If I were forced to pick one decade to live in forever, I’d pick the ‘70s. While the times were full of upheaval, long gas lines, nuclear meltdowns and ugly wars, it was really the last decade before consumerism/commercialism started accosting us at every available opportunity. It was the last decade before professional sports contracts went through the stratosphere. Music was still bought on vinyl for the most part, UHF was still a part of our day-to-day dialings (who remembers trying to watch inappropriate movies with a line through the middle of the screen?), emergency breakthroughs were the hackers incipient call waitings, and flattering fashions like bell bottoms hadn’t yet given way to parachute pants. Life was slower and economies weren’t yet fully globalized, which meant things were simpler. I’m sure a whole host of folks are jumping straight for the comments now to point out how naive some of what I’ve just written is, but that was another great thing about the ‘70s: as a nation, we were still fairly naive and simple, for better, for worse. The 1970s were pre-AIDS, pre-cellphone, and restaurant hostesses still asked “smoking or non?” If you walked into a record store like Peaches, for instance, your choices were Rock, Blues, Jazz, Classical, Show Tunes and Pop. Music and movies weren’t yet marketed to children at every opportunity and the slower pace of life was well-suited to reading sometimes 10-20 page books called liner notes that came inside double and triple albums. Lack of choice made things simpler, though that had its downside too because you were basically stuck with the 3 big television networks’ daily programming unless you could afford cable, which still only had two or three movie channels (Anyone remember Prism?!) a Laser Disc machine or Betamax tapes. Speaking of TV, simpler times meant stations still signed off at 1 or 2am with our national anthem before going to snow. And no one complained! CNN was lurking around the corner, but as far as anyone was concerned in the ‘70s, news only happened at 6 and 11 (pictures at 11!).
These memories, of course, are largely personal. So don’t waste your breath attacking me in the comments today folks. I’m sure you have your own, highly subjective opinion of the ‘70s and that many people disagree with me. After all, Watergate was so disillusioning for so many, how could I call society still naive when that was 1974? What we CAN agree on, however, are the big events and images that paint a visual picture of what the decade was about. Here are 11 that really stick with me day in, day out.
1. May, 1970
Neil Young of CSNY summed the Kent State tragedy up when he sang
Tin soldiers and Nixon coming,
We're finally on our own.
This summer I hear the drumming,
Four dead in Ohio.
2. September, 1972
During the “Munich Massacre,” 11 members of the Israeli Olympic team were taken hostage and eventually killed by the Palestinian group Black September.
3. May, 1972
Magnavox Odyssey, the first commercially available video game console was released on May 24, 1972. The gaming world would never be the same again.
4. April, 1973
The World Trade Center complex opened on April 4, 1973. The twin towers were the tallest structures in the world until the Sears Tower was built in Chicago later that year.
5. August, 1974
After the Watergate scandal, Nixon resigns.
6. May, 1977
Produced with a budget of (only!) $11 million and released, the original Star Wars film earned $460 million in the United States and $337 million overseas, surpassing Jaws as the highest-grossing film of all time.
7. December, 1977
Saturday Night Fever epitomized the height of the disco craze and the night-club fashions of the times.
8. December, 1978
More than 10% of the Iranian people marched in anti-shah demonstrations on December 10 and 11, 1978.
9. March, 1979
Three Mile Island was the worst accident in U.S. nuclear power plant history as the partial meltdown released small amounts of radioactive gases and radioactive iodine into the environment.
10. May, 1979
When American Airlines Flight 191 crashed after taking off from O'Hare, all 258 passengers and 13 crew on board were killed, along with two people on the ground. Until 9/11, it was the deadliest air disaster in U.S. history.
11. June, 1979
During the Oil Crisis over the summer of ‘79, cars with a license plate ending in an odd number were only allowed to buy gasoline on odd-numbered days, while even-numbered plate-holders could only purchase gasoline on even-numbered days.