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A Look Back at the Culture and Music of the 1970s

By Edited Jun 27, 2015 1 6
Cycle into the 1970s
Credit: Nishanth Jois (NJ.. on Flickr)/CC by 2.0 with Attribution

Each decade has its unique highlights and well, things we'd probably rather not remember, but one thing in common for every decade is that time moves forward. And change will occur.

The transition that occurred as the 1960s ended to the early 1970s perhaps started off a bit subtle, but by the end of the decade the change that had taken place during this 10 year period was drastic.

Starting off as a decade of music and culture that promoted peace and love evolved into one of rapid progression and different levels of awareness (although this progression path clearly did begin in the previous decade).

In terms of socialization, nightlife had often been looked back on as school dances at the gym and sharing a malt, however, during the 1970s it became associated with boogieing under nightclub disco lights. Folk singers were replaced by disco divas. Women's fashion moved from short skirts to long flowing dresses to boldly designed polyesters and "Daisy Duke" cut off shorts and long-flowing bell bottoms, with platform shoes.

During this decade society saw huge transformations and by the end of the 1970s things would never be the same.

Musical Changes

It was during the 1970s music continued to evolve significantly. This decade brought out some of the best and some of the worst, but of course this is rather subjective depending on one's personal tastes. Disco was extremely popular at its height in the mid to late 70s, especially after "Saturday Night Fever" hit the theatres. This trend was hot, although it was short-lived.

Disco was quickly squashed as the decade was coming to a close.  Trends do fade out, but disco was more or less ushered out when a DJ, who was let go from his radio station after it "went disco", began a campaign against this genre of music. As the History website notes, the disco trend did not die a natural death. On July 12, 1979 the infamous "Disco Demolition" night took place at Chicago's Comisky Park. 2

After this evening of disco-bashing, things went downhill for that music genre. In later years, disco became the butt of jokes, and, as most things do, came full circle and, to some extent, became tolerable and to some extent, popular again.

Disco Ball
Credit: Sarah (dichohecho on Flickr)/CC by 2.0 with Attribution

In the 1970s, these "disco balls" became very popular. These survived much longer than the music did after its untimely "death" and could still be seen in various venues.

The music in the 70s also began to segment and branch off into sub-genres. The seeds of modern heavy metal were sown and began to bloom; society also saw the births of alternative, disco, punk, soft and progressive rock. Even the rock (now referred to as "classic") that had been front and center in a previous decade, had matured and considered by some to have perfected itself by the 1970s. Its popularity lives on in the 21st century. It is not uncommon to still commonly find radio stations dedicated to "classic rock" that plays 60s and 70s music from this genre.

Culture and Themes

The 70s, like the prior decade, continued with freedom themes, but in some ways it went from a broad attitude of freedom to individual freedoms. Drug use, sex and other previously considered "risky" type activities were considered by some to be the norm - and perhaps it was the norm before, however, things become more "open" during the '70s.

Openness of sex without consequence became ingrained as part of the culture; it's not uncommon to hear the decade referred to as the "swinging 70s". The music during this decade reflected all of these attitudes; songs such as "Let's Get it On" by Marvin Gaye and "Do Ya think I'm Sexy" by Rod Stewart immediately come to mind. Sexual freedom was a big part of this decade and the music mirrored these mind-sets. This was before AIDS and other STDs became a societal concern, and the 1980s anti-drug movement hadn't yet come to the point of "just say no".

In later decades people would reflect back upon behavior in the 70s, some would laugh at its eccentricity, others would look back with nostalgia, and some simply wouldn't be able to recall any of it at all.

Progressive Thinking

Every generation typically has some sort of progressive thinking going on, and reflecting back on the 1970s from a cultural perspective, it was a crazy time full of activity that people today might perhaps find strange. A significant noteworthy attitude that existed was one of progression, as in equal rights and also awareness of the environment; these issues came to the forefront. Even today, these attitudes are relevant and important. Equality is still a battle being fought, but progress has been made. In terms of the environment, a commercial that, to this day, stands out in memory is the public service announcement put out by the environmental organization, "Keep America Beautiful". It was a commercial that featured the now famous "Crying Indian", shedding a tear when a car passing by throws trash out the window and it rolls across the road, landing at his feet; this commercial became one of the most successful ad campaigns of the 20th century. 5

The culminating line in the commercial "People Start Pollution. People can stop it" is likely well-remembered by those who were of TV watching age during the 1970s.

