By the late 1960s and early 1970s, popular music culture had grown up and grown serious.
Songs from the period, whether James Taylor’s “Fire and Rain,” Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven,” or the Eagles’ “Desperado,” showed artists turning inward and emphasizing musical virtuosity. Singer-songwriters performed to seated houses, but even Rock and Roll audiences had become more passive than participatory. It was a culture that embraced denim, facial hair, and hippie-ish attire—the trappings of a “laid-back” sensibility—as symbols of their time.
A somber mood hung over not just the music but the country. In May 1970, the Ohio National Guard fired upon unarmed Kent State University students protesting U.S. Military operations in Cambodia, killing four and wounding nine. Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young would respond to the incident in their song “Ohio,” recorded and released less than three weeks after the shooting. Later that year, trials began for American soldiers implicated in the My Lai massacre in South Vietnam. And in 1972, the Watergate scandal broke, ultimately bringing down President Nixon and further shaking the public’s trust in government.
With the spirit of the 1960s still in the air, the focus remained on a population that came of age in that era. But a new generation of teenagers, too young to have marched on Washington or been eligible for the draft were left in the shadows, without a clear identity. Who were among the next generation of teenagers? And what was their music?
With television’s All in the Family and George Lucas’s film American Graffiti major success stories, it seemed that the baby boomers were all that one heard about, talked about, or watched on the screen. The teenager of the early 1970s was all but invisible.
“Glam” became the buzzword for a new teen-focused music that cut through the seriousness and signaled a return to rudimentary Rock and Roll, awash in flamboyant fashions and theatrical posturing. Glam records were sometimes “bubblegum”— unpretentious, adolescent, and fun—but at other times they were groundbreaking artistic works. Its representatives were David Bowie, Alice Cooper, Roxy Music, Slade, Sweet, and others. David Bowie drew on his training in theater and mime to create his Ziggy Stardust persona, an androgynous alien-like humanoid who sang about space exploration and Pop superstardom. Alice Cooper combined horror movie spectacle with Rock and Roll anthems of teen angst, including “I’m Eighteen” and “School’s Out.” Teenagers of the early 1970s reveled in the made-to-shock styles and recordings of their new heroes. The hippie met his match.
Through an examination of musical performances, film trailers, television interviews, and archival photographs, students will investigate the cultural landscape of the early 1970s to better understand the rise of Glam and what the music offered teenage audiences who came of age after the radical social movements of the 1960s.