Lyrical Lines That Helped Define the 1970s
The following is an exclusive excerpt from 'If There's a Bustle in Your Hedgerow: 50 Lyrical Lines That Helped Define the 1970s' by author and UCR contributor Chris Epting. Enjoy!
We all have those songs that have gotten into our blood. They make our hearts beat faster when we hear them, and they grab us and drag us back into the places where we first fell in love with them (and people and things). They may be more powerful they we even know, summoning up the warm blacklight glow of all those sacred tastes, touches and aromas of our youth; the buckets of moments that washed over us, baptizing us in the experiences of crazy, indulgent adolescence.
Musically, I’m still partially grounded in the 1970s, when I came of age on AM radio, FM radio, 45s, LPs, cassettes and 8-tracks — when every sort of genre lived happily together along the dial in perfect harmony. Power pop, bubblegum, rock and roll, glitter, glam, R&B, pop, soul, funk, then punk, disco; they all rubbed up against each other and it was all good. The radio dial was like a musical buffet.
Then I started noticing something as that era faded into the rear view mirror of my black Plymouth Duster. While many songs were like emotional release triggers to my heart, mind and soul, woven within these songs were single lines that jumped out and had a power all their own; lyrical anchors to latch onto as they wafted by on the airwaves.
Lines like that jump out at me in lots of songs. Some are more obvious than others, and maybe it’s just to my ears, but it’s a very real thing; how a single line conveys something extra suggestive, or mysterious or evocative, thus giving it (and the entire song) extra staying power.
The 70s speaks to me differently. It’s my first taste of everything. It’s part of my past, present and I know it will be my part of my future. All thanks to the songs, and those individual lines that rise up from within those songs like signposts along the highway, representing and reminding you forever just how special that piece of music is.
So I’ve written short pieces about 50 of these moments, these single lines from songs that I feel have come to define the era. Just some thoughts, trivia and stories. Here's a handful of them. Obviously there are hundreds more, and if this collection sparks interest, maybe I’ll get to more of them in the future.
'Maggie May'Rod Stewart
"The morning sun when it’s in your face really shows your age."
'Maggie May' has a history the just makes you scratch your head. It's one of these ludicrous instances when nobody seemed to know what they had on their hands. Did you know it was actually the B-side of 1971's 'Reason to Believe?' Maybe because it’s one of my favorite songs of all time but, that is just stunning to me that nobody saw the brilliance of this beautiful song about love with an older woman. As the story goes, Rod Stewart wrote this song about the first woman he ever had sex with, an event that happened in 1961 at the Beaulieu Jazz Festival. Guitarist Martin Quittenton came up with some of the chord structure in 'Maggie May' and as for the brilliant mandolin playing, that same day in the studio, Stewart had hired Ray Jackson to play on the song 'Mandolin Wind.' Since he was there anyhow, he was asked to come up with something else for 'Maggie May' and so he improvised right on the spot. Eventually, 'Maggie May' wound up on the top of the charts at the same time that the album it came from, 'Every Picture Tells a Story' also topped the charts. Interestingly, 'Maggie May,' which clocked in at 5:15, was released to radio stations in long form at a time when it was unheard of to play songs of that length on the radio. But since nobody at thought about it as a single, there had been no edited version prepared for it until later. As for the lyric line I chose, I think what stands out in that line is the honesty conveyed by Stewart. I remember as a kid hearing that and thinking, wow, he's not sugar coating this thing at all. Brutal honesty! But of course, when you follow it up with the line, “But that don't worry me none, in my eyes you’re everything,” then really there is nothing to worry about. As much of a jet set playboy sex symbol as would become, this song that ironically made him a star truly conveys a sense of respect, innocence and wonder of the female form. Just an exquisite piece of music.
