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The VW T2 Hippie Van

What do you have when you take the most economical and sensible van on the market and paint it with polka dots and daisies?  Maybe add a bit of marijuana smoke too.  You  have the VW T2 Hippie Van.

The Volkswagen Type 2, commonly referred to as the VW T2 van or microbus, was a panel van produced by the German automaker Volkswagen (VW) from 1950 to 1979. It was a popular vehicle among the hippie counterculture in the 1960s and 1970s, and that’s why it was nicknamed “the hippie van.”

One reason why the VW T2 was so popular among the hippies was due to its affordable price and compact size.  That made it perfect for road trips and traveling across the country. Or, just for a place to live for a while.  Hippies were known for their nomadic lifestyle, and the T2 provided a convenient and cost-effective way to explore new places and meet like-minded individuals.

A new VW Van in 1965 went for about $1800.  That’s the equivalent of about $1,600 today which would still put it on the lower end of car prices.  But hippies didn’t buy new cars.

VW Van As A Symbol

The T2 was seen as a symbol of non-conformity and individuality, which aligned with the values of the hippie movement. Its distinctive shape and colorful paint jobs made it stand out on the road.  Its versatility as a campervan, cargo van, or even a ambulance made it a practical choice for those looking to live a more alternative lifestyle.

Furthermore, the VW T2 was associated with the countercultural movement of the 1960s and 1970s.  It was frequently used to transport groups of young people to music festivals and protests. Its role in the cultural revolution of the time cemented its place in popular culture as a symbol of the hippie era.

Despite the decades that have passed since its production, the VW T2 remains an iconic vehicle and a beloved symbol of the hippie era.

Psychedelia – The Bad Trip

In the previous chapter, we saw how some Hippies abandoned the idea that the revolution should be carried out in the realms of the mind, and went over to play in the political field. We saw also how this shift made them devolve into adopting Marxist thought, and from there into violence and terrorism.

It should however be reiterated that most of the people discussed in the previous chapter were not Hippies, and did not emerge from the spirit of rock’n’roll, even if they idolized the rock star and saw them as their role models. Most Hippies stayed true to the idea of revolution of the mind, and kept on seeking enlightenment through drugs, music and mysticism.

But here, too, things were devolving fast. The possibility that a trip could be bad has always been known. It featured in some early psychedelic records as well. In the Beatles track ‘She Said, She Said’, John Lennon tells us what happens when your preparation for the trip is bad. The inspiration came from a time when actor Peter Fonda came by to visit him.

Lennon just dropped acid, getting ready for a groovy trip, but Fonda just had to tell him about a near death experience he had during surgery. This was not what Lennon needed to hear as his mind was getting into the psychedelic twirl, and he told Peter to go to hell, but it was too late. The result was this record, which has an important insight about the nature of hallucinogenic drugs: while they can generate a joyful experience, making you feel like you are at the heart of your existence, so can they generate a terrifying experience, making you feel like you don’t exist at all, making you lose your sense of self.

And the more the sixties neared their end, the more the euphoric feeling of happy existence got replaced with the existential dread that Lennon expresses here. At the end of 1967, with the sunlight beams of the Summer of Love still dancing in the background, Lennon once again provided a different type of psychedelic experience.

In ‘I am the Walrus’, Lennon takes the stance of someone who knows best, and mocks all those who can’t understand him. We’ve met this attitude in Beatles records before, but here it is being deconstructed. At the same time that he mocks others, it seems that his own consciousness is falling apart, alternating wildly like a radio needle that is out of control, hearing voices, and once again imagining itself to be dead.

Instead of the confident man we met in ‘Rain’, here it feels like we are dealing with a schizophrenic. In the beginning of 68, the Beatles travelled to Rishikesh, in India, and stayed there for a month as guests of the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, who taught them his technique of transcendental meditation.

They also wrote many songs there, which ended up on the double white album that they released at the end of that year. Meditation, said Lennon at the time, is a way to get what the psychedelic drugs give you, while avoiding the dangers of the drugs. But Lennon was disappointed and disillusioned by what he experienced in Rishikesh, and some of the white album tracks give expression to this feeling.

