I received some feedback on the first two 1970’s posts citing that there were “some forgotten songs mentioned, and yet they came back immediately in my head” which is all part of the fun.
Music of the 1970’s
Parts one and two focused on three major sources; the Billboard charts, Rolling Stone Magazine’s 500 Greatest Songs and from The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll. A few other references were used and I will try not to repeat myself as I would like to give an overview of the decades music. It was a time of much social change and we saw the introduction of many new music styles that still impact the music of today.
If we look at the recording of cover songs, artists have been all over this decade. As I was pursuing my 1970’s album collection, which is most of it, I picked up Aerosmith’s Toys in the Attic (as pictured above) from 1975. Immediately I was reminded of the Run D.M.C. cover and collaboration of “Walk This Way” which was released in 1986. While the 1960’s still rule for the total number of cover songs, due of course to The Beatles and Bob Dylan being the most covered artists, anecdotally I see more breadth and variety in the songs covered from the 1970’s. From 1971 Bill Withers’ “Ain’t No Sunshine” has 354 versions, “Hotel California” from 1976 has 204 and Cyndi Lauper’s “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” from 1979 has 142 versions. Not Beatle numbers…yet, but the decade has left an enduring impact and new covers are added every day.
Here are some stats to support the significance of the 70’s; from the Rolling Stone Magazine’s 500 Greatest Songs list of 2010, 196 or 39% of the songs were from the 1960’s, while 131 or 26% were from the 1970’s. On the most recent 2020 list the 1960’s are down to 108 songs which is just under 22% and the 70’s have increased to 144 songs or just under 29%. Of course this is a function of time and mathematics, as newer songs become eligible for the list, to maintain the 500 some have to go. Not that all the top songs are from the 60’s and 70’s but as it stands now the leaders on the list are; The Beatles who have 12 entries, Bob Dylan, David Bowie and The Rolling Stones have 7, Prince has 6 and Bruce Springsteen has 5, he also has the most songs from any single album, Born to Run has three on the list. To get to a female artist we go to the four song group with Aretha Franklin, Joni Mitchell and Beyoncé. Also in that club we have Marvin Gaye, Elton John, Stevie Wonder and Outkast.
For a year to year comparison 1971 has the most songs on the list at 21, so what was happening then? I can tell you one thing that was not happening – The Beatles. John Lennon’s “Imagine” is the only former member with a song on the list in 1971, with “Let it Be” from 1970 being the last Beatles song. Not surprisingly almost every song on that 1971 list as well as the 20 songs from 1970 are from artists that established themselves in the 1960’s. Just to name a few, Dolly Parton, Loretta Lynn, Led Zeppelin, Joni Mitchell, The Rolling Stones, The Who, Grateful Dead, Santana, Neil Young, Marvin Gaye and David Bowie. Two were a bit later, mostly in 1968 and ’69 like Sly and the Family Stone and Al Green. Gil Scott-Heron who is really a spoken word poet, is the only one to have started recording in 1970. So maybe we can weight these songs back toward the 1960’s.
Final thoughts on charts and the 1970’s
While I have ranted on about charts, I do realize that the Hot 100 is a bit of a ‘catch all’ list which in theory was only driven by sales, though I have cited many examples where discretion was used. Billboards main competitor was Cash Box Magazine which was also a significant Trade Publication, but generally their lists were quiet comparable. One important piece of data for song placement was radio airplay. In the 1950’s and 60’s there were several different charts, one being most played by Disc Jockeys. Once the lists were amalgamated I think airplay stats somehow got skewed. If you listened to music during the 70’s on the radio you will remember that most stations did not play dance music all the time. Case in point, depending on the market, most FM stations played very little, if any at all. While US radio station playlists were submitted to Billboard and the other Trade Magazines, I think those numbers were heavily weighted by stations that played the same songs 20 or more times a day.
Rock oriented stations certainly played the popular songs but there was a much greater breath to their playlist. Yet the major charts such as the Billboard Hot 100 representation of airplay seemed to have overlooked this. This would account for ‘Disco’ songs ranking in the year end top 100 that never charted in the top 10 in any given week. So if they were played on a station playing dance music, they would have been in high rotation on a limited number of channels that were in large urban markets. So there was an imbalance in the genre ratio I suppose you could say. You may be thinking, what difference this all makes? Music to the Record Companies is a business, and they like to make money. Charts can drive sales which in turn has an effect on the decisions made by the executives. This in turn pushes the A&R (Artists and Repertoire) people to seek out similar types of artists. By comparison to today’s standards, airplay and streaming pretty much rule the charts. This trend was actually noticed by the industry and by 1981 they introduced the Rock Albums and Top Tracks chart. This of course did nothing to repair the damage for songs caught between the Easy Listening (Adult Contemporary or A/C as of 1979) and what was happening on the Hot 100. However it did give Rock Music it’s own lane so to speak. By 1982 A/C was based strictly on airplay. As I have been bombarding you with stats I deliberately did not emphasize the Album charts as much, generally I would say they were a more accurate reflection as we saw artists that rarely charted Singles in the top 40 such as Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen have several #1 Albums.
