Music

Why the 70s were the best decade for music

The 70s get a bad rap. Dubbed "the decade that taste forgot" they sit uncomfortably between the swinging 60s and the flash, brash 80s as a period of unfeasible flares and electricity blackouts - bleak, with a dubious concept of trouser volume.

The 60s brought us Beatlemania and the global pop explosion, the 80s saw the underground infiltrate the mainstream with the rise of hip hop and the house music phenomenon, but what did the 70s ever do for music? Well, more than those two for a start.

The greatest British pop star ever

That's one thing the 70s have got going for them. Glam rock looks like a genre never to be revived (although place your bets for later this year), but it churned out some bona fide stars in T.Rex's Marc Bolan - barely off the top spot during 1971 and 1972 - Slade's proto-Liam Gallagher Noddy Holder and, um, Gary Glitter.

But the best thing glam ever did was give David Bowie a deserved wider audience. The Dame had spent the late 60s and turn of the decade searching for something that suited him - and suddenly the answer was staring him in the face: a grotesque orange mullet and sparkly tights.

He, and we, never looked back, as Bowie spent the decade in a cycle of perpetual reinvention, releasing some of the greatest albums of all time and kickstarting - ooh - at least five new musical genres. He even let John Lennon guest on Fame to show him how real pop stars did it now.

Fun fun fun on the Autobahn

OK, you say, the 70s might have had some glittering stars but what about innovation? Surely the 60s invented the new pop tricks and the 80s had all the technological advances? Well, granted, the 60s gave birth to pop as we know it, but all that 80s synth pop, electro, house, techno? Kraftwerk invented that. And they turned up in the early 70s.

Florian Schneider, Ralf Hutter and the rest came out of Dusseldorf like four bank clerks on bikes and had released a clutch of classic synth-led electronic albums before The Human League and Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark had even tried to plug in a piano.

Tracks like Autobahn and Trans-Europe Express have been sampled to death - for a start - but in their very essence they provide the plush bed for all electronic music that followed.

That pop SOS got answered

While The Beatles ruled the 60s and inadvertently set a template for pop songwriting, it was ABBA in the 70s who provided the tools for the chart music of the decades to come. Inauspicious Eurovision origins were swiftly put aside as Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus penned surefire (and actual) number ones that swamped the charts, became ridiculed, then finally garnered the respect that was their due.

Everyone can sing ABBA's entire back catalogue. That's the power of the hook.

Ahhhhh… freak out!

Much-maligned at the time but still bought by almost everyone, disco was the genre that ruled the second half of the 70s. Sure, there was punk - we'll come to that in a minute - but disco knew that pop's soul belonged on the dancefloor, and Chic were its regal exponents.

Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards wrote of impossible glamour and daring glitz, summing up New York superclub Studio 54 and offering a taste of city sophistication to kids the world over. Through Chic and Sister Sledge - and later Carly Simon and even Bowie - they invented dance music that still defines its genre 35 years later.

Even putting Chic to one side, the disco era also gave us Donna Summer and revitalised the Bee Gees. This has been a sad year for disco doyens, but Nile Rodgers soldiers on.

More songs about buildings and food

And then there's punk, the fierce wave that washed boring old rock away (although let's not forget Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin, victims of punk but leading lights of the 70s' golden age of rock). The short sharp shock of the Sex Pistols and their ilk was a thrill, but what came next set a tone for the 80s.

New wave, post-punk, whatever you want to call it - for better or worse, that's where indie came from, and the dressed-down 'chic' of Talking Heads was its defining image. David Byrne's crew, usually in harness with production guru Brian Eno, created a sparse, angular music that dismissed embellishment but proved anyone could make glorious, forward-thinking rock music without the overwhelming stench of ego or a massive budget.

That kind of purity of direction is what made the 70s great, as pop's building blocks, fired in the 60s, were put to innovative use. We've never had it so good.

Can it be true? Were the 70s the best decade for music? Let us know what you think on Twitter @MusicOnVM.

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15-06-2012