If the seventies are anything to go by, then the old adage of tough times producing great art certainly holds true. Like the social and political realm around it, the music world was in a state of decay and rebirth all at the same time during this period. The end result is some of the best and most imaginative work ever to grace a recording studio.
It was tough making the choices, but here are my five favourites from the latter half of that landmark musical decade.
1975 – Wish You Were Here by Pink Floyd
If I could only take one Pink Floyd album to my desert island it would be this one. The word “masterpiece” is bandied about far too often in the age of the internet, but it is surely the most succinct description of this seminal work by the grand masters of prog rock. Concept, musicianship and production all combine to produce a listening experience which is as fresh and relevant four decades on as it was on the day of release. Boasting the title track, Welcome to the Machine and Shine on you Crazy Diamond to name just three all-time greats, Wish You Were Here is almost too good to be true. The greatest album of all time? I’m not certain of that, but it’s surely got to be in the running.If you don’t yet own this dazzling offering from a musical golden age then you should renounce mp3, obtain a high quality copy and prepare for a horizon-widening audio experience.
The debut album from the ridiculously talented Tom Scholz and the guys from Massachusetts is a true masterclass in the art of music production. Seemingly resistant to the passage of time, More Than a Feeling still a firm radio favourite more than forty years after it first hit the airwaves. Never a band to just release music for the sake of it, Boston have earned their reputation as the supreme exponents of hard yet also melodic rock.Even though many of their tracks reflect the same problems that both the punks and suburbia were grappling with at the time, Boston always managed to shoehorn them into a remarkably upbeat rock parcel. With a unique blend of beautifully clipped guitar work and multi-channel vocal harmonies, it’s always summer when Boston’s in the background. Just immerse yourself in the first two tracks on this album and you’ll soon realise you’re in the presence of musical greatness.
1977 – No More Heroes by The Stranglers
It’s 1977, and so that means the punk explosion has laid waste to the cultural landscape. The explosive detonation of the Sex Pistols often eclipses some of the equally worthy and arguably more insightful creations of that long overdue, snarling counter-culture.
With a wreath adorning the cover and an increasingly fraught economic story dominating the world outside, No More Heroes intuitively encapsulates the death of the post war industrial consensus. Working hard and doing the right thing is no longer a recipe for success, and is becoming increasingly derided as a fool’s errand and a cynical method of social control.
The gleaming high-rise renewal has all too quickly become a grey, dripping, concrete dystopia; turning against the very masses who were promised that bright new tomorrow so long as they sacrificed the sweat to build it. This album is a brilliantly unfiltered scream from a generation instinctively sensing that everything is rotten, but not really knowing what to do after it’s all been torn down.
1978 – Systems of Romance by Ultravox
If there was a hall of fame for the most underrated yet influential albums of all time, then this would surely be hung in the foyer for all to see. Ultravox’s third and last album with the legendary John Foxx is a dusty and often overlooked glory of the post-punk synth movement. While The Stranglers echo through the guitar riffs of The Quiet Men and When You Walk Through Me, something altogether new and wonderful is stirring within the half remembered dreams of Dislocation and the analogue airwave chatter of Slow Motion. The haunting final track, Just for a Moment is my single favourite song of all time.
Indeed, the legendary Gary Numan has paid homage to this musical masterpiece as both an influence and an inspiration in more than one interview over the years.
1979 – The Wall by Pink Floyd
It feels eminently fitting that the seventies should bow out with one of the giants of that decade. The Wall is more than just a great album, it’s a brilliant and timely examination of power, control and cyclical interdependency. Nearly four decades of history have added yet further layers of contradiction and complexity as Roger Waters et al have themselves been absorbed into the establishment they once railed against. Indeed, it has been argued that the process was well under way by the time The Wall first appeared. With imagery by Fleet Street fixture Gerald Scarfe and a bunch of boys from Cambridge singing about not needing no education, some charges of intellectual dishonesty have been levelled at Floyd for this conceptual creation.However, it could also be argued that the mere existence of such discussion vindicates The Wall’s creation, by bringing the ever-changing and malleable nature of power dynamics into sharp, somewhat dated, and yet somehow timeless focus.
Fading out with the Winter of Discontent and the election of Britain’s first female Prime Minister, the seventies was a decade of upheaval and contradiction. Above all, it was a decade troubled by an overbearing yet unfocused sense that something was deeply and fundamentally wrong with society. Somehow the orderly, expert-driven concrete dream had gone terribly, awfully awry. This underlying sense of unease helped to usher in an unprecedented era of musical invention and creativity, and this rich cultural legacy is still being discovered, enjoyed and re-visited by each new generation of musicians and listeners alike.