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In North America, Europe, and Oceania, the decade saw the rise of disco, which became one of the biggest genres of the decade, especially in the mid-to-late 1970s. In Europe, a variant known as Euro disco rose in popularity towards the end of the 1970s. Aside from disco, funk, smooth jazz, jazz fusion, and soul remained popular throughout the decade. Rock music played an important part in the Western musical scene, with punk rock thriving throughout the mid to late 1970s. Other sub-genres of rock, particularly glam, hard rock, progressive, art rock, and heavy metal achieved various amounts of success. Other genres such as reggae were innovative throughout the decade and grew a significant following. Hip hop emerged during this decade, but was slow to start and didn't become significant until the late 1980s. Classical began losing a little momentum; however, through invention and theoretical development, this particular genre gave rise to experimental classical and minimalist music by classical composers. A sub-genre of classical, film scores, remained popular with movie-goers. Alongside the popularity of experimental music, the decade was notable for its contributions to electronic music, which rose in popularity with the continued development of synthesizers and harmonizers; more composers embraced this particular genre, gaining the notice of listeners who were looking for something new and different. Its rising popularity, mixed with the popular music of the period, led to the creation of synthpop.
In Asia, music continued to follow varying trends. In Japan, the decade saw several musical phases, including the highly popular folk-influenced fōku, as well as greater experimentation with electronic music, ranging from developments in synthpop, electro, and Electronic Dance Music, created through different Japanese artists and bands such as Yellow Magic Orchestra.
In Latin America and the Iberian Peninsula, the Nueva canción movement peaked in popularity and was adopted as the music of the hippie, Liberation Theology, and New Left movements. Cumbia music began its internationalization as regional scenes rose outside Colombia. merengue experienced mainstream exposure across Latin America and the southern US border states.
For many people, disco is the genre of music most readily associated with the 1970s. First appearing in dance clubs in the early part of the decade, (with such hits as "The Hustle" by Van McCoy), songstresses like Donna Summer, Gloria Gaynor and Anita Ward (in North America); and Dalida (in Europe) popularized the genre and were described in subsequent decades as the "disco divas."
The movie Saturday Night Fever was released in December 1977, starring John Travolta and featuring the music of the Bee Gees and several other artists. It had the effect of revitalizing the disco genre in the United States. The Bee Gees' soundtrack to Saturday Night Fever became the best-selling album of all time. Bill Oakes, who supervised the soundtrack, asserts that Saturday Night Fever did not begin the disco craze; rather, it prolonged it: "Disco had run its course. These days, Fever is credited with kicking off the whole disco thing—it really didn't. Truth is, it breathed new life into a genre that was actually dying."
The genre became increasingly commercialized, and the large number of disco songs flooding the radio airwaves in 1978–1979 resulted in a growing backlash against it, as epitomized by the "Disco Demolition Night" stunt by a Chicago disc jockey at a July 1979 baseball game at Comiskey Park. Disco clubs also gained a reputation as decadent places where people engaged in drug use and promiscuous sex. The popularity of the genre waned, though there continued to be several disco hits in the early 1980s. Along with the demise of disco came the end of the orchestrations and musical instruments (such as strings) which had become associated with disco, in part because of the high cost of producing such music. Electronic and synthesized music quickly replaced the lush orchestral sounds of the 1970s and rock music re-surged in popularity with new wave bands such as Blondie ("Heart of Glass"), The Knack ("My Sharona") and Devo ("Whip It"), all who formed their bands in the 1970s. Many artists such as The Bee Gees, who came to be associated with disco, found it difficult to sell records or concert tickets in the 1980s.
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The 1970s saw the emergence of hard rock as one of the most prominent sub-genres of rock music. Bands such as Alice Cooper, Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin, Nazareth, Black Sabbath and Blue Öyster Cult were highly popular during the first half of the decade. By the second half of the decade, many other bands had also achieved stardom, namely, AC/DC, Kiss, Aerosmith, Van Halen and Ted Nugent.
