It is almost surprising to note that, looking back from today, the 70s were not thirty years ago, but forty. An era that saw the world turn around on so many fronts, the decade has formed a firm base to the society, economy, political scenario and the pop-culture of day and age.
A quick look at Wikipedia will tell you that the 70s has mostly been a prosperous time with booming economy(which suffered during the Oil Crisis, but recuperated soon after,) the various forms of liberalism, atomic energy, feminism, increasing political awareness and environmental consciousness. The seventies also saw the fall of the hippie subculture that had begun years ago. But their ways, and their philosophy were here to stay.
As a person who was born twenty years later, most of what I have learnt about that time is from whatever remains: the pop culture, or to be more precise – the music from the 70s.
Post the shift from technical and intellectual serial music, a plethora of genres emerged during those years. There was rise in minimalism and the incorporation of modern electronic equipment (which were previously used only in war.) At the same time, the gleeful, attractive and entertaining pop-music of the 60s was losing its shine. Instead, a whole new revolution occurred, bringing forth a more expressive form of music: Rock and Roll.
Of course, the 60s had its own set of insightful and outstanding musicians creating, in the midst of Soul, Country/Folk and Jazz, a rise in Blues music from Muddy Waters, Eric Clapton Jimi Hendrix and The Beatles. No arguments about that. Still, the real growth spurt of the genre, or what we could call a ‘boom’ happened in the decade that followed it.
Rock and Roll did not emerge by itself, but as a bunch of other genres which happened to have the same line up and instrumentation. The most prominent of these genres include Punk, Heavy Metal and Psychedelic Rock and Jazz-Rock. Still, upon closer inspection on the content from each of these genres, all of them propagated a sense of melancholy that’s way more discernible than in the decade before.
For years, I looked for a reason that explained such melancholy(and often rage) in the forms of expression that arose from an age that seemed to be pretty prosperous: The Great Wars were over. The Civil Rights Movement in America had gained substantial momentum and the society had benefited from it. Women’s Liberation closely followed and was equally insightful. The moon wasn’t a distant dream anymore. Around the world, there was an increase in Industrial Productivity. At the same time, Food Security issues were on a decline with the all new Green Revolution making strides. It was all good.
Or was it?
Although the seventies look beautiful in grainy films with badass jackets and shades, in America, the decade was a time of high government mistrust.
In 1974, for the first time in history, a president resigned. This was preceded by a series of clandestine activities by the US Government that, unfortunately (to the government) came to light, an incident referred to as the Watergate. This included bugging of offices of his Political opponents or just about anyone who was considered suspicious.
Another popular issue from that time is Project MKUltra. Project MKUltra is the codename of one of those covert operations undertaken by the US Government that didn’t make it to light in association with President Nixon. However, MKUltra involved the use of many methodologies to manipulate people's mental states and alter brain functions, including the surreptitious administration of drugs such as LSD, hypnosis, sensory deprivation, isolation, verbal and sexual abuse among various forms of torture. This research was being undertaken in over 80 institutions that included schools, colleges, prisons and hospitals. This was brought to light by the Church Committee in 1975.
The following year, Saigon was captured by South Vietnam. While the Vietnam War is a great source of discussion and debate and largely depends on the point of view, it was bad news for an American citizen. The general anti-government feeling was heightened by the fact that while the government was capable of nefarious activities such as the ones I’ve mentioned, it was unable to win the war in Vietnam; 58,193 Americans died trying.
Needless to say, the decade had plunged people into a sense of fear and insecurity, despite look at claims that said they were living in the ‘greatest Nation.’ That gave rise to a rebellion against authority. Not through violence or representation, but through music.
The United Kingdom had its own share of political scandals, most of which dabbled on sexuality, prostitution among others.
In its true sense, the word ‘Satan’ simply translates to mean ‘the opposer’ in Hebrew. In the New Testament, Satan is a name that refers to a decidedly malevolent entity which possesses demonic god-like qualities. For most Christians, he is believed to be an angel who rebelled against God.
