The Hits of 1975: Disco Burns, Ambient Chills
Punk rock waits its turn
1975 was the year that the War in Vietnam finally ended, and a long chapter in America's history ended as well. The war had shaped society and culture and changed the lives of untold millions, while ending too many young lives prematurely. It was a year of firsts in technology. The VHS vs Betamax battle began with the release of the new format known as Beta by Sony. Paul Allen and Bill Gates started a little company they called Microsoft, while the first microprocessor-controlled computers - including the Altair 8800 - became available in kit form for the home enthusiast and hobbyist. In America inflation was finally declining, but in England the high rate of inflation caused widespread social unrest and was responsible for a new outraged generation which would soon express itself in music.
What happened in 1975's music?
Glen Campbell, Billy Swan, ABBA, and The Sweet had the top worldwide hits of 1975, and rock and roll was notably absent in the singles charts. A look at the albums released this year tells another story, though. It's almost as if the gap between the good stuff and the rest was growing, because so many bad records were put out that demonstrate the further decline of rock, the rise of disco and dance music, and the splintering of the hit parade into various genres. On the other hand, some of the greatest rock albums in history and some of the best, if not the greatest, were released this year. Bob Dylan had a banner year with his great classic record Blood On the Tracks, and the compilation of music made with the Band in his mystery years in the late 60s, the Basement Tapes. Bruce Springsteen released the masterwork Born to Run, and was on the covers of Time and Newsweek. Neil Young made lemonade with Tonight's the Night, and then corralled Crazy Horse for one of their best, Zuma. Such 70's stalwarts as Aerosmith and Fleetwood Mac released excellent albums with classic songs that are still played on the radio. But the big story of the year was out on the dance floor.
The Ohio Players, KC and the Sunshine Band, the Captain and Tennile, Earth Wind and Fire, David Bowie, and Elton John made 1975 the disco lover's delight. Big songs like the Hustle, Jive Talkin', That's the Way I Like It, and Fame got the frilly folks out on the floor to flounce and shake their things. The disco phenomenon threatened to take over the whole music scene, and it became a polarizing issue - you either loved it or you hated it, and there were few rockers who would admit to liking disco. But love it or hate it, it dominated the charts and set the tone for the decade of the 70s.
Punk Rock is still a baby
While the reaction to disco and dinosaur rock was slow in starting, the steam was building to a head that would soon explode. What is widely regarded as the first album of the punk rock era was Horses by Patti Smith. The record was a real classic, with great songs, an attitude that combined garage rock, poetry and high energy, and a sound that anyone could relate to - unless you were busy at the discotheque. The Ramones continued playing live and signed with Sire Records, but didn't quite get around to recording their first album yet. In England, the Sex Pistols put safety pins in their ears, formed and started learning how to play their instruments in public, while an R&B singer named Joe Strummer took his band the 101ers to see the newest thing, and liked what he heard.
Ambient and ECM
Another new genre of music was officially born this year with the release of Discreet Music by Brian Eno, and Evening Star by Eno and Robert Fripp. Eno was a founding member of Roxy Music who had his own ideas about the purpose and practical use of sound. He conceived the notion of music as a static environment that evoked a mood and stimulated thought, but was mostly divorced from melody and rhythm. Fripp was the technology-obsessed guitarist from King Crimson who developed loops and what he called frippertronics to create new worlds of sound. Along with the rise of the German ECM label - Keith Jarrett's classic The Koln Concert was released in 1975 - these developments would eventually have a huge impact on the world of music.