Were the Swinging Sixties really as important as we're always told?

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21 November
11:33
November
2016

There’s been an enormous amount of retrospective theorising going on about the 1960s of late, and it’s become very fashionable to say that what happened to youth culture in Britain in the 1960s only really affected two hundred people in London, and didn’t really mean anything to the rest of the country. This is complete bollocks. There have been right wing attacks on the 1960s for the past thirty years and that’s because the Tories have always hated it. The right hates it. Why? because it’s all to do with the idea of freedom, and a genuine kind of democracy.

Watching Ready Steady Go in the late 60s and seeing all these ugly, short wonderful singers from Newcastle or Belfast or Manchester on our TV screens was just incredible. It’s similar to what had happened with cinema ten years earlier but, music, historically, was less controlled. It was complete anarchy. What happened with Britain in the 1960s was something very different indeed. It was not business as usual.

When I worked on my book 1966, it began with listening to the freedom and excitement in the records from that year, and working out why this happened formally, and then trying to work out why this experimentation was happening then. It was to do, however obliquely, with a wider pattern of enfranchisement that was occurring in the US and the UK, whether it be with civil rights, the nascent gay rights movement, the second wave of feminism or simply with teenagers being more assertive about how they saw the world, and how they wanted the world 

There have been right wing attacks on the 1960s for the past thirty years.”

Plus, on a simple level, in the UK, you had a very sophistical youth media that was pumping out all these messages to millions of kids every single week. So much stuff written about the 60s is taken second hand from these teen publications. You may as well go back to the source, and simply by studying the language and the way they talk about things in these publications, you can reconstruct the history of the time. 

It’s very important to establish those principles because I think those three liberation movements, and a more general diffused idea of emancipation and freedom from that period, led to immense gains. I would rebut anybody who says otherwise. It changed youth culture, it was new, and it was felt. If it hadn’t been a thing, if it hadn’t have been felt, you wouldn’t have had Harold Wilson, the Prime Minister of the country wanting to appear with the Beatles, would you?

Jon Savage curates the 2x CD compilation 1966: The Year The Decade Exploded on Ace Records

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