70’s Rock Arbitrage

by Harry on April 21, 2006

I apologise in advance for lowering the tone, but I have recently discovered in myself a hitherto unimaginable and frankly rather disturbing liking for 70’s rock. I sometimes blame Steve Harley, but its not really his fault. It all began with me whimsically picking up The Best of the Seventies, and then only listening to it for reasons referred to in this long dead, but maybe worth-glancing-at, thread.

Prog rock, folk rock, glam rock (of the less cerebral variety (Slade rather than Bowie)), you name it, it seems to have infiltrated my consciousness, 30 years late (not disco or punk, which I did register at the time, hating one and liking the other). I’ve been using boxed sets such as Ars Longa Vita Brevis, Time Machine, and Strangely Strange but Oddly Normal to feed my habit, using them as samplers for observing a strange but oddly congenial world. I am too young to have listened to this stuff first time round (born 1963, and came late to contemporary music, around the time of TRB), and would have scoffed at it at the time, but there you go. The Move and The Strawbs are particular favourites at the moment.


As with many CDs that are even slightly obscure, these are much much cheaper on amazon.co.uk than on amazon.com, and given the fact that VAT is taken off at source, it is often cheaper even to have them shipped to the US than to buy them in the UK. The above three prog rock collections cost $199 on the US sitw, but ship from the UK for about $60. Ars Vita is the outlier, but even the other two cost less than half as much shipped from the UK. Why? Can it really be that there isn’t a massive market for obscure and difficult-to-listen-to rock in the US?



Alan Jacobs 04.21.06 at 12:53 pm

The Strawbs were the first band I ever saw live — in Birmingham (Alabama, not England) in 1972. They were the opening act for Ten Years After. But when was the last time I heard anyone mention the Strawbs?


Chris Bertram 04.21.06 at 12:58 pm

Hey! I mentioned them here only 2 weeks ago. Comment #9 in my 1973 thread!


Tom Hurka 04.21.06 at 1:30 pm

The Strawbs? They, or a current version — Dave Cousins plus some non-original bandmates — play Toronto fairly regularly, most recently last November, at an acoustic-music club a short walk from where I live. Unfortunately I’ve never made one of their shows, fan though I was in the Benedictus days. Had I known they would become a CT topic, though …


Nat Whilk 04.21.06 at 1:44 pm

You can buy these new through Amazon Marketplace at roughly the same price as amazon.co.uk.


Donn Day 04.21.06 at 2:02 pm

It’s was prog music that led me into the radio business in the 1970’s. I became an FM DJ and along the way interviewed Renaissance, Suptertramp, Camel, Kansas, Gentle Giant, Ambrosia and others. I saw The Strawbs and Nektar on the same show, and was one of only 250 people or so that saw the first Genesis show in SF.

Long live prog!


Alan Jacobs 04.21.06 at 2:19 pm

Sincere apologies, Chris — though I certainly attempt to read every post in every thread on CT, I sometimes fall short. Your comeback shames me.


Chris Bertram 04.21.06 at 2:53 pm

Hey, only joking. Tho I did think it strange that we should mention the Strawbs twice in a fortnight.


harry b 04.21.06 at 3:22 pm

Maybe we should have a weekly quiz, and somehow mask the comments for the period of the quiz.

My only live enjoyment of any of the figures mentioned was seeing Dave Cousins with Dave Willoughby at the Cambridge Folk Festival in 1979 or 1980 (I forget which) during the Old School Songs phase, and (from the EMI the Best of the Seventies set) seeing XTC at High Wycombe Town Hall (believe it or not), in, I think, 1978. I would go see Dave Cousins now if he played round the corner, Tom, and am disappointed that you didn’t!


Jaybird 04.21.06 at 3:27 pm

I’ve gone back to disco in recent years and have discovered that it’s a lot better than I thought it would be.

Let’s bust out Nietzsche, why not? “Mature manhood: that means to have found again the seriousness one had as a child in play.”

Now that’s a tidy summary of Disco right there.

Listen to Night Fever again and try not to smile. Listen to Stayin’ Alive and try not to strut.

It’s music that is happy to be alive (and maybe dancing). God knows, it’s a lot better than the dance music the stupid kids nowadays are listening to. You can’t even skate to that crap!


Mike 04.21.06 at 4:01 pm

Rock sucks; hip-hop blows; all pop is crap. If you are going to waste bandwidth with your silly music opinions learn music appreciation first.


pp 04.21.06 at 5:01 pm

“music appreciation”
Music is made up of 12 distinct tones in a regular repeating pattern based on the frequency of the vibration either lowering or raising the perceived pitch. Making those tones go togehter in any rythmic pattern so that it casues people to pump their fist, raise a lighter, or take of their shirt while on someones shoulders is a gift and should be appreciated in any decade.


