By Belinda Merritt
The 1970s was a good period for music and lovers of music, not to mention 70s music has influenced the music we listen to today. Artists Bruno Mars, Anderson Paak and Silk Sonic’s current hit, “Leave the Door Open” is a perfect example of a 70s vibe.
The 70s generation, I have to say, was fortunate because we witnessed the unique way artists expressed views about love, war and peace often through socially conscious lyrics. Funk Music of the 1970’s evolved out of the 1960’s R&B, Jazz and Soul music. Artists incorporated new mixes and vibrant sounds into their compositions. Artists like the Godfather of Soul, James Brown; Parliament-Funkadelic, Sly & The Family Stone, Kool & The Gang controlled the music charts. Rufus featuring Chaka Khan brought a soulful, smooth, funky sound. Earth Wind & Fire incorporated some elements of disco to their funk and radiated large mass appeal.
I had the pleasure of talking to my esteemed friends and former radio colleagues Tim Watts and Mykel Hunter about this marvelous decade in music.
Tim Watts first hit Baltimore airways in 1977 at WCAO AM, which led to a successful transition in 1978 to WCAO FM. The call letters later changed to WXYV (V103) where he ruled the airwaves for 18 years. He moved to Radio One’s urban adult contemporary station WWIN-FM (Magic 95.9) in 1995 where he continued to entertain Baltimoreans for an additional 17 years with his special brand of humor, music features, (notably Battle of the Bands) and special guests.
“Two powerful things happened in the 70s,” Tim explains. “In the beginning of the 70s you had what we called the sweet soul sound. You had groups like Blue Magic, the Stylistics, the Chilites and the Dramatics. All of these groups had a lead singer with that sweet soul sound like Russell Thompson Jr. (Stylistics). The lead singers were very well known for their distinctive voices.” Watts said these groups also had hits on White radio; they weren’t just soul hits. “You Make Me Feel Brand New by the Stylistics, What You See is What You Get by the Dramatics crossed over with huge selling records. Another more powerful word came out of the 70s and that was Disco.”
Disco is the most perfect word to describe this decade. Artists Gloria Gaynor, I will Survive,The Tramps Disco Inferno, and Van McCoy, The Hustle, are a few innovators in the rise of disco. Disco music also influenced fashion with bell bottom pants, polyester shirts with wide collars, Sizzler dresses with matching bottoms and platform shoes.
“During the mid-seventies, the record companies made a lot of money from movie soundtracks which started with Saturday Night Fever,” Watts said. “People who normally did not buy records had to have that soundtrack and then they’d buy additional music once they got to the record store.”
The Bee Gees hit from [Stayin Alive] Saturday Night Fever soundtrack shattered box office records which made the song one and the same with disco music. I remember rushing out to buy the music soundtrack from the movie Sparkle Featuring the Queen of Soul Aretha Franklin.
Mykel Hunter has over 30 years in the radio/multi-media business in a career that has taken her up and down the east coast. She has a signature smooth sensual voice that is pleasing to the ear as well to the spirit. You can hear Mykel on WEAA 88.9 FM weekdays 10 a.m. to noon. Listeners love her signature “Women in Music” feature as well as her choices of the music she programs.
I asked Mykel, what about the music of the seventies made us feel the way we felt. She responded, “I think the music of the seventies really connected people for what they were doing; if we were going to a dance party, a house party or dad was grilling. It was very relatable to the times, and it made you feel special. If you were going on a date there was a certain song you would play before the date, a certain song you would play after the date. Those kinds of memories were created through the music. We remember platform shoes, bell bottoms and afros.”
Mykel’s favorite 70s groups were the Jackson Five, Sister Sledge and the Sylvers; she refers to them as the “kinda bubble gum, candy, popcorn groups.” As for the solo artists Mykel said, “I like Stevie Wonder, I also like the Honeycombs and was really devastated when the lead singer passed away about a year ago. The O Jays, I used to have a thing for Eddie LeVert. Could not wait until he made the ugly face.”
Mykel agrees that seventies music has an influence on the music of today. “Because they sample so much of the seventies music. That’s why for me, I can get away with playing newer music like the one from V Bozeman called Juicy; it has that notorious BIG music in it that was already a sample from a 70s artist [Mfume]. So people who are mature adults are not offended by it because it’s not offensive and it sounds familiar.”
About R&B music practically being nonexistent, Mykel agrees, “R&B music disappeared, and it seems as if Rap progressed and it got more intense and when that turned around, R&B became not the face of people of color, but it became appropriated. For that it was not as authentic because it was not coming from a soulful experience.”
Tim and Mykel have fond memories of those live performances. Tim remembers Prince opening for Rick James and after the show immediately told everyone that Prince was going to be huge and that would be the last time he would open for anyone.
Earth Wind & Fire and Kool & the Gang really stood out for Mykel for the best live performances. “They gave some of the best live performances because they sound like their records live and they were so energized and so on point.” Mykel remembers going to Painters Mill to see the Jackson 5 live when Michael came down the aisle and reached over someone to take her hand. She froze. “I told my mother I ain’t moving.”
There is so much to say about the seventies. I too have fond memories, roller skating at the Coliseum on Monroe Street, Painters Mills, Kalorama road in D.C. and Alexandria Roller rink in Alexandria, Va. Who can remember partying at the Carrousel on Charles St., O’Dells on North Avenue, (I would pray Jackie would let me in) and high school dances all to the music of the seventies.
The music from this era continues to sound fresh and innovative even today. And it continues to address the social issues that continue to plague us. It will never get old.