When setting out to write this article, I knew the seventies would need a post of its own. Although the sixties was an amazing time for music, the seventies might just have to be slightly better. Musically, the seventies picked up where the sixties left off, but classic rock took off and soared higher than any boy band could have ever dared to venture.
Politically, the values that the ‘hippies’ of the sixties were still striving to improve were still relevant and important, especially the liberation of women. However, the music of the era was less focused on communitarianism, or the individual and its relation to society, and more on the lone individual. The hippie movement had largely disappeared mid-decade, and people were more focused on self-improvement, self-liberaton and self-awareness almost to the point of isolation. This affected music, as seen with the rise of personas, or identities created by singers, usually found in glam-rock, that differ from the singer’s actual identity. These personas, or in some cases alter-egos, usually defined the singer and a period of their work. In a sense, this isolationism, or a certain removal created by distancing music and true self, allowed ordinary people, such as David Jones (otherwise known as David Bowie) to make powerful music.
The era was a musical plethora of classic rock, disco, funk/groove and emerging punk. Albums became not only a collection of songs, but narratives; telling a story, each song fitting perfectly in its chronology. This is why the seventies as an era is so freaking sexy. It was an time that had not yet come down from the trip of the sixties, but emerged and flowered and proved fertile for all types of musical experimentation and styles. It was an era of style and dance; an era one likes to reminisce about when thinking back to his or her hazy Zeppelin days in college or swift journey into anarchy at the hands of the Sex Pistols. But as music is one of the greatest testaments to any time, the supreme music of the seventies only reinforces its greatness.
Without further ado,
Classic rock, or rock ranging from the late 1960s to early 80s, is often perceived as the most popular and prevalent genre in seventies music. Classic rock has many subcategories, such as glam rock, made famous by the likes of Bowie and Elton John, and punk rock, epitomized by the Sex Pistols. This genre has roamed away from the sixties and fifties boy band type rock, and transformed into something much more potent. Taking cues from sixties folk and soft rock, a new type of rock emerged. In a sense, the sixties laid down a foundation that the seventies sought to improve on and make their own.
David Bowie, born David Jones in London, gained fame in 1969 with his single Space Oddity, which coincided with the Moon Landing. That song was the first hint of one of his many, but most famous, alter-egos Ziggy Stardust, a space traveller who comes to Earth with the gift of funky music. Bowie’s distinct voice, lyrical genius, command of the stage and uncanny ability to put on a show, makes him a terrific figure of the seventies. Bowie has to be one of my all-time favourite artists, and with good reason. His songs speak to the soul, and he manages to keep making fresh and innovative music, even to this day.
The Man Who Sold the World
Bowie’s second album The Man Who Sold the World, released in 1970, is a somewhat underrated album. It has an interesting collection of heavy rock songs with ethereal qualities. The album seems to tell the tale of a dystopic world, run by machinery and corrupt men. Themes of insanity and violence are also apparent. This album distinguishes itself from his others, as it the songs are more metal type rock than his usual glam rock. Although some songs are better than others, the album’s carefully crafted style reveals itself once listened to as a whole.
Favourite song: All the Madmen
This song speaks of insanity, which is complimented by a somewhat manic flute. The picture of a mental home and its inhabitants is painted, and Bowie sings that he would rather be mad than sane like the “sad men roaming free”. The pleading vocals and hard guitar at the chorus really do wonders for the style and message of the song.
Hunky Dory, released in 1971, is an album full of really differing song subcategories of glam rock, soft rock and psychedelic rock. It is an odd album, yet it is, like all of Bowie’s albums, made with a distinct vision in mind. There are a few truly great gems on this one, and the differing genres of songs do actually work in its favour. There also a few tribute songs on this album, such as Andy Warhol and Song for Bob Dylan, which lend themselves to Bowie’s inspirations for his music.
Favourite song: Changes
The lyrics are divine. This song is one of his most known, which is odd as it’s one of his earlier ones, on an album not known by many non-Bowie fans. I believe this song is a gentle reminder that change, although incredibly difficult, is ultimately necessary. Perhaps this is why this song is therapeutic for so many.
The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars
The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust (1972), arguably Bowie’s greatest album, is a series of songs all perfectly weaved into a narrative that tells the tale of Ziggy Stardust, a rock and roll martian that comes to Earth. To listen to this album from start to finish is to listen to one of the greatest voices of rock and roll history; a prophet that combines beautiful lyrics with rock and roll groove. Not one song on this album is bad, not one. And not one song is out of place. Ziggy Stardust is a martian who comes to Earth with a message of peace, but is eventually destroyed by consumption of drugs and alcohol, not unlike many famous rock stars. This album also births Bowie’s best known persona.
