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Rock Music of The 1970s

This author is a professional trombonist, conductor, and educator. He has a long career in music and writes about his passion for music.



Donna Summer - Last Dance!

Gloria Gayner


Let' Dance!

Rock music is the product of Rock n Roll from the 1950s. As the music grew musicians came up with new sounds. These sounds were built around the five basic elements of music. In the 1960s rock music splintered off into several sub-genres featuring these new sounds. I refer to 1970s music as the decade of the sub-genre.

New dance music came about in the 1970s. This was known as Disco. The term Disco was short for ‘Discotheque’. A popular meeting place or club to help celebrate the urban nightlife scene. People would dress up for a night of dancing. Women in gowns and the men in the newest wide collar polyester leisure suits. The new popular dances were the ‘Bump’ and the ‘Hustle’.

A few of the popular disco artists were:

  • ABBA
  • Donna Summer
  • The Bee Gees
  • Village People

Disco was short-lived and pretty much gone in the 1980s. It was fun while it lasted.

The Who


Led Zepplin

Hard Rock

Hard rock was born out of rock n roll. The early sounds were groups like the Kinks, The Who, Rolling Stones, and Cream. Hard Rock featured powerful vocals, rhythmic electric guitar, lead guitar, bass guitar, and heavy drums. The bands always had a singer with a commanding voice to lead the group.

During the 1970s a new popular video game was ‘pong’. Atari was the home-based game of choice. Hard rock got harder than it was in the 60s. The late 60s brought the Beatles, Steppenwolf, and Deep Purple on this bandwagon.

The term 'Hard Rock' in music was identified by any form of loud, aggressive guitar-based rock. Many people were categorizing other sub-genres such as Heavy Metal and Punk as Hard Rock. If we analyze them we will find distinct differences.

One of the differences was that heavy metal is much simpler but much louder than hard rock. Hard rock tended to be sexier and slower than heavy metal. This followed the style of rock n roll in the 60s.

By the 1970s, this sub-genre of Rock was a full form of popular music.

  • The Who
  • Led Zeppelin
  • Deep Purple
  • Aerosmith
  • Kiss
  • Qween
  • AC/DC

Black Sabbath


Black Sabbath - Paranoid

Heavy Metal

Heavy metal (or simply metal) is a sub-genre of rock music. A product of the United States and the United Kingdom during the late 1960s and early 1970s. Heavy metal bands had a thick, huge sound full of distortion. Many groups featured the lead guitar with extended solos. Their tempos were faster than 'hard rock' which made for a more intense sound.

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The sound of heavy metal has characteristics of other blues-rock, psychedelic rock, and acid rock. The lyrics and performances have been a great playground for critics. Three pioneer bands of this sub-genre were Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, and Deep Purple.

Sex Pistols


Punk Rock

Before the mid-70s, punk rock wasn't a genre at all. So generally, punk rock is the basics of rock and roll.

The Sex Pistols and the Ramones were the first punk rock bands from New York and London, respectively. Also, each of these bands had their own style of playing punk rock which bears distinct similarity of fusion between rock and punk. For example, the sex pistols played louder face riffs stopper. On the other hand, the Ramones played a bit faster.

These two bands led to the formation of other bands that gained a significant following in the 70s. Some of these punk rock bands included elements of heavy metal.

  • Wire
  • Sex Pistols
  • Ramones,
  • Stooges
  • Pattie Smith
  • Blondie

Sex Pistols - Punk Rock

Eric Clapton


Eric Clapton

Blues Rock

Blue Rock movement began in the 60s, relying heavily on improvisation of blues instruments alongside different chords. Artists who propelled this rock sub-genre into the limelight include; John Mayall's Bluesbreakers, Johnny Winters, Brothers band, etc.

Notably, blues rock was dominant in the early 70s. However even though, some genres died out, blues rock still enjoys recognition from a significant fan base to date. Also, in the early 70s, its popularity made it difficult to distinguish it from the hard rock genre.

Blues-rock was termed so, courtesy of John Mayall's album, Blues Breakers, featuring Eric Clapton in 1966. The rhythm of this rock genre was common. Distinctively, bass and electric guitar and a drum kit create the core sound of the blues-rock.



