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Sounds of the 70s

by Rich Morris Rating: Release Date:

The 70s gave us many great things: The tank top. Larry Grayson. The Wonder Woman TV series, starring the fabulous Lynda Carter. Compulsory bugger-grips for every adult male face. And then there was the music. Think 1970s pop and certain names immediately spring to mind. The Brotherhood of Man. Chicory Tip. Leo fucking Sayer. But, after a swift medicinal dose of gin with a lithium chaser, we can begin to think clearly about the truly great 70s albums, the ones which defined not just the decade but the ones that followed. Here's my top five. You may not agree - in fact, I hope you don't because I want to hear yours. Please type suggestions, corrections and foaming abuse in the box below. Ta.

1. David Bowie - Low (1977)

Having escaped the drug-induced nightmare of LA for Berlin with his sanity barely intact, his former Thin White Dukiness set about recuperating by riding bikes, growing a moustache and getting it on with transsexual performer Romy Haag. He also used his music as therapy, conducting open-ended recording sessions aided by the world's top session musicians along with the latest cutting edge electronic equipment, provided by sonic adventurer Brian Eno. The resulting album came as shock to his fans and record company alike (one American record exec allegedly offered to buy Bowie a house in Philadelphia if he'd scrap Low and record another Young Americans-style hit). Bowie stuck to his guns, of course, and because of that we have an album which symbolised a quantum leap forward in terms of what pop music could be, how it could sound and what it could say. It's the best album of the 70s. In fact, it's so good, it kick started the 80s three years early.

Defining Track: The gorgeous futuristic soul of 'Sound and Vision', on which Bowie explores his fragile mental state and need for isolation with a newfound tenderness. The single was a surprise hit and it's heavily processed drum sound would go on to dominate 80s pop.

Hidden Gem: 'Always Crashing in the Same Car' - a bleak but beautiful lament whose cryptic lyrics recount a coke-fried suicide attempt by Bowie.

2. Brian Eno - Here Come the Warm Jets (1973)

Booted out of Roxy Music for being too damn sexy (fact!), pasty, balding tranny Brian Peter George St John le Baptiste de la Salle Eno retaliated by recording perhaps the definitive art rock statement in debut solo album Here Come the Warm Jets. Barely able to play a note on any conventional instrument, he communicated the sounds he wanted to the musicians he gathered (including axe legend Robert Fripp) via the means of interpretive dance. The result was engagingly witty and weird, full of barely-sensical flights of fancy and skewed takes on contemporary culture. The blueprint for every art school band, from Devo to Franz Ferdinand, lies here.

Defining Track: 'Baby's on Fire' - five-minutes-19-seconds of glam stomp gone weird on bad acid. The music has a bubbling, corrosive quality reflected in the bile of Eno's lyrics which, delivered in a hyper-camp whine surely borrowed from Bowie, seem to appraise a new pop sensation with unconcealed bitchiness. Sample lyric: "Photographers snip snap/ Take your time, she's only burning/ This kind of experience/ is necessary for her learning." Listen to it while thinking about every messed up, used and abused starlet from Britney to Amy Winehouse and feel the hairs on your neck prickle.

Hidden Gem: The flipside to 'Baby's on Fire' is 'Some of Them are Old', a seemingly bottomless well of sorrow for lost youth and/or escaped sanity. Based around mournful organ, choral harmonies and an outbreak of impossibly beautiful slide guitar, it's difficult to listen to this without going all funny inside.

3. Neu! - Neu! (1971)

The debut album by ex-Kraftwerk members Klaus Dinger and Michael Rother (kicked out for rocking too damn hard - fact!) is one of those records which grows more relevant with every passing year. The patented Neu! motorik sound is currently having a 'moment' thanks to bands such as The Horrors, Bear in Heaven and Plank!, but there's no substitute for the strange beauty and sonic inventiveness of the original and the Dusseldorf duo never topped this opening statement.

Defining Track: Ten-minute-long opener 'Hallogallo' sets down the Neu! blueprint with a deathless, driving rhythm while entrancing guitar melodies scud over the beat like clouds across a sunset.

Hidden Gem: 'Weissensee' - nearly seven minutes of soupy, looping guitar, trance-inducing drums and spacey effects. This is what early 70s experimental rock was all about, done better than anyone else could manage.

4. The Slits - Cut (1979)

If you buy only one punk album, make it Cut by The Slits - mainly because there's so much more to it than the 'punk' label suggests. Fascinated by reggae, the four Slits members (original drummer Palmolive left during the recording of Cut to join the equally fab The Raincoats) used it as a springboard to develop 'female' music - skittish, flighty, non-linier rhythms they felt broke free of constrained, rockist playing. The result is an explosion of feminism and fun, as anarchic as The Sex Pistols but far more sonically adventurous and intellectually challenging.

