A Time of Change
The first five years of the 1970s was a time of change, in music and world news. For most young people, music was a way of life. They lived, breathed, ate and slept it, but they were also aware of the changes in their world. They found ways to take music with them wherever they went, utilizing the boombox and battery operated 8-track tape decks. The latest news on Vietnam and other issues of the day. They participated when it was a cause in which they had a passionate interest.
Time seemed infinite in those years. None of us ever thought we’d be older than 30, because after all, nobody over 30 was to be trusted. So we went our way, protesting whatever we felt strongly enough to protest and grooving to the music when we didn’t. Our fashion styles were big hair, platform shoes, bell bottom pants, hipster pants and as little as legally possible in skirts. Sometimes not even the legally part!
In the late 60s and the beginning of the 70s we were “grooving” to a mix of pop and rock. Folk music from the 60s was on its way out. It’s reasonable that it was the perfect time for someone to find a way to combine the two genres. Enter Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel, ushering in the decade of the 1970s with something called “folk rock.” They were fellow New Yorkers and childhood schoolmates and began a collaboration that produced “Bridge Over Troubled Water” a song that was destined to become a classic. Its easy going tune and symbolic lyrics put it smack in the lead of a music revolution. They went on to record such hits as “I Am A Rock” and “Sounds of Silence” fitting right in with what the music world wanted. They basked in the spotlight until their breakup in 1970. In other news, Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin, two of the most popular performers of the time died from drug related deaths. Four Kent State University students, part of a crowd protesting the United States involvement in the Vietnam war in Cambodia, were slain by National Guardsmen.
Other songs of the year were “American Woman” by The Guess Who, “Get Ready” by Rare Earth, “Band of Gold” by Freda Payne and “Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head” by B.J. Thomas. It must have been THE year for change in musical groups too, since the members of possibly the world’s most famous musical group The Beatles went their separate ways. George C. Scott won an Oscar for his role as General George S. Patton, but refused to accept the statuette, saying “”The whole thing is a goddamn meat parade. I don’t want any part of it.”
1971: Vietnam, Human Rights
The Vietnam war was at the forefront of issues in the news, along with Native American rights, and the lowering of the voting age to 18. Street demonstrations from all factions were a common occurrence. You were either “for” or “against” something in this year of change. But the music still caught our hearts and minds.
A song called “Joy to the World,” by a group known as Three Dog Night, was definitely not the hymn we sang in church at Christmas. As a matter of fact, it spoke of a bullfrog named Jeremiah who always had some “mighty fine wine” he shared with his friends. It was catchy, fit all our needs to party hearty after the demonstrations were done.
In 1971 we were involved in our own heartbreaks too. As Carole King‘s Grammy award winning, Album of the Year, Best Pop Vocal Performance, Female Record of the Year and Song of the Year put it, “It’s Too Late,” to a lover, when the relationship is coming to an end. She says, “something inside has died and I just can’t fake it.”
Which leads us into “How Can You Mend A Broken Heart?” from the storied BeeGees.
The BeeGees’ name was taken from The Brothers Gibb which included brothers Barry, Maurice and Robin. “Broken Heart” took off like a shot and shot the trio into the best years of their performing lives.
Another big hit, an issue oriented song, was “Indian Reservation” by Mark Lindsey and The Raiders. This was a time when the plight of our Native American brothers and sisters became paramount in the news. A rhythmic, drum filled song, it spoke of how the white man “took away our way of life, the tomahawk and the bowie knife,” “taught their English to our young,” and “Cherokee people, Cherokee tribe, so proud to live, so proud to die.”
The Osmonds sang “One bad apple won’t spoil the whole bunch, girl” and the song hit #1 on the charts in 1971 and stayed there for five weeks. Maybe we were looking for a diversion with bubble gum music, and in this song we found it. It was originally written for the Jackson 5 but J5 elected to record “ABC” instead, leaving the field open for the Osmonds.
1972 Olympic Records and Equal Rights
Our music this year seemed to be a combination of feeling good and feeling blue. Mark Spitz won a record 7 gold medals in the Summer Olympics in Munich, and then we fought for and won the enactment of the Equal Rights Amendment, providing for the equality of the sexes, a big victory for everyone. Many people believed the Equal Rights Amendment wasn’t necessary, but most women knew that it was. The situation comedy “Sanford and Son” starring Redd Foxx premiered on NBC. Heavyweight Champion Joe Frazier knocks out opponent Terry Daniels. President Richard Nixon orders development of a space shuttle program. The RMS Queen Elizabeth is destroyed by fire in the harbor at Hong Kong. On Bloody Sunday, January 30th, the British Army kills 14 unarmed nationalist civil rights marchers in Northern Ireland. The last draft drawing in the United States is held on February 2nd, during the last months of the Vietnam War. Although their numbers are drawn, they are never conscripted for service. U.S. Airlines begin mandatory inspection of passengers and their baggage.
Songs of the year include:
Roberta Flack sang “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face,” a slow, sensual love song that was first featured in a 1971 movie called “Play Misty For Me,” starring Clint Eastwood. Flack actually recorded the song in 1969, but it reached #1 on the charts in 1972.
