Precious and Few: Pop Music of the Early '70s

Precious and Few: Pop Music of the Early '70s

by Don Breithaupt, Jeff Breithaupt


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Here is a lively and nostalgic look back at the forgotten era that gave us "Hooked on a Feeling", "Dancing in the Moonlight", "I Am Woman", "Seasons in the Sun", and more. The early '70s brought a "Convoy" of popular music—everything from the cheesy to the classic. The authors, true-blue '70s fanatics, have put together this irresistably readable book to transport readers back to a time when people wore smiley-face buttons, went to singles bars, and heartily sang along with Mac Davis. Illustrations throughout.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780312147044
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Publication date: 10/15/1996
Edition description: REV
Pages: 216
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.52(d)

About the Author

Don Breithaupt, a three-time Juno Award nominee, is a musician and journalist. He lives in Bolton, Ontario.

Jeff Breithaupt is a freelance writer and arts fundraiser; he lives in New York City.

Read an Excerpt

Precious and Few

Pop Music in the Early Seventies

By Don Breithaupt, Jeff Breithaupt

St. Martin's Press

Copyright © 1996 Don Breithaupt and Jeff Breithaupt
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4668-7649-1



Solo Beatles

* * *

"Another Day" • Paul McCartney (Apple, 1971)

"Imagine" • John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band (Apple, 1971)

"Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey" • Paul & Linda McCartney (Apple, 1971)

"Day After Day" • Badfinger (Apple, 1971)

"Mind Games" • John Lennon (Apple, 1973)

"Photograph" • Ringo Starr (Apple, 1973)

"Give Me Love (Give Me Peace on Earth)" • George Harrison (Apple, 1973)

"Whatever Gets You Through the Night" • John Lennon/Plastic Ono Nuclear Band (Apple, 1974)

"Band on the Run" • Paul McCartney & Wings (Apple, 1974)

"Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" • Elton John (MCA, 1974)

On New Year's Eve 1970, Paul McCartney filed for divorce. The marriage he was suing to dissolve was not his recent one to photographer Linda Eastman, but a decade-long musical collaboration with three friends from his hometown. The next morning, the world found itself officially without the Beatles.

It's difficult now to understand how cataclysmic the split seemed at the time. Pop culture, especially pop music, has been so fragmented for so long that the concept of a single galvanizing force like the Beatles seems far-fetched. But during the roughly seven (could it have been only seven?) years they were going full steam, the Beatles tallied twenty Number 1 singles and thirteen Number 1 albums. They played before the largest concert audiences of their day. With producer George Martin, they expanded the creative scope of the recording studio, bringing to rock and roll artistic heft it had never had before. Their fans were legion, their influence pervasive. They became musical-political-spiritual gurus during a period of furious social upheaval. What John Lennon meant when he opined in 1966 that the group was "more popular than Jesus" was simply that, at the time, they were the four best-known blokes on the face of the earth. Apologies to Michael Jackson, Madonna, and U2, but there will never be another Beatles.

In the aftermath of the unthinkable breakup, abandoned fans, journalists, and fellow artists searched for someone to blame. They found McCartney. All Paul had really done, though, was the paperwork: each of the Beatles had already issued solo albums by the end of 1970 (including McCartney's McCartney, Lennon's Live Peace in Toronto, Harrison's All Things Must Pass, and Ringo Starr's Sentimental Journey); Harrison and Starr had each quit temporarily at least once; and Lennon, now collaborating mainly with his new bride, conceptual artist Yoko Ono, had long since announced his intention to leave permanently. In point of fact, the breakup took seven years. It began with The Beatles (1968), essentially a bunch of solo albums in one (white) package, and wasn't really over until Apple Corps., Ltd., was dissolved in 1975. Still, McCartney frequently found himself called upon to explain his actions.

He answered with music. "Another Day," his tuneful slice-of-life debut single, would have been at home on any late-model Beatles album. It may not have ranked with grand statements like "Let It Be," but it was long on melody and lyrical detail, strengths that continued to inform McCartney's work for several more years. From astounding, multisectioned singles like "Uncle Albert / Admiral Halsey," "Live and Let Die," "Band on the Run," and "Venus and Mars/Rock Show" to straight-ahead rockers like "Hi, Hi, Hi," "Jet," "Junior's Farm," and "Helen Wheels" (named for Paul's Land Rover), McCartney was the consummate pop melodist.

Oddly enough, friends and foes alike described him this way. In rock criticism, "melodic" is a pejorative term, implying a kind of weak-kneed, sing-along commerciality, and McCartney probably exacerbated the situation with 1976's defensive "Silly Love Songs." The single, his biggest of the seventies, marked the end of a fertile five-year period and was a mission statement for much of his later career.

