The 1970s were a decade of incredible musical innovation, with a diverse range of genres emerging or reaching new heights of popularity. And while each genre can be viewed as a distinct movement in its own right, with its own enduring impact, the 70s music scene was ultimately a cacophonous, interwoven tapestry of whirlpool of styles and influences. Collectively, these genres represent arguably the most diverse and dynamic era of musical and cultural expression.
Progressive Rock & Heavy Metal
The 1970s marked the peak of the progressive rock and heavy metal scenes, and both genres were characterized by their technical musicianship, use of complex musical arrangements, and a desire to push the boundaries of rock music.
Progressive rock, also known as prog, is characterized by its complex musical structures, unconventional time signatures, and incorporation of classical and jazz elements. Prog lyrics often tackled socio-political themes of social and political significance, brought to life by bands like Rush, Genesis, and Jethro Tull.
Heavy metal, on the other hand, is known for its aggressive sounds and dark lyrical themes, which are often conveyed through distorted guitar riffs, heavy bass and drums, and explosive vocals. Early metal bands such as Black Sabbath laid the groundwork for the genre, and in the 70s bands like AC/DC emerged as one of the most influential and iconic figures in the genre.
Both genres were inspired by the counterculture movements of the 1960s and reflected a desire for artistic and cultural exploration. They also shared a fascination with epic themes and storytelling, whether it was through progressive rock's incorporation of classical and jazz elements or heavy metal's use of dark and mythic imagery. Today, these genres continue to drop nostalgia bombs across the airwaves and inspire new generations of artists, activists, and designers.
Punk Rock, New Wave & Glam Rock
The 70’s Punk, New Wave, and glam scenes all emerged as a reaction to the commercialization of the music industry and sought to express individuality and creativity in exciting new ways.
Punk rock is deeply rooted in a counter-cultural movement against the perceived excesses of mainstream rock music and corporate influence over the creative industries writ large. As a result, 70s punk songs often involve fast-paced sounds, confrontational lyrics, and anti-authoritarian ethos, with bands like The Buzzcocks and Wayne County & The Electric Chairs embodying this raw, DIY aesthetic.
New wave emerged in the late 1970s as a diverse and eclectic movement that combined elements of punk, pop, and electronic music. This movement was led by bands like The Police and artists like Annie Lennox and Dave Stewart, and many of these musicians embraced a sleek, polished look that contrasted with punk’s grungier aesthetic.
Glam rock is known for its flamboyance and flair, with many artists from this mold blowing minds with their androgynous and glamorously camp appearances and riveting stage theatrics. Glam rock bands like Roxy Music were widely known for their catchy, pop-infused melodies and upbeat, upbeat sound, These lyrical tunes remain among the most globally recognizable sounds from the 70s.
Together, these overlapping musical movements proliferated in the 70s and quickly spread across the UK and US, inspiring a wave of bands and subcultures to come. All three genres challenged traditional gender and social norms, whether it was through punk's rejection of mainstream beauty standards, new wave's incorporation of electronic and dance music, or glam rock's flamboyant and androgynous style.
Disco & Funk
The 1970s were also marked by the emergence of disco and funk as popular musical genres. Both genres were born out of a desire to create music that celebrated the joy of life and encouraged people to dance and let loose.
Disco hit its stride in the mid-1970s as a dance-oriented genre that combined elements of funk, soul, and pop music. Disco tracks were typically characterized by a four-on-the-floor beat, driving basslines, and lush orchestration that often included strings and horns. To this day, disco is associated with romantic or celebratory themes and a distinctive fashion sense, and its discotheque popularity was fueled by the success of artists like Donna and Amii Stewart.
Funk music is best known for its groove, syncopated rhythms, and emphasis on the rhythm section – which contrasts. As a result, funk tracks are often more laid-back tempo than disco’s hook-driven melodies, featuring a simple, repeating riff or chord progression punctuated with intricate basslines, complex drum patterns, and soulful horn arrangements. Funk artists like Betty Davis and Bootsie Collins were known for their energetic live performances and socially conscious lyrics exploring themes of race, identity, and social justice.
Despite their stylistic differences, disco and funk embraced fashion as a form of self-expression and used dance as a way to build community and forge new connections. These movements also had a significant influence on the development of hip-hop music, with many early rap tracks sampling classic funk breaks and disco grooves. Together, disco and funk continue to shape popular culture, influencing everything from fashion to film.
Roots & Soul
The 1970s was a pivotal decade for both roots and soul music – both of which were marked by their unique and innovative blending of thematic styles and influences.
Roots music is not a singular musical movement, and instead encompasses a broad spectrum of musical genres such as blues, country, folk, gospel, and bluegrass, which are rooted in the traditional, often rural, music of America. Typically, these different musical styles utilize traditional instruments like acoustic guitars, banjos, and fiddles, and emphasize simple melodies and emotional authenticity. Popular musicians included Johnny Cash,Willie Nelson and Ike & Tina Turner,, among others. And while many roots genres can be traced much further back than the 70s, this decade marked a surge in experimentation and renewed interest in these timeless tunes.
Soul music is characterized by its emotive vocals, funky rhythms, and socially conscious lyrics – many of which reflected the political and cultural climate of its time. 70s soul music drew heavily from the gospel and R&B traditions of the 1960s, but also incorporated elements of funk, jazz, and disco. This lyrical genre, led by legends like The Jackson Five, Gladys Knight, and Earth, Wind & Fire, also played an essential role by giving a voice to marginalized communities and speaking truth to power.
Roots and soul music intersected heavily in the 1970s, with many soul musicians drawing inspiration from a wide range of roots music and incorporating elements into their own sound. For instance, artists like Aretha Franklin and Al Green incorporated gospel and blues elements into their soul music, while The O'Jays and The Temptations incorporated funk and R&B influences. This fusion of roots and soul music created a new sound that resonated with audiences and helped to establish the foundations of modern R&B and hip-hop music.
Own a Snapshot of Your Favorite 70s Genre
What makes the 70s so remarkable is not just the sheer number of genres that were born or mastered during this time, but also the enduring impact that these musical movements continue to have on us today. Nearly half a century later, these songs continue to infiltrate the airwaves and influence everything from fashion to politics in ways that are both visceral and invisible.
Even if you’re not a music buff or 70s aficionado, chances are some of the artists mentioned above were playing in the background during some of your most memorable moments. These songs are already part of your personal story, and thanks to Getty and Candy they can now be part of your timeless digital collection.