In Theistic Satanism, Satan is considered a positive force and deity who is either worshipped or revered. In LaVeyan Satanism, Satan is regarded as holding virtuous characteristics.
But that doesn’t come as a surprise as the duality in Good and Evil also existed on either sides of the Arabian Sea, with Devas(or Daivas) symbols Good in Hinduism, but Evil in Zoroastrianism, and Asuras/Ahuras being Evil in Hinduism but the Gods of Zoroastrianism. Upon closer look, Devas and Asuras were just theistic and symbolic representations of Order and Chaos. They were meant to oppose each other in order to ensure harmony.
However, that was not the case with Satan. While Satanism developed by itself as a new form of belief, it still stood to what it meant: The Opposer.
The perceived equivalent in Islam, Shaitan translates to mean ‘astray’ or ‘distant’. Still, the Islam version is pretty consistent with the Christian version: All he did was to disobey the God’s command, and he could do so because he had free will.
Free will, yes. As in a democratic nation.
Rock ‘n’ Roll
“They’d say, ‘If you play the record backwards, you can hear evil things like 'grrrr!'’ and I would think, ‘Geez, I didn’t know the devil sounded like that. I thought he was coherent like the rest of us.’”
- Brian Johnson, AC/DC
The rock music from the 70s is a big and accurate reflection of the troubles in its age. From the beginning of its time, the genres and its musicians have touched upon a variety of methods and used a number of symbols to substantiate their opinions against authority such as Satan.
What did they refer to, while talking about Satan? It was about standing up to a Government that did not speak for the people; almost all the time.
At the same time, Punk musicians expressed their issues with rules, hypocrisy and double standards of their leaders. Trend-setting songs such as The Clash's "Career Opportunities" and Chelsea's "Right to Work" deal with unemployment and the grim realities of urban life. In early British punk, a central goal was to outrage and shock the mainstream (something that electronica artists do today) which is prominent in The Sex Pistols classics "Anarchy in the U.K." and "God Save the Queen" that openly disparage the British political system and social mores.
Punk music wavered around and eventually disintegrated into a number of other genres. Almost all the rage in its music was converted into melancholic art-forms in most genres that followed it, including the no-wave American Punk and 80s Post Punk.
Still, a number of musicians kept up with the tradition of showing aggression through music. This practice was more prominent than anything else in the emergence of Metal Music. Although the most memorable bands that played Metal at that time were from outside America, the reason it spread like wild-fire in the west was simply because of the rage and mistrust against authority among people.
And given that it came up at a time when scandals and, by extension, conspiracy theories were floating around like smell of hot-dog on a city street, it was refreshing for an average music aficionado, or just about anyone to pick up music that advocated their fears and dissatisfaction.
That said this theory has a number of exceptions. These include the likes of Led Zeppelin, who started off with rock’n’roll music but eventually moved on to a more personal sounding country/folk frame work, hence not participating in any of the movements occurring in that era. Still, they went on to become one of the greatest bands in history with a number of subsequent bands across so many genres incorporating their musical elements and style. The same goes in case of Pink Floyd. While the band tried making larger-than-life statements and made references to a number of political phenomena through their works, it was the music that happened to be their primary form of expression.
Jazz music saw a turnaround in the 70s with people from Miles Davis’ troupe moving on with their careers forming bands that blurred genres. That was the decade when Jazz Music, predominantly a genre that contained black people associated with it, developed a fan base among the whites as well as inspire them. This was perhaps, an effect of the Civil Rights Movements that eventually resulted in greater interaction between black and white people in America, causing greater exchange of art and other forms of expression.
Today, Psychedelic Rock, Electronica, Traditional Rock’n’Roll and Jazz form an indispensable basis for any band. And though the 70s were an age with such distortions in the mind-set of people as opposed to the giant step in development it witnessed, it has given us, more than any other decade in history, the fundamentals for most modern music forms.
I do realize that I have not spoken much, or at all, about the electronic music that very much developed around the same time. What happened then? Was it too, inspired by the raging political issues of its time? And where did it start?
I shall write about it someday.