Tuesday, October 25, 2011

That Wonderful Year in Music... 1978

Defining the music scene of the late 1970s as merely punk and disco does a great disservice to the bountiful variety and eclecticism of the era, and 1978 proves how narrowminded that opinion can be. Even though vapid American boogie and raw British nihilism captured most people's imaginations --and couldn't be more disparate in sound and philosophy-- the seeds of new wave and post-punk were being planted, while power pop hit a creative zenith. That is not to say, however that the punk movement was a tired novelty and disco flat-out sucked; there was just a lot more going on in '78 that most people recall. If there was a running pattern that year, 1978 was the year of the debut; five first albums and one sophomore effort cracked my top ten. If a notable act from the early '80s didn't bow in 1977, they rolled it out a year later.

I try to keep my lists as concise as possible, but yet again I was forced to expand my top album and song lists to an even twenty. 1978 was a bigger treasure trove of music than I initially assumed, so whittling down from twenty-five albums and ranking them took awhile. For anyone griping about why Pere Ubu's The Modern Dance, Brian Eno's Music for Airports or even a more populist pick like Bob Seger's Stranger in Town didn't make the cut, I just wanted to be as straight to the point as possible. I will attest that I left out a big chunk of disco and top-notch funk from '78 as well. The longer the list, the more out of control it feels.

1. Darkness on the Edge of Town, Bruce Springsteen. Highly anticipated and exceeding even the highest expectations, The Boss' fourth album completes his transition from restless teen to defeated adult. The colorful cast of losers and misfits that Springsteen paints are unabashedly working class, more cowardly than heroic. It makes more than one listen to "get" Darkness, but you have to admire an artist that puts his principles ahead of his popularity.
2. This Year's Model, Elvis Costello. The spectacled Liverpudlian's most "punk" album marks the first appearance of his longtime backing band, The Attractions. Compared to his debut a year earlier, Model is tough and wild in both brain and heart, and every song careens along both sides of the street. Organist Steve Nieve almost steals the show, supplying reckless riffs on a variety of tracks including the hit "Pump It Up."
3. Parallel Lines, Blondie. Setting the template for every '80s tough gal from Pat Benetar to Madonna, Debbie Harry and the boys hit their creative zenith and cracked the mainstream on album #3. Everybody knows "Heart of Glass" and "One Way or Another," but what keeps the album so fresh 33 years later is its depth and consistency.
4. Van Halen, Van Halen
5. The Cars, The Cars

6. Dire Straits, Dire Straits
7. Outlandos D'Amour, The Police
8. The Kick Inside, Kate Bush
9. Some Girls, The Rolling Stones
10. Third/Sister Lovers, Big Star. Recorded in late 1975 and shelved almost three years --than repackaged in the early '90s-- the songs that comprise Big Star's unofficial third album depicts a band (and a songwriter) falling apart at the seams. Alex Chilton sabotages nearly every song on the disc, a tortured artist putting his depression and desperation to the forefront of every word he sings. Side A is mostly rockers, Side B is all ballads, but both sides are inherently beautiful in their shambling nature.

11. Easter, Patti Smith Group
12. More Songs About Buildings and Food, Talking Heads
13. Excitable Boy, Warren Zevon
14. Give 'Em Enough Rope, The Clash
15. Heaven Tonight, Cheap Trick. Balancing the arena-ready punch of their debut album and the shiny belligerence of In Color, Cheap Trick was another workhorse act that broke through in '78. "Surrender" is the no-brainer hit single and their defining song, while "On The Radio" and "Stiff Competition" are wonderful, albeit buried gems.

16. The Last Waltz soundtrack, The Band/Various Artists
17. Germ Free Adolescents, X-Ray Spex
18. Jesus of Cool (aka Pure Pop for Now People), Nick Lowe
19. Powerage, AC/DC
20. One Nation Under a Groove, Funkadelic. As danceable as it is political, George Clinton et al. hit a creative peak and found unexpected commercial success via Groove. Largely dismissed as merely funk (probably because of the name), Funkadelic was inherently about "black rock," fat beats under Hendrix-style guitars. The title track was a left-field #1 R&B hit, but tracks like the seven-minute "Groovealligence" give the album its soul and intellect.

"Thunder Island," Jay Ferguson
"Driver's Seat," Sniff n' The Tears
"I Need a Lover," Johnny Cougar
"Spirit in the Night," Manfred Mann's Earth Band
"Crazy Love," Poco
"Don't Look Back," Boston
"Don't Stop Me Now," Queen
"Baker Street," Gerry Rafferty
"I Feel Love," Donna Summer
"If I Can't Have You," Yvonne Elliman

"Ca Plane Pour Moi," Plastic Bertrand
"Brickfield Nights," The Boys
"Top of the Pops," The Rezillos
"Teenage Kicks," The Undertones
"Into The Valley," The Skids
"Yachting Types," The Yachts
"Down on the Boulevard," The Pop
"Pretty Please," The Quick
"Better Off Dead," La Peste
"Changing of the Guards," Bob Dylan

Your thoughts?


  1. I will never understand this fascination with Bruce Springsteen.

  2. Being the year I turned 18, and the doors, ahem bars, that that age opened, 1978 was a very good year!

    ~Andrew-aka Buskieboy