What defined 1973?
October 4, 2007 8:41 AM   Subscribe

What defined youth culture in 1973?

Specifically, I'm looking for clues that might provide a better understanding of society (mostly American) in 1973. That there were divisions is fairly evident ... How else do you explain Bowie's glam rock zenith occurring in the same year that "Tie A Yellow Ribbon" was the year's #1? Was it just a matter of young versus old, the oft-cited generation gap? Was there a split as defined as what we're experiencing now, with liberals on one side and conservatives on the other? Or was it more of a post-hippie backlash?

I am seeking either personal reminiscences or exemplary source material (books, movies, so on).
posted by grabbingsand to Society & Culture (30 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Artists like Bowie never had the kind of mass appeal you are talking about. I never understood how my parents really didn't get the popular music from the time that I discovered later. Then I realized the great mass of people from the time weren't hippies or yippies or anything--just regular joes like the rest of us.

For me youth culture in 1973 was defined by my 5 year old crush on the neighbor girl Kari. I think she liked me too . . .
posted by Ironmouth at 8:46 AM on October 4, 2007

Tie A Yellow Ribbon was not what I would call "youth culture." I was 11 in '73, and every single person my age hated that song. For my age group, though, Bowie was perhaps just a bit out there. Looking at a variety of singles charts, the ones that jump out to me as things I liked at the time would include Jim Croce, Elton John and Lynyrd Skynyrd. Paul McCartney & Wings, too.
posted by Doohickie at 8:49 AM on October 4, 2007

Response by poster: To clarify ... I'm not saying that kids were singing along to Tony Orlando and Dawn in 1973, but it would appear that their parents were doing so en masse.
posted by grabbingsand at 9:03 AM on October 4, 2007

Best answer: There really was a generation gap thing going on, though, and it kind of came to a head in 1973, which might be thought of as the last year of the 60s decade. I say this because:

1. The gas crisis meant that the muscle car exuberance of the 60s was over.
2. The space race was petering out (last moon landing was in '72).
3. Vietnam was also petering out.... it was clear that it was a failed policy by then- lots of body counts and negotiations is what I remember.

As a kid, each of these shaped my views, as would be reflected in adulthood:

1. American car brands, slow and clumsy in adopting fuel efficient designs, started their slide from prominence in the marketplace.

2. The wonder of space was beginning to fade. NASA started to become emblematic of government inefficency and waste.

3. Vietnam very sharply divided the the baby boomers from their WWII-fighting parents. My parents believed in the government; my generation doesn't trust it. This would come to a head a year or two later with Watergate..... if you're trying to capture the feel of the time, bear in mind that Watergate had *not* yet happened.
posted by Doohickie at 9:08 AM on October 4, 2007

If you're thinking musically, I think the bands I listed were listened to by both youth and their parents, except for Skynyrd.
posted by Doohickie at 9:13 AM on October 4, 2007

all the days in the year went into a hat, and somebody from the selective service administration would pull them out in the order that people born on those days would be drafted. if your birthday got pulled early enough in the lottery, you won an all-expenses-paid trip to vietnam!
posted by bruce at 9:15 AM on October 4, 2007

Lots and lots of pot.

And, yes, the so-called "generation gap" was a very real thing back then. Music was, indeed, highly divergent, reflecting the extremely different tastes of the parents and the children. Media was just catching-on to the youth market, so you had an explosion of radio outlets for the youth music (usually FM stations. Parents' music tended to be AM)

It's really hard to explain to people these days just how much of a gap there was between the generations. Long hair v. short hair. Sometimes it really does come down to a simple "parents never listened to rock" statement. I mean...most parents today grew up on music not too different from what their kids listen to today. The big exception is, of course, rap/hip-hop. And this, IMHO, is why rap has become so huge, especially among suburban white kids. It's music that their parents probably can't relate to.
posted by Thorzdad at 9:21 AM on October 4, 2007

You know what? I was 19 in 1973 and I don't remember any specific thing that "defined" youth culture then.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 9:42 AM on October 4, 2007

I was in high school in '73. I recall everyone wanting to be "hippies", which in the context of my all-boys Catholic high school meant blue chambray work shirts, long hair and work boots (this was our idea of hippies). Southern Rock was big, the Dead, too. The draft was ending (I never even registered) but Vietnam was still a topic. Lots of guys in school talked about skipping college and going to work on the Alaska pipeline, though I don't think anyone ever did.
posted by tommasz at 9:46 AM on October 4, 2007

What defined 1973? I'll tell you: orange shag carpeting. Deep, deep orange shag carpeting. Oh and lots of wiker and macrame wall hangings. Toss in avocado kitchen appliances and a Pacer, you're all set.
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 9:46 AM on October 4, 2007

