The Rise of Punk, David Bowie Gold and a Sense of Revolution
IN THIS PHOTO: David Bowie posing in 1977/PHOTO CREDIT: Masayoshi Sukita
The Best Albums of 1977
WHEN I was thinking about my favourite song and...
IN THIS PHOTO: Sex Pistols captured in a cheeky shot from 1977/PHOTO CREDIT: Bob Gruen
album of all time yesterday, it struck me that both can be limited to a very narrow frame in time: 1977 and 1978. My favourite album, The Kick Inside, was released in 1978 and saw Kate Bush producing a breath of fresh air against the Punk movement. My favourite song, Deacon Blues, is from Aja – a Steely Dan masterpiece released in 1977. That year boasts so many terrific albums and there must have been something in the air back then! I wonder why I gravitate towards this year but, as you will see from this collection of 1977-released albums, there was something magical happening. It was a tragic year for musician losses – including Elvis Presley and Marc Bolan of T. Rex – but, in terms of the music being produced, it helped lift the gloom and provided huge inspiration for artists coming through. Took a look at these enormous albums from a year that, aside from 1994 and a couple of years in the 1990s, is almost...
IN THIS PHOTO: Talking Heads photographed in Amsterdam in June 1977/PHOTO CREDIT: Gijsbert Hanekroot/Redferns
IMPOSSIBLE to beat.
ALL ALBUM COVERS: Getty Images/Spotify
The Jam – In the City
Release Date: 20th May, 1977
Producers: Vic Coppersmith-Heaven/Chris Parry
Standout Tracks: Art School/I Got By in Time/Time for Truth
“On their debut, the Jam offered a good balance between the forward-looking, "destroy everything" aggression of punk with a certain reverence for '60s beat and R&B. In an era that preached attitude over musicianship, the Jam bettered the competition with good pop sense, strong melodies, and plenty of hooks that compromised none of punk's ideals or energy, plus youth culture themes and an abrasive, ferocious attack. Even though the band would improve exponentially over the next couple of years, In the City is a remarkable debut and stands as one of the landmark punk albums” – AllMusic
Key Cut: In the City
Fleetwood Mac – Rumours
Release Date: 4th February, 1977
Producers: Fleetwood Mac/Ken Caillat/Richard Dashut
Label: Warner Bros.
Standout Tracks: Dreams/Don‘t Stop/Go Your Own Way
“Setting aside the weight of history, listening to Rumours is an easy pleasure. Records with singles that never go away tend to evoke nostalgia for the time when the music soundtracked your life; in this case, you could've never owned a copy of it and still know almost every song. When you make an album this big, your craft is, by default, accessibility. But this wasn't generic pabulum. It was personal. Anyone could find a piece of themselves within these songs of love and loss” – Pitchfork
Key Cut: The Chain
Television – Marquee Moon
Release Date: 8th February, 1977
Producers: Andy Johns/Tom Verlaine
Standout Tracks: Venus/Elevation/Prove It
“Marquee Moon is comprised entirely of tense garage rockers that spiral into heady intellectual territory, which is achieved through the group's long, interweaving instrumental sections, not through Verlaine's words. That alone made Marquee Moon a trailblazing album -- it's impossible to imagine post-punk soundscapes without it. Of course, it wouldn't have had such an impact if Verlaine hadn't written an excellent set of songs that conveyed a fractured urban mythology unlike any of his contemporaries. From the nervy opener, "See No Evil," to the majestic title track, there is simply not a bad song on the entire record. And what has kept Marquee Moon fresh over the years is how Television flesh out Verlaine's poetry into sweeping sonic epics” – AllMusic
Key Cut: Marquee Moon
Sex Pistols – Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols
Release Date: 28th October, 1977
Producers: Chris Thomas/Bill Price
Standout Tracks: Holidays in the Sun/God Save the Queen/Anarchy in the U.K
“Musically, Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols is just about the most exciting rock & roll record of the Seventies. It’s all speed, not nuance — drums like the My Lai massacre, bass throbbing like a diseased heart fifty beats past bursting point, guitars wielded by Jack the Ripper-and the songs all hit like amphetamines or the plague, depending on your point of view. Rotten’s jabbing, gabbing vocals won’t leave you alone. They either race like crazed, badly wounded soldiers through fields of fire so thick you can’t tell the blood from the barrage, or they just stand there in front of you, like amputees in a veterans’ hospital, asking where you keep the fresh piles of arms and legs” – Rolling Stone
Key Cut: Pretty Vacant
David Bowie – Low
Release Date: 14th January, 1977
Producers: David Bowie/Tony Visconti
Standout Tracks: Breaking Glass/Warszawa/Art Decade
“Speed of Life opens the album with a jolt thanks to Ricky Gardiner's sharp guitar. The more lengthy and suspense-filled Warszawa, was used to open the 1978 and 2002 tours. It made sure that the audience were on tenterhooks until Bowie took to the stage.
