Friday, 18 August 2017

1970 in Music...

There was a lot of good music in 1970 (I suspect in reality there was a lot of good music coming out in just about any year you could mention). The real question is where to start - do you look at bestselling singles, or Albums, UK, USA or elsewhere? What about songs that are considered important and still played today, or should I be listening to those songs that have been all but forgotten?

To start off with, here's the top 10 songs from 1970, per the UK charts.

  1. The Wonder of You by Elvis Presley
  2. In the Summertime by Mungo Jerry
  3. Band of Gold by Freda Payne
  4. Bridge Over Troubled Water by Simon & Garfunkel
  5. Two Little Boys by Rolf Harris
  6. Wand'rin Star by Lee Marvin
  7. Spirit in the Sky by Norman Greenbaum
  8. Back Home by The England World Cup Squad
  9. All Right Now by Free
  10. Yellow River by Christie
There are some good songs on here, The Wonder of You is a really nice Elvis song that I don't remember hearing before (it wasn't originally an Elvis song though, it was written by Baker Knight in 1959, and recorded by various artists before Elvis including the Platters and The Sandpipers). I really like Band of Gold and Bridge Over Troubled Water, and I also enjoyed the dry, rasping voice of Lee Marvin singing Wand'rin Star. Lee Marvin is actually an actor of the 1960s and 1970s, and he sung this song in the 1969 film Paint Your Wagon. The film was a flop, but the song was a big success - Marvin never followed it up with another song, so is a definite one hit wonder.

The US chart has some of the same songs but mostly different ones, including:

(They Long to Be) Close to You - by the Carpenters
Aint No Mountain High Enough by Diana Ross
Let It Be by The Beatles
I'll Be There by the Jackson Five
Raindrops Keep Fallin' on my Head by B J Thomas

I have made a playlist on Spotify of some of bestselling songs of 1970, and a few other songs that came out in that year that are notable, or just ones that I like :)


UK Top 100 1970 -
US chart 1970 -

Saturday, 12 August 2017

1970 in Books

So what were the bestselling books of 1970? Well number one will be familiar to anyone who has read my 1970 at the Movies article - Love Story by Erich Segal. It must be one hell of a good story to make it to number one in books and the movies! Other books in the top 10 include:

The French Lieutenant's Woman by John Fowles (no. 2)
Islands in the Stream by Ernest Hemingway (no. 3)
Travels with my Aunt by Graham Green (no. 8)

It's not all about bestsellers however (plus this is taken from the US bestsellers, as that's all I could find), what other good books were published in 1970? Well for that I turned to Goodreads, which helpfully does a 'most popular books published in 1970' according to its members. You can find the list here, but here's a selection of books that I picked out:

Buy from Amazon

Ringworld by Larry Niven

This is one of those big concept sci-fi novels that I love. An alien artifact is discovered in a distant, unexplored corner of the galaxy, and a motley team of aliens and humans are assembled to go and explore, and seek out the artifact's creators. The Ringworld of the title is a huge ribbon like structure that encircles a star, providing a vast amount of living space.

I read this a long time ago and remember enjoying it. Ringworld is the first in a series of books by prolific science fiction author Larry Niven and rightly takes its place in the science fiction hall of fame. I was surprised it was written as long ago as 1970, but then I think that far future science fiction ages surprisingly well, certainly when compared to near future science fiction which quicky becomes very dated. Worth a read.

Fantastic Mr Fox by Roald Dahl

(Available on Amazon)

Roald Dahl has been a favourite author for several generations of children now, I was no exception and now my daughter really enjoys his books. This one though was always one of my favourites but I don't think it is one of his best known books. Maybe because the main characters are a family of foxes, and the bad guys are three farmers - Boggis, Bunce and Bean. Mr Fox is always taking their food to feed his family, so the three farmers hatch a plan to shoot and kill him. They trap in him in his underground home and wait for him to be so desperate that he tries to come out. They hadn't reckoned on him coming up with a cunning plan however.

Bury my Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Brown

(Available on Amazon)

This is a history of the American West, told from the perspective of the Native Americans. It tells a story of inexorable expansion of the USA into the American West, and the devastating effect it had on the native peoples. This is an important book, as it was the first really popular book to show the history of the West from the other side. It chronicles the dealings of the American government, and the wars that were effectively to try and eradicate American Indians from the Great Plains. It was a very popular book, received critical acclaim, and has remained in print ever since.

There are plenty more great books published in 1970, including a few classic science fiction novels.

Nine Princes in Amber by Roger Zelazny - the first book in the author's Amber Chronicles that stretch to 10 books. I've read the first, which is a short, easy read and am looking forward to reading more.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest by Dale Wasserman

The White Mountains by John Christopher - first book of his Tripods series.

