HYMNS of the 1960s

At the beginning of the 1960s, many Americans believed they were standing at the dawn of a golden age.  On January 20, 1961, the handsome and charismatic John F. Kennedy became president of the United States.  His confidence that, as one historian put it, “the government possessed big answers to big problems” seemed to set the tone for the rest of the decade.  But, that golden age never materialized.  On the contrary, by the end of the 1960s it seemed that the nation was falling apart.

“The Sixties”, as they are known in both scholarship and popular culture, is a term used by historians, journalists, and other objective academics; in some cases nostalgically to describe the counterculture and revolution in social norms about clothing, music, drugs, dress, sexuality, formalities, and schooling; and in others pejoratively to denounce the decade as one of irresponsible excess, flamboyance, and decay of social order.

The 1960s was also associated with a large increase in crime and urban unrest of all types.  Between 1960 and 1969, reported incidences of violent crime per 100,000 people in the U.S. nearly doubled and have yet to return to the levels of the early 1960s. Large riots broke out in many cities like ChicagoDetroit, Los Angeles, New York City, Newark, New JerseyOakland, California and Washington, D.C.  By the end of the decade, politicians like George Wallace and Richard Nixon campaigned on restoring law and order to a nation troubled with the new unrest.

The most prominent American TV series of the 1960s include: The Ed Sullivan Show (1948-71), The Red Skelton Show (1951-71), The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet (1952-66), The Danny Thomas Show (1953-74), Lassie (1954-73), The Tonight Show (1954-present), Gunsmoke (1955-75), The Twilight Zone (1959-64), Bonanza (1959-73), and The Andy Griffith Show (1960-68).

Men’s mainstream hairstyles ranged from the pompadour, the crew cut, the flattop hairstyle, the tapered hairstyle, and short, parted hair in the early part of the decade, to longer parted hairstyles with sideburns towards the latter half of the decade.

Women’s mainstream hairstyles ranged from beehive hairdos, the bird’s nest hairstyle, and the chignon hairstyle in the early part of the decade, to very short styles popularized by Twiggy and Mia Farrow in Rosemary’s Baby towards the latter half of the decade.

African-American hairstyles for men and women included the afro.


France detonated its first atomic bomb.

The Valdivia earthquake, also known as the Great Chilean Earthquake, is to date the most powerful earthquake ever recorded, rating 9.5 on the moment magnitude scale.  It caused localized tsunamis that severely battered the Chilean coast, with waves up to 82 ft.  The main tsunami raced across the Pacific Ocean and devastated Hilo, Hawaii.

The U.S. presidential election was a very close campaign.  What swayed the vote toward Kennedy over Nixon was a series of four debates; they were the first presidential debates held on television.  Until those debates, Nixon was winning, but more people liked the way Kennedy looked on TV.  Kennedy won a close election.

The decade began with a recession from 1960–61; at that time, unemployment was considered high (7%).  In his campaign, John F. Kennedy promised to “get America moving again.”  His goal was economic growth of 4-6% per year and unemployment below 4%; to do this, he instituted a 7% tax credit for businesses that invest in new plants and equipment.  By the end of the decade, median family income had risen from $8,540 in 1963 to $10,770 by 1969.

The female birth-control contraceptive, the pill, was released in the U.S. after Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval.

The first working laser was demonstrated in by Theodore Maiman at Hughes Research Laboratories.

The more prominent films in 1960 were Psycho, Spartacus, and The Magnificent Seven.

The more popular TV shows that debuted in 1960 were The Flintstones (1960-66), a favorite show that received 40 million views an episode with an average of 3 views a day; My Three Sons (1960-65).

Harper Lee wrote To Kill a Mockingbird.


Substantial (approximately 700) American advisory forces first arrive in Vietnam.  By mid-1962, the number of U.S. military advisers in South Vietnam had risen from 900 to 12,000.  By the time of U.S. President John F. Kennedy‘s death there were 16,000 American military personnel in South Vietnam, up from Eisenhower’s 900 advisors to cope with rising guerrilla activity in Vietnam.

President John F. Kennedy promised some more aggressive confrontation with the Soviet Union; he also established the Peace Corps.

The Bay of Pigs Invasion was an unsuccessful attempt by a CIA-trained force of Cuban exiles to invade southern Cuba with support from US government armed forces, to overthrow the Cuban government of Fidel Castro.

A second wave of feminism in the U.S. and around the world gained momentum in the early 1960s.  While the first wave of the early 20th century was centered on gaining voting rights and overturning inequalities, the second wave was focused on changing cultural and social norms and de facto inequalities associated with women.  At the time, a woman’s place was generally seen as being in the home, and they were excluded from many jobs and professions.  Commercials often portrayed a woman as being helpless if her car broke down.  In the US, a Presidential Commission on the Status of Women found discrimination against women in the workplace and every other aspect of life, a revelation which launched two decades of prominent women-centered legal reforms (resulting in the the Equal Pay Act of 1963Title IX, etc.) which broke down the last remaining legal barriers to women’s personal freedom and professional success.  Feminists took to the streets, marching and protesting, writing books and debating to change social and political views that limited women.

