The 1970s are famous for bell-bottoms and the rise of disco, but it was also an era of economic struggle, cultural change and technological innovation.
In some ways, the decade was a continuation of the 1960s.  Women, African Americans, Native Americans, gays and lesbians and other marginalized people continued their fight for equality, and many Americans joined the protest against the ongoing war in Vietnam.  In other ways, however, the decade was a repudiation of the 1960s.  A “New Right” mobilized in defense of political conservatism and traditional family roles, and the behavior of President Richard Nixon undermined many people’s faith in the good intentions of the federal government.  By the end of the decade, these divisions and disappointments had set a tone for public life that many would argue is still with us today.

Popular Culture


The early 1970s saw the rise of many diverse forms of popular and rock musical styles, including jazz rock (aka “fusion”), southern rock, folk rock, and soft rock, with the latter including recording artists such as The Carpenters, Carole King, and James Taylor.  It also included the rise of such popular, influential rhythm and blues (R&B) and Motown artists as Stevie Wonder, The Temptations, and The Jackson 5.
Funk, an offshoot of Soul music with a greater emphasis on beats, influences from rhythm and blues, jazz, and psychedelic rock, was also very popular.  The mid-1970s also saw the rise of disco music, which dominated during the last half of the decade with bands like the Bee Gees, ABBA, Village People, Boney M, Donna Summer, KC and the Sunshine Band, etc.  In response to this, rock music became increasingly hard-edged with British early metal artists like Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, and Deep Purple.  Minimalism also emerged, led by composers such as Philip Glass, Steve Reich and Michael Nyman.  This was a break from the intellectual serial music of the tradition of Schoenberg which lasted from the early 1900s to 1960s.
Experimental classical music influenced both art rock and progressive rock genres with bands such as Yes, Pink Floyd, Supertramp, Rush, Genesis, King Crimson, Emerson, Lake & Palmer, Jethro Led ZeppelinTull, The Moody Blues and Soft Machine.  Hard rock and Heavy metal also emerged among British bands Led Zeppelin, Queen, The Who, Black Sabbath, UFO, Deep Purple, Uriah Heep, and Judas Priest.  Australian band AC/DC also found its hard rock origins in the early 1970s and its breakthrough in 1979’s Highway to Hell, while popular American rock bands included Aerosmith, Lynyrd Skynyrd and “shocksters” metalists Alice Cooper, Blue Öyster Cult, and Kiss, and guitar-oriented Ted Nugent and Van Halen.  In Europe, there was a surge of popularity in the early decade for glam rock.  The mid-’70s saw the rise of punk rock from its protopunk/garage band roots in the 1960s and early 1970s.  Major acts include the Ramones, Blondie, Patti Smith, the Sex Pistols, and The Clash, while seminal band The Runaways would produce 1980s solo recording artists Joan Jett and Lita Ford.  The highest-selling album was Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon (1973).  It remained on the Billboard 200 albums chart for 741 weeks.  Electronic instrumental prog rock was particularly significant in continental Europe, allowing bands like Kraftwerk, Tangerine Dream, Can, and Faust to circumvent the language barrier.  Their synthesiser-heavy “Kraut rock”, along with the work of Brian Eno (for a time the keyboard player with Roxy Music), would be a major influence on subsequent synth rock.  The mid-1970s, saw the rise of electronic art music musicians such as Jean Michel Jarre, Vangelis, and Tomita, who with Brian Eno were a significant influence of the development of New Age Music.  Japanese band Yellow Magic Orchestra helped to pioneer synthpop, with their self-titled 1978 album setting a template with less minimalism and with a strong emphasis on melody, and drawing from a wider range of influences than had been employed by Kraftwerk.  YMO also introduced the microprocessor-based Roland MC-8 sequencer and TR-808 rhythm machine to popular music.
In the first half of the 1970s many jazz musicians from the Miles Davis school achieve cross-over success through jazz-rock fusion with bands like Weather Report, Return to Forever, The Headhunters and The Mahavishnu Orchestra who also influence this genre and many others.  In Germany, Manfred Eicher started the ECM label, which quickly made a name for “chamber jazz”.  Towards the end of the decade, Jamaican Reggae music, already popular in the Caribbean and Africa since the early 1970s, became very popular in the U.S. and in Europe, mostly because of reggae superstar and legend Bob Marley.  The late ’70s also saw the beginning of Hip Hop music with disc jockeys like DJ Kool Herc and Afrika Bambaataa taking loops from funk and soul records and play it repeatedly at block parties and dance clubs.  By the end of the 1970s popular songs like “Rapper’s Delight” by Sugarhill Gang gave Hip Hop a wider audience.  Hip Hop was also influenced by the song “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” by Gil Scott Heron.  Country music remained very popular in the United States.  Between 1977 and 1979, it became more mainstream, as Kenny Rogers, Dolly Parton, Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson and Allman Brothers Band all scored hits which reached both country and pop charts.

