Glam, Glitter, Stadium Rock, fifties revivals, Disco, Punk and The Osmonds . . . and they call it the decade that taste forgot! A decade that brought us Leif Garrett AND The Ramones. What’s up with that?!
It seems remarkable that in just 10 years, popular music could develop from the innocence of The Jackson 5‘s The Love You Save to the future shock of Gary Numan‘s Are Friends Electric? and the Sugarhill Gang’s Rappers Delight. Yet it happened.
Britain and America largely followed different paths in the first half of the decade, with Britain gripped by teenybop mania and no discernible change from the music of the late 60s in the USA.
The seventies began with a major increase in LP sales with established acts like Led Zeppelin, The Who and Deep Purple all spending time at the top of the album charts, with competition from Elton John.
The Jackson 5, a group of brothers from Gary, Indiana, dominated the US charts in the early 70s, having already scored four Number One singles between 1969 and 1970. Thirteen-year-old lead vocalist Michael even stepped out for a solo career.
The Osmonds were another group of brothers to top the charts in the early part of the decade.
They were like a white, Mormon version of The Jackson 5 and had hits with One Bad Apple, Double Lovin’ and Yo-yo, while teen heart-throb Donny had hits of his own with Go Away Little Girl, Puppy Love and Young Love.
Alice Cooper stepped to the front of the rock scene with his outrageous onstage antics and pet Boa Constrictor. Alice and his band actually produced two of the best hard-rock albums of 1971, Love It To Death and Killer.
At a time when many were still trying to come to terms with the radical changes of the last five years, Carole King‘s Tapestry album hit the zeitgeist square on the forehead and stayed on the album charts for five months.
More than anything, the 70s saw a tendency for brief fads and for acts to come and go, and the term “one-hit wonder” was bandied around for the first time.
The first big ‘new sound’ of the decade came with ‘Glitter Rock’, the main proponents of which were Slade, The Sweet and Marc Bolan’s T. Rex. The Osmonds were definitely not part of the movement but appealed to a similar audience in the UK.
As politics got greyer and life became more depressing, people needed a break – literally. They needed larger than life figures to take them away from it all.
Which is where the Bolans and the Bowies came into it. What
What joy was there in watching a dirty, gratefully dead hippie who was happy to play long, endlessly long, meandering instrumentals because it meant that he didn’t have to get up from his stoned stupor?
In 1972, Slade traded blows with Alice Cooper while in the other semi-final Lieutenant Pigeon played The Royal Scots Dragoon Guards Band. But music was always mad in the Seventies.
In 1973, when Glam was at its height and even the lady who worked in the local bakery had dyed hair (OK so it was a blue rinse – don’t get bogged down in detail) what was the top single? Eye Level by the Simon Park Orchestra. Yes, yes, the theme to Van Der Valk . . . and if you can’t remember it, just be grateful I haven’t included snatches of the song on this website.
Glitter Rock was of course named after the man who started it all. The now-infamous Paul Raven, who over a period of 10 years (and under his latest pseudonym Gary Glitter) staged 14 farewell tours – but sadly 15 revivals.
In 1970, Top 40 pop began to revive, after a lengthy period in the doldrums. The change was most noticeable in the US where new groups and new styles were breaking out everywhere. But in Britain also there were signs that the art of the three-minute hit single was slowly being re-discovered.
But before you dismiss the ’70s as a musical wasteland populated by one-hit wonders, remember this: It also produced Bruce Springsteen, Talking Heads, The Ramones, The Clash, The Pretenders and David Bowie.
The major new movement which began in the USA in 1975 and would spread its influence worldwide, was disco music. Originally regarded by many as a poor substitute for genuine soul music, nothing had been more capable of filling a dance floor.
Who can forget the Village People (Macho Man and YMCA), or KC and the Sunshine Band (That’s The Way I Like It), or even Rick Dees (Disco Duck)? After Vietnam, Watergate and long afternoons in a petrol queue, kids didn’t want to deal with issues anymore. They just wanted to dance.
The disco boom would peak in 1978 with the enormously successful Saturday Night Fever, but before that the charts would be almost saturated with disco epics.
At the start of 1976, there was little warning that the world of popular music would be turned upside down before the end of the year. Even in America, the waves from punk would be felt in major cities, although the New Wave took longer to bite (which was curious since all the punk influences came originally from America).
The Pistols were the leaders of the revolution, guided by rag trade entrepreneur McLaren (who had managed The New York Dolls during their decline). At the time, nothing seemed too different – among the chart-topping LPs of the year were glossy items by ABBA, Queen, Rod Stewart and Status Quo.
In the UK singles charts, retrogressive acts like The Wurzels, Eurovision Song Contest winners Brotherhood Of Man, Greek fat-bloke Demis Roussos and Johnny Mathis reached the top, while America was a little different – Disco records ruled.
But something quite new was happening. The predominantly American acts who had dominated the early part of the decade were being ignored outside the US. The glitter era had passed and everyone craved excitement and wanted music they could call their own.
Not since the 1950s had there been a major musical genre which alienated parents. Punk gave hope to disaffected youth. London venues like the 100 Club, The Marquee, Dingwalls began hosting bands like Siouxsie & The Banshees, Generation X and The Jam.
However, it wasn’t until Rotten and co shocked Britain by swearing on an early evening television chat show that things really took off.
Originally there were just the Pistols, The Clash and The Damned. And originally everyone got all worked up about the Pistols, got all idolatrous about the Clash. And The Damned? Everybody just took the piss out The Damned. “They’re like cartoons! They’re not real! They don’t mean it!”
Ironically, out of the three, easily the most influential were The Damned. Their spirit lived on simply because they were the ones having a laugh, they were your mates.
Everyone likes icons such as the Pistols and The Clash, but you look at icons, you gawp in reverence at icons. They’re cold and impressive and distant. Mates you have a laugh with.
Some established acts were able to survive the punk onslaught. Others just went to ground until the coast was clear for them to re-emerge into their dry-ice filled stadiums. And punk eventually became just another music-industry cash-in, and the death of Sid Vicious in 1979 meant the end of an era.