Tom Hoskins explains how the 1970’s recipe of punk, soul and reggae provided an eclectic soundtrack to a background of political turbulence
No decade has been better for music than the ‘70s. Not even the ‘60s with The Beatles, Hendrix, the Stones, the Velvet Underground, Dylan. Yes, they released some of the greatest albums, but in the ‘70s, sparked by the preceding decade, some of these bands peaked (Exile on Main St.) – as well as others from the 60s’ R&B, soul and funk scene (Sly and the Family Stone’s There’s A Riot Goin’ On) – and music was stretched in even more directions.
The diversity, quantity (two things in which the ‘60s were lacking) and quality of music produced was staggering. I don’t say this purely because Bowie released 11 albums in these years (although this helps prove my point), but because the greatest albums of many more genres were without a doubt created in the ‘70s. This can in part be put down to it being the first full decade of the ‘album’ as a common concept, which provided great scope for experimental pretension to come to the fore brilliantly.
This was demonstrated most famously by Pink Floyd’s 1973 Dark Side Of The Moon, an album which (together with the similarly experimental Ege Bamyasi from German rockers Can) , redrew the boundaries as to what a rock and roll album could be, and has since become iconic enough that its light passing-through-a-prism album artwork adorns t-shirts the world over. The growth of the album concept also allowed for more immediate pop music to test a form of music more rewarding than the single as Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours demonstrated in majestic fashion.
The pathetic political situation in England and the Vietnam war helped provide a perfect backdrop for artistic productivity too. As Graceland showed in ‘86, political harmony and good music aren’t the best of friends, and so music gained a social voice too (Entertainment!). This political commentary combined spectacularly with music: London Calling, which was unleashed upon the world at the tail-end of the decade, incorporated elements of ska, reggae, funk and soul into its punk-rock frame to bolster its social statements. As well outlining how The Clash were more than just a punk band, the sheer variety of sounds on London Calling demonstrated the huge variety of music that was now being made in what was increasingly in the 1970s a multi-cultural Britain. The Clash were clearly influenced, for instance, by their ska contemporaries, The Specials.
Across the Atlantic, reggae music gathered real momentum on the back of the success of Bob Marley and The Wailers. Marley’s positon as the figurehead for reggae in the 1970s, and the music that he put out in the decade, has led him to be become synonmous with the genre and one of the most iconic musicians of all time.
1970s’ success of the Moog, an early commercially sold synthesizer, combined with the help of some rather talented individuals (including the “prophet of a sapphire soul”), heralded the start of electronic music as we know (and don’t know) it today (Low, Trans-Europe Express). People showed artistic foresight and were often criticized for it (Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew took jazz into unforeseen ground). And amongst all this, some defended the argument that simple is best (Blue; Pink Moon; Songs of Love and Hate).
People will always claim that the music of the ‘60s is unbeatable. However, the ‘70s showed how much more music still had to offer and enforced that diversity does not have to come at the expense of quality.