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Sounds like January ’74: Music for D&D@40

January 17, 2014

Alright, so assuming you’re planning your D&D@40 celebrations, what are you lining up for the party mix tape? What was happening musically in January 1974, when the fledgling TSR was giving birth to a game and a hobby in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin? Well, just down the road in Chicago, Bob Dylan and The Band kicked off Tour ’74 (Dylan’s first time on the road since his 1966 motorcycle accident) on January 3rd. Joni Mitchell got jazzy on Court and Spark, released on January 1st. Also released on New Year’s Day in North America (although it came out a month earlier in the UK) was Black Sabbath’s Sabbath Bloody Sabbath.

Another record released in December in the UK and in January Stateside was Tales from Topographic Oceans, the double concept album by Yes that caused a disgruntled and alienated Rick Wakeman to leave the band. On January 18th at London’s Royal Festival Hall, Wakeman played a concert of music based on Jules Verne’s novel Journey to the Centre of the Earth. The concert was recorded and released as an album later in the year. Somewhat astonishingly, Tales from Topographic Oceans was the bestselling album in Britain in the first week of 1974. And ELP’s Brain Salad Surgery was at number 2. Those were different days.

Ron and Russell Mael, better known as Sparks, had moved to England in late ’73 and were recording their Island Records debut (and breakthrough album) Kimono My House. In the underground scene, a year on from their spectacular tour and double live album Space RitualĀ and after a troubled six months including the controversial release and subsequent withdrawal of the single “Urban Guerrilla”, Hawkwind were in the studio starting work on what would become Hall of the Mountain Grill. Their fellow psychedelic space-travellers Gong, who favoured the Flying Teapot over the Silver Machine, had just released Angel’s Egg. It’s one of my all-time favourite albums and a never-ceasing source of aural pleasure and inspiration.

The UK singles chart at the start of 1974 was dominated by several shades of glam rock: Roxy Music, Mott the Hoople, Wizzard, Slade*, Alvin Stardust and, er, Gary Glitter. Moving swiftly on, there was also MOR pop – New Seekers, Marie Osmond – plus a couple of those ’70s-style musical oddities in the idiosyncratic, unsettling shapes of Leo Sayer’s “The Show Must Go On” and David Essex’s “Lamplight”. I can’t imagine either of those being hits (let alone top 10) in 2014. Again, different days…

Anyway, that’s a quick trawl through the archives to conjure up the spirit of ’74. While no DM worthy of the name should have any difficulty finding gaming inspiration in Black Sabbath or Yes, or even the line “Some people call me the space cowboy”, the Lost in Time challenge (should you choose to accept it) is to come up with something for your D&D campaign based on the songs of Sweet or, I dunno, Helen Reddy.

To close this post, and get the party started, here’s a great clip from the German TV programme Musikladen, broadcast on January 23rd 1974. Fight on, Stevie!

*Slade’s “Merry Xmas Everybody” and Wizzard’s “I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day”, now perennial fixtures on festive playlists, were both released in December 1973. I once witnessed the “wizzard” himself, Roy Wood, performing “I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day” at a folk-rock festival (obviously). In mid-August (naturally).

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