Thursday, 31 December 2009

The songs that defined a decade... The seventies

1. 'Paranoid' by Black Sabbath (1970)

If Led Zeppelin had been a singles group, they'd get my vote, but the ultimate metal band were Black Sabbath, and they had a chart-topping single all over the world with their debut 'Paranoid'. Harder and louder than anything before it - or anything since - Tony Iommi and Geezer Butler set the mood of a new decade, channelled through the voice of Ozzy Osbourne, a lyric so bleak it's brilliant.

2. 'Brown Sugar' by the Rolling Stones (1971)

Any number of Rolling Stones tracks stake a claim on great single status, but 'Brown Sugar' is their best riff of all, coupled with a lascivious Mick Jagger vocal and lyric that is truly nasty. This appears on one of their greatest albums - 'Sticky Fingers' - and a mesmerising movie - 'Gimme Shelter' - and is the epitome of what they are best at - hard blues-based rock you can shake your maracas to. Its live debut was at Altamont which ended the previous decade on a sour note, but this single kicked off the new one as the greatest rock'n'roll band meant to go on - and did, for a few more years at least.

3. 'Maggie May' by Rod Stewart (1971)

The biggest pratt in showbusiness - check the video - sure could write a song when he put his little mind to it. This number is based on the traditional Liverpudlian song of the same name, and was originally the B-side of the equally fine 'Reason to Believe' but became the A-side by default of airplay. According to Rod, it tells the true story of his first sexual experience with an older woman at the Beaulieu Jazz festival. Since then, Rod has concentrated on younger chicks, as he no doubt calls them. But for all his idiocy, this launched the solo career of what at the dawn of the decade was a singer-songwriter who could rock the house, not just the bedsit. Hence my failure to make space for a minstrel in the Carole King / James Taylor / Joni Mitchell, although most were album rather than singles artists. 'Heart of Gold' by Neil Young was in the reckoning as his only top ten hit but I like him too much to have him represented by such an unrepresentatively whiny dirge.

4. 'Walk on the Wild Side' by Lou Reed (1972)

I'd liked to have included a Velvet Underground song in my sixties selection but if they released a single, it sonly sold to their friends and relatives. That said, if based on the 'influential' criterion alone, The Velvets were a seminal sixties band, and can claim to be more influential now than The Beatles and Stones combined. The album 'Transformer' was produced by David Bowie - not the last time he'll appear in this list - and made Lou Reed a radio star, despite the distinctly un-radio-friendly lyrics that deal with transexuality, rent boys, oral sex and hard drugs. In doing so, it harked back to the Factory scene of the sixties, Andy Warhol always ahead of his time.

5. 'All the Young Dudes' by Mott the Hoople (1972)

David Bowie was the most significant artist of the seventies, reviving the careers of Lou Reed and Iggy Pop, defining the glam rock look and sound, before leaving it behind, ending the decade with Eno in Berlin having reinvented himself several times in between. If there is one song that encapsulates the early seventies, it is this one - written on the hoof to save Mott the Hoople from going under, it is a hymn not to youth but youthful self-destruction, a dark anthem if ever there was one.

6. 'Autobahn' by Kraftwerk (1974)

So far ahead of their time, it took the rest of the world 15 years to catch-up, Kraftwerk have had as much influence over the music of the last two decades as The Beatles while retaining the anonymity of machines. Listen to any of the early house or hip-hop records and you'll hear a Kraftwerk sample in there somewhere. Tune into the electropop sounds of the post-punk era and it's just Kraftwerk with the bpm turned up. Not content with creating a wholly new music, they matched it with a new aesthetic, while their stageshow broke all of the conventions of the time, then and now.

7. 'No Woman, No Cry' by Bob Marley (1975)

Reggae was the first 'world music' to become chart music internationally and Bob Marley, promoted by Chris Blackwell of Island Records, was largely responsible for it. He'd spent a decade with The Wailers in Jamaica developing not just his music but its message such that by the time he arrived on the world scene, he did so with the presence of an icon, not an ingenu. In reality, Bob Marley, Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer had long been exploring how their music could be evolved for a wider market and by what means they could broadcast it beyond the Caribbean. 'No Woman, No Cry' was Bob Marley's first hit as a solo artist in 1975; re-released in its 'Live 1975' version after his premature death, it propelled the 'Legend' compilation to the top of the charts; it has now sold over twenty million copies.

8. 'Anarchy in the UK' by The Sex Pistols (1976)

If punk is to be represented by one song, this is it - spat from the TV into our living rooms, it feels like an assault now; three decades ago, it was a declaration of war. No single before or since has had its visceral power. Forget your Claptons and Becks, Steve Jones is the greatest rock guitarist of all time. Hearing Johnny Rotten's vocal is like being shouted at by a lunatic and finding yourself agreeing with him, whatever it is he's trying to say. As well as being the man behind the melody line, this is the only Pistols record Glen Matlock lent his bass to while Paul Cook had an unerring knack for maintaining the beat amidst the chaos that invariably surrounded the band live. If rock music produces another record of this power, intensity and impact I'll eat my grandmother.

9. 'I Feel Love' by Donna Summer (1977)

Most of disco hasn't dated well, sounding limp compared with the electronic dance music that followed. Giorgio Moroder's all-synthesised backing tracks still sounds like the future, not some idea of the future from the past. When Brian Eno heard it in Berlin working with David Bowie, he declared it would define the future of dance music for the next fifteen years. Thirty, more like.

10. 'Wuthering Heights' by Kate Bush (1978)

One of those rare songs that seems to come out of nowhere, sounds like a classic but is like nothing else you'd heard before. If there is a girl out there who has the talent to write and perform such a work before her teenage years are over, let her step forward now. Written in a few hours after seeing the film of the Emily Bronte novel, Kate Bush confirmed her special genius already established five years earlier when she wrote 'The Man With the Child in His Eyes' as a thirteen year old; it became her second single, and would sit just as prettily on this list. I've failed to make a Devon connection in my seventies selection, but Kate lives out near Start Point; she likes to be left alone, and so do I.

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