Episode #4: The Music of the Sexual Revolution in the 70s
“The Pill” by Loretta Lynn (1975)
“Sugar, Sugar” by The Archies (1969)
“Whole Lotta Love” by Led Zeppelin (1969)
“Let’s Get it On” by Marvin Gaye (1973)
“Lady Marmalade” by Labelle (1974)
“Love to Love You Baby” by Donna Summer (1975)
“Because the Night” by Patti Smith Group (1978)
00:40 Amy wastes no time discussing that music has always sold some version of sex and that the sexual revolution of the late 1960s and into the 1970s was not a new revelation in that regard. However, music of the 70s made more direct references to sex. There was also more music by and about women claiming some authority over their own sexuality.
01:28 Amy offers a brief history of the birth control pill and how it allowed women — both married and single — to have sex for the pleasure of it without fear of pregnancy. This was a dreaded development for many people, especially Roman Catholics.
03:40 Loretta Lynn released “The Pill” in 1975. Some radio executives would not play it because…reasons? Oh, because we don’t want to openly discuss lady issues like sex for reasons other than making babies.
05:42 The birth control was not the only reason for the sexual revolution. The gay community had something to say about the sexual revolution yet had no use for The Pill (at least not for birth control.) Did more sexual music help push along the sexual revolution? Amy makes the case that it did because of the youth factor in revolutions. Young people liked the music and the music was made for the young people.
07:20 Ed Sullivan told the Rolling Stones that they could not perform on his show in 1967 unless they changed the lyrics from “Let’s Spend the Night Together” to “let’s spend some time together.” Watch Mick Jagger roll his eyes at that…
07:50 A review of the music charts in late 1969 shows a musical battle of wills in America. “Sugar Sugar” by The Archies was at #1 for a month!
09:57 What kind of country were we that we had “Sugar Sugar” and “Whole Lotta Love” by Led Zeppelin as hit records at the same time?
11:00 Amy marvels at the use of the word priapic to describe the fascination that Robert Plant and friends had with their penises, as reflected by their music and stage antics. As she is a teacher by day, she muses about the use of this word in a vocabulary quiz.
11:27 This is the part of “Whole Lotta Love” that sounds like Robert Plant is having a crazy orgasm. It is also the cool part of the song that kind of makes your head spin if you listen to it with headphones.
14:00 Led Zeppelin helps usher an era of heavy metal infused with a lot of masculine sexuality as the 70s begin. Their music was far from feminist music but it was not trying to be.
14:35 Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get It On” seems like, on the surface, an album that is purely a vehicle for singing about overt sexuality. Amy offers the opinion that this was an album that celebrated sexuality and eroticism as a beautiful gift. She theorizes that his use of the word “sanctified” in the lyrics was not random. At times, it seemed like Marvin Gaye, as the son of preacher, had some internal conflict over his sexual feelings.
17:30 Amy suggests that if women could not be as open about their sexuality as Robert Plant and Marvin Gaye, then the sexual revolution was not a true revolution. Women have yet to achieve true sexual equality. That will be true as long as we are still debating issues around pornography or consent. It was (and is) considered shocking for women to express their sexual desires openly or have an active life in the way that is permissible for men. However, music created some space to be sexual in a way that was not subordinate or passive.
18:33: How do songs about being a hooker fit in the narrative that women claimed their own sexuality in the 70s? “Lady Marmalade,” written by men, is about a hooker but a hooker who was in position of authority.
20:00 Voulez-vous coucher avec moi, ce soir?
21:30 Disco created space for women to express themselves boldly and sexually. “Love to Love You Baby” made Donna Summer the Queen of Disco. The 17-minute version was created at the request of Casablanca Records founder, Neil Bogart, who wanted a song that people could have sex to without changing the record.
25:00 Donna Summer gives a very…realistic…vocal performance on “Love to Love You Baby.”
27:30 Punk rock was a rejection of many societal norms, so it is no surprise that punk rock bands offered politically and sexually charged music. Patti Smith is considered a punk pioneer but Amy theorizes that she was not punk. She is a poet who sang her poems. Amy also offers a brief history of the creation of the awesomeness that is “Because the Night,” which was, at the time, a bold expression of a woman’s lust.
33:00 Music in the 70s reflected the sexual revolution that ended in the 80s as Baby Boomers got older and AIDS made having random unprotected sex a literal life and death proposition. Music’s revolution did not end, though, and continued to offer sexually bold and aware songs.
SOURCES USED TO CREATE THIS EPISODE
The Archies. “Sugar, Sugar.” Everything’s Archie, Kirshner Records, 1969.
Dyson, Michael Eric. Mercy, Mercy Me: The Art, Love, and Demons of Marvin Gaye. New York: Basic Books. 2004.
Esposito, Jim. “Donna Summer & the Story of Love to Love You Baby.” The Quietus. https://thequietus.com/articles/08825-donna-summer-interview-love-to-love-you-rocks-backpages. 18 May 2012.
Gaye, Marvin. “Let’s Get It On.” Let’s Get It On, Tamla Records, 1973.
Hughes, Hillary. “Patti Smith on Because the Night at 40.” Billboard..com https://www.billboard.com/articles/columns/rock/8462017/patti-smith-because-the-night-40th-anniversary-oral-history. 12 June 2018.
Labelle. “Lady Marmalade.” Nightbirds, Epic Records, 1974.
Led Zeppelin. “Whole Lotta Love.” Led Zeppelin II, Atlantic Records, 1969.
Lynn, Loretta. “The Pill.” Back to the Country, MCA, 1975.
May, Elaine Tyler. America and the Pill. New York: Basic Books. 2010.
Patti Smith Group. “Because the Night.” Easter, Arista Records, 1978.
Summer, Donna. “Love to Love You Baby.” Love to Love You Baby, Oasis Records, 1975.