Ok lets get the bad stuff out of the way, there was a lot not to like about the 70’s. My family, with me of course, returned from living abroad in 1970. In the mid 60s we lived in Aden which was hot and barren. We returned to England for a few months in 1967, where I could experience the summer of love from a bungalow on the outskirts of Norwich before going to Germany for three years.
My initial impressions on returning to Britain were not good, it seemed dirty and cold. Germany had been colder but somehow they had mastered the art of heating their houses. The weather just seemed damper and danker. I not sure this was entirely my selective memory just about every documentary about Britain from the 70s seems to have been filmed in winter and everything looks washed out and grey.
Obviously no one who remembers the 70’s could ever forget the fashions. Early 70,s fashion seems to be stand alone, its unlikely to ever be revisited, it appears that this was a time of plenty and boy were we going to make the most of it. Every item of clothing seemed to use about twice as much material as necessary. The hair of course was the same, the first time I can remember seeing a musician with a shaved head was in Ian Gillan’s band in the early 80’s. If you had hair of any sort you made the most of it, for those that were loosing it evidence of the comb over was everywhere.
Despite this it was all rather gauche it was a bit like sticking a cocktail umbrella on a meat pie. It didn’t matter what a musician was wearing, it was apparent that underneath the glitter and make up lurked a meat packer from Walsall. You look at a band like One Direction today and they seem like they were born to their life of stardom, compare this with a band like the Sweet who despite their success would always look like they would be grateful for a paying gig a Tiffany’s Mapplethorpe.
So for me the 70’s seemed like a mixture of high aspirations tempered by the gloom of everyday life. My abiding memory of this is listening to the impossibly futuristic sounds of Chicory Tip on a transistor radio by candle light as there had been another power cut (we had to curtail our listening as my dad would get twitchy at the thought of the expense of using up our limited battery power)
But the amazing thing about the 70’s was the music. Bear in mind life didn’t start afresh on the count of midnight. The early 70s were just the late 60’s extended but the seeds that were sown then started to flourish. Bands like Sabbath, Zeppelin and Purple (notice I don’t use the full name, see also Quo) produced their finest work. The singer songwriter genre really flourished and of course the big big bands like the Stones,Floyd, Fleetwood Mac and the Who were turning out stuff that was successful in a commercial and artistic sense.
There was stuff though that just came from nowhere, Kraftwerk, Van der Graff, even ELP seemed to create music that had no precedent. It seems impossible today that music can appear from nowhere,we are too knowing, we have Spotify. That’s why it possible for people with virtually no talent to create best selling albums by simply nicking things they like from real talents.
The 70’s produced the first black global mega star in the shape of Bob Marley and reggae became a musical force important enough for white boys to nick it.
And then of course there was punk and then new wave which for a while turned the whole thing completely upside down. Musically punk had a history that’s pretty apparent but the attitudes around the new music scene brought out some unique talents and produced the remarkable post punk scene which, in the way that this decades thing works, belongs to the 80’s.
So in 10 years we went from Hendrix to Kraftwerk, from Atomic Rooster to The Gang Of Four, from Carol King to Ian Dury from..sorry I’m getting bored with this (getting bored was a very late 70s thing) create your own examples, its fun.
So the 70’s pretty much gave us,heavy metal, folk rock, new wave,punk,glam, reggae, dub,AOR,krautrock,electronic, pub rock, prog rock,disco and probably more that I cant even remember at the moment.
The most important thing for me though is how these records actually sounded, admittedly there was a loss of quality around punk when bands were recording a single in skip for £10 but that’s not the point. Motown recorded under very basic circumstances but their records sound great. Its not always about the quality but how that sound and performance is captured. In the 70’s people generally recorded together in the same room at the same time. Records by the likes of Jackson Browne or John Martyn just sound great because its the sound of people recording together not slapping down their individual parts on a laptop on different continents and emailing it off to be treated with pro tools. That’s actually the cheap way of recording and its one of the reasons why there are relatively few significant recording studios left. In the 70’s recording was expensive and pre punk by the time you got to record you had actually taken the trouble to play with other musicians,do some gigs and write some decent songs. A lot of the records made in the 70s is the sound of people actually playing together and there is no pro tools plug in that can replicate that.
So that’s the 70’s
Next time I will be singling out some of my favourite bands and artists