All right, I know, who cares?!? But it is a Friday night, I just got done watching a SNL rerun from 1977, and the thought came to mind. Mind you (pun), the particular episode had Leon Redbone as its musical artist and I think he certainly did not typify the 70s. But then I thought of Wendy O. Wiliams, lead singer of The Plasmatics, and the debate was on.
Early 70s music was actually pretty good with groups like Crosby Stills Nash & Young, Santana, Blood Sweat & Tears, headling. But there was also The Archies (Yuck!), the Bee Gees, Abba, and Barry Manilow. The 70s were closed out with Disco music which supposedly died in 1979 in spite of New Yorkers trying to keep it alive for the next decade.
In its defense, the 70s also produced Elvis Costello, Pink Floyd, Aerosmith, most of the great punk rockers, the B-52s, Talking Heads, and the Clash. I loved those groups, still do. There is truly a timelessness about their music.
The 80s produced grunge rock, which for me a hard rocker, was difficult to understand. While people were raving about Def Leppard, I was saying, “really?” It was also the era of Boy George. His music was a little fruity for me. Then there were The Go Go’s, the water skiing girl group. Lots of glitz, not a lot of talent, but they sold a lot.
But the 80s also produced Pat Benatar, Blondie, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Billy Idol, Heart, the Eurythmics, and The Pretenders. Great rock by Van Halen, INXS, Joan Jett, and Joe Jackson. It was also the beginning of Rap music, which, although I do not care for it, I look at it like Blue Grass, I don’t understand either and that is my shortcoming, not the music’s. I bring up Rap because I really thought it would run its course by the mid-90s. Obviously I was seriously wrong.
I think the biggest turn-off of the 1970s is how it was so totally taken over by Disco. Now at the time, I liked Disco, I admit it. But when it was done, so was I! The first time I heard Punk Rock I loved it. It was edgy which is something I’ve always liked in music. But it also harkened back to the Bob Dylan style protest music of the 60s. That was music that made a difference, I thought, and I believed the same to be true of Punk. Eddie Van Halen brought back hard rock and that was terrific. But there was the mid-80s gap when Punk was fading and the hard rockers had yet to take hold. It seemed like only Dire Straits and Duran Duran were defending us against the likes of Wham, A-ha, Huey Lewis, and Billy Ocean. Those groups I dislike seemed to produce music that was nice to hear for about a week. Then it got overplayed which made you want to turn it off. But even hearing it again after years, it just does not seem to cut it. It doesn’t have staying power.
Staying power is like the open rip of ZZ Top’s “La Grange ”, Edgar Winter’s “Frankenstein” and Norman Greenbaum’s ”Spirit in the Sky.” Those openings draw you in and keep you. There is not a bad song on Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon” album. Anything done by Steely Dan, Blood Sweat & Tears, and Santana seem to survive the test of time. Eric Clapton, who actually started in the mid-60s, re-invented himself in the 2000s when he brought out his album “Me and Mr. Johnson” where he played Robert Johnson’s blues songs from the 193os. One of the cuts made it to the top of the pop charts!
I bring up some of these groups because they spanned the 70s and the 80s, and you cannot tie them to any single decade. Mark Knopfler, of the 80s Dire Straits, went off on his own in the 2000s and continued to succeed. That means when I am considering throwing the 70s under the bus as the worst decade I have to consider that these great groups started there. Others started in the 60s, the Rolling Stones, for example, and are still going today. Do I dismiss them from 70s consideration?
All that said, I am still going to throw the 70s under the bus. There was just too much sugary, air-headed music to ignore. The 80s did have its share but I feel like it was to a lesser extent. The 80s also had a lot of really good female artists who held things up, like Patty Smyth, Pat Benatar, Sinead O’Connor, Stevie, Nicks, Kate Bush, Rickie Lee Jones, and Melissa Etheridge. The 70s lacked for such artists of either gender so my vote makes 70s music as considerably worse than the 80s.