“Scott, what were the 1970s like?”

No one asks me this.

Being a rabid oversharer, though, I do volunteer a lot of what I remember, which isn’t a ton, and was almost all wildly inappropriate for someone in early childhood, just by virtue of life being fucking complicated. For some reason, though, I have a pretty strong sort of sense memory of what the music was like in the last age before widespread music video. I’ve wanted to do something like this for quite some time, but the combination of insomnia, caffeine, time I should’ve used on something else and obsessive behavior hadn’t aligned until last night.

(Note: share embeds from Spotify only list the first 100 songs, roughly 48.7% of the playlist, so you’ll need to go to Spotify for the entirety of the big list.)

This is an evolving document, but to the best of my recollection, give or take some things I never wish to hear again, either because they were terrible or because the people who made them were a bit shit, this is what the 1970s sounded like to me, as they were happening. My extra brain for this was Wikipedia’s series of annual “Billboard Year-End Hot 100 singles”  from 1970-1979 (start here). Almost everything on this playlist can be found on those lists. A few non-chart songs snuck on. A notable exception was Giorgio Moroder’s “Chase” from the “Midnight Express” soundtrack, because, while it did not chart on those year-end deals, the song was absolutely everywhere in that time period. So many local television stations used it in the background of sports video packages, public affairs calendar stuff…you couldn’t get away from it. Which, of course, took a somewhat uncomfortable turn when I got cable television at a young age and wanted to see the movie that cool song was from, but that’s another story.

I will also mention that at least one song on here (David Naughton’s “Makin’ It”) is definitely a re-recorded version, and normally I wouldn’t go with those, but that song was such an important part of my 1979 (some of my earliest phone calls were to a local radio station to request it over…and over…and over again…) that it’d leave a gaping hole if it wasn’t in there, and it’s actually not a bad re-record.

You may notice that there’s really not much in the way of hard rock, heavy metal, punk or new wave on this playlist. I don’t really remember hearing it until 1980 or so. “1980, you say?”

Bonus: yes, because I’m a horrible cheater who is firmly in the “decades are 0-9” camp until I have to actually define eras of my musical life, I made a 1980-specific playlist. In my head canon, 1980 was still part of this period, but you can see that the selections I went with from memory were already very different than the ’70-’79 stuff. I would call both of these playlists part of the same era, but also sorta not.

Why stop here, though, if I’ve crossed the decade line already?

Two things happened around the end of 1980 that really created before/after markers, at least in my head. First, as I alluded to above, music videos started to be broadcast on a pretty widespread basis. My first exposure was probably Casey Kasem’s America’s Top 10 in 1980, and from there, we got cable in June of 1981, so I saw a lot of things on HBO Video Jukebox, and, eventually, MTV.

The other thing, which is pretty unpleasant, is that John Lennon was shot and killed. Hearing of a popular musician being shot and killed when I was 6 years old…well, it left a big fucking dent that I’m still grappling with almost 4 decades later. Yeah, that got dark, but it’s absolutely relevant to a conversation about my personal musical history, and really my life.

Before that happened, though, I had a good almost 6 1/2 years of musical discovery. Here’s what it sounded like. You’ve got about 17 hours to listen to. Some of it will be really familiar, some might not. I consciously put songs in vaguely chronological order, but also in “this would sound good here” order, but I’ve been testing both playlists on shuffle, and they work that way, too, oddly enough. Enjoy, and let me know what you think in the comments or otherwise.

2 thoughts on ““Scott, what were the 1970s like?”

  1. Anthony says:

    I spent 6 years in the 70s listening to my lop’s 8 track scroll through Marvin Gaye, Beach Boys, Santana, Donna Summer, Barry Manilow, and more that I will later regret neglecting to add. Those memory snippets of singing along from the back seat (and sometimes from the middle in the front seat) are deeply ingrained and very personal. All before my very first purchase of music to play in my room. These songs are just as much a part of my personality as the songs I listened to in my teens through my 40s. I wonder how much of that is lost on growing up in a digital age where your air buds dictate what you hear on those long drives in the back seat of your parents car..

