Were the seventies really that bad?
There is this enduring Daily Mail myth that somehow Thatcher saved us from the seventies.
It’s somehow tied in with the myth that punk rock also saved us from the seventies. You get the same stock clips on TV documentaries with the rubbish piled in the streets, lots of rain, platform shoes and everyone looking really miserable And whilst this may all be true there was a flip side to the decade that gets neatly edited out.
Of course a decade is a fake way of splicing up time- were the sixties really at swinging or wee they perhaps the time when some people were having a party and everyone else was trying to find it? Was the seventies when everyone else actually found the party and not the decade of shitty wallpaper and damp misery?
The seventies have had a lot of bad press. Were they really that bad or has it become a handy media myth? We’re they not, in reality, the most schizophrenic decade of them all- with a collapsing economy played out with a boom time, a decade of bad flares and great music, a decade of bad politics but brilliant idealism and, arguably, the greatest soundtrack ever.
It’s often said that the seventies was the decade that taste seemed to evaporate but this is just not true. Musically it was as good as the mythological sixties. Glam rock rules Top Of The Pops with Bowie and Bolan ruling the roost with endless great singles and all manner of fruity madness from other glam groups. Funk got seriously warped with the genius Parliament, there was some great Prog if you count Krautrock and Hawkwind as Prog and punk and post punk rounded off the decade nicely. It’s hard to think of another decade with as much musical diversity.
2. The smirking modern cultural experts like to poke fun at the style and clothes in the seventies and, yes, there were some no so great moments but that is true if any decade. There were also some endearing moments that have dominated alternative culture for years from punk to goth and all their sub divisions to skinhead- all key looks in alternative culture to this day.
3. Whilst in some ways the memory of the decade is politically grim with the Uk foundering politically and economically whilst the rest of Europe caught up with a country basking in post empire and post war glow and a confidence boosting Beatle sixties and this is true. If the fab 4 had been a symbol of this new, hip Great Britain in the swinging decade even they looked washed up and were a bit rubbish in the seventies.
Oddly, though, more people in the seventies were more affluent than at any other time and
even with the backdrop of power cuts and a stumbling establishment some of the good stuff of the sixties was actually filtering out to everyone else.
4. Less than a hangover from the sixties this was the decade when people had a very small slice of the pie instead of just the crumbs. Against the backdrop of collapse people had more toys, more music (the highest record sales of all time we in this decade). Schools became the battle field where my generation fought for the right to have hair over their ears as they celebrated getting their hands on the mythical freedoms of the sixties. The freedom to wear platforms, flared trousers and have long hair in a swaggering celebration of a new dayglo confidence.
5. Even the music matched this. This was the decade when British groups were chart regulars in the USA. It seemed like every British band, art from Roxy Music and TRex, were lodged in the American top 10- a natural part of the career flow of British bands. Even Supertramp and ELO were effortlessly massive- maybe basking in the recently departed Beatle spotlight but out selling them and looking comfortable in the American enormodromes constructed for the boom time interest in British music.
6. People owned stuff. It might have been rubbish stuff like you see on all those I Love the Seventies shows but it was stuff none the less. Stuff bought with a disposable income as people talked of a leisure age with people being freed from the factory floor. It may have been a smokescreen but the leisure age was now in its infancy and if today’s hi tech computer age is taken for granted its roots were very much in the long, lost decade.
7. People started going abroad for the holidays. Blackpool was replaced by Spain and the package holiday was king. In the sixties this had been unimaginable but with one million people taking a foreign holiday in 1970 booming to nine million in 1975 something was really happening. The last time this many people had gone abroad was in the First World War…
8. The seventies was the decade when everything really did change. The reality of the sixties is of a study decade when, apart from an elite of movers and shakers, most people still lived in a monochrome world. In the seventies bits and pieces of the this culture filtered through for better or worse to more people.
9. The seventies was a battle ground of ideas that was never won or lost. This was perfectly captured in punk rock – the most confusing and yet, the most perfectly seventies moment. It was at this point that all the loose cultural and political strands of culture came together for a cultural hand grenade that we are still trying to make sense of decades later. All the good and the bad things of the seventies was compressed into a cultural time bomb .
10. Did Thatcher save us from the seventies as they would like us to believe? Did we all want saving from the seventies? Or was it a case of when Johnny Rotten was asked in 1976 what he wanted to do about the UK and replied ‘make it worse’… Looking at the clips of the Sex Pistols now they seem so young and innocent and looking at the reality of the seventies beyond the few tried and tested clips of monochrome misery there is a fr more complex and diverse decade than is given credit for and some strands that were lost in the following greed is good decade when Bowie was replaced by Spandau Ballet…