Quick! Without looking at the list of artists below, what do you think of when you think of the ’70s? Did you think of disco? Maybe. What about arena rock? Perhaps. The folk stuff from the early ’70s? It’s possible. British punk rock? Could be. Well, those categories quite possibly cover the major musical genres that dominated the “Me decade.” But between the crevices and in the margins of the dominant genres were other artists who would later become associated with New Wave music, heralded as pioneers of electronica, or even New Age. So let’s jettison our preconceptions of the ’70s and get ready for some uncommon sounds from a decade that gave us the end of the U.S. involvement in Vietnam, the end of Richard Nixon, and the (temporary) death of disco.
“Running Out of Angels,” Elvis Costello (Download)
Sure, Elvis Costello is an icon now, but back in the ’70s he was this little dorky looking Buddy Holly spastic goof who wrote some solid pop songs that wouldn’t see much radio airplay ’til the early ’80s — at least in the U.S. When the Costello box set of his first four albums came out in the ’90s, he included some demos that, to me, were a lot stronger than the studio versions. One of the demos that never really made it beyond the, well, demo stage was “Running Out of Angels” which, according the liner notes in the CD was novel because Elvis rarely had time to actually demo his songs. He usually wrote them on the bus, rehearsed them during sound check, and then went into the studio to record them. But what makes this a great demo is that fact that Elvis screws up during the first verse and then starts over without missing a beat.
“I’ll Come Running,” Brian Eno (Download)
Eno’s humor on his album wasn’t as apparent as earlier releases, but “I’ll Come Running” has some wonderfully humorous moments of an obsessive and overbearing personality. This album also signaled a later avenue for Eno (i.e., ambient music) which would creep into the music of many New Age artists who had a good run in the mid-’80s. One of the more interesting (and geeky) things Eno would introduce during recording sessions were the “Oblique Strategies” that only an accomplished musician can seemingly get away with. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, you can read the Wiki here, and then in the comfort of your own home, you might want to try some of these instructions when making music.
“Autobahn,” Kraftwerk (Download)
Oh, aren’t you lucky! I dumped out of “Autobahn” after about eight minutes on the full mix, but because you’re a loyal reader (or just show up for the mp3s), I’m loading up the entire 22 minutes (and some change) of the song. Even though Kraftwerk became fodder for the Dieter character on SNL, their music is so much more than what they did on “Boing Boom Tschak” off of Electric Cafe. Indeed, “Autobahn” is kind of the grandfather of electronica music with its hypnotic vibe and synthesized soul. All in all, a good ride.
“New Dawn Fades,” Joy Division (Download)
1979 was the year that Joy Division released their debut album, and boy what a brooding work it was. It’s hard to believe that New Order was able to transcend that sound for a more upbeat pop beat that still had dark lyrics, but was so full of great hooks, that many didn’t really notice. With “New Dawn Fades,” Joy Division really busts out the angst with snarling guitars, an always solid bass line from Peter Hook, and of course, Ian Curtis’ dark delivery. Perfect for getting your goth on!
“I Zimbra,” Talking Heads (Download)
One of the most interesting lead tracks from a Talking Heads album — and the band chose it to be one of the singles released from the album. I’ve never seen the Talking Heads perform live, but I did see David Byrne on his last tour. He performed this song, and it was a note for note, pitch perfect version of the one on the album. Fear of Music is also noted for the group’s collaboration with Brian Eno, and I wonder if the band used his “Oblique Strategies” on this album. Considering how much Byrne admired (and copied) Eno in many ways (even dressing like him), they probably did.
“She’s So Modern,” the Boomtown Rats (Download)
A band that never really got a fair shake in the States, the Boomtown Rats had embraced a number of musical styles before calling it quits, but here they are at their snotty best with “She’s So Modern”– which sports unintentionally humorous line: “She’s so nineteen seventies.”