Musicians Lost

A major event in music in the early 70s was the deaths of popular rock stars Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, and Jim Morrison, all at the age of 27.  Two of popular music’s most successful artists from other eras died within eight weeks of each other in 1977.  Elvis Presley, the best-selling singer of all time, died on August 16, 1977.  Presley’s funeral was held at Graceland, on Thursday, August 18th, 1977.  Bing Crosby, who sold about half a billion records, died October 14, 1977.  His single, White Christmas, remains as the best selling single of all time, confirmed by the Guinness Records.
Statistically, Led Zeppelin was the most successful musical act of the 1970s, having sold more than 300 million records since 1969.


Oscar winners of the decade were Patton (1970), The French Connection (1971), The Godfather (1972), The Sting (1973), The Godfather Part II (1974), One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975), Rocky (1976), Annie Hall (1977), The Deer Hunter (1978), and Kramer vs. Kramer (1979).
star wars logoThe top ten highest-grossing films of the decade are (in order from highest to lowest grossing): Star Wars, Jaws, Grease, The Exorcist, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Superman, The Godfather, Saturday Night Fever, Rocky, and Jaws 2.  Two of these movies came out on the same day, June 16th, 1978.
In 1970s European cinema, the failure of the Prague Spring brought about nostalgic motion pictures such as István Szabó’s Szerelmesfilm (1970).  German New Wave and Rainer Fassbinder’s existential movies characterized film-making in Germany.  The movies of the Swedish director Ingmar Bergman reached a new level of expression in motion pictures like Cries and Whispers (1973).
Asian cinema of the 1970s catered to the rising middle class fantasies and struggles.  In the Bollywood cinema of India, this was epitomized by the movies of Bollywood superhero Amitabh Bachchan.  Another Asian touchstone beginning in the early 1970s was Hong Kong martial arts film which sparked a greater interest in Chinese martial arts around the world.  Martial arts film reached the peak of its popularity largely in part due to its greatest icon, Bruce Lee.
During the 1970s, Hollywood continued the New Hollywood revolution of the late-1960s with young film-makers.  Top-grossing Jaws (1975) ushered in the blockbuster era of filmmaking, though it was eclipsed two years later by the science-fiction film Star Wars (1977).  Saturday Night Fever (1977) single-handedly touched off disco mania in the U.S.  The Godfather (1972) was also one of the decade’s greatest successes and its first follow-up, The Godfather Part II (1974) was also successful for a sequel.
The Rocky Horror Picture Show flopped in its 1975 debut, only to reappear as a more-popular midnight show later in the decade.  Still in limited release 36 years after its premiere, it is the longest-running theatrical release in film history.
The Exorcist (1973) was a box office success for the horror genre, inspiring many other so-called “devil (Satan)” films like The Omen and both of their own sequels.
All That Jazz (1979) closes out the 1970s.  It won four Oscars and several other awards.  In 2001 the United States Library of Congress deemed the film “culturally significant” and selected it for preservation in the National Film Registry.


