Magazine article The Spectator

Music: 1976 and All That

Magazine article The Spectator

Music: 1976 and All That

Article excerpt

Forty years ago, I spent 14 hours in a large field near the A1 in Hertfordshire.

I had just taken my O-levels, liked Be-Bop Deluxe, Genesis and Rachmaninov, and often danced my head off to The Who's 'Won't Get Fooled Again'. I was confused about girls and worried that I'd chosen one wrong A-level (Ancient History).

In the nation at large, Harold Wilson had resigned as prime minister in March. Under James Callaghan, Britain would wobble further into a strife that marked the late 1970s like a purulent eczema. Pop music would start, rather violently, to reflect it. In the polity these were not confident times.

Friends had persuaded me to go and see The Rolling Stones, headlining at that year's Knebworth Festival, a rock jamboree that had begun in 1974. In mid-1976 the Stones had completed a two-month tour of Europe and agreed quite late in the day to play Knebworth. I wasn't a fan but seeing the legend live seemed an appropriate rite of passage.

In a crowd of over 100,000 and in roasting sun -- that summer Britain experienced the driest spell in decades -- I enjoyed, moderately, the five pre-Stones acts (one of whom, Lynyrd Skynyrd, a storming American heavy-guitar band, was largely destroyed a year later in an air crash). Dope was everywhere.

The Stones arrogantly delayed their appearance until well after sunset. Just before Mick Jagger pranced down a catwalk with a beaver hat on (ludicrously, given the heat), the compère bellowed, 'What's the greatest rock 'n' roll band in the world?' A bloke right next to me bellowed back, 'The Who!' I still laugh at how right he possibly was.

We all have our tastes and memories. Music obsessed over during youth marks us like no other. Sometimes this gets turned into books. David Hepworth has recently done it, with verve, in Never a Dull Moment : his focus is 1971, year of Led Zeppelin's fourth album, David Bowie's Hunky Dory , Carole King's Tapestry and, in pure pop (dismal to recall), the breakthrough of The Osmonds.

Last November Jon Savage went for 1966, the year, runs the subtitle of his latest book, 'the decade exploded'. The Beach Boys, The Beatles, The Velvet Underground, Dusty Springfield and The Supremes -- and, lamentably, The Monkees -- are all in there, among many others. A more astute historian than Hepworth, Savage also provides exceptional analysis of what was actually that year's major influence on pop and rock stars and their fans: LSD.

In terms of quality and change I'm putting in a bid for 1976 as the musical ne plus ultra , though much that occurred in it remains far from my taste. …

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