Influential artists in the 1970s? Are you kidding? This one was tough, I’ll admit. But after whittling away prog rock, disco and Three Dog Night, it got a little easier:
Stevie Wonder – “I Just Called To Say I Love You” aside, no one has defined R&B better than Stevie Wonder. Funky, yet accessible, he continued to open the pop music door wider for African Americans, writing his own music and using synthesizers liberally. His songs, though musically complex, were usually easy on the ears but sometimes delivered a powerful social commentary. He paved the way for Earth, Wind and Fire, Michael Jackson and eventually rap. Oh, well.
The Sex Pistols – Very few bands come out of nowhere and completely turn rock music on its ear. Some will say that The Sex Pistols were not even the first or best punk band (Ramones and the Clash, respectively), but the raw energy, the in-your-face, screw-everyone attitude, and their brief, fiery career are the stuff of which legends are made. Sid Vicious and Johnny Rotten’s snarls have become the images of the punk rock movement; some point to the birth of punk to a concert on June 4, 1976 in which the Sex Pistols played for 40 people which included members of the Buzzcocks, Joy Division, The Fall, and Morrissey from the Smiths. Look to most post-punk and alternative bands of the 90s and 00s (Green Day, Blink-182) for the sound of the Sex Pistols still raging on.
Blondie – Blondie helped establish punk rock as a melodic art form, and then they deftly took it and created New Wave. I consider the angelic “Heart of Glass” one of the first true New Wave songs. And while “Rapture” was not the first rap song, as some have suggested (“Rapper’s Delight” beats it by two years), Blondie was one of the first mainstream groups to recognize the genre and use it to create a number one song. If it weren’t for them, we may not have heard of the Go-Gos and the Bangles.
Bruce Springsteen – Ignore Bruce’s Born in the USA album, his 3+ hour concerts with the E-Street Band, and his longevity in the music biz. Instead, consider this; He is the father of modern-day Americana music. From his blue jeans and gruff voice to his songs about lost hope and society’s ills, he has personified the American heartland and the changes that have occurred over the past 30 years. Springsteen clones are everywhere – John Mellencamp being one of the first – but the popularity of such roots-rock faves as the Jayhawks, Lucinda Williams, Wilco and Ryan Adams can all look to the Boss for inspiration.
Led Zeppelin – I’m not a big Zeppelin fan. In fact, I’m probably one of the few people on this planet who doesn’t really like them. But I must give my props to them; you can’t mention the 1970s without mentioning Led Zeppelin. And it seems that pretty much any metal/post-metal/grunge/alternative/indie rock group will quickly give them a nod. They are considered one of the first metal groups, and Jimmy Page has influenced scores of guitarists.
Honorable Mention: Kraftwerk. 90 percent of the world has never even heard of Kraftwerk, and I can’t really name any song by them. But when I listen to them, I hear the beginnings of New Wave, Techno and Dance.
High Honorable Mention: Sorry, David Bowie, Pink Floyd and Marvin Gaye.
Omission: The Eagles. I’ve never understood how The Eagles sold 30 million copies of their greatest hits package. That aside, they are simply a popular band that just sticks out from the 1970s, playing lukewarm country-rock. I can’t really track any progression of the Eagles sound, aside from well, Don Henley (whom I like a lot better than his former group) and maybe Sheryl Crow. The fact that they gave us “Hotel California” is reason enough to ban them from any list.