Meanwhile, John Lennon was following his muse wherever it led him, sometimes down blind alleys. "How Do You Sleep?," his vindictive attack on McCartney, indicated an unwillingness to give peace a chance, at least where band relations were concerned. Besides, after experiments with populism, minimalism, and rock revivalism, the eldest Beatle had a solo catalog that compared rather unfavorably to his old mate's. Exceptions included the Spectorian "Mind Games," a chamber-rock classic whose hypnotic flow made its big ideas digestible; "Whatever Gets You Through The Night," a loping R&M duet with Elton John; and a few acknowledged classics like "Imagine" and "Jealous Guy."

George Harrison was the Buzz Aldrin of the Beatles — always second to Lennon and McCartney — but after two acclaimed triple albums (All Things Must Pass and The Concert for Bangla Desh), a blockbuster hit single ("My Sweet Lord" / "Isn't It a Pity") and several Grammy nominations, Harrison seemed ready to put an end to all that second-fiddle stuff. His early-seventies oeuvre presented a new set of questions, chief among them being: Why are love songs about God so often boring? When Harrison's singles succeeded, it was in spite of their spiritual intentions: "Give Me Love (Give Me Peace on Earth)" had a quirky, rhythmically restless melody that made the utopian lyrics a red herring. But go deeper into the albums at your peril.

One of Harrison's best cracks at a pure pop song was a minor masterpiece he co-wrote for Ringo, the 1973 Richard Perry–produced blockbuster that made Ringo Starr a commercial force (if only briefly). "Photograph" went to Number 1 in eight weeks, and gold shortly thereafter. The song's opening lines reflected the mood of many fans as they watched the solo Beatles lumber forward under the weight of recent history: "Every time I see your face / It reminds me of the places we used to go." Starr's other hits, mostly retreads and novelties, were more or less what people expected from the world's drollest drummer.

In addition to a spate of Beatles covers by names big (Elton John's "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" with Lennon on guitar, Stevie Wonder's "We Can Work It Out," Joan Baez's "Let It Be," Blood, Sweat & Tears' "Got to Get You into My Life," Richie Havens's "Here Comes the Sun") and small (Johnny Rodriguez's "Something," the Gary Toms Empire's "Drive My Car," Katfish's "Dear Prudence"), the early seventies not surprisingly produced a number of Fab Four imitators. Of these, Badfinger was the only authorized one. The Liverpool quartet was signed to Apple in 1968, and songs like the McCartney-penned "Come and Get It" and the Harrison-produced "Day After Day" probably stayed truer to the Beatles' legacy than the lads themselves did. To this day, many people mistakenly remember Badfinger's hits as Beatles songs.

Beatles-style pop ran the gamut from the sublime (the Raspberries' "Go All the Way") to the ridiculous (the Hudson Brothers' "So You Are a Star"), and was ultimately unnecessary; as of 1971, the solo Beatles had plenty of creative ammunition left. Compare the band's twenty-one Top 10 hits from 1965 to 1970 to the individual members' twenty-two during the following five years.

To the generation that had come of age with them, though, the Beatles would never be good enough again. Collectively they had raised expectations they could never live up to individually, and it fell to their original fans' younger brothers and sisters to sort through four erratic solo careers. Too young to remember firsthand Beatle-mania, these proto-X'ers listened to the Beatles as exactly what Lennon had insisted they were all along: four individuals. Or, as the joke goes, did you know Paul McCartney was in another band before Wings?


Late Sixties Continued

* * *

"Riders on the Storm" • The Doors (Elektra, 1971)

"Family Affair" • Sly & the Family Stone (Epic, 1971)

"Won't Get Fooled Again" • The Who (Decca, 1971)

"Me and Bobby McGee" • Janis Joplin (Columbia, 1971)

"Don't Let the Green Grass Fool You" • Wilson Pickett (Atlantic, 1971)

"High Time We Went" • Joe Cocker (A&M, 1971)

"Have You Ever Seen the Rain" • Creedence Clearwater Revival (Fantasy, 1971)

"Life Is a Carnival" • The Band (Capitol, 1971)

"Draggin' the Line" • Tommy James (Roulette, 1971)

"Knockin' on Heaven's Door" • Bob Dylan (Columbia, 1973)

In mid-August 1969, a "music and art fair" in Bethel, New York, attracted a pretty good crowd — roughly a hundred visitors for each of the three thousand local residents. Despite quicksandlike conditions, water shortages, and horrendous sanitation problems, the event was declared a resounding success, and Woodstock (as it became known) went down in history as not only the mother of all rock festivals, but the climactic moment of a generation that thought flowers had power.

