Musc 309 Lecture 19: Singer/Songwriters of the 1970s

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MUSC 309 Lecture 19: Singer/Songwriters of the 1970s
I. Folk rock redoux


1. Supergroup, together from early 1969-late 1970

a. influence far greater than suggested by duration of band

b. Not only for the personalities involved

c. But harmonies, sound as well

2. Coming together of personalities from two prominent West Coast bands

a. Stephen Stills Neil Young – Buffalo Springfield

i. Acid-country rock-folk orientation

ii. Similar to the Byrds, but more folkly

iii. Ex. For What It’s Worth

aa. What aspects are folk?

bb. What is something else?

iv. Core of CSNY sound

b. David Crosby, from the Byrds

c. Plus Graham Nash, of the Hollies – British Invasion band

3. Crosby, Stills, and Nash came together in 1968

a. Relaxed, folk character to songs

b. Very tight harmonically

c. But something missing –high harmonies

d. Asked Young to join

4. All four songwriters, so output of varied character

a. Especially on album Déjà Vu

b. Example: Teach (Graham Nash)

i. Country influence – pedal steel guitar sound (played by Jerry


ii. two part harmonies on verses

iii. Break into four part harmony for refrain

aa. High, close

bb. Both Young and Crosby singing composite harmony


iv. Second verse – lead vocals + close, Everly Brothers harmonies

v. Not quite end weighting, but does provide contrast

aa. Musical parallel to lyrics

bb. Teach your childern – teach your parents

c. Example: Ohio (Neil Young)

i. Lyrics about Kent State massacre (1970)

aa. Student protest over the war in Vietnam

bb. National Guard sent in to restore peace

cc. Shot and killed four students

dd. Neil Young wrote in about a day

ii. Riff-based – takes on almost martial feel

iii. Distortion on lead electric guitar

iv. No harmony at beginning – significant

v. Harmonies on chorus particularly close – adds to tension

5. Harmonies are the most characteristic trait of CSNY

a. Different, and new, sound to rock

b. Compare harmonies on “Helplessly Hoping” and “Catch a Wave” by

the Beach Boys

i. Difference?

ii. Beach Boys harmony is much wider – larger range covered

B. Simon and Garfunkel

1. Another distinctive harmony sound

2. Heavily influenced by Everly Brothers (as a duet)

a. Mentioned hit “Hey Schoolgirl” as Tom and Jerry in 1957

b. Split up for college, reunited in 1962

3. Simon associated with both Brill Building crowd and NY folk scene,

a. Colors songs of Simon and Garfunkel

b. As well as solo work by Simon

3. Acoustic Folk album released in 1962 doesn’t go much of anywhere

4. Re-issued with studio production, rock band backup – Sounds of Silence

a. Dark imagery

b. But framed as lyrical, folk influenced pop song

i. Long melodic line

ii. Grows from short idea, introduced at beginning

iii. Tells a story

c. Strophic form

i. With added feature

ii. Hook (sound of silence) that acts as something of a refrain

d. Modal harmony

e. Close harmonies

i. Much of the time in 5ths or 3rds

ii. But Garfunkel constructs composite part

5. Fairly typical of sound

a. The Boxer more complicated, but contains most of the same


b. Wider palate of instrumental color

i. Jaw’s Harp

ii. bodhran - Celtic drum

iii. Trumpet sound (on keyboard)

c. Thicker texture (depending on recording of Sounds….)

