For our homework this week we were asked to research a decade and I chose the decade of my birth: the 1970s. The 1970s is often remembered with a bit of embarrassment. Why is this so? It seems that we remember the 1970s as the decade where fashion went a bit bonkers, notions of good design went out the window and children were made to look ridiculous in flared trousers, patterned jumpers and bowl-cut hairstyles. But I remember the decade very fondly as I was born at the start, and age 9 at the end.
Iconic fashion of the 1970s includes: platform shoes, which made an appearance in 1971; hot pants, which also appeared in the early part of the decade; the jersey wrap dress invented by Diane von Fürstenberg in 1972; cropped tops; the three-piece suite (think Saturday Night Fever); leotards, the like of which were worn by Cher, Joni Mitchell and Rod Stewart; and high-waisted bell-bottomed trousers which evolved from the hip-hugging flares of the 1960s.
However, when I think of the 1970s I think of kipper collars, which I remember wearing.
The hair of the 1970s was shaggy. The Afro made it big. Women usually wore their hair long with a centre parting, or in a ‘gypsy’ style. When I think of 1970s hair, though, I think of Farrah Fawcett.
There isn’t enough room to list all the top ‘bands’ and singers of the 1970s so I’ll just restrict myself to some that I remember from my childhood: The Carpenters, Queen, Abba, Brotherhood of Man, Rod Stewart, Kate Bush, Slade, Status Quo, Showaddywaddy, Boney M and Supertramp.
To me the music of the 1970s (and indeed beyond) happened on Thursday nights, 7.30pm, BBC1 with Top of the Pops.
The 1970s churned out many enduring songs that are still played now, and especially many of the Christmas hits we are forced to listen to every year were written in the 1970s including my favourite one from 1975:
They said there’ll be snow at Christmas
They said there’ll be peace on Earth
But instead it just kept on raining
A veil of tears for the Virgin’s birth
I remember one Christmas morning
A winters light and a distant choir
And the peal of a bell and that Christmas Tree smell
And their eyes full of tinsel and fire
They sold me a dream of Christmas
They sold me a Silent Night
And they told me a fairy story
‘Till I believed in the Israelite
And I believed in Father Christmas
And I looked at the sky with excited eyes
‘Till I woke with a yawn in the first light of dawn
And I saw him and through his disguise
1970 – Jumbo Jet, lead-free petrol, DRAM (dynamic random access memory)
1971 – floppy disc, pocket calculators
1972 – word processor, video games, email
1973 – disposable lighters, genetically modified organisms
1974 – post-it notes, Rubik’s Cube, liposuction
1975 – digital cameras, laser printers
1976 – ink-jet printers
1977 – mobile phone, personal stereo
1978 – spreadsheets
1979 – roller blades, Sony Walkman
My memories of 1970s interior design include: shag pile carpets, patterned carpets, simple modern lines, a leather three-piece suit, swirly patterned wallpaper, wicker chairs, wood paneling, cork tiles, wood-chip wallpaper (which I used to pick at), giant rubber plants and avocado three-piece bathroom suits.
Brown, cream, orange, avocado (see above).
The 1970s is remembered as well as being the decade that taste forgot in terms of clothes, also in terms of food. However, this decade is vastly underrated in terms of gourmet history. The decade embraced the modern and the processed. Convenience was good, spending hours in the kitchen making food was bad. Instant coffee boomed in the 1970s. Think also Smash, Angel Delight and Soda Streams. To make all this delicious instant food we used pressure cookers, hostess trolleys, and if we were rich enough, microwaves. I ate my first yoghurt in the 1970s (incidentally I also slept in my first duvet, no more candle wick bedspreads).
Other foods I remember from the decade: stroganoff, goulash, chicken kiev, black forest gateau, prawn cocktail, Arctic Roll, mince and onions, beef curry, buffet food, pickled onions, proper ham, jam sponge, custard, concrete cake, mint custard, pink custard, tapioca, semolina.
Architecture in the 1970s began as a continuation of styles created by such architects as Frank Lloyd Wright. Early in the 1970s, architects competed to build the tallest building in the world. Tall buildings built include Bruce Graham and Fazlur Khan’s John Hancock Centre and Sears Tower in Chicago, and the World Trade Center towers in New York by American architect Minoru Yamasaki. The 1970s also saw some experimentation. The decade also brought experimentation in pop art, postmodernist design and geometric design.
House building bombed during this era and the 1970s house looked something like this:
The 1970s was a period of oil crises (1973), inflation, unemployment, strikes and general discontent in the UK. ‘The Winter of Discontent’ ran from 1978-9 and is remembered as a time of labour dissatisfaction as well as extreme cold. I also remember the hot, dry summer of 1976 when I was just five years old.
We saw a fair few Prime Ministers during the 1970s: Edward Heath, Harold Wilson, James Callaghan and Margaret Thatcher.
Richard Nixon remembered the 1970s as the decade that saw the Watergate Scandal.
We were also still in the throws of the Cold War in this decade which led to the ever increasing arms race between the Soviets and the United States. This of course was a big influence on popular culture in TV and literature.
The 1970s was a great time for women with many advances in equality being made and lots of debate about sexual equality and gender issues.
The iconic play of the 1970s is Mike Leigh’s Abigail’s Party, which first appeared in 1977. It is described as a suburban sit-com of manners. It is a satire on the aspirations and tastes of the new emerging lower-middle class in Britain in the 1970s. Within a simple staging of neighbours meeting for drinks, the obsessions, prejudices, fears and petty competitiveness of the main characters are exposed.