I have referenced Payola in prior posts but just to remind you this was the word associated with the practice of record companies paying DJ’s cash in order to get a particular song played. Congress had hearings in 1960 and the end result was the destruction of the career of Alan Freed, the man who popularized the term Rock and Roll. As it was really designed to attack the popularity of Rock and Roll it also put a damper record labels and the charts. So what does this have to do with the 1970’s? Well new rules were put in place that were supposed to put an end to the practice but record companies found a simple loophole. Slipping a $100 bill or two in the sleeve of a 45 rpm disc as it was delivered to the Programing Manager or DJ was common practice throughout the 70’s.
Anyway enough of the lists and stats, to quote Marvin Gaye, let’s look at “What’s Going On” during the decade with a few events, songs, artists and significant new genre and subgenre.
Culture and World Events
For the US and Southeast Asia, and for that matter many countries around the world the Vietnam War was very much front and center. In 1970 we have the songs “War”(#1) by Edwin Starr, “American Woman”(#1) by The Guess Who and “Ohio”(#14) by Crosby, Stills Nash and Young. These songs and others were taken up by the war protest movement, the latter of course was about the aftermath of the Kent State University horrors. The Guess Who also wanted to “Share the Land” (#2 in Canada, #5 in US). In 1971 the theme of Marvin Gaye’s critically acclaimed “What’s Going On” #1 album was from the perspective of a Vietnam War Veteran returning to a society that shunned and in many cases despised them. Another related song by Freda Payne is “Bring the Boys Home”. John Lennon would “Imagine” that we could all “live as one” and Cat Stevens was on “The Peace Train”. Gil Scott Heron and others were referencing Black Civil rights. The Who said “We Won’t Get Fooled Again” in 1971. All these songs were directly connected to current events.
As we move through the decade there were songs that reflected the struggle with inner city life such as Stevie Wonders “Living for the City” or commentaries such as “Babies Making Baby’s” from Sly and the Family Stone. Dylan’s songs became more pensive and reflective. Many artists such as Neil Young penned several songs about drug culture and the personal impact such as “The Needle and the Damage Done” in 1972 and “Tonight’s the Night” released in 1975. As the decade wore on there were less of the sixties style protest songs and more songs with thoughts on the issues of everyday life.
Having said that, Helen Reddy tapped into the growing Woman’s Rights movement in 1972 hitting #1 with “I Am Woman” and when Billie Jean King beat Bobby Riggs in 1973 she became a cultural icon.
In the US Nixon was President until his ignominious demise in 1974. He had however campaigned on removing US Troops from The Vietnam War and had started to do so in 1969. After a very tumultuous withdrawal the last of them went home in 1973. Hence the inevitable change in music, technically the war was over for the US at least, and so ended the era of the War Protest Song.
Hippie culture and style was still popular in the early 1970’s and panchos and frayed jeans were everywhere. Then came the Maxi Dress and Bell Bottom pants, yes I did have some of the latter and hopefully there are no pictures. By 1974 the world’s population was 4 billion. Microsoft was founded in 1975 and Sony introduced the Betamax video tape system and soon would lose the marketing war to the inferior VHS format so we could record the new show called Saturday Night Live if we went to bed early.
By mid decade Punk Rock was more than just the music, it brought the protest back and plenty of rage, drugs, sex, fashion and more. I will touch on some genres in a moment as the ties to culture and lifestyle are inescapable. In 1976 we got Apple, the world’s tallest building, the CN tower was finished in Toronto, we saw the Concorde Jet as well as the Space Shuttle take flight. In January and February of 1977 we had one heck of winter storm here in Ontario as did Western New York State and Northern Japan. Led Zeppelin set a world record for concert attendance as they packed over 72,000 people into the Pontiac Silverdome and Star Wars became the highest grossing film of all time. Both Bing Crosby and Elvis Presley died in 1977.
The Atari home video game console was also released in 1977, forever changing the lives of the adolescent male. That little fact reminds me of the time a shoplifter was stealing an Atari from the department store where I worked in Loss Prevention. I recovered the box with the game intact, but lost him on a foot chase through a series of backyards and over fences. On my return trip I encountered a young woman who said “I know that guy, I went to highschool with him”. So now I had a name and after I picked him out of some mugshots it was pretty easy for the police to find him. Nothing to do with music but I did listen to “Born to Run”(1975) when I got home. True story.
In 1978 based in the US, Navstar 1 was the first (Internationally built) Global Positioning Satellite, and where would we be today without GPS? San Francisco’s City Council passed a very important Gay Rights Bill. Bob Marley led the One Love Peace Concert that brought an end to the violence in the streets during the Civil War in Jamaica. Meanwhile domestic unrest in South Africa was rising and Prime Minister Botha, while finally allowing contact with the imprisoned Nelson Mandela would do little to end Apartheid. Synthetic Human Insulin was isolated paving the way for better treatment for Diabetes starting in 1982.
In 1978, Volodymyr Zelenskyy was born on January 25 in Kryvyi Rih, Ukraine.
