Impact’s Music Essentials: 70s Rock

Christina Giallombardo

As part of our ‘Impact’s Music Essentials’ series, Christina talks us through her top ten picks from the 70s rock genre.

Everyone goes through the phase of wanting to listen to music, but not knowing what. When that happens to me, I always turn to 70s rock and it never fails to create a spark of excitement. The feeling of rediscovering an old favourite isn’t one I can put into words, but it’s simply delightful. Staple bands like Led Zeppelin and Queen have countless classics to choose from, and sadly they couldn’t all make the list, but I hope this list will inspire you to listen to more 70s rock music and discover the true beauty of the genre.

Stairway to Heaven – Led Zeppelin

Arguably the best rock song to grace the ears of listeners, Stairway to Heaven is a beautiful and emotive piece of art that has stood the test of time. The song features on Led Zeppelin’s album ‘Led Zeppelin IV’. The song has one of the most famous riffs of all time and the cryptic lyrics written by Robert Plant and Jimmy Page are rich with religious and Celtic symbolism. The beginning of the song is the only part Plant has explained, saying it was about “a woman getting everything she wanted without giving anything back.” Regardless of the lyrics, the rich vocals from Robert Plant, drums from John Bonham, guitar from Jimmy Page and bass from John Paul Jones never fails to bring a tear to my eye. It remains one of my favourite songs of all time, where I expect it will stay for a long time.

Bohemian Rhapsody – Queen

It’s nearly impossible to choose just one song from the legendary Queen, but Bohemian Rhapsody stands tall above the rest. It has become so synonymous with Queen that their movie was named after the song. It’s a song so iconic, nearly everyone will have heard it, and it’s a song like no other. Even 40 years later the song is so embedded in our culture, it’s still regularly played on the radio and featured on the soundtracks of countless movies. The song was written by Freddie Mercury in 1975 for the album ‘A Night at the Opera’. It’s a song that broke every rule in music and went on to break even more records. It features a ballad section, an operatic section and a hard rock section, and is among one of the few successful songs from the 1970s progressive rock movement. If you’re using headphones, I recommend listening to the song with both earbuds in to get the full experience!

Another Brick in the Wall, Pt. 2 – Pink Floyd

Another Brick in the Wall is a three-part epic on the 1979 album ‘The Wall’. Pink Floyd’s psychedelic sound separates them from the rest of the crowd, but what has earned them a place in the history books is their political and social statements that take the shape of their music. There’s no song quite like Another Brick in the Wall, Pt. 2 that calls out the education system and its failures on students. The rock operatic is a protest song that stands against the cruelty of teachers in Britain. It’s so influential that the album was banned in South Africa in 1980 after black school children adopted the song as their anthem to boycott and protest against racial inequalities in education under apartheid. The use of the children’s choir adds another layer of impact to the statement Pink Floyd is making. It’s emotional and powerful and the addition of the kick drum on every beat gives the song a disco-like feel that makes you want to stand up and fight for what you believe in.

Heroes – David Bowie

Heroes was a song born out of danger and discomfort. It was written whilst Bowie was in Berlin in 1977, a time when Germany was still divided into the East and West. The strictly controlled and dangerous environment reflects in the strict chord progression. The instrumental sat in the studio for weeks as Bowie waited for inspiration to strike. That inspiration came in the form of two people kissing under a gun turret on the Berlin wall. The poetic us-against-them theme of the lyrics tells a story of two Germans that, despite the political climate and dangers, were determined to be together. The song serves as an anthem of unity and strength. When performed in Berlin with the Wall as their backdrop, thousands of East and West Berliners sung along and cheered. Bowie’s connection to the song is also reflected in the fact that it’s the only song he recorded in German. It is truly an emotional and empowering piece of art.

Go Your Own Way – Fleetwood Mac

In a song, Go Your Own Way is the embodiment of moving on and letting go of resentment and the past. The album ‘Rumours’ which this song is featured on was released in 1977. Whilst the album was being recorded the marriage between two members, John and Christine McVie, was falling apart. The bitterness of the song’s conception is evident in the lyrics but surprisingly when you listen to the song this feeling is replaced by one of adventure and individuality. Despite the heartache Go Your Own Way was born from, it no longer has a hint of the anger that fuelled it, a sentiment the band now holds. Not only is Go Your Own Way a great song, but the whole ‘Rumours’ album is a true masterpiece, and is one of my all-time favourite albums. I definitely recommend giving it a listen!

