Tuesday, August 31, 2010

That Wonderful Year in Music... 1975

In 1975 rock finally reached critical mass. After some lost years following the breakup of the Beatles, a whole genre that was once written off as the noisy noodlings of long-haired hippies by Middle America finally garnered some mainstream respect. Leading the charge was Bruce Springsteen, who followed two well-received but poor-selling albums with an almost flawless, commercially successful masterpiece (see below). Springsteen's third album generated enough buzz that in late October he became the first non-politician to appear on the cover of Time and Newsweek in the same week, no small feat for a guy who was barely holding onto his record contract just months earlier.

Bruce dominated the headlines, but he wasn't the only story in '75. It was the last big year for glam rock before it disintegrated and metamorphized into punk. Citing modal jazz and Kraut-rock as a mutual influence, artists like Brian Eno and Pink Floyd proved that rock can have a calming, ethereal effect, finding a spacey, melodic center without dabbling into passé psychedelia. This was the unofficial midway point of what radio programmers will call the "classic rock" era, with relative newcomers Queen and Aerosmith joining veterans like Led Zeppelin and The Who in packing arenas worldwide, stirring the masses with charging, power-chord driven sermons. Other subgenres that defined popular music in the 1970s were loud, clear, and present at mid-decade: metal, jazz fusion, funk, R&B, you name it.


1. Born To Run, Bruce Springsteen. Is this the apex of American rock? If not, it's hard to fuse the two major elements of The Boss' third album --a wistful look back at teenage street life, augmented with Spector-esque bombast-- into anything more luscious and perfect than this. "Thunder Road" sounds and feels like the first chapter of an epic novel, while the heavenly sax solo that bridges "Jungleland" brings everything full circle. The title track alone took six months to sculpt, and worth every second of tinkering. All in all, the defining album of a generation-defining artist.
2. Physical Graffiti, Led Zeppelin. Dubbed by Rolling Stone critic Jim Miller as a bid for artistic respectability, this sprawling double-LP is potpourri of musical styles and the near-seemless fusion of five years' worth of sessions and outtakes. Where the first disc is topheavy on heavy rockers like "Custard Pie" and "The Rover," disc two displays Jimmy Page et al. at its quirkiest, as demonstrated by the psuedo-country "Down By The Seaside" and the acoustic noodlings of "Bron-Yr-Aur" and "Boogie With Stu." This may not be the first album that I'd suggest to a Zeppelin neophyte, but it does a better job of covering the band's various personalities than any of the single-disc albums could.
3. Blood on the Tracks, Bob Dylan. In the early '70s, the unrequited king of the '60s counterculture was in a slump of sorts. Dylan had become self-indulgent, weird and oblique, and if he was releasing music for his own personal amusement. When his first marriage slowly crumbled, however Dylan refound his focus. Though he has repeatedly claimed that he doesn't write confessional music, the ten songs that comprise Blood on the Tracks revolve around the heartache, anger, and loneliness of a failed romance. Through it all Dylan still sounds like an iconoclast, defiantly indifferent to what others think of him and what they project him to be.
4. A Night At The Opera, Queen
5. Wish You Were Here, Pink Floyd
6. Horses, Patti Smith
7. Toys In The Attic, Aerosmith
8. Tonight's The Night, Neil Young
9. Katy Lied, Steely Dan
10. The Koln Concert, Keith Jarrett. What are the ingredients of the best-selling solo jazz album in history? Apparently, all you need is one man, one piano, and 1,300 enraptured Germans. Unplanned and entirely improvised, every gesture and flourish in this 66-minute live set is spontaneous. This album is not so much about Jarrett's ability to improvise on the piano as it is a mediation on the instrument itself and the nature of sound. A marvelous composition, and the paramount live jazz recording of the decade.

Honorable Mentions: Another Green World, Brian Eno;
The Basement Tapes, Bob Dylan & The Band; Captain Fantastic and the
Brown Dirt Cowboy
, Elton John; Still Crazy After All These Years,
Paul Simon; Gnu High, Kenny Wheeler; Nighthawks at the Diner,
Tom Waits.


"Ballroom Blitz," Sweet
"Fly By Night," Rush
"Welcome To My Nightmare," Alice Cooper
"Bungle in the Jungle," Jethro Tull
"Slip Kid," The Who
"Teenage Letter," Count Bishops
"Sound Track," Be-Bop Deluxe
"Motorhead," Hawkwind
"To The Last Whale (Medley)," David Crosby and Graham Nash

"Lady Marmalade," Labelle
"You're The First, My Last, My Everything," Barry White
"One of These Nights," The Eagles
"At Seventeen," Janis Ian
"Laughter in the Rain," Neil Sedaka
"Sky High," Jigsaw
"Why Can't We Be Friends," War
"Miracles," Jefferson Starship
"Letting Go," Paul McCartney & Wings
"Magic," Pilot

I wish I had more funk/disco/R&B on the singles list, but it's hard to ignore all the great bubblegum in the Top 40 that year. Regardless, I'd love to hear what you think.

1 comment:

  1. Two additions to the honorable mention list: Siren by Roxy Music and Fleetwood Mac's self-titled "debut."

    On that note, my pal jokipper at TV.com pointed out that "Ballroom Blitz" was released as a single in 1973, not 1975. I regret the mistake.