ByNathan Fleischman, writer at
Nathan Fleischman

In Part 1, I showed some influential composers, most of which were interconnected in terms of influence. This is not always the case. While Part 1 includes composers from the 1960s as well as the 1970s, Part 2 only features composers whose heyday was in the 1970s. Here is Part 2 of this list:

Isaac Hayes

You probably remember Isaac Hayes for his role as Chef McElroy in South Park. However, in the 1970s, Isaac Hayes was one of the architects of soul music. Funk, disco, contemporary R&B, and hip-hop can trace their roots to this guy. His most iconic song is the Theme from Shaft. This theme for the movie Shaft defined the sound of the controversial blaxploitation genre. Hayes also paved for other African-American composers in film as well as the development of disco. This is why he makes this list.

Marvin Gaye

Here's Motown! Marvin Gaye started his career in Motown. During the 1960s, Motown wanted nothing to do with politics. However, as the decade ended, Marvin Gaye had enough of this. He composed What's Going On, a song inspired by a police brutality incident witnessed by his collaborator Renaldo Benson. Berry Gordy would not release the song, and Marvin Gaye responded by going on strike. Gordy then released the song as part of a concept album of the same name. What's Going On topped the R&B charts, hands down. His second concept album, Let's Get It On, proved to be just as influential. If Marvin Gaye hadn't been murdered by his own father in 1984, he would still be composing songs. Gaye makes this list because he paved the way for more African-American composers, including the next one on this list.

Stevie Wonder

Like Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder also started his career at Motown. He also broke with Motown just like Gaye. It was then that he became one of the most influential composers of the 1970s. His classic period from 1972 to 1976 included his most influential albums, Talking Book, Innervisions, Fulfillingness’ First Finale, and Songs in the Key of Life. These albums helped pioneer the stylistic approaches that defined pop music in the 1980s. I should add that he can't see. Stevie Wonder was born prematurely which led to his blindness. Stevie Wonder lived in a world of sound all of his life which he led to his career as a singer-songwriter. The albums of his classic period were very influential. That is why he makes this list.

Bruce Springsteen

If you are familiar with Aaron Copland and Bob Dylan, there is the chance you have heard of Bruce Springsteen. He was the father of modern Americana music. He sought to return rock music to its roots. His first successful album Born to Run started it all. It helped Springsteen reach mainstream popularity. His songs contain the influence of folk music, country music, pre-Beatles rock n' roll, and pre-Motown rhythm and blues. This music culminated in the album Born in the U.S.A. in 1984. In the titular track, synthesizers are incorporated. Springsteen clones are everywhere. Bruce Springsteen also influenced future country music stars like Garth Brooks. That is why he is on this list.

The Eagles

The reason why the entire band is here is because not a single member can be considered to have written all the songs the band sang. Each song, however, contains a lot of influence from country music. As the leading American band of the 1970s, the Eagles composed a lot of songs. Their signature song, Hotel California, was composed by band members Don Felder, Don Henley, and Glenn Frey. Latin influences are present in this song. The band experimented with other genres as well. They also influenced the beginning of arena rock. That is why they are on this list.

Miles Davis

Miles Davis was an influential composer in the history of jazz. The composer was at the forefront of many post-World War II jazz styles. The first was bebop. This complex style with a fast tempo is more associated with Charley Parker and Dizzy Gillespie. This was followed by cool jazz with its relaxed tempo. Then came hard bop which was an extension of bebop with R&B influences. This was followed by modal jazz which used musical modes instead of chord progressions. Finally, Davis was a pioneer in jazz-rock fusion which fused jazz with rock music. This gave rise to smooth jazz which is the jazz equivalent of minimalism. Miles Davis was the forefront of jazz innovation. That is why he makes this list.