‘The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill’ is a satirical song about an American who was there with them, learning from the Maharishi, but in the middle he took a break to go hunting tigers in the jungle, and then came back to continue his studies of a philosophy that preaches non-violence towards any living being.

‘Dear Prudence’ was inspired by one of the women in the group, who suffered a panic attack after meditation, and it took them hours to persuade her to get out of her room. But Lennon reserved the most venomous song for the Maharishi himself, after he heard a rumor that he sexually assaulted the actress Mia Farrow, who was there with them.

Lennon wrote a song that incriminated the Maharishi and accused him of being a fraud, but to avoid legal issues he changed the lyrics, and made it a song about a movie starlet who fools the world into falling in love with her. Luckily so, because the rumor was probably false. But the track ‘Sexy Sadie’ preserves the feeling of bitter disillusionment, and can be heard as a representative of the late sixties spirit.

The white album, officially called simply ‘The Beatles’, also contains Lennon’s parting shot from psychedelia. ‘Glass Onion’ references some of the Beatles psychedelic era records, emphasizes the sense of confusion and detachment from reality expressed in them, and throws them all into a psychedelic cauldron to make something even more confusing.

In the previous records, the confusion was just a side-effect, and the prevailing feeling was that of self-confidence, but here Lennon reinterprets them, and asserts that it was all an illusion. Psychedelia didn’t make reality more transparent, but rather into a glass onion, something that looks clear and transparent, but is actually multilayered and curvilinear.

This is the only track on the album where you still hear the psychedelic sound. Most other tracks provided by Lennon convey a feeling of loneliness and depression. Following the descent from the peaks of the Summer of Love into the hate drenched reality of 1968, and after meditation did not live up to its promises, Lennon feels lost.

In this mental state, drugs were no longer the way to get from an ordinary existence to a joyful existence, but to escape a depressing experience into oblivion. For that, other drugs are more suitable, but also demand a higher price. By 1969, Lennon was addicted to heroin, like many others in the counter-culture.

Many lost their lives as a result, but Lennon managed to gather himself in time and kick the habit, doing it cold turkey. The hell that he went through in order to do it, a hell that many went through at the time, was immortalized in this record. Heroin is a drug for people who experience life as suffering and want to escape it.

It makes you forget all your worries and sorrows, neutralizes all urges and ambitions. This is not what the Hippies were after, and heroin was a drug that they ideologically rejected. But there was one rock band at the time which made heroin and other hard drugs part of its art, and gave us a window into this world.

The songs that Lou Reed wrote for the Velvet Underground were filled with characters that hated their existence and wanted out, and the band turned every song into a little theatre play that dramatized the escape. Some of these records were about drugs. “I have made a big decision”, announces the junky in this record, “I’m gonna try to nullify my life.

” The temptation to turn to nothing, to dissolve into the euphoria of the drug, is what we hear in this classic track. The Hippies were perturbed by the Velvet Underground’s music. At the basis of their way of life was a strong conviction in the power of the human soul, a confidence that the drugs will purify it only from what is unessential, and will leave the essential core.

The Velvet Underground’s music suggested that there is no pure core, that the only thing awaiting at the end of the road is complete self-annihilation, and enslavement to the drug. This is not what the Hippies wanted to hear, and since they were now the dominant force in the rock world, the Velvet Underground was marginalized, remaining underground for the next decade, but constantly undermining Hippie optimism.

But there were also many Hippies who lost themselves to hard drugs, either because they wanted to escape the harsh reality of the late sixties, or because they took the sex-drugs-rock’n’roll ideology too far. The belief that the dominant culture is evil and only wants to prevent us from having fun, along with the belief that drugs are the road to salvation, led many youngsters to the thought that the warnings about heroin are just a fabrication.

From there, the road to hell was open. That’s not to say that only heroin is bad, and only heroin had a destructive effect. The hallucinogenic drugs did a lot of damage as well. Let’s let the Pink Floyd tell us about it. The record ‘Astronomy Domine’ is another psychedelic space trip, under the guidance of our captain, Syd Barrett.

When the record starts we are already in the spaceship, travelling among the planets, and a voice over the communication system is informing us of our location. But rather than helping us, the voice only disorients us – actually, there are two voices here, each providing different information, and together they form an unintelligible mix.