Country rock, formed from the fusion of rock music with Country music, gained its greatest commercial success in the 1970s, beginning with non-country artists such as Bob Dylan, Gram Parsons, and The Byrds. By the mid-1970s, Linda Ronstadt, along with other newer artists such as Emmylou Harris and The Eagles, were enjoying mainstream success and popularity that continues to this day. The Eagles themselves emerged as one of the most successful rock acts of all time, producing albums that included Hotel California (1976).
During the 1970s, a similar style of country rock called southern rock (fusing rock, country, and blues music, and focusing on electric guitars and vocals) was enjoying popularity with country audiences, thanks to such non-country acts as The Ozark Mountain Daredevils, Lynyrd Skynyrd, The Allman Brothers Band, and The Marshall Tucker Band.
The American brand of prog rock varied from the eclectic and innovative Frank Zappa, Captain Beefheart, and Blood, Sweat and Tears, to more pop rock oriented bands like Boston, Foreigner, Journey, Kansas and Styx. These, beside British bands Supertramp and Electric Light Orchestra, all demonstrated a prog rock influence and while ranking among the most commercially successful acts of the 1970s, ushering in the era of pomp or arena rock, which would last until the costs of complex shows (often with theatrical staging and special effects), would be replaced by more economical rock festivals as major live venues in the 1990s.
Many American bands in the late seventies began experimenting with synthesizers, forming the new wave style. The original American bands included Talking Heads, The Cars, and Devo. In the 1980s, Britain would respond with the synthpop style, which broadened the definition of "new wave".
The mid-1970s saw the rise of punk music from its protopunk-garage band roots in the 1960s and early 1970s. The Ramones and Blondie were some of the earliest American Punk rock acts to make it big in both the United Kingdom and the United States. Punk music has also been heavily associated with a certain punk fashion and absurdist humour which exemplified a genuine suspicion of mainstream culture and values. Blondie quickly lost their punk roots going on to become a pop/ska/reggae band.
Blues rock remains popular, with Eric Clapton, ZZ Top, and George Thorogood seeing the greatest success. Freddie King started moving from straight blues to blues rock since the genre was now mostly popular among white audiences. Stress from nonstop touring resulted in his death at the age of 42 in 1976.
Male soloists who characterized the pop music of the era included Barry Manilow, Tom Jones, Johnny Mathis, Engelbert Humperdinck, Eric Carmen, Leo Sayer, Shaun Cassidy, and Rod Stewart. Female soloists who epitomized the 1970s included Linda Ronstadt, Carly Simon, Dionne Warwick, Donna Summer, Barbra Streisand, Rita Coolidge, and Helen Reddy.
Soft rock was prominently featured on many Top 40 and contemporary hit radio stations throughout the 1970s. Soft rock often used acoustic instruments and placed emphasis on melody and harmonies. Major soft rock artists of the 1970s included Carole King, James Taylor, Billy Joel, Chicago, America, and Fleetwood Mac, whose Rumours (1977) was the best-selling album of the decade. (See the country music section of this article for more about country music that crossed over onto the pop charts.) Bob Dylan's 1975–1976 Rolling Thunder Revue reunited him with a number of folk-rock acts from his early days of performing, most notably Joan Baez.
A large number of country-pop and soft rock songs fit into the singer-songwriter classification—that is, songs written and recorded by the same person. Some of the most successful singer-songwriter artists were: Jackson Browne, Eric Carmen, Jim Croce, John Denver, Steve Goodman, Arlo Guthrie, Joel, Dave Mason, Don McLean, Joni Mitchell, Paul Simon, Kris Kristofferson, Bob Seger, Bruce Springsteen, and Gordon Lightfoot — had previously been primarily songwriters but began releasing albums and songs of their own. King's album Tapestry became one of the top-selling albums of the decade, and the song "It's Too Late" became one of the 1970s biggest songs. McLean's 1971 song "American Pie," inspired by the death of Buddy Holly, became one of popular music's most-recognized songs of the 20th century, thanks to its abstract and vivid storytelling, which center around "The Day the Music Died" and popular music of the rock era.