The Female Eunuch by Germaine Greer - International bestseller that became an important text in the feminist movement.

Passenger to Frankfurt by Agatha Christie - Yep, she was still around and writing in 1970

A Clubbable Woman by Reginald Hill - The first book in his popular Dalziel & Pascoe series that later was turned into a popular TV series starring Warren Clarke and Colin Buchanan.

Friday, 11 August 2017

TV in 1970 - Part 2: The Mary Tyler Moore Show, UFO & more

Following on from a look at what was on TV on a particular day - 6th August 1970 - in this post I'm looking at some popular television shows that first aired in 1970. For this year, there doesn't appear to be many major shows that started up, though do tell me if I'm missing any of your favourites.

The Mary Tyler Moore Show

Available on Amazon
This is a US comedy, and one of the most popular TV shows of the 1970s in America. It ran for seven seasons from 1970 to 1977, picking up a staggering 29 Emmy awards, a record at the time that was not broken until Frasier received its 30th award in 2002.

The Mary Tyler Moore Show was unusually named for its leading actress, with her character on screen being called Mary Richards. At thirty years old, she leaves her fiance of two years and moves to Minneapolis, getting a job as an associate producer at a television station. It was apparently the first never married, independent career woman as its main character.

I've just watched the first episode (you can buy individual episodes on Amazon video)and I've got to say, it grabbed me right from the off! Considering it is nearly 50 years old it has aged really well. It is a smart, savvy and very funny show with a very likeable and yet quirky main character. Only the first couple of seasons made it to the UK in the 1970s before the BBC stopped showing it, which seems a shame. I really want to watch more episodes and think I will - even at £1.89 an episode! You can definitely see the influence it has had on many newer American comedy series.

The Goodies

The Goodies was a comedy TV show produced by the BBC from 1970 to 1982. It was a cross between comedy sketches and a sitcom, and featured three British comedians - Tim Brooke-Taylor, Graeme Garden and Bill Oddie. The premise of the show is that three friends are always short of money, so offer themselves up for hire, willing to do anything. Their tagline is "We can do anything, anytime, anywhere". It's not difficult to imagine the myriad opportunities for comedy in such a concept. In different episodes, the Goodies do anything from babysitting to starting a pirate radio station, trying their hand at lighthouse keeping to going prospecting.

The Partridge Family

The Partridge Family is an American sitcom featuring a widowed mother and her five kids who form a band, get a hit record and the tour the country in a funky bus. It captured the hearts and minds of Americans, the show went to the top of the TV charts, and their hit songs to the top of the music charts. It lasted for four years, and is noted particularly for launching the career of 1970s teen heartthrob, singer and actor David Cassidy.


UFO Boxset - Available on Amazon
Gerry Anderson had made his name as the creator of hit children's sci-fi shows such as Thunderbirds, Stingray and Captain Scarlet. UFO was his first live action science fiction show. American actor Ed Bishop plays Commander Straker who leads the secret organisation SHADO in its mission to counter an alien invasion. Apart from its American born lead actor, this show is British to the core, from the locations to the posh British accents.

I watched the first episode of this one (it's available on You Tube though I wouldn't try and watch it on a big screen). This show has clearly aged rather a lot and it's portrayal of the 'future' 1980 a tad off(!) but actually it is actually rather endearing and I really feel like I am watching a slice of TV history. A highlight for me is the female officers on the Moonbase - they have really posh upper class British accents, are wearing silver jumpsuits with super shiny mirror skirts, and have bright purple hair -they're a hoot!

So my first foray into retro TV was rather enjoyable. I don't have time to watch everything, so picked The Mary Tyler Moore Show and UFO, both good choices for different reasons. Will I watch any more episodes? Possibly, yes. I might choose to carry on watching UFO because I do like my sci-fi, but if I could only pick one of the series to watch more of it would be The Mary Tyler Moore Show.

Sunday, 6 August 2017

1970 - What's on the box?

Following on from my look at 1970 in the movies, it's now time to see what was on TV in 1970. I'll take a look at popular TV series that started in 1970 in the next few days, but first, what were people watching on television today in 1970? Today as I'm writing this it is 6th August, so what was on TV on 6th August 1970? Apologies to people from other countries, but I'm looking at what people in the UK were watching, and specifically what was shown on the BBC (i.e. two of the three available channels, the other being ITV), as this is what I have information for.

It's also worth bearing in mind that while in the UK colour TV had started being regularly broadcast the previous year, a majority of viewers would still have been watching on black & white television - at the start of 1970 only 200,000 colour TVs were in use, and it wouldn't be until 1976 that colour TVs outnumbered black & white sets. Britain was at least a decade behind America in this, as any Back to the Future fans will know (Marty's mum has an early colour TV in 1955).