The Space Race between the U.S. and the Soviet Union dominated the 1960s. The Soviets sent the first man, Yuri Gagarin, into outer space during the Vostok 1 mission (April), but, by the middle of the decade, the U.S. took the lead.  In May 1961, President Kennedy set for the U.S. the goal of a manned spacecraft landing on the Moon by the end of the decade.

Unimate, the first industrial robot, was introduced.

The popular TV shows introduced in 1961 were The Wonderful World of Disney (1961-81); The Dick Van Dyke Show (1961-66).

Joseph Heller wrote Catch-22 and Roald Dahl wrote James and the Giant Peach.


The Cuban Missile Crisis was a near-military confrontation between the U.S. and the Soviet Union over the presence of Soviet missiles in Cuba. After an American Naval (quarantine) blockade of Cuba, the Soviet Union – under the leadership of Nikita Khrushchev – agreed to remove their missiles from Cuba in exchange for the US removing its missiles from Turkey.

The first transatlantic satellite broadcast, via the Telstar satellite, was transmitted.

The first computer video game, Spacewar!, was invented.

The more popular TV shows that debuted in 1962 were The Andy Williams Show (1962-71); The Beverly Hillbillies (1962-71); The Lucy Show (1962-68); McHale’s Navy (1962-66); and Alfred Hitchcock Presents (1962-65).

Ken Kesey wrote One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest; Anthony Burgess wrote A Clockwork Orange.


Civil rights becomes a central issue, as the Birmingham campaign and the Birmingham riot lead to President Kennedy’s Civil Rights Address, Martin Luther King Jr.‘s “I Have a Dream” speech at the March on Washington, and the 16th Street Baptist Church Bombing.

President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, TX by Lee Harvey Oswald during a public motorcade… and the nation mourned.  He was replaced by his Vice President, Lyndon Johnson.  For the next half-century, conspiracy theorists concocted numerous alternative explanations to the official report that a lone gunman killed Kennedy.

A popular film in 1963 was The Pink Panther.

Popular TV shows introduced in 1963 were The Fugitive (1963-67) and The Outer Limits (1963-65).

Pierre Boulle wrote Planet of the Apes; Maurice Sendak wrote Where the Wild Things Are.

The bikini came into fashion in 1963 after being featured in the film Beach Party.


China detonated its first atomic bomb.

The Good Friday earthquake, the most powerful earthquake recorded in the US and North America, struck Alaska and killed 143 people.

Hurricane Betsy caused severe damage to the U.S. Gulf Coast, especially in the state of Louisiana.

President Johnson pressed for civil rights legislation.  The Civil Rights Acts was signed into law; this landmark piece of legislation in the U.S. outlawed racial segregation in schools, public places, and employment.  The first black riots erupted in major cities.

President Lyndon B. Johnson was reelected over Conservative spokesman Senator Barry Goldwater by a wide landslide; Liberals gained full control of Congress.

As the 1960s began, American cars showed a rapid rejection of 1950s styling excess, and would remain relatively clean and boxy for the entire decade.  The horsepower race reached its climax in the late 1960s, with muscle cars sold by most makes.  The compact Ford Mustang, launched in 1964, was one of the decade’s greatest successes.  The “Big Three” American automakers enjoyed their highest ever sales and profitability in the 1960s, but the demise of Studebaker in 1966 left American Motors Corporation as the last significant independent.  The decade would see the car market split into different size classes for the first time, and model lineups now included compact and mid-sized cars in addition to full-sized ones.

Some of the technological advances of 1964 were the development of the 8-track tape, the introduction of the Compact Cassette, the marketing of the first successful minicomputer, the creation of the programming language BASIC, and the introduction of the world’s first supercomputer, the CDC 6600.

Popular films in 1964 were Mary Poppins and Fistful of Dollars.

Popular TV shows that were introduced in 1964 were Bewitched (1964-72); Peyton Place (1964-69); Gilligan’s Island (1964-67); and The Munsters  (1964-66).

Roald Dahl wrote Charlie and the Chocolate Factory; Shel Silverstein wrote The Giving Tree.

The Beatles exerted an enormous influence on young men’s fashions and hairstyles in the 1960s, which included most notably the mop-top haircut, the Beatle boots and the Nehru jacket.


The National Voting Rights Act was signed into law by President Johnson, which outlawed discriminatory voting practices that had been responsible for the widespread disenfranchisement of African Americans in the United States.

