The new technologies of the 1970s allowed listeners more personal choice in what they listened to at home and in their cars. Later, people gained even more freedom when they could listen in their portable headphones when they listened to their SONY Walkman. This change in technology caused changes on the radio as well, where we see the advent of Album Oriented Radio (AOR). What were the pros and cons of AOR? How did the AOR movement narrow the role of the DJ on the radio? How did this change the power structure within the music industry? Do you believe this was positive or negative for the music world and why?
In response to at least three of your peers, consider an album that was either positively or negatively affected by AOR. Does this album’s success or failure confirm or deny your peers’ viewpoints?
Readings and Resources
Textbook or eBook:
Campbell, M. (2019). Popular music in America. 5th ed. Cengage Learning.
In this unit, you will be learning and the changing scene in the business of rock music and the new ways that artists had to promote themselves as musicians as music became an industry. We begin to see musicians carving out unique identities for themselves as singer-songwriters and personalities begin to come through in their costuming, spectacular performances and the expansion of the rock and R&B styles of the 1960s.
· Chapter 13: Rock and R&B after 1970 (pgs. 234-250)
Articles, Websites, and Videos:
Led Zeppelin has its own band website, and this is an excellent resource for you to explore the music of this band, as well as its history. On this site you can locate photos, a “discography” of all of the albums Led Zeppelin recorded as well as the venues in which living members of this band are still performing in.
· Led zeppelin . (2019). Warner Music UK Limited.
The SONY Walkman was one of the most influential portable music gadgets in music history. Read about the history of the Walkman on this site.
· Haire, M. (2009, Jul 1). The walkman . Time USA, LLC.
In the seventies, rock traded tie-dyed T-shirts for three-piece suits. In so doing, it turned its core values upside down. From the beginning, rock had portrayed itself as the music of rebellion. But as the market share of rock and R&B grew, so did the financial stake. It cost more to create and promote a record, put on a concert, and operate a venue. There was more money to be made but also more to be lost. Not surprisingly, a corporate mentality took over the business side of rock. It was evident to some extent in the music itself, in that some artists seemed to make commercial success their highest priority and let that shape their music: Elton John, the best-selling rock star of the seventies, was the poster boy for this path. However, the impact of profit-oriented thinking was far more telling behind the scenes. It determined to a great extent which music would get promoted and how. Its impact was most evident in the media and in the use of new market strategies designed to maximize sales.
A major business innovation of the seventies was cross-marketing . In pursuit of greater financial rewards, record companies used tours to help promote record sales. The stadium or large-arena concert became commonplace. More ritual than musical event, these concerts usually confirmed what the audience already knew about the music of a particular act. As a rule there was little, if any, spontaneity in performance, as acts drew their set list from current or recent albums.
Often the performances were more about show than sound, although there were plenty of both. Flamboyance had been part of rock from the start, and by the early seventies, spectacle had become part of the business. Lights, fog, costumes, makeup, pyrotechnics, and the like, were now the norm at rock concerts. Such productions were almost a necessity because performers had to seem larger than life in such huge venues. At its most extreme, outrageous dress, makeup, and stage deportment replaced musical substance as the primary source of interest. Acts like Kiss epitomized this theatrical aspect of seventies rock.
By the early 1970s, spectacle had become part of the business of rock.
The seventies proved that there was money to be made in rock and R&B on a scale that was hard to imagine even a decade before. Record sales had increased enough that the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) created a new category in 1976, the platinum record, which signified the sale of one million units. (The gold record represented sales of 500,000 units.) Moreover, the album had replaced the single as the primary unit, so revenues were even higher.
The increased sales, which occurred during a long economic recession, certainly reflected the deeper bond between music and listener, the “rock as a way of life” state of mind. But there were other causes. The ever-growing diversity of the musical landscape meant that there was music for almost every taste. Technology reinforced the personalization of musical taste: the development of cassettes meant that one’s music became increasingly portable and customizable.
In the sixties, two important tape-based consumer formats emerged. One was the four- or eight-track tape. These tape players began to appear in cars (and Lear jets—Bill Lear had the technology developed for his line of corporate jets) in 1965 and remained popular through the seventies. The other, more enduring playback device was the audiocassette. A number of manufacturers, most notably Philips, Sony, and Grundig, worked to develop cassettes and cassette players and to come up with an industry standard. By the seventies, this new technology had caught on: cassette sales grew much faster than LPs (vinyl) and by 1982 exceeded them.
