Back to my favorite decade of music- the 70’s. 1975- the year of the epic! Now I’m not saying that 1975 is the best, or even one of the best, music years of the 70’s. It’s not. But every year of the 70’s carries an embarrassment of riches and ’75 is no exception. The reason for all of the ‘epic’ talk can be found in the mixes below- there are just so many damn epic tracks released in ’75. I can’t recall any other year where so great many 6, 7, 8, 9 and even 13 minute tracks were released. Even somewhat shorter tracks like “Born to Run” by Springsteen and “Trampled Under Foot” by Zeppelin have an epic feel. On many of the mixes I am barely able to fit 15 tracks- most mixes from other years of the same decade I normally can fit 18-20. 1975 can surely be seen as overindulgent. Many of the hard rock and psychedelic bands of the 60’s and early 70’s were now rich and no longer as hungry. There was a whole lot of experimentation and therefore a whole bunch of wankery, but for all of the semi-failed experiments there were also a number of successes. Though ’75 was not the deepest of years, it’s tough to dismiss a year that held classic albums like Springsteen’s “Born to Run”, Led Zeppelin’s classic double album “Physical Graffiti”, Pink Floyd’s masterful “Wish You Were Here”, Bob Dylan’s confessional “Blood On the Tracks”, and punk poetess Pati Smith’s great debut “Horses”.
One of the very dominant sounds of 1975 was hard rock and heavy metal, which really got its start in the late 60’s and early 70’s. The genres would become more commercialized soon after, leading the way to more corporate and safe-sounding arena-rock bands in the late 70’s like Boston, Foreigner, REO Speedwagon, Kansas & Styx. Outside of the aforementioned “Physical Graffiti”, Boston’s Aerosmith released their landmark 70’s album “Toys In the Attic”, containing two of their biggest and most enduring hits “Walk This Way” and Sweet Emotion”. Heavy Metal originators Black Sabbath released perhaps their last great record with “Sabotage”. Hard touring group KISS released their 3rd album “Dressed to Kill”, but more importantly later in the year came out with “Alive”, one of the most popular live albums of all-time and probably THE definitely live heavy metal album. With “Alive” KISS became household names and one of the most popular bands in American among teenagers. Ted Nugent released his eponymous debut, still be far his best record, containing “Stranglehold”, his best track. Guitar god Jeff Beck’s “Blow By Blow” was a great hard rock/jazz/funk fusion record and was perhaps his single best individual artistic statement. Down south Lynyrd Skynyrd released their fine, workmanlike 3rd record “Nuthin’ Fancy” & Texas’s ZZ Top came out with “Fandango”, which held their signature song “Tush”. Many of the above tracks can be found in the note perfect film “Dazed and Confused”, about the last day of school in 1976 in a Texas suburb. Across the pond theatrical hard rockers Queen released their best album “A Night at the Opera” containing “Bohemian Rhapsody”, one of the signature hard rock tracks ever and up to that time held the largest recording budget for an individual recording in history. Hard-rock glam bubble-gummers Sweet’s “Desolation Boulevard” became their biggest hit album and was even relatively successful in America, who until then was mostly immune to the British glam scene. Long-time great The Who and the Kinks released “Who By Numbers” and “Schoolboys in Disgrace” respectively- neither close to their best recordings but each held their own charms.
The singer-songwriter scene, so huge in the early 70’s, was starting to both peter-out a bit and expand in 1975. After several huge commercial successes and reeling from the deaths of two close friends from heroin overdoses, Neil Young came out with the harrowingly great “Tonight’s the Night”, which failed to sell well and today is thought of less as classic rock and more as a forefather of the 80’as and 90’s alternative music movement. Young also came out with the solid Crazyhorse record “Zuma” later in the year, which had one of his best songs “Cortez the Killer”. Bruce Springsteen was moving out of neo-Dylan territory and released his best album “Born to Run”, which landed him on the covers of “Time” and “Newsweek” simultaneously and launched his career into the stratosphere. From there on out he was thought to be one of the most important figures in rock music. Elton John, who had a run of albums in the early 70’s nearly matching the Beatles a decade before released his last really good one- the conceptual “Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy”. Bob Dylan’s “Blood On the Tracks” was one of his very best albums as well and the closest look into his soul that the public was ever to get. Paul Simon’s “Still Crazy After All These Years” was another big success for him even if it didn’t match the brilliance of his first two albums artistically. Joni Mitchell’s “The Hissing of Summer Lawns” brought her even further into jazz territory than before, surely alienating many of her folkie fans, but showing her restless artistic spirit- it was ultimately a great listen.