The original commercial, starring Iron Eyes Cody, first aired on on Earth Day in 1971

This clip adequately reflected the movement to take care of the environment. Fast-forward to the new millennium and 15 years beyond, the "no littering" rule is well-ingrained in society and progressing beyond. Protecting the environment is still a very relevant social and political issue that has extending beyond the movement to "go green". While more is known now about the impact of not protecting our planet, the awareness of a need to turn things around was perhaps born in the early 1970s.

While some nostalgia, progressive viewpoints and music are keepers from the 1970s, there are a few things better left behind, such as those polyester and checkered dress jackets and pants.

 

[Related reading: Reflections - Growing Up in the 1970s ]

After a decade of "sex, drugs and rock 'n roll", in the mid-1980s President and Ronald Reagan, along with First Lady Nancy Reagan, launched their "Just Say No" (to drugs) campaign.

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Comments

Mar 14, 2015 1:33pm
RoseWrites
Hmm, I was just a kid, but the youngest in my family. All I remember about the '70s is the great music and the horrible hairstyles (in my social circle, at least).
Mar 16, 2015 12:16pm
LeighGoessl
I laugh when I see pics of the males in my family during the '70s, esp those checkered pants the boys wore (with usually a mismatched shirt). I did like 1970s hair though with the "feathered" styles.

Thanks so much Rose for commenting on this piece :)
Mar 16, 2015 3:20pm
RoseWrites
Oh and platform shoes! (Almost forgot).

I liked the "feathered" hair look - the way Farrah Fawcett wore it. The thing is, I (and other friends) completely fried out hair with curling irons trying to obtain it.
Mar 21, 2015 5:59am
LeighGoessl
When I wrote that comment I was thinking Farrah Fawcett! haha. I was watching "Charlie's Angels" reruns recently on TV and was admiring her hair (I wish I could get my hair to behave that way! It's getting wavier the older I get, but I'm also too lazy to use hair dryers and curling irons these days...).

For the kids, I had forgotten, but weren't clogs were in style then too? I don't know how people walked in those platform shoes.
Mar 21, 2015 7:13pm
RoseWrites
Yeah clogs were "in" and do you remember those 1970s "Earth" shoes? They had a heel that was lower than the forefoot area of the shoe. They were comfortable (had a 'negative heel' or something it was called).

I don't bother with curling irons at all (nor blow dryers most days). I just let my hair dry naturally and keeping it long seems easier (for me). When it's short, it gets wild and hard to tame. Speaking of which, my man-servant thinks those shoes were Birkenstocks (aka birth control shoes). But I don't think so. I had a blue suede pair that looked "ducky" and I loved them.
Mar 24, 2015 3:59pm
LeighGoessl
I didn't remember these and had to look them up, by looking at images of "Earth shoes", I sort of do remember these. Are these the "ducky" ones? https://www.etsy.com/listing/129460150/vintage-1970s-tan-leather-suede-earth
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Bibliography

  1. Pauline Weston Thomas "1960-1980 Fashion History." Fashion-Era.com. 26/02/2015 <Web >
  2. "Disco is dealt death blow by fans of the Chicago White Sox." History.com. 26/02/2015 <Web >
  3. Hanna Rosin "Sexual Freedom and Women's Success." Wall Street Journal. 23/03/2012. 26/02/2015 <Web >
  4. Dominic Sandbrook "Forget the Swinging Sixties: It was the Seventies that saw an explosion in promiscuity, abortion and pornography." Daily Mail. 27/09/2010. 26/02/2015 <Web >
  5. "Pollution: Keep America Beautiful - Iron Eyes Cody." AdCouncil. 26/02/2015 <Web >

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