'Stairway to Heaven'Led Zeppelin
"If there’s a bustle in your hedgerow, don’t be alarmed now… "
As epic and exotic as the whole of 'Stairway to Heaven' was, is and will and always be, how stunning and interesting is the enigmatic line, "If there’s a bustle in your hedgerow, don’t be alarmed now?" I remember being 12 years old, trying to resolve that single sentence. What did it mean? Was it some strange Viking code? Some Aleister Crowley occult-inspired inner circle Zeppelin lingo?
As the Urban Dictionary breaks it down: “A hedgerow is a hedge that surrounds many estates in Britain. Bustle, or noise or activity, used in this sense, means a disturbance close to home. Something's happening in your world!"
"It's just a spring clean for the May Queen..."
"Spring cleaning is an old domestic ritual cleaning meant to do away with the troubles of the past year and prepare for the coming year, and often includes disposing of old, useless things that have been lying around. The May Queen was a maiden chosen by a village to represent the hopes and potential for the coming year. She was a symbol of beauty, spring and new beginnings. So here, as an analogy, the lyric refers to getting rid of old and outdated systems in order to allow progress to occur. Or it can refer to menarche, or the first menstrual cycle, signifying that a girl is coming of age.”
Are they right? Who knows? And who really cares? The meaning isn’t the point. The point is the mystique of the line; the power of the unknown (and yes, that is a song with many contenders for lines like this.)
'Tiny Dancer'Elton John
"Blue jean baby, L.A. lady, seamstress for the band… "
Certain songs announce themselves as something special from the very first sentence and I think 'Tiny Dancer' is one of them. It was in one of Elton John's biggest hits but it has stood the test of time and become a staple of his concerts thanks in part to things like being featured in the movie 'Almost Famous.' Because it is dedicated to lyricist Bernie Taupin's first wife Maxine Feibelman on the album 'Madman Across the Water,' many thought that it was written for her. But it was actually composed to reflect the spirit of the many gorgeous women Taupin met while traveling with Elton John in Southern California in 1970. That's what's interesting to me. Here are two Brits that come over and with a simple introductory sentence, they capture the mood of the times. Blue jean baby. L.A. lady. How many images you conjure up in your mind from those words alone? Of course there are many other lush and appealing musical elements within the song from the string section to the steel guitar, but in the true Tin Pan Alley fashion that these men crafted so many times back in the 1970s, the story sucks us in from the very first syllable. When I saw Elton John play recently and he started with the song, the moment the crowd heard this line they went crazy; they knew what was to come. One of Elton John's most soaring and durable classics that may or may not been written about a woman who sews up band costumes. But does it even really matter?
'Walk on the Wild Side'Lou Reed
"Plucked her eyebrows on the way, shaved her legs and then he was a she."
That this song could air on AM radio, without edits, speaks to the openness and beauty of breadth that the 1970s represented. True, there, was probably also some naiveté as to the meaning of certain lyrics, part of the “ignorance is bliss” sensibility of the times, but still, in 6th grade, because of this song, many of us were singing “And the colored girls go, doo doo doo doo doo…” We were also sort of wondering how a he could become a she. In the one line I cite here, Lou Reed manages to capture the velvety (yet seedy) underground of the androgynous movement. For many of us, this single sentence was our introduction to the concept of tranvestism (other lines shed light on prostitution, drugs and oral sex). This was not the sparkly makeup of glitter rock, as pushed by Bowie, T-Rex and the New York Dolls. There was a deeper, darker undercurrent to this observational, poetic gem by Reed (and produced by Bowie). This was more than a great listen. It was an education, a keyhole peek into the netherworld of cross dressing, downtown NYC and the Warholian circus. It was also a musical documentary in that in included a litany of very real characters, including Candy Darling, Holly Woodlawn, Jackie Curtis, and Joe Campbell (referred to as “Sugar Plum Fairy”) among others. Later in life, Reed would says that it was Nelson Algren's 1956 novel, 'A Walk on the Wild Side,' that inspired the song, though as the concept grew, he gradually incorporated elements from his own life.
