Wednesday 21 February 2018

Declan Lynch: Behold the Second Coming of the 1970s

U2 also came out of the 1970's
U2 also came out of the 1970's
Declan Lynch

Declan Lynch

They're calling it a "period drama", this Vinyl series about the music business in the 1970s, starting tomorrow night on Sky Atlantic.

No doubt its co-creators Martin Scorsese and Mick Jagger would find it amusing that this decade in which both of them were doing some of their best work is now a "period", akin to the Roaring Twenties or perhaps even something out of Jane Austen.

Can they possibly be that old?

Then again, old though they may be, they are still alive to join in the celebration of this period, and also to mourn it - with the deaths of Bowie, Glenn Frey and Maurice White of Earth, Wind & Fire, it seems that the 1970s is dying in front of us, little by little, piece by piece. Even Terry Wogan, who found his voice at that time, can be included in this crowd of legends of the 1970s which has recently been assembling in the proverbial departure lounge.

And yet perversely that era has also come back from the dead in a spectacular way, due to the fact that the music, that great, great music, is being played again.

It is being played in a funereal setting, but this somehow sharpens the awareness of what such people achieved during "the decade that taste forgot" - indeed it stands as a monument to the foolishness of all mankind that this decade which now seems like the richest period in western culture since the Renaissance, was libelled for so long in this way, just because of a few pairs of platform shoes and satin trousers and the occasional gold lame jacket.

And that was just Horslips who, it turned out, would become a cultural force of incalculable importance in this country, or at least as important as five men in satin trousers and gold lame jackets can possibly be.

We in Ireland are to some extent ahead of the world in our deep appreciation of the 1970s, both for the best and for the saddest of reasons. Our two giants of that time, Phil Lynott and Rory Gallagher, were so young when they checked out, we have had a long time to reflect on their achievements. And to note that the passing of the years has not diminished them in any way, rather it has certified their greatness.

U2 also came out of the 1970s, from the second half of it, which was quite different to the first half, even a reaction to it, but no less astonishing. So you could look back on that time either as the golden age of rock, of Led Zeppelin touring America in their wondrous private jet, of monstrously gifted people with equally monstrous lines in debauchery - or you could take it from the time of punk and new wave, of The Clash and The Ramones and Joy Division.

Such an abundance is there, it borders on the grotesque. And by the way, we haven't even mentioned the movies, not even those of Scorsese himself, whose work at that time will no doubt prove to be superior to anything he is doing these days.

Indeed the trailer for Vinyl doesn't seem all that encouraging. It has scenes of rock'n'roll "excess" of the bog-standard variety, the guitars being exuberantly smashed, the cocaine being snorted, and bad men roaring for money - though the involvement of Scorsese is enough to persuade you to give it a shot, when you recall his musical instincts which were demonstrated to such sublime effect in The Last Waltz (1978) and New York, New York (1977) and throughout the soundtracks of his gangster movies.

His instincts in choosing this "period" are also impeccable, perhaps a realisation that the sort of smart people who had been in Mad Men in the 1960s had moved into the music business - and a way of asking the question that so many people are asking themselves, at this difficult time: was it really that unbelievably good, or does everybody feel this way about the music of their youth?

Well m'lud, I call in evidence a book which is soon to be published by a Mr David Hepworth, titled 1971. It asserts, inter alia, that 1971 was the golden year of this golden age, and Hepworth has submitted a list of artists who recorded some of their best tracks in that year, a list which goes something like this: Rod Stewart, Joni Mitchell, Carole King, Neil Young, Elton John, Marvin Gaye, Van Morrison, Bill Withers, Harry Nilsson, Ry Cooder, Aretha Franklin, JJ Cale, John Martyn, Isaac Hayes, Al Green, The Staple Singers, Carly Simon, Dr John, and Sly and the Family Stone.

Furthermore, m'lud, there's about 40 more people on that list, and Mr Hepworth notes in passing that it was a relatively quiet year for Randy Newman, Richard Thompson, Paul Simon, and Bob Dylan.

So I rest my case m'lud. We must not pretend that this is some illusion brought on by the agonies of nostalgia, it is clear that the 1970s did have this crazy proliferation of major talent, that the creative energies released in the post-war years somehow reached a kind of artistic maturity during that decade - and that vinyl records were making all of this fine stuff easily accessible to the multitudes.

Some day soon, I fear we will be hearing a lot more of it.

Sunday Independent

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