The early 1970s marked the departure of Diana Ross from The Supremes and the break-up of Simon & Garfunkel. Ross, Simon and Art Garfunkel all continued hugely successful recording careers throughout the decade and beyond. Several of their songs are listed among the biggest hits of the 1970s: Simon & Garfunkel's "Bridge Over Troubled Water", Simon's solo hit "50 Ways to Leave Your Lover", and Ross' "Ain't No Mountain High Enough".
Along with disco, funk was one of the most popular genres of music in the 1970s. Primarily an African-American genre, it was characterized by the heavy use of bass and "wah-wah" pedals. Rhythm was emphasized over melody. Artists such as James Brown, The Meters, Parliament-Funkadelic and Sly And The Family Stone pionered the genre. It then spawned artists such as Stevie Wonder, Rufus (band), The Brothers Johnson, Kool & The Gang, Earth, Wind & Fire, Bootsy's Rubber Band, King Floyd, Tower of Power, Ohio Players, The Commodores, War, Confunkshun, Gap Band, Slave, Cameo, the Bar-Kays, Zapp, and many more.
The 1970s saw African-American audiences shift away from genres like rock and blues which had originally been invented and dominated by black musicians. While blues performers like B.B. King and Albert King remained successful, they changed to a mostly white audience. Soul, R&B, and funk became the predominate music styles among black artists and audiences.
The Jackson 5 became one of the biggest pop-music phenomena of the 1970s, playing from a repertoire of rhythm and blues, soul, pop and later disco. The Jacksons — brothers Jackie, Tito, Jermaine, Marlon and Michael — the first act in recording history to have their first four major label singles: "I Want You Back", "ABC", "The Love You Save", and "I'll Be There" reach the top of the Billboard Hot 100. The band served as the launching pad for the solo careers of their lead singers Jermaine and Michael, and while Jermaine had some success, it was Michael who would transform his early fame into greater success as an adult artist, with songs such as "Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough" and "Rock with You".
The Commodores were another group that played from a diverse repertoire, including R&B, funk, and pop. Lionel Richie, who went on to even greater success as a solo artist in the 1980s, fronted the group's biggest 1970s hits, including "Easy", "Three Times a Lady", and "Still".
A number of styles defined country music during the 1970s decade. At the beginning of the decade, the countrypolitan — an offshoot of the earlier "Nashville Sound" of the late 1950s and early 1960s — and the honky-tonk fused Bakersfield Sound were some of the more popular styles.
The countrypolitan sound — a polished, streamlined sound featuring string sections, background vocals and crooning lead vocalists — was popularized by artists including Lynn Anderson, Glen Campbell, Anne Murray, Dottie West, Tammy Wynette and others, achieving their successes through such songs as "(I Never Promised You a) Rose Garden", "Snowbird", and others. The Bakersfield sound, first popularized in the early 1960s, continued its peak in popularity through artists such as Buck Owens and Merle Haggard.
But other styles began to emerge during the 1970s. One of the more successful styles was "outlaw country", a type of music blending the traditional and honky tonk sounds of country music with rock and blues music, and mixed with the anger of an alienated subculture of the nation during the period. The leaders of the movement were Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson, although others associated with the movement were David Allan Coe, Jessi Colter, Tompall Glaser, Gary Stewart and Billy Joe Shaver. The efforts of Jennings, Nelson, Colter and Glaser were encapsulated in the 1976 album Wanted! The Outlaws.
The country pop sound was a successor to the countrypolitan sound of the early 1970s. In addition to artists such as Murray and Campbell, several artists who were not initially marketed as country were enjoying crossover success with country audiences through radio airplay and sales. The most successful of these artists included The Bellamy Brothers, Charlie Rich, John Denver, Olivia Newton-John, Marie Osmond, B. J. Thomas and Kenny Rogers. Newton-John, an Australian pop singer, was named Female Vocalist of the Year by the Country Music Association in 1974, sparking a debate that continues to this day — what is country music? A group of traditional-minded artists, troubled by this trend, formed the short-lived Association of Country Entertainers, in an attempt to bring back traditional honky-tonk sounds to the forefront. The debate continued into 1975, a year where six songs reached No. 1 on both the Billboard Hot Country Singles and Billboard Hot 100 charts. Things came to a head when, at that year's CMA Awards, Rich — the reigning Entertainer of the Year, and himself a crossover artist — presented the award to his successor, "my good friend, Mr. John Denver." His statement, taken as sarcasm, and his setting fire to the envelope (containing Denver's name) with a cigarette lighter were taken as a protest against the increasing pop style in country music.
