Wednesday, May 12, 2021

“Everything is Beautiful” and Other Reasons I Miss the Early 70s

Ray Stevens - “Everything is Beautiful”

There were a lot of classic songs in the early to mid 70s, like this one, and sometimes I really miss that era. Those years were good for me. And for some reason, 1972 sticks in my head more than the other years.

1972 . . . somehow deep down inside where emotions reside, I get a good warm feeling just from thinking about that year. Whatever the reasons might be, including pure nostalgia for when we were young and life was simple, I know that part of the reason I like 1972 and his friends 1971 and 1973, plus their cousins 1970 and 1974, is because of the music of the era. Music exactly like this.

Music, on the radio, heard by everybody because radio was not the balkanized wasteland that it is today. If a station played music at all, it was generally Top 40. On AM radio. And did we like it anyway? Yes we did. Damn right we did. Instead of walking around looking like dorks with little white things in our ears, grooving to our own sounds, shutting out everything else, we listened in our cars and bedrooms and kitchens, on AM radios played through 3″ speakers, with other people. Hard to picture now, I know, unless you were there. 

Music was far more communal back then. It was a cultural bond. It’s not like we sat around and thought about it, but looking back, yeah, that’s what happens when popular music caters to a mass market. Songwriters wrote songs and singers and bands recorded them with the hope that it would become a hit and thereby a small piece of the soundtrack of the lives of millions of people. 

Sometimes, like this one, it was even a little bit spiritual, and that wasn’t unusual either (“Put Your Hand in the Hand”, “Day by Day” from Godspell, “I Don’t Know How to Love Him” from Jesus Christ Superstar, among other examples) —  but that trend also stopped around the mid-70s.

Can you even imagine a song like this today, being written, recorded, and released, and becoming a hit? It just doesn’t seem very likely to me.

There was something different about the early 1970s, when the patchouli haze of the 60s had finally dissipated, but before Watergate would invade our minds and rudely demand all our attention, and during the time when we were slowly pulling out of Vietnam, assuming everything would be all peaches and sunshine when we left. Smiley face stickers and t-shirts were everywhere. People looked for reasons to be happy and positive, it seemed.

Looking back now, the early 70s seemed like an island in a vast sea, a port in a storm. The ugliness of the late 60s, the riots, the demonstrations, the assassinations (two historic figures were assassinated within two months of each other, Martin Luther King in April 1968, and Robert F. Kennedy, who was on track to be elected president, in June), all of that seemed so last-decade, probably because we so desperately wanted it to be.

But of course, soon enough, everything changed. By 1975, Watergate had forced Nixon to resign in disgrace and portrayed Washington as a national punchline, and we had to turn tail in South Vietnam which had been overrun by the Communists to the north, so as a result, public confidence in our country and in our future took a nosedive that we didn’t pull out of until the mid-80s and the economic boom and optimism of the Reagan years. Those of us who lived through the 60’s and 70’s think of it through two filters: Vietnam and Watergate.

But in between, there was a little respite, and 1972 was the year that defined that respite, at least to me and my then-13-year-old ears. Within a couple of years, other pop music trends started to dominate, like disco, art rock, punk, new wave, all sorts of influences that chased out the sense of pure unabashed naivete and childlike joy from our popular music, and therefore, to a degree, from popular culture. But pop music never recovered its 1972-ish halo.

The point here — besides my obvious nostalgia for my formative years — is that we have chosen (been forced into?) a much different way of doing all this today, due to cable TV and then internet streaming of music and video and then smartphones — and it has had entirely predictable consequences and some of them are not on the positive side of the ledger.