Uncle Kvetch 04.21.06 at 5:34 pm

As an adolescent in the mid/late-70s with two older siblings, I pretty much cut my musical teeth on prog, especially Yes, early Genesis, Tull, and Renaissance. Threw it all aside when “new wave” came to town, but I’ve always had a sense that I’d revisit much of that stuff at some later point (not all of it; I don’t think I really need to hear Kansas again, ever). I figure it’s just a matter of time. If I could go from being a 13-year-old with a “Disco Sucks” sticker on my bookbag to a full-blown ABBA fan, I figure anything is possible.

seeing XTC at High Wycombe Town Hall (believe it or not), in, I think, 1978

You bastard.


Nat Whilk 04.21.06 at 6:48 pm

Uncle Kvetch wrote: “I don’t think I really need to hear Kansas again, ever.

Well, sure, you don’t need to do anything but die and pay taxes.

Genesis’s Steve Hackett said that Steve Walsh circa 1980 had “the perfect white rock voice”, and I concur. But then again maybe my hearing’s been damaged by old age, and Hackett’s hearing was damaged by listening to too much Peter Gabriel and Phil Collins.


Adam Kotsko 04.21.06 at 7:57 pm

Of course, music appreciation is first of all about the music one doesn’t appreciate.

(I often picture the ultimate Music Snob, perhaps a resident of the world of forms, listening to blank LPs and sneering at anyone who would listen to anything else. Or perhaps simply sneering without listening to anything, an ice pick having been jammed in each ear to prevent any encounter with bad music.)


Bill Jones 04.21.06 at 8:39 pm

There’s somthing wrong with Slade? Common momma – thet’re just good. Don’t be ashamed, we’re all crazee now.


Daniel 04.21.06 at 9:55 pm

I often picture the ultimate Music Snob, perhaps a resident of the world of forms, listening to blank LPs

Of course, this happened.


David 04.21.06 at 11:33 pm

First ever concert: Pink Floyd, Spectrum, Philadelphia, 1974, floor seats, $8.00.
Next, Jethro Tull. Then, Emerson, Lake, and Palmer. Later, Renaissance, Genesis, the lot.

1978ish: The Clash. That was the end of that.


John Quiggin 04.22.06 at 12:00 am

“If you are going to waste bandwidth with your silly music opinions learn music appreciation first.”

It’s long past time the notion of “wasting bandwidth” was dropped, except for people sharing their latest self-produced 16-hour video epic. For text, bandwidth is effectively infinite, even on a dialup connection.

And while pointless stuff can waste time, anyone who gets to the comments section of a post entitled “70s Rock” has only themselves to blame.


joel turnipseed 04.22.06 at 2:33 am

I was going to type “Thomas Ades & all that…” in response to #10 until John made me snort my nightcap out my nose. Still, must say, have never been able to get into Prog Rock. Guess that’s one consequence of having been born in 1968 & coming to age in my musical taste ca. 1982 or so, just as the Replacements, Husker Du, et.al. were about to make a mecca of my hometown of Minneapolis.

Meantime, when yer done w/yer nostalgia trip, I highly recommend our latest export, Tapes-n-Tapes: a marvelous group.


John Quiggin 04.22.06 at 3:33 am

I was badly into Prog Rock (at least, I thought I was) but was cured by Tubular Bells.

Actually, this was quite a big event for me, since I realised for the first time that something everyone I thought was cool raved about could nonetheless be complete crap.


Chris Bertram 04.22.06 at 3:49 am

David has it exactly right. One moment I was going to see Barclay James Harvest or the Soft Machine and listening to Yes albums (or worse, those mid-70s Rick Wakeman albums like 6 Wives) … the next moment the Clash.

I’m of exactly the same age as the protagonists in Jonathan Coe’s The Rotters’ Club, a novel that captures the moment of transition in 1977 (“no Elvis, Beatles or the Rolling Stones…” my God! Joe Strummer must be spinning in his grave) very well. And it was amazingly fast, like weeks or days, with everyone hiding their old albums and switching their flared trousers for drainpipes (or doing a quick fix with bicycle clips IIRC!).


Daniel 04.22.06 at 7:45 am

Nirvana’s “Nevermind” had a similar effect on the heavy metal crowd; it was possible to get studded leather jackets really cheap and there was a run on lumberjack shirts.


Tim Worstall 04.22.06 at 8:16 am

Exactly the same age as Henry and I pretty much missed it all first time round as I was playing and listening to Trad Jazz (Yeah, I know, 30 years too late for the skiffle boom…gave some relevance to Sultans of Swing though).
Prog rock isn’t what I’d listen to now though of the music back then. Looking at that first album set mentioned, more the punk stuff. The Ruts, Members, Buzzcocks, Dr. Feelgood (pub rock really, heavily blues influenced). CCS’ version of Whole Lotta Love…well, can’t forget that one, TOTP theme tune for years. Flute replacing Jimmy Page’s lead guitar line.

Then again, for obvious reasons (no, not just being a West Country boy) I’ve always had a soft spot for The Wurzels.