The new sound of disco was going full force in the ’75. While it was still mainly a club phenomenon among gays, blacks & latinos, there were many records crossing over to the pop charts- KC & the Sunshine Ban’s “Get Down Tonight” and “That’s the Way I Like It”, Australia’s Bee Gees’ hit with “Jive Talkin'” and “Nights On Broadway” from their “Main Course” album, Donna Summer hugely popular “Love to Love You Baby” single, Shirley & Company funky “Shame, Shame, Shame”, Eurodisco track “Fly Robin Fly” by Silver Convention and tracks like “Mamma Mia” and “SOS” by Euro-pop/disco sensation ABBA to name a few. This was still a few years before disco would break countrywide with the “Saturday Night Fever” move and soundtrack so the music still sounded looser and more pure. Philadelphia soul music was a close cousin of disco and groups like Trammps, Tavares, the O’Jays & Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes all released great songs in ’75. The great progressive, funk band Earth Wind & Fire streamlined their sound a bit for their “That’s the Way of the World” album, which likely would have made my below top 20 albums of ’75 if I actually owned it. It has four monumental EWF classics in the title track, “Shining Star”, “Sing A Song” and “Reasons”. Speaking of funk, ’75 was a great year for it. James Brown may have been dying out a bit but the P Funk empire took up where he left off. Both Parliament and Funkadelic released albums that year with “Mothership Connection”, Parliament’s definitive statement, and “Let’s Take It to the Stage”, which has one of my favorite P Funk workouts “Get Off Your Ass & Jam”. Other great funk tracks of ’75 include “Love Rollercoaster” and “Fopp” by the Ohio Players, “Low Rider” and “Why Can’t We Be Friends” by L.A.’s War, “Fight the Power” by the Isley Brothers, smooth-funk classic “Summer Madness” by Kool & the Gang, and “Slippery When Wet” by the Commodores. Perhaps no one (even P Funk) was funkier than African musician Fela Kuti’s, whose “Expensive Shit” album may just be his definitive statement.
In ’75 punk rock and other outsider music had yet to really hit American and British culture in a bit way, but the music was starting to come to a boil. While not a punk album per se, Patti Smith’s “Horses” was certainly part of the movement, even if it owed more to Rimbaud, the Doors & garage rock than to a band like the Ramones. Fellow CBGB band Television released their great debut single “Little Johnny Jewel” and over in Cleveland, Ohio, experimental punkers Pere Ubu came out with their first two landmark singles “Heart of Darkness” and “30 Seconds Over Tokyo”. In the U.K. David Bowie was in the middle of his plastic soul phase. His “Young Americans” album, was not one of his very best, but was still more than solid and garnered him two huge hits in “Fame” and the title track. Roxy Music’s “Siren” ended their run of five stellar albums in a row and gave them their first American cross-over hit with the disco/funk nod “Love Is the Drug”. Brian Eno began to invent ambient music, particularly with “Another Green World”, up to that point his least song oriented album, though still containing a handful of amazing ‘songs’. Though still largely unknown in the U.S. Reggae music had a very successful year with Toots & the Maytals U.S. version of “Funky Kingston”, Bob Marley & the Wailer’s great “Live!” record and Burning Spear’s “Marcus Garvey”, though never really crossing over at all, is still thought to be one of Reggae’s definitive recordings. Though it took years to breakthrough, the Rocky Horror Picture Show movie & soundtrack was also originally released in ’75, and due to its cult status, I think deserves a mention alongside this other pre-alternative music.
You can’t mention the mid 70’s without giving a nod to soft rock, which was often, but not exclusively recorded and performed by L.A. bands. The Eagles “One of These Nights” album as well as Fleetwood Mac’s “Fleetwood Mac”, Steely Dan’s “Katy Lied” and additional tracks by bands like Jefferson Starship, Captain & Tenille, 10cc and E.L.O. were all big commercial successes in 1975. And though music of soft or light rock was pure pablum, all of the above bands were able to achieve their own artistic accomplishments with the music, whether with a whole album or simply 1 track. Though it’s tempting to sometimes lump music in a single genre together, the above artists give examples of how varied music can be within an admittedly critically invented genre.
PATTI SMITH- HORSES
AEROSMITH- TOYS IN THE ATTIC
Buy Toys In The Attic Amazon
QUEEN- A NIGHT AT THE OPERA
Buy A Night At The Opera (Deluxe Version)Amazon
DAVID BOWIE- YOUNG AMERICANS
Buy Young Americans Amazon
LED ZEPPELIN- PHYSICAL GRAFFITI
Buy Physical Graffiti Amazon
FELA KUTI- EXPENSIVE SHIT
Buy Expensive ShitAmazon
JEFF BECK- BLOW BY BLOW
PINK FLOYD- WISH YOU WERE HERE
Buy Wish You Were Here (2011 – Remaster)Amazon
NEIL YOUNG- TONIGHT’S THE NIGHT
Buy Tonight’s The NightAmazon
LYNYRD SKYNYRD- NUTHIN’ FANCY
Buy Nuthin’ FancyAmazon
ROXY MUSIC- SIREN
BRIAN ENO- ANOTHER GREEN WORLD
Buy Another Green WorldAmazon
STEELY DAN- KATY LIED
Buy Katy LiedAmazon
FLEETWOOD MAC- FLEETWOOD MAC
Buy Fleetwood Mac Amazon
BOB DYLAN- BLOOD ON THE TRACKS
Buy Blood On The Tracks Amazon
BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN- BORN TO RUN
Buy Born To Run – 30th Anniversary EditionAmazon
PARLIAMENT- MOTHERSHIP CONNECTION
Buy Mothership Connection Amazon
BURNING SPEAR- MARCUS GARVEY
Buy Marcus Garvey Amazon
BLACK SABBATH- SABOTAGE
*Album not available via iTunes or Amazon
JONI MITCHELL- THE HISSING OF SUMMER LAWNS
Buy The Hissing Of Summer LawnsAmazon