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The 70's - The Decade the Music Died
When Did The Music Die?
Don McLean claimed in the song "American Pie" that the music died the day Buddy Holly, Richie Valens and J.P. "The Big Bopper" Richardson's plane went down in a Winter Storm on February 3, 1959. I don't think it went that suddenly. I think it suffered a long, drawn out, sometimes painful, lingering death. After all, many magnificent classics came out of the 60's and 70's.
And then things just got weird.
At the time of the "death" Mr. McLean refers to so eloquently in American Pie, music was in its rock and roll infancy and the above three men were pioneers. A sense of finality was probably a natural response. After all, they couldn't possibly know that the likes of Jimi Hendrix, Bob Dylan, The Beatles, The Doors and Janis Joplin were on their way to blow Rock and Roll into a new era.
In the 50's music moved from the stylings of Nat King Cole , Bill Haley and the Comets (Rock around the Clock), Perry Como and Patti Page (How Much is that Doggie In the Window) to Jerry Lee Lewis, Bobby Darin, and the King Himself, Elvis Presley. It was Bill Haley and the Comets however that would kick off the mainstream hits of rock and roll.
But before I get ahead of myself...
Rock and Roll (a term coined by DJ Alan Freed), did not suddenly appear in the late 50's, it was a long time in the making. I won't get into all the minute details, but it was in 1951 that Alan Freed first aired his music program called "Moondog Rock and Roll Party" and this was the first airing of "black music" to white teenagers. This was also the year of the first rock and roll record. Surprised? Unless you listened to this "underground music" (as most airwaves did not play this music at that time) you didn't know that Ike Turner recorded "Rocket 88". Wasn't exactly "on the charts".
In 1952 Sam Phillips founded "Sun Records". His dream was to meet a white man who could sing with the "black man feel". He thought if he found that he would make a fortune. The following year he met Elvis. That same year, it was Bill Haley and the Comets with their song "Crazy Man Crazy" that becomes the first rock and roll song to hit the Billboard charts. Still, we're in the middle of the "Doo Wop" craze and Buddy Holly isn't even going to record for the first time until 1956 at which time Rock and Roll is gaining huge momentum.
It is about this time that Music comes alive. It isn't until the mid-50's that music really takes off and record sales boom, their sales more than double by 1958. This is pushed further forward by The Dick Clark TV Show which airs in 1958. The country is changing and all the kids are dancing.
But rock and music in general, has only dipped it's big toe into the ocean of music legend. The sixties would take music and consequently, an entire generation, on the ride of their lives.
Birth of a Decade
And the Grammy goes to "Theme from a Summer Place" for song of the year, just to show you how benign 1960 is. Okay so the decade starts off a little slow. Soul Music is introduced on the Billboard Top 40 by The Everly Brothers (Cathy's Clown), and Sam Cooke (Chain Gang). Other hits of 1960 included: Roy Orbison's "Only the Lonely", Elvis's "It's Now or Never", Chubby Checker's "The Twist", "Puppy Love" by Paul Anka and Connie Francis' "Mama".
In 1961 the real changes began. We had a new younger president (JFK), the big Show on Broadway (coincidentally) is "Camelot" and the question everyone was asking was "Car 54 where are you?" okay so the song of the year is "Moon River" by Henry Mancini, beneath the surface the wheels of the music bandwagon are turning in new directions. Bob Dylan arrives in New York and Motown is signing the likes of Smokey Robinson and The Surpremes.
Still it is Ricky Nelson who is breaking hearts with "Travelin Man" and Ben E King has a hit with "Stand by Me", Patsy Cline is "Crazy" and Dion has his hands full with "Run Around Sue". All will eventually be classics. And although Elvis has back after a two year stint in the army, his music will never be the same rhythm and blues that it once was. He will go in a different direction.
In 1962 while Marilyn is singing "Happy Birthday" to the president, The Rolling Stones are gathering fans by appearing in London, Bob Marley releases his first record (Judge Not) and in the UK a little group of unknowns called The Beatles release their first single called "Love Me Do". Surf Music was popular and the Beach Boys had two billboard hits that year; "Surfin USA" and well, "Surfin", what else?