'The Joker'Steve Miller Band
Where to even begin? The title of this book could easily have been 'The Pompitous of Love.' This sly and laid back number one hit that was released in late 1973 by Bay Area blues acolyte Steve Miller is probably as famous for the word “pompitous” as it is the novelty slide guitar riff that mimics a wolf whistle. To give this some further perspective, there was even a 1995 movie starring John Crier called 'The Pompitous of Love' in which the protagonist tries to get to the bottom of what the line means. Sitting here thinking about it, why wasn't this the title of the book? I can remember being in sixth grade and hearing teachers actually discuss the meaning of the line. Talk about a definitive lyric. For starters, there is actually is a word called “pompitous” in the Oxford English dictionary that means, “to act with pomp and splendor.” But we are far from done. Miller, also a doo-wop fan, probably came across the word in a song called 'The Letter' which was recorded by the Los Angeles doo-wop group, The Medallions, in 1954. The story of the song is a poignant one, as lead singer for the group, Vernon Green, just 16 at the time, wrote this song when he was crippled with polio. In that song is the line, “Let me whisper sweet words of dis-mortality and discuss the ‘puppetutes’ of love.” According to an interview with Green, “Puppetutes was a term I coined to mean a secret paper-doll fantasy figure [thus puppet], who would be my everything and bear my children."
In the song 'The Joker,' Miller connects the dots lyrically with some of his other previous songs. For instance, he had a 1969 song called 'Space Cowboy.' He also had a song called 'Gangster of Love.' And when he sings, “some people call me Maurice,” he's calling back to his 1972 song 'Enter Maurice.' Also in the song 'Enter Maurice' is this line: “My dearest darling, come closer to Maurice so I can whisper sweet words of epistemology in your ear and speak to you of the pompitous of love.” That's right, he actually used the word before! So there you have it. Clearly it was a word that intrigued Miller enough to use it not just once but twice, and in recording it in the latter version he gave us one of the strangest and most memorable lyrics of the decade. And I say that with complete pompitousness.
'Rock and Roll All Nite'Kiss
"You drive us wild, we’ll drive you crazy."
It really doesn't matter that the studio version of this anthem was a radio dud. After all, Kiss could barely get arrested on the radio in 1975, that was, until 'Alive!' was released. And of course it's the live version of this most recognized Kiss song that we remember best. As the legend has it, Casablanca record company president Neil Bogart stressed to Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons that they needed to come up with an anthem for their fans to latch onto. So in a Los Angeles hotel room one day, that's what the two did. Paul Stanley came up with the line “I want to rock 'n roll all night and party every day.” Simmons had worked on a song called 'Drive me wild' and what they ended up with was a hybrid of the two ideas. But that sentence, “You drive us wild, we’ll drive you crazy,” came to be a rallying cry at Kiss concerts. To date, almost every show they play closes with this song, as cannons of confetti turn arenas and stadiums into winter wonderlands. The close kinship that Kiss shares with its fans is imbued in a line like this. Not unlike the Grateful Dead, Kiss' relationship with their “army” of fans is a living, breathing thing that fuels both fan base and band. The mutual love affair and dedication to each other has been evident since the beginning, but it was this song and for me this particular sentence that really crystallized just what makes the Kiss-fan connection so unique. There are other bands with strong fan bases, but very few of them can boast several generations of devotees that still turn out for the shows and that still buy the merchandise. Say whatever you want about Kiss, in my opinion they are the single hardest working band on the planet along with being one of the most important bands of their, or any, generation.