My favourite TV programmes from the 1970s include: Faulty Towers, The Good Life (I wanted to marry Tom), Angels (TV hospital drama, a precursor to Holby City and Casualty), Bagpuss, Dallas (or was that the 1980s?), Sapphire and Steel (I particularly remember the episode where they are stuck in time a petrol station), Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em (the theme tune to which still gives me nightmares when I hear it), Only When I Laugh (sit com about two men who never seemed to leave hospital), Dr Who (the Tom Baker years), Terry and June, Songs of Praise, the Antiques Roadshow and Chorlton and the Wheelies.
This part is easy for me. The 1970s it seems was a great decade for the invention and popularity of some great toys which are now categorised as ‘retro’ including the Space Hopper, the Pogo Stick, Etch a Sketch (hours of frustration), the Stylaphone (invented in the 1960s), Simple Simon (positively space age), Evil Knievel (he never did what you wanted him to do) and the View Master. It was also the decade that gave birth to the computer game (although I don’t think I played any sort of computer games until the 1980s when my brother got a zx spectrum).
I found it surprisingly difficult to get any information regarding famous artworks and artists from the 1970s. Was the 1970s an uncreative decade? On the contrary it was a very creative decade. It was a decade of much intellectual thought in art.
The art of the 1970s focused mainly on minimalised ideas or environmental art. It was the decade of ‘sculpture in the expanding field’. At the start of the decade art was about relating the object to light and space. At the end of the decade the object had been dispensed with completely and art was about creating an altered space – a space where the artist makes a minimal intervention. This is the notion of ‘site-specificity’. Site-specific art extended the ideas of minimalism.
Key art movements include: postmodernism, feminist art, environmental art, land art, photorealism, hyperrealism, superrealism, graffiti, comic art, performance art and conceptualism.
The early 1970s saw a clash between the minimalists and the newly emerging conceptualists, as illustrated by a dispute between Daniel Buren and other exhibitors at the Sixth Guggenheim International Exhibition in 1971. They objected to Buren’s ‘Peinture-Sculpture’ on the grounds that it obscured the viewing of their work.
Artists in the 1970s also increasingly began to explore the medium of video not as a device for recording but as a medium in itself. Performance and body art, also, grew as mediums of exploration.
Feminist art encompasses many different strands of enquiry and developed alongside changes in the feminist movement in the 1970s.
Artists in the second half of the decade began to challenge the idea of authorship and origin through mediums such as photography. This is the philosophy of postmodernism. They challanged the concept of the self as author and individual, the condition of selfhood being built on representation.
Key artists include: Richard Serra, Robert Smithson (land art); a Puerto Rican sociology student called Hugo Martinez (famous for establishing the United Graffit Artists in 1972); Gerhard Richter, Hans Haacke (conceptualism); John Salt, Richard Estes, Chuck Close (photorealism); Andy Warhol and Gilbert & George (pop art); Yoko Ono (performance art); Cindy Sherman (postmodernism).
The 1970s saw an explosion of filmmaking and well-known films of that era include: The Godfather, Deer Hunter, Star Wars, Jaws, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Capricorn one.
The 1970s splits films into two distinct types: gritty realism and science fiction.
The 1970s also saw the birth of the blaxsploitation genre.
Famous writers of the decade include John Updike, Stephen King, John Fowles, Tom Wolfe.
Book we read include: The Exorcist by William P. Blatty, The Shining and Dead Zone by Stephen King, The Female Eunuch by Germaine Greer.
Literature, like film, looked at issues relating to capitalism, horror, space exploration, life on other planets and sexual adventure.
Unusual facts about the 1970s
In 1971, women were still banned from going into Wimpy Bars unaccompanied after midnight, on the grounds that the only women out on their own at that hour must be prostitutes.
In the early 1970s, Margaret Thatcher as Education Secretary earned the nickname ‘Thatcher, Thatcher the Milk Snatcher’ after she stopped the system of supplying free school milk.
In 1978 the first test tube baby was born in the UK.
In 1970 Tarawood Antigone, a four-year-old Burmese cat gave birth to 19 kittens: 14 males and one female survived from the litter in Oxfordshire.
In 1970 the average house cost £4.9k (this increases to £23.5k in 1980).
My favourite chocolate bars from the 1970s were the Curly Wurly, Flake and the Texan bar. Yummy.
Wikipedia on 1970s fashion, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1970s_in_fashion [last accessed 2 March 2013]
When We Were Kids, http://www.wwwk.co.uk/culture/housing/index.htm [last accessed 2 March 2013]
Elyrics.net lyrics for ‘I Believe in Father Christmas’ by Greg Lake (1975), http://www.elyrics.net/read/e/emerson,-lake-&-palmer-lyrics/i-believe-in-father-christmas-lyrics.html [last accessed 2 March 2013]
Wikipedia on 1970s architecture, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1970s#Architecture [last accessed 2 March 2013]
Inventions of the 1970s, Buzzle, http://www.buzzle.com/articles/inventions-of-the-1970s.html [last accessed 2 March 2013]
Knowledge dredged up from studying a degree in Economics and Politics (news headlines).
The History of Art Education Timeline 1970s, http://www.personal.psu.edu/mas53/timln970.html [last accessed 2 March 2013]
Conversation with husband over lunch.
Dominic Sandbrook ‘Why does the 1970s get painted as such a bad decade?’ (16 April 2012), http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-17703483 [last accessed 2 March 2013]
Foster, H., Krauss, R., Bois Y-A and Buchloh, B. Art Since 1900 2004 (Thames & Hudson, London)
Wikipedia on Abigail’s Party, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abigail%27s_Party [last accessed 5 March 2013]
Alex James on 1970s food in The Guardian online (The Observer, 6 December 2009), http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2009/dec/06/alex-james-1970s-food [last accessed 5 March 2013]