The Evolution of Music: 1970s brought excess through metal, glam and disco

BY Mandi Goodier

1st Jan 2015 Music

The Evolution of Music: 1970s brought excess through metal, glam and disco

If the 1960s awakened the possibilities of the individual through music, drugs and creativity, then the early 1970s sought to push it to its limits. Rock became metal, singers developed alter-egos, and dancing was totally disco.

Metal is born

Thanks to crunchier guitar sounds, distortion and the boundaries broken earlier in the decade, a much heavier form of rock music began to emerge in 1970s Britain.

The sound drew on the psychedelic performances of Hendrix et al, inspired by the sound of white men covering classic R&B tracks, and left buzzing off the distortion ripping through the McCartney-penned Beatles track 'Helter Skelter'. Those coming of age after the summer of love (1969) were both inspired and hungry for something heavier.

Often, the riffs would be ripped off from old blues records (there's the R&B influence), the bands were usually a stripped back four-piece (guitar, bass, drums and vocal) and the songs would ooze male sexuality, contain ludicrous guitar solos and a screaming long-haired vocalist.

Who was the first metal heavy band: Led Zeppelin or Black Sabbath?

Both bands formed in 1968—in London (Zepplin), Birmingham (Sabbath)—just as the 1960s were drawing to a psychedelic finale. 

Led Zeppelin's Jimmy Page had done his time as a session musician for mod bands such as The Kinks and The Yardbirds, cutting his teeth on classic R&B tracks, placing Zeppelin in a perfect position to hit the ground running.

Black Sabbath guitarist Tony Iommi had lost the tip of his two middle fingers on his left hand (guitar twiddling hand) during a sheet metal accident at the factory he was working in—often attributed to the rock horn gesture being made at gigs (middle two fingers down pinkie and pointing finger in the air).

'Metal' as a term is also sometimes attributed to Black Sabbath, dwelling from the industrial city of Birmingham whose industry was metalwork—however this is often disputed as 'Heavy Metal' can be traced back to William Burroughs' novel Soft Machine published in 1964.

Many critics stick to Black Sabbath as being the first pure metal band, having shed most R&B elements long before Led Zeppelin. Still, however, the argument is ongoing.

Throughout the 1970s and into the 1980s, metal grew more and more extravagant. Stadiums, bigger hair, more guitars—to a point where in the 1980s it became incredibly tongue in cheek.

Hair Metal was the peak of tongue-in-cheek metal, mixing in a large dose of glam. This became synonymous with Van Halen, Kiss, Aerosmith, Mötley Crüe and Guns and Roses.


Wham, bam thank you glam

While metal flaunted masculinity and excess, another style of music also arrived, boasting the same influences but a very different style. It flaunted its sexuality in a completely different way, and embraced the flamboyance of costume, make-up, ambiguous sexuality and androgyny.

Glam rock was a mixture of rock and melodic pop, characterised by the likes David Bowie, Elton John, T-Rex and Roxy Music. While the sound was radio friendly, the sexual ambiguity of the performers put fear into older audiences making it ripe for youth rebellion.

The movement thrived on art school education, underground queer culture, drag, theatricality, and performance. 



David Bowie's first appearance on Top of the Pops may seem rather dated and sweet now, but at the time, many thought the image of a man in a dress with one arm casually draped around the neck of a male guitarist a little much for British prime time television.

Early punk agitators from the US such as Lou Reed and Iggy Pop worked closely with David Bowie. He would produce two of their biggest albums (of that era) Lou Reed's Transformer and Iggy and the Stooges' Raw Power. 

The works of all three musicians sounded completely different but offered diversity, personality and an alternative to the hum-drum of mainstream culture. 



The Velvet Underground (of which Reed was a founding member) and Iggy Pop had already made waves on the underground New York scene, making them the perfect poster boys to take the aesthetic overseas.

On both sides of the Atlantic glam would influence a youth that would go on to create punk. Glam's burst onto the scene was short lived, however, despite being hugely influential.

Glam essentially died the day that Bowie killed Ziggy Stardust live on stage at the Hammersmith Apollo in 1973. Around the point that it filtered into the mainstream, and bands like Slade, The Sweet, and The Bay City Rollers, became chart toppers.

Bowie would appear again two years later with a whole new persona.


Disco's surprising political roots

Disco influences fused the psychedelia, funk, and Motown of the 1960's era, but brought up them up to date with a pop beat designed for dancing and an emphasis on slick studio production. 

Bands like The Chamber Brothers and Sly & The Family Stone, Diana Ross and The Supremes' "You Keep Me Hanging On" were huge influences on the movement.

Disco music and venues playing the genre would be the beginning of dance club culture. In America, disco rose in the wake of the Stonewall Riots (1969) which sparked the gay rights movement.

This was a time where even a man dancing with another man was an arrestable offence.



Gay venues were regularly subject to police raids, and after the Stonewall incident, invitation only venues became common ground—where men could dance together without the fear of police intervention.

Of course, these venues played disco music and were decorated with fantastic lights and costumes to exaggerate the trippy experience of psychedelics.

Key early disco sounds included 'The Love You Save' by Jackson 5 (1970), 'Superstition' by Stevie Wonder (1972), 'The Love I Lost' by Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes (1973) and 'Love Train' by The O'Jays (1972).



As the movement grew, it would make icons out of Donna Summer and Diana Ross, and would become synonymous with party drugs (uppers including amphetamines as well as downers like valium to help come down).

Donna Summer's 1977 hit 'I Feel Love' would go on to influence a new wave of electronic music in the 1980s thanks to producers Giorgio Moroder and Pete Bellotte's innovative early use of synthesizers in a pop song.

Meanwhile, over the pond, Disco had a huge influence on pop music. The well-produced vocal harmonies of Swedish group Abba made them a Europe-wide success after a 1974 Eurovision win with "Waterloo".



Their sing-along hits officially took the movement out of the underground and into the mainstream. This was cemented in 1977 when The Bee Gees' career sky-rocketed after scoring the soundtrack to Saturday Night Fever.

By this point, disco had lost any of its initial underground status and it's extreme glam, excessive nature combined with mainstream popularity became something for punk to kick back against.

Missed the last installment? Explore the music revolution of the 1960s

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