“Rock music was never written for or performed for conservative tastes.” This is a quote by Frank Zappa, a popular musician from the 1960’s era. Music has always been a incredibly large part of society, no matter what genre. With music, especially rock and protest music, there comes a sense of rebellion and “something worth fighting for.” The music of the 1960’s was no different, and was probably the era that brought out this sense of rebellion the most in its music. Everything from rock to protest to folk music involved a message telling its listeners to take a stand, think for themselves, and live their lives on their own terms. “Rebellion” is defined as “resistance to or defiance of any authority, control, or tradition.” The music of the 1960’s really is the definition of rebellion. The lyrics, the sound, and the culture that came along with it all send a message to people to stand up to authority and those “in control,” which is exactly what most of the people did.
The decade from 1960-1970 was a decade of “rebellion and counterculture.” The young generation was questioning everything, such as authority, the government, and Corporate America. Folk music, which had been popular in the late 1950’s, was rolling over into the early 1960’s, providing folk music with material that would be remembered for many decades to come. Hundreds of bands influenced this counter-culture with their music. The Beatles, Bob Dyaln, Janis Joplin, Joan Baez, and Jimi Hendrix were all popular artists during “The Sixties.” The messages that they send through not only their lyrics but themselves encouraged many people to follow in their lead and become involved in the ever growing Civil Rights Movement that was happening at this time. Studying the lyrics, the culture, and the fans of these bands helps us understand what the era was like and why it was considered to be so rebellious.
The Beatles, originally a popular music group from the 1960’s, “invaded” the United States in the mid 1960’s. They were not only successful for their catch tunes and handsome looks, but also because of the cultural impact they had on their audience through their lyrics and different musical sounds. The more their popularity grew, the more controversy they caused. Because of the massive following The Beatles found in the United States, younger people began acting more and more like their idols. If The Beatles said something, their audience believed them. The Beatles were major anti-war activists and, because of their outspoken opinions on the war, so were their fans. Young adults began protesting, arranging sit-ins, and speaking up against the war, which most adults in the United States thought to be blasphemous, since most were in full support of the war at this time. They were, in fact, so controversial that even Elvis Presley requested to President Nixon that The Beatles be banned from the United States. A popular song, “Revolution”, contains lyrics such as:
“If you want money for people with minds of hate/All I can tell you is brother you have to wait…”
And “You tell me it’s the institution/Well, you know/You better free your mind instead/But if you go carrying pictures of chairman Mao/You ain’t gonna make it with no one anyhow.”
These lyrics not only talk about things like not giving money for “people with minds of hate” which seems to be talking about paying things like taxes and other monies to the government. Another popular song, “Imagine,” sung by John Lennon, one of the lead band members, also contains lyrics about not needing authority, the government, or even jobs.
“Imagine there’s no countries/I wonder if you can/Nothing to kill or die for/A brotherhood of man/Imagine all the people/Living life in peace.”
This song inspired many people, young and old, to try to imagine what the world would be like if there were no wars, no hate, and no need for things like jobs or material things. Both of these previous songs hit a lot of the high points in the rebellion movement of this era because they are about doing your own thing, and not caring what the government, authorities, or even your parents tell you to do. The Beatles gave a major contribution to this era and this movement.
Bob Dylan was another influential artist from the 1960’s. He is not only a folk music artist, but also a poet, songwriter, and activist. “He unofficially became the spokesperson for the counter-culture movement of the 1960’s and many young people looked up to him for their ideas concerning social issues.”
He wrote not only anti-war anthems but songs celebrating civil rights, not hesitating to include lyrics that were obviously both politically and socially biased towards his opinion. Bob Dylan was not afraid or ashamed to voice his disagreement about the policies and procedures of that time. For instance, his song “Hurricane” was written about a famous African-American boxer of that time, Rubin Carter, who was accused and charged of the murder of three people in a bar that he was never in on the night of the murders. Songs like this touched many young people’s lives, and Bob Dylan is a large part of the reason that so many young people joined the Civil Rights movement.
Jimi Hendrix was also a musician who was a part of the rebellion movement in the 1960’s. He became widely popular in the mid 1960’s not only for his music, but for his wild personality and fashion sense as well. His fascination with Bob Dylan prompted a Dylan-like hairstyle and he was well known for wearing things like scarves in his hair, rings, medallions, and old vintage-style clothing. He was even seen wearing different types of army jackets. Hendrix, like Dylan, was also a support of Martin Luther King and the Civil Rights movement. However, one of the things that Hendrix is widely known for is the large part he played in the massive lean towards drug use by young audiences. He was associated with the use of hallucinogenic drugs like LSD, like many other musicians of this time (i.e. The Beatles). He has also been recorded as using amphetamines, marijuana, sleeping pills, etc. He drank a lot and often got into fights when he drank too much. Just like in today’s society, teenagers and young adults of this decade looked up to and admired these famous musicians and artists.
So, when drug use became popular among celebrities, it was only a matter of time before it became popular with their fans. LSD and other hallucinogenic drugs had a major impact on many lives during the 1960’s. Drugs are without a doubt one of the most rebellious things to come into our society not only because of their illegality (no matter how popular or widely used they are) but also because of the toll they take on a person’s mind and body. His song “Are You Experienced?” spoke of how listeners should let go of their current world and become “experienced,” which could mean something different to everyone.
“I know, I know/You’ll probably scream n’ cry/That your little world won’t let go/But who in your measly little world are you trying to prove that/You’re made out of gold and –a can’t be sold. / So-er, Are you experienced? / Ah! Have you ever been experienced? / Well, I have.”
As stated previously, “experienced” meant different things to different people, but most thought of the lyrics as meaning experienced in sex, drugs, and rock and roll. The more popular and in the limelight artists like Jimi Hendrix and their lifestyles became, the more that the young generation tried to emulate that lifestyle as much as possible and at all costs.
