Wanna See My Picture On The Cover Of The Rolling Stone
I Said Turn That Thing Down!
I saw this challenge before I read the rules. I'm not a Vocal+ member, but I've written this essay on musical decades, so enjoy!
When you think about sheer variety of subject matter, sensational costumes with glam and glitter, the anticipation of seeing what performers will do next, incredible guitar riffs you remember to this day, in addition to some of the greatest Rock N Roll Hall of Famers, you're thinking about the 70s. This decade was one of the most amazing for its color and style, its music, and the guilty pleasure of popping in that CD when the house is empty.
I came to consciousness, so to speak, in the early 70s. My father was a sound engineer for the Grand Ole Opry and Nashville's WSM radio, so my foundation was in old-school country music. You can imagine my delight when I received a transistor radio for my birthday one year. I discovered rock and roll and never looked back. To be fair, they never screamed at me to “turn that thing down!” They took me to rock concerts and put up with giggling teenage girls mooning over Donny Osmond. Cool parents, actually.
The Early 70s or The Motown Era
I entered the picture in the Motown years. It was nothing for the radio stations of that era to play a song we loved fifty times per half hour if we asked for it, so I got to hear my favorites literally all the time. Those were the years of the Cornelius Brothers and Sister Rose, the Temptations, Bill Withers, and Smokey Robinson. We were taught about love and how to “treat her like a lady” by these incredible singers.
It was also when the Beatles hit their stride. Paperback Writer, Let It Be, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Heart's Club Band and so much more hit the air waves. The sound was different, rockin', and we danced ourselves into a frenzy to a new kind of rock and roll. We actually knew what those three words meant now. When the Beatles broke up, it was the darkest day in music history, aside from the deaths of some of rock's icons.
Now we got to hear what each Beatle sounded like when he sang his own music. I, personally, loved Ringo. He was my first favorite Beatle with George Harrison second. I never got into John Lennon or Paul McCartney, although I enjoyed McCartney's music. Starr and Harrison spoke my language, so to speak, and I collected all their vinyl that I could get my mom to pay for.
Humor In Music
But what's this? Funny music? What's the world coming to? Suddenly, the Streak, Earache/Turn That Thing Down!, and The Cover of the Rolling Stone, and anything Frank Zappa sang made us laugh. (Nashville radio stations banned some of Zappa's songs as “not what our youth should hear.” After listening to today's gangsta rap, Zappa was tame.) We had no idea we could have a legitimate laugh on parents, the crowd at church or the grocery store, or even the music industry until these guys showed us how. I've always loved the absurd, so this decade really did it for me!
Hard Rock's Beginnings
While some of the 70s music was considered by today's standards easy listening, there was hard rock, too. The 70s was when the hard rockers stepped into the spotlight. Led Zepplin, Queen, Lynyrd Skynyrd, The Stones, Edgar Winter, and Grand Funk Railroad were just a few acts that had us seriously rocking. Rock and roll came into its own with these guys as well as with Grace Slick and Jefferson Airplane, Bachman-Turner Overdrive, the Doobie Brothers, the Eagles, and I could go on for a week with this list.
We heard good stories, mind bending guitar riffs, and we learned how to head bang to this music. How much variety there was! Songs about desperado cowboys, immigrants from the land of the ice and snow, building this city on rock and roll, towns in Texas called China Grove, and my personal favorite Bachman-Turner Overdrive's Let It Ride. Just the most iconic guitar playing in all of rock and roll.
Then you've got an Italian operetta called Bohemian Rhapsody that took the world by storm and justly so. Lynyrd Skynyrd brought Southern rock to the world, warning us of the dangers of Saturday Night Specials, drugs, and showing us how to be a simple man. Most people thought the South was all about fried chicken, barbecue, and Scarlett O'Hara. Here's this band singing about free birds, sweet home Alabama, and how to get out of trouble in a barroom in three steps (see, hard rock can be funny, too.)
Hard rock in the 70s was the beginning, the foundation of the 80s hair bands and metal rock. It wasn't easy listening. It made you sit up and take notice. It brought its own message about love, the dangers of sex, drugs, and rock and roll. It made your spirit soar at the same time it made your feet stomp and your body move. Like the man sang, rock and roll is here to stay, and thank the good Lord for it, too.
There are things that stay in your heart long after you've grown up and your mind has forgotten them. Songs like Rock and Roll Lullaby sung by B. J. Thomas, Nillson's Without You, pretty much anything Barry Manilow sang, and most of what the Bee Gees sang. They're sweet, they're soft, and they're emotional. And if music does nothing else, it makes us emotional in some way whether it's sad, happy, wondering, or laughing (remember Disco Duck with Rick Dees?)
These are the songs with which we sing the baby to sleep. These are what we put on when we work out. These are what's going through our heads when our husbands are feeling romantic, dancing us around the living room after the kids are asleep. This is the music we listen to in the car in gridlocked traffic, drumming on the dash, dancing in our seat, and singing at the top of our range. They make us feel good. Goodness knows in these days, we need all of that we can get, right?
