The 1970s: Rock vs. Disco

Despite disco’s rise to prominence during the 1970s, it did not diminish classic rock’s popularity. By the ‘70s, bands like Led Zeppelin, The Who, and Grand Funk became full-blown celebrities and were touring the world to sold-out venues and raucous crowds.

As other bands gained popularity, groups such as The Beatles broke up and each member moved on to pursue solo careers. Then in 1977, rock music suffered one of its biggest losses with the death of Elvis Presley.

Elton John was the best-selling artist of the ‘70s. Hits like “Rocket Man” and “Crocodile Rock” had enabled him to score seven consecutive albums that debuted on the top of the Billboard charts. The 70s was without a doubt the biggest era for classic rock and cemented the genre in music history. (You may note that you will find some classic rock aficionados who would consider Elton John as more of progressive rock or pop rock artist, or sometimes even a glam rock artist)

By this decade where classic rock became wildly popular, fashion styles also changed with tight jeans, high heels and platforms with the ladies. Bell-bottom pants also ruled supreme in that generation and these translated into the preferred styles of rock bands and celebrities. The late 1970s also marked the emergence of electronic music and synth-pop.

One of the greatest bands of the ‘70s was Led Zeppelin, who formed in London around 1968. The band featured a sound that was built around the guitar with lots of blues and, later in their career, heavy metal. The quartet was credited with some of the earliest commercial successes of classic rock bands with their first album, Led Zeppelin. One of their most iconic songs, “Stairway to Heaven,” is arguably one of the top ten greatest classic rock songs of all time.

Pink Floyd was another English rock band who made critical acclaim for their unique mix of psychedelic and progressive rock. The quintet is one of the most successful rock bands in modern music history, having been inducted to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1996. Their 1973 album The Dark Side of the Moon is regarded as a rock masterpiece that has remained evergreen and one of the most beloved rock albums in history. The album sold more than 50 million copies globally, even more so long after the band left active recording and touring. They are regarded as one of the earliest bands to introduce esoteric and dynamic light effects and pyrotechnics during their live shows. Most of their songs were also considered quite radio-friendly.

The Eagles were established in 1971 and were led by Glenn Frey on lead vocals and guitar, Don Henley on drums and vocals and two other band members. The Eagles were so talented that their eponymous 1972 debut album had three songs that became big Billboard Top 40 hits. Their Greatest Hits album is a case study for most classic rock students in terms of the harmony and the sound range that the band was able to produce. They may not be the greatest ever classic rock band but they are definitely in the conversation no matter how you want to look at classic rock in the 70s.

Aerosmith is regarded as America’s greatest ever rock and roll band and is credited with setting the standard for hard rock and heavy metal from the 70s until many decades later. The Boston, Massachusetts-based quintet developed a unique riff boogie that was hard and loose, easy to listen to and extremely catchy. By hitting notes with both pianos, strings and guitars, they were able to execute a wide range of songs from soulful ballads to rock and roll anthems that came to live on.

The 70s also had a massive impact from The Rolling Stones, with its lead vocalist Mick Jagger experimenting with a wider variety of sound types and genres. The Stones were responsible for some of the best-ever rock songs on any all-time list. Specifically, they are credited with the blues-based rock sound that eventually set the tone for hard rock as we know it.