So back to Thursday 6th August 1970. Here's some of the highlights of the day from BBC1.

12.35 - National Eisteddfod of Wales, annual music event (also at 14.30)

13.30 - Watch with Mother The Herbs - good wholesome educational programme. I wonder how many kids would watch a programme about herbs with their mum today?
16.20 - Playschool - a programme for under 5's.
16.40 - Jackanory
16.55 - Adventure Weekly, a kids show about five budding young journalists who set up a junior newspaper.
17.15 - Wild World - animals close up in action, with Tony Soper. This episode is about bees
19.15 - Top of the Pops, with Jimmy Saville
20.00 - The Expert - part two of a crime drama
22.30 - A daily look at the news, presented each day this week by David Dimbleby. Wow, he's been going a long time, and still going strong today!
23.27 - The Expanding Classroom - presumably an educational programme, this is episode 1, Elizabethan Village. I'd like to watch this now!

The day's programming only began at 12.35 and there were several 'closedown' periods throughout the day when there was nothing on - 13.53-14.30 and 15.00 to 16.20, unthinkable today!

BBC Two has far fewer programmes, with nothing before 7.30pm except 20 minutes of Playschool in the morning. There's a word game, 'Not a Word', The Money Programme, and a recording of the play Edward II.

TV Listings courtesy of the BBC Genome project

More information about colour television in Britain from the science museum website 

Thursday, 3 August 2017

1970 - At the movies

In 1970, there were only 3 television channels in the UK, and consumer video players/recorders had yet to put in an appearance so to watch movies, apart from the occasional film on television going to the cinema was the only real option for movie lovers. 1970 may be an arbitrary place to start this retro journey, but I don't think it is a bad one - while some films will have dated and special effects have come on leaps and bounds, many films in the 1970's could just as easily have been filmed in the 1990's or after - hairstyles and fashions not withstanding of course!

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Box Office Smashes

Here's the top 10 grossing films at the US box office in 1970, according to the Internet Movie Database.
  1. Love Story - starring Ali MacGraw and Ryan O'Neal. This is a romantic film about a boy and a girl who fall in love at college, but then tragedy strikes.
  2. Airport - starring Burt Lancaster and Dean Martin. This is an action thriller come disaster move, with Burt Lancaster playing an airport manager having to contend with lots of problems including someone trying to blow up a plane.
  3. M.A.S.H. - starring Donald Sutherland. A war comedy based in a field hospital in the Korean war.
  4.  Joe - starring Peter Boyle, Dennis Patrick and Susan Sarandon. It is a thriller about a man who accidentally kills his junkie daughter's drug dealing boyfriend.
  5. Anybody's - "An erotic drama about a youthful bride-to-be who takes a holiday to Yugoslavia with a cynical and evil lesbian film critic (and murderess) that leads to debauchery, degradation with a dwarf, a dinner with naked entertainers and other highlights..." (taken straight from IMDB, I couldn't beat that description.
  6. Tora! Tora! Tora! - A historical film about the days leading up to the Japanese attack on Pearl Habour.
  7. Beyond the Valley of the Dolls - A satirical musical drama about three girls who go to Hollywood to find fame and fortune, but instead find sex, sleaze and drugs. A satirical take on Valley of the Dolls.
  8. Chisum - Western starring John Wayne and Forrest Tucker, and featuring legendary figures Billy the Kid and Pat Garrett.
  9. Darling Lili - a comedy musical drama starring Julie Andrews, which is a cute spin on the legend of Mata Hari.
  10. Myra Breckinridge - a comedy starring Mae West and John Huston about a man who has a sex change operation. 
Other notables

An interesting mix of films there. Other notable films include The Only Game in Town (a romantic comedy starring Elizabeth Taylor and Warren Beaty), Beneath the Planet of the Apes, Five Easy Pieces (see below), The Aristocats, Patton (a biopic of American WW2 general George Patten), Kelly's Heroes (a war comedy adventure starring Clint Eastwood) and Little Big Man, a comedy adventure film starring Dustin Hoffman and Faye Dunaway about a man who looks back on his early life being raised by Native Americans and then fighting General Custer.

Most of these films are American, but one notable British film is The Railway Children, a lovely family drama that came out on Boxing Day 1970, about a family who move to a small Yorkshire town after their father's enforced absence. I've seen this many times, and would recommend it, particularly if watching with children.

What I'm Watching

There's a lot of good films here, I'm spoiled for choice but wanted to start off by watching at least one film from 1970. I started off with Five Easy Pieces. It focuses on an upper class American drop out who leaves his family and takes up a succession of dead end working class jobs on oil rigs. It wasn't a major box office success, but is notable for being Jack Nicholson's first major film and he does a good job in it. This film is a real slice of Americana, and has a good soundtrack, featuring songs country music legend by Tammy Wynette. A good film 4/5.