In January of 1979 at the UN in New York City, ABBA would perform “Chiquitita” a song they wrote for the Music For Unicef Fund. On January 21st, my Pittsburgh Steelers would forge their grip on the decade with a third Superbowl, beating Dallas 35-31. The Guardian Angels safety patrol was started in New York City in February and would soon spread to California and several chapters around the world. The Phillips Company demonstrated the Compact Disc player followed by the Sony with the Walkman, these devices would soon revolutionize the Music Industry. Children celebrated the introduction of the Happy Meal which they could enjoy while watching the Muppet Movie. ESPN was the first ever sports cable channel.
As fans entered a Who concert on December 3 in Cincinnati, people from outside surged forward killing 11 people. On a happier note the first Star Trek movie was released at the Smithsonian in Washington. Also this year Usenet was developed which was the precursor to internet chat groups.
Genres and Sub Genre
I have mentioned several so far from the 1970’s in prior posts as there really was a proliferation of styles so I won’t split hairs here and try to list them all separately. In truth almost all Western World pop, mainstream and alternative music stems from the Blues, R&B, Rock(& Roll), Folk, Jazz, Spiritual and Country genre From there they are described as a genre, subgenre or even sub subgenre. In the 1970’s more than a few styles were spawned, often by the groundwork laid by artists from the 1960’s. So, in no particular order here are the ‘major’ categories that were started or gained initial recognition in the 1970’s. Some of the names I mention here you would not have found in The 1970’s Parts 1&2 yet are as synonymous with a particular genre as Beethoven is to Classical Music. Having said that, as is often the case, Artists fall under many genres, especially those with long careers that move from one type of music to another, David Bowie and Cher are great examples and each had an impact on the 1970’s.
The songs were pretty much all on the topic of love and surprisingly, dancing! As we all know, it was a cultural phenomenon of epic proportions. The ‘discotheques’ from the French, literally meaning “library of records” were already long established. Dating back to the early 1940’s this is where the records were stored and preserved, post WWII, locations adopted the name for a cafe/ nightclub that plays records. In the 70’s, led by sounds from ABBA who had their first #1 hit in Sweden in 1972, more venues spread across Europe. The trend migrated, leading to a proliferation of clubs opening all over the world by the mid 70’s. In the US the word was shortened to Disco and first used as a fashion term as in a short sleeved Disco Dress popular in the mid to late 60’s. It was then adopted as the name of a new genre.
Technically the music is based on the 4/4 time signature or “four on the floor” accompanied by a strong base line with electronic enhancement. In contrast to Rock which tends toward guitar leads, Disco guitar is much more subtle and the electric piano and Synthesizers more prominent. It is associated with many dance forms and largely a combination of Afro-Latino styles. Many of the existing Latin styles such as sala, rumba, cha-cha-cha and merengue were the foundation of Disco dancing. It’s popularity was frequently found in the Latino, Italian and Black cultures and often enjoyed sharing many of the same Venues. You had clubs converting to lighted dance floors al’a the Whiskey a Go-Go in Paris, DJ towers and millions spent on fashion, jewellery and of course, hair products.
As I started speaking of song subject matter, and not to pick on disco, I suppose lyrically many songs are not really about anything in particular, many great ones are just random thoughts from the pen of the writer or writers. I mean who really knows what Springsteen’s “Blinded By The Light” (1973) is all about? In particular with American Disco it was one of the offspring of the Blues and R&B. Funk, now considered a genre with its own subgenre was also a form of R&B music. It had started to evolve in the late 1960’s with James Brown and it’s upbeat tempo also fueled the Dance movement. It was often combined with Soul sounds for more of a pop presentation. Think The Jackson Five. Songs ranged from the hit the dance floor hard “Boggie, Oogie, Oogie” to the slow dancing “Three Times a Lady”. We got the “Bump” and “The Hustle”. The goings on in the movie Saturday Night Fever (1977) were not far off the mark, there was a lot of sex, drugs, fashion and …dancing. Disco music started a sharp decline by 1979 suffering a backlash with accusations such as “over produced”, “mindless” and “over-commercialized”. There was even a mass destruction event for disco records. While I did not sport a “Disco Sucks” t-shirt I was not unhappy to see it’s decline. Having said that many of the accusations could be leveled at any number of genre so I think people were just over Disco’d. Many Dance Clubs are alive and well and the old songs still get the dancers moving. Certainly my wife still cranks up the radio for the old Disco songs. Perhaps this is an odd segue into the next Genre where they were most certainly no fans of Disco.
This style was an evolution of the New York Glam Rock scene with The New York Dolls and names such as Lou Reed, Iggy Pop and Patti Smith. However, it was in 1976 when the music came alive. “New Rose” by the band The Damned is often cited as the first true Punk Rock single to be released by a British group. But it was the Ramones that lit the fire for the genre with their amazing self titled debut album released in April of 1976. This music also rebooted the Garage Band movement originally spawned by The Beatles and The British Invasion in the 60’s as lots of young people suddenly wanted to be in a band. There was a subculture that developed so there was a lifestyle and fashion attached to the music, but it was more than just body piercings, funky hair, ripped t-shirts and vintage clothing. I’m not a fashion expert but the names Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood I am guessing many will recognize.
