In honor of Alice Cooper’s recent Rock n Roll Hall of Fame nomination, I’ve decided to shine a spotlight on the greatest decade in music: the 1970s!
Not being old enough to have lived through the 70s, I base my opinion on completely unbiased facts.
Not nearly as classy as the big bands or crooners of the 40s; not the 1950s witnessing the birth of life-altering rock-n-roll; many see the 70s as an extension of the youth in revolt/ sexual revolution of the 60s.
Yet so much more than an extension, the 70s was music.
For members of my generation and those younger, the 1970s evokes yellowing photographic images of people who made poor hair choices and dressed in polyester leisure suits with wide collars and large glasses. They are often roller skating to disco music in our imaginations. Forget the Dorothy Hamill haircuts, for a minute, though, and dig this.
Music was a monarch in the 1970s; a utilitarian dictator who refused to share its reign with any particular fad or fashion. No matter who you were- there was something for you.
Every generation has “its music,” except for the 70s, where its music was ALL music.
Emerging from dense smoke, distorted guitars resonated hard rock through our bones. Acts like Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, Blue Oyster Cult, Aerosmith, AC/DC, Thin Lizzy, Ted Nugent, The Scorpions, Uriah Heep, and UFO have remained anchored in rock n roll history ever since.
The Who went from just a member of the British Invasion to rock gods in their own right, and each of the Beatles proved that they could hold their own after the Fab Four. Icons already, bands like The Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan released what many believe to be their best albums in the 70s with Exile on Main St. and Blood on the Tracks.
Then, there were the indefinable bands that defined a generation: Queen; Pink Floyd; Warren Zevon; Tom Waits.
Glam rockers like David Bowie, T-Rex, Lou Reed, The New York Dolls, Roxy Music, and Mott the Hoople made androgyny sexy, performing in full make-up, women’s clothing, and platform boots.
Punk rock slithered out of dirty garages to buck the establishment more than any folk song could have hoped to. Its fearless leaders- The MC5, The Ramones, The Clash, The Sex Pistols, and Iggy and the Stooges- playing their antihero roles to perfection, as The Cramps sat perched on their own rockabilly revolution.
Parliament Funkadelic, Rufus & Chaka Khan, The Isley Brothers, The Commodores, Earth, Wind, and Fire; and Sly and the Family Stone took funk into the mainstream, and brought jazz greats Miles Davis and Herbie Hancock with them as genres began to fuse and Chicago and Steely Dan made jazz radio friendly.
Musical structures, patterns, and textures were redefined by progressive bands like Rush; King Crimson; Yes; Genesis; Jethro Tull; Styx; and Emerson, Lake & Palmer.
Black Sabbath, Rainbow, and Judas Priest played dirges so heavy they shook the core of your very soul, while disco gave even wallflowers a reason to get down.
And Alice Cooper and Kiss put on shocking, bloody shows through all of it.
Singer/songwriters like Jim Croce, Harry Chapin, John Denver, and Gordon Lightfoot were taking folk music to levels it had never hoped to soar, while Cheap Trick, Journey, Foreigner, Boston, and REO Speedwagon were producing a sound so big it took an arena to contain it.
Lynyrd Skynyrd and The Allman Brothers Band steamed out of the bayou with their own brand of southern rock, while The Eagles put a western spin on it.
Curtis Mayfield and Al Green ensured the nation had soul, while Carly Simon, Carole King, and Todd Rundgren created songs for the easy listeners.
And the radio belted out new hit singles from Elton John, Neil Diamond, Billy Joel, Fleetwood Mac, Supertramp, and Tom Petty that would remain in the public’s consciousness for decades to come, while ABBA brought its brand of Euro pop to the states.
Bob Marley and the Wailers were introducing reggae to the new world, as Brits like The Specials were bringing ska over from Jamaica.
Country acts like Willie Nelson and Linda Ronstadt even saw crossover success.
Sure, teeny-boppers may have been displaying posters of The Osmonds, and The Partridge Family on their bedroom walls, but the savvier in the generation stood witness to the formation of art rock with bands like The Talking Heads, Brian Eno, Pere Ubu, Patti Smith, and Elvis Costello.
By the late 70s, the album Suicide was creating would inspire indie rock for generations to come.
Blondie, The Buzzcocks, and Joy Division were paving the way for new wave, and Michael Jackson was coming into his own as a solo performer.
And in New York City, a musical and artistic culture soon to be known the world over as hip hop was originating.
Music was everywhere. It was filling stadiums, festivals, trendy night clubs, classy piano bars, and sleazy watering holes. CBGBs held its finger on the pulse of a musical revolution.
The decade charged in like a freight train with Led Zeppelin III, Paranoid, After the Gold Rush, Bridge Over Troubled Water, and Layla & Other Assorted Love Songs topping the charts.
With no signs of slowing, London Calling, The Wall, Damn the Torpedoes, Off the Wall, and Highway to Hell pulled that train into the next decade.
Many will cite the 1960s as paving the way for the 70s, and that is very true. The 70s would not have existed without previous generations blowing the doors off of many stigmas and conventions- musical, moral, and social. However, the climb to the mountain's summit is not as amazing as the view from the top.
Music was everywhere and everyone was part of it- whether you played, participated, or just listened. It was the decade of music fans, and its legacy lives on and on.
This is, by no means, meant to be a complete list of the artists in the 70s, nor is it a reflection of my favorites. It is simply an example of the varied success of the music of a generation.