By the later half of the 1970s, Dolly Parton, a highly successful traditional-minded country artist since the late 1960s, mounted a high profile campaign to crossover to pop music, culminating in her 1977 hit "Here You Come Again", which peaked at No. 1 country and No. 3 pop. Rogers, the former lead singer of The First Edition, followed up a successful career in pop, rock and folk music by switching to country music. Like Parton, he enjoyed a long series of successful songs that charted on both the Hot Country Singles and Billboard Hot 100 charts; the first of the lot was "Lucille," a No. 1 country and No. 5 pop hit. Crystal Gayle, Ronnie Milsap, Eddie Rabbitt, and Linda Ronstadt were some of the other artists who also found success on both the country and pop charts with their records as well.
The 1970s continued a trend toward a proliferation of No. 1 hits on the Billboard Hot Country Singles chart. In 1970, there were 23 songs that reached the top spot on the chart, but by the mid-1970s, more than 40 titles rotated in and out of the top spot for the first time in history. The trend temporarily reversed itself by the late 1970s, when about 30 to 35 songs reached the pinnacle position of the chart annually.
In the second half of the decade, a 1950s nostalgia movement prompted the Rockabilly Revival fad. The Stray Cats led the revival into the early 1980s. Queen participated through their hit "Crazy Little Thing Called Love". Billy Joel provided "Piano Man" and "Only The Good Die Young". Also symbolizing this trend was the hit movie Grease in 1978, starring John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John.
Tying in with the nostalgia craze, several stars of the late 1950s and early 1960s successfully revived their careers during the early- to mid-1970s after several years of inactivity. The most successful of these were Ricky Nelson ("Garden Party", 1972), Paul Anka ("(You're) Having My Baby", 1974), Neil Sedaka ("Laughter in the Rain" and "Bad Blood", both 1975), and Frankie Valli as both a solo artist (1975's "My Eyes Adored You") and with The Four Seasons (1976's "December 1963 (Oh, What A Night)"). In addition, Perry Como—one of the most successful pre-rock era artists—enjoyed continued success, albeit on a somewhat smaller scale (as most of his fans were adults who grew up during the 1940s and early 1950s, and not the rock record-buying youth); his most successful hits of the decade were "It's Impossible" (1970) and the Don McLean song "And I Love Her So" (1973).
Two of popular music's most successful artists died within eight weeks of each other in 1977. Elvis Presley, the best-selling singer of all time, died on August 16, 1977. Presley's funeral was held at Graceland, on Thursday, August 18, 1977.
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Elton John became the decade's biggest pop star, releasing diverse styles of music that ranged from ballads to arena rock; some his most popular songs included "Crocodile Rock," "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road," "Bennie and the Jets," "Philadelphia Freedom and "Don't Go Breaking My Heart" (the latter a duet with Kiki Dee). Other European soft rock major artists of the decade included Cat Stevens, Fleetwood Mac and Joan Armatrading. (See the country music section of this article for more about country music that crossed over onto the pop charts.)
One of the most successful European groups of the decade was the quartet ABBA. The Swedish group, who are still the most successful group from their country, first found fame when they won the 1974 Eurovision Song Contest. They became one of the most widely known European groups ever and one of the best selling artists of all time, as well as one of the few groups from a non-English speaking country to gain international success. "Take a Chance on Me" and "Dancing Queen" are two of ABBA's most popular songs.
One of the first events of the 1970s was the break-up of The Beatles in the spring of 1970. Paul McCartney formed a new group, Wings, and continued to enjoy great mainstream success. The three other former Beatles — John Lennon, George Harrison and Ringo Starr — all continued hugely successful recording careers throughout the decade and beyond. Lennon, McCartney, and Harrison all released extremely successful solo albums in 1970, Imagine, McCartney, and All Things Must Pass, and several of their songs are listed among the biggest hits of the 1970s: Wings' "Silly Love Songs" and "My Love," and Harrison's "My Sweet Lord"."