Since there are too many fabulous songs, here are my favourites:
As the opening track of the album, this song sets the stage and tone of the narrative by painting the picture of Earth as ending in five years time. The lyrics speak of confusion and disorder as people of all walks of life react to the news. It is a great opening track, and the music builds up into a heart-wrenching chorus at its end.
This song epitomizes the glam rock status of David Bowie, not only with the sound of the song, but with his costumes as well. Glam rock is characterized as male performers wearing outlandish and over-the-top costumes and makeup, and Bowie certainly fits the description quite well.
This song has been my all time favourite song, and still is to this day, since I was about nine or ten. The character of Ziggy has hit rock bottom. He is destroyed by his growing fame and talent, and also by the fans that use to love him. The song draws an apparent parallel between Bowie and Ziggy, as Bowie was known to rely heavily on drugs in order to create his music; and he was often on the brink of self-destruction (although perhaps not as apparent as some other famous rock stars). He also gained immediate and sudden fame only a few years before this album, with his Space Oddity hit . Perhaps, like Ziggy, he was struggling to come to terms with his sudden rise in the spotlight, and found it difficult to cope with the change. This song blurs the line between the persona and the man.
Rock ‘N’ Roll Suicide
This is a bit of a cheat, as this version is on David Live, a live album he produced three years later. However, I feel this version really encapsulates the mourning and sorrow of a man committing suicide. The version on The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust is also incredible, yet slightly less so. Appearing as the last track on the album, it ties up the trail of groove and rock Bowie has laid out. Ziggy has ended his life, too soon and too young. This is a rare case in which a live track is better than its studio version.
Aladdin Sane, released in 1973, is another fantastic album. The album is a follow-up to its predecessor in terms of its content, but not necessarily its style. His persona is Aladdin Sane, a play on words for ‘A Lad Insane’, which is a development of the Ziggy Stardust character, a sort of resuscitation. The album’s songs are a mix of more traditional rock tracks, such as The Jean Geanie and Watch That Man, and a mix of more experimental songs that could be defined as a mix of 50s ‘doo-wop’ and glam rock. Since we left off with Ziggy’s sucicide on the last album, this album speaks more of the insanity that flooded Ziggy’s mind as he copes with the decisions he has made and who he is. This album also has the most iconic cover of all Bowie’s albums, and that signature lightning bolt is a symbol for early seventies glam rock.
Favourite song: Lady Grinning Soul
The piano is this song’s hero, and it blends in superbly with the slow melodic hymn of the guitar. The piano as a representation of mania is a recurring theme in this album, such as in the song Aladdin Sane. In this case, it is to illustrate the obsession and fascination Aladdin Sane has with a woman, described only as ‘she’ (although rumoured to be about soul singer Claudia Lennear).
Diamond Dogs, released in 1974 is an album that was heavily inspired by Orwell’s 1984. The album is another narrative of sorts, and speaks of a dangerous post-apocalyptic world. Although the character of Ziggy was meant to be retired, he is still somewhat evident in the story, especially seen in Bowie’s style. Halloween Jack is the newest persona that appears in this album. He is a “cool cat” that lives in the deteriorating city Bowie describes. Perhaps not his greatest album, but it has a few truly remarkable songs on it.
Favourite song: Rock and Roll With Me
When Bowie rocks, there’s no where else I’d rather be. The guitar superbly blends into the lyrics, which frame one of Bowie’s finest love songs. This was the lead single from the album, and there’s no mistaking why.
Here are some other noteworthy Bowie songs from the seventies:
Young Americans (1975)
This song is a fabulous recount of Bowie’s time in America. The lyrics speak of confusion and disorder, evoked in what appears to be a tale of a broken marriage. This song pokes fun at one of The Beatles’ greatest hits, A Day in the Life, by stealing its famous line of “I read the news today, oh boy”. In a sense, these two songs are similar, as they paint a portrait of modern society as somewhat disorienting and saddening. The gospel chrous in this song also adds high interest, and transforms the song’s genre into a transitional soul one.
Station to Station (1976)
At this point, Bowie is now embodying the persona of The Thin White Duke. As the character’s name implies, this is a waif-like man dependant on cocaine and other heavy drugs. However, this persona was not only an invented one, but accurately represented Bowie’s status as a heavy cocaine addict. Station to Station speaks of a man taking the train, however, it is largely seen as a metaphor for cocaine overdose and addiction. This song is Bowie’s longest, and it is also one of his greatest.
