What is it that you think of when you think of the 70’s? When most people look back to that time, the first things that usually come to mind are disco, gas guzzling automobiles, Watergate, inflation, bad hair and of course, very bad clothes. Tom Brokaw, when speaking at the funeral of President Gerald Ford a few years ago referred to it as “that fashion meltdown known as the 70’s” when referring to some of President Ford’s more memorable wardrobe items of the time. No matter how you cut it, he was right: the clothes were awful and time has not softened most people’s feelings about what was considered to be in style. I remember this period of time very well because I am what most would consider to be a child of the 70’s.
I wasn’t born in the 70’s so if you want to get technical about it, I guess I was a child of the 60’s first but I spent the majority of my childhood in that “fashion meltdown” and I consider it to be the decade that shaped me and those I grew up with. I don’t know anyone my age or close to it that enjoys looking at photographs of themselves during that time because in those snapshots of past life, we all looked like extras on the cast of the “The Brady Bunch” or escapees from a circus with our colorful attire and our hair that grew over our ears.
I had bell bottom corduroys and striped pants. I had turtleneck shirts that zipped up the front and one button up shirt that I think qualified as paisley. My brother and I both had a pair of Dingo denim boots. I even had a brown t-shirt that featured a picture of a bright orange Corvette with the words “Wraps your ass in fiberglass” stenciled underneath. It’s a wonder we weren’t scarred for life. The only consolation for your parents sending you to school dressed this way (without the Corvette shirt of course) was that everyone else was dressed just as bad as you were so nobody really noticed. As you can see, I don’t look very happy about being made to wear this stuff!
The adults dressed just as badly, all the way up to the President. I remember President Nixon’s ties was enormous and President Ford liked wearing plaid sport coats. He is wearing something like that in his presidential portrait on display in the White House. Lapels on suits went back almost to your shoulders and it wasn’t unusual for them to wear white leather shoes with a sky blue leisure suit. The style and elegance of the early 60’s had been completely swept away by the time the early 70’s had arrived.
This was the scene when I was a young kid and aside from fashion gone wild, it was a pretty good time to grow up in because when I think back to the things I liked about that era, I can remember a lot of them.
Some of the best shows on television came about in the 1970’s. Among my favorites were “The Walton’s” , “Little House on the Prairie” and “Apple’s Way” because these were family night TV shows that we would all gather in the family room together to watch on the big wooden console TV set. We didn’t have a remote control back then so Dad would frequently tell one of us to “turn it up a little” or “put it on channel 2” and we would comply. For an hour, we would become immersed in the lives of families living back in the Great Depression or out on the frontiers of the prairie or even in our town times. Sometimes we got to watch the CBS evening movie and once we got to stay up late to watch “Gone with the Wind” the first time it premiered on TV.
For action and adventure, Steve Austin, “The Six Million Dollar Man” gave us plenty. So did the paramedics on “Emergency”, with there daring rescues, high-rise fires and multiple vehicle accidents in and around Los Angeles. Police dramas were plentiful too and I still get the “Hawaii 5-0” song stuck in my head anytime I hear it. For comedy, their was Archie Bunker and George Jefferson, while for science fiction we had reruns of “Star Trek” to tide us over until a relatively unknown producer brought “Star Wars” to the movie theaters, a phenomenon that has captured new generations of viewers since it came out.
I remember other great 70’s movies as well (and have several of them in my iTunes collection). Movies explored a lot of “what if?” themes and the “Disaster” movies were born such as “Earthquake”, “The Towering Inferno” and the various “Airport” films. They explored post-apocalyptic scenarios of life on earth after a variety of cataclysmic disasters such as in “The Omega Man” , “Logan’s Run” and the “Planet of the Apes” series. Some of my friends even had lunch boxes with the “Apes” featured prominently…and then there was “Jaws”, a movie I should have never gone with my mother and cousins to see while vacationing at Daytona Beach.
Going to the movies was still a BIG DEAL in the 70’s. There were less theaters back then and most of them, even in Macon and Atlanta only had, at most, three cinemas for viewing the releases of the day. You had a few choices of snacks, mainly popcorn, a small variety of candy and and soft drinks. Movies theaters today can barely get by with less than 16 cinemas, a buffet of food items and a video arcade to entertain until time to go into the theater. Stadium seating wasn’t heard of yet although there was at least a slope to the floor so you could see over the person in front of you (usually).
We would load up in the family car and head to Macon, usually for dinner at Shakey’s Pizza, then on to one of Macon’s two decent movie theaters to see one of the latest offerings. Sometimes our friends would go with us. Four kids could easily sit in the backseat of the behemoth Buick that my mother drove without any problem.
