How Rolling Stone Magazine Influenced the Sixties

Alisa Manzelli

The influx of rock music and counterculture in the 1960s signaled a new era for music journalism, and Rolling Stone became the venue for documenting this revolution. As counterculture evolved in San Francisco, as well as the rest of the country, Rolling Stone, founded in the Bay Area, became an influential outlet for discovering music that embodied the changing zeitgeist.

 

Rolling Stone’s first issue debuted in 1967 — a significant year in music history: The Doors released their debut album; The Rolling Stones appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show; The Who performed their first show in the U.S.; and The Jimi Hendrix Experience released their influential album, Are You Experienced. In addition, important bands such as Creedence Clearwater Revival, Blue Oyster Cult, and Chicago formed in 1967.

 

The Beatles, already established by the late 60s, continued to have a strong influence on American music. As Jann Wenner, co-founder of Rolling Stone, wrote in “Our 1000th Issue,”Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, which came out in 1967, the same year as Rolling Stone, was an album that changed our world forever.”

 

Hundreds of articles and books have been written about the 1960s and the significance of that period on the social fabric of America, and countless critics have analyzed virtually every social aspect of the decade, in particular the evolvement of the counterculture and the significance of the music that marked the era..

 

Much of the music released in 1967 served as a response to the increasing presence of American troops in Vietnam and the burgeoning social revolution that came to define the time. As David Weir writes in “Wenner’s World” for Salon.com:

 

“This was, after all, a generation that simultaneously rebelled against the Vietnam War and a host of constrictive social arrangements and gravitated to the one force that bridged racial and class lines.”

 

Similarly, in The Summer of Love: Haight-Ashbury at Its Highest Gene Anthony describes how the counterculture “openly declared ambitions counter to the prevailing American dream" and “stood in opposition to its ideals and the then current war in Vietnam.”

 

1967 is also significant for the Summer of Love. In the article “Love and Haight” in the Observer,  Ed Vulliamy recalls the Summer of Love as “the phenomenon of music, psychedelic drugs, politics, anti-politics, art, sex, rebellion, celebration, squalor and calamity.” Around 100,000 people converged on Haight-Ashbury in San Francisco, creating a center for hippie counterculture. The tumultuous world of America, in desperate need of social balance, saw its young citizens turn instead to revolt and rebellion.

 

San Francisco was soon recognized as a musical melting pot. Rolling Stone, based in the Bay Area at the time, formed as a response to this cultural revolution, and then helped to popularize it.

 

In its beginning stages, the magazine strongly identified with and reported on so-called hippie counterculture. However, Rolling Stone eventually distanced itself from the underground newspapers of the time, such as the Berkeley Barb. Rolling Stone chose to embrace more traditional journalistic standards and avoided the more radical politics that the underground press was known for. In his blog,  a fan writes that “Rolling Stone is great because they are the perfect blend of mainstream and underground.”

 

The magazine appealed to a specific but wide-ranging audience. In his reflection regarding the beginnings of Rolling Stone, Wenner wrote that the magazine "is not just about the music, but about the things and attitudes that music embraces." And in a sense, this has become the de facto motto of Rolling Stone.

 

The lack of initial interest in fame and fortune helped popularize the magazine among its counterculture readers. This “relatable factor” made it even more appealing to its audience.

 

Much of this had to do with the magazine’s creators and writers. Rolling Stone was essentially a collaboration made by fans. The magazine was created by a U.C. Berkeley student, Jann S. Wenner, and a jazz music critic from the San Francisco Chronicle, Ralph Gleason. In regards to Wenner’s involvement with the evolving music and culture of the time, writer Stephanie Lee states that “In the beginning, Rolling Stone emerged from Berkeley and San Francisco, where a blossoming music scene and counterculture moved Wenner to turn on, tune in, drop out and most importantly, write it all down.”

 

Like Wenner, Cameron Crowe, one of the earlier contributors for Rolling Stone, is a classic example of  the fan-turned writer. In an article by Joel Selvin for the San Francisco Chronicle, Ben Fong-Torres is quoted as saying, “He [Crowe] was the guy we sent out after some difficult customers. He covered the bands that hated Rolling Stone.

 

Rolling Stone articles typically emphasized authenticity, while introducing innovative styles and ideas that revolutionized journalism as a whole. Another former Rolling Stone writer, Hunter S. Thompson, helped introduce a new style of journalism that incorporated a biased, first-person narrative (better known as gonzo journalism). Other literary luminaries such as Lester Bangs and P. J. O’Rourke have also written for the magazine.

 

Interesting and unique content was pertinent to the image Rolling Stone tried to convey to its audience. Wenner’s editorial choices were sometimes downright lucky, but most of his successful decisions resulted from his keen eye for talent and his vision for the magazine and its future success. Weir describes Wenner as “unparalleled in his generation of magazine editors as a spotter of talent, and for creative types of a certain age and temperament, [he] will always be considered the magic-maker.”

 

With articles ranging from pop culture to politics, the magazine never lost sight of the significance of music. Wenner’s greatest ability was to see that society was changing and know that the growth and adaptation that came with this change had to be covered in the pages of Rolling Stone. Perhaps the reason why the magazine is still running strong 44 years later is, in part, thanks to his “magic-making”, which has made Rolling Stone one of the most important music magazines of all time.

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