d. More complex modal harmonies

e. Fa-la-la refrain

f. Somewhat end-weighted, but more a series of curves that are thicker

textured later in the song

II. Singer/songwriters

A. One of largest new trends of 1970s was popularity of singer/songwriters

1. Musician who writes and performs own material

2. Usually as solo act

3. Not oriented toward mainstream

B. Can be considered latter-day folk rock performers

1. In early 70s, artists influenced by wider combo of influences (blues, jazz, pop),

2. most moving farther from folk roots of groups/artists like Byrds, Dylan

3. Or second-generation Brill Building

C. Covers wide variety of styles, but have in common

1. Generally introspective, self-oriented lyrics

2. Singer/instrumentalists, usually on acoustic guitar or piano

3. Almost no studio production

4. Contrast to hard rock, black-influenced styles, and mainstream rock

D. Trend toward this type of music starts with James Taylor (1948 - )

1. Started in NY coffeehouses - soft folk rock style with touches of country


2. Signed to Apple Records in 1968

a. Label started by Beatles in 1967

b. As well as own records, wanted to encourage and establish new talent

c. JT their first musical “discovery”

3. First successful album – Sweet Baby James (1970)

a. Most of the songs written while recovering from heroin addiction

b. Very painful, introspective lyrics

c. Sold scads of records

4. Ex. Fire and Rain

a. Folk rock orientation evident

b. Lyrical content personal, but more akin to popular, Motown styles

c. Acoustic guitar from Taylor

d. But record includes backing from rock band, fair amount of studio


i. Buzzing drone from bass

ii. Heavy drums

iii. Piano

e. End-weighted

E. Carole King

1. Brill-building songwriter

a. With then-husband Jerry Goffin

b. Hits for Everyly Brothers, Herman’s Hermits, the Animals, Blood,

Sweat, and Tears, Monkees, Aretha Franklin, Byrds

2. Records album of own material in late 60s

3. 2nd album, Tapestry (1971)

a. “I Feel the Earth Move,” “It’s Too Late,” “You’ve Got a Friend” “You

Make Me Feel Like a Natural Woman”

b. Huge seller

i. 300 odd weeks on the charts

ii. Best selling pop album to that date

4. Obviously, considering background, heavily pop influenced, piano oriented

F. Joni Mitchell (Roberta Joan Anderson, 1943 - )

1. Began career as folk singer

2. Distinctive, breathy, recitatational lyric style

3. Sophisticated yet personal lyrics

4. Clear jazz influences on vocal style, especially in mid 70s

G. Van Morrison

1. Irish musician

2. Starts playing in skiffle band when 11

3. Becomes lead singer for Them, the first Irish rock band

a. Several big hits 1965-1966

b. Including Gloria

4. Moves to U.S., starts solo career in 1966

5. Astral Weeks first important

a. Heavily influenced by jazz

b. As is most popular Morrison album, Moondance (1970)

6. Listen to Cypress Avenue on own

H. Neil Young

1. Discussed as part of CSNY

2. But tremendously important as solo artists

a. Long career, encompassing myriad of styles

i. Rockabilly

ii. Country rock

iii. R&B

iv. Pop

b. “Godfather of Grunge” – and arguably contributor to number of other

styles, including punk rock

3. Songs typically dark, poetic lyrics

a. Heavily influenced by Bob Dylan

b. Storytelling songs, but also impressions – often obscure

c. Hard-edged

d. Frequent guitar breaks

4. The Loner – from first solo album (1969)

a. Intro – acoustic guitar + keyboard

b. Verse – complete change of sound and texture

i. Heavy bass and guitar

ii. Highly distorted, buzzy guitar

iii. Every phrase completed by 2 bar break for guitar

c. Bridge – again, total change

i. Sweeping strings (on keyboard)

ii. Heavy drumming

iii. Buzzing sound of guitar very exposed

d. Hook as refrain - acapella

e. More rhythmic version of intro returns

f. Verse, bridge, hook as above

g. Leads into contrasting instrumental section

i. Strings and bass in counterpoint

ii. Short guitar solo

h. Final verse

i. Interlude returns, with some additional touches of strings

j. Good deal of studio production, but used in a really interesting way

k. This song influence on number of songs, groups of the early 1970s

Ohio: Tin soldiers and Nixon's coming, we're finally on our own.

This summer I hear the drumming, four dead in Ohio.
Gotta get down to it, soldiers are cutting us down. Should have been done long ago.
What if you knew her and found her dead on the ground?
How can you run when you know?

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