Malcolm X was assassinated by members of the Nation of Islam in New York City.

In the second half of the decade, young people began to revolt against the conservative norms of the time (in stark contrast to the 1950s), as well as remove themselves from mainstream liberalism, in particular the high level of materialism which was so common during the era.  This created a “counterculture” that sparked a social revolution throughout much of the Western world.  It began in the U.S. as a reaction against the conservatism and social conformity of the 1950s, and the US government’s extensive military intervention in Vietnam.  The youth involved in the popular social aspects of the movement became known as hippies.  These groups created a movement toward liberation in society, including the sexual revolution, questioning authority and government, and demanding more freedoms and rights for women and minorities.  The Underground Press, a widespread, eclectic collection of newspapers served as a unifying medium for the counterculture.  The movement was also marked by the first widespread, socially accepted drug use (including LSD and marijuana) and psychedelic music.

The war in Vietnam would eventually lead to a commitment of over half a million American troops, resulting in over 58,500 American deaths and producing a large-scale antiwar movement in the United States.  As late as the end of 1965, few Americans protested the American involvement in Vietnam, but as the war dragged on and the body count continued to climb, civil unrest escalated.  Students became a powerful and disruptive force and university campuses sparked a national debate over the war.  As the movement’s ideals spread beyond college campuses, doubts about the war also began to appear within the administration itself.  A mass movement began rising in opposition to the Vietnam War, ending in the massive Moratorium protests in 1969, as well as the movement of resistance to conscription (“the Draft”) for the war.

The antiwar movement was initially based on the older 1950s Peace movement, heavily influenced by the American Communist Party, but by the mid-1960s it outgrew this and became a broad-based mass movement centered in universities and churches: often being expressed in a protest called a “sit-in“.  Other terms that became common-place in the U.S. included “the Draft“, “draft dodger“, “conscientious objector“, and “Vietnam vet“.  Voter age-limits were challenged by the phrase: “If you’re old enough to die for your country, you’re old enough to vote.”

AstroTurf was introduced.

Popular films in 1965 were Doctor Zhivago, For a Few Dollars More, and the highest-grossing film of the decade, The Sound of Music.

Popular TV shows that were introduced in 1965 were The Dean Martin Show (1965-74) and I Dream of Jeannie (1965-70).

Frank Herbert wrote Dune.


After 1966, with the draft in place, more than 500,000 troops were sent to Vietnam by the Johnson administration and college attendance soared.

By 1966, the feminist movement was beginning to grow in size and power as women’s groups spread across the country.  The National Organization for Women was founded.

A popular film in 1966 was The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.

Popular TV shows that were introduced in 1966 were Mission: Impossible (1966-73); Star Trek (1966-69); and Batman (1966-68).

Walt Disney, the founder of the Walt Disney Co. died in 1966, from a major tumor in his left lung.


The deaths of astronauts Gus GrissomEdward Higgins White, and Roger B. Chaffee in the Apollo 1 fire, put a temporary hold on the U.S. space program, but afterward progress was steady, with the Apollo 8 crew (Frank BormanJim Lovell,William Anders) being the first manned mission to orbit another celestial body (the moon) during Christmas of 1968.

The Six Days War was a war between Israel and the neighboring states of Egypt, Jordan, and Syria.  As a result of this war, Israel would be recognized as an independent nation in 1968.

Though the first half of the decade had low inflation, by 1966 Kennedy’s tax credit had reduced unemployment to 3.7% and inflation remained below 2%.  With the economy booming, Johnson began his “Great Society”… which expanded social programs.  By the end of the decade under Nixon, the combined inflation and unemployment rate (known as the misery index) had exploded to nearly 10% with inflation at 6.2% and unemployment at 3.5%.  By 1975, the misery index would be almost 20%.

The first heart transplant operation was successfully conducted by Prof. Christiaan Barnard in South Africa.

Japanese cars began to gain acceptance in the Western market, and popular economy models such as the Toyota CorollaDatsun 510, and the first popular Japanese sports car, the Datsun 240Z, were released in the mid- to late-1960s.

The first Automatic Teller Machine was opened in London.

The counterculture movement dominated the second half of the 1960s, its most famous moments being the Summer of Love in San Francisco in 1967, and the Woodstock Festival in upstate New York in 1969.  Psychedelic drugs, especially LSD, were widely used medicinally, spiritually and recreationally throughout the late 1960s.  There was a growing interest in Eastern religions and philosophy, and many attempts were made to found communes, which varied from supporting free love to religious puritanism.

Popular films in 1967 were Cool Hand Luke, The Dirty Dozen, The Graduate, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, and The Jungle Book.

The TV show, Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour (1967-69) became controversial by challenging the foundations of America’s corporate and governmental controls; making fun of world leaders, and questioning U.S. involvement in and escalation of the Vietnam War.