This new format had many advantages. The units were smaller, and so were the playback devices. Some were portable; others went into car consoles. By the mid-seventies, boom boxes had appeared, offering a portable and low-priced alternative to the home stereo. The first Walkman came from the Sony factory in 1979; other companies quickly followed suit. All of these devices made listeners’ personal recordings as accessible as the radio.
Moreover, cassette players also made it possible for consumers to assemble their own playlists, using blank tapes. With improvements in recording quality, most notably Dolby noise reduction technology, there was less loss in fidelity during copying. People could now take their music with them wherever they went.
However, no medium showed the impact of the big-business mindset more than radio. In the early years of rock, radio had been an important part of the music’s outsider image—Alan Freed in the fifties and “underground” FM stations in the sixties. In the seventies, however, the most significant new trend was AOR (album-oriented radio) . In this format, disc jockeys could no longer choose the songs they played. Instead, program directors selected a limited number of songs designed to attract a broad audience while offending as few as possible. Often stations bought syndicated packages, further homogenizing radio content. Free-form radio all but disappeared, and so did the adventurous spirit that it symbolized. As a result, distortion was out; tunefulness was in. Acts like Barry Manilow, the Carpenters, Stevie Wonder, Chicago, the Eagles, Fleetwood Mac, Paul McCartney and Wings, and, above all, Elton John got a lot of airplay and topped the charts.
Rock not only reshaped the mainstream, it reshaped the idea of a mainstream. The term implies a single dominant trend. However, as the list of AOR and chart-topping acts suggests, the mainstream in the 1970s was instead a diverse array of melodically oriented styles. This is an expected consequence of the inherent diversity of rock.
If one had to reduce the relationship between sixties and early-seventies music to a single word, that word might well be more. Whatever happened in the sixties happened more in the seventies. Rock became diverse in the sixties; it became more diverse in the seventies as styles and substyles proliferated. Sixties musicians found the new grooves of rock and soul. Seventies musicians found them more easily; rhythms were often freer and more daring, or more powerful. The sounds of bands got even bigger in the seventies through more powerful amplification and additional instruments. Contrasts between styles and the attitudes that they conveyed also became more pronounced. The seventies both heard the intimate confessions of the singer-songwriters and witnessed the bombast of David Bowie’s grand spectacles. Sometimes these contrasts even appeared in the same song; Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven” is a memorable example. Some artists, such as Joni Mitchell, created highly personal music. Other acts hid behind a mask: David Bowie is an extreme example.
The breakup of the Beatles symbolized the fragmentation of the new mainstream of the rock era. After they dissolved in 1970, each of the band members went his own way. Paul McCartney was the most active and the most commercially successful. Wings, the group that he formed in 1971, was one of five 1970s acts to reach the Top 20 in both singles and album sales. Another was Elton John, the top pop artist of the decade.
The career of Elton John (born Reginald Dwight, 1947; his stage name came from the first names of fellow band members in his first band, Bluesology) is a testimony to the power of personality. Off stage, he is an unlikely looking rock star: short, chunky, balding, and bespectacled. On stage, his costumes and extroverted style made him larger than life; it rendered his everyday appearance irrelevant. He was one of the top live acts of the seventies and the best-selling recording artist of the decade.
John’s first hits were melodic, relatively low-key songs like “Your Song,” but his albums also contained harder-rocking songs like “Take Me to the Pilot.” As he repositioned himself in the mainstream, he retained his ability to tell a story in song, largely due to his partnership with lyricist Bernie Taupin, while infusing his music with pop elements that helped expand the range of his music. He followed “Crocodile Rock,” a fun take on fifties rock and roll and his first No. 1 hit, with “Daniel,” a sensitive ballad. For the remainder of the decade, he veered from style to style. At the center of his music was his husky voice, which changed character from the soul-tinged sound in songs like “The Bitch Is Back” to a much more mellow sound in songs like “Little Jeannie.” Moreover, because of his considerable skill as a songwriter, he was able to fold external elements into his own conception, rather than simply mimic an existing sound.
On stage (here in 1975), Elton John’s costumes and extroverted style made him larger than life.
“Tiny Dancer,” a track from his 1971 album Madman Across the Water, demonstrates both the craft and the range of his music at the start of his career. The lyric, written by his long-time collaborator Bernie Taupin, begins as if it is going to tell a story. However, as it develops, it resolves into a collage of vivid images. It is as if we see short video clips that quickly cut away to another scene. There are oblique first-person references; some of the scenes seem to describe a relationship between John and the tiny dancer (“Piano man, he makes his stand”). But it is not a direct narrative.
