The Return of 70s Rock

By Anna Mueller

Just as “New Wave” music from the 80s has made a comeback, 70s rock has also become prevalent amongst today’s youth. The term “classic rock” came from a radio outlet from the 1970s that was called Album Oriented Rock. At one point, the outlet played music from the 50s, 60s, 70s, and even 80s, but over time, less and less of the music on Album Oriented Rock was from eras other than the late 60s and the 70s.

Despite this, there is still some confusion of what the term “classic rock” actually means. To get a sense of the kind of music that fits into this genre, we will take a look at some of the most popular songs of the genre. There are obviously tons of songs that fit into this category, but here are 15 examples of the kind of music that was popular in this genre:

Layla – Derek and the DominosLegendary guitarist Eric Clapton tended to hop from group to group, but is still acclaimed for regarding the success of “Layla,” a song which he helped write as a short-term member of Derek and the Dominos. This song was released in 1970.1

Stairway to Heaven – Led ZeppelinPossibly one of their most well-known songs, Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven” was undoubtedly one of the most famous rock songs to come out of the 1970s. It features a legendary solo by guitarist Jimmy Page. Stairway to Heaven was released in 1971 and is 8 minutes long.2

Born to Run – Bruce SpringsteenThe title song of  its album “Born to Run”, ranked as Springsteen’s best song by Rolling Stone magazine. It was released in 1975 and was deemed one of Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s “500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll.”3

Free Bird – Lynyrd SkynyrdUsed in one of many climactic scenes in the film “Forrest Gump,” Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Free Bird” features a five minute guitar solo at the end of the song. It was released in 1973 and is considered a power ballad.4

Sweet Emotion- AerosmithThis is one of many classic rock songs played in the movie “Dazed and Confused,” which embodies the 1970s in terms of fashion and music. This song was released in 1975.5

Comfortably Numb – Pink FloydConsidered by many to be their best song, the inspiration for Pink Floyd’s “Comfortably Numb” actually came from an argument between Roger Waters and David Gilmour regarding their vision for the song.6

Paranoid – Black SabbathA group that is largely associated with the heavy metal genre and even considered to be one of its founders, Black Sabbath’s “Paranoid” is another great classic rock song and was released in 1970.7  

Purple Haze – the Jimi Hendrix ExperienceWhile Jimi Hendrix is commonly associated with the 1960s, “Purple Haze,” along with a few other songs, was released the year of his death: 1970. His music, and this song specifically, have had a strong influence on many guitarists and rock musicians since then.8

Baba O’Riley – The WhoReleased in 1971, The Who’s “Baba O’Riley” is one of the bands most popular songs. Interestingly, the band’s singer, Roger Daltrey, recently said that the repeated lyric in the song, “teenage wasteland,” is extremely relevant today in relation to the influence of social media.9

Fortunate Son – CCR – This is yet another song featured in “Forrest Gump.” The song was written in opposition to the Vietnam War drafts and became something of an anthem during the time. Though this song was released in 1969, it lived a long life through the 70s as well.10

Barracuda – Heart – Written in response to a publicity-stunt rumor that singer Ann Wilson and bandmate/sister Nancy Wilson were in a sexual relationship, “Barracuda” was the band’s second top 20 hit. Interestingly, this song is once again significant in connection with the #MeToo movement, and Ann Wilson hopes that the song will help some women decide how to deal with being a victim of sexual harassment.11

American Woman – The Guess Who – Written by a Canadian band (The Guess Who), “American Woman” released in 1970 and was the band’s most successful release. Despite being invited to perform at the White House in 1970, the band was specifically instructed not to play “American Woman,” due to its controversial critique of American foreign policy and the Nixon administration.12

L.A. Woman – The Doors – Recorded as the title track in the Doors’ final studio album with singer Jim Morrison, “L.A Woman,” released in 1971, is considered to be one of the band’s best and most popular songs. Fans loved the song because there seemed to be so many hidden meanings behind the words. However, the band’s keyboardist recently said that it was actually just a simple tribute to their hometown.13

It’s Only Rock ‘N’ Roll (But I Like It) – The Rolling Stones – Though it wasn’t one of their most popular songs, it was one of the more successful among their releases in the 70s. It was released in 1974 and features Mick Jagger repeatedly belting out, “I know it’s only rock and roll but I like it.”14

Hotel California – the EaglesRecently “The Eagles Greatest Hits” album surpassed Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” for all time best selling album in the U.S., and “Hotel California,” released in 1976, is one of many hit songs on this album. It is said that coming up with all the spooky imagery in the lyrics of this song took a very long time, but many of them came naturally.15

These are just a few of the songs that make up this glorious genre, but they can give us a sense of the significance of rock and roll. Despite the fact that there are greater numbers of youths listening to this music today, there are likely a lot more who refer to it as “their parents music.” And while this may have been true, some of these songs are still significant today in relation to the different social and cultural movements and happenings. In addition to that, all of these songs feature great guitar, bass, drums, and more, making for a completely different kind of music than we have today.




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