I know that the phrase “1970's’ can evoke a myriad of disparate images ranging from Travolta’s white suit to Kotter’s bushy mustache. From Nixon and Ali to Skylab and Secretariat. And any seventies retrospective would be remiss from mentioning Pink Lady and Jeff in the opening stanza.
And yet, so many of my 70’s memories, and I assume this is true for many, look a lot like the 1950’s. Whether it’s Happy Days or Grease or American Graffiti, America was under the spell of its first wave of commodified, commercialized oldies nostalgia.
Pop culture, and pop music specifically, had previously been disposable and disposed of, never to be returned to as fickle teen fans moved steadily forward to the next fad. But now, not that long after, people were nostalgically seeking to recapture the pre-Beatles, pre-Vietnam, pre-hippies feelings of a time before everything seemingly got “too heavy.”
This isn’t meant to be any definitive look at the topic. Instead it’s just a product of curiosity in the topic, manifesting itself in a late night Twitter deep dive thread. What follows is that deep dive and a lot of swimming around below the surface. Most of the original research came from https://www.stereogum.com/2035317/the-number-ones-chuck-berrys-my-ding-a-ling/columns/the-number-ones/, from https://scrammagazine.com/2016/02/25/yesterday-once-more-digging-the-70s-50s-revival/, and from https://powerpop.blog/2018/10/16/the-50s-revival-in-the-1970s/. I just tried making entertaining tweets from these and other sources.
In my research, I learned about the first oldies concert packages, the first oldies radio station in America and the first effort to package a series of pre-British Invasion hits on to the same album.
While, there had been other harbingers of the fifties nostalgia craze beginning to emerge, none was a more clear siren song than 1968’s Elvis Comeback Special on NBC, that saw Elvis Presley recapturing his late 50’s mojo.
Other harbingers included a Fats Domino comeback album in full 50’s splendor, the oft-discussed appearance of Sha Na Na at Woodstock, and the packaging of pre-Beatles rock and roll legends into mega concert tours by Richard Nader.
Capitol Records capitalized (see what I did there) on the mania for safer sounds by issuing these Beach Boys and Beatles compilations focusing on their pre-experimentation eras.
Link to Rick Nelson who wrote about his experience at the Richard Nader MSG extravaganza. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uAHR7_VZdRw
Three pre-Beatles hit makers that all, inexplicably returned to number on the Hot 100 in the mid 70's:
Like the music of that era, movies set in the late 50's/ early 60’s soon followed suit.
And as 1979 turns into 1980, we conclude with the man whose music originally cast fifties rock and roll and early sixties pop into the forgotten bin, only to be resurrected and reassessed by those who loved it in the first place, John Lennon being among them.
So, that’s all I’ve got for now. In truth, this only scratches the surface with our collective fifties nostalgia binge we experienced together in the 1970’s. And now nostalgia, in every form, is a quantifiable, easy-to-package commodity for every subsequent generation. That said, it’s hard to imagine a more swift and profound cultural shift than the one that occurred between 1964 and 1970. It’s a shift that made the return of fifties fashion, music, and culture both so anachronistic and so welcome.