Culture

The decade May and Corbyn want to return us to could produce some decent art

The ‘70s were rubbish? Tell that to Stevie Wonder, Francis Ford Coppola and Joni Mitchell

BY John McKie   /  16 May 2017

 

The determination of Jeremy Corbyn and Theresa May to drive headlong without a handbrake into the 1970s might, as Reaction Editor and my friend Iain Martin suggests, scare everyone of all political stripe.

Even though Iain and I were born in the same year, someone has to take issue with his assertion that the 1970s were nothing but the relentless gruel of flared trousers, prog (much of it quite good), heavy metal (again, we agree to disagree), disco (won’t hear a word against it) and cook-from-frozen burgers.

There are strong cases to suggest that the decade was in fact the period where popular culture was at its most productive. It was a time when the rock stars of ’60s took flight into their most prolific eras before the bloated padded shoulder excess of the following decade. Children’s television like The Clangers*, Mr. Benn and Chorlton and The Wheelies was as creative as it’s ever been. Tiswas proved that Anarchy In The UK extended beyond punk. Similarly, film directors such as Scorsese, Coppola, Cimino, De Palma, Spielberg and George Roy Hall (among others) were allowed to take risks with personal pictures before Jaws in 1975 and Star Wars in 1977 heralded the move into tentpole blockbusters of the ’80s. In Hollywood, this has led us to where we are today when the only men or women able to get films of scale made are Marvel cartoon characters.

The Seventies may have been a decade where the great office of the US President was called into disgrace and ignominy (and thank goodness we’ve moved past that), but they were often a time where artists delivered – even if some of those were working three-day weeks.

For example….

In the ’60s… David Bowie studied mime at Sadlers Wells and recorded The Laughing Gnome.

In the ’70s… a string of era-defining albums including both The Man Who Sold The World & Hunky Dory in the one year, and “Heroes” and Low in another 12-month period.

In the ’80s… he wore a pink wig in Labyrinth and a leopard print jumpsuit in the Dancing In The Street video.
In the ’60s… Woody Allen did stand-up comedy in dungy Greenwich Village nightclubs and pretended to be James Bond in Casino Royale, decades before Daniel Craig.

In the ’70s… Woody Allen wrote and directed some of the greatest comedies ever including Sleeper, Annie Hall, Love and Death and Manhattan.

In the 80s… Woody Allen thought we needed cheering up with gloomy Ingmar Bergman-esque (excuse the tautology) dramas.
In the ’60s… George Harrison was the third-best songwriter in his band.

In the ’70s… George Harrison released All Things Must Pass and organised the Concert for Bangladesh.

In the ’80s… George Harrison had a song on the Porky’s Revenge soundtrack.

In the ’60s… Ringo Starr was the second drummer, and apparently the second-best, in his second band.

In the ’70s… Ringo played on the Concert for Bangladesh, established himself as a solo artist, went partying with Keith Moon and worked with Quincy Jones, Maurice Gibb and Harry Nilsson.

In the ’80s… Thomas The Tank Engine.

In the ’60s… Joni Mitchell gave her best songs, like Chelsea Morning and Both Sides Now to other artists.

In the ’70s… Intimately personal and timeless classic albums like Blue, Court & Spark, The Hissing of Summer Lawns.

In the ’80s… It was the era of guests stars on records. Hers were adorned by, among others, Billy Idol, Lionel Richie and the actor who played “Crying Indian” in the “Keep America Beautiful” ads.

In the ’60s… Carole King gave her best songs like The Locomotion, Up On The Roof and I’m Into Something Good to other artists.

In the ’70s… In 1971, King wrote and released Tapestry, which redefined the singer-songwriter genre for solo artists, part of what made the decade great (see also Elton John, James Taylor, Rickie Lee Jones…)

In the ’80s… Carole King wrote and performed the theme to The Care Bears Movie.

In the ’60s… Marvin Gaye’s golden tonsils adorned Broadway standards at the beck and call of Motown’s head honcho Berry Gordy.

In the ’70s… Marvin cut loose from Gordy’s tutelage to release What’s Going On, Let’s Get It On, I Want You, Trouble Man  and sang Got To Give It Up on Soul Train.

In the ’80s… tax problems, sparring in a gym in Belgium, speaking French on the Midnight Love album and that little local difficulty with his father. (Sorry. Too soon?)

In the ’60s… Stevie Wonder had to be billed as ‘Little’ Stevie Wonder, released covers and an album of instrumentals under the rib tickling name Elvets Rednow.

In the ’70s… A hotter than July hot-streak of era-defining records like Talking Book, Innervisions, Fulfillingness’ First Finale and Songs In The Key of Life.

In the ’80s… I Just Called To Say I Love You and Ebony & Ivory.

In the ’60s…. Andy Warhol was shot and had to wear a corset.

In the ’70s… Andy Warhol hung out at Studio 54 and sold his work to John Lennon, Diana Ross and Brigitte Bardot.

In the ’80s… Andy Warhol worked with Curiosity Killed The Cat. And died. (The second unrelated to the first).

In the ’60s… The Rolling Stones were predominantly a singles act, albeit a very good one.*

In the ’70s… They released their masterpieces Sticky Fingers and Exile On Main Street.

In the ’80s… Mick and Keith fell out, and Mick danced in a video with a man in a leopard-print jump suit.

In the ’60s… pre-Godfather, Francis Ford Coppola was working with Petula Clark on Finian’s Rainbow. This was also the decade he met the most overrated rock star of this or any other decade, Jim Morrison.

In the ’70s… The Godfather, Parts I & II.

In the ’80s… no Godfather.

In the ’90s…. The Godfather, Part III.

So if the political leaders of our age are determined to bring us back to the 1970s, in terms of albums and movies (and probably chidren’s television too), bring it on.
*(Yes, yes, there were three 1969 episodes of The Clangers and The Stones released Let It Bleed and Beggars Banquet in the Sixties, but let’s not nitpick.)