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The Beatles in America | Public Domain/WikiCommons
The Beatles in America | Public Domain/WikiCommons
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10 Angsty Songs That Define London's Swinging 60s

Picture of Maisie Hayden
Updated: 9 December 2016
Ever since London‘s music scene exploded in the 1960s with a surge in fashion and culture, disgruntled teenagers and adults alike have worshipped these youth-centred anthems. Let the British Invasion take over as these rock ‘n’ roll superstars channel this cultural revolution through their anxieties about the world. Swinging London’s timeless tunes still ring true after five decades, as the never-ending fight for personal freedom lives on.

Get Off Of My Cloud – The Rolling Stones

After The Rolling Stones burst onto the London scene in the early 1960s, the all-British band gained much notoriety with their hit single (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction. Their 1965 masterpiece Get Off Of My Cloud followed shortly in response to the rockers’ heightened popularity. Like how Mick Jagger and Keith Richards used this chart-topper as a way to react to the pressures of rock ‘n’ roll superstardom, kids these days look to it as a way to fend off aversions to authority and unwarranted expectations. The desire to be left alone alongside the nagging alienation teens feel fuels this jam, signalling the rejection of London’s ordered society and restrictive grown-up world.

My Generation – The Who

While The Rolling Stones were making waves in late 1965, their rivals from West London were also making their mark on music history. The Who unleashed their smash hit My Generation to a raging mod crowd in London, and it is now the band’s most recognisable hit. The anthem captures the teenage angst that developed out of 1960s British society, where youth’s constrained thoughts, dress and behaviour gave way to The Counterculture. The Who’s energetic live performances and destructive nature on stage, alongside their wild fashion and flashy mannerisms, come through in this song, making it an unforgettable contribution to London’s Swinging 60s.

Revolution – The Beatles

Whilst The Who were stuttering through My Generation, The Beatles were breaking down barriers of their own in their transition from boyish love songs to social commentary. This Lennon-McCartney composition came in 1968 as a result of political protests and prompted much disapproval from the counterculture community. In spite of Lennon’s skepticism about revolution, the song relays the decade’s political disagreement and strife under which The Beatles and their peers became the spokespeople for youth and social change. With their signature hair cuts and taste for rebellion, the fab four managed to convey their political views in a way that document London’s political struggles and surge of youth culture all in one catchy tune.

We Gotta Get Out Of This Place – The Animals

This hit single rocked the world when The Animals released it in 1965 amidst political unrest around the globe. In the years leading up to The Beatles’ Revolution and other songs of testing nature, The Animals were right in line with their musical compatriots courtesy of this iconic anthem. The reworked lyrics from the original version reject the limitations of England’s industrial, working class society, pushing for an alternative to hopelessly working life away. The title alone calls for change, challenging England’s 1960s youth and future generations to escape the monotony and control their parents succumbed to.

Sunny Afternoon – The Kinks

As another influential band from London that shaped the Swinging 60s and the British Invasion as a whole, The Kinks dished out revolution-inducing material rivaling that of The Beatles and their other contemporaries. This Ray Davies triumph takes on the British government directly to instigate change, mirroring the radical messages that his peers also incorporated into their music. Through the song’s unlikable protagonist, The Kinks reach England’s youth in its struggle against the country’s economic restrictions. In this push for mobility and riches among Britain’s younger crowd, The Kinks deliver an unforgettable satirical masterpiece that speaks to every day life and people in a calming yet poignant way.

See Emily Play – Pink Floyd

Pink Floyd picks up where The Kinks left off with this Syd Barrett composition detailing the mystery and hopelessness that accompanies childhood and coming of age. This psychedelic account of a drug-fueled encounter where Emily, a girl in the woods whose identity continues to spark controversy, appears sheds light on the uncertainties of life in 1960s London and its spirit of rebellion. This dark, distant tale speaks to confused youth everywhere, encapsulating the despair children feel and their desire to incite change. This classic tune’s focus on existence alongside the lack of understanding of the past and uncertainty about the future has engaged adolescents and adults alike with endless possibilities for contemplation.

For Your Love – The Yardbirds

The longing for love and understanding that Pink Floyd expresses comes to life in the music of yet another British Invasion band that captured the London experience in the 1960s. This classic Yardbirds tune, stemming from Graham Gouldman’s admiration for The Beatles, combines a pop beat with a young man’s desire for love. The song’s shift from R&B and constant refrain of ‘for your love’ illustrates the city’s changing musical atmosphere and teen spirit. The London-based band’s first major hit contributes to the development of rock ‘n’ roll music while more importantly appealing to youth struggling with love and acceptance.

Fire – Jimi Hendrix

Jimi Hendrix takes a more blatant approach to sexuality in his songwriting compared to his British peers, unleashing powerful sexual desire through musical experimentation. Amidst society’s fixed social boundaries and emotional restrictions, the Jimi Hendrix Experience released this rock ‘n’ roll force to London’s frustrated youth. The hit’s sexual undertones creep out amid the song’s innocent intentions, allowing oppression to move over while Jimi takes over. This chilling composition identifies how the decade’s top artists fixated on revolutionising music while mirroring its new trends in attraction, love and desire.

Tin Soldier – The Small Faces

This powerful rock song brings energy and feeling like Jimi Hendrix did with Fire, as its composer Steve Marriott chronicles his passion for his wife. The Small Faces build off this fascination through musical experimentation, going back to their R&B roots while embracing their journey into psychedelic rock and other uncharted waters in music. The jam’s misheard lyrics captivate youth culture, as the British press‘s misinterpretation of the lyric ‘sit with you’ signals its disapproval of sexuality and expression. Whilst the actual recording does not allude to explicit sexual acts like England’s media thought, it does discuss the excitement of penetrating and exploring someone else’s mind.

I Feel Free – Cream

Cream epitomises the search for understanding and a connection with others like The Small Faces did with ‘Tin Soldier’ in this catchy tune. The British rock band’s musical range comes through in this hit single, delivering its powerful message alongside mixtures of blues rock and psychedelic pop. Their modern sound charmed London’s fashionable crowd in the 1960s, as Eric Clapton’s distinctive guitar solo alongside the crew’s varied musical contributions unveil the tremendous developments this time period allowed for musicians and fans alike. This hip masterpiece concludes the list of songs whose timeless qualities enthralled London’s youth in the 1960s and have continued to inspire revolutions ever since rock ‘n’ roll took over half a century ago.