Harry 04.22.06 at 8:40 am

Tim –its Harry, not Henry! (who is unnervingly younger). Yes, I share the feelings about the Wurzels. What about the Barron Knights?

I listened to a combination of folk and punk when I finally woke up to music as it were. I bought the first album in large part for the punky stuff, which was not new to me, but nostalgic (if that’s not too wierd). The other stuff took me over. That Feelgood track, Milk and Alcohol, is fantastic.


JRoth 04.22.06 at 9:01 am

Here’s the amazing thing: at the very moment this thread started, XM40 was playing a (frankly interminable) BBC Live recording of the Strawbs. Harry must get US satellite radio in his fillings.


Tim Worstall 04.22.06 at 9:07 am

Sorry, Harry/Henry, apologies to both.

Given my surname I spent years of my teenagerdom being known as “Wurzel”. It was Feelgood that led me back into the blues catalogues….where I now spend much of my musical listening time.


harry b 04.22.06 at 9:23 am

Tim — no offence taken, people do it all the time, but it usually works to my advantage. With my surname, I was haunted by The Floral Dance, as you can imagine.


Tim Worstall 04.22.06 at 9:28 am

Wogan, pursuing you through your nightmares?


Tim Worstall 04.22.06 at 9:41 am

Or, (sorry, I know this is bad) “Caught in a Rastrick” by the Boomtown….


harry b 04.22.06 at 9:47 am

That was bad. Wogan used to run me into the hedge in his Rolls almost daily as I cycled home from school (down a narrow country lane). Adding injury to insult, I felt. Worht another post, maybe.


Prudence Goodwife 04.22.06 at 10:00 am

First concert, Queen circa The Game and a week later I saw Tull at the Garden. Actually those are my first rock concerts, my mother had taken me to see Leo Sayer and Melissa Manchester when I was twelve. All I remember from that show was all the funny smelling smoke and that my mom refused to explain to me the meaning of the word nookie. By the time I got to the Queen concert both mysteries had been solved.


bob mcmanus 04.22.06 at 9:04 pm

I probably shouldn’t comment here, having no taste whatsoever. Strawbs, Clash, Belly, Death Cab for Cutie are all major parts of my playlist.
I recognized everything on the Strangely Strange compilation, and considered it strangely lacking in actual Dr Strangely Strange…though just a little eclectic.

Anthems in Eden is a good introduction to English Pastoral, Disks 3 & 4 a quality selection of what we like to call “psych-folk”

Heard a Oscar Wilde line last night:”You don’t really see a thing until you see that it is beautiful.” Maybe if you like everything you really don’t like anything. Or maybe not.


bob mcmanus 04.22.06 at 9:25 pm

Incidentally, as an American who is pretty obsessed with English rock, I don’t understand how such a small country can generate so much variant beauty. Ian Anderson, arguing for copyright extension, said that 50% of all rock music sold worldwide comes from England. I believe it. I try to understand a scene that can support Roy Harper, Gryphon, Savoy Brown, Groundhogs and 1000 others in an area smaller in size and population than Texas but can’t.


Tom Gillis 04.23.06 at 12:35 am

“or worse, those mid-70s Rick Wakeman albums like 6 Wives” — Chris, “6 wives” was from 1972. I’ve always thought it was a fabulous album. The ones that followed (Journey to the Center of the Earth; King Arthur) were pretty wretched — I even gave my copy of one away, back when an LP purchase was a big deal for me. I recommend you try “6 Wives” again — you might be surprised (oh, yeah, try those 72-74 Yes albums (Fragile, Close to the Edge, Tales…, Relayer) again, too).

Another example of how taste is, well, taste. I too remember when the rock scene changed in 1977 or so (although the old rock scene was disappearing already in 75-76) — however, I think of it as the decline of popular rock music. The music critics swooned over the the rise of the “garage band” sound, bringing back “roots” rock. As a member of a “garage band,” I couldn’t understand the attraction of music that required so little talent (like mine).

Now thirty years(!) down the road, I have kids who are the same age I was when I played at local music joints in the early-mid 1970s. I’m struck by how little popular rock music has changed since then — in contrast, compare early 1970s music to early 1940’s music, where you will see a huge difference. Perhaps this is due to the conservative reaction of the late 1970s (bringing back the simplistic “garage” sound, and eschewing prog rock)? I dunno, just thinking aloud.


Chris Bertram 04.23.06 at 3:24 am

Bob, England has more than twice the population of Texas, and the UK has three times. But in any case the capacity of a culture at a particular time and place to generate success of this kind seems pretty weakly related to population size.


nota bene 04.24.06 at 1:37 am

Music that gets internationally famous has less to do with the caliber of music and more to do with the caliber of promotion, marketing, and other non-musical factors.

Not that I’m saying anything that acheives international fame is unworthy, merely that just about every city with a scene has acts that would knock your socks off. It’s what the large media corporations decide to push that achieves near-instant worldwide fame. They can only push so many acts at once.


but not yes 04.24.06 at 12:30 pm

Van der graff Generator, King Crimson

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