Janis Joplin was another artist who made alcohol and drug use famous in this decade, but that isn’t her only claim to fame in the rebellion movement. It is also said that Janis’s body art, a wristlet and a small heart on her left breast, were taken as a seminal moment in the tattoo industry and was an early moment in the culture’s acceptance of tattoos as art. She was also popular for her crazy hairstyle, often worn down, long, curly and completely uninhibited. Her hair was often wildly colored and included accessories, such as beads, scarves, and feathers. Joplin, however, did not condone the use of LSD, calling it “hippie brainwashing.” Janis Joplin was an incredibly powerful singer with a unique voice. She was extremely rough around the edges and not in any way “girly”, but more of a tomboy. Her part in the rebellion movement was also a large one, like most of the musicians and artists of this time. She was uninhibited, loud, and very un-ladylike; definitely not your typical woman. However, she taught her audience, especially the females, that it was okay to do these things. It was okay to “let down your hair” and be “one of the guys.” For Joplin, there was no need to be proper, dressed appropriately, and quiet. She believed in saying exactly what she thought and exactly the way she was feeling, no matter what it was, or whom it offended. Granted, this angered a lot of people, young and old alike, but the point that Joplin was trying to make was that, no matter who got mad about the things she was saying or singing about, she was still going to say them and sing about them anyway. Ideals such as this gave people the courage and the gumption to stand up for themselves and become freethinkers, instead of letting their thoughts be controlled by someone else.
Joan Baez was brought to tears the first time she heard a young Martin Luther King, Jr. speak about nonviolence and civil rights. One of the songs that made her popular was “We Shall Overcome,” popularized by Pete Seeger. She would sing it many times after that at marches and other protest demonstrations. During the 1960’s, Baez became incredibly vocal about the United States’ involvement in the Vietnam War and her disagreement with it.
She endorsed resisting taxes in 1963 and did things like block the entrance of the Armed Forces Induction Center in California, for which she was arrested twice. She was a frequent participant in anti-war marches and rallies. At a free concert in 1967 at the Washington Monument, over 30,000 people came to hear her message against the war. She was increasingly critical of the government and anything political. She also formed her own Human Rights group that focused on oppression wherever it occurred. Even today, Baez continues to be an avid supporter of causes such as gay and lesbian rights, environmental causes, and the war on terror. Joan Baez influenced many people to follow in her lead and get involved in a cause like the Civil Rights Movement. To have over 30,000 come to hear someone speak and sing about a movement like that says a lot for her message and its strength. Baez had an incredible impact on many people in the 1960’s and many of the people who began protesting, demonstrating, and volunteering for these causes were because of her influence on them.
Though the music of the 1960’s was powerful and contained a powerful message, by 1965 the number of folk/protest artists was so great that the music itself had become diluted. This is when folk music and rock music began to fuse together, with much thanks to Bob Dylan. The Beatles moved beyond feelings of teenage love and delved even more seriously into more political and social issues than ever before with songs like “Revolution” and “Imagine” as stated before. Drugs and hedonism also dampened the impact of the folk music revolution. Psychedelic rock and blues replaced the previous acoustic sounds of the mid 60’s, which began to pave the way towards hard rock.
Not only did music and musicians affect the people who listened to them, but they also affected the culture around them. The fashion of this music and these musicians started coming out more and more in society. Skirts kept getting shorter, and some people neglected clothes altogether, instead embracing nudity and the beauty of the human body. People began growing their hair longer and wearing it down, even the men. Men also began to grow longer beards. Tie-dye and other brightly colored clothing became more popular and accessories like scarves, headbands, flowers, and beads started being worn more and more. Most of this was being fuelled by musicians and their music, by what they wore, by what they said and did on stage and off, all of which was emulated by their fans, forcing the culture as a whole to grow even bigger than it was.
One of the events that people remember the most when they think about the 60’s is the Woodstock Festival, held in 1969. Thought to be one of the greatest music festivals of all time, artists like Jimi Hendrix and The Who were frequent headliners to the usual half a million crowd of people. This festival usually lasted three days and people shared everything from their campsite to food to drugs. To many, the Woodstock Festival exemplified the counterculture of this era. The festival was a culmination of what the counterculture actually stood for and the bands that played their appealed to this generation’s questioning of American society and where it was headed. It was these bands’ influence on this audience of young people that brought both groups together on this farm in Bethel, New York.
Everyone was coming together to celebrate their culture with other people with the same ideals, beliefs, morals, and values. Around 400,000 “hippies” came together to celebrate under a slogan that would be known even in generations that would never attend the festival: “three days of peace and music.” Many of the bands that played big parts in Civil Rights, Human Rights, Anti-War, and other social movements of this decade performed at The Woodstock Festival, including Joan Baez (who was 6 months pregnant), Janis Joplin, Grateful Dead, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Jefferson Airplane, and Jimi Hendrix. It was a time for the counterculture to come together as one “nation” and a time for the people of this culture to meet others who enjoy the same type of music, fashion, and activism as they do. The power of this music brought all of those people together, where minds could open up to new thoughts and experiences and where people were loved no matter race, sex, or sexual orientation, which is something that this counterculture couldn’t find anywhere outside of a place like Woodstock. The Woodstock Festival in itself was a rebellious movement, bringing all of these rebels together for one cause: peace.
The 1960’s have been an inspiration in so many different ways, even to our society today. The movements that were huge in this decade still exist today, and people are still fighting for them. The 1960’s also had a huge influence on the music of later decades because of artists who weren’t afraid to take a stand against the establishment and who encouraged others to do the same. These artists not only exemplified this ideal of standing up to the establishment, but they made it the most popular thing to do in the 1960’s. Even though all of this existed over 40 years ago, our society today still feels the pull of this rebellious ideal in our music. The music of the 1960’s paved the road for genres like hard rock and heavy metal and even though the sound changed and the music got louder, the message of protest music still rings through in these new formats. The music of the 1960’s had a major impact on the music and ideals of today. Young generations still listen to The Beatles, Bob Dylan, and the Grateful Dead. They still wear tiedye, they still turn their music up too loud, they still defy authority, whether it be their parents or the government, and they still believe in the same ideals as activists in the 1960’s. This music and these musicians that came out of this influential decade will continue to touch lives and send their message out to young people long after the popular music of today has faded away. Their music will always urge listeners to think for themselves, stand up for what is right, and do whatever it takes to make the world a better place, even if that means standing up against those who try to stop them.
