Imagine you are the year 1970. You have two seemingly impossible tasks on your hands: 1) Put the general unrest of the 1960s firmly in the past and 2) Give people a new lease of life; show them a way forward. Where can you possibly start? You need one thing that unites people; that can mould and move and spread far and wide. After a considerable amount of thought (about a nanosecond), you realise there is only one answer: music.
The 60s was a mixed up, beautiful, angry, confused, weird and wonderful decade in so many ways, not least in what it produced musically. Something amazing started to happen at the very end of the 60s that the 70s grabbed hold of with both hands and made into its own unique innovation, which was known in America as The Disco Movement. People were fed up of the battles within life and throughout the world, and they found safe havens in dance clubs where they could forget all of the worldly troubles and simply have a good time.
The rebelliousness people discovered in the 60s didn’t disappear entirely, of course, and we will see later on how that affected music, and how people used it to get the frustrations of life out of their system with the explosion of Punk.
Although relatively short-lived as a genre, and positively hated by some (especially those who gravitated towards rock music), if a decade was to be defined by its musical style, I’m pretty sure a huge percentage of people would cite the 70s as being about Disco and Dance music. From the hugely vast amount of artists (Donna Summer, Chic, The Bee Gees, Diana Ross to name a few) and music produced, to the fashions of the decade, to the immense popularity and influence on future artists and styles, this was a real whirlwind romance of a genre. Disco started as a form of black commercial Pop music, later becoming something that transcended all races. A lot of Disco music is characterized by a steady, bass beat in 4/4 time, sometimes called four on the floor. Occasionally, though, songs that were not originally of that genre were given the Disco treatment. Walter Murphy even took a favourite Classical piece and turned it into a Disco hit known as A Fifth of Beethoven. However, it was the release of the Saturday Night Fever movie that catapulted Disco music into virtually every home. Indeed, when we see imagery portraying the 70s, one of those pictures is inevitably a young John Travolta in *that* white three-piece suit under the disco ball! All sorts of people started jumping on the Disco bandwagon, and with this the fans unfortunately started to see a commercialisation to this genre that they were far from keen on – fashionable and safe was the very thing they were trying to get away from. The downfall of Disco happened quickly and on quite a scale. Many radio stations held events dedicated to ridding the world of Disco music with public album burnings. Yes, really! Youths rebelled against the genre as well, and “Disco Sucks” t-shirts soon became a new fashion accessory.
Another well-liked music genre of the 70s was Funk. James Brown is frequently considered to be the creator of Funk. He relentlessly developed his sound in the 70s and simultaneously formed a pathway for groups such as Kool and the Gang, Sly and the Family Stone and Parliament to dominate the charts with their infectious tunes that people couldn’t stop dancing to, and their wonderfully crazy fashion styles. There were no limits – from Psychedelia to Soul, Funk encompassed it all. Towards the end of the 70s, many artists also brought in a Disco element to their music which only served to increase its widespread approval.
Rock n’ Roll and Heavy Metal were still very much present in the 70s, but was becoming even heavier and louder, and morphed into what is known as Hard Rock, also drawing influences from Jazz, Blues and occasionally Folk. Many new bands emerged at this time, or existing bands started experimenting with this new type of music as well as pushing themselves to the limits technically: Deep Purple, Black Sabbath, Rush, Scorpions and many, many others! The use of the electric guitar was pretty much essential – pedal effects, distortion, catchy riffs, guitar solos and power chords were commonplace and musicians found ways of making them sound truly awesome.
In the early 70s, Glam Rock was very fashionable. Artists like T-Rex and David Bowie performed Rock music whilst wearing heavy make-up and dressing in feminine style clothing, bringing a hugely flamboyant, theatrical element to their image, particularly in their elaborate live shows. Lyrically and musically, the songs echoed the looks. Melodies tended to be catchy, and lyrics were very forward-thinking whilst at the same time being about subjects of the moment, e.g. drugs and sexuality. Among the most successful Glam Rock bands were The Sweet, Mud, Slade, Kiss and Wizzard.