Best answer: I hitchiked from Michigan to Arizona to hang out with friends that summer. I was 17. The Watergate hearings were on TV and everybody was talking about it. We were about four years into a hippy backlash. Once we all figured out that free love wasn't really all that free, and sharing all you own meant that people would just take what they wanted, we got pretty rebellious. My friends and I would mock the hippies, even though we, too, had long hair. The long hair was a tribal marker, you could go to any town in the US and find like-minded folks who would feed you, give you pot, get you nice and drunk and then maybe go through your stuff while you were sleeping to see if there was anything worth ripping off. If so, they would, if not they wouldn't, either way you got a ride to the next town or out to the highway. It also marked you for hassles from the police and average redneck citizens. Random guys would scream at you just because you had a ponytail. Our government was corrupt, our friends were being sent off to a sensless war and we could be next depending on a random lottery, drugs of all kinds were readily available so a lot of folks I knew spent their lives wasted until they managed to run their car into a bridge abutment or ODed or drowned. Musically my friends and I were listening to Iggy Pop, Jackson Browne, Frank Zappa and Gram Parsons. We were all pretty cynical, what with the war and Watergate.
And "Tie a Yellow Ribbon" is about a guy who's in prison, for whatever that's worth.
posted by Floydd at 9:50 AM on October 4, 2007 [4 favorites]

I was 11 at the time and the word hippie was pretty much not used at least where I was. If you were into drugs and that whole scene, you were a Fry or Freak. I honestly do not remember what so-called strait people were called since I was still pretty young at the time. I think of 1973 more in terms of popular things at that time. I do remember not giving a rats ass about music. If I liked the way something sounded, I listened to it whether it was Tony Orlando and Dawn or Black Sabbath.
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 9:56 AM on October 4, 2007

I do remember the first time I heard Nixon being referred to as "Tricky Dick" and asking her what that meant. She flew off into an angry diatribe that, even at my young age, seemed a little rabidly over the top and naive.

I did get the sense that there was a lot of anger at the government. My mother and I watched the Watergate hearings together and I got a small sense of what it was like to be "involved" or "informed" with regard to my country. Even for an 11 year old, that was weirdly empowering.
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 10:01 AM on October 4, 2007

Best answer: During most of the 1970s, there was a definite division in the radio listening audience, and it wasn't necessarily by age - it was a matter of those who listened to Top 40 and those "cool" people who listened to AOR (album oriented rock). In those days, it was a simple distinction - AM or FM. (Back then, you'd never hear songs like "I Shot the Sheriff" or "Sunshine" or "Shambala" on FM radio like you hear on classic rock stations today; if a song hit the Top 40, it was completely taboo for FM.)

So at school, if you liked songs like "Tie a Yellow Ribbon" or "Midnight Train to Georgia" or "Rock the Boat," you were dismissed as a teenybopper or bubblegummer. You had no clue. The truly cool kids listened to Alice Cooper, David Bowie, Mott the Hoople, Uriah Heep, and Led Zeppelin. "Head" shops sold black light posters of all the hard rock and glitter rock bands, and even if you didn't smoke pot, you'd still have a few of those posters in your room and maybe a marijuana leaf T-shirt just because that was the cool thing to do.
posted by Oriole Adams at 10:13 AM on October 4, 2007

Wasn't that the year of the poncho?
posted by thebrokedown at 10:25 AM on October 4, 2007

On the California coast, the defining youth activity was skateboarding. Adults didn't understand it at all, but if you didn't skateboard, you were probably off listening to "Tie a Yellow Ribbon" or something.

1973 was awesome.
posted by Aquaman at 10:50 AM on October 4, 2007

Ponchos were more late 60s/very early 70s. Micky Dolenz regularly wore won on The Monkees, and Marcia did on the Brady Bunch.

Looking back, it seems like men could wear makeup and not be accused of being gay. Back then, the press and public didn't really speculate about Bowie's sexuality; it was all about the music and the "look." At costume parties in high school, it wasn't unusual for guys to wear corsets, stockings and top hats a la Alice Cooper. Again, it wasn't considered effeminate, it was just cool. I guess that was our generation's version of sticking safety pins through your face.
posted by Oriole Adams at 10:50 AM on October 4, 2007 [1 favorite]

Is that a "real" poncho, or a Sears poncho? (Frank Zappa)
posted by Artful Codger at 10:52 AM on October 4, 2007

