Music of 1973: Defining a Decade

The year is 1973. The US has just pulled out of the Vietnam War. The Exorcist will be premiering in theaters soon, Billie Jean King has won the Battle of the Sexes, Secretariat the Triple Crown, and the Sears Tower is finally complete. The average American makes thirteen grand a year and pays forty cents for a gallon of gas. While refueling won’t break the bank the way it does in 2022, you’ll have to save up for a new stereo cassette player which will run you around fifty bucks, or about the price of a brand new gaming console by today’s standards. Tapes are on the rise in 1973, and there are plenty of albums you’ll need to buy.

the return of ziggy stardust

At this point in modern music, disco won’t reach its peak popularity for a few more years, but rock is about to have its moment in the sun. This era and the year 1973 is defined by one of its most recognizable figures: David Bowie’s “Ziggy Stardust.” After launching to stardom with the release of The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, the Starman continued touring his extraterrestrial persona with 1973’s Aladdin Sane. The album features defining songs such as its leading track “Watch That Man,” “Time” and “The Jean Genie.”

THe ROck Trinity

By 1973, Led Zeppelin had already established itself as a household name. Slowing things down a bit, they recorded their fifth album, Houses of the Holy, from Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones’ home studios. The album includes the popular song, “Over the Hills and Far Away,” as well as a personal favorite of mine, “D’Yer Mak’er.” John Paul Jones initially advocated to keep the reggae-inspired love song off of the album. After Robert Plant convinced him otherwise, the song gained significant popularity in the US. 

Exactly a month before Houses of the Holy, Pink Floyd released their quintessential The Dark Side of the Moon. The album is built from a culmination of experiments from the band’s live performances. The two sides of the album each act as cohesive pieces. The album is self-reflective, touching on criticisms the band had received living a life of excess, and the controversy surrounding former band member Syd Barrett. 

One can’t discuss 70’s rock without mention of The Rolling Stones. Having begun the decade with Sticky Fingers and Exile on Main St, they continued their streak with Goats Head Soup. The album’s most popular song, “Angie,” brings a subdued, soulful maturity to an otherwise unrestrained band. While Goats Head Soup reached the top of the charts in both the UK and US, it marks the decline of the band’s critical success after its electric start to the decade.

Legends of pop rock

1973 also marks a great year for the pop rock genre. Elton John released two albums: Goodbye Yellow Brick Road and Don’t Shoot Me I’m Only the Piano Player. Between the two, the world was introduced to “Bennie and the Jets,” “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road,” “Saturday Night’s Alright (for Fighting),” “Daniel,” and “Crocodile Rock.” In the same year, Billy Joel dropped his second album, Piano Man, of course featuring the career-defining titular song as well as “Captain Jack.” Finally, in the height of his solo career, Paul Simon released There Goes Rhymin’ Simon, which included “Kodachrome” and “Loves Me Like a Rock.”

The list of legendary music from 1973 goes on and on. The Eagles’ Desperado included “Tequila Sunrise.” ZZ Top casually graced the world with “La Grange.” Lynyrd Skynyrd ended an album with “Free Bird,” while “Seven Seas of Rhye” closed out Queen’s debut record. Half a century later, these era-defining albums feel as relevant as ever.

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