In the United States, long-standing trends were declining.  The Red Skelton Show and The Ed Sullivan Show, long-revered American institutions, were canceled.  The innocent, 1950s-style family sitcom saw its last breath at the start of the new decade with The Brady Bunch and The Partridge Family.
To reflect the new social trends, television changed dramatically with more urban and edgy settings, and replaced the popular rural/country wholesome look of the previous decade.  This particular trend was known as the rural purge.  Television was transformed by what became termed as “social consciousness” programming, such as All in the Family and Soap, which broke down television barriers.
The women’s movement ushered in a slew of programming featuring strong, independent females as central characters.  Most notable was The Mary Tyler Moore Show, which spawned the successful spin-offs Rhoda and Phyllis, and also resulted in Mary Tyler Moore becoming the first female to head a television production company of her own, MTM Enterprises, which churned out groundbreaking programming in the late 1970s throughout the 1990s.  Women were also established portraying strong characters in programs like Police Woman, Wonder Woman, The Bionic Woman, and others.
Minority-centric television programming also featured prominently during the 1970s.  Shows featuring minorities as main characters, such as Sanford and Son and Good Times, broke down barriers and became very popular.  In addition, Soul Train, the brainchild of Don Cornelius, premiered in 1971 as an alternative to American Bandstand, giving a forum for soul, funk, jazz, R&B, disco, and future rap and hip hop artists to gain exposure to American audiences, consumers, music lovers, enthusiasts, and those keen on learning new dance moves.
The television western, which had been very popular in the 1950s and 1960s, all but died out during the 1970s, with Bonanza, The Virginian, and Gunsmoke ending their runs.  Replacing westerns were police and detective shows, a trend that would last through the 1980s.
By the mid-to-late 1970s, “jiggle television”—programs centered around sexual gratification and bawdy humor and situations such as Charlie’s Angels, The Love Boat, and Three’s Company—became popular.
Soap operas expanded their audiences beyond housewives with the rise of All My Children, As the World Turns, Somerset, and The Young and the Restless.
Game shows such as Match Game, The Hollywood Squares, and Family Feud, were also popular daytime television.  The height of Match Games popularity occurred between 1973 and 1977, before it was overtaken by Family Feud in 1978.  Television’s current longest-running game show, The Price is Right, began its run hosted by Bob Barker in 1972.
Another influential genre was the television newscast, which built on its initial widespread success in the 1960s.
The science fiction phenomenon of the late 1970s that began with Star Wars went to television with shows such as Battlestar Galactica.
Finally, the variety show received its last hurrah during this decade, with shows such as Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour and Donny & Marie.  The Carol Burnett Show also ended its historic 11-year run in 1978.

Pay Television

As cable television became more affordable and accessible by U.S. consumers, the race to bring the silver screen to the small screen commenced with the launch of pay television services showing premium content.
cable tv controller 1970sHBO launched on November 8th, 1972, becoming the nation’s first pay-television channel.  On September 30th, 1975, HBO became the first television network to continuously deliver signals via satellite when it showed the “Thrilla in Manila” boxing-match between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier.
Star Channel launched their service offerings nationally in 1973 through the delivery of movies on video tapes for cable providers to broadcast.  This proved problematic since the videotapes were often riddled with technical difficulties.  Star Channel eventually was linked up to satellite in January of 1978.  Shortly after, Warner Communications acquired the channel and relaunched it on December 1st, 1979, in its current form as The Movie Channel.
Media giant Viacom launched their premium service, Showtime, nationally on July 1, 1976, after a brief, wildly successful test launch on their cable system in Dublin, California.

Computer and Video Games

  • Popular and notable video games of the 1970s include: Space Invaders, Asteroids, Snake, Pong, and Breakout.
  • Golden age of video arcade games.
  • Gun Fight was the first video game to contain a microprocessor.
  • Don Daglow wrote the first computer baseball game on a DEC PDP-10 mainframe at Pomona College.
  • The Oregon Trail was the first publicly available educational video game made available for widespread use in schools on December 3rd, 1971.  The game is a cult classic and is still used today, in a wide variety of formats, through emulators and on smart phones.
  • The first commercially available video game console entitled Magnavox Odyssey was released on May 24th, 1972 created by Ralph H. Baer.
  • 1974: Both Maze War (on the Imlac PDS-1 at the NASA Ames Research Center in California) and Spasim (on PLATO) appeared, pioneering examples of early multiplayer 3D first-person shooters.
  • In 1976, Mattel introduced the first handheld electronic game with the release of Mattel Auto Race.
  • Then, in 1976, William Crowther wrote the first modern text adventure game, Colossal Cave Adventure.
  • Apple, Inc. ushered in the modern personal computing age with its June 1, 1977 launch of the first mass-produced personal computer, the Apple II.apple II  Although many business-focused personal workstations were available to corporations years earlier, the Apple II has the distinction of being the first to produce personal computers specifically targeted to home users, beating the Commodore PET and Atari 400 to the market by five months.  Its initial price tag was US$4999.99 for the CPU only.
  • The Atari 2600 was released in October 1977 and was a huge commercial success.  It is also credited for being the first gaming console to have a plug-in concept.  It was challenged by the Magnavox Odyssey² and Intellivision.
  • Fairchild Channel F from 1976 becomes the first programmable ROM cartridge-based video game console.
  • The Microvision was the very first hand-held game console using interchangeable cartridges.  It was released by the Milton Bradley Company in November 1979.


Clothing styles during the 1970s were influenced by outfits seen in popular music groups and in Hollywood films.  In clothing, prints, especially from India and other parts of the world, were fashionable.  Much of the 1970s fashion styles were influenced by the hippie movement.

