Iconic Rock & Roll Moments from the 1970s

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With punk, funk and disco, the 1970s brought radical new sounds and sights to stereos, stages and dance floors. Spanning a captivating showman’s public wedding and a troubled artist’s private final days, Sotheby's 10 December auction A Rock & Roll Anthology: From Folk to Fury offers memorabilia and rare manuscripts from some of the decade’s most iconic moments. It took all kinds of luminaries to make up the “Me Decade.” Here’s just some of what they left behind. –Bill Crandall

Iconic Rock & Roll Moments from the 1970s

  • Sex Pistols, Problems Autograph Manuscript, ca. 1977. Estimate $25,000–35,000.
    In true punk rock spirit, the inspiration for the Sex Pistols’ “Problems” was a lack of inspiration. “We had run out of ideas for songs,” said singer Johnny Rotten, “a major problem.” So guitarist Steve Jones played an A, B, C, D chord sequence, Rotten added spiteful lyrics (“You got your brains dehydrated”), and – BAM! – another anthem of disillusioned youth was born. Penned by Rotten, these handwritten lyrics differ slightly from the version of “Problems” recorded for the short-lived band’s one and only studio album, 1977’s Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols. For example, the line “I ain’t dedicated to a TV screen” did not make the final cut. Rotten saw “Problems” as emblematic of his work: “I never lectured. Just pointed out the flaws in it all.”

  • The Who, Tommy Edited Screenplay, 1975. Estimate $40,000–60,000.
    It was one thing to create a rock opera about a “deaf, dumb and blind kid who sure played a mean pinball." It was another to bring it to life on the big screen. The Who’s guitarist and principal songwriter Pete Townshend took care of the first job, while director and screenwriter Ken Russell (notorious for his equally acclaimed and scandalous 1971 X-rated horror film The Devils) was tasked with the other. These 65 mimeographed pages feature Russell’s dialogue intended for the all-star cast, which would include Ann-Margret, Jack Nicholson, Elton John, Tina Turner and Eric Clapton. Townshend and Russell’s ink and red-felt hand-written edits show the careful synching and sequencing of songs and scenes between composer and director. “Ken was bombastic, energetic, funny, tireless and inspiring,” Townshend says of the late filmmaker. “During the Tommy film, he only ever slept for about four hours. I survived on cognac.”

  • Chateau d’Herouville Guest Book, ca. 1975–8. Estimate $20,000–30,000.
    Twenty-five miles northwest of Paris sits an 18th century chateau that once caught the eye of 19th century artist Vincent van Gogh. It also caught the ears of 20th century recording artists like Pink Floyd, Joan Armatrading and Cat Stevens, who recorded there. The studio at Chateau d’Herouville, nicknamed “Honky Chateau” by Elton John when he recorded his album of the same name, birthed some of the best music of the 1970s. The Bee Gees laid down their disco-era-defining smash hits “Stayin’ Alive” and “How Deep Is Your Love,” while, ironically enough, David Bowie kicked off his “Berlin Triology” with the landmark Low album. This gilt-embossed guest book, which collected signatures at the Chateau for more than a decade, reads like a pop music who’s who: Marc Bolan, Marvin Gaye, the members of Fleetwood Mac. British-born Bowie, who had recently relocated from Los Angeles to Berlin, poured his world-weary soul into the book by scribbling the opening stanza of Low’s “Be My Wife”: “Sometimes you get so lonely / Sometimes you get nowhere / I've lived all over the world / I've left every place."

  • Sly Stone, Black Velvet Suit, 1974. Estimate $2,000–3,000.
    Sly and the Family Stone’s 1974 concert at Madison Square Garden was indeed a family affair. Before one of the world’s most explosive live bands rocked the “world’s most famous arena,” the 21,000 fans in attendance were transformed into wedding guests. Frontman Sly Stone married his girlfriend, model and actress Kathy Silva, in a surprise onstage ceremony officiated by Soul Train host Don Cornelius. Geraldo Rivera served as an usher, while Andy Warhol, Edgar Winter and Diane Von Furstenberg were among the guests. Stone, a famously flamboyant dresser, recited his vows in this black velvet suit with glittery metallic embellishments, and Silva wore a matching one. Unfortunately, the wedding was much smoother and more fabulous than the marriage. Two years after their public wedding, Silva left the troubled Stone.

  • Jim Morrison, Handwritten Notebook, Paris, 1971. Estimate $180,000–220,000.
    Jim Morrison was such a voracious reader of dark, obscure literature that his high school English teachers suspected him of making books up. When he arrived in California to attend U.C.L.A., he continued reading and began writing poetry, which served as a crucial building block for the music of the Doors. Throughout his ensuing rock stardom, Morrison never stopped writing, self-publishing two volumes of poetry in 1969, two years after the Doors’ debut album. Fed up with fame and battling addiction, Morrison retreated to Paris in 1971 and continued writing during the final months of his life. After his death, this unlined marble notebook was discovered in his Paris apartment next to another poetry journal. Among this notebook’s 100-plus pages is this grim observation Morrison wrote shortly before his death: “Man’s body is sick. His headlong flight from death leaves no time for joy.” Jim Morrison never left Paris; his grave at Père Lachaise Cemetery is one of the city’s popular tourist attractions.

  • Rolling Stones, Australian Tour Poster, 1973. Estimate $5,000–7,000.
    Australia’s proud history as a British penal colony proved to be just the ticket for rock & roll bad boys the Rolling Stones. Due to singer Mick Jagger’s prior drug convictions, the Land Down Under planned to ban him from entering in 1973. However, immigration officer Al Grassby came to Jagger’s rescue, making it possible for fans in Brisbane, Melbourne, Adelaide, Perth and Sydney to lay eyes on the “world’s greatest rock & roll band.” Australian artist Ian McCausland got the call to create this rare poster to promote the tour, and his image of an Australia-bound airplane on a collision course with the Stones’ tongue and lips logo is now legendary among fans. The Stones camp liked McCausland’s work so much that they asked him to create one for New Zealand as well. As for Grassby, despite some crowd trouble at the Adelaide show resulting in 21 arrests, he never regretted welcoming the Stones. “I went out on a limb to give them visas,” he said. “To give a man a bad name and hang him is immoral and un-Australian.”

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