Prog rock was massive in the 70s. I guess you could say it was a multi genre – often, musicians would combine Rock with something else, and they were very much experimental, particularly when playing live – they very much had the freedom to do so! There were bands like King Crimson, Genesis, Focus, Gentle Giant, and Electric Light Orchestra. There were a lot of “concept” albums – Pink Floyd were a band who did that very well – the best example probably being “The Wall”, which explored intense feelings of abandonment and being entirely alone. The main character, Pink, was based on Syd Barrett himself. Jethro Tull became very much admired, with their unique vocals together with the birdlike sound of the flute. This was music people could completely immerse themselves in, at the same time tapping into the worlds of their own imaginations. Prog Rock had a lasting influence on so much of the music to come, from Post-Punk to Folk to Metal. It’s a genre that seemingly refuses to die out, helped along by bands such as Arcade Fire and The Decemberists who have brought their take on it into the 21st century.
As mentioned earlier, the Punk Rock genre emerged in the 70s. This was a style that continued on the legacy of the 60s, but with a more upbeat and harder style. Punk was actually three things rolled into one: a sound, a look, and also for many bands, a working class political movement, with varying degrees of each element per band. To put it simply, Punk was originally designed to shock and scare anyone who wasn’t prepared for it! Heavy guitar riffs and more decibels helped to motivate those who were still upset about the status quo in the country. The Ramones are often referred to as the original Punk band. Their song “I Wanna Be Sedated” became a generational anthem depicting the feeling that society is so messed up that the only way to get through life with your sanity is to be sedated for the entire experience. The Sex Pistols also enjoyed a short-lived success as a Punk Rock band of the 1970s. The band members recklessly used drugs and alcohol which eventually led to their dissolution shortly after forming, but not before releasing two hit albums, “God Save the Queen” and “Never Mind the Bollocks”, that created a wave of rebellion throughout the United States and the UK. Some other favoured Punk bands from the 70s included New York Dolls, The Jam, Crass, The Clash and The Ruts.
Gradually, musicians with a similar way of thinking to punk rockers revealed themselves, and brought with them music that was technically refined, and lyrics that were astute and profound. This was to be known as New Wave music. By the late 70s, New Wave had emerged in both the United States and England as “the intelligent answer to Punk Rock”, with artists such as Blondie, Talking Heads, Elvis Costello and Devo coming out of the woodwork. Incorporating electronic instruments including synthesizers, and bringing along a different approach to making music, New Wave was a distinct and refreshing break from the blues and guitar Rock that had dominated music until this point. New Wave continued on into the 80s and beyond, having a massive impact on musicians of the future even today.
What do you get if you mix together Ska, Punk Rock, Reggae and Pop? This isn’t a joke, there’s no punch line – the answer is 2 Tone. It gets its name because many of the bands were signed to 2 Tone Records, a label founded by Jerry Dammers of The Specials. The sound was created by musicians who spent their youth listening to 60s Jamaican music. They moved things forward by combining that classic Ska sound with Punk and Pop. In the late 70s, the UK was experiencing some turbulence, economically speaking. As with everything bad that happens, there were songs written about it or because of it. 2 Tone served to provide a positive, harmonious movement which was embraced so completely by a country who desired exactly that in a time of need. Just a few notable members of the 2 Tone music scene were The Specials (of course), The Beat, Madness and Bad Manners.
New Wave of British Heavy Metal, or NWOBHM developed from an underground genre in the late ’70s, quite some time after Heavy Metal bands like Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath started becoming popular in the late 60s. NWOBHM was a purer form of heavy metal with fewer Rock and Blues influences than the first Metal bands. It was pretty much responsible for rise in popularity of Heavy Metal across the world, and was also an inspiration that helped bands evolve into Thrash and Speed Metal. NWOBHM didn’t really have a particular style or sound, although generally the songs produced had a sense of melody in common, whether the band’s basic sound was Progressive or full on Metal. NWOBHM offered a glimpse of Rock and Roll escapism, Sci-fi themes and having a good time with alcohol, drugs and the opposite sex. Some bands under this banner were AC/DC, Motorhead and Judas Priest, and by 1979 Iron Maiden, Def Leppard and Saxon had joined the fray.
So, from Disco to Heavy Metal in the space of ten years – did the 70s achieve what they set out to do? In some ways, yes, absolutely. People were actively questioning the way things were and making moves against the things they disliked, in their own way. Bands were using music to speak out against the things they felt were unjustified, and vast numbers of people supported that public voice and what it was saying. Different types of people were starting to come together as one unit, joined by a love of the same thing and a mind full of the same ideas and morals. Did music save the world? No, of course it didn’t. However, it certainly gave people an outlet, and a freedom to express themselves that possibly wasn’t present beforehand.