The Music Driven Sub-cultures of the 1970s
Social movements occur not only in response to conditions of inequality and injustice, but more importantly, because of the changing circumstances of the time period. Those involved must recognize and define their dilemma as an injustice, and one that is intolerable to live with, as oppose to just passing it off as the result of luck or just simply a cruel twist of fate. Furthermore, the partakers involved in such a movement must realize that an easing or alleviation of these insufferable conditions is possible and that their efforts will be vital in obtaining the desired changes in political and social conditions. It wasn’t until the late 1960s and early 1970s that it became obvious that ignoring the impact of popular music on social and cultural protest movements was simply ridiculous.
Many ethnomusicologists, such as Alan Merriam argue that, “Songs lead as well as follow the political and social movements, often expressed through song because of the license it gives, shape and force the molding of public opinion” (208). Simply put, music does in fact impact sub-cultures to quite a noticeable extent.
Social histories of the United States have for a long time tended to highlight the relevance of the 1960s and the 1980s and treated the 1970s as simply an in-between phase from the countercultural movements of the 1960s to the conservative politics of the 1980s. Stephen Miller explains, “The sixties are generally depicted as a time of cultural expansion and indeterminacy, in contradistinction to the seventies, which are portrayed as a decade of assimilation, containment, and delimitation” (6). Contrary to Miller’s claims that the 1970s was a period of assimilation, containment, and delimitation, Tom Wolfe argues that during the 1970s, “Ordinary people in America were breaking off from conventional society, from family, neighborhood, and community, and creating worlds of their own” (274). Just consider the disco, punk rock, and rap movements of the 1970s. All three movements were regarded as rebellious music driven sub-cultures and all three movements exploded on to the scene during the 1970s.
The 1970s in a Nutshell
Although many critics would argue this issue, the 1970s was indeed a time of change. Watergate permanently altered the way Americans perceived their government. The end of the Vietnam War changed the way Americans viewed warfare. The oil crisis and rising inflation challenged many people’s perception about the United States as a land of endless plenty. The high unemployment rate altered many Americans’ assumption that anyone who wanted to work could find a job. Consequently, the US environment began to take on radical changes and so did its youth. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that the popular culture began to change also. And at the forefront were several music driven sub-cultures.
The Disco Era
Robert Sickels described disco as, “A genre whose sole purpose is to simply and unapologetically ‘put the boogie in your butt,’ and revere the apparent freedoms of the sexual revolution, the basic tenant of which was ‘if it feels good, do it’” (49). Disco first emerged during the early 1970s, “when disc jockeys at gay New York clubs would splice danceable soul tunes together, by artists such as MFSB, Diana Ross, and Barry White, creating a continuous, hypnotic dance mix,” explains Lori Tomlinson (195). The earliest participants of this sub-culture consisted of marginalized groups – gays, African- Americans, and Hispanics – in major US urban areas. And the players leading this new sub-culture included: Ray Caviano, disco’s most persuasive promo man, Gloria Gaynor who was the first Queen of Disco after “Honey Bee” and “Never Say Goodbye,” Loretta Holloway, and the electrifying Barry White (Shelton Waldrep 275-276). Still, it was not until 1978, following the immense success of Saturday Night Fever that disco took on a more conventional top-40 flavor. Clearly, disco institutionalized the practice of dancing to discs. Therefore, the history of disco entails not just sounds, but also the transformation of music environments, and perhaps more importantly an entirely new youth audience.
Disco was an immense success, because it appealed to everyone in the United States including gays, women, African-Americans, and even the youth of suburbia America. Every American now had a something in common. And though the disco era will forever be known as a time of bell-bottoms, wild dance moves, and of course the music, it will be remembered for the bond that finally brought all Americans together. Nevertheless as fast as it came on to the American scene it would disappear just as quickly. When the 1980s arrived disco was essentially dead; however, the music would have a heavy impact on R&B and hip-hop.
The Beginning of Rap
According to Catherine Powell “[Rap] emerged from the streets of inner-city neighborhoods as a genuine reflection of the hopes, concerns, and aspirations of urban black youth in the last quarter of the 20th century” (245). Specifically, in the early 1970s the radical rap poetry of the group The Last Poets exploded in Harlem. The group recorded on the independent Douglas Record label, and with little radio airplay sold 160,000 copies of their first album. The Last Poets took their new sound and used it to attack racism, black exploitation, and stereotyped racial roles. One of their more popular protest songs throughout Harlem was their 1973 hit “E Pluribus Unum.” Essentially, The Last Poets’ mission was to bring awareness to the black community over the issue of money and the corruptness behind it, which was an on-going problem in their very own neighbourhoods. In their song they blatantly claim that, “Selfish desires are burning like fires among those who hoard the gold as they continue to keep the people asleep and the truth from being told Racism and greed keep the people in need from getting what's rightfully theirs Cheating, stealin’ and double dealing as they exploit the peoples fears
Now, Dow Jones owns the people's homes and all the surrounding land Buying and selling their humble dwelling in the name of the Master Plan Cos paper money is like a bee without honey with no stinger to back him up and those who stole the people's gold are definitely corrupt.”
Rap was now a flourishing underground sub-culture in Harlem, the Bronx, and upper Manhattan. Nonetheless, the rest of America would have to wait.
In 1979, The Sugarhill Gang released “Rapper’s Delight” on Sugar Hill Records (Marvin Gladney 29). The hit single became rap’s first real big commercial hit. “Rapper’s Delight” reached number thirty-six on the Billboard charts and almost over-night swept America off its feet with its new hip sound. Though this was not the first rap album, “Rapper’s Delight” established both rap and Sugar Hill Records as forces to be reckoned with. Rap was now a national phenomenon. Part of America’s initial fascination with “Rapper’s Delight” was the speedy disjointed word play and verbal dexterity.