Anchored in London and New York, Punk music spread worldwide, As for the song topics, they varied considerably and despite the war referencing name of the Ramones song “Blitzkrieg Bop” its meaning is a bit ambiguous. Many groups were forming at about the same time which gave us recordings from the London based Clash (who initially opened for the Ramones) and The Sex Pistols would follow. “Anarchy in the U.K.” by The Sex Pistols is much less ambiguous as well as the equally controversial “White Riot” by The Clash. In the US Richard Hell and Voidoids gave us the album “Blank Generation”(1977), the title track is one of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fames Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll. The “mosh pit” and “slam dancing” came from the hard punk followers.
In the late 70’s several new subgenre were developing, for example there was one called Cowpunk or Country Punk. Certainly more Punk-ish than Country. It would not hit its stride until the mid 1980’s but in the words of Joya Ryan from her book Chasing Trouble “You’re gonna have to hold on tight, because this rodeo is just getting started.” Rosie and The Screamers led by Rosie Flores from San Antonio is a great example, thought they would not officially record until the 1980’s, it was their live performances in San Diego clubs in 1978/9 that was part of the genesis. Another Texan, Punk Rocker T. Tex Edwards was molding this style with his band The Nervebreakers which added Rockabilly and County into the mix. Some of the stuff coming from CBGB’s the legendary Punk/New Wave mecca in New York can be classified as Country Punk as well. Afterall the club name was Country-BlueGrass and Blues. Names like the Cramps led by Lux Interior (that are also labelled Psycho-billy) and in 1979 there were The Guns, led by Jeffrey Lee Pierce who was once the head of the Blondie Fan Club.
I did a post a while back and you can click here to read it. While I am also complicient by listing it, New Wave is very often incorrectly referred to as a Genre of music. It was really just a “catch all” used to categorize artists that could not readily be labelled as Rock, Power Pop or post/ proto Punk etc. Once again I mention The New York Dolls and Velvet Underground from around 1973, as the term was first used to describe their music, although today neither group is really described as such. So for some time the term was not widely used until around 1977-78. The label was then used to describe a very diverse range of artists. The B-52’s for example were not doing the same kind of music as The Pretenders, and DEVO was certainly not comparable to The Talking Heads. You know the names of many of artists under this Umbrella; The Knack, Elvis Costello, Cars, Nick Lowe (who produced the song “New Rose” as mentioned above) and even early R.E.M. Many of these artists fell under other labels as well such as Post Punk, Proto Punk, avant garde or even Garage Rock. There were also a set of dance oriented “New Wave” bands; much of Blondie’s music was designed as such and we can include Duran Duran, ABC and Culture Club. Blondie’s “Heart of Glass” was likely the first song from this crowd to hit the Billboard Hot 100. It reached #1 for the week of April 28, 1979. Do you remember that Madonna was a drummer for The Breakfast Club in 1979-80? So from these styles it’s then a short leap to things such as Synth-pop with Soft Cell and The Pet Shop Boys. The shear breath of music weakens the hold on New Wave as a Genre.
Once describe as Heavy Metal it’s history is rooted in the late 1960’s with Hard Rock bands like Led Zeppelin, but it really came into its own with Black Sabbath. Whether you like to credit Steppenwolf’s “Born to be Wild” for the lyric “heavy metal thunder” (or not), that’s the first time the phrase was used in a song. It was actually referring to the Motorcycle itself not the music. Anyway, the sound is typified by searing guitar solos, ominous overtones, distortion and the Amps turned up “to eleven”, so it’s really loud! Formed in 1968 Black Sabbath’s first and eponymous album was released in 1970. In case you didn’t get the point their first song was also titled “Black Sabbath“. Despite the unoriginal naming sequence the song was heavy in occult references and would set the tone for many sub-genre as well. The were other names that preceded such as Deep Purple and Alice Cooper that were of course very influential. More bands would follow such Judas Priest, Motörhead, Iron Maiden, Scorpions, and Saxon. You can include Triumph (despite their contrainan positive lyrics) as well. Most of their success, not unlike the some of other bands, would come in the 1980’s.
As with many forms of music Metal would take on more labels such as Shock Rock thanks to Alice Cooper’s ‘transition’ and bands like Kiss with their first and eponymous album in 1974. Often forgotten is the all female Girlschool out of London, England. They came to the attention of Lemmy of Motörhead and soon after would be on their Overkill tour in 1979. The later part of the decade the Metal scene would make way for the so called Glam Metal sounds of Bon Jovi and Mötley Crüe in the early 1980’s. Typically bands that find themselves in the Metal category will fall within other genre quite naturally, so as I follow here with Prog Rock and Hard Rock, most of the names are interchangeable depending on everything from opinion, time period, album or song of each group/artist.
As we like to shorten everything this is Progressive Rock. If you have followed my blog you may recall that I listed Frank Zappa as one of the top ten most covered artists. His band The Mothers of Invention from the 1960’s and their 1966 concept album Freak Out gave inspiration to The Beatles Sgt Peppers album. We can also credit Zappa with some sway in more than just Prog Rock; looking to Avante Garde, Experimental, Jazz Fusion, Art Rock, Instrumental as well as some great Blues style and even the odd pop oriented songs. In 1970 and 71 he worked with both the Philadelphia and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestras. “Bobby Brown“(1979) though more than a bit too explicit for American top 40, it went to #1 in Sweden and Norway,#2 in Austria, #4 in Switzerland and #5 in Germany. He loved to write in a quirky, tongue in cheek and unexpected way that was both humorous and at times strikingly honest. I myself never realized his influence was so vast and is found in the roots of many 1970’s genre. If you recall I mentioned Pere Ubu’s song “Final Solution” from 1976 that appeared on the Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll list. They were very much influenced by Zappa. So much to talk about with that man I will have to take him up later. While recognizing once again some genre crossover with Metal and Hard Rock we have the legendary Rush, Blue Öyster Cult and Kansas represented the scene in North America. The genre as defined really had its beginnings in the UK and for the most part those are the names we identify with the genre.