Irishman Gilbert O’ Sullivan landed on the charts with “Alone Again Naturally.” It was said to be an autobiographical song, musical commentary on his life, although he denied it. It was on the top of the charts for 6 weeks.
Harry Nilsson, using only his last name as his performing name, hit it big with “Without You,” winning a second Grammy for it. The first Grammy was for “Everybody’s Talkin,” which was featured in the movie “Midnight Cowboy.”
Sammy Davis Jr. gave us all a sweet treat, with “The Candy Man,” and its descriptive phrase, “you can even eat the dishes!”
Probably one of the most famous songs of the era was “American Pie,” by Don McLean, written in his sadness about the deaths of entertainers Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and J.P. Richardson (The Big Bopper) in a plane crash in 1959. It’s the song with the longest running time (8.36 minutes) to ever reach the lofty height of #1 and stay there for four weeks. Most radio stations only played a shortened version. Even now, just about every American knows these words, “Bye bye, Miss American Pie, drove my Chevy to the levy, but the levy was dry.”
1973: Shades Of Things To Come
The great horse Secretariat became horseracing’s first Triple Crown winner in 28 years, winning The Kentucky Derby, the Preakness and the Belmont Stakes. The United States withdrew its troops from Vietnam and ended the war. The World Trade Center became the tallest building in the world for a time. Music was rocking with our feelings about living and loving.
Tony Orlando and Dawn had a number of musical successes in their career, but the one that broke the tops of the chart was appropriate for its time. “Tie A Yellow Ribbon Round the Old Oak Tree,” spoke of the longing of a man who hoped he’d still be welcomed and loved, after three long years away. Will she still want him? If the answer is yes she should tie a yellow ribbon round the old oak tree; if the answer is no, and he’ll “stay on the bus, forget about us, put the blame on me, if I don’t see a yellow ribbon round the old oak tree.” The assumption of course, was that he’d been away at war. With all the protests about Vietnam and the blame often put on the shoulders of the men fighting the war, he wasn’t sure she’d still want him. Obviously there were a few of those women who DID still want him, the song was a jackpot hit!
“Bad, Bad Leroy Brown,” a great hit by Jim Croce ruled the charts for a time in 1973. It was a fun tune about a bad man from the south side of Chicago> It also gave us a catch phrase “meaner than a junk yard dog,” which we used frequently.
Elton John, I believe there must be no one on earth who doesn’t know this performer. He and Bernie Taupin wrote a song together and in recording it, John had another in a long line of huge successes. “Crocodile Rock,” had a carnival-like sound to it, but spoke of the early days of rock ‘n roll. It was fun, racy and danceable, which suited us just fine.
Paul McCartney, on his own now without his band The Beatles, wrote this song about his first wife. It was included in an album recorded by his band Wings. It went to #1 and stayed there for three weeks. A romantic, loving song, it was one you could sing along with.
The great Marvin Gaye recorded a sexy, soulful song “Let’s Get It On,” which turned on all the women. This song was a great influence on many R&B artists. It became his most commercially successful Motown album of his career. It’s regarded by many critics as a milestone in soul music.
1974: Gas Shortage, Speed Limits
In 1974 we were moving along, but not very fast! Because of gasoline shortages, a speed limit of 55 miles per hour was imposed, as it was said to reduce the amount of gasoline used. Another American building, Sears Tower in Chicago, became the world’s tallest building. Our songs reflected nostalgia, and of course, love, love, love!
Barbra Streisand brought back memories of our lost love ( we all seem to have one) with her recording of “The Way We Were,” which won an Academy Award for Best Song from the movie of the same name starring Streisand and Robert Redford. It also won the Golden Globe Award for Best Song. It’s ranking switched back and forth from #1 to #2, trading places with “Love’s Theme,” Nostalgia was definitely the “in” thing.
Showing their ability to compete with other rock bands, Redbone, composed of Native Americans with their recording of “Come and Get Your Love,” on an album called Wovoka, but the song as a single went gold (1 million copies sold) and spent 18 weeks in the top 40 most played tunes. It rocked and we rocked with it.
A sad song that touched our hearts was Terry Jacks’ “Seasons in the Sun,” released during his divorce from his wife. It immediately topped the charts. Part of the lyrics were “Goodbye Michelle, it’s hard to die, when all the birds are singing in the sky. Now that the spring is in the air, with the flowers everywhere, I wish that we could both be there.” It was Jacks’ sole major hit in the United States, spending three weeks as #1 and remaining in the top 40 for many weeks.
Soul singer Al Wilson’s recording of “Show and Tell,” in contrast to his previous minor successes of covering other artists songs (Johnny Rivers “Poor Side of Town,” Credence Clearwater’s “Lodi,” for instance) went to the top of the charts.
“Love’s Theme,” created and conducted by the man with the sensual pillow talk voice, Barry White, had more of us falling in love with our current gal or guy than any statistics could have shown. That man had the most loving, sexy voice, mesmerizing anyone who heard it.