Defining Track: 'Typical Girls' summed up The Slits' ethos both musically and lyrically, flip-flopping between atonal churn and skipping pop beat while teenage singer Ari Up rips into decades of repressive cultural programming. Truly incendiary.

Hidden Gem: 'Shoplifting' perfectly captures the thrill of pilfering from a supermarket chain. The tracks ends with an almighty blood-curdling scream from Ari followed by the giggled confession "I pissed in my knickers." Sums up in less than two minutes everything that's great about being young, reckless and unwashed.

5. Pink Floyd - Dark Side of the Moon (1973)

Radiohead eat your pampered little hearts out - this 1973 album is still the ultimate study of middleclass miserablism and repressed English angst. It's a dark record, full of madness (the first words uttered? "I've been mad for fucking years"), despair and a palpable sense of time slipping away. However, that's emolliated by some astoundingly beautiful music, from the slide guitar that opens 'Breathe' to the unparalleled soul vocal of Clare Torry on 'The Great Gig in the Sky', which is unfortunately why some people seem to think it's a good album to chill out to. It's not, but it is an album that understands every dark, desperate thought you've ever had and, in its own maudlin way, tries to let you know it's ok.

Defining Track: Early 70s rock was all about grandeur and scale, and it doesn't come any bigger than 'The Great Gig in the Sky'. Apparently, it's about dying, but singer Clare Torry's wordless wailing, sighing and cooing manages to summon images of death, birth and planet-shaking sex all at once. Torry later sued for royalties. Frankly, she should have got an OBE.

Hidden Gem: 'Any Colour You Like' - a loose-limbed, stoner instrumental is made into something thrillingly otherworldly by the deployment of undulating, trippy synth. As 'out there' as anything concurrent Krautrock bands were producing, and it still sounds incredible today.

(NB: Apologies to Alec Eiffel for the inclusion of Pink Floyd. I hope you're not too sick)

Comments (32)

This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

Now we're talking, my favourite decade and a top list, I couldn't fault any of these but my 5 would be slightly different. Bowie - The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust..., Brian Eno - Here Come the Warm Jets, Faust - Faust IV, Pink Floyd - Wish...

Now we're talking, my favourite decade and a top list, I couldn't fault any of these but my 5 would be slightly different. Bowie - The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust..., Brian Eno - Here Come the Warm Jets, Faust - Faust IV, Pink Floyd - Wish You Were Here and Lou Reed - Transformer. Although I'd have to squeeze Hunky Dory in there as well actually. I can't wait to compile the 70s year lists, awesome stuff.

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The first Faust album and Transformer could very easily have been here in place of any of the others (except Low).

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1) CAN - Tago Mago
2) Sly and the Family Stone - There's a Riot Going' On
3) Patti Smith - Horses
4) Television - Marquee Moon
5) The Clash - London Calling

Not made space for Sex Pistols, Led Zeppelin, Joni Mitchell, The Stones, The Who, Pink...

1) CAN - Tago Mago
2) Sly and the Family Stone - There's a Riot Going' On
3) Patti Smith - Horses
4) Television - Marquee Moon
5) The Clash - London Calling

Not made space for Sex Pistols, Led Zeppelin, Joni Mitchell, The Stones, The Who, Pink Floyd or The Ramones, or Blondie... Who needs the 60s, eh?

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Oh yes London Calling, took me a while to get into that but I've been listening to it a lot lately. PiL - Metal Box as well, best thing Lydon did. Funkadelic - Maggot Brain, James Brown - The Payback.

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Bleeurgh! I hate Pink Floyd!!!

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Oh, but apart from that, I agree. I do like Ziggy Stardust only slightly better than Low, and also London Calling. I would never argue with Eno or Neu! Excellent stuff.

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I think The Clash and PiL are massively over-rated but Can's another one that could've easily been in the list. I'd probably have gone for Ege Bamyasi myself.

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Nooo Rich, Metal Box was groundbreaking. I'd have agreed The Clash were over rated a few months back but I've changed my mind on that. I'd say Can's Future Days is easily their best. What about Throbbing Gristle - 20 Jazz Funk Greats? Persuasion...

Nooo Rich, Metal Box was groundbreaking. I'd have agreed The Clash were over rated a few months back but I've changed my mind on that. I'd say Can's Future Days is easily their best. What about Throbbing Gristle - 20 Jazz Funk Greats? Persuasion is one of the scariest songs ever. You could argue that without Kraftwerk there would be no Low.

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Here goes, my top five from the 70s;

1. Talking Heads- Fear of Music (1979)
2. Magazine- Real Life (1978)
3. David Bowie- Low (1977)
4. The Stooges- Raw Power (1973)
5. Gang of Four- Entertainment! (1979)

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Out of all of the decades we've covered, this is the only one where everyone's suggestions are all top albums.

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