The term Progressive Rock appears to have come from the liner notes from an album by Caravan called In the Land of Grey and Pink (1971) where the use of Jazz and Classical music styles and techniques were incorporated into Rock. They were part of what is known as The Canterbury Scene from Kent, England. We can also trace the beginnings of the genre to 60’s songs like Procol Harems “Whiter Shade of Pale and Moody Blues “Nights in White Satin”. MIke Pinder of Moody Blues and his use of the Mellotron very much influenced the genre. Prog Rock really hit its peak at the start of the 1970’s, and some say it’s decline in 1979. We think of names like Emerson, Lake (also of King Crimson) and Palmer (Asia), Yes, Jethro Tull and Pink Floyd’s masterpiece works such as Dark Side of the Moon, Wish You Were Here and The Wall. I was introduced recently to Camel by my friend Kevin, between 1971 and 79 they released seven of their 14 albums and the often overlooked band continued to tour up to 2018. Genesis, as did many bands changed course but they were a big part of the successes for this Genre during the 1970’s. They produced eight albums in the 70’s and they’re most recognizable song would be “Follow You, Follow Me” from 1978 with Phil Collins on lead vocals. Guitar legend Robert Fripp would develop an alternate tuning called Frippertronics or more formally New Standard Tuning launched in 1984. His band, King Crimson like Genesis released their first album in 1969 but would follow with six more albums in the 70’s that all placed in the top 40 Album Chart in the UK.
Out of this genre grew the symphonic rock acts such as Electric Light Orchestra (ELO), Supertramp, 10cc, and Alan Parsons Project. As mentioned from the USA, Kansas was joined by Journey, Styx, Foreigner (US/UK) and others in the more commercialized Arena Rock era.
In the later part of the 1970’s we had what is referred to as neo-progressive bands or post progressive bands such as Roxy Music and the eventual splintering into the New Wave movement and other genre.
This is certainly a genre that includes many of the artists already mentioned in Prog Rock and Metal such as Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Deep Purple and Black Sabbath all with their formation in the mid to late 1960’s. That’s because by definition Hard Rock is described as having driving electric guitars, distortion, heavy bass and vocals that tend toward the more aggressive, if not in content then certainly by the delivery. So it’s not a leap to get to other genre. However there are some 70’s groups that fall more squarely in this category than others; Aerosmith, Van Halen, AC/DC, Bad Company, Foghat, and though they released their first albums in 1969 we can included Grand Funk (Railroad). Some big names there but Queen is the most successful of any group to come out of the 1970’s with over 200 million records sold and a lasting popularity into the 1980’s and resurgence that’s continued right up to today that is equalled by very few recording artists. As mentioned many of the 1960’s bands had continuing success in the 1970’s, The Who most certainly with classics such as “Baba O’Reilly” and “Who are You” and some groups just don’t know when to stop. I truly thought when I saw the Rolling Stones 50th Anniversary Concert in New Jersey it was their last tour, however I just heard they announced dates for the 60th!
Out of all those previous related genre, who would be left over to talk about as a Rock artist from the 70’s? Turns out there are plenty. You may not have heard of Fanny, but if David Bowie calls you great, you must be doing something right. Anchored by guitarist June Milligan and her bassist sister Joan they produced five albums from 1970 to 1974 and made appearances on The Tonight Show and Midnight Special. Another pair of guitar playing sisters, Ann and Nancy Wilson formed Heart that gave us memorable songs such as “Crazy on You” and “Magic Man” from 1975/6 and “Baracuda” from 1977. Producing albums since the late 1960’s it was not until 1975 that the largely unheard of and struggling band called Fleetwood Mac had any success. It was their 10th studio album Fleetwood Mac and the addition of Christine McVie and Lindsey Buckingham that put them on the road to stardom. The Kinks, again from the 1960’s had a resurgence starting in 1977. In 1970 CCR, coming off a strong finish to the 1960’s came out with several hit songs including”Have You Ever Seen the Rain” before their breakup in 1972. John Fogerty would embark on an on-again off-again solo career but hit with “Rockin’ All Over the World” in 1975. Speaking of solo acts, Rod Stewart of 60’s supergroups such as the Faces and Jeff Beck Group would have several incarnations in the 1970’s and over a dozen hits such as “Tonight’s the Night” and “Sailing”.
