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When New York Was 'On Fire': A Mid-'70s Musical Revolution

Clockwise from top left: DJ Kool Herc, Patti Smith, the Fania All-Stars, Talking Heads at CBGB, Laurie Anderson and her viophonograph. (Courtesy of Cindy Campbell, Columbia Records, Fania Records, Robert Spencer, Laurie Anderson)

If you were in New York City in the 1970s, you might have stumbled upon the birth of punk, new-wave, hip-hop, salsa, disco, minimalist classical and avant-garde jazz. The city during these five years — 1973 through '77 — was the birthplace of many of the most innovative and influential musical genres born in the second half of the 20th Century, despite the fact that it was economically devastated, and was thought — at the time — to be musically bankrupt.

Will Hermes was there. He was a teenager during the mid-'70s, and he's written a new book about that era called Love Goes to Buildings on Fire: Five Years in New York that Changed Music Forever.

This week on All Songs Considered, Hermes tells Bob Boilen how a city plagued by crime and economic ruin fostered a booming arts scene, thanks in large part to cheap rent. And he spins some of the groundbreaking music that emerged during those years: a milestone composition by Steve Reich, an instrumental jam that became a classic hip-hop breakbeat, an extended dance cut that would be one of the first disco hits and the Talking Heads single that gives the book its name.

You can read more about Love Goes to Buildings On Fire and see video of the era's bands in action at willhermes.com.

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