From 1972 to 1979 the face or rap was definitely the DJ as Errol Henderson explains,
“An electronic genius of a young man, J. Saddler, had developed a more accurate way of mixing music from two turntables. Grand Master Flash, as he became known, originated the ‘clock method,’ whereby DJs used the face of the album as a sort of reckoning tool by which one could remember one’s place on a record more exactly. This was necessary because Flash would not simply mix the records, but he would scratch them: using the needle in the groove as an instrument to make the grating though rhythmical sound for which rap has become famous” (310).
Both the emergence of Flash and his new style of mixing music are very significant, because together they both helped pave a way for oppressed and poverty stricken youth. Without a doubt the face of music was the DJ, but the body of rap was the inner cities. It was within these urban wastelands that gangs of youth were, “encased in what could only be described as a war zone. After the Black Power movement, the Vietnam War, and the FBI COINTELPRO against positive community organization, the gangs were almost alone as the one institution in the Black community offering a cogent message to Black youth” (Henderson 311). For all intents and purposes, that message was “join and survive.” The youthful leader of these gangs was hip-hop legend Afrika Bambataa. With his coming the mind of rap was turned to Black Nationalism, positive creativity, vision, and healing.
The Punk Rock Movement
Punk rock, which originated roughly around 1976 in both London and New York City, might have been a more radical rejection of previous forms of popular music; however, the genre encompasses elitism and anti-elitism, a call for direct action for a dispossessed working-class youth. Punk rock used an, “overtly generic rock beat and cacophony to protest a seventies popular music assimilation of rock music,” states Miller (239). Philosophically, punk rock “Had no ‘set agenda’ like the hippy movement that preceded it, but nevertheless stood for identifiable attitudes, among them: an emphasis on negationism (rather than nihilism); a consciousness of class-based politics (with a stress on working-class credibility); and a belief in spontaneity and doing it yourself,” explains Roger Sabin (2).
The Sex Pistols, a pioneering punk group based out of London, who was constantly scrutinized by the media for their foul lyrics and absurd on-stage antics, would ultimately, set the stage for a sub-culture that would quickly explode across the United States. However, it is important to note that the Pistols were different then the majority of the other punk rock bands at the time. What set the Pistols apart from other punk is their purposeful disinvestment in anything that pop had previously represented. The Pistols’ music still can not be made to fit into the category of classic rock, unlike other punk bands, such as the Clash. Instead, the Pistols created a breach in pop culture. They realized something that no other punk band could quite do: for a brief moment their assault on rock amounted to a demystification of it. In doing so, they created a breach within which a significant constituency could gain some critical purchase on culture, and could therefore become empowered. After the myth had been shattered, they were no longer passive consumers. Instead, they could think for themselves. This is the epitome of the meaning of the phrase “doing it yourself.”
Another issue facing punk was the status of one’s class. Class was a cultural concept found in clothing, dialect, collective and individual values, leisure, taste, and attitudes. In essence, the punk sub-culture wanted to distinguish itself in everyway imaginable in response to what was socially accepted. Participants of this sub-culture began to dress in ripped pants that would sometimes be held together by merely a safety pin. Essentially, punks wanted to form an alternative social system (youth domination) and alternative politics. The punk movement that took place during the 1970s expressed the frustrations of working-class youth in an era of unemployment and inflation, through the development of a new sub-culture manifested in music, fashion, and attitude.
Between the activism of the 1960s and the conservative politics of the 1980s, the 1970s can easily slip into obscurity, notable only for its immoderation, whether in clothing, drug use, sexual freedom, or music. Many critics argue that, the seventies have the worst reputation of any decade in the twentieth century. In spite of such criticism, the 1970s deserve a closer examination. The decade was actually one of social change. There is absolutely no doubt that the great cultural shifts of the 1960s were still echoing loudly, and American society had to come to terms with them. One of these arenas in which these shifts were negotiated was popular culture. The 1970s provided a venue for various sub-cultures including the disco participants, punk rockers, rap enthusiasts, and other protest-based sub-cultures. The 1970s should not be viewed in terms of moral decline. Instead, the 1970s should be looked at as a very significant transitional period in American history.
Rebellion Embodied By Music in the 1980s
Rebellious cultures and countercultures emerge in numerous arenas of life fueled by speeches, written works, and especially music. The relationship between music and rebellion has always been prevalent. Music depicts rebellious causes, angers, or struggles through unique styles and lyrical expressions in turn creating new cultures and new identities. Politics often ignites controversial viewpoints that musicians express through their songs. Music embodies resisting oppression and social movements in direct contrast with “accepted standards.” Entirely new subcultures can form through musical means such as punk rock and its large confrontational following. People are capable of voicing stories and opinions that the majority of society refuses to acknowledge. During the 1980s, rebellion infiltrated music as a response to political actions, a reaction to post-feminism, a rejection of mainstream culture, and a passion to be heard.
The ‘80s decade experienced countless upheavals in the political world including the conclusion of the Soviet-Afghan War, the fall of the Berlin Wall, and the beginning of the Persian Gulf War. Violence plagued the world, and shock from the brutal Vietnam War still permeated the atmosphere. Countries in Central America experienced violent treatment because of corrupt governments. The United States elected Ronald Reagan in 1981 resulting in a massive military build-up. Musicians seized the opportunity to convey their varying opinions.
R.E.M released “Finest Worksong” and “Flowers for Guatemala” which spoke out against government actions across the globe. “Finest Worksong” dealt with the difficulties imposed upon middle-class individuals by President Reagan. The song says that what we want and what we need have been confused. Reagan should ‘listen to his instincts’ and ‘rearrange.’ “Flowers of Guatemala” expressed rejection of the Guatemalan government because of its violent, devastating actions against the Guatemalan people. Rock musician Bruce Springsteen released the song “Born in the USA” in 1984, which encompassed the horrors and atrocities of the Vietnam War. Unfortunately, numerous people misinterpreted Springsteen’s rebellious stance and “. . . ‘Born in the USA,’ ironically, became the nation’s adopted patriotic anthem . . .” (Raha 108). In 1982, rap group Grandmaster Flash and The Furious Five released the first political rap, “The Message.” The song dealt with the grief and difficulties of blacks in the inner cities. Grandmaster Flash included the controversial topics of drugs, poverty, prostitution, and crime. Some bands, however, took a more direct approach in acknowledging the contrasting opinions between the government and the band.
