Music Genres of the 60s, 70s and 80s

The Evolution of Ambient, Disco, Funk and Heavy Metal Music

There are many different genres of music and each of these have several sub-genres. From the 1960s to the 80s, various music styles emerged, like the heavy metal music of the late 1960s and disco music which dominated the airwaves in the 70s.

Let's look at four major musical genres that emerged and further evolved over the decades.

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Ambient Music

Ambient artist Aphex Twins perform
Aphex Twin performs on January 1, 1996.

Mick Hutson / Getty Images

You might have heard ambient music before but did not know the name of the genre. First developed in the early 1970s in the UK, ambient music consists of subtle instrumentals. Ambient musicians experimented with new music technologies at the time, such as the synthesizer. 

Because of ambient music's emphasis on creating atmospheres and textures rather than following a more structured musical approach to rhythm and beat, many think of it as background music although ambient songs are also meant to be attentively listened to on its own.

In the 1990s, ambient music saw a resurgence with artists like Aphex Twin and Seefeel. During this time, ambient music branched off into sub-genres, including ambient house, ambient techno, dark ambient, ambient trance, and ambient dub. This more chill variety of music was in reaction to hard techno popular at the time.

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Disco Music

people dancing at Studio 54 in New York City
Studio 54 Nightclub in New York City, 1979.

Bettmann / Getty Images

Disco comes from the word "discothèque;" a French term used to describe the nightclubs in Paris. During the 1960s and 70s, disco music became popular internationally. Disco music is meant to be danced to or to entice listeners to get up and dance. Popular disco artists include The Bee Gees, Grace Jones, and Diana Ross.

Disco was a reaction against the rock genre that was popular at the time. Heavily ingrained in LGBT counterculture, to freely dance was an important part of disco culture. Now iconic dances that come from the disco movement include Y.M.C.A, The Hustle, and The Bump. 

While a music genre, disco also included a fashion aspect. Those who frequented the disco scene wore extravagant, statement outfits. Flared pants, tight clothes, pointed collars, sequins, platform shoes and bold colors would dominate the dance floor.

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Funk Music

Janis Joplin performing at a concert.
Janis Joplin and her final group, the Full Tilt Boogie Band, perform at the Festival for Peace at Shea Stadium in 1970.

Bettmann / Getty Images

The word "funk" has many meanings, but in music it refers to a type of dance music that was particularly popular during the late 1960s to the late 70s. Funk music evolved from different types of African-American music such as blues, jazz, R&B and soul. 

Funk is characterized by strong and complex rhythms. This is created by placing heavy emphasis on bass lines, drum beats and riffs, and placing less emphasis on melody and chord progressions.

Music sub-genres that developed out of funk music include psychedelic funk, avant-funk, boogie and funk metal.

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Heavy Metal

Rock band Steppenwolf performs in 1968.
Rock and roll band Steppenwolf (L-R Jerry Edmonton, John Kay and Michael Monarch) perform at Steve Paul's The Scene nightclub on June 11, 1968 in New York, New York.

Michael Ochs Archives / Getty Images

The term "heavy metal" appeared in the lyrics of Born To Be Wild by Steppenwolf in 1968. However, the term is mostly attributed to a writer named William Seward Burroughs. It is a type of rock music that developed in the late 1960s and 1970s and was particularly popular in the UK and the US.

Heavy metal music is characterized by machismo, overall loudness and using the electric guitar as the main musical instrument. Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath are considered to be the bands at the forefront of heavy metal in the 1960s.