70's Rock: A Ring of Changes
Rock and Roll in the 70's was miraculous. Innovation was the key to some of the most successful and entertaining acts of all time. The 70's brought forth some very dynamite stage shows and unique performers. The evolution of rock and roll had begun in the late 60's and early 70's when musicians brought not only dymanic playing skills to the stage, but a bit of theater as well. As for my own tastes, I was never listening to anything much except hard, psychedelic, or prog rock. More of the lighter, pop bands of the 70's I have no real knowledge of. My world was painted black (thanks Mick), but in a good way. If it roared, I loved it. If the songs were long, and creative, I lived and breathed 'em. If there was ever a mention, or whisper of names like Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, UFO, The Who, Genesis, Humble Pie, Foghat, Yes, Emerson, Lake & Palmer, Pink Floyd, Scorpions, Hawkwind, Robin Trower, or others of like categories, I was all over it. This was the 70's. The music was bursting, alive, and kicked musical ass like nothing the world had seen.
Hot Chicks, Hot Licks
If rock n' roll was a man's world, then its house soon developed a leaky roof and weak infrastructure. Girls were moving in hard and fast. Intead of being only lead singers in a male band, all-female bands were beginning to flourish.Essentially, boys love toys; in music, boys love guitars. More important, girls who played hard rock with guitars were a slice of heaven. Girls got into rock and roll as well, but very few packed the wallop that The Runaways did. Though a fairly short-lived band, they made their presence known as "live jailbait" enforcing the image of underage runaway girls partying hard and engaging in basic "bad girl" activities. Their packaging advertised sex; front girl Cherrie Currie appeared in lingerie while their powerhouse lead guitarist Lita Ford came in leather. The Runaway's music however, had more to offer. The song "You Drive Me Wild" from the first album is still hot. Listen to it Here. The first time I ever saw Joan Jett, I was in love. She was too good to be true. For myself, at the age of 20, there was nothing sexier than girls playing power chords and turning out hard rock that was as demanding as what most guys were playing at the time. Though commonplace now, and in our current decade, this type of ability and style was almost non-existent in female groups.
Once more, with Heart. Guitar wizard Nancy Wilson and her powerhouse singer sister Ann, tore up the air waves with a string of respectable hits. "Crazy on You" was on the radio constantly, and got several plays on my stereo as well. Heart's music was high-quality, and there was seriousness to it; Nancy Wilson soon became one of my favorite composers, and I could also hear her influence on many newer bands that came out in the 80's. There was something so cool about girls in rock and roll. The song "Barricuda" is still considered a riff monster in rock music today, and a remains true classic.
The newly-evolving punk scene also gave us some serious female rock stars, but as a whole, the female as a rock performer, was now a force to be reckoned with. Acts like Patti Smith, Chrissie Hynde, Suzie Quatro, The Go-Go's and Girlschool were making big waves on the scene.
Icon RockTrue artistic expression came with the inventions of iconic rock stars who graced the stage in a goofy, odd, or eerie uniform, and was possessed of a fantastic musical ability. Many of these rockers had an unforgettable stage presence which accounted for their sell-out shows. David Bowie was such a performer. Though not to everyone's tastes, Bowie had an undeniable stage act, and repertoire of great songs. "Aladdin Sane" became my favorite Bowie album.Angus Young of AC/DC would probably top the list in the goofy uniform category. Angus came to us as a Scottish schoolboy complete with short pants and book bag. His neck-shaking gryrations and manic playing style have carved him a place in history as one of the most unforgettable pickers ever.
Rick Neilsen of Cheap Trick took the stage as a complete guitar nerd with button-down sweater, bow tie, and goofy cap with the brim flipped up. It was a formula that worked well as Cheap Trick-along with AC/DC-became headlining acts that filled stadiums and even wowed international audiences. Another in the line of odd stage appearance was Rob Halford, the lead singer for Judas Priest, whose blond hair was cropped tight to the head in a nearly bald fashion. As the 70's moved forward, more and more groups started to formulate their own appearances creating icons within the band for immediate recognition. Even bands with little to offer could pull it off if they had a gimmick that was different.
One of the most outrageous acts of the 70's was Alice Cooper aka Vincent Furnier. His demented persona was neither male nor female, yet altogether weird. It was impossible to take your eyes off of him. As a whole, Alice Cooper's band was very good, and together they turned out some excellent works. Theatrical guise was the brilliance behind Peter Gabriel of Genesis. With an ability to change intricate costumes on stage quickly, Gabriel showed us an array of unforgettable stage characters.One of the more interesting aspects of rock and roll was the liberal use of makeup to create a "gender switch" appearance. Flowing garments, and operatic prancing introduced us the bizarre world of theatrical "glam rock". Male rockers wore makeup and effeminate clothing, while some females preferred a more masculine identity.
Girls, Boys, Whatever...
The photo montage above shows us a mix between the male and the female in this lineup of 70's rockers. The "feminine" look began to catch on with many 70's bands who launched an era of "Glam Rock" which hung on strong late into the decade. Sometimes it was just plain hard to tell the girls from the boys as male rockers donned makeup and flowing clothing styles complete with high-platform shoes and boots. The new trend fell in with leather, fringe, lace, makeup and a pumped up power-do. Acts like David Bowie, The New York Dolls, Angel, Lou Reed, Blondie, and others fell into a sort of underground of rock and roll that carved a true and lasting position into the genre.
Masters of the 3-chord rock found newer ways to exploit the same old chugging and quite tiresome rock and roll. The most original that I'd ever seen would have to be Kiss. Their music was pretty much kick-ass-in-your-face rock and roll. Musically, no new territory was traversed here, but along with the eerie makeup, the music was loud and powerful. Kiss stage shows involved smoke, explosions, fire, with personal accompaniment from bassist Gene Simmons who offered up his fire-spitting demon complete with blood squibs which allowed him to ooze blood from his mouth.
Technology Takes the Lead
Rock and Roll found its way into our homes via new technology: The eight track tape player. Eight track tapes were supposed to be the future; Instead, they were the new Edsel. 8-track tapes and players had an extremely short life span which is why they disappeared from the market almost as quickly as they appeared. I had two 8-track tapes: The Moody Blues' "Days of Future Passed" and The Allman Brothers Band "Live at Fillmore East." Each album side were "programs" on an 8-track tape.
My 8-track player died a quick death, and I quickly switched to the second miracle of recorded music: the cassette. While I was without a significant stereo system, and trudged onward with a basic portable stereo, I had one of these little recorders shown at the right. The music had to be recorded "live" with a condenser mic, and you prayed that nobody would walk into the room and start yapping while your favorite song was playing.