Sound and Vision (1977)
When Bowie made the album Low and Station to Station, he was at the peak of his drug addiction. The songs on Low have very withdrawn and sombre lyrics; perhaps representing his deteriorating mental state. Sound and Vision is a song that could be considered as more of a funk song and less of a glam rock or classic rock one, as synthesizers dominate the sound. The lyrics are fairly simple, yet are derived from the complex drug hazed world of Bowie.
Heroes is a song that appears on Bowie’s third consecutive album he recorded in Germany. The song tells the tale of two lovers that meet near the Berlin Wall. The song was not initially very popular upon its release, yet gained immense popularity later on, almost becoming a Bowie anthem. The lyrics are the song’s hero, and the complex layering of guitar is a great sidekick.
Pink Floyd is an extremely progressive band in musical history. Formed in England in 1965, they gained their success in the late sixties, yet produced amazing music in the seventies. Once their unique style was recognized by the public, they became a symbol of 70s classic rock. As a band, they are interesting, allowing for their music to become the focus, rather than the personas they didn’t create. They have quite a few albums that are simply impeccable and unmatched. Although their style did somewhat change along the span of the decade, their greatness remained consistent.
Atom Heart Mother
Released in 1970, this album was the first to reach number one in the U.K.. This is a superb album, and one that launched the group into major fame and success. The album is quintessential Pink Floyd; a series of great songs, and a couple that rely mainly on synths and sound rather than vocals. Pink Floyd was one of the first bands to produce and popularize long epic songs with the use of synths and electric guitar. As a band, they are sort of known for such songs, and Atom Heart Mother and Alan’s Psychedelic Breakfast set the tone for later epics such as Echoes and Shine on You Crazy Diamond.
Favourite song: Fat Old Sun
This is a somewhat nostalgic song about summer, yet it manages to be cheery with uplifting guitar and vocals. There are other fantastic songs on the album, yet this one hits all the right chords and aptly describes the feeling of hot dusk.
The Dark Side of the Moon
This is an iconic album; and with good reason. This album is nearly impeccable, and beautifully demonstrates the band’s mastery of sound engineering. Each song has its place on the album, and when listened to from first track to last, each song blends in to another. Often sounds from certain songs will recur in others, giving the album a seamless consistency of style. The use of voice, other than the main vocals, also adds interest. These are recorded sound bits of dialogue, or gospel such as in The Great Gig in the Sky. The Beatles had also experimented with recorded spoken word in song, and Pink Floyd revived it.
Favourite song: Us and Them (The Great Gig in the Sky, Speak to Me/Breathe get honourable mentions)
This is a beautiful song, which transports the listener into a world of blending sounds and trumpets and soft vocals. The spoken vocals are taken from a recording of their previous roadie, Roger Manifold. The song has elements of jazz and gospel in it, as heard with the trumpet solos and chorus in the background. All in all, it is a wondrous and touching song.
Wish You Were Here
Released in 1975, Wish You Were Here is probably their greatest album. I say this partly because of the mind-blowing song that is Shine on You Crazy Diamond, divided into two parts (I-V,VI-IX), and because of the amazing track Wish you Were Here. This album was a reaction to the mental illness of Syd Barrett, a former bandmate. The album is formed around Shine on You Crazy Diamond, as the two parts of the song do not appear side by side, but are integrated with the album’s other songs, yet elements of the former are apparent in each track. The album is proof that less is indeed more, having few tracks, but tracks of absolute quality.
Favourite song: Shine on You Crazy Diamond (part I-IX, Wish you Were Here gets an honourable mention)
This song is perfection; no complex and intricate note is out of place. This is one of those songs that you really need to close your eyes and stop what you’re doing in order to appreciate its sheer genius. The song is made up of many different parts, all which blend into each other seamlessly and add a variety of interest to the song’s sound. The song is a tribute to Syd Barrett, their mentally ill and drug-addicted former bandmate. The band has stated that during the studio recording of the song, Barrett wandered into the sound room just as they began the song’s vocals. An eerie coincidence, and a very touching and surreal moment for the group, who hadn’t even recognized him upon first glance as he had shaved his head and gained an extensive amount of weight.
Animals is an incredibly clever album, as each song represents human fault through different animals. Sheep mirrors the human knack to follow blindly, and Pigs (Three Different Ones) represents human greed and consumption. Parallels have been drawn between this album and Orwell’s Animal Farm, as the pigs represented in both the album and book are of the higher class. Although not immediately evident, the album is a story, each animal reacts to the other, as the sheep try to kill the dogs, and the pigs rule over both. There are three main songs, Pigs (Three Different Ones), Sheep and Dogs, and two shorter ones, Pigs on the Wing parts 1 and 2. The two shorter songs seem to be of a different tone than the other three, as they are calmer and more uplifting. But as both parts are so short, they are but a fleeting glimmer of peace in a very political album.
