It is now time to visit the period of tremendous growth and popularity of the music business: the mid to late 1970s. Previous albums have come from the years where bands like the Beatles, the Beach Boys, and the Stones ruled the industry. Finally we can come full circle with the period in everyone’s collection that filled the shelves up with great music. Several of these bands and artists had their starts in the sixties but made their best work during the seventies. The names of some of them are as famous as they can be, and the works they left us are legendary to say the least. Some of the best selling albums of all time come from this period.
Let’s start with a band that could have been listed earlier but was saved for its most known lp, Pink Floyd. My first experience with Floyd’s music came at the movie theater seeing the documentary, “Pink Floyd: Live at Pompeii”. During the film the band members were interviewed periodically about the ongoing recording of their new album, released in 1973, “Dark Side of the Moon”. It would not have been imagined at that time how this collection would sell, becoming one of the all-time greatest sellers in history. The music, much of it breaking traditional recording methods, became fast popular on FM radio stations. Cuts like “Us and Them” and “Money” were heard everywhere. Floyd’s earlier works began selling as well.
As the decade of the seventies progressed, several other bands with their starts in the sixties were finally hitting their strides. One such band was founded by Jimmy Page, formerly of the Yardbirds, and the name of the band came about somewhat by accident. Page inherited the name of the Yardbirds and thought of naming the new band “The New Yardbirds”, but a statement was made about the music being heavy, as the term Led Zeppelin came about. The first two albums were typical rock and blues combined, but something changed with the release of their third album. More artistic and acoustic flavoring was mixed into the selections, putting the album into a crossroads of sorts. When their fourth album came about, their sound was becoming recognized as revolutionary. The untitled album, sometimes referred to as “Zoso” or the Runes album, served its listeners well, especially with the popular anthem, “Stairway to Heaven”. During the 1970s Zeppelin became one of the big legends of rock, until the untimely death of drummer John Bonham. Following albums on the most part sold well, and their concerts were mainstays in every major city.
In the same year of the “Dark Side of the Moon” release another group produced their greatest contribution, the Doobie Brothers, with the album “The Captain and Me”. Several of the songs on that lp became hits on the 45 rpm singles list, including “China Grove” and “Long Train Running”, which pushed the album onto the best seller list. Although the Doobies would sell well with their next release, the band would go through dramatic personal changes later in the decade, even altering their sound. The Captain album contains arguably some of their best work.
Another band that would become legendary was the Eagles. With a few critical changes in personnel the Eagles kept churning out hits through the early part of the seventies. As the band recruited well known guitarist Joe Walsh, a turning point was reached as the band recorded what would be considered its greatest album, “Hotel California”. In fact, the title cut was so overplayed on the radio at times it was sometimes an annoyance. Although the Eagles would only cut one more album before its fallout due to personal conflicts, they had left their mark.
Suddenly out of the blue, and a basement studio, came the band Boston with their self-named debut album. Theirs was a powerful distorted sound that caught everyone by surprise, and some of the tunes off of that lp became radio staples. It was talked about by many fans that the recording had been done in the basement of its founder and leader, Tom Scholz. Even though the band did not stay together for as long as some of the other legendary bands, their first album is a masterpiece. The popularity of such tunes as “Long Time” has been maintained on networks and radios everywhere.
Also in the same period came a few works of art that are still rated high in collectors’ lists. Fleetwood Mac has reached across decades to attract fans, and in the mid-seventies they reached their peak. With the two albums, the self titled “Fleetwood Mac” and their followup “Rumours”, they proved their worth, with the triple writing of Christie McVie, Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham. The band would stay together for some more great albums, but these two are on top of the list.
Progressive Rock continued to gain interest across the markets, and the benefactor of this strain of music was the group Genesis. Later on a pop music factory with Phil Collins singing, originally the band was fronted by writer and vocalist/flutist Peter Gabriel. His mark on the band reached its ultimate potential with the release of the double album, “The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway”. The artistic achievements reached at this point somehow made Gabriel feel he had reached his end with the group, and so soon after he went solo. The band then took nearly two years to choose a vocalist, finally settling with Collins, the drummer. The Lamb is a must for fans of progressive rock.