In 1963 if you weren't busy watching "Gunsmoke", "Bonanza" or "Hazel", you were listening to the radio and while you stiill got an earful of the Beach Boys, you probably didn't hear much from the poet Bob Dylan who was not even near mainstream. But you are enjoying Little Stevie Wonder, and a plethora of magnificent music makers that are blasting hits out of Motown like The Temptations, the aforementioned Surpremes, The Four Tops, Mary Wells and Marin Gaye. America continues to change and the death of our President puts us into a different frame of mind and we can't help but wonder what is happening to our country, as the racial rioting is just beginning as well.
The British Invasion
1964 is the year we get to "Meet the Beatles" as they proclaim "I Want to Hold Your hand" apparently this is a statement that makes girls all over the world faint dead away. The frenzy they get themselves into is remarkable as the Fab 4 merely have to open their mouths and girls from 12 to 20 lose their ability to form a coherent sentence. The Beatles continue this bizarre form of torture with songs such as "Twist and Shout", "I Saw her Standing There", "Love Me Do", and "She Loves You" and "A Hard Days Night" all in that same year! In fact, they had 5 top 10 records at the SAME TIME.
This is also the year The Rolling Stones go on their first US Tour and release their first album aptly titled "The Rolling Stones". We hear from the Dave Clark Five, The Hollies, The Animals, The Kinks (Whos first album is later declared Heavy Metal).
Bob Dylan finally breaks through with "The times They are a Changin" and suddenly lyrics matter. Meaningful Lyrics. Which is the strong appeal of Folk Rock, setting the stage for Joni Mitchell and Donovan.
If you can remember 1965, as marijuana and LSD were growing in both popularity and availability, you might recall that Bob Dylan is actually on the charts alongside Sam the Sham and the Pharohs huge hit "Wooly Bully", The Beatles are crying for "Help" (like they need it) and the magnificent Stan Getz has a song of the year with "The Girl From Ipanema"....things are just getting started and rock is about to pop....
1966 - 1969
Now the fun begins and things get noisey. 1966 was the year of "Good Lovin" by the Rascals. "Wild Thing" by the Troggs and Four, count'em four hits for Ole' Blue eyes. Rock is taking off and Frankie still has the stage with "That's Life", "Strangers In The Night", "Summer Wind" and "It was a Very Good Year" and apparently, it was. Frankie is actually sharing the Charts with the likes of The Who, "My Generation", The Rolling Stones, "Mothers Little Helper" and Bob Dylan, "Rainy Day Woman 12 & 35". I just have to mention "Secret Agent Man" as this catchy tune was so beloved by so many guys out there, thanks to Johnny Rivers.
But this is the year of "Hey Joe" a single by The Jimi Hendrix Experience. Eric Clapton and Cream are up and coming as groups like Pink Floyd and Traffic. But they are considered genuinelly bizarre groups which earn them the name psychedelic rock and as of 1966, although they are releasing singles in London, nothing has hit the U.S. Along with The Velvet Underground, that is pretty much where their music remains. Pink Floyd will finally make it in North America in 1970 after touring with JImi Hendrix. Still, no one is quite sure how to classify their music. Traffic will finally make the billboard charts with their album of the same name in 1968.
All I can say is if you were going to San Francisco in 1967 you had to make sure you wear some flowers in your hair Of course if you didn't that was okay because The Hippies there will make sure that you do. The Hippie movement is underway and "Flower children" "Flower Power" its all about the flowers. I remember my stepmother saying I was so much like that that I should have been born a decade earlier. I would have felt right at home. Especially since this is the year of a Beatles Song that is very near and dear to my heart "All You Need is Love".
In 1967 we hear from Janis Joplins' Big Brother and the Holding Company, Santana and The Jefferson Airplane. Music has gotten harder, edgier, or has something to say. It is soft and romantic, ("Daydream Believer" by the Monkees ) or it is demanding you sit up and listen, ("Purple Haze" by Jimi Hendrix), or it has soul and makes you move ("Gimme Some Lovin" by the Spencer Davis Group). This is pretty much been the mix that has taken over the charts in the late sixties.
