‘Licorice Pizza’: the story of 1973 in music

Inspired by the 1973 setting of 'Licorice Pizza', we look back at the artists, albums, tracks and events that made 1973 a golden year for music

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A hippy invents punk

Mike Oldfield had a totally Tubular 1973 (Picture; Charlie Gillett/Redferns)

The first release on Richard Branson’s Virgin label was, objectively, weird. Mike Oldfield was a hippie-looking, multi-instrumentalist composer whose debut album was a rock symphony that had been schlepped around the labels with no success. Enter dashing über-capitalist Richard Branson, who took a punt on the weird-y record and released it in May 1973. Oldfield’s ‘Tubular Bells’ quickly became a massive smash hit, and Branson raked in the cash. Cash, arguably, that Branson later used to promote The Sex Pistols and kick the punk years into gear, giving Britain’s booming music scene another shot in the arm.


It’s entirely reasonable to say that the release of ‘Tubular Bells’, the ultimate headphones album for kids who spent their lunch breaks hiding in the music room, was a significant moment in the birth of punk – albeit one with loads and loads of piccolo on it.

Pink Floyd give everyone a reason to start smoking pot

Pink Floyd at LA Sports Arena in 1973 (Picture: Jeffrey Mayer/WireImage)

Pink Floyd made being in a band look about as much fun as being in the jury for a financial crime trial, but their self-reflection paid dividends in an album inspired by the withdrawal from society of the group’s troubled singer, Syd Barrett, partially written by his replacement David Gilmour. The addition of prodigious guitar player and talented songwriter Gilmour caused creative tension with group founder Roger Waters that would eventually destroy the band, but when the forces were in balance, as they were on 1973’s mini-masterpiece ‘Dark Side Of The Moon’, they were unstoppable.

‘Dark Side…’, with its iconic graphic prism, hit single ‘Money’ and the jaw-dropping ‘Great Gig In The Sky’, was a worldwide best-seller and became emblematic of a new way of listening to music – slouched on your bedroom floor, in the dark, with good headphones, really stoned. It was, in short, the first and ultimate stoner album. Was it a coincidence that, just a week after its release, Paul McCartney pleaded guilty to growing marijuana at his Scottish farm, receiving a small fine as a result? Possibly.

Led Zep invent stadium rock

Led Zeppelin where they spent much of 1973 – Heathrow Airport. Taken June 1973 (Picture: Evening Standard/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Every 1970s cliché about British touring rock stars can be traced back to Led Zeppelin: from chucking TVs through windows and trashing hotel rooms to parties on private jets, occult dabblings, dubious encounters with groupies and long stays at Hollywood’s ‘Riot House’ hotel. The band, formed from the ashes of hard-edged beat group The Yardbirds, had taken the blues rock of Cream, The Who, The Pretty Things and the aforementioned Yardbirds and made it harder, louder and gnarlier. In doing so, they’d hit on a formula that connected directly to the very life stuff of metal – and awoke a global audience so big and so dedicated you wonder if those rumours about subliminal messaging in the music might be true.


Robert Plant and four friends at LA’s notorious “Riot House” hotel, July 1973 (Picture; Richard Creamer/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

Weird as it is to contemplate now, touring as we know it – particularly arena and stadium touring – is a relatively recent invention, and it was Led Zeppelin who picked up on the trick that the stars of the 1960s had missed. Where The Beatles toured begrudgingly (and stopped altogether in summer 1966) and The Rolling Stones had been won over by the hippy dream but been burned when their free concerts erupted into violence (as it did at Altamont in 1969), Led Zep saw touring as another business opportunity – having already turned the industry on its head by achieving success without chasing hit singles. Led Zep’s May and June 1973 tour of the US following the release of their ‘Houses Of The Holy’ album was the one where they became immortal, setting the record for the highest attendance at a concert – 56,800 – at the Tampa Stadium in Tampa, Florida.

Wham, bam, thank you glam

Suzi Quatro on ‘Top Of The Pops’, November 1973 (Picture: Michael Putland/Getty Images)

If your vision of the 1970s is one of bell-bottom flares, mutton chops, hairy men, platform shoes, glitter (and, sadly, Glitter), then 1973 was the year for you. The charts were a roll call of acts whose prosaic, rock‘n’roll-influenced maxi-music was a shiny, silly and loud antithesis to the decline and drabness of 1970s Britain. Notable glam Number Ones this year were Slade’s three, each one an assault on spelling (‘Cum On Feel the Noize’, ‘Skweeze Me Pleeze Me’, ‘Merry Xmas Everybody’), glam boyband The Sweet’s brilliant ‘Blockbuster’ and ‘Can The Can’ by the queen bee of glam, Suzie Quatro.

