone “play it again, Siri” and Jimmy Page’s guitar solo begins. What with MP3 players and smartphones, we are never more than a few seconds away from “our” music. And “our” music is still the best that the world has ever heard.