The place to be the Summer of 67 was in Monterey. At The Monterey Pop Festival. The Grateful Dead, who formed in the San Francisco Bay area, released their first album this year, also releasing an album, albeit a far more historic one, were The Beatles with "Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band".
A new band also emerges from the L.A. area called The Doors. They release an album of the same name that contains songs with haunting dark lyrics by their "leader" the haunting, dark and mysterious Jim Morrison. That alone will make him huge in music and a legend in rock and roll.
That same year Aretha Franklin is asking for a little "Respect", Smokey Robinson says he'll "Second that Emotion" and The Box Tops have "The Letter".
The Who is back on the charts with "I Can See For Miles" . The Rolling Stones are singling about "Ruby Tuesday", the Turtles are "Happy Together", Petula Clark gives this sound advice "Don't Sleep in the Subway" and The Doors have the audacity to say that "People are Strange". Talk about the pot calling the kettle black ...
The Stones will also appear on the Ed Sullivan Show where Mick will be forced to say "Let's Spend some Time Together" instead of "Lets Spend the Night Together", what was that about? Anyone who bought the single knew damn good and well what he said, why change it now? Well, because your parents were watching and to have the gaul to say such a thing on TV was unacceptable, after all Elvis already shocked the hell out of them with his Pelvis what could be next, Jim Morrison on Ed Sullivan doing something naughty? (For those of you who don't know or dare I say, remember, Jim was asked to change his lyrics in "Light my Fire" and not say 'Girl we couldn't get much higher' yeah right, that was gonna happen...needless to say Jim said it anyway). God only knows what all this obscene nonsense did to Topo gejio.
Men walking on the Moon, The Battle of Khe Sahn in Vietnam, Vietnam itself, Bobby Kennedy killed, President Johnson signs the Civil Rights Act, Martin Luther King Jr is shot, Richard Nixon becoming President, Colombia University Students in NY take over the administration building and shut it down, Laugh-In Premiers, could there have been a year packed with more news and incredible happenings? Well, no of course not.
But this was also the year The Beatles release the coveted "White Album" and of course there was that little gathering in upstate Bethel, New York called Woodstock! The culmination of the 60's into one huge rock and roll party that (in spite of some best efforts) would NEVER be duplicated.
This was, as Rolling Stone Magazine says, "one of the events that changed Rock and Roll history." This was a gathering of the counterculture. But it wasn't just about Rock, it was about the MUSIC....along with groups like Santana, Canned heat, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Grateful Dead, The Who, Blood, Sweat and Tears and Creedance Clearwater Revivial, there was Country Joe and The Fish, Richie Havens, Ravi Shankar, Arlo Guthrie, Joan Baez, Joe Cocker, Sly and The Family Stone, and more. It was a 3 day concert to end all concerts and even rain, mud and lack of food and medical supplies didn't stop the music from playing.
The Billboard charts started to turn, topping the charts that year were The Doors "Hello, I love you", "Sunshine of Your Love" and "White Room" by Cream, "Classical Gas" - Mason Williams, The Grass Roots' "Midnight confessions", "Piece of My Heart" by Janis Joplin and Big Brother and the Holding Company, "Foxey Lady" and "All Along the Watchtower" by Jimi Hendrix. These Rock Classics were mixing it up with the likes of "Eleanor" By The Turtles, "Turn around, Look at me" by the Vogues, and "Folsom Prison Blues" by Johnny Cash.
In 1969 the last year of the Decade that Shook the World, so many changes had occurred in music and the charts had become so much more ecclectic, you had your choice of artists from genres that never even existed before. Folk Rock, psychedelic Rock, singer'songwriter soloists, "The Motown Sound", just to name a few, but this wouldn't last. The new Decade would usher in the deaths of several of music's icons. Janis, Jim and Jimi Hendrix would no longer be with us beyond 1970 and other changes would take place in various areas of music. Once again the end of a decade meant the end of music as we knew it. The music had not yet died, there were still great songs coming and music was still growing, just not in the best direction...
