The British Music Scene of the 1970s

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Age-net takes a look back at the sounds of the 70’s

The end of the 1960s paved the way for new popular music of the 70s. By now pop was a huge success, but a greater divide between rock ‘n roll and pop was emerging. In the United Kingdom many artists were concentrating on folk rock and psychedelic rock, which eventually led to the various styles and artists that emerged in the decade. Britain was responsible for several subgenres of music that made it across the pond.Artists tested the limits on rock creating such subgenres as electric folk, glam rock, progressive rock, and the genre of heavy metal. UK artists were also influenced and influencing pub rock and American punk rock during the mid-1970s. A twist for British music in the 70s was based on world influences. Many artists examined Jamaican reggae and Indian compositions to form later subgenres. By the end of the 70s, punk rock took hold over most music concepts, which lent to the beginning of New Wave and Post Punk as well as major changes for the upcoming decade – the 80s.

Progressive Rock and its Artists

Progressive rock is buried in the roots of blues rock and psychedelic rock, which began in the 1960s. There was a push towards technical and compositional boundaries that would outclass and out-style earlier musicality. Many artists changed from the standard verse-chorus creation to a freer element. Yet older genres of music were still considered extremely important to progressive rock including classical, jazz, and world music.

Many of the songs of the decade based in progressive rock used more instrumentals with conceptual lyrics. There were other artists that felt abstract or fantasy lyrics better suited their tastes. It was a decade when synthesisers would become important to all aspects of rock, including progressive forms.

The 1970s and progressive rock also opened the door for so-so artists to gain fame. The use of musical equipment was able to hide their subpar talents.

The main group accredited with progressive rock is King Crimson led by Robert Fripp, the lead guitarist. Three of the more popular albums of the early 70s include In the Wake of Poseidon, Lizard, and Islands.

Artists and bands like Yes, Jethro Tull, Genesis, Pink Floyd, Kate Bush, Soft Machine, Emerson, Luke and Palmer all offered their own take on progressive rock. The genre peaked in the middle of the 1970s and while it did not die out the movement was heading towards punk.

Listen to Pink Floyd – Comfortably Numb

During the same time progressive rock artists were enjoying fame, there were some soft rock and singer/songwriter combinations that were making head way with a folk basis. Like progressive they peaked in the mid-70s like Fleetwood Mac, 10CC, Rod Stewart, Mungo Jerry, Cat Stevens, Elton John, and Steve Windwood. Some of these artists are still going strong today with their soft rock approach, so it definitely didn’t die out.

Watch Fleetwood Mac perform Go Your Own Way in 1976

Hard Rock and Heavy Metal Shines

The 70s gave rise to the movement that is still strong called hard rock and heavy metal. It is well based in blues rock with the concept of playing loud and hard with a lot of repetitive riffs and solo guitar features. Some bands like The Who, Jimi Hendrix, and Status Quo moved from the 60s to the 70s turning to hard rock, while others began. The top three known for heavy metal include Led Zepplin, Deep Purple, and Black Sabbath.

Watch The Who perform Who Are You

Led Zepplin provided fantasy hard rock versus the symphonic/medieval concepts of Deep Purple. Black Sabbath was the first heavy metal band to offer a darker gothic sound. Also performing with quite a bit of popularity were Rainbow, Motorhead, Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, and Saxon. In fact, Iron Maiden and Saxon were able to hold against Punk when many other bands had moved on, so there was a huge decrease in their popularity for the first part of the 80s.

Watch David Bowie perform Starman from 72

Shorter Lived Music Subgenres

Starting in the mid-70s the emergence of Glam, Electric Folk, and Pub Rock hit the scenes. While the music genres did not last as many artists turned more towards punk rock, there are still some highly popular artists of the genre. Glam was a post hippie concept with outrageous outfits, flamboyant lyrics, which were all campy, sexual and hard rock.

The most well-known and still playing is David Bowie. Others included Roxy Music, Mott the Hoople, and Marc Bolan. For Electric Folk, Fairport Convention, Pentangle, and Steeleye Span managed to keep folk rock alive. Pub rock was started with artists like Brinsley Schwarz, Red Hot Chilli Peppers, and Elvis Costello.

The Evolution into Punk Rock

Many artists had to keep up with the times or be short-lived. Several artists had one or two singles that met with popularity and then disappeared in the later 70s because of the ever changing subgenres. Punk started to dominate by the second half of the 70s and well into the early 80s. It was experimental; more introverted, and considered more complex with the use of synthesisers and other machines to create interesting, heart wrenching pieces. Top artists included Joy Division, The Fall, The Magazine, The Raincoats, and Gang of Four.

Holding their Own

Pop, folk and jazz managed to hold on through the 70s with bands like Abba, The Osmonds, Rubettes, Bay City Rollers, and Soft Machine. Yet things were changing. The Osmonds started breaking up with Donnie, Marie, and Jimmy trying and succeeding at soft pop solo careers. Jazz turned into fusion bands using influences from reggae. Punk Jamaican also made an appearance with The Specials and Madness. Steel Pulse was also known to offer mainstream reggae but with a socio-political bent.

Watch the Osmands – Love me for a Reason

New Wave for the 80s

Punk was definitely strong, but it also gave a start to the concept of New Wave music and Synth Rock. Human League was most notable for providing synth rock with some progressive concepts. The main focus with New Wave was the move back to singles with bands and single artists creating one hit wonders. The Pretenders, The Police, XTC, Squeeze, and Nick Lowe made their mark.

More on the 80’s music scene coming soon

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