I think what I remember most about the 70’s though was the music. Disco was at a fever pitch then, especially if it was Saturday Night Fever and the music had a great beat. KC and the Sunshine band were among my favorites and I still remember in the mid-90’s going with my cousins in Huntsville to hear them perform live at “Disco Inferno” where we spent the evening reliving the 70’s with a couple thousand 20 to 40 something year olds. Queen, the BeeGees and others were big name groups that were popular and Michael Jackson was just one of five when ABC was as easy as 123. We spun their tunes on our 45 rpm records with reckless abandon until we began to replace them with cassette tapes (with Dolby no less!).
Times were a lot simpler back then. We didn’t have the enormous choices we have today nor the electronic gadgets we do now to clutter our thoughts. Even though the choices were fewer, oftentimes I think they were better choices and more appreciated than they are now. Today many families don’t gather around the TV anymore for an hour of family television that centered around….well, families. Today it’s about having 500 channels to watch and reality television. Then it was the Walton’s and the Ingalls; today it is reality television where the current fad is watching some child named Honey Poo Poo or something like that and her dysfunctional redneck family. Then it was disco with its groovy beat, light tones and sounds of freedom; today it is hip-hop and bad lyrics.
Some things are a lot better though and I would be wrong not to mention them too. Clothes, at least overall, are much better and we don’t have to look like leftover casting rejects from the Brady family. The cars, while maybe not as grand in scale are certainly better made and much more fuel-efficient. Shag carpet and orange formica countertops are out and maybe they won’t come back anytime soon but honestly, did we notice those things as much when we were in those times than we do looking back at them? Formica was all the rage and bright colors were big and if the cars got abysmal gas mileage, at least gas was cheap back then. My first car was a 1975 Ford Elite which was 7 years old when I got it and it was a gas guzzling tank. I think when it was new, gas had been like $0.40 per gallon; by the time I got it, it had shot up to like a $1.35 a gallon (I know what you are thinking) and it got ten miles to gallon on a good day.
Movies are far more advanced too, with CGI effects and animation that was impossible back then… but are the stories today as engaging and entertaining as they were then? Charlton Heston was a larger than life hero and George Burns showed a comedic side to God Himself, in an engaging and thought-provoking way. Sure, the Poseidon was a plastic model in a bathtub when it was tipped over by a rogue wave but back then, it was more about the story than the special effects.
We didn’t worry as much about evil in the world, even though it was there. Those of us who grew up in small towns knew our neighbors, rode our bikes all over town and played after sundown with our friends without our parents having to worry too much about us. Everyone was keeping an eye out for us.
We had better toys to play with too. They didn’t tear up as easily and they made you use your imagination. GI Joe (with Kung-Fu grip) had 100 accessories to outfit him for any mission you could think of. Lego wasn’t designed to just build one thing but anything you could imagine and had enough pieces for. Hot Wheels and Matchbox cars were never-ending and some of the ones I had are quite valuable today. We washed our bicycles like our parents did their cars and took care of them and you couldn’t destroy a Schwinn before you outgrew it. When I look at all the stuff my son has today I doubt he could have survived the 70’s and we had a lot compared to what our parents had.
McDonald’s was an occasional treat, not an expectation and without the lure of the Happy Meal, I guess we didn’t mind too much. Summer break lasted three full months and were among the best times of the year. It was safe to Trick or Treat at Halloween most anywhere and the only worries we had was how long our costume would hold up for play time after it was over (they didn’t hold up). A Coca-Cola cost a quarter out of the drink machine and it came in a real glass bottle that required a bottle cap opener, conveniently placed on the front of the machine. To this day, a Coke in a true bottle still tastes better than Coke in a can or plastic bottle and it stayed cold longer too. My favorite Christmas commercials was the group singing “I’d like to teach the world to sing” and the Norelco commercial with Santa riding an electric razor. I still miss Mr. Owl and the Tootsie Roll commercial. The Pink Pig in Atlanta will never be the same at Macy’s as it was in the downtown Rich’s store.
When it is all said and done, the 70’s weren’t the greatest decade in the 20th century but in many ways, it was the last one from those good years after World War II as the Baby Boomers grew up to have my generation, bringing with them much of that idyllic time from the 50’s and 60’s with them. The times were unique, the clothes were bad, the music was great and everyone kind of had their last hurrah before the decade of greed arrived and led to the rise of the yuppies and MTV.
Maybe I’m looking back through rose-colored glasses because there were a lot of problems during that decade too but I’d rather spend time looking at a Super 8 home movie from the past than a lot of what comes on TV today. I’d just as soon forget the bell bottoms and plaid but I still use my mom’s Avocado green Tupperware bowl and the color doesn’t bother me as much as it used to. We also got to watch America turn 200 years old and a centennial birthday just doesn’t come along more than once in most of our lifetimes.
Would I go back to the 70’s? You bet I would, at least to visit and relive those times for a while. I’d even sleep on the floor if I had to. I’ve traded shag carpet for hardwood floors today but if I had to, I’d take the shag any day. Just not burnt orange shag, okay?