When the singing begins, we encounter the familiar themes of floating and acquiring a different view of reality, but it sounds more scared than euphoric. Nevertheless, there is a sense of progress, as we are gradually getting further away from Earth, going through Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune, but then we retreat back to Titan, a Jupiter moon, and are frightened of the stars.

Then again, Oberon, Miranda and Titania, mentioned as the Uranus moons we pass by, are also Shakespearean characters, from two plays that exist between reality and fantasy. In both plays, there is a scene in which people fall under a spell, either from a potion or from beguiling music, which makes them not see reality as it is and leads them to unwelcomed results.

Smack in the middle of the Summer of Love, then, the Floyd already warn us that the psychedelic trip, which is supposed to show us the truth, might be just an illusion. The spaceship then goes into warp speed, growing increasingly out of control. The voice over the com system returns, once again spewing urgent but meaningless information.

When the singing resumes it sounds more like a series of onomatopoeic explosions, with words that express paranoia. Finally, the music slows down, and it seems like we are landing back in reality, but we are still trapped in the mental state we’ve put ourselves into, and who knows if we can ever escape it.

Barrett was the central figure of the British psychedelic scene, and did everything to be worthy of his crown. That meant that he remained switched on at all hours of the day, ingesting copious amounts of LSD pills. In chapter 7 we witnessed the switch he made from a stylish Mod into a disheveled Hippie, who cares only about what’s inside the mind.

But soon enough, the drugs ate his brain to an extent that there wasn’t much left inside. The handsome and talented young man became a total wreck, and his eyes, which always sparkled with an impish twinkle, became black holes in the sky, as Pink Floyd would sing years later. In the record ‘Vegetable Man’, Barrett comes full circle and once again sings about his external look, and he claims that his stinking rags are an expression of what’s left of his soul.

Actually, they are all that’s left of him. He became a soulless creature, a vegetable man. No less disturbing is this record, in which it sounds like Barrett’s personal hell is screaming in our ears in a variety of scary voices. These two amazing records were so perturbing that Pink Floyd decided not to release them, and they saw light only years later.

Barrett made a modest contribution to the band’s second album, but in the beginning of 1968 it was obvious that he was gone, and he was cut from the band. In the next few years his condition went from bad to worse, and he retreated into a shadow world. He tried to develop a solo career, and released several albums full of weird tracks, sung in a bent way that never remained faithful to any tempo.

Eventually he went back to his hometown and lived with his family as a welfare case. He never regained full sanity. While Barrett was sinking slowly, several other heroes of the psychedelic era fell in a more dramatic fashion. We’ve mentioned Brian Jones, the man who founded the Rolling Stones, and also the man who pulled it towards psychedelia, until his drug addiction got him kicked out of the band.

Jones tried to rehabilitate, but in July 69 he was found floating dead in his swimming pool, a death that remains shrouded in mystery to this day. A year later, three blows landed one after the other. In September of 1970, Jimi Hendrix took a large dose of sedatives, threw up in his sleep and choked to death on his own vomit.

Less than a month later, following a period of self-destruction, Janis Joplin was found dead in her hotel room, of a mixture of alcohol and heroin. And in July 71, bloated from alcohol and drugs, Jim Morrison went the same way. This is where the way of life of sex, drugs and rock’n’roll ended up.

Nothing manifests the shattering of the Hippie dream better than the four great rock festival movies of the late sixties. First, the Monterey Pop Festival of June 67, which was, as we recall, the first rock’n’roll festival in history, the first time when musicians from all over the world gathered to celebrate the new generation of popular music.

The beginning of the movie shows us that apart from that, it was a regular entertainment show, in which the audience paid for admittance and sat in rows of chairs, while the police was running things – back then there wasn’t yet talk of the counter-culture, of an alternative way to run a show.

At least not anywhere outside of Haight-Ashbury. But once we are done with this procedural stuff, the movie takes us into a magical place, a historic joy capsule that transpires in our ears and in our eyes. We hear folk-rock, acid-rock, British rhythm ‘n blues, soul, jazz, and classical Indian music, all coming together to create a new musical kaleidoscope, around which a new culture is being formed.