Later that year, the Woodstock dream came to a gory end at a racetrack outside San Francisco. Altamont (or, if you will, "Hoodstock"), infamous for the stabbing death of audience member Meredith Hunter at the hands of a makeshift Hell's Angels "security" force, was supposed to have been a grand gesture to complete the Rolling Stones' 1969 tour. Instead, the group, still reeling from the recent drowning of guitarist Brian Jones, wound up presiding over the de facto death of the sixties. Gimme Shelter, the feel-bad movie of 1970, provided a visual account of the event. Its chilling footage of Mick Jagger watching the Altamont murder sequence on an editing machine was the love decade literally coming face to face with its dark side.

In fairness to Jagger and company, the sixties died more than once. To many, the 1970 Kent State massacre, in which the Ohio National Guard killed four student protesters, was the end. Others point to the Manson murders. Or the deaths of Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, and Jim Morrison. Or the breakup of the Beatles. But whatever the final act, one thing is certain: No one told the musicians the show was over.

Joplin and Morrison enjoyed posthumous success in 1971 with "Me and Bobby McGee" and "Riders on the Storm." Sly Stone, who many believed was losing his ability to produce meaningful work, released the landmark There's a Riot Goin' On album, featuring the hits "Runnin' Away" and "Family Affair," the latter propelled by Sly's languid baritone. John Fogerty continued his swamp rock crusade with late Creedence Clearwater Revival hits like "Have You Ever Seen the Rain" and "Sweet Hitch-Hiker." And a slew of other sixties artists released either career-defining singles (Joan Baez's "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down," Ike and Tina Turner's "Proud Mary," the Grateful Dead's "Truckin'") or minor classics (The Band's "Life Is a Carnival," Joe Cocker's "High Time We Went," Wilson Pickett's "Don't Let the Green Grass Fool You").

Some veterans were hard to spot. The "Derek" in Derek & the Dominos was none other than Eric Clapton, in a short-lived configuration that might be forgotten by now had it not spawned the FM rock staple "Layla." Former Jefferson Airplane copilots Grace Slick and Paul Kantner launched Jefferson Starship and scored with the sprawling, sultry single "Miracles." Keyboardist Rod Argent, late of the Zombies, switched to the other end of the record bin by dubbing his new group Argent, but disappeared after one fist-pumping anthem ("Hold Your Head Up"). Tommy James, the sixties' quintessential popster, shed his Shondells and cracked the Top 10 one last time with the atypical "Draggin' the Line," a lazy psychedelic shuffle whose hypnotic feel perfectly expressed its title.

Not all the rock and roll personnel changes were this superficial, however. Simon and Garfunkel split for real, freeing Paul Simon's muse and making Art Garfunkel the Andrew Ridgely of the sixties folk scene. Simon wasted no time in crafting a remarkable string of hits, blending his literate folk approach with, at various times, Latin music, reggae, gospel, jazz, and country. Meanwhile, Garfunkel pursued a film career (with roles in Mike Nichols's Catch-22 and Carnal Knowledge), finding pop success only occasionally. His lone Top 10 hit, 1973's "All I Know," pales before even one-off Simon and Garfunkel reunions like "My Little Town."

Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, another folk-rock powerhouse of the late sixties, disbanded after 1970's Déjà Vu, but the breakup only increased the quartet's pop radio presence. Consider: Neil Young's "Heart of Gold" and "Old Man," Stephen Stills's "Love the One You're With" and "Marianne," Graham Nash's "Chicago," and Nash and David Crosby's "Immigration Man" represent about eighteen months' worth of singles. Factor in knockoffs like America's "A Horse with No Name" and Redeye's "Games," and you have an early-seventies bull market in peace and (close) harmony.

While other artists inspired tributes of clonelike precision — compare the Hollies' "Long Cool Woman (In a Black Dress)" (1972) to CCR's "Green River" (1969) or Shirley Brown's "Woman to Woman" (1974) to Aretha Franklin's "Angel" (1973) — none had the pervasive influence of Bob Dylan. For years after Dylan became the poet laureate of the baby boom, it seemed every halfway literate dude with an acoustic guitar was dubbed "the new Dylan." From John Prine to Harry Chapin, though, the label proved to be more albatross than accolade. Then, in late 1973, the new Dylan turned out to be none other than Dylan himself. "Knockin' on Heaven's Door" was more affecting and less affected than most of Sir Bob's mid-sixties classics, and its moody fatalism was all the more remarkable for sharing the Top 20 with, among others, the DeFranco Family and Cheech & Chong. Use of the "new Dylan" label went into remission until Bruce Springsteen had it permanently grafted onto his career in 1975.

Then as now, the late sixties loomed large over the pop cultural world. The credibility acquired by having been on the bill at Woodstock, for example, far outweighed equivalent early-seventies success. (An exact formula for this can be derived by dividing Country Joe & the Fish by Dr. Hook & the Medicine Show.) But the milder days that followed the revolution were anything but a total loss, musically speaking. Sure, the Who's landmark album Tommy (1969) morphed into Ken Russell's over-the-top film Tommy (1975), featuring überbabe Ann-Margret squirming orgasmically in a roomful of baked beans, but many sixties veterans actually peaked creatively in the early seventies: Paul Simon, Marvin Gaye, the Rolling Stones, Neil Young, Stevie Wonder, and the Who, to name a few.

