From 1977, several memories converge into one of the greatest decades of the five I have lived through. While George Lucas put me to sleep with his laboriously-written, but visually groundbreaking, Star Wars, my babysitting cousin could only rock me to sleep with music. I had Steve Miller Band, Kiss, Cheap Trick, Nazareth and Heart among many others keeping me company. It was my cousin Pam’s copy of Kiss’ double-album, Alive II—the first truly successful live concert recording—which revealed to me the raw energy that rock music was capable of producing.
Nearly talentless musically, KISS elevated arena shows to a standard of stage performance that held in place through the next decade, until at least 1992 with the birth of the grunge movement—often falsely credited to Nirvana. Also in ’77, The Runaways, virtually unknown outside of Los Angeles, were rocking the Tokyo Music Festival with their own brand of irreverent stage antics—Cherie Currie’s scanadalous outfits providing tabloid fodder and recycling an ancient argument about artistry breeding delinquency. I’m not sure it could be called artistry, what they did, but again the absence of technical skill was overshadowed by showmanship. The studio cut of “Queens of Noise” plays blandly, as if Kim Fowley’s manufactured assemblage of five teenagers having little else in common would, just one year after landing a contract with Polygram/Mercury, rather be anywhere else. However, the same song on Live in Japan bristles with electricity—even if Sandy West kept shifting tempo.
By the end of the decade, arena rock gave way to the emergence of punk and new wave, and would only see a mediocre resurgence in the form of kitschy hair metal, at its height from 1987 to 1989. Here I’ve only explained how the decade in which I was born, too late I would argue, had ended. Where did it begin?
On April 11, 1969, The Beatles released “Get Back” as a farewell to their fans. Paul McCartney attempting a more middle-American tenor, backed by country-blues guitar and triplets on the backbeat, briefly tells the story of Jo-Jo and Loretta Martin. It’s unusually visceral for a song that lyrically pales in comparison to the spellbinding Eleanor Rigby. Yet it’s important to me, because there in my parents’ metallic-blue Oldsmobile Cutlass it was the first time I had heard the group that came to define twentieth-century music—Lennon and McCartney the Godard and Truffaut of pop.
Sgt. Peppers spawned all the prog-rock bands chiefly out of Britain, including King Crimson, Yes, Pink Floyd, Genesis and Electric Light Orchestra. By the early-1970’s the movement spanned from Greece’s Aphrodite’s Child to Canada’s Rush. More rock artists of the period would cite the diverse catalog of the Beatles as their primary influence than any other group or solo artist. Why? Their adaptation of classical musical phrasings and literary-grade, visually-evocative lyrics in a dynamic repertoire that spanned just over half a decade is unmatched in popular music history to this day.