For me (teenager in a northern Ontario town), 1973 was:

jean-jacket over a hoodie
red plaid bushjacket ("Kenora dinnerjacket". And we knew where Kenora was)
workboots or ADIDAS ROM
Eagles, Doobie Brothers, Lynard Skynard, Led Zep, Alice Cooper, Wings (some guilty pleasures - KC and the Sunshine band, Elton John, Earth Wind and Fire)
excessive drinking condoned, lotsa grass

There was a marked generation gap, with the kids definately alot scruffier than most of the over-25s. Our parents REALLY didn't understand us; they weren't just saying it.
posted by Artful Codger at 10:53 AM on October 4, 2007

Keep in mind that many things that were "popular" during a certain era are filtered by time. The bands that "everyone" was listening to in the eighties are not what you hear in eighties compilations or music shows today. All the kids at my school were listening to Y&T and Ratt- only the random fringe elements listened to punk or new wave. Yet what was fairly obscure and unknown then is what everyone now thinks of as "80's" music.
The same thing is true of glam- it was a much smaller movement in the US than even in England. Yet everyone today pretty much knows what it is. So I don't think the top 40 at the time reflects parent's tastes vs. kids- teenagers were still the driving force behind record sales at that time. The coolest, freakiest fids just listened to music that at this point has stood the test of time more successfully than the pop crap.
posted by oneirodynia at 11:29 AM on October 4, 2007

Dark Side of the Moon was released in 1973 and everyone I knew had it. (Still do.) It was the kind of record the FM radio stations played but the AM ones didn't.

The movie Almost Famous is set in 1973 and I think it captures some of what people are talking about here.

For what it is worth, Roe v. Wade was decided in 1973.
posted by pasici at 12:28 PM on October 4, 2007

Let us never speak of this year again. *shudder*
posted by konolia at 12:35 PM on October 4, 2007

Lots of embroidery on my jean jacket, red tag levis, mexican embroidered blouses, long hair, drug culture as culture, Grateful Dead, Allman Brothers, Rolling Stones' Goats Head Soup, sitting around in parks in circles smoking pot, hitchhiking, the advent of 1.5 ZigZag rolling papers. We were reading The Electric KoolAid Acid Test and On the Road, anything about traveling. Four Way Window Pane and Blotter - for our hallucinating needs.
It's a wonder I can remember that much.
posted by readery at 12:48 PM on October 4, 2007

In terms of music I think some of what you're seeing is the divide between AM Top 40 and FM AOR, which were major divisions in the early '70s. You might hear the Beatles or the Rolling Stones on AM, but not Bowie or Led Zeppelin. The division between Pop and Rock was somewhat grey. Tony Orlando and Dawn was definitely Pop, the Beatles and the Stones straddled the line, Jimi Hendrix was Rock.
posted by doctor_negative at 12:50 PM on October 4, 2007

The answer to this question depends on how you define "youth." If you define it as teenagers, than I don't think Floydd's answer can be topped. If you want to understand broader cultural divisions among the music-buying public, as your question suggests, I think you have to look beyond teenagers to people in their twenties. In 1973, your classic I-was-18-during-the-summer-of-love baby boomer was 24, was buying a lot of music, and probably bought some Bowie albums. People born just a few years earlier (my parents included) belonged to the "cool generation" cohort, listened to Sinatra, and tended not to understand or particularly like the boomer generation or their music. (Sinatra's view of the generational divide between his fans and the younger generation is nicely summarized in the Esquire article here, though I realize it predates 1973 by 8 years). Still, the cool generation was young and active and influenced the culture greatly. For better or for worse, they also listened to "Tie A Yellow Ribbon" in a big way.
posted by A Long and Troublesome Lameness at 1:10 PM on October 4, 2007

There was unbounded optimism that has never been seen since. The future was going to solve all of our problems. In ten or twenty years we would not recognize now, maybe no hunger or disease. American Graffitti was another world, with bigger cars and cheaper gas and no Vietnam war, and that was about all anyone cared was missing.
posted by Brian B. at 5:02 PM on October 4, 2007

Best answer: Here's what I think drives my generation (as long as we're talkin' 'bout mah generation-- I was 17 in 1973)

1. Woodstock. In 1973 everyone between the ages of 18 and 25 was pretending they had either been to Woodstock, been on their way to Woodstock or knew someone who had been to Woodstock. And actually just about everyone did know someone who had been to Woodstock. You want to hear a true soundtrack of the era, that's the album to get. It was still resonating in '73.

2. The Vietnam War. Here it was true-- everyone you knew had either been to Vietnam, just missed the draft, or knew someone who had been to Vietnam. Up until 1972, young men lived in fear of the draft lottery, which ranked your draft eligibility by birthday. The anxiety was pervasive and had not dissipated by 73. I still get chills when remembering that my brother's draft number in 1972 the year he turned 19 (earliest eligibility) was 1. (The draft was ended two weeks after that last lottery.)