Music is ever-changing, equally inspired and inspirational, and what happened in the world of music in the 70s was, in my opinion, a platform for every band and musician to follow in their own ways. Long may that continue…
As part of this process, I asked a few friends some questions about their thoughts on music of the 70s. Here are the results…
1. Who do you think were the bands or musicians that defined the 1970s?
2. What 70s music did you or do you listen to?
3. Do you think any 70s music was influential in any way? How?
4. Do you think music in the 70s affected people’s attitudes? How?
5. If you were to describe music from the 70s in one word, what would it be?
- David Bowie, T-Rex, The Stones, Lynyrd Skynrd, Neil Young, Pink Floyd, Stevie Wonder, Black Sabbath, The Who, Queen, Lou Reed, Fleetwood Mac, Kiss, Springsteen, Iggy Pop. Loads really! I’m tempted to add the punk bands like The Clash and the Pistols.
- Bowie, Stones, Lynyrd Skynrd, Neil Young, Pink Floyd, The Who, Queen, Lou Reed, Springsteen, Television, Clash, Iggy Pop, Ian Dury.
- I think new and established bands still dip into the 70s when it pleases them – bands like Haim and War on Drugs owe almost everything of their sound to slim aspects of the 70s, as do bands like the Strokes and even Arcade Fire. Every new era of music dips into the previous ones to varying degrees, and the scope of music which was popular in the 70s (and is still listened to today) was probably a lot broader than that of the 60s.
- I think that the end of the 60s probably made people a bit more cynical, and the feel-good rock of the 70s was maybe a response to that cynicism, and harking back to a more innocent time.
- Brown. (I just always think of brown cords and cheesecloth shirts when I think of the 70s. And then, probably as much a product of the way the 70s are portrayed by film and TV, guys in flared brown suits.)
- I would say the musicians that defined the 70s were Joy Division, David Bowie, T-Rex, Blondie, Sex Pistols, Television, Magazine, Buzzcocks, etc – but I suppose this answer would depend on what you’re into (note my lack of ABBA – hurrhurr).
- I would listen to all of the above but Joy Division are the ones I listen to habitually, plus The Kinks’ 70s stuff, John Lennon, George Harrison, Cat Stevens. I’m a big fan of The Jam but I always associate them more with the 80s even though they were 1970s too.
- I think 70s music was very influential – maybe more so now than ever. It’s hard to think of a current band that I like that have not got some kind of 1970s sound.
- I think it has affected people’s attitudes, even if indirectly (like through new bands influenced by 70s bands). Maybe people don’t realise how much the music they listen to has been shaped by 1970s influences. Also, bands from the 70s had a lot to say, and they said it with conviction, which is one of the reasons why a lot of the artists have lasted in people’s record collections.
- There were several really – people such as Elton John, Queen, David Bowie, The Eagles, Fleetwood Mac, Led Zep, The Jam, Stevie Wonder, Bob Marley, even the Bee Gees! Artists that defined a sound and also made massive inroads with song writing, new sounds, and huge fashion statements too.
- Lots of the early 70s hard rock and glam was good – Slade, The Sweet, Mott The Hoople, and US. artists such as Rush, as well as favourites Black Sabbath, and the Prog Rock giants like Jethro Tull, Pink Floyd, Genesis and Yes.
- Massively so. Punk emerged from as far back as 1971, New York Dolls, MC5 and Iggy Pop were very seminal in the later new wave and punk scenes, Bear in mind that recording techniques from 1970 onwards were on a rapid advancement – 8 track to 16 track then 24 track tape machines, allowing for better production and more adventurous arrangements and complex mixes. Also, new technology produced new sounds – synthesisers from 1973 onwards gave whole new soundscapes, as well as guitar effects such as the chorus pedal and the use of delays – drum machines made their first defining appearance in the mid 70s and led the way for the electronic music of the early 80s. Technique too – slap bass and tapping guitar styles were very full on by 1978.