Elton John would release a UK only album in 1969, but it was the 1970’s when he began his rise to the highest echelon of Rock and Pop Music. Starting in 1970 with “Your Song” and “Levon” in 1971, and in 1972 he had a string of hits such as “Tiny Dancer”, “Rocket Man”, “Honky Cat” and the worldwide smash “Crocodile Rock” reaching top 10’s on charts everywhere and #1 in Canada, Switzerland and the US. He would have seven more #1’s in that decade. He is the fourth best selling artist of all time with sales close to 300 million records.
Billy Joel released his first album in 1971 but it was his second effort Piano Man in 1973 and the single by the same name that put him on the charts. He released four more albums in the 70’s that include some great singles like “Just the Way You Are”, “My Life” and “The Stranger“. He is one of the top selling artists of all time with sales in excess of 200 million records.
David Bowie has been many things but in the 70’s he produced some of the greatest Rock songs ever, from “Changes” and “The Jean Genie” to “Rebel Rebel” and “Heroes” and a dozen more. As time goes on he is being appreciated more and more for his genius and he is in the top ten of the most covered artists of all time. I posted on Bowie in 2018.
I saw a post the other day on FB, it was a concert poster from 1974. I confirmed it is a legitimate concert according to Indiannarockhistory.com. Note the headliner is BTO with special guests Aerosmith and Bob Seger Group (just before the formation of The Silver Bullet Band). Just a reminder of how big Bachman-Turner Overdrive was at that time, they had about 27 concerts in 1974 and 40 in 1975. An article in the local paper said “there will be a flurry of activity, the most in years in downtown Indianapolis…for a Rock Concert by Bachman-Turner Overdrive”. The song “Takin’ Care of Business” hit #12 in August and “You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet” hit #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 in November, both in 1974. Inspired by the song, Elvis Presley adopted the motto “Takin’ Care of Business in a flash” abbreviated to TCB, and his group was called The TCB Band.
Joe Walsh had solo success with “Rocky Mountain Way” in 1973 and after joining the Eagles in 1975 he released the #8 charting album But Seriously, Folks… Backed by his long time pal Joe Vitale and the Eagles it contained the hit single “Life’s Been Good”(1978). Grace Slick and Paul Kantner, formerly of Jefferson Airplane would team up with five more guys to form Jefferson Starship. Their second album Red Octopus from 1975 would hit #1 on the Billboard Album chart. The Runaways most recognizable song was “Cherry Bomb” from 1977. Written by their guitarist and back up vocalist Joan Jett. The lead on the song was Cherie Currie and some may argue the band was more Punk and some Hard Rock. Jett of course went on to a very successful career along with her band The Blackhearts, her first album was Joan Jett that was renamed Bad Reputation which she began recording in March of 1979 and was released in May of 1980.
Not that this genre was created in the 70’s but some of its practitioners produced some noteworthy work. Eric Clapton with the cover of Bob Marley’s “I Shot the Sheriff“, a cover of a JJ Cale song, “Cocaine” and everything on the album Slowhand from 1977. Also that year George Thorogood covered “One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer” a song written by Rudy Toombs who wrote several R&B hit songs. There’s a list of Texas artists such as Stevie Ray Vaughan, who was yet to record but when you are the opening act for BB King you know you are going places. His older brother Jimmie would team up with Kim Wilson and form The Fabulous Thunderbirds in 1974, producing their first album in 1979. Here is their cover of a Li’l Millet and his Creoles song “Rich Woman” originally from 1955. One of the most iconic names is ZZ Top who were formed in Houston in 1969 with such great songs such as “La Grange“(1973) and “Tush” in 1975. Janis Joplin was from Port Arthur, Texas and her posthumous album Pearl reached #1 on Billboard in 1971. It contained the quintessential version of “Me and Bobby McGee”, a great cover of “Cry Baby” originally from the fabulous Garnet Mimms in 1963 and her original “Mercedes Benz”. Lead singer Jim Morrison of The Doors also passed in 1971. Coming off great popularity in the late 1960’s, in 1970 they had the critically acclaimed Morrison Hotel, followed by L.A. Woman in 1971 which contained some of their greatest songs, apart from the title track there was “Riders On the Storm” and “Love Her Madly“. The band continued to record without Morrison and released Other Voices late in 1971 but in truth without their lead writer and singer the band was done.
One cannot mention this genre without acknowledging the influences that started it all, such as three Kings who are as mentioned BB King, as well as Freddie King and Albert King. All began their careers in the 1950’s but many of these Blues legends produced great works in the 1970’s. It was these artists and others that go way back such as Robert Johnson and Bessie Smith from the 1920’s and 30’s through to Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker, Buddy Guy and Junior Wells (Harmonica) who started recording in the 1960’s. Without their skills on guitar and at the microphone you don’t get any of the names I have mentioned. In December of 1969 BB King released a cover of a Roy Hawkins song from 1951, “The Thrill is Gone“. In 1970 it hit #3 on the R&B chart and #15 on the Hot 100 which was his highest ranked song, ending the year at #98. This is known as his signature song and most certainly one of the more well known Blues Standards that’s been covered over 100 times since his release. Check out my post on Rock Artists Sing the Blues.
This Genre is a product of the 1960’s and I have covered it as The Greatest Folk Rock Song, Folk Rock and Folk Rock II. However it had a significant impact on the music of the 1970’s. Check the links for a look at some of the artists in this category.