John’s setting of the lyric begins simply with John playing syncopated piano chords, first to get the song underway, then to accompany his singing of the melody. Through most of the opening statement of the verse, it is as if the song will be set simply and intimately. However, other instruments enter in stages: steel guitar at the end of the first large section, other rhythm instruments at the repetition of the opening section, then a choir at the end of the repeated section. At that point, John shifts gears, using the piano to give a stronger, more marked rhythm and shifting the harmony into uncharted waters. This builds toward the chorus, which adds a string countermelody to the many instruments and voices already sounding.
As recorded, “Tiny Dancer” takes over six minutes to perform: even at this length, there are less than two complete statements of the song. (In “Tiny Dancer,” a complete statement consists of two verse-like sections that are melodically identical, a transition and a chorus.) This expands the verse/chorus template used, for example, in so many Motown songs. We can gauge the degree of expansion by noting that one verse-like section is equivalent to a complete chorus of a “Heart and Soul”–type song. To realize this larger form, John uses a huge ensemble: his voice and piano, plus bass, drums, guitar, steel guitar, backup vocals, rich strings, and choir. The result is, when desired, a denser and fuller-sounding texture. Moreover, John adds and subtracts instruments to outline the form and accumulate musical momentum through the verse sections to the climax of the song in the chorus.
Bernie Taupin and
John, vocal and keyboard.
STYLE 1970s mainstream rock ⋅ FORM Expansive verse/chorus form
Vocal, piano, steel guitar, electric guitar, electric bass, drums, strings, choir
Slow sixteen-beat rhythm in verse; shift to rock beat in bridge; back to sixteen-beat rhythm in chorus; syncopation, especially in piano part
Verse melody grows from short riff; title-phrase hook in chorus is longer
Dramatic shifts in harmony: verse = I-IV-V; bridge = new key; chorus = looping chord progression with delayed return to home key
Texture “crescendos” through layering-in of instruments, from just voice and piano to orchestral richness
Taupin’s arty, cinematic lyric shifts from image to image: there is no central narrative holding the lyric together. Even the chorus is deliberately obscure.
Form of “Tiny Dancer” follows a predictable verse/chorus pattern but unfolds on a much grander scale than a typical sixties rock or Motown song
Piano, rhythm-section instruments, steel guitar, strings, and voices added layer by layer for maximum impact
Rhythmic shifts, from active sixteen-beat rhythm of verse, through clearly marked rock rhythm in bridge, back to sixteen-beat rhythm; help outline form
Listen to this selection in the unit playlist.
In the four albums following Madman Across the Water, John often integrated catchier riffs and rhythms into his songs. All four were No. 1 albums; so was a subsequent “greatest hits” compilation. John remained active through the eighties and nineties, despite his short and difficult marriage to recording engineer Renate Blauel, acknowledgment of his sexual preferences, and numerous substance abuse issues. In the early nineties, he cleaned up his life and directed his energy to film and stage. He won his first Grammy in 1994 for one of the songs from the Disney animated film The Lion King, written in collaboration with lyricist Tim Rice. Another of their successful projects was what one reviewer called a “camp” remake of Giuseppe Verdi’s famous opera Aida.
Two of the most impressive and fascinating aspects of John’s career are its longevity—he is still an active performer—and the range of his collaborations. John Lennon’s last public appearance came at an Elton John concert in 1974; about three decades later, John performed with Eminem at the Grammy awards ceremony. The list of those whom Elton John has performed with and befriended reads like a rock-era Who’s Who. This speaks not only to his musical flexibility but also his generous nature.
John’s career path epitomizes the trade-off between artistic integrity and commercial success that was a common theme in the 1970s. His early albums showed him to be a singer-songwriter of considerable gifts. As his star rose, he immersed himself in the Top 40, while adopting a Liberace-like stage persona, eventually donning elevator shoes, flamboyant costumes, and outlandish eyewear. His songs found the middle of the road, and he found megastardom. Somewhere along the line, he lost some of his musical individuality, trading it for familiarity and accessibility, and his visual identity at times deflected attention away from his real talent. John was not alone in this regard; others went down his yellow brick road to superstardom.