Pink Floyd’s album The Wall flooded the music scene with rebellious political connotations. The Wall depicts the journey of a fictional character through his “boyhood days in war-torn England to his self-imposed isolation . . . leading to a climax that is as questionably cathartic as it is destructive” (Urick). “Bring the Boys Back Home” and “Hey You” explore viewpoints not traditionally shared by the general public in Great Britain. The two songs describe someone searching for truth and light, but he is unable to achieve his aspirations because of death and destruction. “Bring the Boys Back Home” highlights the challenges of life that ‘build a wall’ and prevent us from finding viable solutions. People including government officials should salvage human life not just recognize the fact that soldiers, boys are dying. In addition to The Wall, Pink Floyd released The Final Cut in 1983, which addressed current political scenes through songs such as “The Fletcher Memorial Home” and “Two Suns in the Sunset.” “The Fletcher Memorial Home” discussed Waters’ outrage of British participation in the Falklands War while “Two Suns in the Sunset” examined the possibility of a nuclear war. Pink Floyd’s retaliation against the government through music seemed tame compared to other musicians.
Punk artists especially sang against accepted standards and utopian goals established by the government. Roger Sabin states that punk was ‘liberating’ politically, and created a space for disenfranchised voices to be heard . . .” (Sabin 4). Crass resented all forms of government, supported anarchy, and became a major leader in the sub-genre of punk called anarcho-punk. The band sold records at lower prices and placed labels on their records that said “Pay No More Than…” in order to prevent their fans from being ‘ripped off.’ They distributed pamphlets at concerts advocated animal rights movements, and spray-painted messages in the London Underground. Punk music frequently disagreed with “hippie notions” which called for pacifist means to solve situations. Clash released Combat Rock which “. . . was their most blatant and clumsy attempt yet to define [the band] as music for fighters . . .” (Reynolds 72). Combat Rock included the single ‘Rock The Casbah’, which illustrated excessive violence and the threat of rock ‘n’ roll by singing about an Islamic ruler ordering a building with rock music to be bombed. The Clash created a militaristic image of itself, but amidst the songs of war, the band spoke out against the carnage from war and new regulations.
Beginning in 1980, the United States issued a form of conscription and forced all young American males to register with the Selective Service System. The Clash responded with songs such as “The Call Up” and “Straight to Hell” which exemplified rebellious anti-draft sentiments along with the disapproval of utilizing young male soldiers for war. Punk rock band, The Ramones, expressed anti-political attitudes when they released “My Brain Is Hanging Upside Down (Bonzo Goes to Bitburg)” also titled “Bonzo Goes to Bitburg/Go Home Ann” in 1986. The song was in response to Ronald Reagan’s controversial visit to a soldiers’ cemetary in Bitburg, Germany. The cemetary contained more than 40 Nazi soldiers, and no country desired a president that could be seen as supportive of Nazi ideals. The Ramones criticized Reagan’s decision, and once again proved that political officials could instigate strong reactions from musicians. As a whole, the ‘80s decade affirmed that frequently being in the eye of the public and being an influential part of society can initiate rebellion against the government.
As rebellion erupted in music because of political actions, social movements caused even more controversy through musical lyrics. A central movement of the 1980s was feminism because the movement experienced a backlash when “[t]he term post-feminism began to circulate in the mid ‘80s . . .” (Reynolds 317). Post-feminism challenged second wave ideals. The concept suggested that the feminist movement was irrelevant and undesirable. Influential women in the music industry responded radically to this new critique by trying to portray sexy, independent women. Performers such as Janet Jackson, Cyndi Lauper, and Madonna exemplified the image of a ‘strong woman.’ Jackson’s album Control personifies the independent girl who “calls her own shots” (Reynolds 298). Control has been deemed Jackson’s first successful album releasing singles such as “What Have You Done for Me Lately?” and “Control.” “What Have You Done for Me Lately?” tells a story about the end of a relationship because the man has failed to please the woman.“Control” discusses the importance of taking control of one’s life. Jackson refuses to let others dictate her decisions any longer and tells the world through her lyrics. Reynolds emphasizes that “. . . Janet Jackson became a superstar with the immaculately designed soft-core feminism of Control” (Reynolds 297).
Cyndi Lauper expressed her feminist views in “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” and “She Bop.” She often changed the lyrics of songs to suit her personality and her feminist opinions just as she did in “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” making it a feminist anthem. Maria Raha states that Lauper’s “. . . biggest political statement musically, ‘She Bop,’ offered a synth-heavy sound and flippant attitude toward masturbation by men and women” (Raha 112). Lauper believed men and women should be treated equally in every aspect of life.
Furthermore, Madonna personified feminism in an entirely unique approach. She expressed sexuality while singing of independence and freedom. Her music videos pushed moral and cultural boundaries. She could be seen in lace bras, provocative clothing, and dramatic music videos. Madonna could be seen chained to a bed or rolling around in a wedding dress in some music videos. Her style of music and music videos inspired confrontation along with individuality. Thrift store clothing, shaved heads, dramatic make-up, and fishnets became part of the rebellious culture against post-feminism partially because of Madonna. The outrageous musician challenged societal restraints and repudiated claims against feminism. The music of Madonna, Cyndi Lauper, Janet Jackson, and other females inspired a defiant attitude toward patriarchal reign in the 1980s and “. . . certainly circumvented any societal notion that women should be seen and not heard” (Raha 115).
On the other hand, the majority of punk music instilled rebellious attitudes for reasons other than political and social movements. Punk musicians embodied rebellion by rejecting the mainstream society, searching for identities, and creating their own culture. Their music frightened conservative, suburban parents. Punk rock labeled as violent extremism appealed to “. . . kids who had limited first wave access, suburban upbringings, and their own axes to grind” (Raha 114). Punk music included several different styles within itself during the 1980s such as Oi! (street punk) and neo-fascist.
