Disco Isn’t Dead! How the 70s Are Going Mainstream

The 1960s brought forth one of the most fascinating times in pop culture. The decade, particularly the latter half, birthed the counterculture movement. From experimenting with psychedelics to conducting environmental protests, society was living in a time where living in free creativity and against the norm was the lifestyle choice for many young adults.  However when two of the movement’s most prominent figures, Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix, both died suddenly, only two weeks apart in 1970, this put the 60s movement at a practical standstill, leading to a war on drugs, but also allowing other genres of music to come to light in the new decade.

The 70s allowed for various types of scenes to shine. Disco and dance might be the first things to come to mind when discussing the decade, but so many other genres emerged. The 70s introduced the world to progressive rock with its experimental sounds, as well as popularizing soul and funk. Musicians began using the synthesizer more frequently, starting the new wave era. On the other end of the spectrum, punk rock started hitting the mainstream, evolving to many subgenres by the time the 80s rolled around. In more recent, years we’ve seen music trends from the 70s make a reappearance here and there. In 2019 especially, I have noticed that all these genres are making appearances in mainstream. Now, these artists aren’t making songs that are fully one of these genres, but they are adding elements sprinkled into their innovation.

Courtesy: Last FM

Disco/Dance

There’s a reason people think of disco and dance first when discussing the music of the 70s. What was so appealing about the genre was its innovative, funky sound and beats, and it was all about dancing away your worries. The genres gave the world one of the most successful movie soundtracks of all time, Saturday Night Fever, where we saw John Travolta “boogie.” Also, the phenomenon that was Studio 54 was founded in this decade. Disco and dances lifespan in the 70s were short as people eventually began a movement to rid the world of all things related to the genre. Nevertheless, these were an essential part of the 70s and the scene is being resurrected by some of today’s biggest artists. Perhaps the one at the forefront of using disco influences is country artist Kacey Musgraves. The world never saw a disco-dance-country hybrid, but Musgraves did just that with her track “High Horse” on her Album of the Year piece, Golden Hour. After its critical and commercial success, others have taken note and followed the disco formula. Dua Lipa’s “Don’t Start Now” is the perfect mix of modern dance and disco. She draws inspiration from modern dance tracks we seen at the beginning of the current decade from DJs like David Guetta and Calvin Harris. The incorporation of disco is seen when she takes advantage of the synthesizer and electric piano, all while adding the dash of strings in the track, equaling a perfect formula for disco.

 

Courtesy: Pitchfork

Progressive Rock

Progressive rock saw itself in the limelight of mainstream radio in the 70s, with bands like Pink Floyd and Queen being the face of the genres. The genre is all about experimental sounds and combining rock with a genre on the opposite end of the spectrum. Bands like Pink Floyd and Queen tended to utilize opera and classical music, which gave the genre the alternative name of “art rock”. It should not come to a surprise that today’s rock prince, Harry Styles, is experimenting with this formula. While the two songs released so far from his new album, Fine Line, aren’t obvious tracks of progressive rock, the singer still uses the formula of the genre. In his song “Lights Up”, Styles combines soft rock elements with pop and gospel. Like that of his predecessors of the 70s, he took two contrasting genres and merged them together to make hits that would work in the current decade. While “Watermelon Sugar” is more of the soft rock were used to hearing from the artist, it still stands out from his past works. While Styles seems to be one the first of recent years to dip his toes in the progressive rock pool, he is a trendsetter, causing me to expect other artists to follow suit.

Courtesy: Stereogum

New Wave

New wave gained popularity in the latter part of the decade and spilled through to the mid-80s. New wave takes from punk rock in instrumentals but is infused with electronic beats and frills to give the futuristic sound it was known for. Some considered bands, like Blondie, the face of the genre as they paved the way in the last few years of the decade for the future artists that would appear in the 80s. The worldly popular show, Stranger Things, might have something to do with the reemergence of all things retro. Since the show’s popularity, many bands have been experimenting with the new wave sound that hailed the late 70s in recent years. However, we have yet to see it done by a mainstream artist. The Weeknd is known for his steamy R&B that has been constant on the radio in recent years, but it appears a new era has arrived for the singer. This past week he has released two upbeat tracks titled “Heartless” and “Blinding Lights”. The cover of both singles, he sports a fro-styled look and oversized sunglasses, popularized in the 70s. The artist stays true to his R&B singing but is accompanied by new wave synth and a dash of the punk rock in the beat. These songs mark a new era for the R&B artist and stir the pot of what can be done with R&B.

Courtesy: Radio.com

Funk and Soul

You can’t have the 70s without the innovative genre that is funk. Funk derives from soul music infused with R&B and Jazz instrumentals.  The twist, however, was taken from the late 60s counterculture movement as groups and artists in this new genre incorporated psychedelic sounds. Earth, Wind, & Fire filled the scene with their hits that still have likeability to this day. Their hit “September” can still be heard in today’s club scene due to the genre’s danceability like that of disco. Some could consider disco and funk being sister genres, but the two tell different stories. Funk is for easy listening, but with its strong bond with soul, it gives it the narrative of being socially aware, even if it’s masked by the eccentric costumes and stage production. What does funk look like in today’s setting? You don’t have to look too far because recent Grammy-winning artist, Anderson .Paak has brought the funk back to the mainstream. His newest album, Ventura, gives listeners a glimpse of the vintage sound of soul and funk that reigned supreme throughout the 70s. Paak goes so far to even feature a prominent artist of the 70s, Smokey Robinson.  Seeing the success that can be derived from funk and soul, its likely radio will be seeing more of this in the next year or so.

The genres that defined the decade that is the 70s are being resurrected by some of today's biggest artists. These artists are not following the exact formulas of these genres, but rather picking apart certain and key elements to create their own new sound. This innovation is what is pushing today's mainstream to its limits and audiences are ready to tune in. After much effort, disco and its counterparts are proven to be invincible.

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