We see all the festival patrons still dressed in the dapper Mod style of the mid-sixties, but already affected by the psychedelic rainbow colors, with everyone trying to add something original of their own. Throughout the movie we see people smiling and having a good time, and when the music begins, we see them melt with pleasure with the lovely harmonies of the Mamas and the Papas and Simon & Garfunkel, sent to ecstatic heights with the mighty soul of Otis Redding, staring agape at the breakthrough performances of Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix, and going into trance with the enchanting sitar sounds of Ravi Shankar.

You can even see the artists themselves mingle with the crowd, and enjoying the performances of their peers. I don’t know of any documentary that has the same feeling. Two years later, in August 69, came the Woodstock festival. This wasn’t in the warm Sun of California, but in the rain and mud of New York, but that did not deter hundreds of thousands of youngsters from flocking to the place, to take part in a three day festival of sound.

Unlike Monterey, which was organized by a professional producer, here the organizers were young Hippies, and when they realized that the attendance is much larger than the number of tickets, they decided to go all out and announced that the admittance is free. The financial loss was massive, but it was worth it for the experience.

The counter-culture got mobilized to help make it work, and the Hippie communes provided food and other services. Here is where the Woodstock myth was born, the myth of a utopian society in which hundreds of thousands of young people can coexist in fraternity and cooperation, and live on constant high from listening to great music.

The movie shows it very well, shows a society in which everyone contributes to the whole. “We’re all feeding each other! We must be in Heaven, man!” exults one of the speakers on stage. But when the cameras pan out a little, the illusion is revealed. The festival attendants may have felt that they are making it on their own without the authorities, but the authorities were actually involved all the way, and if it wasn’t for the massive help that they provided in food, sanitation and healthcare, the event might have been a large scale disaster.

Musically, we see that rock music now became the sea that all musical rivers meet in. All of the sixties musical styles are represented, but they all now express themselves through the flexible sound of electric guitars. There is still a feeling that the rock nation is united and all styles are in dialogue with each other and feed each other, and there’s also still a lot of Hippie idealism.

The music is fantastic, but the bad vibrations of the last year and a half can already be felt. Here’s Jimi Hendrix performing the Star Spangled Banner, incorporating air raids, anguished screams and funeral music, and perfectly capturing the ambivalent feelings that the American youth had towards their country at the time.

But the myth of Woodstock as a symbol for a new utopian world, for getting ourselves back to the garden, as Joni Mitchell sang, took hold, and became an ideal that every other rock festival would be judged by. The Rolling Stones, who didn’t perform at Woodstock, wanted to be part of that myth as well.

A few months later they started a tour of the States, and announced that they will end it with a free concert in San Francisco. The ambition was to organize a concert based entirely on the means of the counter-culture, with no dependence on the authorities. The movie shows them trying to arrange the concert, which turned out to be a much harder undertaking than they thought.

Once again, the counter-culture mobilized to help, and the local acid-rock bands confirmed their participation, but they still needed to find a place big enough and willing to host the event, not an easy endeavor when you can’t offer the possibility of financial gain. Finally they rented a race track in Altamont, which wasn’t exactly suited for a rock concert, and for security the hired the Hell’s Angels, the biker gang that was considered, as we recall, part of the counter-culture.

We mentioned that the Angels enjoyed taking part in the Hippie love-ins and partake in all the sex and drugs, so they generally behaved themselves, a fact that enabled the counter-culture to ignore their violent side. But hiring them to be in charge of security was asking for trouble, and trouble didn’t fail to arrive.

The movie is called ‘Gimme Shelter’, and it begins with the same sights we’ve seen in the Monterey and Woodstock movies: multitudes of youngsters, dressed in freaky outfits, flocking to Altamont, expecting an unforgettable night. But when the music begins, so do the troubles. As the Jefferson Airplane are playing, the crowd starts to get rowdy, as usual in rock concerts.

Professional security guards would show tolerance, but the Hell’s Angels handle it the only way they knew: with brutal force. The crowd, in large parts tripping on hard drugs, reciprocates in kind, and the situation escalates. Once the Stones take the stage, playing their wild satanic music, all hell breaks loose.

