Joe’s Jukebox – “1973: Rock at the Crossroads”

Welcome to the first installment of “Joe’s Jukebox,” a new series highlighting the library’s most marvelous musical materials– presented by Adult Services & Acquisitions Librarian, Joe O’Brien.

One thing I especially love about music is listening to the songs & albums that came out during certain one-to-two-year periods, to try and get a feel for what kind of vibe was in the air at those times. What the zeitgeist was, if you will. In doing this for so long, I’ve come to the conclusion that listening to the music that was recorded or released within a certain time frame might be the best way to put your finger on the pulse of the past– a far better source than mere journalism or literature or cinema, in my opinion. It seems that musical recordings made around the same points in history– even in vastly different genres or from different parts of the world– often have similar attitudes, similar energy, the same blood type flowing through their veins.

That’s why I’ve been super into this book that came out not too long ago called 1973: Rock at the Crossroads by Andrew Grant Jackson, which examines the music of that year– mostly rock, but also a number of other kindred genres. Here’s just a small fraction of all the classic and historic music from that era:   

Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon, one of the most famous & best-selling albums in the history of recorded music, which entered the Billboard Top 200 Albums chart in 1973 and ended up sticking around for 937 consecutive weeks…

Led Zeppelin’s Houses of the Holy, which is, if not exactly their most perfect album (that honor probably goes to its predecessor, the technically-untitled album known as “ZOSO” or Led Zeppelin IV), it’s arguably their most interesting one, and probably my favorite of theirs…

Also– Elton John’s Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, Stevie Wonder’s Innervisions, Marvin Gaye’s Let’s Get it On,The World is a Ghetto by War, Alice Cooper’s Billion Dollar Babies, Billy Joel’s Piano Man, and Joni Mitchell’s Court and Spark (her best album for my money, released in 1974 but recorded in ‘73)…

The film The Harder They Come is released in the U.S. in 1973, and its soundtrack ends up playing a huge role in bringing reggae music from Jamaica to the rest of the world; also helping in that endeavor are Bob Marley & the Wailers, who put out classics like “I Shot the Sheriff” and “Get Up Stand Up” that year…

“Outlaw country” becomes a thing starting around 1973, thanks to Willie Nelson’s Shotgun Willie and Waylon Jennings’ Honky Tonk Heroes

Hip-hop is born in the Bronx on August 11, 1973, thanks to DJ Kool Herc

Hit singles on the charts in 1973 include Carly Simon’s “You’re So Vain,” Roberta Flack’s “Killing Me Softly with His Song,” Dolly Parton’s “Jolene,” The Rolling Stones’ “Angie,” Dr. John’s “Right Place Wrong Time,” Gladys Knight & the Pips’ “Midnight Train to Georgia,” Deep Purple’s “Smoke on the Water,” Sweet’s “Ballroom Blitz,”Live and Let Die” by Paul McCartney & Wings, and Curtis Mayfield’s “Superfly.” (By the way, one fun fact I learned from this book: apparently, classic rock radio stations today play more tracks from 1973 than from any other single year…)

1973 is when David Bowie releases Aladdin Sane, his album inspired by the U.S. tour that launched him and his “Ziggy Stardust” persona into superstardom; Bowie also produced The Stooges’ ferocious third album Raw Power, which is released in ‘73, and Lou Reed’s “Walk on the Wild Side,” which peaks on the charts that same year…

The New York Dolls are also pumping rock n’ roll full of gender-bending glam, releasing their debut album in ‘73. Across the Atlantic, Queen puts its first album out, and The Rocky Horror Show makes its stage debut in London…

And last but certainly not least, another historic 1973 debut, coming from the great state of New Jersey: Bruce Springsteen’s Greetings from Asbury Park

Of course, there’s a lot going on culturally aside from just the music during that time, and Jackson’s book craftily weaves the music into that larger context, connecting it to events like the end of the Vietnam war, Roe vs. Wade, and the ongoing Watergate scandal. This passage from the book’s introduction (“Raw Power and Innervisions”) is pretty great, and does an excellent job of setting the scene…

On February 19, 1973, Time magazine printed a story called “The Returned: A New Rip Van Winkle,” about prisoners of war arriving back in the US following the end of the conflict in Vietnam. They found themselves profoundly shocked by the changes the country had undergone while they were captured: women’s liberation, advances in civil rights, the sexual revolution, proliferation of drugs and divorce. Plenty of people who had never left the country were stunned as well.

If the cultural reformation of 1965-72 was a bomb, 1973 was the aftermath. The debris rained down. The sun streaked through the smoke onto the road ahead. Like everyone else, the musicians tried to process what had just happened and figure out what was next. They did so through a series of albums and singles that represent the zenith of classic rock.

But in rock’s triumph lay the seed of its dissolution, for 1973 was the year radio programmers figured out how to commodify “album-oriented rock.” The format soon segregated rock from the other genres that once spurred its evolution.

Under the radar, however, new forms flourished that eventually saved rock from its own stagnation, which is why Mick Jagger and Martin Scorsese set their television series Vinyl in 1973. Scorsese said, “The early 1970s, and 1973 in particular, was a time of great change in the music industry, and it all started in New York City– punk, disco, hip-hop, they all began that year right here in this city.” Beyond New York, country outlaws, reggae prophets, technopop scientists, female rockers, and defiant gender benders emerged to revitalize popular music.

So if that sounds like your scene, Andrew Grant Jackson’s 1973: Rock at the Crossroads is in our print collection. (If our copy is currently unavailable, you can also borrow one from a number of other libraries in the BCCLS consortium.) Plus, you can check out most of the great music mentioned earlier, either on CD through BCCLS, or by streaming the albums on Hoopla Digital with your Livingston Library card– just follow the links above. Til next time: keep loving, keep listening, and keep gazing along that open road…

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