Available on Amazon
I also watched the top film at the box office in 1970, Love Story. This is a film that would probably come across as cliched today, but it no doubt was a lot fresher a story in 1970. It was a very moving film, with a beautiful soundtrack and was impressive for really featuring ups and downs in the relationship of the two main characters, not portraying everything as perfect (as a lot of films today would). It also features Tommy Lee Jones in his first (brief) big screen appearance - he plays a student housemate of main character Oliver. This film was based on a book of the same name by Erich Segal, and there's also recently been a musical.  5/5.

Also on my list to watch is Kelly's Heroes and Little Big Man.

Thursday, 27 July 2017

A Retro Project

This is a little project I've had in my mind for a while. I do like my history but this can get a bit heavy, and I wanted something a little lighter and more fun. So I thought I'd start a bit of a cultural history project. Rather than politicians and soldiers, kings and explorers, I'd look at movies and music, books and games. So that's what I'm gonna do.

Next I wondered where to start. I thought about the 1980s, I was born in 1980 so that would be a good place to start, but that seemed to be a bit too late, and would be missing a lot. I thought about the 50's or 60's but a part of my idea was to explore early computer games and the rise of personal computers and other technology, and there wouldn't be much to cover in the early years. So I settled on 1970 as a good place to start. I thought I'd work my way through year by year, but some topics I might look at for the whole decade rather than each year.

I'm from the UK and lived my whole life in Britain, so some things will be from a British perspective, but for a lot of things place will be irrelevant.

The only rule to this little project is that there is no rule - it wouldn't be fun if there were rules. I will look at some things sometimes, other things other times, whatever I feel like!

First up, 1970...

Thursday, 27 April 2017

Review of 'My Antonia' by Willa Cather

'My Antonia' by Willa Cather is a story set in the early years of the 20th century in the prairie plains of Nebraska. The book is notionally the third in the author's Prairie Trilogy, but as far as I can tell the only connection is they share a theme and general setting and were written one after another within a few short years. There doesn't appear to be common characters or storyline, but I could be wrong about this as I haven't read the other two yet.

'My Antonia' is the story of Antonia Shimerda a Bohemian girl who moved from her European home to a farm on the prairie in Nebraska. The book is told by the narrator Jim Burden, and so it is also a story about him (some sections of the book don't even have Antonia in). The book follows them, and their family, friends and neighbours, from their homes on the farm to living in the nearby town of Black Hawk, and then to Jim's life away from Nebraska as he goes to study at Harvard. Other characters include the vivacious Lena Lingard, the shady Black Hawk moneylender Wick Cutter, and the Harling family who live next door to Jim while he is growing up.

The story starts with Jim, meeting an unnamed friend. "Do you remember Antonia?" one asks the other. Jim decides to write Antonia's story down, and this forms the main part of the book. Inside that story, are the stories of the individual characters what they are like growing up and what they make of their lives. Many of the characters are immigrants, including Antonia, Lena, Otto Fuchs, Tiny Soderball and Cuzak. They come from all over Europe - Austria, Bohemia, Norway, Sweden - and the story partly of an earlier generation of immigrants integrating in American society. The children of many of these characters would still be alive today, and their children and grandchildren would have spread across the country, American born and bred. Worth thinking about as much anti-immigrant feeling is alive today.

I loved this book. The rich descriptions of the Nebraska prairie was beautiful and sublime. It is not a long book - only about 230 pages - but by the end you feel at home there, and the characters feel like old friends. All the stories in the book are interesting, they draw you in and create a wonderful tapestry of life on the great plains of the mid-west a century ago. It also has quite a bit to think about in it, and the author skillfully compares the differing ways of life and philosophies on living as we find out what the characters make of their lives. The end of the story, wraps things up wonderfully too, and I went away with a warm, happy feeling and something of a "wish I was there" emotion. I really do like books that do that!

This was the second book I've read by Willa Cather, the first one being her later work 'Death Comes for the Archbishop'. I loved that one too and wasn't sure which I was going to prefer, but the last couple of chapters edged it in favour of My Antonia. My edition of the book had a relatively recent introduction which gave some biographical information on the author. She obviously put a lot of her own experiences into this book as her early life followed a similar path to the narrator, Jim Burden. Both moved from Virginia to Nebraska when they were around 9 or 10, spent a year or two living on a farm before moving into a town, and both left for good in their early twenties. Willa Cather clearly knew well what she was writing about, and this authenticity, and her love for the landscape, really comes through in this book.

A truly great book, 5/5 from me.