Significant fashion trends of the 1970s include

  • Bell-bottomed pants remained popular throughout the decade.  These combined with turtle necked shirts and flower-prints to form the characteristic 1970s look.  In the latter part of the decade, this gave way to three-piece suits, in large part because of the movie “Saturday Night Fever”.
  • Sideburns were popular for men, as were beards, which had been out of fashion since the 19th century.
  • Women’s hairstyles went from long and straight in the first half of the decade to the feathery cut of Farrah Fawcett.
  • Platform shoes.
  • Leisure suits.
  • Mohawk hairstyle was associated with punk subculture.

Miscellaneous 70s Trends

  • 1970s in furniture
  • Flokati rugs
  • Lava lamps
  • Raleigh Chopper bicycles
  • Swinging


The 1970s witnessed an explosion in the understanding of solid-state physics, driven by the development of the integrated circuit, and the laser.  Stephen Hawking developed his theories of black holes and the boundary-condition of the universe at this period with his theory called Hawking radiation.  The biological sciences greatly advanced, with molecular biology, bacteriology, virology, and genetics achieving their modern forms in this decade.  Biodiversity became a cause of major concern as habitat destruction, and Stephen Jay Gould’s theory of punctuated equilibrium revolutionized evolutionary thought.

Space Exploration

As the 1960s ended, the United States had made two successful manned lunar landings.  Many Americans lost interest afterward, feeling that since the country had accomplished President John F. Kennedy’s goal of landing on the moon by the end of the 1960s, there was no need for further missions.  There was also a growing sentiment that the billions of dollars spent on the space program should be put to other uses.  The moon landings continued through 1972, but the near loss of the Apollo 13 astronauts in April 1970 served to further anti-NASA feelings.  Plans for missions up to Apollo 20 were canceled, and the remaining Apollo and Saturn hardware was used for the Skylab space station program in 1973–1974, and for the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project (ASTP), which was carried out in July 1975.  Many of the ambitious projects NASA had planned for the 1970s were canceled amid heavy budget cutbacks, and instead it would devote most of the decade to the development of the space shuttle.  ASTP was the last manned American space flight for the next five years.  The year 1979 witnessed the spectacular reentry of Skylab over Australia.  NASA had planned for a shuttle mission to the space station, but the shuttles were not ready to fly until 1981, too late to save it.
Meanwhile, the Soviets, having failed completely in their attempt at manned lunar landings, canceled the program in 1972.  But by then, they had already started flying space stations.  This would have problems of its own, especially the tragic loss of the Soyuz 11 crew in July 1971 and the near-loss of the Soyuz 18a crew during launch in April 1975.  It eventually proved a success, with missions as long as six months being conducted by the end of the decade.
In terms of unmanned missions, a variety of lunar and planetary probes were launched by the US and Soviet programs during the decade.  The greatest success was that of the Voyagers, which took advantage of a rare alignment of the outer planets to visit all of them except Pluto by the end of the 1980s.
China entered the space race in 1970 with the launching of its first satellite, but technological backwardness and limited funds would prevent the country from becoming a significant force in space exploration.  Japan launched a satellite for the first time in 1972.  The European Space Agency was founded during the decade as well.


  • The first face lifts were attempted in the 1970s.
  • The first MRI image was published in 1973.
  • César Milstein and Georges Köhler report their discovery of how to use hybridoma cells to isolate monoclonal antibodies, effectively beginning the history of monoclonal antibody use in science.
  • Carl Woese and George E. Fox classify archaea as a new, separate domain of life.
  • After successful vaccination campaigns throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, the WHO certified the eradication of smallpox in December 1979.
  • The first organisms genetically engineered were bacteria in 1973 and then mice in 1974.
  • 1977 The first complete DNA genome to be sequenced is that of bacteriophage φX174.
  • In 1978, Louise Brown became the first child to be born via in vitro fertilisation, or IVF.

 Social Science

Social science intersected with hard science in the works in natural language processing by Terry Winograd (1973) and the establishment of the first cognitive sciences department in the world at MIT in 1979.  The fields of generative linguistics and cognitive psychology went through a renewed vigor with symbolic modeling of semantic knowledge while the final devastation of the long standing tradition of behaviorism came about through the severe criticism of B. F. Skinner’s work in 1971 by the cognitive scientist Noam Chomsky.


