Genrefvckery: The 70s Called, They Want Their Synth Back

If you’ve been following me (anywhere, really) for a while, then you’ve picked up that I go on weird little spiral trips. Music is no exception. Frankly, it’s one of the usual causes! So instead of trying to hit any level of consistency for music columns, here’s a few of the songs from the 70s I’ve been hyperfixating on (or have loved for ages) and context on… why, and what they are.

  1. Love To Love You Baby – Donna Summer

No, despite appearances, I am not seventy years old. I’ve been rediscovering the true glory of disco through one of my historical fiction stories, and while some of it’s as cheesy as you think (Le Freak cannot be salvaged for me, personally) this song is a masterpiece. It’s also incredibly, embarrassingly sexy. Oh gawd. The single version is a normal, respectable three minutes long, but this one – the original mix – is sixteen minutes, forty eight seconds. Imagine being in a club to this. No wonder so many people had sex at discos.

A few notes: Listen to the long version, at least once. And listen with stereo sound, preferably headphones. The dual mixing on this is fantastic, and a perfect example of what it means when people say that disco walked so that dubstep, electronica, techno, club music, etc. could fly. The slow build of this song is everything. It’s a song designed to take you from cold as ice, straight from outside, and warm you right up. Too much of a sex metaphor? I can’t help it. It’s a hot song and it is supposed to be one. (What do you think all that moaning is?)

2. In Time by Sly & The Family Stone

So fun fact, apparently Sly & The Family Stone were basically the first integrated band in the American music mainstream. That’s wild to me. I mean, it shouldn’t be – we’re talking the 70s – but considering the song of theirs that’s endured the most on regular 70s/80s radio is ‘Everyday People’, that’s awesome. ‘In Time’ post-dates ‘Everyday People’ by a few years, but it’s no less enduring in funk circles. Me, I’m new to actually listening to funk, so I just know the song sounds familiar. Also, that I really like it.

More than anything else, I love how prominent the bass and drums are in this. Apparently that’s what this whole album did for funk (and probably disco!) music at the time; it shifted a lot of focus onto bass and drums, and you can basically listen to this and Donna Summer and see how jazz and funk slowly used electronic tools more and more to transform into disco – and disco was one of the two genres to inform modern electronica and techno, so there you have it! Black folks invented everything good, y’all. Give your kings and queens their respect.

3. The Bitch Is Back by Elton John

This song is WEIRD. I love it, to be clear. And I’m including it here for a reason that will become very clear! But it’s fascinating seeing people categorizing it as hard rock when it almost feels disco-y in places, it’s very catchy, and then I go on the little trip of “why aren’t there more Elton John disco cuts”. Anyway, I do love this song. It’s also a really interesting example of how hard rock has gotten So Much Harder, because even some of the prog rock and punk from the 70s feels soft as hell now, because hard rock became our norm. Imagine Green Day with a saxophone, right? (Actually that sounds like something they’d do.)

Relevantly, what is with the sax in everything from the 70s and 80s? Where did it go? Bring Back The Sax. I want Bad Guy with Sax. Old Town Road with Sax. WAP with Sax.

….I never promised I had good music opinions.

4. The Musical Box by Genesis

I know there was some sort of technical innovation around the start of the 70s/end of the 60s that allowed for these ridiculously long songs (this one is 10 minutes) but I actually don’t know what it was! I just know that I actually take quite a great amount of pleasure in disco and prog rock both exploring the possibilities of a longer format. The Musical Box is actually one of the few Peter Gabriel Genesis songs I like – I’m usually not big on their early work, but I like this one a lot for the Drama:tm: of it. (Which, to be fair, is most of Gabriel’s work.) It is interesting as I grow up and realize that some of my issues between Gabriel and Collins are mixing issues, not coherency issues; Gabriel isn’t being quiet on purpose. For this song it works to a degree, because he seems to want the lyrics in the background to a degree, but it’s also another connection to disco – the instruments are the star, not his voice.

Some of the nursery rhymes they use make me giggle, though. How British can you get? (Spoken as a not-so-proud Brit.)

5. Metal Postcard (Mittageisen) by Siouxsie and the Banshees

And now we move from prog-rock into punk! While all the ‘big three’ (Sex Pistols, The Clash, The Ramones) got started around this time, the Banshees weren’t far behind. This song is from their first album, Scream, which came out in 78. Once again, though, it’s fascinating seeing how even punk follows a certain trend – this isn’t the only song of theirs that’s catchy in the kind of way that you could dance to it, even if it’s just headbanging. Music is a social activity first and foremost here, and I kind of like that. Prog-rock is the genre that actively refuses to be danceable, and it’s consciously doing that while also pushing electronic elements to new heights. Punk… is about half and half. Once you hit the 80s it’s rejected the dance thing entirely, but you see the Clash flirting with reggae elements as well.

I like this song a lot, in large part because it’s not a song that should be a hit. It’s a simple, rough, catchy riff on a guitar that’s too loud and vocals that aren’t as shiny and preened as the other artists of the era, but that’s the whole appeal. The lyrics don’t make sense, either! You just get like… the Vibe. Which is a big theme with the 70s, but that’s the drugs. The mixing on this is really fun, too, because the vocals and guitars are actually quite well balanced – not what you’d expect.

6. Valentine’s Day by Klaus Nomi

Okay, TECHNICALLY cheating with this one, which is why it’s a bonus entry. Klaus Nomi was indeed a 70s musician, but this track and the album it’s off of weren’t technically released until 2007. Nomi died in 83, one of the earliest celebrity/musician fatalities of AIDS, and Za Bakdaz: The Unfinished Opera was about two-thirds done at the time. ‘Valentine’s Day’ is my favourite track, and it’s an odd mix of elements; classical instrumentation, operatic vocals, touches of prog-rock stylistic choices, avant-garde inclusion of conversational scraps, and a gothic melancholy to the whole thing. It is an absolute fucking shame he died so young, and I am very glad we have some more of his work to enjoy than we thought we did. Nomi worked closely with Bowie during his short career, and you can tell – there’s the same sense of drama, and if you listen to some of his other tracks it’s even more obvious. (‘After the Fall’ is particularly notable! And very fun.)

These are pretty randomly selected, but they do give a pretty great – and funny – overview of how genre in the 1970s started exploding. The full results of this don’t play out until the 80s and 90s, but this is the start of it! We got our early synths, our longer tracks, multitracking getting easier, electronic music getting some steam behind it, club music, and funk music influencing everything.

Next time on Genrefvckery: most unexpectedly good genre-fusions!

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