Bowie is under pressure

David Bowie and bassist Trevor Bolder do Ziggy in LA; 1973 (Picture: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

David Bowie’s relatively circuitous route to fame is well-known, but by 1973 he’d cracked it. His 1972 album, ‘The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars’, had been a huge hit, but its story about a rock star drunk on his own success was beginning to appear to be biographical. Its follow-up, ‘Aladdin Sane’, was a jumbled, confused collection that suggested Ziggy was a fluke, given the preceding ‘Hunky Dory’, now considered a masterpiece, was coolly received.

Bowie collapsed from exhaustion while on the long-running ‘Spiders From Mars’ tour and was clearly showing the strain of his lifestyle, living as alter-ego Ziggy, and the newfound demands to see him in the flesh. On July 3, Bowie ‘retired’ his Ziggy Stardust persona altogether in front of a shocked crowd at London’s Hammersmith Odeon, completing the album’s prophecy. At the end of the year, Bowie put out the ‘Pin-Ups’ album, a collection of cover versions of songs by his favourite artists of the preceding decade. Rare as it was to catch Bowie looking backwards, it was pretty out-there nonetheless; the sound of an artist whose personality splitting had left him trying to remember who he really was.

Love Bowie? Check back on Saturday when we’ll be printing a classic 1973 Bowie interview by the mighty NME scribe Charles Shaar Murray, in its entirety.

The Beatles grow wings and fly

Two-for-one on mullets in 1973 for Linda and Paul McCartney (Picture: Michael Putland/Getty Images)

By 1973, the bitterest divorce in music was old news – but it’s interesting to note how the fortunes of the chief Beatles had fared since their split three years earlier. 1973 was Macca’s year, scoring an undeserved hit with the Wings album ‘Red Rose Speedway’ and his first US Number One single in ‘My Love’, filming an ABC TV special named James Paul McCartney and doing the Bond theme for Live And Let Die. Not only that, he rode out what amounted to a defection in his post-Beatles band, riven by resentment toward wife Linda and Paul’s role as leaders, which reduced Wings to a nimble threesome. That threesome nimbly hopped on a plane to Lagos, Nigeria, where they took to a basic eight-track studio and cranked out their greatest album yet, ‘Band On The Run’.

John Lennon and May Pang enjoy a night out in Los Angeles on March 13, 1974 (Picture: Fotos International/Getty Images)

McCartney’s equal in The Beatles, John Lennon, was not faring so well. His visa extension to remain living in New York with his American wife Yoko Ono was overturned by the New York Office of the US Immigration Department, and the establishment was increasingly starting to see Lennon as a radical threat to the very nation itself. In summer 1973, Lennon embarked on his “lost weekend” period – which lasted two years – a time in which Lennon, separated from Yoko, dated their assistant May Pang, and drank. A lot. The chaos did, however, yield fruit. Check out ‘Mind Games’, recorded in 1973, and you can practically hear the inner turmoil.


A printers’ strike meant that NME was suspended for a period of nine weeks in 1973, meaning no new issues for more than two months. In spite of this, David Bowie managed to rack up an impressive six NME covers by the end of the year, even if he shared the final one with his pal Mick Jagger.

Love retro NME? Check Instagram this weekend to see our special Licorice Pizza Instazine in 1973 NME style.

A country star burns brightly

Gram Parsons being meta in an LA park, June 1973 (Picture: Ginny Winn/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

Gram Parsons, the emo boy of alt-country, lived no ordinary life and had no ordinary death. Parsons passed away on September 18, 1973 while staying at the Joshua Tree Inn in the desert in California with a former girlfriend and another couple, a holiday in which Parsons drank heavily, took barbiturates and overdosed on morphine. On hearing the news, two friends of Parsons impersonated mortuary workers, seized control of Parsons’ body, took it into the Joshua Tree National Park and burned it. They later handed themselves in to police and confessed to having carried out an impromptu cremation.

And finally…

Lou Reed was bitten on the buttocks by a bloke in Buffalo. Yes, the former Velvet Underground singer was assailed by a fan during a show in the northern New York city. What a year, eh.