70's - The Final Decade
War, What is it good for? Absolutely nothing!! It was Edwin Starr who brought that up in 1970 not that it was a big surprise to anyone. 1970 found us dead tired, it had been a temultuous decade that we just put to rest and Vietnam was just lasting way too long and had gotten too ugly. Then we lost Jimi in September and Janis in October. Paul McCartney files a lawsuit to dissolve The Beatles and Diana Ross leaves The Supremes.
In what would be dubbed The "Me" Generation (only because it came after the 60's and no one knew how self centered and materialistic people would become in all the following generations), in spite of the major changes and excitement of the 60's, it is the 70's people wish they were a part of. Of course, I think this had more to do with the extreme sex, extreme drugs and extreme rock and roll.
"All In the Family" is the new ground breaking sitcom. Race and religion are tackled by Meathead (Rob Reiner) with his father in law Archie Bunker as the protagonist. The Mary Tyler Moore Show and The Odd Couple are also classics that air in 1970. "M*A*S*H" the movie comes out this year. Gas is 36 cents a gallon, milk is $1.32 a gallon and we bitch about it. We wish we were Ali McGraw like she looked in "Love Story" and getting a Dodge Torino wouldn't suck either.
Simon and Garfunkel "Bridge over Troubled Water" are favorites on the charts at the beginning of the decade, along with the Jackson 5 "I'll be There" and The Carpenters "Close to You". "Candida" is a big hit for Tony Orlando and Dawn and he would eventually have his own tv show. John Lennon appears on the charts solo for the first time with "Instant Karma",
Among the top albums this year are Led Zeppelin - Led Zeppelin II, Grateful Dead, Workingman's Dead ; James Taylor: Sweet Baby James ; Joni Mitchell: Ladies Of The Canyon; Neil Young: After The Goldrush; Crosby Stills Nash & Young: Deja` Vu
Jimi Hendrix: Band Of Gypsys and Derek and the Domino's: Layla.
By 1971 music seems almost lighthearted as rock and roll takes a temporary back seat to pop. The Top 40 Pop charts and best selling albums slightly resemble each other, although the 45's that are really selling are more light weights like The Osmonds, "One Bad Apple", Daddy Dewdrop's "Chick a Boom", Ocean's "Put Your Hand in the Hand" and "She's A Lady" by Tom Jones. Ballads are plentiful too such as James Taylors "You've got a Friend" penned by Carole King who has "It's Too Late", The Carpenters are heavy on the charts with "Superstar", "Rainy Days and Mondays" and "For All We Know". Other ballads include "Found Someone of my Own" by Free Movement and The BeeGees. "How Can You Mend A Broken Heart".
In July of 71 Jim Morrison dies in France at the age of 27. Aside from being a poet and a writer Morrison's stage persona was legend.
Top Albums in 71' were Carole King, "Tapestry", Joni Mitchell, "Blue", and John Lennon's, "Imagine" alongside of Led Zeppelin's "IV", The Rolling Stones, "Sticky Fingers" and Bob Marley and The Wailers, "Soul Revolution".
In 1972 one of my favorite comedians, George Carlin was arrested in Milwaukee, Wisconsin for public obscenity when he recited his infamous “Seven Words You Can Never Say On Television”. This is why we loved you George...But not everything is funny. Terrorism hits Munich Germany when Palestinian Terrorists kill 11 of the Israeli athletes at the Summer Olympics. On the flip side, history is made when President Nixon goes to China.
Well, this is the year Don McLean releases "American Pie" and it is a huge hit. But the music is still fluff and people want songs they can sing. In fact the New Seekers are willing to help with "I'd Like to Teach the World to Sing". But the biggest hits this year are Roberta Flack's "First TIme Ever I Saw Your Face", "Alone Again Naturally" by Gilbert O'Sullivan, Bill Withers "Lean On Me", Al Green's "Let's Stay Together", "Candy Man" by Sammy Davis, Jr., Neil Young's "Heart of Gold" and of course Chuck Berry's "My Ding a Ling".