Freddie Mercury

Farrokh Bulsara a.k.a. Freddie Mercury was the lead singer and songwriter of the rock band Queen. Born in Zanzibar and raised in India, Freddie Mercury settled in Britain in 1964 after a brief residence in his birthplace ended in persecution of Arabs, and South Asians (like Freddie who was a Parsi). When Queen was formed in 1970, Freddie Mercury suggested the name of the band. Mercury did not write all of the band's songs. The other band members wrote some of the songs. However, the band's most famous song, Bohemian Rhapsody, was written by Freddie Mercury. Released in 1975 on the album A Night at the Opera (named after the Marx Brothers film), Bohemian Rhapsody was a progressive rock piece that was influenced by the music of the opera. The album as a whole featured songs that had influences from past styles a well as styles that were popular at the time like hard rock and heavy metal. That is why Freddie Mercury is on this list as A Night at the Opera is the most iconic album of the rock band he was a member of until his death in 1991.

Fleetwood Mac

This rock band was a major influence on pop music in the 1970s. The name came from two of its members. Each member of the band contributed songs to the band's albums. The band started out as a blues rock band in the late 1960s. However, it is their pop-rock period from 1975 to 1987 that is covered here. Their most important album was Rumours. It included songs like Dreams by Stevie Nicks and Go Your Own Way by Lindsay Buckingham which proved influential. The soft rock sound of this album influenced later rock bands. That is why Fleetwood Mac is on this list.

John Williams

One trend in classical music in the late 21st century is polystylism. John Williams is the epitomy of polystylism. When it comes to the classical repertoire, it is only a matter of time before John Williams becomes part of it. Williams was good at jazz, piano, and symphonic music. John Williams did not come into the public until 1975 when he composed the film score for the movie Jaws. John Williams has produced many iconic film scores including Star Wars, Close Encounters of the Third, Superman, Indiana Jones, E. T. the Extra-Terrestrial, Jurassic Park, Schindler's List, Saving Private Ryan, and Harry Potter. Some like Jaws were influenced by Bernard Herrmann. Others like Star Wars were influenced by Late Romantic/Post-Romantic/Early 20th Century composers. Through his film scores, John Williams revived the symphonic film score, influencing later composers of film scores. This went hand-in-hand with the beginning of the blockbuster. That is why John Williams is on this list.

Jerry Goldsmith

Jerry Goldsmith is considered one of film music history's most influential composers. He initially tried to go into concert music, but turned to film music instead because it was more profitable. His first big film score for Planet of the Apes was controversial as it was completely avant-garde. It was influenced by 12-tone serialism. Chinatown combined jazz with East Asian music. The Omen used an avant-garde style. Alien used exotic instruments like the Jewish shofar, the Australian didgeridoo, and the Trinidadian steel pan. Star Trek: The Motion Picture contained a score that combined John Williams-style orchestration with electronic instruments that were used for sound effects. This was his most iconic film score. By the time Goldsmith died in 2004, he was recognized for his film music. His 20th-century music style influenced later composers. That is why he makes this list.

The Bee Gees

The 1970s were known for disco. The Bee Gees were at the forefront of this music genre. Barry, Robin, and Maurice Gibb started out in rock music before turning to disco. Most notable of their contributions was the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack. Disco incorporates classical instruments. Of note is the Bee Gees signature song, Stayin' Alive. This song contains a lot of keyboard use. Disco influenced future music which made use of the minor seventh chord. The Bee Gees went into decline in the 1980s due to the backlash against disco which I consider to be racist. Yes, I like disco, and I am proud of it. However, no one could stop the influence of disco. That is why the Bee Gees are on this list.

Bob Marley

Bob Marley was a composer from Jamaica who popularized the Jamaican style of reggae in America and Britain. He released in Jamaica at first. Then, he started bringing reggae to the US and the UK. His 1977 album, Exodus, was produced after an assassination attempt the previous year led Marley to move to London. The songs in this album ended up influencing the development of hip-hop. Sadly, Bob Marley died of cancer in 1981. His popularization of reggae and influence on hip-hop are the reason why Marley is on this list.

This is only Part 2 which focuses on R&B, jazz, disco, and film composers from the 1970s. Part 3 will feature composers of punk rock, new wave, hair metal, contemporary R&B, hip-hop, and electronic music from late 1970s and 1980s. Yes, the King of Pop, Michael Jackson, will be in Part 3.


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