One of the things parents were uneasy about 70s music was the fact that it asked if we felt sexy today, defined what they thought sexy was, and then told us all boldly that we were sexy and don't let anyone tell us differently. Rod Steward, Hot Chocolate, and dozens of other artists changed the definition of sexy.
At the time, we just thought it was good music. It was dance-able, it had a great beat, and it annoyed our parents. It wasn't until we grew up and encountered magazines, news shows, and other media telling us what to do to be what “they” considered sexy or we'd never be loved. Our heads got so screwed up by so many of “them” telling us what to be and how to be it, that many are still screwed up today. Suddenly we missed the 70s music telling us we were sexy just the way we were.
Of course, parents can no more see into the future than you or I can, but even they got a laugh out of those “songs” that purported to be a reporter asking questions. The answers came from snatches of songs that “answered” the questions. Dickie Goodman was the originator of these, and you can find his work on YouTube. Most specifically check out the Energy Crisis 74, Watergate, and Senate Hearing, just to get you started. When you stop laughing, then check out his other work which is absolutely hysterical. We certainly could use a laugh today, right?
This is just another example of the variety of music in the 70s. We took a good hard look at ourselves and then poked fun at ourselves, our world, and our customs. Ray Stevens did it with Gitarzan, The Mississippi Squirrel Revival, and Would Jesus Wear A Rolex? The 70s were notable for the irony in our music.
Music Tells Stories, Too
The Moody Blues told the story of just a day in the life of a guy from sunup to sundown. Nights in White Satin and Teusday Afternoon are two of the completely unforgettable songs from that story on the album Days Of Future Passed. The Beatles did it with Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band with With A Little Help From My Friends and Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds, songs which represented inspiration from friends and family.
Alice Cooper's School's Out from 1972 reached every single kid in the United States. His makeup and that straitjacket just blew us away, but his lyrics were spot on. We had never seen an artist dress like that until David Bowie did Ziggy Stardust, so then we were able to better acclimate to Cooper's stage persona. But the story was us.
It wouldn't be the 70s without Jethro Tull, The Who, Elton John, Marvin Gaye, Pink Floyd, or Teddy Pendergrass. They and many more had a story to tell that gave us some of the most iconic singles of the entire decade. Those singles are being covered like mad today in every musical genre there is. There must be a good reason for that, yes?
Disco Doesn't Suck!
It's funny how basic dance steps can morph into modern versions of the New York Shuffle, the Bump, the Hustle, the Electric Slide, and John Travolta's Saturday Night Fever dances. Line dancing became a thing, and both country music and disco music served line dancing very well. We were one with the music which was where we wanted to be. We got to wear the coolest clothes and shoes, so we looked more like the artists as we were grooving to their music.
Artists have never been able to reproduce the joy and dance-ability of that music no matter how much they cover it. Disco Inferno, the iconic number from Saturday Night Fever, exemplifies the genre. No one can sit still when that song is playing. Stayin' Alive and You Should Be Dancing by the Bee Gees are the same. You can't get that beat out of your head, nor can your feet stop tapping or your hips and shoulders stop moving. KC and the Sunshine Band gave us so many good dance songs that when we hear them today, our bodies immediately fall into a 70s dance posture.
Okay, by today's standards, some of the songs were dorky. I wanna put on my my my my dancing shoes? Funkytown? Super Freak? C'mon, where did these guys get this stuff? But turn up the tunes, and you don't care any more, because your body takes over. Play that funky music, and lay down that boogie til you die.
Other voices during the disco years that have sadly been silenced can thankfully still be heard on Disco Saturday Night on the radio. You simply can not dance if you don't have the voice of the incomparable Donna Summer to dance to. The same goes for MJ (Don't Stop Til You Get Enough and Shake Your Body Down To The Ground,) and members of Kool and the Gang and Earth, Wind, and Fire to name just a few. All praises that they will live forever in their music.
The disco era didn't just spawn bell bottoms, stack shoes, and some of the greatest music there ever was. It spawned a generation of people who might have gotten side tracked in life from what was going on at the time. However, those dancing shoes did more than boogie. They walked it out until the wearers figured out their path. They stood in line at the hospital until a doctor could see the baby. They changed jobs, partners, and lives until they got it right. Then they damn well danced the night away, because they were now where they had fought to get all those years ago.
Disco wasn't just a cool beat. It was an attitude. It brought people together. It was fun. And we all close the bedroom door, plug in the ear buds, and crank up the tunes as we work out or just plain dream, so don't stop til you get enough.
The Last Word
What has the music of the 70s given us 50 years later? We have videos on YouTube of 70s music to which to work out. We have dance music in bars and at parties. It's also given us the most beloved and iconic TV show ever – Glee.
Those actors turned high school angst into a musical phenomenon. They mixed music from any and all decades to make “mash-up” a keyword. It was amazing to us how these actors could make relevant again music from the past by making whole new songs. They would mix oldies with present-day music, past musical hits with Broadway songs, folk songs with rock and roll, and they even took a successful stab at mixing country music with past hits.
What makes me crave seeing Glee so much is the joy the music gives me. My face has an ear to ear grin, and my toes tap in time to the music. Those incredible actors gave us a truly joyful, phenomenal experience to enjoy for many years to come. And that, ladies and gents, is why the 70s music will never die.