The Oi! Movement began in Britain in the late 1970s and infiltrated American culture in the 1980s. In 1981, Negative Approach emerged from the Detroit music scene as one of the first hardcore American punk bands. Their music expressed aggression, alienation, and rage. In 1983, Negative Approach released Tied Down, an album of “. . . pure expressions of anger and frustration, led by Brannon's bellicose vocals and backed by tight bursts of hardcore fury” (Lupton). The band Black Flag has also been viewed as one of the first hardcore bands on the West Coast. Black Flag released songs of isolation, paranoia, and neurosis produced by lead guitarist Ginn's independent label, SST Records.
The production of music by an independent label only made the band more successful because it created a sense of authenticity, which was, and still is, a key factor in rejecting mainstream culture and seeking individuality. Punk musicians relied on “. . . the nature of authenticity . . . and the role of visual style in the construction of meaning within the subculture” (Huxley 81). Unfortunately, the Black Flag band members experienced a number of problems with the police of Los Angeles because of the violence associated with punk music. Black Flag also received negative feedback when MCA executive Al Bergamo refused to produce Damaged and labeled the album as “anti-parent.” Oi! Movement and hardcore punk bands combined with neo-fascist bands shocked the world. The neo-fascism scene peaked in the late 1980s prompted by bands such as Skrewdriver. The band aligned itself with the National Front and British National Party, and the members described themselves as neo-Nazis. They promoted neo-Nazi, militant ideas along with white, supremacist goals through their lyrics and concerts.
The new punk music scene successfully cultivated an entirely unique subculture. David Kerekes states, “Punk was a transatlantic insurrection, changing the way young people dressed, the way they behaved, and the way they were perceived by their peers” (Kerekes 69). Safety pins, swastikas, trash bags, and bondage gear adorned the fashion style. Punk followers wore Doctor Marten boots of various kinds. Some people could be found wearing leather bands, chains, or studded leather belts and jackets. Bleached or colored hair and mohawks also surfaced in the 1980s. Punk fashion “. . . is a reflection of its ‘shock’ value, a visual, highly charged version of punk . . .” (Cartledge 146).
Not only did punk culture develop a fashion sense, but it also filled movies, literature, and comics. Lech Kowalski directed a documentary entitled D.O.A solely about the Sex Pistols’ chaotic concerts. Surburbia’s jacket cover includes the question “What Happens When The Punks Rebel?” and focuses on the alienation of punks. Martin Millar published five novels about punk culture. Each book has a “. . . blurred and out-of-focus quality which points to the blurring of the boundaries . . . a world in which reality is filtered and distanced . . .” (Rivett 42). Numerous comics have a definite punk influence and attitude such as 2000AD, Marvelman, Swamp Thing, and Watchmen. 2000AD offered very violent, accessible versions of Jaws and Dirty Harry, caused much controversy and was shut down. Mainstream culture and the majority of society was not prepared for the newfound insurgency of punk music. Its extreme rebellion and blatant disregard for customary beliefs and principles appalled most people during the ‘80s.
As punks continued to reject mainstream culture, other musicians yearned to relay their untold stories to the world. Songs based on personal experiences about sexual abuse and oppression surfaced; the concepts once again took mainstream culture by surprise. Suzanne Vega sang about her sexually abusive childhood in “Luka” because she believed, “. . . a first-person account can communicate the horror more vividly than a blunt attempt to grapple with the issue . . .” (Reynolds 252). Lydia Lunch claims that mutilated bodies and broken bones fill her songs because of sexual abuse. Despair, tradegy, and resentment explode through her lyrics in songs such as “Suicide Ocean” and “Lock Your Door.”
Countless bands and musicians rebelled against the oppression of minorities but none more so than the gangsta rap genre. Gangsta rap emerged out of the hip-hop culture in the late 1980s. When this music genre began, it illustrated the hardships of African Americans in the inner-cities that many people wished to ignore. Ice T pioneered the west coast gangsta rap sound with songs like “Cold Winter Madness” and “Body Rock/Killers.” His second album, Power, is the first to be given a “parental advisory warning” label. In 1986, N.W.A also emerged out of the West Coast Scene and sparked controversy because of the explicit nature of their lyrics. Their second album, Straight Outta Compton, included the single “F*** Tha Police” which discussed the unfair treatment and stereotypes of black people. The lyrics say that the police think every African American with a little money deals drugs, policemen believe they have the right to beat a minority, and N.W.A will make a “bloodbath” of L.A. cops. “F*** Tha Police” and its inflammatory accusations and propositions earned the group an FBI warning. “Straight Outta Compton” introduced each of the members in N.W.A while rapping about the angers and aggressions of black youth in Compton, California. “Gangsta Gangsta” included the same explicit lyrics as lead singer Ice Cube raps that he “never shoulda been let out the penititary” because now he is a gang member and “the mutha f***a that ya read about/Takin a life or two” (Lyrics). N.W.A encouraged the African American world to be original, especially in the song “Express Yourself.” The band did not want to suppress any realities no matter how politically incorrect or controversial the actions could be perceived. N.W.A’s lyrics astounded people across America because stories like these had not entered the mainstream music culture until the 1980s.
Public Enemy embraced the opportunity to relay stories of empowerment with their first album, Yo! Bumrush The Show.“What A Fool Believes” declared the band’s desire to organize the people to fight against their oppressors. Public Enemy specifically “. . . saw themselves as paramilitaries at war with white supremacist society . . .” (Reynolds 78). “Righstarter” speaks about defying authority and displaying ruthless pride until a solution has been found. Public Enemy’s second album, It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back, revolutionized rap music with its heavy, angry lyrics. “Rebel Without A Pause” and “Don’t Believe the Hype” became instant hits about mistrust, not surrendering, and rebel behavior. Gangsta rap in the 1980s epitomized rebellious attitudes by ignoring accepted traditions and expressing original yet belligerent options.
Rebellion comes in numerous shapes, forms, and manners as it floods everyday culture. The 1980s experienced a massive musical production of rebellion in America and Europe because of changing perceptions, unique aspirations, and new genres. Music is such a powerful means of expressing views that musicians embrace the opportunity to share those views and influence society whenever possible. Rebelling against politicians through music makes it possible for others to have the courage to demand change and stand up for their rights. The feminist musicians of the 1980s produced a new wave of feminism and “girl power” that would surface in the ‘90s. Rejection of authority through the punk phenomenon created a new culture that frightened the world. Rap music gave African Americans a new way to reveal their oppression and ‘fight the power.’ The 1980s cultivated a society of musical rebellion that would start even more confrontations and aggressions in the next decade.