It took rock musicians about 15 years to really get it—that is, to completely assimilate the numerous musical influences that fed into rock, transform them into the dominant style, and become comfortable with its conventions. Most fundamentally, this is evident in the top bands’ approach to rhythm. As the 1970s began, musicians approached rock rhythm with unprecedented freedom because they had reached a comfort zone with its essential elements.
Two landmark recordings from the early 1970s, The Who’s “Won’t Get Fooled Again” and Led Zeppelin’s “Black Dog,” show in quite different ways the rhythmic independence achieved by elite rock musicians when they felt comfortable with the rhythmic foundation of rock.
The Who came together as a group in 1964. Vocalist Roger Daltrey (b. 1944), guitarist Pete Townshend (b. 1945), and bassist John Entwistle (1944–2002) had been part of a group called the High Numbers. They became The Who when drummer Keith Moon (1947–1978) joined them. A year later, their music began to appear on the British charts. Their early hits, most notably “My Generation” and “Substitute” (both 1966), speak in an ironic tone. Indeed, “My Generation” became the anthem for the “live hard, die young, and don’t trust anyone over 30” crowd. Musically, they were a powerhouse band with a heavy bass sound that displayed the strong influence of 1960s rhythm and blues. Townshend’s power chords, Entwistle’s agile and imaginative bass playing, and Moon’s flamboyant drumming gave Daltrey’s searing voice a rock-solid foundation. Still, it seemed that they were no more than a singles band, incapable of anything more than a series of good 3-minute songs. That perception began to change with the release of the album Happy Jack (1967), which included an extended piece, “A Quick One While He’s Away,” and it was dramatically altered with the release of the rock opera Tommy in 1969.
The Who (left to right, bassist John Entwistle, singer Roger Daltrey, drummer Keith Moon, and guitarist Pete Townshend), onstage here in 1973, never forgot how to rock and roll.
Townshend conceived of a sequel to Tommy, called Lifehouse, which was to be even grander. He eventually put the project aside but incorporated some of the material into an album of singles, entitled Who’s Next. Among the most novel features of the album was Townshend’s extensive use of the brand new ARP synthesizer.
In 1969, Alan R. Pearlman founded ARP Instruments in order to produce synthesizers capable of creating a variety of electronic sounds. His first synthesizer, released in 1970, was a fairly large machine. His second model, the ARP 2600, which was released in 1971, was portable and flexible enough to be used in live performance.
The first synthesizers were cumbersome machines: The Moog synthesizer used by Wendy Carlos in her landmark 1968 recording Switched-On Bach looked like an old-fashioned telephone switchboard, with plugs connecting the various oscillators. By contrast, the ARP 2600 was one of the first to use transistors instead of tubes, which made the synthesizer smaller and lighter. It was limited, in that it was capable of producing only one sound at a time. However, as transistors became smaller and more powerful, improved models capable of simultaneously playing several sounds began to appear.
To promote his new instruments, Pearlman gave units to some of the top rock and R&B musicians of the era, in return for permission to use their names in advertising his product. Among his first clients was The Who’s Pete Townshend. Judging by the almost immediate results, Townshend was fascinated by the synthesizer and the cutting-edge technology it represented. The synthesizer played a central role in “Won’t Get Fooled Again,” a track from Who’s Next.
In “Won’t Get Fooled Again,” Townshend uses the synthesizer as a futuristic rhythm guitar, pitched in a high register instead of the more characteristic mid-range, but providing steady reinforcement of the rock rhythmic layer throughout the song. The insistent rhythm of the synthesizer chords seems to liberate the rest of the band. Townshend’s power chords and riffs, Entwistle’s active and free bass lines, and Moon’s explosive drumming all play off this steady rhythm. It is this interplay between the steady rhythm of the synthesizer and the rest of the group that gives the song its extraordinary rhythmic energy.
STYLE Hard rock ⋅ FORM Expansive verse/bridge/chorus form, with long introduction and extended vocal and instrumental interludes
Vocal, ARP synthesizer, electric guitar, electric bass, drums
Complex, highly syncopated rock beat at moderately fast tempo, with synthesizer marking rock rhythm, and Moon’s manic drumming playing against the beat
Vocal line assembled mainly from short riffs
Harmony built around I-IV-V but colored with modal chords and complex, shifting harmonies on synthesizer-only sections
Dramatic shifts in density, with long synthesizer-only stretches contrasting with thicker sections featuring full band
SYNTHESIZERS IN ROCK
Innovative use of ARP synthesizer as rhythm instrument: In its steady rock-beat speed timekeeping, synth effectively assumes role (if not the sound and register) of rhythm guitar.