Born of music from the late 1960’s and identified as having a “softer sound” than your typical Rock song. This music often appears on Easy Listening charts and Stations. So think of some of The Beatles stuff, The Hollies, The Bee Gees, Carole King, Neil Diamond etc. Many of the names (at the time) we would not have been associated with Soft Rock, so once again a category with a lot of crossover in names including work from Elton John, Billy Joel, Fleetwood Mac and The Doobie Brothers. James Taylor had great success in the early part of the decade with “Fire and Rain” in 1970 and “You’ve Got a Friend”(1971). The Carpenters would place 3 Billboard Hot 100 # 1’s, 14 Adult Contemporary #1’s in the US this decade alone, not to mention dozens of Worldwide #1’s and top 10’s. Starting with “That’s the Way I’ve Always Heard It Should Be” in 1971 Carly Simon would have a string of nine more top 40 hits and “You’re so Vain” was #1 on six charts in four Countries. These brilliant lyrics hold a place on Rolling Stone Magazines 500 Greatest Songs list, Billboards all time top 100 and #216 on RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) Songs of the Century. And yes part of the song, the second verse to be precise is about Warren Beatty and Mick Jagger really did contributed backup vocals.
In the mid 70’s you had bands like Toto, America and Air Supply. Following a successful eponymous release in 1975, on January 6 of 1976 Frampton Comes Alive was released and the album would shoot to #1 by April. The former Humble Pie guitarist Peter Frampton would go on to sell over 8 million copies in the US alone. While it was the best selling album of 1976, music as is often said, is a fickle industry and it does not rank in the top 100 best selling albums of all time and it’s not on the Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Albums List either. It does appear at #41 on Rolling Stone’s 50 Greatest Live Albums list and #3 in a Readers Poll, the aggregate tracker Acclaimed Music ranks it at #1002. You can add many other notable names to this genre like, The Captain & Tennille, Helly Ready, Hall & Oates, Dr. Hook and the list goes on. To close out the decade in 1978 we had Suzi Quatro and Chris Norman with the great song “Stumblin’ In”. Followed by Rupert Holmes “Escape” and Pat Benatar with “I Need a Lover” and “Heartbreaker”. You can even hear a lot of David Bowie on these channels, for heaven’s’ sake when Diamond Dogs came out in 1974 some of the media though the sky was falling and my mother banned it from the house. Now you hear it played at the Bank!
This genre is ever changing as evidence of the many subgenres spawned in the 1970’s, as I am getting long winded on this post I will treat it with more of a summary as I am still working on a dedicated Country Music post.
Like many subgenre that are derived from two major genre they tend to lean toward one or the other. So Country Rock is more Rock than Country. I covered this off in a post awhile back and you can follow this link to find it. I also blogged on Linda Ronstadt and the Eagles. Started in the 1960’s it came to be formally identified in the 1970’s with the names I just mentioned along with Jackson Brown and Gram Parsons. Many Country artists would have hits that crossed over either to the Hot 100 or A/C such as Tanya Tucker, Emmylou Harris and Dolly Parton’s “Jolene” from 1973 hit #1 on the Country Charts in Canada and the US but made appearances on the Hot 100 and A/C charts. It’s also on the Rolling Stone 500 Greatest Songs list. Many of these crossover songs fall into the burgeoning Country Pop genre that really hit it’s stride in the 1970’s.
There are a fair number of artists from the above mentioned Country Rock here as well as Alt-Country, Southern Rock and Country Folk. It is a combination of a number of styles with Country at the core but it can include Blues, Folk and Rock sounds. Waylon Jennings is the posterboy for this subgenre. His buddy Willie Nelson who does not always fit in here if you look at his full body of work but certainly his change in style in the 70’s was a perfect blend. At this time he started to include more R&B and Soul elements into his recording. Other early members of the club are Kris Kristofferson who mostly fits in and David Allan Coe and again some of Johnny Cash’s music form sort of the old boys club. Having its own channel for many years now on Sirius XM and known for slick production from studios in Nashville and Muscle Shoals, this seems somewhat incongruous with the Outlaw moniker. However Jennings song “Ladies Love Outlaws” in 1972 served as a beacon for those artists that were not part of the burgeoning Pop Country Culture. As much as the musicians were anti-establishment and challenged the traditions of the Grand Ole’ Opry it was still a business model with marketing and sales as the end goal.
Texans played a big part of popularizing the genre. In 1972 there was a group called the Flatlanders and though short lived it brought the names of Joe Ely and Jimmie Dale Gilmore in to more prominence. Some of my favourite artists come from this related genre know as Texas Country such as Guy Clark, Jerry Jeff Walker and Steve Earle. Townes Van Zandt is see as a stalwart for his songwriting. Other notables from the state include Robert Earl Keen, Wade Bowen, Randy Rogers Band. I am a big fan of Lyle Lovett who straddles this genre with his infused Tejano and influences from the great Bob Wills known as The King of Texas Swing. Asleep at the Wheel has it origins in West Virginia but they are based in Austin and they have won nine Grammys since they formed in 1970.