- The punk thing REALLY changed attitudes – 1976 was a year that changed not only fashion, but the complete outlook – music became more politically aware, and working class, short hair was suddenly back, as well as a total ‘anti-rock star’ stance. This was the mid 60s all over again, but with a sneer.
- Not being a fan of the mammoth 70s act such as David Bowie, Pink Floyd etc, for me the 70s can probably be split into glam and punk. Some bands/artists who I associate with the 1970s – whether this is the same as “defining” the 70s would be a moot point – are: David Bowie, Pink Floyd, Marc Bolan/T-Rex, Slade, Sex Pistols, Ramones, Undertones.
- Not a great deal to be honest. I am in a covers band and we have a few 70s punk tunes (Teenage Kicks, Blitzkrieg Bop, etc). Apart from the well known glam and punk tunes which will be familiar to most people, I couldn’t really claim to have listened to much music from the 70s, either previously or currently. The only exception to this really would be Dr Feelgood – my dad knows their manager Chris Fenwick and I have their Greatest Hits, which is pretty good, if not particularly groundbreaking.
- Speaking to older (!) people who were teenagers in the 70s, it is apparent just how much punk called out to the working classes. It was like nothing that had been seen before – the kids loved it and the older generations either disliked it intensely or were actually scared of it. I guess it could be argued though that, while it might have felt fresh at the time and the younger generation might have felt like it would lead to the overthrow of the monarchy and government, it did little good in the long term, particularly when you look at Thatcher’s Britain in the 1980s and decimation of British industry.
- Again, with regard to punk, I think it gave the younger generation the feeling that they didn’t have to stand for authority etc. This is really only apparent from speaking to people of that era though, and the odd documentary I may have seen.
- Uninspiring. (Sorry if this goes against what you might have been expecting!)
- Sex Pistols, the Clash, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Ramones, the Jam, the Who, Rolling Stones, the Beatles, Fairport Convention, Steeleye Span, Fleetwood Mac, David Bowie, Joy Division, Kraftwerk, Queen, T-Rex, Hawkwind, Genesis.
- I used to listen to Goth music (e.g. Siouxsie and the Banshees, Joy Division, Bauhaus) but not so much now. I still listen to Fleetwood Mac, Squeeze (probably better associated with the 80s, but they started being brilliant in the 70s), Fairport Convention. I’m currently investigating The Band, but so far I think I generally prefer other people’s versions of their songs. Although I do listen to 70s music when the mood takes me, these are the only ones I regularly put on.
- I think it was hugely influential. Teen identity was relatively new, and the seventies saw the emergence of a huge array of subcultures. I think that subcultures offered (and still offer) a sense of belonging; a way to express individuality and perspective. The divergence of youth culture paved the way for the vastly different types of music currently being created.
- Punk certainly did! I was only a nipper (born in 1975) but my parents later told me that they really felt the status quo was under threat. I think it awakened young people to the fact that they didn’t have to go through life as a voiceless minion. They had the power to question things and do something to change them.
- Joni Mitchell – I think she took confessional song writing to a new level. I think she’s influenced every singer songwriter since. David Bowie – hugely important, both as a performer & writer. He took lots of influences & made them into a style that was purely his, & every album he made in the 70s was different from the previous one – not many can do that. Led Zeppelin – far more than just an out & out rock band; the finest exponents of light & shade. Pink Floyd – the most British of bands (even more than the Kinks), and the band who I think took production & sound to a new level. The Clash – the best of the Punk era by a country mile.
- At the time (being only very young) I tended to listen to whatever my parents were playing – Elton John, Rod Stewart, Cat Stevens, Dire Straits, and I still do. The first 2 albums that I owned in the 70s (& they were both hugely important) were the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack & Blondie’s Parallel Lines. Now I probably own more records from that decade than any other- everything from Yes to The Buzzcocks.
- I think the most influential record of the 70s was Donna Summer’s I Feel Love – it sounded other worldly when it came out, almost hypnotic. Modern dance music (& certainly groups like New Order & producers like Brian Eno) was listening closely. I suspect Bob Marley probably needs a mention here too – without him I suspect Reggae would have remained a bit of a joke or novelty to a rock audience.
