Few people would argue against the idea that the late 1960’s/early 1970’s was a time of tremendous change in our music and our politics. Author Steve Millward picks one year, 1970, to highlight what was happening politically and socially in the music scene. While Millward does touch on events world-wide he focusses primarily on the United Kingdom and the United States.
In the US, Richard Nixon was still early in his presidency but feeling a lot of heat regarding Vietnam and Cambodia.
In music, things looked a little bleak. The Beatles were working individually, with each of them releasing a solo album in ’70. Simon & Garfunkle, a duo that typified the folk scene, separated. And other big names didn’t seem to have the endearing magic any more.
But just as you might expect, other musicians stepped up to fill the gaps and politics provided plenty of material for the social change called for in the songs.
I was a pre-teen in 1970 and while my interest in politics at the time was zero, music (pre Pandora, Spotify and the internet) was one of the few things I could relate to and claim as ‘mine’ (since my parents weren’t very fond of it). Millward brought back many memories, but more importantly, showed me how the pieces of the music-scene jigsaw puzzle fit together. Motown found (or re-found) its voice and some of the big names that I followed for decades (James Taylor; Crosby, Stills, Nash [and Young]; Elton John) were emerging at this time.
The only political talk from the 70’s that I could ever remember was about the Vietnam war (with a brother of draft age, this was a constant concern). I was unaware, until reading the book, of the political strife facing the UK, beginning with Prime Ministers who have been rated among the worst in British history.
I struggled with the book early on … perhaps in part because I wasn’t aware of the sort of book I was about to read … but as I got further and further into it, the more I could sense the bigger picture and how it all fit together and I didn’t want the book to end. If there were another book, for 1971, I’d have dived right in.
I really appreciated much of what Millward writes, but there was a moment that sealed my apprciation for him. In a later chapter, writing about jazz and Miles Davis, Millward notes that Davis’ album Bitches Brew came out in April of 1970 and that it “spelled — at least in one dimension — the end of jazz. No longer would it be possible for those at the cutting edge of the music to ignore rock and/or the electronic instruments that went with it; jazz could no longer be preserved as a rare species with which only the cognoscenti were familiar.” Millward notes that the album sold 70,000 in the first month, and while it was not easy listening, the fans liked it, but … and here my favorite quote from the book … “most jazz critics — often a generation or two behind in their understanding of anything new — were incapable of (appreciating the album). Even with hindsight it is hard to see why (my italics).”
Looking for a good book? Different Tracks is a social history book looking at music and politics from the year 1970 and will educate and stimulate any reader interested in music, politics, sociology, or history. It is highly recommended.
Looking for a good book? Different Tracks is a non-fiction book that will appeal to fans of classic pop music, politics, sociology, and history. it is a fascinating look at our culture in 1970 through music and politics.
I received an electronic copy of this book from the publisher, through Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review.
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Different Tracks: Music and Politics in 1970
author: Steve Millward
publisher: Troubador Publishing Ltd
paperback, 256 pages