The Best Decade in Rock and Roll History: 1967-1977
These guys were busy.
I'm feeling a little guilty about last week's column, in which I took the crappy popular music of the '80s to task (High School Music: A Reunion from Hell).
Why? It was negative, and generally I like to promote good music instead of baggin' on bad stuff. I've fed my family for almost thirty years by peddling music, and I still stand in awe of everyone who can (or even has the guts to try) make music. As a creative person, I understand how tough it is to put yourself out there. I'd rather just leave the criticism to others.
So this week, in contrast to dogging a decade, I'd like to prop one up. Actually, not a "standard" decade, but ten consecutive years nonetheless. The best ten years in the history of rock and roll music: 1967 - 1977.
Got Ya Thinking, Eh? Before you get your panties in a wad, it's just my opinion (after all, "best" is a relative term.) It's not like I don't think there has been outstanding music produced every year (see Finding New Music is Easy, Listening to it is Hard). I just think these are the best ten years ever (so you know, I was 2 years-old in 1967, so it isn't like it's my era or anything).
I'll tell you why.
In a minute.
First let me explain why I chose those ten specific years instead of just saying the '60s or '70s (as if there were another decade that could even enter this discussion.)
Partially, as David Patrick Kelly said in The Warriors, "I just like doin' things like that." I'm rebellious by nature, so I've been known to push a button or two just for fun.
Mainly it's because these ten years were better than either decade by itself.
The '70s cover a bigger portion of my ten years - but the way the seventies ended (disco, bad jazz, etc.) was pretty horrendous. The '60s were more groundbreaking - which sorta stands to reason since they had the advantage of being first (and once ground is broken, it can't be broken again, which means that each subsequent generation has decreased in this regard). Even so, a decent portion of that ground broke in the late sixties.
So I went with 1967 - 77. 10 unbelievable years.
Legends Aren't Born, They Are Made (From '67-'77) Rock and roll has been around for over six decades, so there's been plenty of time for legends to develop. But it's easier said than done.
Why? Well in my book, generally, in order to be a legend, you have to hold up to this day, and you have to have released at least five great albums. As I mentioned in a previous column, there simply aren't many artists that have actually pulled that off. FIVE great records? That's a huge feat.
During the era of '67-'77, like no other time in history, the legends did just that. Let's take a look.
Any discussion like this has to start with everyone's all-time-indisputable-best-band-ever, The Beatles. While my "era" only includes three years of their career (they disbanded in 1970), it's amazing what they released in those three final years: Sgt, Pepper, Magical Mystery, White Album, Yellow Sub, Let It Be, and of course, Abbey Road (in my opinion, the greatest album ever.) Is it hard to not have Revolver and Rubber Soul in my 10 years? Sure, but some concessions have to be made (and there's plenty in '66 and '78.)
We'll keep going with the heavyweights.
Dylan? Like the Beatles, he broke the mold a lot between 62-66, and then continued with a string of classics during this era.
Led Zeppelin? Every classic except In Through the Out Door.
Pink Floyd? Every classic except The Wall.
Rolling Stones? The era spans Between the Buttons to Love You Live. It entirely covers the Mick Taylor era (their best, watch the kid in the video above, you'll understand). At least eight classics.
Frank Zappa? Frank was beyond prolific during this period. Allmusic.com (the record store geek's digital bible) lists 14 albums with both a critics' and fans' rating of four or five stars.
Clapton? The period starts with Disraeli Gears and ends with Slowhand. It covers Cream, Derek and Dominoes, Blind Faith, and his early solo stuff. Except for the just-missed John Mayall and The Bluesbreakers album (July 1966), every great album he ever made was within that period.
Is That It With the Legends of Your Era? Of course not. The era is loaded. Let's do a few more (I love this stuff).
I'll make the case that each of the following rock legends that did not make any of their five (or more) classics outside of my little "era": Elton John, Neil Young, The Doors, Steely Dan, Santana, Jackson Browne, CCR, Steve Miller Band, Joni Mitchell, or CSN (in any configuration, together or solo).
A few others started with classics in the era and then went beyond - mainly because they either produced quality forever (like Springsteen, Bowie, Laura Nyro, and Van Morrison), or started to really hit their stride in the later seventies (like Rush or Queen) - but this era can lay claim to them too.
You Missed Some, Dammit. Am I missing artists that we all think of as legends? Sure. But I'm talking FIVE great albums. That's a tall order, and it leaves plenty of big-time artists on the sidelines in this area of the debate (including some of my faves like The Allman Brothers, The Eagles, Van Halen, ZZ Top, and Aerosmith.)
Plus, we all know we could debate "classic vs not-classic" all day.
And yeah, I'm sure I'm forgetting some.
But let's face it: That covers a huge amount of the applicable list. In addition, I'll venture to say that if you start naming other artists that fit the bill, a fair amount will still be from my little "decade."
Of course, off the top of my head, I honestly can't think of a whole lot of other bands that fit that description from the '80s and beyond (U2, Elvis Costello, Talking Heads, Cure, Radiohead, Wilco, Petty). I know there's more, but it isn't nearly as easy. Not with five.
You see what I'm saying. The best 10 years in rock history were '67-77.
(Side Note: Think it's just the rockers? Think again. This era gave us Stevie Wonder. It gave us Bob Marley and the Wailers. It was the genesis for hip hop, punk, and electronic music as well.)
Our JV Can Kick Your Varsity's Ass Honestly, making this point is like shooting fish in a barrel (which I've never actually done.) I could rest my case with the legends alone.
But it isn't just the legends who really tell the tale of these 10 years. It isn't even the huge list of Hall of Famers and well-known bands in that era that had three or four classic albums.
What's been blowing me away over the past few years is the level of depth. It's the artists you may or may not have even heard of--especially if you're a puppy, but even if you're anywhere under your mid-50s. Artists like Quicksilver Messenger Service, Savoy Brown, Tim Buckley, Wishbone Ash. Phenomenal musicians, great songs and albums -- stuff that still sounds great today -- but they never quite broke through to the mainstream.
I keep digging deeper, and this time period just keeps delivering (as I write, I'm listening to Spirit's Family That Plays Together, a prime example.)
You just can't go that deep in any other era, certainly not in today's world. There are great artists and tremendous musicians, but it's thanks to helpful technology, the Internet, and bad TV shows, the talent pool is flooded with mediocrity, and the quality-to-shitty ratio is nowhere near as high as it was during the sixties and seventies.
The Era Is Out There To Discover So there you have it. My case for the greatest ten years in rock history.
You may or may not agree. You may think I should shift the "decade" slightly, or you may not even like anything from the past century. Either way, there's fantastic music out there for the taking.
As a music junkie, I'll take it wherever and whenever I can get it.
But I'll never stop exploring my favorite era. The best era of rock and roll. 1967-1977.
Record Store Geek Note: Wanna know which albums I'm considering "classic"? Wanna present your ten best years? I'd love to hear your thoughts on the matter. Feel free to join me on Facebook (so everyone can "stand behind" their posts). I'll post this article, and you can comment there.
Get the Music Newsletter
Keep your thumb on the local music scene each week with music news, trends, artist interviews and concert listings. We'll also send you special ticket offers and music deals.