Red Dirt Country is very closely related as well. Centered in Oklahoma it was Bob Childers that came up with a distinctive sound that included BlueGrass and Folk along with the Texas influence. Steve Ripley formed a band called Moses and self recorded an album in 1972 on a label he named Red Dirt Records. More recently there’s groups like Cross Canadian Ragweed lead by Ron Canada has no actual members from Canada as the name it coincidental. While the genre slowed down a bit in the 1980’s it has see a revival and is going strong.
Country Pop as mentioned began to be clearly defined at the industry was keen to profit from the more lucrative Mainstream market. Tunes that reached top 40 sold more records and songwriting took a turn toward that target. In the 1970’s Pt. 1, I talked about Lynn Anderson with the Album Rose Garden that spent fourteen weeks at #1 followed by You’re My Man for seven weeks at #1. Her single “Rose Garden” was a cover of the singer/songwriter Joe Souths 1968 release. Anderson hit #1 on the Country Singles Chart, Cash Box Top 100 and nine more #1’s around the world. It would reach #3 on the Billboard Hot 100 and sell over one million copies. Ray Price was another early artist to have crossover songs such as “For the Good Times” that peaked at #9 in 1971, then Charlie Pride with “Kiss An Angel Good Morning” which was not only at top 40 Billboard hit but one of the most recognizable songs from the genre. You know the names, John Denver and Glen Campbell were superstars, Crystal Gayle, Jessi Colter, Anne Murray all had big hits. Dolly Parton’s “Jolene” from 1973 is another example and she set a course for the Pop market with songs like “Here You Come Again”which was #3 on the Hot 100. Many other names and songs focused on the Pop Market when writing and arranging songs such as Barbara Mandrell and Kenny Rogers.
Also in the 70’s Progressive Bluegrass was developing, helping that genre stay alive. John Prine released his self titled album in 1971, Stompin’ Tom Connors came out with the “Hockey Song” in 1973, Willie Nelson released his version of “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain”, and with another cover song originally by The Everly Brothers by Linda Ronstadt hit #1 with “When Will I be Loved” in 1975. Merle Haggard is one of the most celebrated Country singers of all time. Of his 38 #1 songs 17 of them were in the 1970’s. There are so many memorable Country Songs from the 1970’s but I will leave you with one last big crossover original hit “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” by The Charlie Daniels Band that hit #3 on the Hot 100 in 1979.
As I noted Disco was a big part of the R&B scene in the 1970’s, much of that was a fusion with the growing Funk genre. Soul music with it’s many subgenre (Memphis, Detroit, New Orleans, Psychedelic and so on) was defined in the 1960’s and artists such as Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder were taking it to new heights in the 1970’s. Their sound is often described as Progressive Soul, combining elements of Jazz, Funk, with Rock guitar sounds. So if there is new subgenre added under the R&B umbrella, it’s when Prog-Soul came into its own. Sly & the Family Stone often bordered the genre with their Funk based creations and the duo of Gamble and Huff out of Philadelphia had 1970’s hits with The O’Jays, Teddy Prendergast, Harold Melvin & the Bluenotes, Patti LaBelle and Lou Rawls. Curtis Mayfield had left the Impressions and his album Curtis (1970) is often compared to What’s Going On for songs themed toward social change/consciousness. Stax Records in Memphis was churning out hits with artists like The Staple Singers (Respect Yourself & I’ll Take You There) before being acquired by Fantasy Records. But not before hosting “Wattstax” on August 20. 1972 in L.A. Referred to as the Black Woodstock it featured The Staple Singers of course but other very recognizable names such as Rufus and Carla Thomas and Guitar legend Freddie King. Isaac Hayes made an appearance, he was a key figure in R&B as a writer, arranger, producer and performer. Jesse Jackson spoke and Richard Pryor provided the comedy. David Porter performed and his contribution to music is legendary as the writer of “Soul Man” with Isaac Hayes and the holder of over 1700 song credits. A movie featuring many of the performers was released in 1973, it was directed by Mel Stuart of Willy Wonka… (1971) fame.
Al Green produced many of his most memorable songs in the 70’s such as “Tired of Being Alone”, “Let’s Stay Together” and “Love and Happiness”. Bill Withers “Ain’t No Sunshine” (1971) “Lean on Me” (1972) are two of the greatest R&B songs of the decade. Michael Jackson embarked on his solo career and Earth, Wind & Fire released their first album in 1971 and went on to become one of the best selling acts of all time. Prince Rogers Nelson would sign a management contract and then a record deal at age 19, fresh out of High School. He released For You in 1978. The album Prince came out in 1979 and “I Wanna Be Your Lover” was the lead single that would hit #1 on the R&B chart and #11 on Billboard Hot 100 early in 1980. He would go on to change the face of Popular Music and cross boundaries and genres with his innovative and creative approach as a writer, arranger, instrumentalist and singer.
It was a lofty goal I had of covering this decade and even after three posts as there is so much I missed. Still I feel I gave a good representation of the charts and songs of the decade, many that are recognized among the greatest of all time. I touched on the decade many times in past posts such as; Linda Ronstadt, Southern Rock, New Wave, Eagles, Jeff Lynne and ELO, Bruce Springsteen, and Bohemian Rhapsody. I hope this gave you a good trip down memory lane (as it did for me) if you were there, and if not then a bit of an education. Thanks as always for reading.