Graham Reid | | 2 min read
It might have been famously "the decade that taste forgot", but the Seventies has spawned an interesting nostalgia for smiley faces (on e-mails!), terrific films such as Dazed and Confused . . . and this extraordinary box set of seven CDs which unflinchingly collects up the great (James Brown's The Payback, Freda Payne's Band of Gold and Gladys Knight and the Pips' Midnight Train to Georgia) with the good (James Taylor's Fire and Rain) and the pretty fuggin' awful (Ray Steven's The Streak, Maureen McGovern's Morning After).
With Rhino Records' customary attention to detail and elaborate packaging of such collections, this '98 box-book came in a shagpile cover with smiley faces woven in, an elaborate fold-in/out way of housing the discs, and a fat booklet which gave interesting pub-quiz background on the songs or acts -- and dropped in events from mainstream culture as signposts ('71 "the peasant look is in", the '72 earthquake in Nicaragua and the '75 Supreme Court ruling that US teachers could spank unruly kids).
There are also 25 soundbites sequenced between the songs "in such a way as to give you a feel for the decade. Hopefully you'll find the experience a 'groovy' one".
But mainly the history of the Seventies is told through these emblematic songs.
With a few exceptions -- up until disco and punk in '76 anyway -- there were ballads galore and crassly pop-directed radio fodder. Some big names (the Bee Gees, Wings, Springsteen and so on because of contractual constraints) are absent, and nothing of the punk or New Wave movements sullies this look back through the prism of pop radio.
In fact playing this is like tuning in to a major Mid West radio station in '79 as it does some flashback playlisting to discover . . .
Religion and Jesus (who was a Capricorn) were big themes (Day By Day from Godspell, Billy Ocean's Put You Hand in the Hand and Norman Greebaum's superb Spirit in the Sky), and there were plenty of songs like Me and You and Dog Named Boo (by Lobo) or the bubblegum novelty hit Chick-A-Boom by Daddy Dewdrop who formed "a deep and lasting bond with his audience -- but then they moved on to fifth grade".
This is all memorably bad or memorably marvellous music: Melanie's Brand New Key, Helen Reddy's I Am Woman, Jackie Blue by the Ozark Mounatin Daredevils, Silver Convention's Fly Robin Fly . . .
There was disco (Alicia Bridges I Love the Nightlife), funk (the Commodores' Brick House) and there was the godawful: Dan Hill's Sometimes When We Touch ("the honesty's too much")
So what does this collection tell us about the decade in 150 songs?
That as with all decades it was populated by the sublime (Al Green) and the stupid (Rick Dees who gave us Disco Duck), that some people took themselves very seriously indeed (Feelings!) and others just wanted to party like there was no tomorrow, Aids or even the Eighties.
And there was Barry White.
This -- the terrible stuff included -- is an exceptional overview of a decade that gave the world Richard Nixon and Mary Tyler Moore, John Travolta and John Wayne Gacy.
And Free Bird.
Have a nice day.