The Temptations have a hit with "Papa was a Rolling Stone", in Rhythm and Blues it is all about Billy Paul with "Me and Mrs. Jones". Donna Fargo has a country hit that is played on ALL Radio stations with "The Happiest Girl In the Whole USA". "School's Out" puts Alice Cooper out front and he sets the stage for acts like Kiss who get together this year.
In 1973 Tony Orlando and Dawn strike again by telling us to "Tie A Yellow Ribbon Round the Old Oak Tree", this song is tremendously popular and tremendously over-played. Stevie Wonder has two hits this year with "You are the Sunshine of My Life" and the immensely popular "Superstition"; Diana Ross says to "Touch Me In the Morning" while Carly Simon insists "You're So Vain". Elton John's "Crocodile Rock" is a major hit as is his iconic albums "Don't Shoot Me I'm Only the Piano Player" and "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road".
The Who's "Quadraphenia" album gets released this year as well as Led Zeppelin's "Houses of the Holy" and Pink Floyd's "Dark Side of The Moon". We also hear from Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, ZZTop, King Crimson and Mott the Hoople.
But it is Disco that we are to fear, as the first disco song is recorded and in NYC there is already dancing and a frenzy that is about to catch fire and go mainstream. Disco itself of course evolves from the Motown sound straight out of Philly. It is disco that creates the remix and DJ's become immensely popular.
The Vietnam war ends in 1974 and our President resigns in April before Impeachment proceedings begin. Love songs reign on the radio with the song of the Year being "The Way We Were" sung by Barbra Streisand and the record of the year being "I Honestly Love You" by Olivia Newton John. Paul McCartney and his group wings are gaining in popularity.
Okay here we go, this is the tip of the downhill iceberg. 1975 features some Top 40 songs that I couldn't even stand to listen to. It was surprising. I wasn't enjoying listening to the radio as much as I used to and found myself playing more and more of the 45's and albums I already owned. The Hues Corporation releases the dance song "Rock the Boat", it is a #1 hit and it is not the only one.
In 1975, Gloria Gaynor releases the first long disco-mix vinyl album, which included a remake of The Jackson Five's "Never Can Say Goodbye".
To cap off my really bad year is The Captain and Tenille and "Love Will Keep Us Together", Freddy Fender's "Before the Next Teardrop Falls", "Kung Fu Fighting" by Carl Douglas, BJ Thomas' "Somebody Done Somebody Wrong Song" Jessi Colter's "I'm Not Lisa" and "Thank God I'm A Country Boy" by John Denver and I know all the words to this song.
The horror that befalls me is that I only need to hear a song once or twice and I know all the lyrics. My father used to tell me how wonderful it would be if my classes were taught with music. I would be an honor student. Words only stick in my head if they are attached to a tune. But I do not get to pick and choose.
On the flip side we got a classic with Bruce Springsteen's ":Born to Run" album, Pink Floyd's Wish You Were Here", Earth, Wind and Fire's "That's The Way of the World", Queens "Night at the Opera" and here comes "Fleetwood Mac".
It's 1976 and the Silver Connection is making people dance with songs like "Fly Robin Fly" (although I always found it a very hard song to dance to) and "Get Up and Boogie". KC and the Sunshine band insist we "(Shake, Shake, Shake) Shake Your Booty". The Andrea True Connection has "More, More, More" and even the Bee Gees tell us "You Should be Dancing". This disco thing isn't going away and more and more clubs are popping up all over the cities and suburbs. True die hard rock fans are sickened by the turn of events ard don't even listen to the radio anymore unless it was that one rock station that just about every town in America had.
This is not to say some great songs weren't still out there, Stevie Wonders masterpiece "Songs in the Key of Life" was inspirational. Diana Ross continues to remain on the charts as does Paul McCartney and Wings. Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis Jr. (Formerly of the 5th Dimension) have an R&B hit with "You Don't Have to be a Star" and The Chicago X album is released.
Here's a little story, because I was relatively poor as a teenager in 1976 anytime I would manage to get a quarter I would walk about 4 blocks to the local pizza place and play "Love Hurt's" by Nazareth on their Juke box. Pathetic, I know, but I loved the song that much and I couldn't afford the $1 to buy the 45. I just never had that much money all at once.