Rebel Music in the Nineties
Music has always been an outlet – and a large one at that, so it is only natural that the musical world would have a great influence on the culture, both politically and socially. Especially for the younger generations (those younger than thirty-five), the musical scene is a way of life, and what better way to live one’s youth than through rebellion. Nirvana band member, Krist Novoselic, once said, “Society offers many labels for people who run against the grain. But it’s the people on the so-called fringes who actually bring about change. Without rebels, rabble-rousers, malcontents, or whatever label we choose to apply, the culture would remain static” (Novoselic, p. 9). Rebels, therefore, serve a great purpose in society, and, in fact, are necessary to ensure that every voice is being heard. Music is the perfect means for rebelliousness to be exposed because it can be heard by so many, and it is the “rabble-rousers” that make sure that the important issues/controversies in society do not go unnoticed.
What constitutes rebellion? According to the Oxford English Dictionary, to rebel means: “To resist, oppose, or be disobedient to, someone having authority or rule.” Whether it be in opposition to the government, one’s parents, or just the culture in general, people have always tried to find ways to disobey the norms of society—many get their rebellious inspiration from music. In the 1990’s such rabble-rousing music consisted of underground hip-hop, grunge, and punk rock. For many, music is the perfect outlet for expressing rebellion because it is a public display of emotions, and artists have often used their lyrics, appearances, and outspoken personalities to lead rebel movements and to reflect the opinions of their audiences.
What happened in the 1990’s?
The Nineties was the time of trapper-keepers, beanie-babies, Tickle-Me-Elmo, N*Sync, and the Macarena. It was marked with such events as the Oklahoma City bombing, the first Gulf War, the Columbine High School shooting, and the disbandment of the Soviet Union. Also in the 90’s was the largest youth voter turnout since 1971 when the voting age was standardized at 18 years old (Novoselic, 24). Youth were finally realizing their voice could be heard. Much of the success of this youth voter turnout was due to MTV’s Rock the Vote campaign, which was newly established and endorsed by much of the major artists of the time—particularly those from the rock music world, like Nirvana.
The government of 1992 was, also, responsible for passing the “Erotic Music” law, which required all albums that contained obscene lyrics to be labeled “adults only” (DiLeonardo, 25). This put the music world in an uproar, and would later cause the law to be overturned due to lack of standards for obscenity. For many, however, this caused even greater desire for explicit content to further rebel against government, especially in the rap culture.
Although the era of hip-hip and rap began its rebelliousness more so in the 1980’s, its rebellious nature was still very evident throughout the 1990’s. As is often true with the culture of rap, the music and lyrics of those rabble-rouser artists, such as Tupac (2Pac), Da Lench Mob, and Rebel Without a Pause, reflect the African American resistance to a dominated white government. Their lyrics describe the need for human rights (primarily referring to the intense racism still present in America), but insinuate that if they cannot get these rights, they will just reek havoc, instead. Scholar, Suzanne Fields, explains this form of rebellion as a means for artists to identify with their audiences. If rappers want to emphasize their feelings of alienation from the rest of the nation, particularly in regards to the lack of human rights given to them, then they have to be living lives of estrangement themselves (Fields). They cannot rap about prison and poverty if they have never experienced it. She also notes that the lyrics of abandonment, rape, abuse, and drugs are “powerful, but the power resides in psychological defensiveness that provides a perverse rationalization for brutality: If you don't love you can't be rejected, so you might as well hate and rape.” This suggests that instead of trying to improve the environment in which they live, rappers are encouraging the rebellious nature of their fans by joining them in the mayhem. Artists like Eminem (Marshall Mathers), engage in these brutal rebellious activities, so as to appear authentic to the listeners (Fields), and it could, therefore, be surmised that the rebel activities of hatred, rape, robbery, etc. continue as a form of rebellion in society because of the actions expressed in the graphic lyrics.
The late Tupac Shakur, a notorious rapper from the early 90’s was famous for his explicit lyrics about the hardships of being a black man in a white world. Although mainstream, he was very openly a rebel with a cause. His open hatred for the current situation of the black man is clearly expressed in his song entitled “Changes.” Within the first few lines of the song, he pokes at how it feels to be black and to have to deal with the corrupt government/police force that currently is in existence:
I'm tired of bein' poor, & even worse I'm black/My stomach hurts, so I'm lookin' for a purse to snatch/Cops give a damn about a negro/Pull the trigger, kill a nigga, he's a hero
This harsh sentiment is used to portray the hopelessness felt by many lower-class African Americans, and in a way, justify the rebellious actions of the outraged black population. As Josh Nisker points out, these lyrics are a direct stab at the “misguided priorities” of the government system. The lyrics in the same song stating, “Instead of war on poverty they got a war on drugs / So the police can bother me” only further portray that the “the American government is resolved to fight a hapless war against its own citizens” (Nisker, 180) rather than attempt to correct the current poverty stricken lifestyle that many blacks live. The real rebel begins to show in his lyrics when he says, “Don't let 'em jack you up, back you up, / crack you up and pimp smack you up / You gotta learn to hold ya own,” which give a sort of guideline to his fellow people who might get hustled by police. Tupac had such a following that if he told them to rebel—they did (but not that they weren’t already doing so). Even though he was calling for change in this song, he focused immensely on the fact that he did not expect any real change to occur; therefore the poverty stricken population must rebel to save themselves. This same theme was depicted throughout rap music in the 1990’s.