Hotel California – Eagles

With Hotel California, the Eagles were set on calling out the self-destructive behaviour that had become the norm of the rock world. The allegorical and poetic lyrics are what drew me to this song. Donald Henley, one of the co-composers of the song, said the song is about “the end of innocence”. When you think of rock stars, you think of partying and drinking, and the Eagles sought to shine a light on this. Hotel California became a commentary on the self-indulgent behaviours in America, and that the American dream isn’t all it’s made out to be. The song was so influential that the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame named Hotel California as one of the songs that shaped rock and roll. With the hard-hitting lyrics and melodic riffs, the Eagles have definitely earned that title and their place in history.

American Pie – Don McLean

Voted number 5 on the ‘Songs of the Century’, American Pie by Don McLean is a song that nearly everyone knows. With lyrics so cryptic there are entire fan pages dedicated to unravelling its mysteries, it became an anthem for an entire generation. Whatever the meaning behind the lyrics is, what makes the song great is the fact that the song itself is a time capsule of the emotions and feelings of the time it was conceived. It did something almost no songs have done since, and even though I was born 30 years after it was first released, I can feel the loss of innocence and the American Dream during the 1960s that Don McLean captured so well.

Because the Night – Patti Smith

The rock masterpiece Because the Night, initially written by legendary Bruce Springsteen, was adapted by Patti Smith to have a more feminine perspective. Because the Night was Smith’s ticket to a place among rock giants. Smith turned the song into a sensual and strong experience. Her vocals are constantly fighting the instruments until she wins. Interestingly in Springsteen’s version, his vocals are a lot more controlled and decisive. The stark differences not only emphasise how a song can be morphed depending on the singer but also highlights societal roles and expectations. Women fight, men decide.

Highway to Hell – AC/DC

As soon as the song starts, the instantly recognisable guitar riff (written by Angus Young) fills you with excitement and the desire to scream at the top of your lungs: “I’m on a highway to hell!” The song was initially released as a single, but it’s also the opening track on their 1979 album of the same name. Highway to Hell is notorious in pop culture. I can think of countless movie and TV scenes where the main characters are in a car, driving down the road and this song starts to play. The song is synonymous with driving and road trips, and it’s of the same thing that the song was conceived. AC/DC produced this song whilst on a gruelling tour and constantly promoting. Young often referred to the tour as being on a highway to hell, hence the name. No matter if you’re driving or just sitting in your room, this song will make you feel like an absolute rock star, travelling the world and living out your dreams.

Free Bird – Lynyrd Skynyrd

Lasting a total of 9 minutes and seven seconds, even the bands own Ronnie Van Zant thought there were too many chord changes and lyrics for it to be successful, but it went on to become a rock classic. Free Bird is the band’s ode to the freedom of the road and the people it leaves behind. Free Bird was first created and performed years before its debut in the album ‘Pronounced’ Leh-‘Nerd ‘Skin-‘Nerd’ in 1978. It underwent many changes during that time to become the song it is now, including a longer introduction that resulted from singer Ronnie having a sore throat during a performance and needing longer to rest his vocals! Although Sweet Home Alabama by Lynyrd Skynyrd was a close second, Free Bird is the song that truly defines the band and the genre. Free Bird cemented the band’s place in history and has become the unofficial anthem of southern rock.

Listen to these songs (plus more!) on this playlist:

Christina Giallombardo

Featured image courtesy of LiveJpegConcert5 via Flickr. Image license found here. No changes made to this image.

In-article videos courtesy of Led Zeppelin, Queen Official, Pink Floyd, David Bowie, Fleetwood Mac, The Eagles – Topic, Don McLean, Patti Smith, AC/DC and Lynyrd Skynyrd via youtube.com. No changes made to these videos.

In-article image courtesy of chg201 via spotify.com. No changes made to this image.

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