The 1960s saw a real flowering of popular music styles. Unlike the 1950s, in which the birth of rock and roll dominated the decade, jazz, pop, and folk music all gathered devoted listeners in the 1960s. Rock and roll continued to grow as a musical form, with a clear split between "hard," rebellious rock and lighter, "soft" rock—which sounded a lot like pop music.
Folk music was reborn in the 1960s thanks to several young performers who wanted to rescue the musical form from what they saw as its sad decline. Bob Dylan (1941–), Joan Baez (1941–), and the group Peter, Paul, and Mary adopted folk styles—simple musical arrangements played on acoustic instruments—but filled them with political commentary on contemporary issues. Their songs addressed the problems of the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s and the Vietnam War (1954–75) and helped them gain huge audiences. As the decade wore on, folk merged into folk-rock as performers increasingly used electrified instruments and more sophisticated songwriting. Dylan and the group Simon and Garfunkel led the way in folk rock.
Rock and roll music in the 1960s was dominated by one group: the Beatles. Launched in Liverpool, England, this four-man group first appeared in the United States in 1964 on The Ed Sullivan Show. The popularity of the Beatles remained strong throughout the decade. Other British groups followed the Beatles, creating what became known as the British Invasion. The Rolling Stones, the Animals, and the Who all soon had hits in the United States. In a strange twist, an American TV production company known as Screen Gems decided to copy the success of the Beatles by inventing a band of its own modeled on the boys from Liverpool. The Monkees consisted of four handsome actors, three of whom did not even know how to play their instruments. This did not keep them from having several number-one singles—with the music played by others.
Rock music soon split into several streams. Some bands produced lighter music with pleasing lyrics to sell to pop radio stations. Other bands pursued rock music as a form of protest or a form of artistic exploration. This more mature rock music used sophisticated recording techniques and exotic instruments. Two former soft rock bands led the way: the Beach Boys with Pet Sounds (1966) and the Beatles with Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967). Other bands—notably those from San Francisco, California—pushed rock to have an even harder edge. The Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, and Janis Joplin (1943–1970) helped create a form known as psychedelic rock. Jimi Hendrix (1942–1970) and others experimented with sounds known as acid rock. In addition, two music festivals revealed the highs and lows of the rock and roll subculture: Woodstock (1969) and Altamont (1969).
Some of the most popular music of the decade originated from Motown Records in Detroit, Michigan. Merging gospel, jazz, rhythm and blues (R&B), and rock and roll, Motown founder Berry Gordy Jr. (1929–) and his team of songwriters created the bands that had some of the biggest hits of the decade. Diana Ross (1944–) and the Supremes, Smokey Robinson (1940–) and the Miracles, the Temptations, the Four Tops, Marvin Gaye (1939–1984), and Stevie Wonder (1950–) all got their start at Motown.