The 70s is often called “the decade that fashion forgot!” Certainly the early 1970s is a bizarre curio – brown and orange seemed to be the dominating colours (for walls, curtains, carpets, cars, clothes) and swirly fonts on posters, album covers and TV titles/credits suggested an exciting modernity (back then) that looks inescapably quaint when viewed from our brave new century.
As the decade started, hair was long. (This was just as well for me – being a kid back then I actually had hair in those days!) By the time the decade ended, hair was short. (Punk Rock had arrived maaaaaaan! Long hair was for boring old hippies!)
Consequently, fashion-wise you can divide the decade pretty neatly in two: 1970-75 (long hair, flares, hippie-ism) 1976-1979 (short, spiked-up hair, drainpipe trousers, Punk).
1970-75: For men, think Tom Selleck as Magnum – handlebar moustaches, chest hair, medallions, white suits with flared pants, Hawaiian shirts with huge collars. In the UK it was mainly 70s footballers who set the tone – with George Best and Peter Osgood at the helm. Adverts for colognes such as Brut, Old Spice and Hai Karate reinforced the image of the typical 1970-75 Man.
For women (1970-75), think Pan’s People (…for the uninitiated, they were dancers on the TV show Top Of The Pops); long hair, mini-skirts, white knee-high boots. Alongside these ladies you can include Abba’s Anni-Frida and Agnetha. Finally, add in a backdrop of a mirror ball and a disco dancefloor and you have the defining image of the typical 1970-75 Woman. Farah Fawcett – from the original Charlie’s Angels – was another female icon of the period.
1976-79 (Men): It all changed when Punk hit. For men, this meant throwing out everything hippie-ish and performing a full 180 degree turn. Hair went short (and mostly spiky) and trousers went narrow. If you didn’t want to do the full Punk thing, there was also a Mod revival (led by band The Jam) – ushering in a new era of Sta-Press trousers, black mohair suits and Harrington jackets.
Overall, I’d suggest The Jam’s front man, Paul Weller, set the new clean-cut tone for 76-79 Man. As I became a teenager (in 1978) I vacillated schizophrenically in my attempts to try to be either Paul Weller or Johnny Rotten. One week I was Weller….one week I was…er…Rotten!
Women in 76-79 mostly continued where the 70-75 look had left off – modifying their appearance as Disco took hold as a phenomenon (and as the movie Saturday Night Fever – released in 1977 – gripped a generation).
However, we had Punk women too – Debbie Harry of Blondie and Siouxsie Sioux of Siouxsie and The Banshees were at the forefront of the individualism of women in Punk!
Plus, of course, there was also Ari Up of The Slits, Viv Albertine of The Raincoats and Patti Palladin – musical collaborator with the legendary Johnny Thunders…who I might have mentioned once or twice in my blog posts perhaps!
Talking of Johnny Thunders…brings us neatly on to the topic of music. Music in the 1970s was far better (looking back) than the era gets credit for…and certainly far better than its fashion!
Back in those days we used to play something called ‘records’ made out of a substance called ‘vinyl’! We played them on record players (aka record decks, music centres, stereos etc). The stylus (needle) you had for your record deck was all important to the sound quality – and hi-fi buffs used to take equipment like amplifiers very seriously indeed. (More of which in the fourth and final part of the 70s nostalgia blog posts; 70s technology!)
Musically, the 70s journeyed through a number of genres – all closely connected to youth cults. At the outset (70-75) there was Glam Rock – Bolan, Bowie, Slade, Sweet (etc). This was followed by the Punk explosion that began in 1976 (check my earlier blog post about Punk for a more in-depth exploration). Straddling both of these was Disco. Prog Rock floated about then too – and Heavy Metal had its definitive beginnings in the 70s as well.
Originally I was a Slade fan. I had the album Slayed (on vinyl!) and almost all of their singles. I used to like Noddy Holder’s mirrored top hat and steel toe-capped platform shoes, trademark growling voice and Slade’s punchy, rocky foot-stomping music. I was a long-haired kid who liked nothing better than spinning a platter such as ‘Gudbuy T’Jane’ or ‘Cum On Feel The Noize’.
Then Punk came along (with its sheer energy and its gutsy grassroots challenge to the pomposity and self-indulgence of too many self-important jaded stadium bands) and it changed everything – and my own appearance – literally overnight. After the Pistols’ infamous ‘interview’ with Bill Grundy – it was short spiky hair, Never Mind The Bollocks (on vinyl!) and ‘Anarchy for the UK’!
As mentioned, I had a liking for The Jam too. In The City and This Is The Modern World were trail-blazing albums at the time. I bought the former on cassette tape at the local Woolworth’s…and then ducked into the photo booth trying to strike up a Weller-esque pose. Woolworth’s – another 70s icon that is no more…reminding me I left the Pick ‘n’ Mix counter out of the 70s food blog! Hey ho!
Disco dominated for those folk who were more mainstream (or. frankly, more mature!) than most of my friends and I.
Without doubt David Bowie should get a special mention for the music he produced through the 1970s – his musicality and sheer artistry retained his credibility with the Punks in spite of the ‘revolution’ in music that Punk represented (and rightly so). Bowie was huge for me during the era – and I played many of his records constantly alongside the Punk stuff. During the 70s Bowie was at the forefront of Glam Rock – this was the age of Ziggy Stardust after all – and arguably produced most of his most influential and long-lasting work during the decade through his constant reinventions and inventive personas (Ziggy, Aladdin, Thin White Duke et al).
This was the decade in which Bowie released The Man Who Sold The World (1970), Hunky Dory (1971), Ziggy Stardust (1972), Aladdin Sane (1973), Diamond Dogs (1974), Young Americans (1975), Station To Station (1976), Low (1977), Heroes (1977), Lodger (1979). How about that for a discography?!! Bowie’s contribution to the music of the 70s alone makes it a great era for music! I still listen to tracks from each and every one of those LPs to this day….on…er…MP3!
Marc Bolan too – who features prominently in my novel LITTLE BASTARD – was another Glam Rock trendsetter who also retained his credibility with the Punks (through his support of Punk acts on his TV show, Marc, and his friendship with Punk band The Damned). Tracks like Get It On and The Slider have stood the test of time and are still eminently playable in the 21st century (as is, ironically, 20th Century Boy!)
These days my musical tastes are not genre-specific but broad and catholic – I like MUSIC in many, many formats (so long as it’s goooood!) But, y’know, looking back…the 70s got one thing right…whatever else you say about the decade…its music definitely still rocks!
Next time the final 1970s nostalgia blog post: Part Four…..70s technology!