The hippie movement late in the decade also had a strong influence on clothing styles, including bell-bottom jeanstie-dye and batik fabrics, as well as paisley prints.

Mary Quant invented the mini-skirt which became one of the most popular rages in the late 1960s.


Martin Luther King, Jr., the civil rights leader, was assassinated by James Earl Ray in Memphis, Tennessee.

Robert F. Kennedy, a U.S. Senator (and brother to John F. Kennedy), was  assassinated by Sirhan Sirhan in Los Angeles, after taking California in the presidential national primaries.

Women’s Liberation” became a household term as, for the first time, the new women’s movement eclipsed the Civil Rights Movement when New York Radical Women, led by Robin Morganprotested the annual Miss America pageant in Atlantic City, New Jersey.  The movement, led by Gloria Steinham, continued throughout the next decades.

The public was introduced to a demonstration of the computer mousevideo conferencingteleconferencingemail, and hypertext.

Richard M. Nixon was elected president, defeating Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey in November.  When Nixon was inaugurated in 1969, he promised “peace with honor” to end the Vietnam War .

Popular films in 1968 were Planet of the Apes, Rosemary’s Baby, and Once Upon a Time in the West.

A popular TV show that debuted in 1968 was Laugh-In (1968-73).


Hurricane Camille hit the U.S. Gulf Coast at Category 5 Status.  To date it is the strongest hurricane ever recorded at landfall.

Apollo 11, the first human spaceflight, landed on the Moon.  It carried mission Commander Neil Armstrong, Command Module Pilot Michael Collins, and the Lunar Module Pilot Buzz Aldrin.  Apollo 11 fulfilled President Kennedy’s goal of reaching the moon by the end of the 1960s, which he had expressed during a speech given before a joint session of Congress in 1961: “I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth.

Popular films in 1969 were Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Easy Rider, Midnight Cowboy, and The Wild Bunch.

Mario Puzo wrote The Godfather; Kurt Vonnegut wrote Slaughterhouse-Five; Maya Angelou wrote I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings.


But what about the music of the 1960s?  Some consider the 1960s to be the best decade of music ever!

Popular music entered an era of “all hits”, as numerous artists released recordings, beginning in the 1950s, as 45-rpm “singles” (with another on the flip side), and radio stations tended to play only the most popular of the wide variety of records being made.  Also, bands tended to record only the best of their songs as a chance to become a hit record.  The taste of the American listeners expanded from the folksingerdoo-wop and saxophone sounds of the 1950s to the Motown soundfolk rock and the British Invasion led by The Beatles.  The rise of the counterculture movement, particularly among the youth, created a market for rock, soul, pop, reggae, and blues music.

Elvis Presley returned to civilian life in the U.S. after two years away in the U.S. Army, and resumed his musical career by recording “It’s Now or Never” and “Are You Lonesome Tonight?” in 1960.

The Motown Record Corporation was founded in 1960.

The Beatles arrived in America in 1964, spearheading the British Invasion.

The Grateful Dead was formed in 1965 (originally The Warlocks), giving birth to acid rock.

The Beach Boys introduced the world to the “beach sound”.

Johnny Cash released At Folsom Prison in 1968


For many years acceptable church music consisted primarily of Catholic monks singing Gregorian Chant Latin hymns.  The 16th century Reformation resulted in the formation of the Protestant Church and in a new kind of church music — Hymns that were written to be sung by the common people of the church congregation, in a language they could understand.  Over the next 200-plus years, this new type of music was developed until it resulted in the very hymns that many Protestant Christians (and some Catholics) still sing today.

It would be many years after the Reformation that the Catholic Church would add this type of hymn to their tradition.  In the 19th century, the passing of the Catholic Emancipation Act opened the door for hymns other than the Latin Gregorian Chants to be written and sung.  In order to make this change while still staying true to their unique Catholic worship style, an entirely new group of hymns came to life… Gospel Music hymns.  This style of music became popular during the great revival camp meeting days of such evangelists as Dwight D. Moody.

In the early 20th century the Pentecostal movement determined to bridge the gap between Christians of different races.  One result of this resolve was that black Gospel hymns and musicians began to gain popularity with white Believers.

The Jesus People movement of the late 1960s and early 1970s introduced new ideas about church propriety and fresh new hymns and praise songs to the Church.

As the style of Christian writing began to turn more toward praise songs and choruses that suited the younger generations and the Jesus movement, you can see an obvious shift; there were fewer hymns written that we still sing today.  But, maybe your favorite church song was written in the 1960s…

1961…           Heaven Came Down

1962…           Sweet, Sweet Spirit

1963…           Thou Art Worthy; He Touched Me; Without Him

1964…           He’s Everything to Me; Beyond the Sunset

1967…           This Is the Day

1969…           Pass It On


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