MIRST Competitors Release (10 of 13): Mainstream Rock, Punk, & New Wave, 1975-1979

As explained in the Rock Monster post, rock and roll in the early 70s split out of a prism into an eclectic group of stylistic cousins. The late 70s saw a consolidation of these styles back into each other from a macro lens perspective- but also simultaneously saw the rise of new reactive styles pushing back on this trend. It is hard to argue against the push for dollars and mega profits of corporate rock defined this time in music- but does that necessarily mean that the music itself was degenerative in evolution?

Mainstream rock becomes very FM oriented, and with that a movement emerges to try to cut songs to 4 to 5 minutes (max for radio time.) However, many labels were looking for the next mega-album at all times, concert promotions, dollars. Good examples include Peter Frampton’s Frampton Comes Alive album from 1976, The Eagles’s Hotel California album from the same year, and most importantly, Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours from 1977 (which stayed at Billboard #1 for 31 straight weeks.) Simultaneously, old rock monsters were maintaining previous approaches and having success- The Rolling Stones, Emerson Lake & Palmer, Jethro Tull, and Yes continue. In addition, new groups came in that took elements of prog rock but made it leaner and injected it with blues and pop elements- Kansas, Styx, Rush, Alan Parsons Project, Electric Light Orchestra, and Queen. Singer-songwriters from this era realizing success through older mediums/styles were Bob Dylan, Elton John, Paul Simon, Billy Joel, Jackson Browne, Bob Seger, and Bruce Springsteen (who is referred to as “Bob Dylan meets Phil Spector meets The Rolling Stones.)

The New York Dolls

The roots of U.S. punk can be drawn to The Velvet Underground and their preeminence in New York in the late 60s. Their inroads led to groups like Iggy Pop & The Stooges, The MC5, and New York Dolls. The New York punk scene emerged out of a club called CBGB (which stood for “Country Blue Grass Blues.”) Groups like Patti Smith Group, Television, The Ramones, and Blondie all started out playing there- mostly for an audience of whomever else was playing later that night. Across the pond, U.K. punk was being developed in reaction to the terrible British economy of that era and the consequent cultural despair that pocked the experience for the youth. Malcolm McLaren was a shop owner in Chelsea with an attitude that did some consulting for The New York Dolls (including the proposal that they should don red outfits in ’74/’75.) When the NYD’s break-up (because apparently drug addicts and alcoholics don’t get along, according to Professor Covach) McLaren decides to manage a new band of friends that shop at his store (which is called “SEX”) and call them the Sex Pistols. These guys of all pioneers have the most lasting effect on the punk style across the world. And their work leads to the success of other UK punk groups, including The Clash, The Buzzcocks, The Jam, Siouxsie and the Banshees, the X-Ray Spex, and The Slits.

American New Wave at heart was about taking the punk attitude that was so popular and making it safer for record companies (many were terrified after the Sex Pistols debacle on the Thames during the Jubilee celebration.) Groups in this space early on included Blondie, The Talking Heads, The Cars, Tom Petty (although he was more of a new traditionalist than a new wave artist,) Devo, B-52’s, and The Knack. British New Wave was pioneered by Elvis Costello and The Police. Important thing to keep in mind when it comes to new wave is that it was one of the first styles to maintain ironic references to the past- it used it as a critique of the present of music culture at the end of the 70s. Overall, this point in time at the end of the 70s signaled the end of a 15 year arc of the “hippie aesthetic”- whether one points to disco, punk, or new wave as the culprit, things had changed.

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About g-mo

The day I was born, Michael Jackson's Thriller album was at the top of the Billboard 200. I've been trying my best to live up to that expectation ever since.
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