'Do You Feel Like We Do?'Peter Frampton
Like 'Alive!,' 'Frampton Comes Alive' was another career saving double concert album that came to define the artist. For years, the boyish Frampton had paid his dues on the road after stints in the Herd, Humble Pie and Frampton’s Camel. As a solo artist in the early '70s he was the perfect fit with the times. His blonde curly locks and good-natured smile coupled with snazzy guitar playing gave him poster boy status right away. But the studio albums just never seemed to connect with a big audience. That all changed with this. His concerts were love fests between he and his small but adoring group of fans, hence the live record. The big hit single, 'Show Me The Way' introduced Frampton and his easy way with the talk box to the masses but it was this 14 minute and 15 second opus that gave Frampton more heavyweight chops than 'Show Me The Way,' 'Baby, I Love Your Way' and a number of other popular songs on the album. Few knew the studio version, which had been released in 1973. But this live version remains ingrained in our consciousness, a sprawling and freewheeling ode to a bad hangover. Seeing Frampton in concert back then, I'll never forget how he sang this line. Or, how the other 20,000 people in Madison Square Garden sang the line either. As I recall, Frampton didn't even sing, “Where the hell did I dine.” He simply cupped his hand to his ear and that was the cue for the audience to do it for him. It's a brilliant song that fits the mood of excessive drinking and dope in the red white and blue haze of 1976. This song remains a thrilling tour de force in concert and when I spoke to Peter about it recently he talked about how no two versions ever come close to ever being the same. Peter: “Oh, there are some signposts along the way that I'm familiar with. But beyond that every concert is an adventure with this song; an opportunity for something new to happen.”
'We're an American Band'Grand Funk Railroad
Who was “Sweet, sweet Connie,” we used to wonder back in the sixth grade? And what was her act? Good thing we didn't know back then as our young heads might've exploded back in 1973. One of the great anthems of the era, this was also Grand Funk’s first number one hit thanks in part to a sparkling production by Todd Rundgren. The origin of the song supposedly goes back to when Grand Funk was touring with the British band Humble Pie earlier in 73. During a drunken bar discussion after a show, both bands begin arguing about which country had given more to rock 'n roll. Grand Funk's drummer Don Brewer, according to legend, stood up and starting pounding his chest on behalf of such American legends as Little Richard, Elvis and Fats Domino. Inspired by the fight he put up on behalf of this country, they say he wrote the song the very next day. The song is essentially a road diary detailing that very tour, which included a stop in Arkansas where the band was serviced by the legendary groupie Connie Hamzy. Over the years, Hamzy claimed as her conquests everybody from John Bonham to Keith Moon, Peter Criss and even Bill Clinton when he was governor of Arkansas. This was a song that celebrated the rock 'n roll lifestyle and gave tantalizing peeks behind the curtain into the sex and drugs world that almost every band on the road got to indulge in. And as many great first-person observations that are in this song, the fact that they chose to honor Connie, to me, certainly qualifies it as a line that helps define the 1970s.
'Night Moves'Bob Seger
This was the song that took a blue-collar, Detroit city rock 'n roller and turned him into a star. Bob Seger was inspired by all the right things on this one. Evidently after he saw the movie 'American Graffiti,' he knew he wanted to document what his life was like growing up. As well, the tempo changes in Bruce Springsteen's 'Jungleland' also played a part in the development of the song. And for a lot of high school kids in 1976, how could a song about a young couple losing their virginity in the back of a Chevy not be a monster hit? That was something that gave this song its truly unique edge. Seger was not singing about romance. He was singing about sex. All of a sudden, the term “night moves” took on its own shape and form. All of a sudden, all of us began imagining our own night moves as we all got our driver’s licenses and started tasting that first bit of adolescent freedom. What also makes this line work extra hard for me was this notion that Seger introduced of people actually “using” each other. And the fact that “Neither one cared?” Man, this was pretty raw stuff for 1976. The entire song is punctuated with wonderfully evocative lyrics. And it was summertime, sweet summertime. With autumn closing in. All great, metaphoric stuff that feels as if Seger is talking about the seasons of his life versus just the seasons of that year. And a bit of trivia. When he says in the end of the song that he “Started humming a song from 1962,” well supposedly the tune he was thinking about was the classic 'Be My Baby' by the Ronettes.