As we creep embarrassingly into the latter part of the decade and into 1977 we get a few redeeming gifts. "Rumors" by Fleetwood Mac, Billy Joel's "The Stranger" and Ac/Dc's "Let there be Rock".
Who doesn't know the words to The Eagles "Hotel California"? Abba's "Dancing Queen" makes a huge splash although "Waterloo" a few years earlier was my favorite.
Aside from the songs this is a sad year for music as Bob Marley is killed in Jamaica, Three members of Lynard Skynard are killed in a plane crash in Mississipi and Led Zeppelin gives their last concert in California.
This is the year "Saturday Night Fever" comes out and John Travolta convinces every man that goes clubbing to do it in a white polyester suit. Gives me the chills even now. But this sends people to the dance clubs in droves. Although the white suit doesn't help them dance any better.
Disco is in it's prime and topping charts more than any other group or individual this year are The Bee Gees, as it is all from the Saturday Night Fever Soundtrack. They're sharing the charts with their little brother Andy Gibb "Don't throw it all away (Our Love)", "An Everlasting Love" and "Love is Thicker than Water". Its all about the love...But, What can I say, who wasn't a sucker back then for a guy in a Huck-a-poo shirt and Jordache jeans? This was back in the day when we girls got to admire the guys chassies for a change, their jeans were so tight. Now the poor darlings have to settle with seeing guys' boxer bands while old droopy drawers walks away. Yum.
It's 1978 and Rock is alive, just barely, with The Stones and "Miss You", Patti Smith "Because The Night", Warren Zevon's infamous "Werewolves of London",The Cars "Just What I needed" and Bruce Springsteens "Darkness on the Edge of Town". And the edge is pretty much where we are at this point.
Of course if you need a laugh you can always pick up Steve Martins "Wild and Crazy Guy" album.
There are other hits of course, sure you want to hear them? We had Debby Boone's You Light Up my Life, which was played so often I heard some people actually hurled themselves out of their second story suburban homes just to get the hell away from it. I am sure it you checked it is historic for being the most over played song in history. And yes, it was actually a hit. Go figure...
Billy Joel says he loves you "Just the way You are" and he gets almost as much play as Debby's song. The Wings are still out there with "With a little luck" and I think that's why...Barry Manilow "Can't Smile without you" and thats true because he is smiling all the way to the bank...Peter Brown says "Dance WIth Me", Meatloaf thinks "Two outta Three Ain't Bad" and Donna Summer the quintessential Queen of Disco says its the "Last Dance" but that's a lie. Queen continues to give us royal hits and Kansas tries to tell us all we are is "Dust In the Wind". And quite frankly, at this point, that is how we feel.
The first Rap song released on a major label was in 1979 by The Sugar Hill Gang,"Rappers Delight". Music was going to take a turn and not in a happy musical way, more in an angry, in your face bitch slap way. Although they insist it is a form of music, rap sounds more like really opinionated guys bitching about their life to a heavy, consistent, holy christ am I bored, beat. If we thought DJ's were big for disco that is only because we had no idea how huge they were going to become to Hip-Hop. Kurtis Blow the first rapper signed to a major label, was managed by Russell Simmons who would later be known as the Godfather of Hip Hop. Don't get me wrong, 1978/79 wasn't when Rap/Hip Hop was born, it was around a long long time before that, it is just that no one had really marketed it prior. Russell saw an opportunity to bring it to the mainstream. Russell's a nice guy (His daugher Ming Lee had her first play date at my house with my son Jadin), but that wasn't going to change my opinion of the "music" he represented. I still can't stand to listen to it.
In any case, 1979 was a dismal year for music. Great rock albums were few and far between. The country was becoming disenchanted with radio, by the early 80's it would be so bad that radio would have to re-vamp itself and it would, with popular radio morning shows. Music would take a back seat to comedy which if Disco were Queen than Comedy was King.
*Just a little note: There were tons of artists I did not cover in this little diddy, it was long enough as it is, I highlighted just some of the hits that were popular each year to show the change in music.