Who's Next (1971), widely regarded as the Who's best album, contained "Won't Get Fooled Again," Pete Townshend's definitive comment on his g-g-generation. The revolution was bloody and pointless, Townshend suggests, so let's get on with rocking and rolling, shall we? It was, no doubt, a personal statement, but it was perfectly in tune with the new decade's Zeitgeist. "Viet Nam made it clear that the ordinary citizen had no way to approach his government, not even by civil disobedience or by mass demonstration," said Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., in a 1973 Playboy interview. He was right. Idealism, student radicalism, communal living, and collectivist thinking in general were on the wane, giving way to an era of social apathy and self-fulfillment.

How did the shift from "we" to "me" affect popular music? In allowing for multiple points of view, it splintered the scene — irrevocably, as it turns out. In the five-year period from 1966 to 1970, only thirteen artists accounted for all American Number 1 hits. In the next five-year period, that figure more than doubled, to twenty-eight. The relatively unified front of the Beatles, Stones, and Motown shattered into a million Hamiltons, Joe Franks, & Reynoldses. It was more than just a change of flavors (from Moby Grape and Strawberry Alarm Clock to Wild Cherry and the Raspberries); it was a wholesale reshaping of the world's musical diet, with old ingredients reconstituted in fresh, unexpected combinations. These odd new recipes are the subject of this book. Bon appétit.


Excerpted from Precious and Few by Don Breithaupt, Jeff Breithaupt. Copyright © 1996 Don Breithaupt and Jeff Breithaupt. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Preface to the E-Edition,
The Long, Unwinding Road • Solo Beatles,
Revoluncheon • Late Sixties Continued,
Where Were You in '62? • Early Sixties Revisited,
Post-Nuclear Families • Bubblegum,
Born to Be Mild • Soft Rock,
Dancing in the Moonlight • Seventies Pop,
Color Blind • Blue-eyed Soul,
How Sweet It Was • The Twilight of Motown,
The Sound of Philadelphia • Philly Soul,
Walking in Rhythm • Seventies Soul,
Global Village • World Rhythms,
What's So Funny 'bout Peace, Love, and Understanding? • Utopian Pop,
Earth Shoes • Folk Pop,
Richard Nixon's Greatest Hits • Socially Aware Pop,
Carnal Knowledge • Sexual Revolution,
I Am Woman • Feminist Pop,
Shafts • Macho Soul,
Planet of the Apes • Hard Rock,
Ewwwww! • Bad Taste,
Jiffy Pop • Novelty Records,
Unsung Heroes • Instrumentals,
Play Misty for Me • Jazz Pop,
Art Attack • Progressive Rock,
God Help Us • Religious Pop,
Socialist Radio • Canadian Pop,
The Maudlin Squad • Self-pity Pop,
The Energy Crisis • MOR,
Love American Style • Ballads,
"Harry, Keep the Change" • Story Songs,
Seventese • Buzzwords,
Boogie Down • The Dawn of Disco,
Appendix: Grammy Nominees and Winners, 1971-75,

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Precious and Few: Pop Music of the Early '70s 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
geebump on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
How I fell in love with pop musicI have a distinct physical memory of the plastic AM clock radio I got sometime before turning ten years old. I can close my eyes and see it perfectly: glowing amber incandescent illumination falling on the rolodex-style stacks of "digital" numbers, which would flip over nearly silently, just a little louder on the hour. For the next five years or so I kept it plugged in next to my bed, mostly on Denver's KHOW, listening before school (Charlie and Barney) and after.I was intensely involved with the songs, on a pre-adolescent kid level. I had no understanding of how music was produced, packaged, or broadcast. Even the idea that these were recordings was lost on me at first -- I assumed it was all being performed live. I remember wondering vaguely if there was some revolving door at the station that would somehow rotate the singers in and out every 3 and half minutes.Later, roughly in the transition from Junior High to High School, in a mini-Pleasantville transisiton, everything went from AM to FM, mono to stereo, top 40 to AOR. Suddenly music that was raceless became color-coded, and all of a sudden I started to get all the sexual double-entendre, or knew that I should pretend to. The old clock radio made way for the Radio Shack 8-track receiver with *two* speakers and the all-important FM band. But that's a different book.This one covers my kid-pop period in fantastic detail and with a sympathetic eye, nice in light of the permanently ironic mode retro-70s fetishism typically takes. The authors don't deny the silliness of alot of this stuff, but they also don't miss a chance to commend especially great records. They are also excellent on the pre-"format" radio culture of the day, when this incredibly varied stew of sublime pop weirdness could co-exist on the AM dial.