Jagger stops the music several times and tries to put things back in order, reciting the Hippie slogans about peace and love that by then already sounded corny, but his words fall on deaf ears – once the music starts again, so does the violence. Things come to a head when a young man, standing just meters away from the stage, draws a gun and aims it at the Angels, and they immediately pounce on him and stab him to death.

Many other youngsters came out battered and bruised from the event, which, as we recall, was supposed to “create a microcosmic society which sets example to the rest of America as to how one can behave in nice gatherings”. This happened in December 1969, in the same month that the Manson Family took the headlines, and the combined effect of Manson and Altamont terminally destroyed the Hippie pretensions to present an alternative world of peace and love.

Britain had its own rock festival, an annual summer event held since 1968 in the Isle of Wight, organized by a company run by three young brothers. The brothers were driven by a true passion for the music and the values of the youth culture, and in the first couple of years it was a modest event, but after Woodstock, they were inspired to try to arrange a similar event for the British youth.

For the 1970 event, they announced that this time the festival will be a large scale gathering, lasting five days, and serving as a role model for a self-sustaining society. They fenced a large area in the island, booked more than fifty artists, and with much love and care they managed to overcome the complicated logistical problems.

And the youth did indeed show up en masse, coming from Britain, America and Europe, in numbers that were estimated to surpass even Woodstock. But this youth was also driven by the myth of Woodstock, and many refused to cough up the nominal sum that they were asked to pay for a ticket, which was particularly ridiculous considering the amount of money they had to pay to get to the event.

Maintaining the ideal of a free festival was more important to them than compensating the organizers, and not let them go broke. Instead, they stood outside and started banging on the fence, demanding free admittance. The movie shows how the slogans of the counter-culture, that were supposed to represent enlightened values, are twisted and used to justify the most selfish and barbaric behavior.

The artists try to sing above the ruckus, but the bad vibrations spread to every corner of the venue, and affect them as well. Several of them look sullied from too many drugs, and no one is willing to give up part of their pay to help the organizers. There is still a lot of good music, but we already see the rock nation splintering into many styles – heavy metal, progressive rock, fusion, singer-songwriter, country-rock and more – with not much uniting them.

Eventually, the organizers decide to open the gates and let everyone enter for free, and one of them announces it from the stage and speaks in the utopian rhetoric taken from Woodstock, but there are tears in his eyes. Only three years have gone by since Monterey, but that spirit was dead. But the most symbolic thing that happened in 1970 was the collapse of the band that epitomized the sixties, the band that was the heart of youth culture.

In 1968 this heart began to break, because the bundle called the Beatles could no longer contain the personality differences between its four members, and every one of them began to pull in his own direction, and work on projects outside the band. After they completed the white album, they tried to find a way to renew the fun, and thought that maybe it’s time to get back to some live playing.

Their next project, called ‘Let it Be’, was supposed to be based on recordings that will make no use of studio technology, to recapture the spontaneous feeling of their early days. They also hired a film crew to document the process, and the resulting movie shows that there were indeed moments of fun, but also moments when the tensions bubbled up to the surface.

To end it, they decided to try to do a live performance, something they haven’t done in more than two years, and they ascended to the roof of the studio to throw a surprise concert. And so, on the 30th of January, 1969, the Beatles gave what turned out to be their last performance. It was a brilliant idea, which did bring back the spontaneous thrill of their music, and the movie shows the crowds slowly gathering, looking at the wonder happening above their heads.

But after half an hour, the police stop the concert, for disturbing the public order. A glum ending to the performing career of the greatest band of all. The final song in the performance also reflects the changing mood. ‘Get Back’ was written in response to growing xenophobic emotions in Britain, following the arrival of waves of immigrants.

The dream of a new world that will overcome the racism of the past crashed against the rocks of reality, and Paul McCartney wrote the song from the point of view of a person demanding from the immigrants to get back to where they came from, to satirize such people. But the Beatles were afraid that the irony will be lost on the public, and the lyrics were changed to something rather prosaic.

True, this self-censorship characterized the Beatles from the start, but in the early years it made their records more sophisticated, with their hidden meanings smiling behind the innocent mask. In 1969, the ugly events transpiring around them meant that the subjects of their songs were so harsh that in order to maintain innocence, they had to emasculate their records to the point of banality.