New Wave

The new wave sub-genre is a punk opposition whose emergence was seen during the 1970s and early 1980s. Note this sub-genre derived its name from late ''50s cinema. Also, many considered it to be political, rough-edged, and rawer.

Music TV (MTV) was a new platform for promoting the different sub-genres of rock music. A variety of videos were produced and broadcasted nation wide.

The conception of the new wave shares similar principles with punk. The New Wave sub-genre incorporated a vast array of different styles with similar insouciance and a sense of humor. Recognized pioneers of the new wave are; Elvis Costello, Blondie, XTC, Nick Lowe.

New Wave - Mix

The Carpenters


The Carpenters

Soft Rock and Pop

The radio was a major technology responsible for promoting Soft Rock and Popular music during the 1970s. Radio stations nationwide helped set up the top artists of the day.

Other technological advances that eventually ended up in just about every household were: Cell Phones, VCRs, Home Computers, Digital Cameras

The basic characteristics of these two sub-genres were:

  • Very melodious songs. Melodies are easy to sing or hum.
  • Basic rhythmic backgrounds.
  • Simple to more advanced harmonic progressions.
  • Lyrics are easy to hear and remember.
  • Simple song form.
  • Easy to play on the radio - 2 to 3 1/2 minute lengths.

Notable artists of the soft rock/pop sub-genre include:

  • The Carpenters
  • Jackson 5
  • Bread
  • America
  • The Eagles
  • Hall & Oats
  • Barry Manilow
  • Neil Diamond
  • Rod Stewart
  • James Taylor
  • Roberta Flack
  • Glen Campbell
  • Rita Coolidge


Gram Parsons


Country Rock

This rock genre may not have been popular; still, the music industry felt its presence during the 60s and the 70s. Country rock incorporates songwriting idioms and musical elements from country music. was pioneered by music artists such as George Jones and Hank Williams. Remember, the establishment of this genre was taking place even before the conception of the Nashville industry.

During the early to late '70s, country rock was among the genres that were dominating the pop charts. However, at the onset of the late '70s, a new wave alongside punk had pushed country rock out of the pop charts. Additionally, country music began adapting some distinct rhythms and guitar sounds among the less traditional rock artists by the end of 1970.

  • Bob Dylan
  • Gram Parsons
  • The Byrds
  • Linda Ronstadt
  • The Eagles
  • Marshall Tucker Band
  • Allman Brothers Band

Notable artists such as Wilco and Son Volt tried reviving this rock sub-genre in the 90s but the music industry was too evolved. So, country rock remains to be a 1970s rock genre sensation at a time when music was soft.

Eagles - On the Border

Emerson Lake and Palmer


Progressive Rock

Progressive Rock is a rock sub-genre that emerged in the late '60s. Initially, its conception came into play when prominent music artists such as the beach boys were pushing the limits of pop music by releasing concept albums.

In its early years, progressive rock was majorly centered in Canterbury, England. This music increased steadily, and by the 1970s the UK had produced progressive-rock bands such as; Van der Graaf Generator, including solo artists such as Mike Oldfield.

The basic characteristics of progressive rock are:

  • Literary lyrics
  • Expanded instrumentation
  • Concept albums
  • Musical ambition
  • Improvisation

Popular artists with a huge following were:

  • The Moody Blues
  • Yes
  • Pink Floyd
  • Jethro Tull
  • Emerson Lake and Palmer
  • Rush

Emerson Lake Palmer - Tarkus 1971

In Closing

The 1970s was a decade of ups and downs. An economic disaster, the Cold War, the Vietnam War, and Anti-War Movement, the Watergate Scandal, and the resignation of President Nixon.

The Rock Music of The 1970s proposed and propelled the different rock sub-genres in the modern music industry. The popularity of some of these has decreased significantly, with some even dying out since the early 80s. The rock of the 70s and the modern rock genres have more differences than similarities. However little they share, those differences are significant, categorizing them under the rock genre idiom.

It's pretty clear from this article that the rock artists from the '70s were creative; that's why they were able to come up with these and more genres. Also, the rock music industry was a money-making and music-making practice space. Rock music and its multiple existing subgenres will ensure its survival in the music industry.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2022 Reginald Thomas

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