3. Legalized abortion. I graduated high school in 1973. Despite the fact that birth control pills were relatively inexpensive and easy to get (where I lived in a college town), 7 girls in my high school class of 300 either dropped out of school because of pregnancy, or were pregnant at graduation. And actually, those are just the ones I knew about. We were the last high school class that had this fear.

4. Nixon. I can't decide if he turned us into starry eyed "never again" idealists or cynical disconnected opportunists. Today's kids come home and log onto Facebook (or MeFi, forsooth). We came home and watched the live Watergate hearings every damn day after school. This was years before the 24-hour news cycle, when afternoon tv usually consisted of Dick Van Dyke reruns and "Dialing For Dollars" movies.

5. But what it all came down to, man, was sex and drugs and rock and roll. 'nuff said. I love my generation. Thanks for the trip down memory lane.
posted by nax at 5:47 PM on October 4, 2007 [1 favorite]

That there were divisions is fairly evident

The South was still Democrat and switching sides at a record pace over civil rights. However, Nixon still felt comfortable enough to walk out of the White House and into a park with war protesters and talk with them (but he was a Quaker and that kind of conversation was normal to him). The song, "Tie A Yellow Ribbon" is an interesting observation, because nobody young ever admitted to liking that song, but it was a powerful coming home song that used symbols from older songs to subconsciously signal to everyone that we were going to lose a war and must accept it. (Many would argue that the hidden shame of that loss is what swept away anything associated with it.) The one cultural gap I was keenly aware of in 1973 was top 40 AM versus freestyle FM radio.
posted by Brian B. at 5:54 PM on October 4, 2007

Best answer: Consider a typical white, middle-class high school graduate in 1973.

They would have been born around 1955. At no time would they have known the hard times or rationing that their parents, born let's say about 1925, would have known throughout their childhood and young adult years.

But the kid would have heard older kids, maybe an older brother or sister, talk about how much the world needed changing. As an adolescent, they might have looked up to them and copied them, just to look older faster.

Now in 1973 you have gas lines, inflation, America losing a war, and Watergate, all at the same time. The 'spoiled' kid is going out into a world of uncertainty. Maybe older brother was right, maybe the world did need changing.

To a lot of countercultural types, technology was not a friendly thing. Technology was the realm of the military and the government--the idea that tech could be "liberating" is still a few years away. The Media was 3 big TV networks and giant big city newspapers. Alternative or participatory media was humble and ephemeral, and rarely found away from the counterculture.

When our high school graduate goes off to college, they're lucky to have an electric typewriter and maybe even one of those new pocket calculators. Computers are often still in big glass rooms, telephones are wired to the wall in your house by Ma Bell.

Instead, you have "natural" showing up on food labels, granola and yogurt going mainstream, straw hats and peasant skirts and herbal essence shampoo.

The parents not only probably didn't "get" the music of the early 70s, they might be old enough to predate rock entirely. Dad might have fought on Okinawa, Mom might have lusted after a young Sinatra. Workplace equality for women, the way we understand it today, was still a new idea. And, these white, middle-class parents could easily have lived their entire lives without having any black people in their work, social or recreational circles.

The counter-revolution hadn't really gelled yet either, though. Reagan was 3 years away from his first--losing--presidential run, for example. Big evangelical mobilization was also still a few years away--in 1976 a lot of Southern Baptists would still vote for Jimmy Carter. If those parents were 'conservative', they were probably mainstream Protestant or Catholic, lunchbucket or grey-flannel-suit types. They might have used a catchphrase like "Silent Majority" to describe themselves. Archie Bunker, if I remember right, was an Episcopalian.

What both sides shared--and what put both sides at odds with each other--was a notion that things were going wrong. It was the other side's fault, of course.

And few people had anyone to look up to. There were powerful people, but few real leaders. The old guard was disgraced, and even some of the new rebels were wearing out their welcome.

Notable people born in 1955, for what it's worth.
posted by gimonca at 8:32 PM on October 4, 2007 [1 favorite]

I was five. Disney's Peter Pan was rereleased around that time; I remember wanting to be him.

My uncle's girlfriend gave my mother a subscription to Ms. (in its first year of publication) and she cut out its Stories for Free Children and put them in a binder for me--though I'm not sure how much else of its message sunk in.

My school used the Sullivan reading system with Sam, Ann and Mr. Know-it -All.

I heard people talking about Watergate, but I had no idea what they meant.
posted by brujita at 10:08 PM on October 4, 2007

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