The original spirit of the band could no longer exist in the reality of the time. The next Beatles project was the album Abbey Road, for which they once again closed themselves in the studio. But not together. Most of the parts were recorded by every member on his own, and later put together. They are hardly a band here, but four individuals with not much connecting between them.

The only track that somewhat preserves the feeling of togetherness is ‘Because’, with its vocal harmonies. The lyrics are full of puns which turn natural phenomena into feelings, once again creating a sense of unity between Man and nature. But the atmosphere is melancholy – the melody is actually Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata played backwards, and the effect is just as sad.

The last verse – “because the sky is blue, it makes me cry” – pretty much sums up the mood. The music of the Beatles represents pure unadulterated joy, the happiness of everyday life when you’re having fun in your existence. But the late sixties were no fun, and gave them no happy things to sing about.

Without this joy to hold them together, the inner tensions and frictions within the band surfaced. From a group that was once four lads united against the world, they became separate individuals who conversed with each other through lawyers. Once this happened, things just went uglier and uglier. And, as it was throughout the decade, what happened to the Beatles was reflective of the culture around them.

The counter-culture was falling apart, losing the joy of life and sense of purpose that held it together. It used to be about liberation, about expanding your horizons, about achieving harmony, about creating a better world. The entire Hippie identity was constructed around these ambitions. But now, these ambitions lay in tatters, and the identity was in a lost state.

Without this inner core, most of it didn’t make sense anymore. And for the Beatles to remain true to themselves, this left only one viable option. On the last day of 1970, after a bitter fallout, they announced that they are disbanding. The dream was over.

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VW Beetle – Everything You Need to Know

The Volkswagen Beetle, often referred to as the “VW Bug,” was a car that made a significant impact on the counterculture of the 1960s. In a time of political and social upheaval, the Beetle represented a symbol of nonconformity and individuality.

The VW Bug was first introduced to the United States in the late 1950s, but it was in the 1960s that it truly took off in popularity. The car’s unique, rounded shape and affordability made it appealing to a wide range of people, from college students to young families. But it was its association with the counterculture movement that cemented its place in history.

A Counterculture Favorite

The counterculture of the 1960s was characterized by a rejection of traditional values and a desire for change. The VW Bug embodied this spirit of rebellion, as it was seen as a departure from the large, gas-guzzling cars that dominated American roads. The compact size and fuel efficiency of the Beetle made it a practical choice for those who wanted to save money and reduce their carbon footprint, while its quirky design set it apart from the more conventional vehicles of the time.

In addition to its practicality, the VW Bug was also embraced by the counterculture for its versatility. It was a popular choice for hippies and other countercultural groups, who often customized their Beetles with brightly colored paint jobs, peace symbols, and other symbols of their movement. The car became a rolling symbol of peace and freedom, and its popularity only grew as the counterculture movement gained momentum. Its widespread use by the counterculture also helped to popularize car culture as a whole, paving the way for the muscle car era that would follow in the 1970s.

The VW Bug’s unique design, affordability, versatility, and association with the countercultural movement made it an icon of the era and a symbol of nonconformity and individuality. Today, the Beetle remains one of the most recognizable cars of all time, and its legacy continues to inspire new generations of car enthusiasts and countercultural activists alike.

beat up red vw beetle auto
This one was mine!

Unique Mechanicals

The Volkswagen Beetle of the 1960s had several unique mechanical features that set it apart from other cars of the era. These included:

  1. Rear-engine design: The VW Bug had its engine mounted in the rear of the vehicle, which was a departure from the front-engine design that was common in most cars of the time. This design allowed for more interior space and improved weight distribution, making the Beetle a more balanced and stable car to drive.
  2. Air-cooled engine: The Beetle’s engine was air-cooled, which eliminated the need for a heavy and complex radiator and cooling system. This made the car lighter and more reliable, as well as easier to maintain.
  3. Simple suspension: The Beetle had a simple suspension system that consisted of a beam axle and torsion bars, which allowed for a smooth ride and good handling. This design was both rugged and reliable, and it helped to keep the car’s cost low.
  4. Lightweight construction: The Beetle was built using lightweight materials, including a body made of steel and an aluminum engine case. This helped to keep the car’s weight down and improved its fuel efficiency.
  5. Flat-four engine: The VW Bug was powered by a flat-four engine, which was a compact and efficient design that made the most of the limited space available in the rear of the car. This engine was designed to be simple, reliable, and easy to maintain.