Extended form, with strong contrasts among synthesizer alone, vocal sections, and instrumental sections. More than half the song comes from long instrumental sections.
Steady timekeeping in synthesizer part liberates band rhythmically. All three instrumentalists are free to keep time or play against the time. The result is an extraordinarily varied rhythmic texture, from heavy timekeeping by everyone, to the open sound of the synthesizer alone or the band playing riffs, lines, and rhythms that conflict with beat.
Listen to this selection in the unit playlist.
“Won’t Get Fooled Again” is a sprawling song—well over 8 minutes of music. The long synthesizer introduction and even longer interlude toward the end provide a dramatic contrast to the vocal sections, and its steady rhythm underpins the electrifying group jams in the extended instrumental passages. In “Won’t Get Fooled Again,” innovative technology enhances the basic sound and rhythm of a rock band. Despite the new sound source, the result is classic rock and roll.
Although often cited as a seminal heavy metal band, Led Zeppelin ultimately defies categorization. From Led Zeppelin (1969), the group’s first album, it was clear that heavy metal was just one aspect of their musical personality. Their center is clearly the blues; their version of heavy metal evolved from it. At the same time, there seems to be nothing in their musical world that is not fair game for appropriation. What’s particularly interesting in their music is the way in which influences bleed into one another. Their music may cover a lot of stylistic territory, but it is not compartmentalized.
The range of their music came mainly from guitarist Jimmy Page (b. 1944), whose curiosity led him not only to immerse himself in the blues but also to seek out exotic musical styles (e.g., flamenco and East Indian music). Led Zeppelin’s front man was vocalist Robert Plant (b. 1948), who was Page’s second choice as lead singer but turned out to be an ideal voice for the group. Bassist John Paul Jones (b. 1946) had been, with Page, part of the British music scene in the late 1960s; drummer John Bonham (1948–1980) was a friend of Plant’s from their Birmingham days. Page also produced their albums. His production skills were as important a component of their success as his guitar playing; he brought a wonderful ear for sonority and texture to their music.
Page and Plant shared a deep interest in the mystic, the mythical, and the occult. This interest would increasingly inform their work, from untitled albums to cryptic covers, sparse liner notes, nonreferential lyrics, and numerous arcane musical influences.
Another quality that sets their music apart from almost every other group of the era is their ability to establish, then reconcile, extremes. The extremes are evident in virtually every aspect of their music making. Plant sang higher than most other male vocalists (and many females too). Their ensemble playing was more daring, their riffs more elaborate and beat defying, the contrasts within and between songs deeper and more striking.
Their untitled fourth album, known variously as Led Zeppelin IV, Zoso, and the Runes LP gives a clear sense of the breadth of their expressive range—from the unbridled power of “Rock and Roll” to the delicacy of the acoustic “The Battle of Evermore.” “Stairway to Heaven,” perhaps the best-known song on the album, merges both.
“Black Dog,” another track from the album, demonstrates Led Zeppelin’s connection to heavy metal and their role in the continuing evolution of rock rhythm. From the very beginning of the song, it’s clear that they’ve internalized the feel of rock rhythm. The beat is implied under Plant’s unaccompanied singing, the silence, and the extended, blues-based instrumental line, but there is not the kind of comfortable timekeeping heard in so many good rock songs. Even the chorus-like riff under Plant’s “Oh, yeah” is completely syncopated. What timekeeping there is in this song is purposeful and specific, rather than routine. In terms of freeing rhythm while still retaining the groove, “Black Dog” goes about as far as is possible. The track makes clear that Led Zeppelin became so comfortable with the rock groove that they could play with it—boldly.
The extended instrumental lines in “Black Dog” also point out another feature of Led Zeppelin’s approach to rock—one that would profoundly influence heavy metal bands. In effect, they harness solo-like lines within a tight group conception. In rock, guitar solos can be spectacular displays, but they can also undermine the collective conception that is at the heart of a rock groove. Page’s solution was to work out solo-like parts and integrate them into a group conception. For future heavy metal bands, this aspect of the recording was key: one of the marvels of good heavy metal performances is the tight ensemble of a band as they negotiate challenging and intricate passages. We can hear its roots in recordings like this.
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