Electronics and Communications

The birth of modern computing was in the 1970s, which saw the development of:
  • the world’s first general microprocessor
  • The C programming language
  • rudimentary personal computers with the launch of the Datapoint 2200
  • pocket calculators
  • The Sony Walkman was built in 1978 by audio-division engineer Nobutoshi Kihara
  • Consumer video games after the release of Computer Space
  • The earliest floppy disks, invented at IBM, which were 8 inches wide and long became commercially available in 1971
  • The first e-mail transmission in 1971
  • Electronic paper by Nick Sheridon at Xerox’s Palo Alto Research Center
  • The Xerox Alto of 1973 was the first computer to use the desktop metaphor and mouse-driven graphical user interface (GUI)

The 1970s were also the start of:

  • fiber optics, which transformed the communications industry.
  • Microwave ovens became commercially available.
  • VCRs became commercially available.
  • The first voicemail system, known as the Speech Filing System (SFS), was invented by Stephen J. Boies in 1973.
  • In 1979 Michael Aldrich invented e-commerce.
  • Discovision in 1978, was the first commercial optical disc storage medium.
  • Positron emission tomography invented in 1972 by Edward J. Hoffman and fellow scientist Michael Phelps.
  • On April 3rd, 1973, Martin Cooper of Motorola was the first to transmit the first Cell Phone call.
  • In Finland, car phone service was first available in 1971 on the zero-generation ARP (Autoradiopuhelin, or Car Radiophone) service.
  • Apple Computer Company was officially founded in a garage in Los Altos, in 1977.


 The 1970s was an era of fuel price increases, rising insurance rates, safety concerns, and emissions controls.  The 1973 oil crisis caused a move towards smaller, fuel-efficient vehicles.  Attempts were made to produce electric cars, but they were largely unsuccessful.  In the United States, imported cars became a significant factor for the first time, and several domestic-built subcompact models entered the market.  American-made cars such as the “quirky” AMC Gremlin, the jelly bean shaped AMC Pacer, and Pontiac Firebird’s powerful Trans Am “sum up” the decade.  Muscle cars and convertible models faded from favor during the early-1970s.  It was believed that the 1976 Cadillac Eldorado would be the last American-built convertible; ending the open body style that once dominated the auto industry.
Cars in the U.S. from the early 1970s are noted more for their power than their styling, but they even lost their power by the late-1970s.  Styling on American cars became progressively more boxy and rectilinear during the 1970s, with coupes being the most popular body style.  Wood paneling and shag carpets dominated the interiors.  Many automobiles began to lose their character and looked the same across brands and automakers, as well as featuring “luxury” enhancements such as vinyl roofs and opera windows.  Only a few had “real personalities” such as the AMC Gremlin, which was America’s first modern subcompact, and the AMC Pacer.  “These two cars embody a sense of artful desperation that made them stand out from the crowd and epitomize at once the best and worst of the seventies.”
Automobiles in the U.S. reached the largest sizes they would ever attain, but by 1977, General Motors managed to downsize its full-size models to more manageable dimensions.  Ford followed suit two years later, with Chrysler offering new small front-wheel-drive models, but was suffering from a worsening financial situation caused by various factors.  By 1979, the company was near bankruptcy, and under its new president Lee Iacocca (who had been fired from Ford the year before), asked for a government bailout.  American Motors beat out the U.S. Big Three to subcompact sized model (the Gremlin) in 1970, but its fortunes declined throughout the decade, forcing it into a partnership with the French automaker Renault in 1979.
European car design underwent major changes during the 1970s due to the need for performance with high fuel efficiency – designs such as the Volkswagen Golf and Passat, BMW 3, 5, and 7 series, and Mercedes-Benz S-Class appeared at the latter half of the decade.  Ford Europe, specifically Ford Germany, also eclipsed the profits of its American parent company.  The designs of Giorgetto Giugiaro became dominant, along with those of Marcello Gandini in Italy.  The 1970s also saw the decline and practical failure of the British car industry – a combination of militant strikes and poor quality control effectively halted development at British Leyland, owner of all other British car companies during the 1970s.
The Japanese automobile industry flourished during the 1970s, compared to other major auto markets.  Japanese vehicles became internationally renowned for their affordability, reliability, and fuel-efficiency, which was very important to many customers due to the oil embargo.  Japanese car manufacturing focused on computerized robotic manufacturing techniques and lean manufacturing, contributing to high-efficiency and low production costs.  The Honda Civic was introduced in 1973, and sold well due to its high fuel-efficiency.  Other popular compact cars included the Toyota Corolla and the Datsun Sunny, in addition to other cars from those companies and others such as Subaru, Mitsubishi, and Mazda.