Sucking on the '70s

A new boxed set is the cardboard tombstone for a dead decade

That's because the collection offers no context to its chaos; it's all madness, no method--the only thing most of the songs have in common is they were hits in the 1970s. They weren't all No. 1 singles; some of them were barely in the Top 40. And Have a Nice Decade hardly offers a cohesive look at the '70s: There's plenty of Gary Wright and Starland Vocal Band and Bay City Rollers, but not a second of Sex Pistols or Van Halen or Elvis Costello or Boston or Led Zeppelin. The result is an incomplete relic, a half-finished portrait of a decade.

Much of the reason for this stems from the fact Rhino couldn't license some of the essential classic-rock tracks for the set; Zeppelin has never allowed the use of any of its songs on a compilation, like Jimmy Page or Robert Plant have any shame. But McLees also was trying to make an aesthetic point with his collection: He says he didn't include punk or new-wave tracks because they don't sound of a whole with the froth that was Top 40 radio. To him, Costello or the Pistols represented the future of rock and roll--they pointed toward the '80s, toward the liberation of rock and roll from the mainstream's sugar-coated shackles--and they would simply have sounded out of place among so much lightweight nonsense.

"The 1970s was the last decade where you heard things on Top 40 radio of disparate styles," he says. "The '60s were all about that too, but disco and punk marked the end of the '70s; after that, things became more formatted. One of the points I was making was that this was the last time you could hear so many styles at one time. I also wanted to tie in the events that were going on at the time to when the music was popular, and I leaned toward songs that were like that."

And so Have a Nice Decade highlights some of the worst the '70s had to offer, the numbing pop and retread soul that became the stuff of hit radio; it recalls the days when Gordon McLendon's KNUS-FM was the top station in town, rolling out Meco's disco-fried Star Wars theme 10 times a day. McLees' well-intentioned desire to use music as a mirror reflecting the trends of the decade (the skyrocketing divorce rate is represented by Wayne Newton's silly, overwrought "Daddy Don't You Walk So Fast"; the women's-lib movement finds its anthem in Helen Reddy's "I Am Woman") is lost in the sheer awfulness of the music.

It's worth noting that those songs on Have a Nice Decade that withstood fad and fashion are, for the most part, the funk and soul hits already found on Rhino's Didn't It Blow Your Mind! collections; quality, in this box's case at least, is a black-and-white issue. Let Neil Sedaka and Maureen McGovern and their whole dead-eyed lot rest in pieces; let Sly Stone and Al Green and Warren Zevon, for that matter, alone. If there's a statement to be made, it's this and only this: The 1970s were better than you think and worse than you remember. But you already knew that, even if you forgot it.

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