Skip to Main Content
Logan Library

Reacting to the Past: Civil Rights: Culture

What Was Happening in Pop Culture in 1964?

Find out at mr.popculture!

Be sure to click on photos to find out more about the people or images.

Pop Art

By creating paintings or sculptures of mass culture objects and media stars, the Pop art movement aimed to blur the boundaries between "high" art and "low" culture. The concept that there is no hierarchy of culture and that art may borrow from any source has been one of the most influential characteristics of Pop art.



Twiggy Lawson was the world's first supermodel: a skinny kid with the face of an angel who became an icon. 'She'll last a couple of weeks', a bystander quipped in 1967 when she took New York by storm. Thirty five years on and Twiggy is still a force to be reckoned with in the fashion world.

Jean Shrimpton is known for being one of the world's first supermodels, the highest-paid model of the 1960s and the face of "Swinging London," as well as for popularizing the miniskirt.

Marilyn Monroe

Marilyn Monroe, probably best known as a model and pin-up girl (and for her scandalous relationship with President Kennedy), had a much longer resume than calendars, posters, and magazine spreads. She was an actress, singer, active businesswoman, humanitarian, and even dabbled in poetry (by the way, she wasn't a blonde! Shhh...).

The British Invasion

The British Invasion was, quite simply, one of the watershed developments in American popular music history. The phenomenon involved the virtual domination of AM radio and the record industry in the United States by British artists, particularly the beat groups who had proved adept at recycling the American rhythm and blues and rockabilly songs of the 1950s.

The convergence of a number of events set provided the appropriate setting for this onslaught. Perhaps of greatest importance, American rock 'n' roll had been undergoing a steady decline in quality since the major record companies--aided and abetted by other media outlets, most notably Top 40 radio and Dick Clark's "American Bandstand"--had harnessed it and begun releasing a tamer product. The pop hegemony enjoyed by teen idols such as Frankie Avalon and Fabian had driven many youth to commercial folk and jazz, while a seemingly endless stream of novelty songs (e.g., Sheb Wooley's "Purple People Eater," David Seville's "Witch Doctor," Larry Verne's "Mr. Custer," and Brian Hyland's "Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weeny Yellow Polka Dot Bikini") and dance crazes proved unsuccessful in cultivating a substantial core following for rock 'n' roll.

In the meantime, the British music scene appeared incapable of producing much more than pale Elvis Presley imitators (e.g., Cliff Richard, Billy Fury, and Marty Wilde) and bland pop along the lines of Mr. Acker Bilk, whose "Stranger on the Shore" (1962) was one of the few British imports to make a substantial dent in the stateside charts prior to 1964. However, the pop underground in Great Britain was quietly brewing something far more potent starting in the mid-1950s. The skiffle music craze (a uniquely English form of folk revival music drawing heavily on American material) led by Lonnie Donegan spurred the baby boomer generation to form their own bands. The most notable of these aggregates--then known by names such as the Quarrymen and the Silver Beatles--would go on to spearhead the British Invasion.

It's hard to imagine the invasion taking place without the Beatles. Many of the bands swept along on the Fab Four's coattails to the top of the American charts possessed no more talent than the bland teen idols they had displaced. The Beatles, however, were another matter. Three of members--the songwriting team of John Lennon and Paul McCartney, and, to a lesser extent, lead guitarist George Harrison--were capable of producing first-rate material. After a brief period of covering American r & b, pop, and country standards, the group went on to compose a long string of rock classics, many of which are likely to be performed for generations to come. The band members were also all excellent musicians, thanks in large part to years spent performing in small clubs in England and Germany. Lennon and McCartney both were superb vocalists, capable of putting across rave-up rockers and introspective ballads in an equally convincing manner.