- I think the 70s was probably the era when pop and rock started to be taken seriously, and wasn’t dismissed as mere fluff. I think it’s also when artists started to think about albums as proper works rather than a collection of three strong singles and six or seven filler songs. Of course, this had started in the 60s with The Beatles, Beach Boys, Hendrix, but I think it became the norm in the 70s – stuff like Tubular Bells & Dark Side Of The Moon. Plus I think some of the performers in the 70s allowed some of the gay/bisexual community to find an identity (even if it was to be much later before society in general caught up – if indeed it has). Bowie’s appearance on Top Of The Pops doing Starman (where he puts his arm round Mick Ronson) is often cited as being a key moment (Boy George, Holly Johnson & Marc Almond have all mentioned it)
- Progressive. Not in the sense of Prog rock, but constantly changing & moving forward.
- There are loads, but these stand out for many reasons so will just name them in no particular order: David Bowie, Sparks, The Sweet, Kraftwerk, Barry White, Abba, Supertramp, Bee Gees, Ian Dury, Sex Pistols, 10CC, The Carpenters, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Fleetwood Mac, Fox, The Osmonds, Suzi Quatro, Elton John, Donna Summer, T-Rex, Blondie, Gordon Lightfoot, Gilbert O’Sullivan, The Stranglers, Olivia Newton John, Neil Diamond, Kate Bush, ELO, Bob Marley and Hot Chocolate to name a few.
- Mainly all glam rock, punk and all the people named above.
- I’d say glam rock and punk were influential in the fact they told people you don’t in theory have to be talented to be famous and on top of the pops, For many, this music was escapism from the mundane reality of real life, and I bet many a sad young teenage fan sat in their bedroom playing their vinyl dreaming of better things.
- There was a lot of negativity going around in the 1970s with unemployment strikes, poverty etc and again I think music allowed people to dream of nicer things.
- When I think of the 70s I picture it in two halves. The start of the decade you had quite a few acts who had started off during the late 60s psychedelia coming into their own. On the one hand the friendly rivalry between Marc Bolan and David Bowie led to the birth of glam rock, with Slade taking up the mantle and running with it. At the same time you had the boom of the Prog rock movement, led by Pink Floyd, which reached its peak in the mid 70s. Simultaneously you have rock music and the dawn of heavy metal. The big 3 of Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple, who all began life toward the end of the 60s but really reached their peak between 71 & 75. Towards the end of the decade, glam rock had died a death, the peak of the metal bands was over and Prog rock had vanished up its own Phil Collins shaped arsehole. Something was needed to shake it all up when punk, led by the Sex Pistols, came along to quite literally spit in the face of the establishment. The freshness of the 77 punk still radiates to this day when you listen to it, so I can’t imagine what it felt like at the time. The Buzzcocks, The Clash, The Jam (though they hated being called punk) and countless others blew apart the music scene and gave it the shake-up it massively needed. As punk evolved into new wave at the end of the decade, then arose Joy Division and with them Factory Records, a group of people who would go on to define music for the following decade. That’s not to ignore the phenomenally successful disco scene, defined by the Bee Gees and Saturday Night Fever. Or the more underground Northern Soul scene, which took over the youth of the north of England. All it all over a 10 year period there was quite an incredible amount of music.
- I’ve dipped into all of the above from time to time, but for the most part David Bowie, Pink Floyd, Black Sabbath and The Jam would be my most listened to 70s artists.
- Without doubt. In David Bowie the 70s had probably the most influential musician of all time. His constantly evolving styles have influence pretty much every genre of music that followed and he’s still going strong to this day. I don’t think indie music would have existed without punk and the new wave music that followed. And there’s not a metal band around that isn’t inspired in some way by Sabbath, Led Zep or Purple.
- It’s hard for me to say, not having been there, but you would have to say that punk influenced a whole generation of youths both musically and politically. It gave them a voice and helped them to speak out against a stale society.
- The artists that spring to mind for me are ABBA, Queen, The Beatles and Pink Floyd.
- ABBA, Fleetwood Mac, The Eagles, The Beach Boys.
- 70s music has influenced artists that are popular today. I’ve recently read Mark Everett’s autobiography (Eels), and The Beatles were an influence on him pursuing a musical career – he wanted to be part of that vibe.
- I think 70s music influenced people in the way that we realised how massively it can impact others. The cult following of bands such as The Beatles set a precedent for others to follow. I think The Beatles were the first band to make girls faint at gigs!