These mechanical features, combined with the Beetle’s distinctive rounded shape and affordable price, made it a popular choice among car buyers in the 1960s. The Beetle’s unique mechanicals also contributed to its reputation as a car that was fun to drive, easy to maintain, and built to last.

The Start of the British Invasion

The British Invasion in rock music refers to the period between the mid-1960s and early 1970s when British rock and roll groups, such as The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, and The Who, rose to international fame and dominated the music charts in the United States and around the world. This period marked a significant turning point in the history of rock music and had a profound impact on popular culture and society at large.

The roots of the British Invasion can be traced back to the 1950s, when the first wave of rock and roll music swept across the United States. American rockers like Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry, and Little Richard inspired a generation of young British musicians, who began to experiment with the genre and incorporate their own cultural influences. By the early 1960s, a thriving youth culture had emerged in Britain, and a new wave of musical talent was beginning to emerge.

It Started With The Beatles

The first wave of British groups to achieve success in the United States were The Beatles. Their appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show in February 1964 is often cited as the moment that the British Invasion began. The Beatles’ unique blend of rock, pop, and folk music, combined with their innovative songwriting, charismatic personalities, and groundbreaking image, quickly made them the biggest band in the world. They helped to popularize the genre and paved the way for other British groups to achieve international success.

Ed Sullivan and the Beatles
The Rolling Stones followed in The Beatles’ footsteps, and soon became one of the most influential rock and roll bands of all time. With their rough-and-tumble image, bluesy sound, and powerful stage presence, they quickly became the poster boys for the rebellious spirit of the era. Other notable groups from this period include The Who, The Kinks, and The Yardbirds. These groups brought a fresh new energy to rock and roll, and their music continues to be celebrated and revered to this day.

A New Era

The impact of the British Invasion on popular culture cannot be overstated. These British groups brought a new level of sophistication and artistry to rock and roll, and their influence can be heard in the music of generations of artists that followed. They also helped to break down cultural barriers, and their popularity transcended race, class, and nationality. The British Invasion marked a new era in the history of rock music, and its impact is still felt today.

All in all, the British Invasion was a pivotal moment in the history of rock music, and its impact continues to be felt to this day. The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, and other British groups of the era brought a new level of sophistication and artistry to rock and roll, and their influence continues to be celebrated and revered. The British Invasion was a cultural phenomenon that helped to shape popular culture and changed the course of rock and roll music forever.

Bo Diddley

Bo Diddley was an influencer of many of the founding fathers of rock.  His birth name was Otha Ellas Bates.  It was in the deep South, in McComb, Mississippi, on December 28th, 1928.  He later took the name of Ellas McDaniel when he was adopted by his mother’s cousin and moved to Chicago’s South Side.Bo Diddly's square guitar

Ellas learned music at the Ebenezer Baptist Church.   He mastered the trombone and violin first before taking up the guitar.  And oh, what a guitarist he would be!  Like many musicians, he started out gigging in Chicago clubs as a sideline.

Image: In the 1950s, Bo Diddley had a square guitar custom-made. He’d go on to make guitars of all shapes.

No one is really sure where the name Bo Diddley came from.  He says that it was a name given to him by some pals when boxing in the Golden Gloves.  He suspected that it was an insult, but he also noted a stage name previously used by a comedian related to his mother.  Wherever it came from, it stuck.

Bo Diddley’s Music

It wasn’t until 1951 when he landed his first regular gig at the 708 Club and in 1954 when he recorded his first demo record.  The demo included “I’m a Man” and “Bo Diddley.”  Chess Studios liked the demo,  recorded it, and in March of 1955, he had a #1 R&B hit with  “Bo Diddley.

