The Hits of 1970: Folk Rock, Country Rock, and Pop Rock

Rock and roll wears many hats


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The first year of the new decade brought a variety of changes, just as if the calendar actually had some meaning besides simply marking time, and that the beginning of the shiny new ten-year chunk needed something to be remembered by. The space program suffered its first of many future setbacks with the failure of the Apollo 13 mission - fortunately there were no casualties this time. The invasion of Cambodia by American forces, a neutral country in the Vietnam conflict, started the month of May off on the wrong foot, and massive US protests soon followed. On May 4 the infamous Kent State massacre took place, and the country as a whole held its head in shame. All the protests and lives lost finally led to promises of troop withdrawals and the Vietnamization of the war by the end of the year.

What happened in 1970's Music?
In the world of music, big changes were afoot as well, and there were many clear signs that the 60s were over. Elvis began the year with his first live performance tour since 1958. Paul McCartney formally announced the demise of the Beatles in April, and their final album Let It Be was released on May 8. The Isle of Wight Festival in late August was the largest rock concert in history - 600,000 people attended the 3 day event. Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin both died at 27 within less than a month of each other. Black Sabbath released their first 2 albums in 1970, marking the true beginning of the heavy metal genre, while Led Zeppelin, having created the hard rock genre, had a worldwide number 1 hit with Whole Lotta Love. Shocking Blue shocked everyone in the world with a song called Venus. The other top 5 hits in the world were by the Beatles (Let It Be, a goodbye song of sorts), Simon and Garfunkel's Bridge Over Troubled Waters (their final hit together), and Mungo Jerry's In the Summertime (they didn't last long either).

Singer-songwriters - the next big thing continues to grow
The anti-rock trend that started in the late 60s continued to expand in 1970, with the tendency towards softer more mellow music. Artists who wrote their own songs, accompanied themselves on guitar or piano, sometimes performed solo, and sometimes with a band, released some of their best and most well-known albums this year. The list of releases came from old and new, but some of the notable singer-songwriter albums of the year came from Van Morrison, Harry Nilsson, James Taylor, Joni Mitchell, Elton John, Kris Kristofferson, Cat Stevens, Arlo Guthrie, and Paul Siebel. The genre was especially popular on the radio, which gravitated to the softer, more acoustic sounds after having to play acid, metal, and psychedelic rock for almost a decade. It was like a return to the pre-rock era in some ways, except the performers were often seen as poets because of the quality and subject matter of their lyrics - no more silly love songs. Of course, Dylan had quite a bit to do with the whole trend, but we can't blame it all on him.

Americana spreads far and wide
Another trend Dylan had a great deal to answer for was Americana. A hard term to define, it was the combination of elemnts of varying kinds of roots and pre-rock music with rock, and the results were sometimes mostly cosmetic, sometimes deeply innovative. As an example of the trendy type, just look at the cover of one of the biggest albums of the year, and listen to the new sounds - Deja Vu by Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. The addition of Young to the trio brought  a countryfied flair that featured a bit of pedal-steel (courtesy of Jerry Garcia) and an attitude of looking to the past for inspiration. Crossovers were happening with the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band's country-rock, the Flying Burrito Brothers second and last album with Gram Parsons, Elton John's foray into the trend at least in subject matter on Tumbleweed Connection, and the Grateful Dead's classic albums Workingman's Dead and American Beauty. But Dylan was at the forefront of the trend (actually he started the whole thing) with the much-reviled Self-Portrait, and the redemption of New Morning, both of which were Americana at its finest.

Pop rock ushers in the 70s
Something else that seemed old and new at the same time was beginning to show as a trend in 1970 - pop rock. The Jackson 5 exploded onto the charts with top 100 hits, as did Bread, The Carpenters, Neil Diamond, 3 Dog Night (a rock band in name only), B.J. Thomas, and Linda Ronstadt. It was the new sound of soft rock melded with popular song styles and the esthetic of bubblegum - nothing too deep, nothing too loud, nothing annoying at all, but very frothy and superficial in most cases. The worldwide hits by Shocking Blue and Mungo Jerry are great examples of pure pop, and the arrival on the hit parade and on the nation's tv sets near the end of the year of the Partridge Familywas a sure sign that this trend was going nowhere but straight to the bank. The 70s had arrived, bigtime.



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