The Grunge Effect
Grunge, as defined by Krist Novoselic is “sensitive introspection wrapped in aggression and facial hair” (22). This subculture name was first coined in Seattle, WA where the music, alternative rock, was just surfacing from the underground scene. The “don’t give a darn” attitude of these grunge artists was reflected in their appearance, as well as their lyrics. They sported the “hair-sweat and guitars look” (Bell) and sang about the satirical lifestyles of Americans. Professor Thomas Bell explains that these grunge bands appealed to rebellious youth because they were loud, honest, and very localized, so it was as if the lyrics were speaking directly to them. The grungy garage bands of the damp and musty Seattle began to hit the airwaves of the nation, appealing particularly to the youth who felt trapped and/or smothered by society. Originally, rebel artists like Led Zeppelin and AC/DC got their start from Seattle, and then later famous grunge bands like Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, and Nirvana would gain recognition. The entire grunge era began underground, but as the music industry began to see its potential, it became more mainstream—however this eventually killed the movement because grunge was supposed to be authentic and deviant.
The rebellious aspect of grunge is greatly reflected through the lyrics of its artists. In Nirvana’s song “Stay Away,” although simple, its lyrics stab at the culture’s apparent need to feel cool. All of the fans who are the “uncool” rebels can relate: “Monkey see, monkey do / Grab at me to be cool / Hear the line engine rhyme / There’s just one of us blind.” These lyrics suggest that the youth today are all copy-cats of each other, and each is trying to influence the rest to be “cool.” They are like dumb monkeys who are afraid to deviate from what would be considered the norm and who can not see what culture may exist around them; they are the ones who are blind and are okay with being able to predict their entire lives (like one could predict what word comes at the end of a rhyme sentence). The opposite of this person is grunge. Grunge is the rebel who hates the kid that wears polos and khaki pants everyday, and this was Nirvana.
Nirvana was one of the few grunge bands who was considered to have remained a success after they hit the mainstream because they stayed true and honest to themselves. It was after lead singer, Kurt Cobain, committed suiced that the feat of the group became clear. Cobain was labeled as the “Spokesperson of a Generation” and a “deity phenomenon” (Novoselic, 26,27), which clearly showed his and the group’s impact on the youth of Generation X. In Novoselic’s book, he explains how music is a lifestyle, and artists are given the responsibility of influencing their audiences; Nirvana told their audiences to leave the bandwagon, so to speak, and be who they are—stay true to the grunge. After they established themselves as being authentic, Nirvana was able to influence youth politically by joining campaigns like MTV’s Rock the Vote, in 1992 (Novoselic).
As a subculture, grunge, was very difficult to maintain because as soon as the artists became famous, their followers no longer found them authentic, which was a key ingredient to grunge. If the audience felt that the band was becoming too commercialized or flaunting their success, then they could no longer relate, and the band was deemed a sell-out. By definition, selling-out means: “To betray a person or cause for gain” (OED), and as soon as bands betrayed their devoted fans, they ceased to exist. For grunge, it was inevitable that the movement would not last long because either the bands would be local and poor, or they would be national superstars who only cared about the music industry and the money they were making. There was really no in-between because the rebels did not support national success, but it was they who were there at the band’s creation. It was a lose-lose; once grunge became “cool,” it was over. As Professor Bell said, “It was inevitable. For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. Newton's law is no less apt in the creation and dissolution of music scenes,” in particular for bands claiming to be against the grain and against the fame.
In the music industry, punk, is one of the most rebellious subcultures of all. Sitting right on the fence between grunge and heavy metal rock, punk is where the true misfits of society find condolence. The movement started in the late 1970’s with the British group, The Sex Pistols; it hit its most controversial state during the 1980’s; and it became an almost mainstream phenomenon in the 1990’s. According to Mark Andersen, “once, to be a punk meant facing potential assault for walking down the street. Now it [is] an accepted, even fashionable part of the landscape” (Andersen and Jenkins, 375). This form of punk, however, is questionably not punk at all because after punk hits mainstream, it is often labeled posing, which indicates the artist’s lack of authenticity. Punk music is most notable for its stripped music consisting of hard emotions compacted into a few lines of lyrics, and screamed by the performer. It is against the grain of society, and it “becomes a call to do-it-yourself, to form strategically impermanent communities of dissenting political, artistic, and social values” (Goshert, 101). Those who are punk live in their own society, with their own norms and do not care a thing about anything or anyone else—their purpose is to defy the standards of society.
In the 1990’s, when punk finally left the underground, bands like Green Day, Rancid, Bad Religion, and AFI emerged, taking punk in an entirely different direction. Their lyrics had a little more purpose and were honest, but they lost the original feeling of punk. The hard-core punk bands like Fugazi, who was established in Washington, DC, refused to let the mainstream success-appeal alter its music and attitude towards the big corporate music industry. They were the epitome of a do-it-yourself band, who stayed in the underground, independent music scene (O’Hara, 159). With all of Fugazi’s success, they never signed with a major label; they planned their own concerts in high schools, churches, or other cheap venues; and they never made fans pay more than $6.00 to see them play (O’Hara, 160). These are the markings of a true punk band.
Fugazi’s lyrics, understandably, reflected the feelings of a punk group, which typically rebelled against government / anarchy. In their song “Dear Justice Letter,” Fugazi exposes corrupt politicians who are more concerned with the non-issues, and do not want to address the substantial problems plaguing the nation. The lyrics: “Wasn't it you who said yeah you can shoot me lightly / but ask me to be excused / I won't go die politely” illustrate how the government tries to quiet the “noise” of protesters while they try to express their concern for big issues. These types of lyrics only encourage the fans protest bigger—to protest the government and give them hell if they fight them over it. The Constitution guarantees citizens the right to civil protest, and if the politicians fight it, the punks will indefinitely act out. The lyrics continue to say: “It's just that you're busted and dripping / Your sorry lungs are all leaking / It's not over, it's not over, I said / Here comes the kiss-off.” Fugazi’s point here is that politicians are covered in corruption, so much that it is dripping from them, visible for everyone to see. This also shows, however, that politicians are getting weaker because they are being exposed for the filth that they are, and the kiss of death is coming. Fugazi, representing all rebel punks, on the other hand, is no where near finished making a point; this is punk rock at its finest, and for that matter, it is rebellion at its finest. Rebel music, whether it be rap, grunge or punk, is uncut, stripped of all things extra, and straight from the rebel heart. Music is what stirred rebellion in the 1990’s, and it will continue to do so, as long as we have the freedom to speak, and the will to rebel.