So, I have been wondering a lot a bout how music changed through the decades and came to 2 points. The 80s and 60s. But, I have no music background and don't know why I can tell that the music is from these eras, and also I need help explaining how these 2 time periods were essential to music transition and why they stand out so much.

What are some of the stylistic, analytical, or other factors that make music of the 1960s and 1980s distinct from each other?

  • Interesting question. Like asking what differentiates Baroque-era from Classical-era music.
    – Aaron
    Nov 17, 2020 at 20:31
  • This question is very broad. How about narrowing it to some particular part of the world? and how about narrowing it to a particular audience or venue (e.g., "Top-40" radio stations)? Nov 17, 2020 at 22:36
  • This Q&A may interest you: What are common compositional elements of 80s synth pop?
    – Aaron
    Nov 18, 2020 at 23:29

4 Answers 4


This is a big question. Massive. Let's dive in.

A big thing that started in the Sixties is the introduction of the Album Act contrasted by the Singles Act. The albums of pop acts going into the 60s were collections of singles and other songs, but, with albums like the Beach Boys' Smile!, the Beatles' Revolver and the Rolling Stones' Begger's Banquet, you started seeing the album as a cohesive collection of interconnected works. The ultimate form of this is the Rock Opera, such and the Who's Tommy and Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon, but was mostly over by the time of the Eighties.

Technology is a big differentiator between the two. I'll make three of the many points here:

  1. Multi-Track Recording existed in the 50s, but through the Sixties, it was four-track where new tracks were mixed into one of the remaining, and the copying caused signal to degrade, especially the higher frequencies. By the 80s, you had multiple tracks on the tape, allowing you to have click tracks to ensure consistent tempo. There are other tricks, like gated reverb, that'd be going too deep.
  2. Keyboard instruments changed drastically. In the Sixties, they used electric pianos, organs and Mellotrons, which played pieces of tape to get early "samples" of orchestral instruments. You had the beginnings of additive synthesis with the Moog, but that was heavy, complex, unrepeatable and monophonic. With the rise of computer power, you had frequency modulation synthesis with the DX-7, sampling with the Fairlight, and sequencing with early MIDI.
  3. There was lots of change with the Guitar. In the 50s, it went from harmony and rhythm to lead instrument in many genres, with guitar-bass-drums being the core of rock bands. Jimi Hendrix and the Three Kings of the Yardbirds — Clapton, Beck and Page — brought guitar to an apex, but the gear they used had limitations that held back the great players. String gauges were more appropriate for acoustic instruments than electric ones. The vibrato bridge designs had tuning problems, pickups could be weak and muffled, and electronic effects were unreliable and expensive. By the 80s, you have gear built that allowed guitarists to play to the ends of their capabilities.

This is enough for now.


One important distinction is the technology available. 80s music heavily featured electronically produced sounds from keyboards, synthesizers, and drum machines. Those technologies were in their comparative infancy in the 60s, so not as heavily used and used in more experimental ways.


I suspect what you're hearing in the 60s versus the 80s is the polarization between two distinctly different modes of music: Organic and synthetic. A lot of 60s music is at the nexus of folk and rock. Even when fully electrified, the music has a direct connection with nature, with spirituality, with humanity and with the emotions.

In contrast, the 80s were a decade that celebrated the artificial and the technological. Synthesizers and drum machines dominated the deliberately inhuman sound. Even the mainstream pop of the times often has themes of isolation and alienation. The eighties was also a theatrical time that celebrated excess and materialism.

Even though there have been many eras of American music, with their corresponding contrasts in styles and aesthetics, it's true that it's hard to find two decades more directly in aesthetic opposition to each other.


60s music was hand made, 80s was electronic, especially percussion like Chris Sunami says, and keyboards, DX 7 and DX 11, later sound sampling and sampled drum patterns.

60s were more melodic (folk style or Rock) 80s disco style.

  • Would it be overly cynical for me to say that music of the sixties was simply better than music of the eighties? Nov 19, 2020 at 15:38
  • Not at all, I’d fully agree. But we should name some differing features, like John Lennon was dead, and Jimmy Hendrix, Janis Joplin, but mind: Pink Floyd, the Bee Gees, Tina Turner were still here. Nov 19, 2020 at 18:16
  • In der Tat. There have been outstanding groups and songs from all eras. Nov 20, 2020 at 10:46
  • Scott, there's a lot of boring, interchangeable, cookie-cutter music from the 60s as well, but the nostalgia machine of oldies radio has culled it to just the "best", even if it never received radio play at the time. Nov 20, 2020 at 20:29

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