This weekend sees the release of The Get Down, Baz Luhrmann’s bawdy Netflix extravaganza chronicling the music world in New York circa 1977. It seems all but destined to become everyone’s next great binging project, and not just because of the heavy-hitters involved like Luhrmann, Nas and Jaden Smith. The era of New York’s history depicted in the show carries an almost mythic appeal to it, where the city’s presiding subcultures collided and imploded to provide the backdrop for the burgeoning culture that we know now as hip-hop.
As The Get Down will undoubtedly show, hip-hop only came after the unique set of sounds and cultures that were in their hey-day in 1970s NYC. To get an idea of what these people were actually listening to, here are ten albums that set the scene in 1977 New York.
Various Artists–‘Saturday Night Fever Soundtrack’
It was the film that launched a movement, and the soundtrack remains a perfect encapsulation of disco in every way. The contributions from the Bee Gees (like the glossy “Night Fever” and the funkadelic monster that is “Stayin’ Alive”) are as iconic as apple pie, but the deeper cuts like “If I Can’t Have You” still pack just as much of a punch. Dance culture of the era truly begins here, and the funk-inflected beat of the disco sound would inspired generations to come.
In the wake of the Civil Rights movement, the ‘70s gave birth to a huge interest in African music, and no one stood more at the forefront of the continent’s artistic innovations than Fela Kuti. Kuti pioneered what would become known as Afrobeat, a rhythmic form of music that combined his native Nigerian music with jazz, psych-rock and funk into one cohesive cacophony. With his unique polyrhythms and African nationalism, his influence on hip-hop would prove to be immeasurably large.
Ramones–‘Rocket to Russia’
The gangly bunch of angry young men who named themselves the Ramones had essentially invented punk the year before with their self-titled debut, but this follow-up solidified the genre’s status as more than a mere trend. Rocket to Russia refined their aggression into a clean, crisp whole, and it officially made being angry synonymous with cool. The youth of the city were taking notes.
Kraftwerk–‘Trans Europe Express’
The godfathers of electronic music delivered their magnum opus with this record, an ode the glory of their home continent sung via vocoder and synthesizer. It spread like wildfire, and formative members of the New York hip-hop scene like Afrika Bambaataa would go on to sample tracks like “Showroom Dummies” for their own beats. Electronics were in heavy use in genres like disco, but Kraftwerk stretched the limits of the precise kinds of music one could make with them.
Long before Nile Rodgers was jamming with Daft Punk and Pharrell, he was working the New York grind with his three bandmates as the outfit Chic. They described themselves as a “rock band for the disco movement,” which in reality translated to bridging the divides between funk, R&B and their beloved disco in a surprisingly listenable way. And it all came to vivid life here on their self-titled debut. All together now, “Yowsah! Yowsah! Yowsah!”
Sex Pistols–‘Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols’
Where the Ramones brought the swagger and attitude to punk rock, it was the crusty blokes on the other side of the pond who infused punk with its message. Sex Pistols exploded onto the scene with more righteous pointed anger than people knew what to do with. Here lies the root of political activism and anti-establishment fury in music, a quality later hip-hop groups like Public Enemy and N.W.A. would capitalize on and perfect.
Even by today’s standards, Can is a hard band to describe. Coming out of Germany’s krautrock movement, the avant-garde rockers would go on to revolutionize the incorporation of Afrobeat and world rhythms into a more traditional rock-oriented sound. And it lends itself beautifully to hip-hop beats, just ask Kanye West who pilfered the band’s tracks on his Graduation album.
Giorgio Moroder–‘From Here to Eternity’
Pinning a genre of music to one person seems unreasonable, but disco certainly owes an enormous debt to the Italian mastermind Giorgio Moroder. A year after defining dance and house music as we know it by producing a tiny little Donna Summer track, Moroder solidified his reputation with this solo collection of infectiously catchy dance tracks. Studio 54 would not have been the legendary club that we know today without this album, and emcees everywhere were eating these beats up like candy.
Talking Heads–‘Talking Heads: 77’
Not many would have guessed that the lanky gang of art-school graduates who were opening for the Ramones with shrieks and yells would go on to be one of the most influential bands in history, but such is life. On their debut record, Talking Heads married the jerky instrumentation of punk rock with a key, key factor of hip-hop’s eventual sound: an elastic bass-line that groooooved. And David Byrne’s speak-sining can certainly qualify as an early form of rapping.
Parliament–‘Funkentelechy Vs. The Placebo Syndrome’
Parliament had perfected the art of the high-concept funk-odyssey album over their various forms throughout the decade, but everything came to a head with this funkasaurus-rex. Parliament was smart enough to see the tides turning in disco’s favor, and held nothing back in condensing the hallmarks of funk into a disco, dance floor ready format. And emcees learned quite a bit on how to make a thinly veiled drug reference from this record.
The Get Down is streaming on Netflix now.
For more music content, check out our guide to Wave Music, and why it’s the genre you need to know.
- Cover Image: Netflix