Favourite song: Dogs
Dogs, like many of their previous work, is a complex song with many components. The dogs in this song are meant to be retired street gangsters that still use their instincts to survive. It features some great lyrics (It’s too late to use the weight you used to need to throw around) and some amazing synth sections that are meant to sound like dogs barking.
The last album released in the seventies by Pink Floyd, The Wall is a concept album about a rockstar that has a mental breakdown. Although the album has received mixed reviews, there are a few truly wondrous songs on the album. It’s an odd album, as there are a mix of short and somewhat uninspiring songs, heavy rock songs, a few synth songs and a few songs consistent with the band’s ability to produce stunning tracks. The film accompanying the movie is decent, yet perhaps overly focused on effects and imagery, rather than the music fitting into a cohesive storyline. Although, the creepy illustrations of teachers and various creatures used in the films are very cool. Overall a very solid album, yet perhaps one with too many superfluous tracks.
Favourite song: Comfortably Numb (Hey You, Mother and Nobody Home get honourable mentions)
This song looks at the lack of empathy band managers often had for their musicians struggling with drug abuse. After witnessing the terrible decline of former bandmate Syd Barrett, perhaps the group felt extremely inspired to write a song consistent with how the pressure of success must have felt to him. The singer described in the song has overdosed and is in a comatose state, yet he is injected with a substance that revives him enough to perform on stage (just a little pinprick). During his revival, he hallucinates about times when he was a child, and how he had been given a ‘pinprick’ of medicine when he was ill; which adds a touching element to the song.
Led Zeppelin, formed in 1968, is a British rock band that revolutionized classic rock, just as Bowie and Pink Floyd did. Robert Plant has an amazing voice, which can reach pitches only dogs can hear, and Jimmy Page is easily one of the best guitarists of all time. They produced some of the best and most iconic rock songs of all time, and consistently rank in Rolling Stones‘ list of most influential rock musicians. The notions of rock changed at the hands of this group, and even today, they are widely revered and celebrated for the positive impact they have left. If you were to look up rock in the dictionary, this band’s name would most likely be the definition.
This song has an exotic quality to it, and the distinct guitar riff is superb. The song transports the listener to a place of sun and suffocating heat. This song is one of their most celebrated, and definitely among their best.
Over the Hills and Far Away (1973)
This song is one that features the guitar and drum mastery of Page and Bonham. Their sounds carry the melody of the song from beginning to end, especially in the chorus. The first instance of guitar, which is then repeated at the end, is soft and melodic, and Plant’s voice begins similarly as well. Once the guitar and drums become more intense, Plant’s voice follows and the song is elevated into heavy rock.
D’yer Mak’er (1973)
My personal favourite Led Zeppelin song, as it has a great reggae twist to it. Rock and reggae were rarely combined at this time, and so the song was unique and innovative. The song’s title is supposed to be ‘Do you make her’ said in a Jamaican accent. Reggae became popular in the early sixties, and with singers such as Bob Marley, prevalent in the seventies, it’s not terribly surprising that it had an influence on other forms of music.
Stairway to Heaven (1971)
This is no doubt one of classic rock’s most iconic songs. The progression and change of tempo, as well as the “epic-poem” type lyrics make this song quite an innovative feat. There’s a scene in Wayne’s World in which one of the characters picks up a guitar in a guitar shop and begins the first few chords of this song, to which the store owner points to a sign that reads “No Stairway to Heaven“, the joke being it’s overplayed. However, it is overplayed for a reason, and still remains number 31 in Rolling Stone Magazine’s list of the 500 greatest songs of all time.
Note: Two other fantastic Zeppelin songs, Dazed and Confused and Babe, I’m Gonna Leave You cannot appear on this list as they were released in the late sixties, yet you should check them out all the same.
The Rise of Punk
Britain is often seen as fertile soil for emerging genres of music. In 1977, God Save the Queen and Anarchy in the U.K. are released by punk’s initiators, the Sex Pistols. This new movement, which is characterized by heavy drums and guitars and loud vocals, is arguably the most overtly political genre of music in the seventies. The Sex Pistols’ music featured themes of anarchy, anti-establishment and anti-monarchy. As most bands with a political agenda in Britain, the members were from the working class, and therefore were expected to remain in their ‘rightful place’ as according to the rigid class system of the time. As their name implies, the Sex Pistols were all about shocking and confronting people with a new form of music, and more importantly, a new form of attitude. Punk emerged, and people, especially the working-class, began to dress a certain way (which we would now label as Original Punk), act a certain way and idolize bands that dared to give a big middle-finger to society.
