(and for while you read this)
My father once told me that the two best songs from the two best bands to ever exist were Pink Floyd's Wish You Were Here and Stairway to Heaven by Led Zeppelin. My entire life thus far, I've lived with this knowledge and to this day, I stand by the idea that this is indeed true. I haven't dared choose one over the other or have them compete. Instead, I have chosen to believe my father that these two songs are, in fact, equal timeless masterpieces.
It's rather difficult when considering the time period that these songs were released, because there were loads of albums with all types of sounds coming out. Really smashing music in all kinds of genres, many of which we can recognize and hum along to while sitting in some retro cafe in 2017. So how was my father able to narrow it down to these two songs, when he was alive in a time bursting with musical vitality?
I'm going to try to put myself in his shoes...
So, it's 1970 in communist Poland and the youth - my parents being part of them - are huddled around a record player, waiting to listen to whatever vinyl somebody was lucky enough to get shipped overseas from the creative minds in Laurel Canyon. Perhaps a beaten and scratched Neil Young record? Scratches and all, it will do.
The Beatles have broken up and not long after this, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and Jim Morrison die at the ripe ages of 27, becoming the newest and most noted members of the infamous "27 Club".
With the deaths and disbanding of the driven talent of the 60's, psychedelic rock begins to fade out and transition into different varieties of rock, leaving an ambiguity for musicians altogether. From the outrageous and decorated performances of David Bowie, exhibiting the style of rock known as "Glam Rock", to the soulful "Soft Rock" ballads of Elton John, or the long, progressive, and instrumentally showcased songs of Queen (though, subjectively, I see Queen as their own genre of music entirely).
Disco and funk music became outrageously popular, as the youth ventured into discotheques and nightclubs and stayed up all night boogying to the Bee Gee's. The sweet, melodic voices of Carole King and Don McClean filled stages across the country, while families at home were able to view the spectacles of the Jackson 5 on the Ed Sullivan Show right on their TVs.
Musical venues were expanding from small bars and clubs to much larger stages in sports arenas. It was in this period that we were graced bands and artists who left their mark in the history of music, whether they knew it at the time or not. I'll highlight some musical genres of this decade below:
Soft Rock & Singers/Songwriters
Notable Examples: Joni Mitchell, Elton John, Jim Croce, Carole King, Fleetwood Mac, America, Cat Stevens
Originating in southern California, this genre of rock relied on the meaningful lyrics of the song and the simplicity in a smooth melody, and not as much of the aggressive sounds as heard in....
Hard Rock & Progressive Rock
Notable Examples: Led Zeppelin, Rush, Deep Purple, Eric Clapton, Pink Floyd, Queen, Black Sabbath, The Who
Not to say, the lyrics weren't as meaningful, it's just that with this genre, you're more likely to have a long guitar solo as the climax of the song. An instrumental dominance was precious in this genre, as well as the distorted, harsh, and quite honestly, striking voices of the lead vocalists.
Glam Rock, Punk Rock & New Wave
Notable Examples: David Bowie, Iggy Pop, The Ramones, Sex Pistols, Blondie, Talking Heads
The best way to learn about glam rock is by watching a video of one of David Bowie's live performances. It's a theatrical style of rock, where all ideas of gender roles are twisted and the performance depends very much on the outfit (think crazy hair and make-up, platform shoes, maybe glitter) and dance moves. Punk rock experiments with rebellion - the songs are typically short, fast-paced with harsh vocals and lyrics with political intention. New Wave, alternatively, is a style of rock that carries elements of mod, disco and funk. It has a pop music feel to it and grew in popularity well into the 80's. (But we're not there yet.)
Pop & Country
Notable Examples: Jackson 5, ABBA, Neil Diamond, Cher, The Osmonds, Dolly Parton, Linda Ronstadt, Crosby, Stills and Nash, The Eagles,
The definition of pop music is relatively vague, especially in the 70's as songs in this genre often carried elements of other styles of music. To keep it simple, it basically describes music that is popular, uplifting and with a good beat. Country music derives from the southern parts of America, with roots lying in the genres of folk and blues music. Songs usually depict a story and are represented in a musical ballad, typically instruments of strings and with vocal harmonies.
Disco, Funk & Soul
Notable Examples: Bee Gees, James Brown, Donna Summer, Ohio Players, Stevie Wonder, Bill Withers, Marvin Gaye
Disco is the sort of music that goes deep inside your body and soul and summons the rhythm and movement from within. You can't help it, but when listening to this dance music, often with a syncopated electric base, your instincts will kick in to start moving. Funk is an African-American based genre, with a groovy, steady, and slower rhythm to dance to. Aurally, it can be very similar to disco, and also to soul, which is also a very rhythmic genre, but carries more influences of gospel music, R&B and jazz. Hand claps, catchy rhythms and a "call and response" dialogue within the song is quite common in soul music.
I'm grateful to this decade for the many musical marvels and types of sounds that were experimented with at the time. It's been monumental for the shape music has taken today. As with fashion and decor, music also tends to follow recycled trends. For instance, the newest album by Childish Gambino that I raved about a few weeks ago - Donald Glover's style seems vaguely influenced by the soul and funk sounds of the 1970's. When speaking with my parents about their favourite artists from the 70's, I couldn't help but feel major envy over how lucky they were to be alive when music was so awesome. But they insisted that good music still continues to be made. I think this is true, but it should be noted that all of the best musical artists of today's day and age honour the musicians of the past and look to them for inspiration, because they truly were legends.