As Bob Dylan once nearly said, thirty years is a long time. And as Sandy Denny (and Judy Collins) once asked "Who Knows Where the Time Goes?" I don't know, but if you remember 1979 with any sense of clarity, you're older that you think. Maybe it's me, but this music doesn't seem old. It's not like watching old B&W clips of TV shows where you are clearly experiencing the past. Sure, some things don't date as well as others, but that's true of every era. Again, maybe I'm prejudiced in some way, but whether it's music I really enjoy or stuff I crinkle my nose at and wonder "huh?" it still looks and sounds as fresh as anything that followed it.
In fact, much of it sounds less dated than the '80s music that followed. '80s music has a certain production style--much like the superhair of the era--that makes it sound "'80s," while the '70s are more natural in tone. The hardest part was getting this list down to 25 and then putting it in an "order."
I even threw in a few I don't like at all. Because sometimes music you don't like is more interesting than the music you do. By the way, do you realize none of us is going to live forever? That kinda put a crimp in my day.
Styx--Cornerstone: When they were on Wooden Nickel Records it was figured you could just ignore them because they were likely to go away. I mean, Wooden Nickel wasn't likely to be the launching pad for a seriously successful act. But then A&M Records got involved and the whole game changed. The band even juggled up their sound. This is the album with "Babe," which like many medications is known to induce a variety of reactions. Some will experience euphoria, while others will suffer from nausea. Headaches have been reported, along with slurred speech. Should not be mixed with alcohol. Careful handling heavy machinery.
24) Prince--Prince: At this point, he was a novelty, a young guy who could play every instrument, which meant he was talented but the question remained as to whether or not he could connect with a meaningful audience. At this point, he did not--and seemed destined for cult status. It's funny how some people's weirdnesses actually benefit them while for others it gets in the way. Prince easily could've been the Captain Beefheart of his generation.
Marianne Faithfull--Broken English: This was a true shocker. Marianne Faithfull reinvented as a "New Wave" rocker. She was considered old and washed up and she was neither. She knew cursing would be a good move and anything other than the country and folk music she'd been recording just prior had to get her more attention. She was a natural for this kind of thing. She liked leather jackets and smoking on stage. Why not?
22) XTC--Drums And Wires: It's never been much of a surprise to me that XTC had trouble "catching on." I've never understood why all the British groups were met with such resistance in the US around this time? Were we really so enamored with the Little River Band that we couldn't make room for these guys? But then, we weren't treating our own homegrown "New Wave" bands any better. It wasn't like we rejected XTC for the Dead Boys. We rejected them for Foreigner!
Joe Jackson--Look Sharp!, I'm The Man: There was a point where it looked like Joe Jackson just might be one of those guys who would have a pop career that would last for several decades. He came charged out of the gate like he was in a marathon with Elvis Costello and Graham Parker. None of them liked being compared to one another, but it was better than being ignored, which basically happened to Jackson and Parker. Odd, considering that at the time, it was Costello who appeared to have the most "difficult" personality.
20) Donna Summer--Bad Girls: Disco was one of those weird phenoms that drew as many lovers as haters. It all feels quaint now. Good pop songs are good pop songs whether they have tons of pumping beats and glitter on them or not. If you don't want to dance to them, sit it out. But a certain amount of music is made for the sole purpose of dancing. That you could both dance and hum to Summer's music seems like a win-win situation from my permanent wallflower position.
Supertramp--Breakfast In America: Who would've predicted these guys would have a transformative moment and become huge stars? In the beginning, they were pretty prog and pretty stubborn with it, too. But like most bands who suddenly got a look at the accounting end of things, they realized that to support a band that big, they'd have to sell some records eventually. A&M Records (home to Styx, remember--and Joe Jackson!) were only too happy to help them once they'd written some songs that could be played on the radio.
18) The Eagles--The Long Run: How do you follow up the success of Hotel California? You take three years and sweat it out. Then you break up. Because no one likes each other anymore. Because money changes everything? Because you might as well try a solo career? Because if you wait long enough, you can "come back" with a reunion tour and charge people a king's ransom to see you?
Led Zeppelin--In Through The Out Door: They didn't know they were making their final album. But it was probably a good thing for the band's legacy (and NOT a good thing for its drummer, John Bonham, who would die in the process). Not many bands survived the '80s with their dignity intact and Zeppelin were very careful to guard their legacy. They even put a paper bag on this one, lest you get any ideas.
16) Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers--Damn The Torpedoes: For some reason, bands were expected to "break through" with their third albums. Springsteen did so with Born to Run and Petty, who was cut from a similar mold, ended up needing a huge hit with this album and somehow got it. Radio liked him enough to give "Refugee," "Here Comes My Girl" and "Don't Do Me Like That" some play and Petty catapulted to the mainstream where he always belonged. With that hair? Of course!
