Have A Nice Decade: The '70s Pop Culture Box

Various Artists

Rhino Records, 1998

REVIEW BY: Michael Ehret

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 03/17/1999

The Rhino was robbed!

I don't want to knock Hank Williams, I really don't (mostly because I don't want to get flamed, not because I appreciate his music). But, this package from the reissue gods at Rhino is, hands down, one of the best repackagings Rhino's ever done - and that's saying a lot considering the folks at Rhino are the Kings of Reissue. It, and not Hank, should have won the Grammy for Best Historical Album.

Unfortunately, many people would like to forget the 70's ever happened (at least musically, if not completely) but this collection from Rhino won't let them. This collection demands that we take a new look at the tunes from the '70's - the decade everybody loves to hate. Yes, it's true, I grew up with this music so it's all genetically implanted in my brain, but I'm professional trained to be impartial - don't try this at home.

As this collection so handily demonstrates, there were plenty of great songs issued during the Smiley Face years. Of course, there was plenty of dreck as well -- and people seem to remember the dreck over the gold. For every "Bertha Butt Boogie, Part One" by the Jimmy Castor Bunch (included here) there is a "Tell Me Something Good" by Rufus, "Lady Marmalade" by LaBelle, and "Theme from Shaft" by Isaac Hayes (all included).

How to review seven mostly glorious discs (each disc packed to the max of around 79 minutes of music) without taking up a serious amount of space here in the Vault?

Q. What's the best way to eat an elephant?

A. One bite at a time.

So, I'm going to take four huge bites of this elephant: The Drecks, The Classics, The "Oh Yeah! I Remember That One" factor, and The "What Are These Doing Here?" factor.

So, Bite #1, The Drecks:

Let's just get this right out in the open: This disc does include several songs I'm sure you've tried to blank out of your mind. Sorry, but I'm going to reopen that vault and remind you of the worst of the decade: "Little Green Bag" (George Baker Selection); "Indian Reservation" (Raiders); "Popcorn" (Hot Butter); "The Candy Man" (Sammy Davis Jr.); "Daddy Don't You Walk So Fast" (Wayne Newton); "Kung Fu Fighting" (Carl Douglas); "Black Superman" (Johnny Wakelin); "Convoy" (C.W. McCall); "Disco Duck" (Rick Dees), and finally, the most horrible song of the decade, the aforementioned "Bertha Butt Boogie, Part One".

Can we all agree never, ever, to play or cause to be played, any of these songs again? I will take this moment to remind you that most CD players now have a programming feature that should make not playing these songs a breeze. You're all on your word of honor here.

Bite #2: The Classics:

These songs make the 70's worth remembering. No matter how many times I hear them they are still fresh and vibrant. (Remember, reviewers are paid - well most are - to give personal, albeit informed, opinions. You may not think these are classics - but, of course, you'd be wrong.) In addition to the songs by Rufus, Labelle and Hayes noted above, here are just a few of the classics included on this set: "American Woman" (The Guess Who); "Didn't I" (The Delfonics); "Band Of Gold" (Freda Payne); "Family Affair" (Sly & the Family Stone); "I'll Be Around" (Spinners); "Me And Mrs. Jones" (Billy Paul); "Stuck in the Middle With You" (Stealer's Wheel); "Love Train" (O'Jays); "Midnight Train To Georgia" (Gladys Knight and The Pips); "I'm Not In Love" (10cc); "Fame" (David Bowie); "December, 1963" (The Four Seasons); "Right Back Where We Started From" (Maxine Nightingale); "I Will Survive" (Gloria Gaynor) and, arguably, one of the best disco songs ever, "I Love The Nightlife (Disco Round)" (Alicia Bridges):nbtc__dv_250

"Please don't tawk about luv tonight, please don't tawk about sweeheet luv. Please don't tawk about being tarue, and all the tarouble that we've been through. . . . I want to go where the people dance, I want some ackSHUN, I wanna live. AckSHUN , I got so much to give. I want to give it. I want to get some too."

Don't you just love the beauty of a classic one-hit wonder? Sort of makes you nostalgic for the 70's doesn't it? I know it does me. I'm starting to get dewey-eyed just thinking about it. Of course there are other classics included in the set - that list is just a sampling.

Bite #3: "Oh Yeah, I Remember That One"

These songs are those that can only be listened to in the context of remembering the 70's. They are the ones that, if you are really lucky, you don't have imbedded too deep into your brain because if you do, they've probably become part of Bite #1, The Drecks. Nevertheless, here are some of those songs: "Love Grows (Where My Rosemary Goes)" (Edison Lighthouse); "Signs" (Five Man Electrical Band); "Want Ads" (The Honey Cone); "One Tin Soldier" (Coven); "Joy" (Apollo 100); "Alone Again (Naturally)" (Gilbert O'Sullivan); "The Morning After" (Maureen McGovern); "Cat's in the Cradle" (Harry Chapin); "Midnight At The Oasis" (Maria Muldaur); "Bad Blood" (Neil Sedaka - with a background assist from Elton John); "Fly, Robin, Fly" (The Silver Convention); "Afternoon Delight" (Starland Vocal Band) and "Werewolves of London" (Warren Zevon).

Bite #4: "What Are These Doing Here?"

Oh sure, these songs were recorded in the 70's, but in a collection like this one I would want the compiler to stay away from including songs that have transcended time - songs that anyone with any interest at all in popular music already has copies of. Yeah, they're 70's songs, but they are much more than 70's songs: "Fire and Rain" (James Taylor); "Let's Stay Together" (Al Green); "Maggie May" (Rod Stewart); "Lean on Me" (Bill Withers); "You're So Vain" (Carly Simon); "You're No Good" (Linda Ronstadt); "Shining Star" (Earth, Wind and Fire); "Evil Woman" (Electric Light Orchestra); "Free Bird" (Lynyrd Skynyrd) and "Sir Duke" (Stevie Wonder).

But, unbelievably, music is not the only truly cool thing about this set from Rhino. Also fantastic is the way they've taken bits and pieces of news reports about significant 70's events and spliced them in between the songs - often to hilarious effect. And if you don't like the snippets, they can easily be avoided by either playing the discs in shuffle mode or programming the songs you want to hear.

And can we talk about packaging for a moment?

There are seven discs in this collection - and because of ingenious storage techniques it takes up less room than some boxed sets I've seen with three or four discs. Included is a wonderful booklet with an ongoing timeline of classic 70's events and great liner notes referencing every song included in the collection. The book is full of photos and Top 5 lists of the most popular things of the decade.

This collection unashamedly celebrates the decade most of us would like to forget - but I for one am glad that it does. Sure, there are some songs missing, but with the recent resurgence of all things '70-ish (have you seen the platform heels 12-year-old girls are wearing?) there are scads of additional 70's music collections out there. Don't be fooled, however, this collection is the real thing - and well worth the investment.

The Grammys didn't give this collection it's due - but let me tell you, it's a whole lot more fun than Hank Williams. Peace and love, baby

Rating: A

User Rating: Not Yet Rated


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© 1999 Michael Ehret and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Rhino Records, and is used for informational purposes only.