A few weeks back I posted an essay that looked back a the music of the 1970s and early 1980s that dealt with some of the historic context of the era as well as a bunch of videos and pictures of some of my favorite groups and their music. As I mentioned in that essay the time was somewhat tumultuous a lot of social unrest, economic crisis, terrorism, communist expansion, a lost war and political crisis culminating in the resignation of a President.
Padre Steve and the Abbess at Mission San Fernando Fall 1980
The time was also one where people were also attempting to return to some semblance of normalcy in the post Vietnam and Nixon era. The 1960s were a time of social revolution which impacted almost every area of life and a time where almost everything was reduced to some sort of “message.” By about 1973 the new younger generation which was entering high school and junior high school were less bent on activism and more on having fun as well as more inward discoveries. The 1970s were certainly not a return to “traditional values” although there was a recovery of nostalgia for the 1950s with the movies American Graffiti, Grease and the sitcom Happy Days. This desire to feel better was partly in reaction to the turbulence of the 60’s and the reality that things were not good in the 1970s and as a result my generation sought entertainment and diversions for the nearly endless litany of bad news. Much social change was still underway spurred on by the civil rights movement, the women’s rights movement and reproductive rights, the end of the draft and change in law which allowed 18 year olds to vote. Like the 1960s there was experimentation with drugs as well sex.
Fashions morphed from bell bottoms and t-shirts and long hair to double knit polyester, silk shirts, leisure suits and tight fitting designer jeans. Tie-dye gave way to earth tones which were followed by bright colors and finally in the early 80s leather and pastels. Classic styles began to return by the early 80’s “Preppy” was in, Oxford shirts, khakis and natural fibers such as cotton replaced the polyester double knits.
Movies too began to change films like Star Wars and Star Trek launched people into undreamed of worlds even as NASA worked on the Space Shuttle. Gritty films like Clint Eastwood’s Dirty Harry and Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky featured everymen who battled either crime or took on superior adversaries in the ring. On television a team of young comics launched a comedy franchise, Saturday Night Live which is still with us today and which spun off a generation of comics who have made their own impact on American entertainment. The musical returned in movies such as Grease and Xanadu while Disco rode the wave of Saturday Night Fever and country music returned with Urban Cowboy.
Here are some more of my favorites as well as some songs that helped make the 70’s and 80’s what they were. Enjoy.
Three Dog Night
Three Dog Night, Joy to the World This was a fun song that came out in the early 1970s and when I hear it I can still find me singing along.
Credence Clearwater Revival Credence was one of the great groups of the 60s and early 70’s, members such as John Foggarty would go on to successful solo careers.
The Carpenters Possible the most precise and skilled musical group of the late 60’s and the 70’s the Carpenters were middle America’s sweet hearts. Karen would die tragically from a heart attack induced in part due to her struggles with depression and subsequent Anorexia Nervosa.
Helen Reddy’s “I am Woman” become the anthem of the Women’s Rights movement
Helen Reddy: I am Woman My mom absolutely loved Helen Reddy while my dad hated “I am Woman.” She had quite a few other major hits through the 70’s and I saw her in concert in Stockton CA back in 78 or 79.
Paul McCartney and Wings: Band on the Run Paul McCartney was the most successful of the Beatles in his solo career. Wings was an outstanding group centered around McCartney and his beautiful wife Linda.
Elton John: Goodbye Yellow Brick Road Elton John had one of the most successful careers of any solo artist, his flashy clothes and wild glasses coupled with a high energy live performance made him a crowd favorite.
I Guess that’s Why they Call it the Blues
Ringo Starr: The Non No Song Ringo did not have the same success as either Paul or John Lennon but this song was fun to listen to on the school bus.
Abba: I do, I do I do Abba who broke into the international music scene in 1972 remained incredibly popular throughout the 70s and the 80s before disbanding in 1989. They survived and thrived through every major musical swing of the era.
Eagles: Already Gone The Eagles have been and always will be one of my favorite groups. Known for their stellar guitars and five part harmonies they have endured and their music has not been duplicated.
Dr Hook: Walk Right In One of the lesser known but still successful groups of the 70’s and 80’s this group teamed with poet and children’s writer Shel Silverstein to come up with some of the most unusual, quirky and funny songs of the era. Having a country rock style they regularly sung about sex, drugs and alcohol they morphed into a less controversial stance in the 1980s.
Years from Now
The Trammps: Disco Inferno Probably the group that had the signature Disco song, the Trammps were from Philadelphia.
Bee Gee’s: Tragedy While the Trammps may have produced the anthem of the era but the Bee Gees were the group that best personified the era with their harmonies and passion.
The Village People
The Village People: YMCA While the Bee Gees may have personified the music of hte era the Village People were iconic with thier signature costumes and appeal to the gay community and their crossover into the mainstream with hits such as Macho Man, YMCA and in the Navy.