Kiss--Dynasty: Disco Kiss? Sure, "I Was Made for Loving You" had a thumpier beat and the band did sound more pop than their early days--but that's mostly a production trick. Their tunes were always meant to be sung in stadiums. They just couldn't afford to put all the special, glitzy touches on them. Now that they could, they did. And they let Ace have more of the record--even letting him cover the Rolling Stones' "2000 Man." Democracy? A crazy concept!
14) Christopher Cross--Christopher Cross: Here's the artist the people at the Grammy Society liked. He sold tons of records and seemed to have a huge career ahead of himself. Except, apparently, he didn't.
The B-52's--The B-52's: If "New Wave" music offered us anything, it was a chance to make music fun again. Too many serious James Taylor albums or heavy-handed Yes albums threatened to turn music into a Graduate Studies program. The B-52's turned it back into a yard sale where everything could be had for a bargain price.
12) Talking Heads--Fear Of Music: If I'm a member of the Talking Heads (and I'm not) and I'm not David Byrne (this is true), I'm probably a little ticked off that our producer, Brian Eno, is behaving as if he's the fifth member of the band. I mean, if you're going to join the group, fine, let's have a vote and discuss it. But your job description is that of producer. You're here to help us get our sound on tape not play the music for us. Or so radically alter our direction that we sound like a different band. Then again, what the hell, as long as you're not getting an equal cut of the profits and we're getting great reviews, keep doing whatever it is you're doing.
Gang of Four--Entertainment!: Who says politics has to make a band boring? In the case of Gang of Four, it made them more interesting. Otherwise they would be singing about what? Girlfriends? That said, I liked the band's guitar tones and never paid attention to their politics. I've read that they're kinda socialist, which from I understand means they really like talking to people. That's cool.
10) Cheap Trick--At Budokan, Dream Police: Two albums in one year but it was the live one that attracted the most attention because it started the whole "At Budokan" craze, where hapless American acts headed over to Japan to bask in adulation that no one at home would dare, since this was a period when people like Bob Dylan were considered "has-beens" in many eyes. Of course, 30 years later and the "has-beens" are most of the acts on this list who were once hot property and not Bob Dylan. Revising history isn't for slackers.
Elvis Costello--Armed Forces: Only Elvis' third album, but little did we know at the time that this would be the last one where it looked like he might court a mainstream audience. After this, his career goes practically directly into the "cult artist" crapper. Sure, he'd have a big hit here and there--"Everyday I Write the Book," "Veronica"--but his days as an angry New Waver were coming to an end and it had all started so soon. Who invented this "Time" concept anyhow?
Michael Jackson--Off The Wall: This was back when Michael was young but not that young. When it felt like he had the world in his hand with a sound that radio just adored and no one knew how weird he could be. Probably because he wasn't that weird yet. He was still learning on the job.
6) The Knack--Get The Knack: A hugely successful group starring future Jimi Hendrix drummer Bruce Gary and future Roseanne star Doug Fieger, the Knack infuriated people for some unknown reason. For being on the Beatles' record label--Capitol--and allowing themselves to be marketed as a lovable four piece pop band that sang songs about girls getting dirty with them? Boy, now that's offensive.
Neil Young--Rust Never Sleeps: Neil Young sings here that "rock n' roll can never die," but I'm starting to think maybe it can. If enough people give up or die themselves, eventually it will disappear. It's already being relegated to late night TV ads. Insisting to the kids that they listen to it won't help. Kids never listen to what you tell them anyway.
4) Pink Floyd--The Wall: Just when you thought Pink Floyd couldn't get any more grandiose they come up with this thing. Two albums of rock star paranoia and complaints about mother. Lots of great moments that classic rock radio have hammered into the ground and yet it survives. The band wouldn't. They got tired of listening to their main songwriter--Waters, Roger--explain why he should be in charge of writing all the songs when everything he was writing was sounding exactly the same. Then they tried their hand at it and discovered they couldn't write lyrics, but no truce was ever announced because they were that stubborn. Way to go, fellas!
Public Image Limited--Metal Box: Three 12 inch records that come in a film canister is always a cool idea, no matter what it sounds like. The fact that it sounds like Amon Duul II and Can is just icing on the metal box. Eventually it got released as Second Edition here in the states as a double album. Not quite the same effect, but these days everybody just downloads a file anyhow. So everything's ruined anyhow.
2) The Clash--London Calling: Another band where everyone talks about their "politics." Against war? Cool. Like poor people? Cool. Up for a revolution? What day you planning it? Hate consumerism? Don't buy the album. Oops. Wait. That's how you go out of business. Stick with enjoying the guitars and the deliberately crappy singing. That's what made them legends after all, not the goofy haircuts.
Joy Division--Unknown Pleasures: Thought I'd throw this one at number one since it's one of those singular achievements. Joy Division had a great sound, a great anonymous visual sense and a singer who really knew how to mope. All the kinds of things you need to be successful in rock n' roll and a complete failure in life.