In 1974 another hard-rocking band made its mark, Queen. Although they would have tones of radio hits, their great breakthrough into the mainstream came with their second album, “Queen II”. Today their pounding harmonies in vocals and guitar leads are still heard on the airwaves, and the premature death of their singer Freddie Mercury did not stop their popularity. Several of their songs are still played today, but this second lp is the one that pushed them into the limelight.
One of the top listening albums of the mid to late seventies was recorded by a musician of, at that time, obscure origins. Boz Scaggs. Formerly a guitarist in the Steve Miller Band, the release of “Silk Degrees” pressed Scaggs into the market, selling well and being played on every college campus and school in the country. The hits “Lowdown” and “Lido Shuffle” were radio favorites, but also critically acclaimed were its jazz and blues influenced side tunes, including “Harbour Lights” and “We’re All Alone”. I can still recall hearing the entire album being played everywhere you went on and off campus.
Another of the bands with fantastic staying power from this era was Earth, Wind and Fire. Several of their lps are solid to have in any collection, but the real work of musical genius was “That’s The Way of the World”, an album with one of their greatest hits, “Shining Star”. The title cut is also a great tune, hitting bright and beautiful harmonies in both vocals and instrumentation. This album was rumored to have been for a soundtrack, but EWF fortunately pressed it out in the open. It is one of my favorites.
Stevie Wonder had also been around since the 1960s, and his sound was identifiable on the radio. He had scored many hits up to this point, but his true work of achievement came with “Songs In the Key of Life” released in 1976. Several of the songs made hits on radio play, and the double album sold quite well on its own. Wonder would go on to make several similar twin bills, but this one is a collectors’ dream.
Several other bands have to get mention here before finishing. Briefly, the list can and should include these pieces of work, such as Heart’s “Dog and Butterfly”, J Geils’ “Bloodshot”, of course “Frampton Comes Alive!”, ELO’s “New World Record”, and Steely Dan’s “Aja”. We can’t forget Aerosmith’s self titled album, and Bob Seger’s “Night Moves”. Another great edition has to Tom Petty’s “Damn the Torpedoes”. There are others that could be included but room and space is limiting us to not go overboard.
Finally, to come full circle we would need to list Eric Clapton’s work during this period, with the influence he has had on the rock industry over the past five decades. In the early 1970s Clapton was fighting inner demons from drug use and he decided to become a recluse for a while. When finally beating his dependencies he came head first into the music industry with his masterpiece, “461 Ocean Boulevard”. He had set the bar high for guitarists but this lp set it even higher. His other work of art during this period was in 1977, titled “Slowhand”. The fact that he is still playing and touring is an achievement in and of itself. He will probably be playing well into the next decade as well, bringing his music around from his Yardbirds and Cream days, to his solo work of the past thirty or forty years.
Any collection of music will undoubtedly leave out some great works, such as those by such bands as the Police, the Cars, and others, but their music moved rock and pop out to the eighties and nineties in a different direction and a different sound. Music is still evolving, still changing. Perhaps someone or some day we can explore the “must have” albums of the more current eras, but that can come later. There are some lps that were left off this list, but only because any collection would have to limit itself to size and shape. Bands from the sixties such as the Moody Blues and the Strawbs did great work, but they are specific to certain types of collections. Add them as you will, or as your finances will permit. Music is one subject that cannot bring forth negative views or pessimistic opinions. It is for the pleasure of the listener. Hopefully this music will live on forever so that our descendants and theirs will enjoy it too. Music lives on as long as we keep listening.
So, collect and enjoy!
George-Warren, H., Romanowski, P., Pareles, J., The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll, Third Edition, Simon & Schuster, New York, 2001.