In the Navy
Donna Summer: She Works Hard for the Money The beautiful Donna Summer would be the queen of Disco and transition to a more pop and R&B sound in the 80s.
The Cast of Grease
Travolta and Olivia in Grease: You’re the One that I Want The musical Grease starring Olivia Newton John and John Travolta had an appeal that spanned generations and was wildly popular.
Olivia Newton John and ELO: Xanadu The musical Xanadu was not a strong performer at the box office and was panned by most critics but birthed a host of top ten hits. It was notable for is choreography and costumes which place it solidly in the middle of the era.
Charlie Daniels Band: The Devil Went Down to Georgia As country music found a new appeal among younger people artists like Charlie Daniels careers took off crossing over to the pop charts from the country charts.
Willie Nelson: You Were Always on My Mind Possibly the most prolific of the country artists to cross over into the pop world was Willie Nelson who along with Waylon Jennings produced hit after hit and also had a solid social conscience.
A Young Barry Manilow
Barry Manilow: Mandy Barry Manilow was a one man hit machine in the 70’s and 80’s and while rockers, disco fans and others would scoff at his music he had an enduring appeal that spanned generations. I can remember many girls in high school who had their Mailow t-shirts and his songs wee always on the radio.
Weekend in New England
Boz Skaggs: Lido Shuffle Boz Skaggs had a unique sound and was hard to pin down but again was an artist who was solid throughout the era.
Stevie Wonder: I Just Called to Say I Love You: R&B singer Stevie Wonder was popular throughout the era and successfully crossed over to the pop charts with I Just Called to Say I Love You from the movie Woman in Red and his duet with Paul McCartney Ebony and Ivory.
Rod Stewart” Maggie May Rocker Rod Stewart lived on the wild side in the 70’s and 80’s but by the 90’s and 2000’s had transformed himself into a classic crooner.
Commodores: Brick House Lionel Ritchie and the Commodores from Motown we electric in the 70’s and Ritchie would cross over into a even more successful pop career in the late 70s beginning with the theme to the movie Endless Love.
Kermit the Frog with Blondie’s Debby Harry
Kermit the Frog and Debbie Harry: Rainbow Connection The Muppet Show led by Kermit the Frog featured a wide number of popular music artists who would ham it up often singing duets with Kermit of Miss Piggy. The Muppets had thier own top ten hit The Rainbow Connection from the Muppet Movie.
Debbie Harry of Blondie
Blondie: Heart of Glass Sexy former Playboy centerfold Debbie Harry and Blondie were a dominant influence on the rock and pop charts in the late 70s and 1980s.
Kim Carnes’ Betty Davis Eyes and Debbie Boone’s You Light up My Life would hold the Billboard Pop Single number one record of 9 weeks in the late 1970s. Carnes, a singer songwriter for Kenny Rogers launched a successful solo career of her own with the quirky Betty Davis Eyes while the wholesome Boone, the daughter of pop icon Pat Boone would gain fame with You Light up My Life
Debbie Boone: You Light up My Life
Air Supply: Lost in Love One of the bands from down under Air Supply would make its mark on the pop scene with a number of popular love songs.
Boston: More than a Feeling The rock group Boston and their driving rhythm and guitar solos would compete with other classic rock groups of the era and help define the “death before disco” movement.
Supertramp: Breakfast in America One of the more overlooked groups of the era was Supertramp.
Freddy Mercury and Queen
Queen: We are the Champions Freddy Mercury and Queen easily moved between the rock and pop charts with powerful ballads and rong songs with a quircky edge. Mercury’s vocals and stage presence were amazing.
Billy Idol: Dancing with Myself Billy Idol a rocker also helped symbolize some of the New Wave movement his ghoulish Dancing with Myself was an early hit on MTV.
Katrina and the Waves: Walking on Sunshine Another 80s group with lasting appeal was Katrina and the Waves.
The Bangles: Manic Monday The Girl Group The Bangles had a number of hits in the 80s.
Madonna: Lucky Star Pop legend Madonna broke into the music scene in this era and really until recently has never left.
Kenny Loggins: Danger Zone Kenny Loggins solo career really took off with the movie Top Gun
Billy Joel: Uptown Girl Billy Joel was another solo artist with hit after hit in the 70s and 80s.
AC/DC: You Shook Me All Night Long AC/DC never failed to shock but produced some of the most enduring, if not occasionally controversial hits of the era and still have a large following today.
Berlin: Take My Breath Away Berlin produced a large number of sultry hits but it was Take My Breath Away from Top Gun put them on most people’s radar.
Well, they were interesting times and despite everything I still enjoy the music of these groups. Diverse and unpredictable as to what would find its way onto different charts the artists of the 70’s and 80s and their music is still popular today.