God Save the Queen (1977)
This song, which gained much controversy at the time, attacks Queen Elizabeth II, going so far as calling her inhuman. The song describes how the monarchy doesn’t care for or about the working class, and that underneath this establishment, working-class people have “no future”. The song is loud, rude and in your face; perhaps because in order to get a point such as this across, one needs to be.
Anarchy in the UK (1977)
This song is an anthem, repeating the words “ANARCHY” a number of times. The lyrics are fairly simple, and are delivered almost like a very angry ritualistic chant. The song urges people to rebel and fend for themselves, as no one else will fend for or help them. Songs like this are precisely why punk is so fascinating; they are so removed from any other sort of music that existed at the time, not only in sound but in ideology.
Other great punk songs:
I’m So Bored With the U.S.A.- The Clash (1977)
The Passenger- Iggy Pop (1977)
Lust for Life- Iggy Pop (1977)
Sweden (All Quiet on the Eastern Front)- The Stranglers (1978)
Peaches- The Stranglers (1977)
Rock Lobster- The B52s (1979)
Disco has often been placed as the antithesis of classic rock. There seemed to be a division between those who liked disco and those who proudly bore the “disco sucks” slogan. Despite its negative reputation, disco music features cool synth, unique voices and it evokes the need to dance. Disco has also made a revival in recent popular music, with bands such as Daft Punk and Psychemagik incorporating it into their songs. Donna Summer’s, the queen of disco, hits have recently been reworked into a compilation album featuring different DJs performing her songs, called Love to Love you Donna.
Cool Disco Tracks:
More Than a Woman- The Bee Gees (1977)
One of The Bee Gee’s best known hits, this song was featured in Saturday Night Fever, starring a very young John Travolta. The song is nice to listen and dance to, and The Bee Gees bring a very unique sound with their impossibly high-pitched voices.
Heaven Must be Missing an Angel- Tavares (1976)
The strength of this song lies in its chorus that carries the lead vocals nicely over the melody. Also, the choreography of this music video is bad but in the greatest way. Good going, Tavares.I Will Survive- Gloria Gaynor (1978)
Yes, this song has probably appeared on many a girl’s ‘break-up’ playlists. A song about empowerment, Gaynor’s powerful voice reminds the listener that no matter what, they will survive. At the time, people thought disco wouldn’t, but with its recent comeback, Gaynor has the last laugh.You Make Me Feel Like Dancing- Leo Sayer (1977)
Ok, I’ll admit, when I first heard this song I thought it was sung by a sassy black woman, but was surprised to find quite the opposite. This song is kind of fun to dance to after you’ve had a few.Miss You- The Rolling Stones (1978)
What a conflict! The Rolling Stones, a classic rock band performing a disco song. Although the vocals are not traditionally ‘disco’, this would imply a higher frequency voice, the band manages to fuse disco and classic rock together quite nicely. This song is Switzerland in the war between disco and rock.
Other seventies gems:
Walk This Way (1975)-AerosmithPiano Man (1973)- Billy Joel Crocodile Rock (1972)- Elton John Let’s Stay Together (1972)- Al Green A Horse With No Name (1971)- America C’est Normale (1974)- Brigitte Fontaine et Areski Right (1975)- David Bowie If I were a Carpenter (1970)- Eldridge Holmes https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4GI_YzvZ_s4 Telephone Line (1976)- Electric Lights Orchestra Songbird (1977)- Fleetwood Mac
Running Away From Jerzy (1979)- Franco Micalizzihttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6AxHgKVLwgY Supper’s Ready (1972)- Genesis Little Green Bag (1970)- George Baker
One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer (1977)- George ThorogoodCrazy on You (1976)- Heart Jungle Boogie (1974)- Kool and the Gang Coney Island Baby (1975)- Lou Reed https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kwLlvcDi4PQ In the Summertime (1970)- Mungo Jerry Old Man (1972)- Neil Young Maybe I’m Amazed (1970)- Paul McCartney Baby, I Love Your Way (1975)- Peter Frampton https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t8HTWZgd_UM
Je suis venu te dire que je m’en vais (1973)- Serge Gainsbourg
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lGrv3Y9kCxMUp the Junction (1979)- Squeeze Stuck in the Middle With You (1972)- Stealers Wheel Werewolves of London (1978)- Warren Zevon
Aieaoa (1971)- Le Monde Fabuleux des Yamasukis