With its texturing, layering and juxtaposing of random sounds and instruments, including an eventide harmonizer, Low is certainly an ambitious album and one that wasn't well-received by critics at the time. It does, however, show a Bowie who was had turned 30: a man growing up, coming into his own.
Key Cut: Sound and Vision
Ramones – Rocket to Russia
Release Date: 4th November, 1977
Producers: Tony Bongiovi/Tommy Ramone
Labels: Sire (U.S. and U.K.)/Philips (Europe)
Standout Tracks: Rockaway Beach/Teenage Lobotomy/Do You Wanna Dance?
“Forty years on, punk is now twice as distant from us as the birth of rock n’ roll was from it; one wonders if a contemporary teenager would even “get” the Ramones now that punk has been splintered and scattered into tiny fractions of its aesthetic and ethos reflected in everyone from Julien Baker to Lil Uzi Vert. Contemporary teenagers, in any case, aren’t the target market for this reissue. This is strictly for those of us old enough to remember when loud guitars could still sound new and fresh and dangerous (and, frankly, for those of us wealthy enough to blow 65 bucks on a deluxe box set).
As a document of those final days of the relevance of punk rock proper—before the endless mutations that gave us the last 40 years of “alternative” music, before ur-punks like the Ramones gave in to commercialization, self-parody, and diminishing returns—it’s a vibrant and refreshing listen. Punk is dead, and has been since before most people knew it was alive, but for a few hours, at least, this set may help convince you otherwise” – SLANT
Key Cut: Sheena Is a Punk Rocker
Steely Dan – Aja
Release Date: 23rd September, 1977
Producer: Gary Katz
Standout Tracks: Black Cow/Peg/Josie
“Considering the final count of musicians who appear on ‘Aja’ eventually clocked in at a mammoth thirty, a result of the constantly interchanging studio personnel, the album is brilliantly cohesive. As on most Dan records, it is Fagen the reluctant singer who binds the different elements together with his languid vocal delivery.
On ‘Black Cow’, impeccable Jazz-funk instrumentation is partially disguised, book-ended by pop-music melodies to create genuinely groundbreaking textures. Lyrics sparkle with wit and cynicism throughout, betraying a sense of humour so oblique it is easy to overlook completely (“My back to the wall/A victim of laughing chance/This is for me/The essence of true romance”).
To many, Steely Dan epitomise all that is bad about high-brow rock snobbery. With their oh-so-clever literary references and muso-tendencies, they are the total opposite of the debauched rock ‘n’ roll primates that preceded and followed them.
But to defy Aja’s majesty would be to commit an act of snobbishness equal to any that its creators may be guilty of. Nearly 25 years on, it remains a benchmark for complex, polished, intelligent music. Not that Walter Becker and Donald Fagen would ever have settled for anything less” – Drowned in Sound
Key Cut: Deacon Blues
Kraftwerk – Trans-Europe Express
Release Date: March 1977
Producers: Ralf Hütter/Florian Schneider
Label: Kling Klang
Standout Tracks: Europe Endless (Europa Endless)/The Hall of Mirrors (Spiegelsaal)/Franz Schubert
“There is an impressive composition paying homage to "Franz Schubert," but the real meat of this approach is contained in the opening love letter, "Europe Endless," and the epic title track, which shares themes and lyrics with the following track, "Metal on Metal." The song "Trans-Europe Express" is similar in concept to "Autobahn," as it mimics the swaying motion and insistent drive of a cross-continent train trip. What ultimately holds the album together, though, is the music, which is more consistently memorable even than that on Autobahn. Overall, Trans-Europe Express offers the best blend of minimalism, mechanized rhythms, and crafted, catchy melodies in the group's catalog; henceforth, their music would take on more danceable qualities only hinted at here (although the title cut provided the basis for Afrika Bambaataa's enormously important dancefloor smash "Planet Rock")” – AllMusic
Key Cut: Trans-Europe Express (Trans Europa Express)
Talking Heads – Talking Heads: 77
Release Date: 16th September, 1977
Producers: Tony Bongiovi/Lance Quinn/Talking Heads
Standout Tracks: Uh-Oh, Love Comes to Town/Tentative Decisions/The Book I Read
“This is the band that had its early critics talking about minimalism and, like Jonathan Richman, Talking Heads do indeed triumph by the economy of their sound. But where the ingenuous Richman is dangerously precious, there is no nonsense about Talking Heads. Byrne’s spare guitar patterns, Jerry Harrison’s modest keyboard fills, Martina Weymouth’s understated bass and Chris Frantz’ efficiently Spartan drumming convey a taut earnestness that’s bursting with energy.
“The Book I Read,” like so many of their songs, burbles with excitement, a feeling of expansion overcoming restraint. “Pulled Up” is the real champ, though, a fiercely exhilarating rush of aural amyl nitrate.
