"Skyrockets in Flight, Afternoon Delight!"
A Seventies Music Overview
by Seth Maxwell
It's the mid seventies. I'm being beat-up in the back of the school bus to
the music of "More, More, More" by the Andrea True Connection that's blaring
on the bus's AM radio. It segues into "Couldn't Get it Right" by the Climax
Blues Band. The beating gets worse. I'm caught in a generation built on the
ashes of the cultural revolution of the sixties, and I don't exactly feel
"free as a bird, now."
From macrame to EST, the seventies put the sixties up for sale. Like a
time-traveling monster, the music of the seventies reared its ugly head back
in time, grabbing the whole generation of the sixties, scooping up the
goodies, tagging it, labeling it, pricing it, and putting it up for sale in
malls all across the country. It was the era of hard rock. A whole new
generation had just arrived on the scene, eager for something. Something that
could help them ignore the ongoing Vietnam war, the free love they missed in
the sixties, the energy crisis, Watergate, and that there really wasn't
anything better to do then to just kick back, light that doobie, and kick out
With a lot of the teen and post-teen-scene being zoned out on pot and ludes
most of the time, it was hard to find cultural heroes to look up to... but
not that hard because the new cultural heroes were blasting out of the JBL's
on your Pioneer stereo a far road from baseball, hot-dogs, apple pie and
Chevrolet. From the KISS Army to Queen, a whole new set of monarchs was
emerging, conquering the boundaries of "What do you want to be when you grow
up?" Everybody wanted to be a Rock God. Nobody wanted to be president -- what
Within the music culture of the seventies, there was a big difference in the
types of music that were being put out over the air waves. That difference
was quickly noticed by listening to what was being played on the AM and FM
dials. AM was kid's stuff, while FM, (although a little more adult), was
teen-scene a rama.
"Light Rock" was the standard for AM, playing songs like "Cat's in the
Cradle," to WAR's "Why Cant We be Friends." It was the stuff you listened to
on your way to elementary school, featuring hit songs by artists you never
heard of -- like "Seasons in the Sun" by Terry Jacks, "Shannon," a song about
some run away puppy dog ("Shannon has gone away, and drifted out to sea...")
by Henry Gross, and "Afternoon Delight" by the Starland Vocal Band. It was a
world of pseudo-psychedelia bubble gum. Although you probably had the 45's,
you never bought the albums.
Now take that hit off your first joint... pssssssssspt! Mornin' champ! Your
45's look like little Frisbees and your transistor radio doesn't look
waterproof. Welcome to "high" school. Your graduation presents include a red
portable AM/FM 8-track player, a three-foot bong, and Aerosmith's Toys in
the Attic. ABBA doesn't sound as good after twenty bong-hits (although some
people say they sound better...)
FM, Dolby stereo, and "Hard Rock" were the sounds that made Barry Manilow's
beagle run into traffic with his tail between his legs. While Neil Sedaka was
singing "Bad Blood," Gene Simmons drooled it. FM made radio more fun to
listen to. Sure, your parents could put up with the Carpenters "Close To
You," but this was the stuff they really hated. Smoking a joint was like the
background music for Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Robin Trower and Black
Sabbath. You knew you were really stoned when you closed your eyes and saw
Frampton come alive and understood every word Yes was saying.
The music included everyone. Not getting laid and missing all the
free-love(TM) in the sixties was a big drag, but in the meantime, you could
always fight to some good drinking music, or should I say drink to some good
fighting music: Lynyrd Skynyrd, Black Oak Arkansas and Molly Hatchet -- or
you could "mellow down easy" ala ZZ Top or the Allman Brothers.
The only thing better than FM was going to a live rock concert. They were the
seventies' answer to the sixties' be-ins. It was like a traveling Woodstock,
more of an event than a show or a recital. It was something everybody looked
forward to (along with hanging out with millions of people you've never met
and partying each other's brains out). It didn't matter if you were cool or a
total geek -- everyone hung out together.
First scoring your tickets, then your weed, rock concerts were an excuse to
get real fucked up. The smoke from the tons of weed being toked was enough to
get anyone stoned. Your only worry was being searched and arrested for
possession of marijuana or being busted at the front door for sneaking in a
bottle. It was always worth the risk. Safely inside, you could puke Boone's
Farm to your heart's content. It wouldn't even matter who was on tour; Ted
Nugent, Nazareth, Steve Miller or Bad Company, they were just the background
music for Bacchanalia inside the stadium.
With humongous stage shows duking it out for the largest arena attendance (or
the tallest platforms), mega-rock shows like Cal Jam I or II, were a
teenager's waste-land; it was way cooler than Disneyland. Who cared about
the Matterhorn, when you could see the Abominable Snowman gutting and
disemboweling people at an Alice Cooper Show. Treasure Island was completely
for sissies when you could see KISS live and the EPCOT Center was lame
compared to Yes's round, revolving stage.
Concerts were a big juvenile delinquent playground for their stoned out
inmates. With disco balls casting huge circles of light and spotlights
sweeping over the audience, it was a blast. Blue Oyster Cult had some topless
babe on the back of a Harley, as well as a giant Godzilla blowing fog from
the side of the stage. I saw Alice Cooper rip off the heads of baby dolls and
grab his victims right out of the audience. I still think it was staged.
KISS had their risers for each band member which raised them miles above the
stage making them great Frisbee targets, while Gene Simmons spat fire and
drooled blood during "God of Thunder." They were one of the most intense
bands to see live if you didn't lose your lunch. If you weren't too fucked up
after the show, you could wander around the arena looking for left-over bags
of weed, or the last swallow off a warm bottle of Southern Comfort (ugh,
sometimes it's actually hard to re-live these memories...). Anyway it was a
lot more fun than watching them on TV.
This list of the triumphs and errors of the 70's could go on forever. Some
people still curse the day it was hatched, cringing when they hear the first
notes of "Big ol' Jet Airliner." Whatever you think of the music of the
seventies, as teenagers we embraced the music that surrounded us partly
because we had no choice of when we were born. Of course everybody made the
best of it, we still do. Mass gatherings at rock concerts always bring out a
feeling of belonging through a sense of tribalism. For many of us the
seventies provided a wide range of music that created a sense of balance
which helped us to escape our middle class disillusionment and find our own
nirvana. It allowed us to move ahead like a rolling stone crashing onto a
stairway to heaven.
- from Dazed and Confused (St. Martin's Press, New York, 1993).
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