Heavy metal music gained a cult following in the 1970s, led by Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, and Deep Purple, with their styles later influencing other bands like Judas Priest and Motörhead, which eventually started the New Wave of British Heavy Metal in the 1980s.
Black Sabbath, formed in 1969, is often credited with inventing the metal genre as well as stoner rock, doom metal, as well as sparking a revolution with much darker lyrics than were the norm in rock at that time.
Progressive or prog rock developed out of late 1960s blues-rock and psychedelic rock. Dominated by British bands it was part of an attempt to elevate rock music to new levels of artistic credibility. Progressive rock bands attempted to push the technical and compositional boundaries of rock by going beyond the standard verse-chorus-based song structures. The arrangements often incorporated elements drawn from classical, jazz, and world music. Instrumentals were common, while songs with lyrics were sometimes conceptual, abstract, or based in fantasy. Progressive rock bands sometimes used "concept albums that made unified statements, usually telling an epic story or tackling a grand overarching theme." King Crimson as well as the Moody Blues have been seen as the bands who established the concept of "progressive rock". The term was applied to the music of bands such as Yes, Genesis, Pink Floyd, Jethro Tull, Soft Machine, and Emerson, Lake & Palmer. It reached its peak of popularity in the mid-1970s, but had mixed critical acclaim and the punk movement can be seen as a reaction against its musicality and perceived pomposity. Never-the-less, Pink Floyd's 1973 release, The Dark Side of the Moon, was an immediate success, remaining in the charts for 741 weeks from 1973 to 1988, with an estimated 50 million copies sold. It is Pink Floyd's most commercially successful album and one of the best-selling albums worldwide. It has twice been remastered and re-released, and has been covered in its entirety by several other acts. It spawned two singles, "Money," and "Time". In addition to its commercial success, The Dark Side of the Moon is one of Pink Floyd's most popular albums among fans and critics, and is frequently ranked as one of the greatest rock albums of all time.
Glam or glitter rock developed in the UK in the post-hippie early 1970s. It was characterized by outrageous clothes, makeup, hairstyles, and platform-soled boots. The flamboyant lyrics, costumes, and visual styles of glam performers were a campy, playing with categories of sexuality in a theatrical blend of nostalgic references to science fiction and old movies, all over a guitar-driven hard rock sound. Pioneers of the genre included David Bowie, Roxy Music, Mott the Hoople, Marc Bolan, and T.Rex. These, and many other acts straddled the divide between pop and rock music, managing to maintain a level of respectability with rock audiences, while enjoying success in the singles chart, including Queen and Elton John. Other performers aimed much more directly for the popular music market, where they were the dominant groups of their era, including and Slade, Sweet and Mud. The glitter image was pushed to its limits by Gary Glitter and The Glitter Band. Largely confined to the British, glam rock peaked during the mid-1970s, before it disappeared in the face of punk rock and new wave trends.
From the late 1960s it became common to divide mainstream rock music into soft rock and hard rock. Soft rock was often derived from folk rock, using acoustic instruments and putting more emphasis on melody and harmonies. It reached its commercial peak in the mid- to late-1970s with acts like the reformed Fleetwood Mac, whose Rumours (1977) was the best-selling album of the decade. Major British soft rock artists of the 1970s included 10cc, Mungo Jerry, and Rod Stewart. A large number of soft-rock songs fit into the singer-songwriter classification — that is, songs written and recorded by the same person. Some of the most successful singer-songwriter artists were Cat Stevens, Steve Winwood, and Elton John.
The mid-1970s saw the rise of punk music from its protopunk-garage band roots in the 1960s and early 1970s. The Sex Pistols, and The Clash were some of the earliest British acts to make it big in both the United Kingdom and the United States. Groups like the Clash were noted for the experimentation of style, especially that of having strong ska influences in their music. Punk music has also been heavily associated with a certain punk fashion and absurdist humour which exemplified a genuine suspicion of mainstream culture and values. The Sex Pistols caused a major sensation in 1977 and were the first serious challenge to the established rock groups like the Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin, although the punk era in Britain lasted only three years and effectively ended with the Pistols' breakup.