Vocally, Byrne’s live-wired personality vibrates his precise musical framework like a caged tiger rattling its bars. (That he sings in a stiff, reedy, “bad” voice, grasping for higher notes like a drowning man lunging for air, only heightens the drama.) Exploring the logic and disorientation of love, decision making, ambition and the need for selfishness, he gropes for articulation like a metaphysician having difficulty computing emotions” – Rolling Stone
Key Cut: Psycho Killer
The Clash – The Clash
Release Date: 8th April, 1977
Producer: Mickey Foote
Standout Tracks: Janie Jones/I’m So Bored with the U.S.A./Career Opportunities
“Even at this early stage, the Clash were experimenting with reggae, most notably on the Junior Murvin cover "Police & Thieves" and the extraordinary "(White Man) In Hammersmith Palais," which was one of five tracks added to the American edition of The Clash. "Deny," "Protex Blue," "Cheat," and "48 Hours" were removed from the British edition and replaced for the U.S. release with the British-only singles "Complete Control," "(White Man) In Hammersmith Palais," "Clash City Rockers," "I Fought the Law," and "Jail Guitar Doors," all of which were stronger than the items they replaced. Though the sequencing and selection were slightly different, the core of the album remained the same, and each song retained its power individually. Few punk songs expressed anger quite as bracingly as "White Riot," "I'm So Bored with the U.S.A.," "Career Opportunities," and "London's Burning," and their power is all the more incredible today. Rock & roll is rarely as edgy, invigorating, and sonically revolutionary as The Clash. [In 2000, Columbia/Legacy reissued and remastered the album to include the U.K. songs]” – AllMusic
Key Cut: White Riot
Bob Marley & The Wailers – Exodus
Release Date: 3rd June, 1977
Producers: Bob Marley & The Wailers
Standout Tracks: Exodus/Jamming/Waiting in Vain
“1977's Exodus-- recorded in London exile after a failed attempt on his life-- turned out to be Marley's biggest-selling studio album. Recently, Time magazine tapped it as the greatest LP of the 20th century. Other Marley discs had bigger hits and still others had better album tracks, but the balance Marley strikes between politics, religion, and romance on Exodus-- compare and contrast the urgent title track and the laid-back "Jamming"-- shows a pop star at the peak of his powers.
For better or worse, it's Marley's mellower side that sets the tone of Exodus. It may have come off nuts at the time, but Robert Christgau's comparison of late era Bob Marley to Steely Dan isn't totally off base. Songs like "Waiting in Vain" and "Turn Your Lights Down Low" are first and foremost smoooooooth, and if chants like "The Heathen" and "Guiltiness" hint at a certain call to action, the presentation trumps the message. "Exodus" may make you want to rise up and fight on the side of Jah, but the message you take from the album as a whole is the one delivered in "One Love" and "Three Little Birds": "Don't worry about a thing/ Cause every little thing gonna be all right," goes the latter; "Let's get together and feel all right," Marley says in the former” – Pitchfork
Key Cut: Three Little Birds
David Bowie – “Heroes”
Release Date: 14th October, 1977
Producers: David Bowie/Tony Visconti
Standout Tracks: Joe the Lion/Blackout/The Secret Life of Arabia
“‘Neukoln’ drops us off in one hell of a bad neighborhood. Stark and haunted by the looming ruins of an industrial past. Superficially, this may come off as glum self-indulgence to some. But this is truly an existential cry of pain. Another example of this album wearing its raw emotions on its sleeve. Bowie’s sax wailing away among the gloom and doom. I suppose here the case could be made for this being Low II. Then all too suddenly, we're tossed into the disco. Here the album ends on an almost schizophrenic note with the coyly oblique, ‘Secret Life of Arabia’. Suddenly it’s time to dance, with Bowie crooning, “You must see the movie, the sand in my eyes, I walk through a desert song when the heroine dies.” Its here you realize Bowie’s backing band consists of some truly formidable R & B musicians. Namely, Carlos Alomar, George Murray and Dennis Davis. Believe it or not, the same band that played on Low. And this is part of Bowie’s genius. To put himself and others in unfamiliar territory and see what happens.
Did I say genius? Yes, I think Bowie was a genius. Part of being a genius is knowing what’s important and what’s not. And Bowie had that. Obtuse, weird and disjointed as it all is, ‘Heroes’ shouldn’t work but does. Bowie was a keen practitioner of William S. Burroughs’ cut-up technique and more than any Bowie album, ‘Heroes’ feels like it was cut up and pasted together. Yet, somehow the glue holds. Here Bowie revels in the seedy underbelly and decadent nightlife of a haunted city, teetering on the brink. As he sings in ‘Sons of the Silent Age’ this record truly does sound like, “listening to tracks by Sam Therapy and King Dice”. If Low was the sound of breaking up, ‘Heroes’ is the sound of breaking free” – Soundblab
Key Cut: “Heroes”