Why You Should Listen To ’70s Rock ‘N’ Roll

There’s a record player in the corner of my bedroom in my New York City apartment. Below it is a disheveled stack of records. The haphazard pile is full of mood-altering, and even sometimes mind-altering, musical treasures. Each record contains songs that make me so unmistakably nostalgic. The catch? I'm nostalgic for a decade I never actually lived in. My collection includes records from the Grateful Dead, Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, The Who, and The Rolling Stones. Even still, it barely scratches the surface of the importance of '70s rock-'n'-roll heroes in my life. The long list of cult-worthy bands from the ‘70s is intimidating. Southern rock, punk rock, jam band rock, English rock, pop rock — it all feels legendary. The great musicians of the guitar-wielding, joint-smoking, tour-bus-riding era of true rock 'n' roll have transcended their roles as noise-makers and become icons of free-thinking, rebellion, and individuality. But even with all this history and the valuable catalogue it produced, I still encounter people daily who have no interest or appreciation for this iconic period of music culture. Those who don't give rock music the time of day are truly missing out on the most influential artists of this century. There's no whipping, no nae naeing, and no twerking. There's no 808s or remixes or offensive lyrics (that's a matter of opinion, but it is much tamer on the surface than a majority of today's radio hits). You can actually hear the sounds of the instruments, and dance to them however you please. And it's awesome. As Robert Plant, lead singer of Led Zeppelin, said in an 1970 interview, "I think rock is enjoyment and completely losing any inhibitions and really about having a good time." There are thousands of reasons you should listen to '70s music. If you don't already, then here's your starter kit. And if you already have a record stack that trumps mine, then put on your The Dark Side of The Moon and gain even more appreciation for your favorite musical era.
The Sound
Where else could we start other than the sound of a grizzly voice, a guitar solo, and the seemingly never-ending riffs of live performance? Many songs, like Zeppelin's "Stairway to Heaven" and Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Freebird," layer in various peaks in sound that keep you along for the ride. Other pinnacle tracks from this decade also contain a distinctive turn and change of pace midway through the song — a stylistic treatment more commonly referred to in the electronic world as "the drop." Guess what? Rock 'n' roll did it first. And way more smoothly, in my opinion, leaving you feeling reenergized and inspired after holding you captive for a solid 11 minutes on a musical quest.
Not to degrade electronic music, but nothing beats the reverberations of a guitar strum, a smooth drum solo, and uninhibited vocals. Songs are so polished nowadays, and not nearly as authentic-sounding. To really feel the emotion behind a song, you have to listen to the classics. All of the artists in this story are just that — artists. They made music that they were proud of and believed in, through and through. This was a time without the over-embellishment we see in today's new music. Contemporary pop music is so dolled up, mashed up, and overdone that it dilutes the industry as a whole. The songs and sounds of the '70s are not hyperstylized, but rather depend on the tried-and-true backgrounds of talented musicians, and on creative lyrics. The bridge between listener and musician was a lot shorter back then. Artists made music they loved without caring about how many likes they got on Instagram, or comparing their rankings on Spotify. The music was, and is, about authenticity and believability. These rock songs made me believe that the artists behind them were rock stars, and that their music could transport me anywhere I wanted to go. I probably listened to "Sparks" by The Who a dozen times before I realized there were no words in the song at all. The instruments tell the whole story. And yes, this is the song from that scene in Almost Famous when Anita (Zooey Deschanel) tells William (Patrick Fugit) to listen to Tommy (more on that below) with a candle burning so he can see his future. (Yes, I did this when I was 13, and may or may not have seen myself living in New York as a writer...)
It's also futile to compare the sounds of the era's best bands. The Beatles never sounded like Zeppelin; The Velvet Underground never overlapped with The Stones. But all of this music is raw yet refined, familiar yet otherworldly — whether the songs are full of commentary or rife with nonsense. The Cinematography
The albums from this era tell a story. They're meant to be listened to from start to finish, in order. When was the last time you did that with a Justin Bieber or Selena Gomez album? In the '70s, many of the groups had even more of a vision when it came to the stories they were telling. This sometimes involved cinematic accompaniment (what we might call "multimedia" today). Some chose to document their live concerts, while others chose to produce an entire scripted film in order to fill in all the missing parts of their albums. With the below films, you can watch as well as listen. The rock opera from The Who, Tommy, was supplementary to the group's album of the same name, which was used as a soundtrack for the film.
The mystical underwater journey from The Beatles, Yellow Submarine, was released in 1968, just shy of the '70s. This vibrant film is kid-friendly and a bit silly, but still impressively done.
The all-encompassing documentary from the 1969 Woodstock festival, Woodstock, was taken over the course of the three-day festival. This film defines a generation and showcases some of the best bands in history.
The memorial and celebration of The Band's last concert, The Last Waltz, was directed by Martin Scorsese and includes a roster of impressive guest performances from Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, and Bob Dylan to name a few.
The Art
The music of this decade touched the lives of its listeners audibly through sound and visually through image. Some of the most unique album art ever was produced during this time. The colorful, organic, and often trippy visual representation on rock vinyls put current album covers to shame.
Photo: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images.
The Rolling Stones pose with the vinyl cover for their album 'Sticky Fingers' on April 23, 1971. (L-R) Charlie Watts, Mick Taylor, Bill Wyman, Keith Richards, Mick Jagger.
Artists invested time, money, and creativity into their album art, too. The above Rolling Stones cover was designed by Andy Warhol, as was the banana image from The Velvet Underground's first album cover, which he also helped produce. Posters from iconic tours and re-creations of famous album covers are available for purchase online, sometimes even with signatures from the band members. Today, the light displays and visual backgrounds of a sold-out show distract from the artist, who appears ant-sized when you're in the nosebleeds. But back then, all you got was a sick poster, a raw sound, and the record on your shelf at home. And that was all you needed.
Photo: Christopher Simon Sykes/Hulton Archive/Getty Images.
Mick Jagger of The Rolling Stones waves to the crowd at an outdoors show during the band's 1975 Tour of the Americas.
The Nostalgia
Rock 'n' roll is still around, but mostly it belongs to a bygone era. Worn-and-torn band shirts from '70s world tours sell for hundreds of dollars, and tickets to any reunion shows can quickly run up into the thousands for a decent seat. To me, there is no modern-day replacement. And there doesn't need to be. The classics are always waiting to be put on the record player and greet you with a familiar tune.
She started shaking to that fine, fine music / You know her life was saved by rock 'n' roll.
I know it's only rock 'n' roll but I like/ Like it, like it, yes I do. I think it's time for you to start curating that '70s playlist now. Or even invest in a turntable of your own and start that record collection. It may be only rock 'n' roll, but you'll like it.

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