The mid-to-late 1970s Australian band AC/DC became one of the most popular and successful acts in Australia, scoring a string of hits, albums and singles. They made their international debut in 1976 with High Voltage. The band quickly became successful outside their home country; the Highway to Hell album from 1979 peaked at number 13 on the Kent Music Report Albums Chart and they would continue as one of the most popular rock groups in the world through the following decade.
The Bee Gees were an English-Australian group consist of brothers Barry, Maurice, and Robin Gibb — was a successful harmonic act as the 1970s dawned. Aside from the chart-topping How Can You Mend A Broken Heart in 1971, the brothers did not make much impact in the US during the first half of the decade and most of their record sales were in Europe, especially on the continent. With the failure of their 1973 album Life in a Tin Can, the Bee Gees appeared washed up. But in 1975, they rebounded with Main Course which added more of a beat to their songs and they began embracing the new disco sound in their next album Children Of The World (1976). The musical movie Saturday Night Fever (1977) finally propelled the Bee Gees to global superstar status with Stayin' Alive, More Than a Woman and Night Fever (from the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack). The Gibbs' youngest brother, Andy, was a sensation with his own solo career. He made occasional appearances with his brothers and hit the jackpot with his songs I Just Want to Be Your Everything and Shadow Dancing.
The most successful Australian female artist of the decade, Olivia Newton-John, became a leading singer in the 1970s in both the popular and country genres and realized several number one hits, including the songs, Let Me Be There and I Honestly Love You for which she received three Grammys.
The Wailers, a band started by Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, and Bunny Wailer in 1963 which used to play Ska and Rocksteady music during the 1960s which became popular in the Caribbean, Europe and Africa since the early 1970s after they start playing Reggae music. Later on the band became very popular in the U.S. The Wailers broke up in 1974 with each of the three main members going on to pursue solo careers. Despite the break-up, Marley continued recording music as "Bob Marley & The Wailers". In 1975, Marley had his international breakthrough with his first hit outside Jamaica, "No Woman, No Cry", from the Natty Dread album. The success of the album Exodus (1977), which included the major international hits "Jamming", "Turn Your Lights Down Low", and "One Love", propelled Marley to international stardom.
During the 1970s in Latin America the 1960s music influence remained strong and two styles developed from it one that followed the European and North American trends and Nueva Canción that focused on the renewal of folklore including Andean music and Cueca. Some bands such as Los Jaivas mixed both streams and created a syncretism between folklore and progressive rock. The Nueva Canción movement got an even more marked protest association after all countries in the Southern Cone became (or were already) military dictatorships in the 1970s.
In the 1970s Rock en Español began to emerge (specially in Argentina), and as imitation bands became fewer, rock music started to develop more independently from the outside, although many rock bands still preferred to sing in English. The Argentine defeat in the Falklands War in 1982 followed by the fall of the military junta that year diminished need of Nueva Canción as protest music there in favour of other styles. In Chile the Nueva Canción styles developed through the 1970s would remain popular until the return to democracy in 1990.
It was during the 1970s the cumbia became widely popular outside Colombia. Several bands brought Cumbia to Mexico, Peru and Argentine, places that later became major scenes for further developments of cumbia music. While Nueva Canción was the music of the New Left and the rock developments of Argentina reflected the European oriented youth, cumbia became widely popular among the large poor sectors of Latin American countries, to such degree that it came to be associated with shantytowns and low-prestige Native American populations.
The salsa music developed in the 1960s and 1970s by Puerto Rican and Cuban immigrants to the New York City area but did not enter into mainstream popularity in Latin America until the late 1980s. The Merengue music experienced during the late 1970s a golden age of productivity characterized by the rise of a new generation of musicians.
The commercial cinemas around the world tended to imitate nuances of disco beats in their movies to present their movies as western and upbeat. These included the increasingly popular Kung-fu movies in far East Asia and Bollywood movies from India.