    • I have a bunch of friends who, like you, have kids that have come of, or who are coming of age in the wireless headphones era. I see some of them surprised and impressed by what gets through, but I am not, not so much, anyway. I think the trick is just, with the people around you at any age, really, to deliberately listen to music that you genuinely enjoy, through speakers that other people can hear sometimes (as long as you aren’t oppressive with it, include their choices, and give them their space away from it when they need it, because they do sometimes), and to also let them see that it’s OK to enjoy whatever music you like. This isn’t advice I’m targeting at you specifically, though I’m obviously replying to your comment. I’m gearing this advice toward anyone who’d manage to find it here. I’ve seen a big push in the last generation or so toward age-appropriate music, classical for babies and so forth, but if those kids aren’t occasionally hearing Fleetwood Mac, Lush, Sturgill Simpson, Black Sabbath, Skinny Puppy, Julia Michaels or whoever sing about their perhaps-age-inappropriately complicated lives, mixed in with the Baby Shark or the Baby Mozart or Kidz Bop or whatever Disney soundtrack is of that moment, and also registering your enjoyment of those maybe-not-developmentally-appropriate choices, they may not be getting an especially well-rounded music education. I’d consider my mom playing music in the living room and the car every bit as important to my development as a person as having her read to me, and, well, ’75-’77 Fleetwood Mac, who I heard a LOT, aren’t a band I’d want within 500 feet of a school.

      As for where my dad fit into that equation, musically, I think it was tough for him, because my understanding of things is that he had a largely-untreated neurological issue after childhood surgery that gave him headaches if the rhythm section was too loud. It’s also entirely possible that this was an excuse, and that the racism he was clearly taught in hindsight bled through into how he heard music (he didn’t hate all music made by people of color, not by a long shot, but if something had more rhythm to it than something else and its creator wasn’t white, he was way more likely to voice objection to it than some of the louder stuff on Hee-Haw, for instance, or Willie Nelson’s late ’70s stuff, plenty of which had a loud, steady 4/4 beat to it…). My guess is that it was a little of column A, and a little of column B. It’s probably worth mentioning that I don’t remember either of his parents owning many records, or using their record player much. He listened to music far more passively than my mother did and still does, despite having far more of a musical brain than perhaps he realized (his brain was constantly re-writing the song lyrics to be kinda filthy, a creative but admittedly unfortunate trait he passed down to his son). When I had to get together music for his memorial service in 2014, I went largely with the music from the jukebox of the bar that he destroyed his marriage and his family in, for whatever that’s worth. The time period I spent there with him sometimes (again, as a young kid to pre-teen) was ’80-’86, so I remembered mostly “Urban Cowboy”-era and ’70s outlaw-ish country, along with some comedy and novelty records, but again, even in an environment that was bad for a kid to be in, I remembered and still remember those choices more clearly than a great many other details of my life at this point. I don’t have a single specific, clear recollection of him reading to me, but he certainly funneled comic books to me a lot in early childhood, even if I got them after he’d already read them, so there’s that.

      To circle back to the general point: I would wager that much more is getting through the headphones than it seems, and I wouldn’t worry too much about it. I’m not sure about you, but I hid in my Walkman and Discman headphones when I could, too, and I really wish I still could (anxiety makes it tough for me to have headphones on in 2020 without a panoramic view of my surroundings, and my spaces are difficult to set up that way). Many of our parents had little transistor radios as soon as they could get them, and hid in those if they could. It’s a space for kids to be safe, private, and themselves, and they need that more in many cases than the outside world needs to be heard. Trust me, they hear what’s going on around them when they’re not in the headphones. They also clearly recognize frustration on the parts of the people who aren’t being heard enough for their liking because of the music in the headphones, the book they’re reading, the game they’re playing, or whatever their escape may be, and they remember the living shit out of that.

      I’d also like to mention that modern cars make it really easy for them to just put their music on your car speakers via Bluetooth, but FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, make sure they’re really on board with that, because, again, sometimes even outgoing people who really like you just need a space without the rest of the world in it.

      And finally, though I didn’t have Marvin Gaye, Santana or the Beach Boys on my playlists here (I came to Marvin when “Midnight Love” had just come out, the Beach Boys in my 20s, aside from “Good Vibrations”, and I’m still warming up to Santana), it’s not too late, and easier than it’s been at any point in human history, to just put on records by any of these artists and listen until you remember.

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