Bo Diddley 45 rpm recordOn November 20, 1955, his musical stardom was when he appeared on the popular television program The Ed Sullivan Show.  In the 1950s, when you hit Ed Sullivan’s show, you were a star.  Unfortunately, there was some confusion with Sullivan’s staff, and Bo ended up performing an as-yet-unreleased “Sixteen Tons” along with “Bo Diddle.”  Sullivan was angry and never invited him back.  Bo Diddley went on to record “Sixteen Tons,” and we’re still listening to it today.

This article won’t go into his discography and professional accomplishments.  There’s plenty of that on the web.   We’ve included him here as a member of Rock royalty and one of the founding fathers of rock and roll.

road runner album coverHis special way of playing the guitar, using it almost like a percussion instrument rather than for melody or harmony.  It was an African rhythm that Bo Diddley transitioned into American R&B, which is the basis for today’s Rock and Roll.  The Bo Diddley beat is heard in many other early rockers, notably Buddy Holly,  Elvis, The Beatles,  the Stones, and others.  It’s grown to become the backbone of today’s hip-hop and rap.

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the Rockabilly Hall of Fame, the Blues Hall of Fame, the Hit Parade Hall of Fame, and more have honored him.  He’s been awarded the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award and an honorary Doctor of Fine Arts degree.   But most of all, Bo, we thank you for your music.

Roy Orbison

Roy Orbison was an American singer-songwriter who rose to fame in the late 1950s and early 1960s as one of the pioneers of rock and roll music. His powerful, emotional voice, innovative musical style, and iconic stage presence made him one of the most influential musicians of his generation, and his legacy continues to shape the sound and style of rock and roll today.

Roy Orbison holding a guitarOrbison was born in Vernon, Texas in 1936, and grew up listening to the country and western music of his native state. However, he was also exposed to a wide range of other musical styles, including gospel, blues, and classical, and he quickly developed a keen ear for melody and a passion for music. In the 1950s, Orbison began writing and performing his own songs, and his unique style soon caught the attention of the music industry.

The Orbison Voice

One of the things that set Orbison apart from other musicians of his time was his voice. He had a powerful, soaring tenor that was capable of conveying a wide range of emotions, from heartbreak and sadness to joy and excitement. His voice was further enhanced by his innovative musical arrangements, which often featured lush strings and dramatic instrumentation that underscored the emotional intensity of his lyrics.

Orbison’s impact on rock and roll was felt immediately, and he quickly became one of the most popular and influential musicians of his time. His hit songs, such as “Only the Lonely” and “Crying”, helped to define the sound and style of the early rock and roll genre, and his distinctive stage presence and electrifying live performances made him a popular concert draw.

Big Hits

“Oh, Pretty Woman” was Orbison’s biggest hit in 1964, reaching the top of the charts in the United States and the United Kingdom. Its catchy melody and upbeat lyrics have made it one of Orbison’s most enduring hits. In 1990, the song was included in the soundtrack of the film “Pretty Woman,” which starred Julia Roberts and Richard Gere. The film was a huge box office success and the soundtrack, which featured Orbison’s classic hit, also became a commercial success. The exposure from the film helped to revive interest in Orbison’s music, and “Oh, Pretty Woman” became a hit again, reaching the top 40 charts in several countries.

“In Dreams” from 1963 was a haunting ballad featuring Orbison’s powerful voice and dramatic instrumental arrangements, and its ethereal, dream-like quality has made it one of his most memorable and enduring songs.  Orbison first big hit, an upbeat rocker from 1961  rounds out his top 5.

These are some of the most popular songs recorded by Roy Orbison, and they are widely considered to be some of the best and most influential songs in the rock and roll genre. His impact on popular music was profound, and his legacy continues to inspire and influence musicians and fans around the world.

The Look

In addition to his musical contributions, Orbison was also a pioneer in terms of his style and image. He was known for his distinctive black sunglasses, which became one of his most recognizable trademarks, and his stylish, elegant stage costumes helped to set him apart from other musicians of the time. His influence can be seen in the music and fashion of many later rock and roll performers, and his legacy continues to inspire new generations of musicians.

In the years since his death, Orbison’s music has continued to be popular, and his influence has been widely recognized by musicians, fans, and critics alike. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987, and his songs continue to be performed and recorded by musicians around the world. His impact on rock and roll music was profound, and his legacy will continue to shape the genre for generations to come.