1977 in Music

My music reviews for 1977.

 

1. David Bowie: Low (10/10)

This record starts with an even more robotic, even artier, even more sterile version of Philly Soul and R&B than we got with Station to Station and slowly transitions to Eno-esque ambient pop. If Eno hadn’t made music like this himself already, this record would be revolutionary. But it’s still pretty damn revolutionary for two reasons:

First, Bowie is a better songwriter than Eno, and his experiments with indeterminacy work better as popular music than Eno’s, especially Eno’s completely ambient pieces.

Second, Bowie had an audience already as he was one of the most popular musicians in the UK (if not the world) by this point. And here he suckers us in, but leading with music that is at least a little bit reminiscent of his last record, until it evolves (or devolves) into something that most people had probably never heard before.

Listen to me talk about Low.

 

1. Richard Hell and the Voidoids: Blank Generation (10/10)

Hell’s songs (excepting the CCR cover, of course) are not that different from other punk of the era (and some of them are particularly influential on later punk, such as “Liars Beware) but Hell’s lyrics are basically on another planet from a band like Ramones (or any of the British bands debuting in 1977) which shouldn’t be a surprise given that he, like Patti Smith, thought of himself as a poet first and musician second (at least some of the time). By itself, this set of songs would distinguish this album from so much of the punk music of its era.

But then Hell went out and found two guitarists who refused to play rock music conventionally, particularly in their licks, fills and solos. Much like Marquee Moon stood rock guitar tradition on its head, Blank Generation does the same thing in the solos, only with this record its subtler because the rest of it sounds so punk. It’s easy to listen to this and to just accept it as straight ahead punk music despite the deconstruction of rock cliches all over the record. (Take the solo on “Betrayal Takes Two” for just one such example. What is that?)

So this record fits uncomfortably into the category “punk” because its lyrics and its performance are just way too damn arty. With Horses, this basically sets up an alternative path for all the people inspired by punk, who don’t want AOR/MOR any more. But I like this a lot more than Horses.

 

1. Television: Marquee Moon (10/10)

The cliche about this record is that it completely re-invented rock guitar playing. It’s not true exactly, but like any cliche there is some truth to it. Sometime in the mists of time, I wrote the following:

An absolute classic. I know it’s been said before, but this is a truly innovative album. You kind of listen to it and go, “where’s the blues?” And realize, they’ve left it behind. Which is just crazy, considering it’s a rock album. That in itself would set this above most other rock albums from the 1970s. However, some truly innovative albums are chores to listen to. You know the album’s trailblazing, brilliant or whatever, but you really have to work to listen to it, due to a lack of great songs. This is definitely not the case here. The band’s ridiculously simple yet brilliant innovation is paired with Verlaine’s songs; every one of which is memorable. This album, along with a few others (former Television member Richard Hell’s Blank Generation, for example) set the groundwork for post-punk. The latest resurgence of that genre is making this debut album look even more significant.

Well…I can’t say I entirely agree with my previous assessment. It’s not like there’s no blues here, it’s just that Lloyd’s playing in particular has very little reference to the blues. (Verlaine’s does, at times.) And I really hate that this record is considered “post punk.” Post Punk did not exist in 1977 because punk barely did.

But the record has been profoundly influential, not just on  New York guitar-focused bands (for which it is pretty essential) but for much American alternative and indie rock of the 80s to the present.

And I do agree with the above that, for such an influential and classic record, it remains an absolute joy to listen to.

 

4. The Clash (10/10)

Though this is not the first British punk LP – that honour goes to The Damned, far as I know – it is the most important of the initial punk albums. Self-serious in a way that The Damned were not, and political with a point, unlike The Pistols, this record is everything that British punk was and aspired to be. It’s this message that connected with people both within and without Britain.

The songs are extremely strong, with most of them among not only the best Clash songs but the best songs of the initial wave of punk,

And, on top of all of this, The Clash are actually a good rock band, despite the reputation of punk for having amateur musicians. Just listen to “Remote Control,” for example, which is just basically perfectly arranged.

One of the great records of the 1970s.

 

5. David Bowie: “Heroes” (10/10)

This is the second “Berlin Trilogy” record, though it is the only one recorded entirely in Berlin. It marks Bowie’s second collaboration with Brian Eno, resulting once again in a blending of American R&B with Krautrock and more esoteric things, which, much like Low, helped invent the dominant sound of post-punk that would soon take over the UK.

I get a definite sense of deja vu when I listen to this record immediately after Low or The Idiot and there is a degree to which the overall stylistic similarity of the “Berlin Trilogy” records works against the individual albums.

But Bowie has arguably combined the two primary disparate influences here better than on the first record, at least in the sense that, when things get slow, moody and instrumental on the second half of the record, we’re ready this time.

Also, bringing Robert Fripp out of retirement was an inspired choice, as he adds more of an aggressive rock feel that was perhaps lacking on Low.
I think you could also make a claim that this is the stronger set of songs.

All of this adds for me to the very near equal of its predecessor, even if it is very much Low 2.

 

6. Damned Damned Damned (10/10)

The first British punk album is an absolute classic, albeit not quite as good as The Clash’s debut.

Read the review.

 

7. Wire: Pink Flag (10/10)

 

8. Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols (9/10)

Released nearly a year after its lead single, by this point the album sounds primitive in comparison to the other punk being made in 1977. Read the review.

 

9. Van Der Graaf: The Quiet Zone / The Pleasure Dome (9/10)

This record is sort of the reverse of The Silent Corner and the Empty Stage; on that record Hammill et al. performed songs that should have been played by VDGG. On this record, it sounds like the newly christened Van der Graaf is playing songs meant for a Hammill solo record.

Not that I’m complaining as this is, arguably, the best set of songs Hammill ever wrote for his band. If that band isn’t entirely recognizably Van der Graaf Generator, maybe that’s why they changed the name…

Hammill gives us two suites of songs that combine everything that is great about his solo work into a slightly more ambitious framework, The melodies are strong but the songs are out there enough to still take time to grow on you. The lyrics are as strong as ever and a few of these songs are among his best (particularly “Last Frame” but they’re all strong). The band behind him has changed (saxophone mostly swapped for violin, organ pretty much gone) but this is still a strong band, even if they are not as scary as classic VDGG.

The only have criticism I have of the record is that the production is pretty awful – Hammill uses some effects that were already dated in 1977 and just sound so much worse 40 years later.

But aside from that, it is my favourite VDG(G) record, even if that’s a sacrilegious thing to say. It would be the one I recommend to neophytes if it wasn’t so damn different from everything else they ever made.

 

10. The Stranglers: No More Heroes (9/10)

Punky but not punk. Read the review.

 

11. Talking Heads ’77 (9/10)

This is a much rawer version of the band, understandably. They lack a lot of the musical and lyrical polish they had later (even the next year) and they seem to lack as clear an identity. Don’t get me wrong, this is still really, really New Wave compared to, say, Classic Rock of the same year, or even British New Wave at the time. But beyond “Psycho Killer” there are no obvious classics, it’s easy to see why a lot of this got dropped from their shows later.

I sound like I don’t like this, and I don’t mean that. I’ve just come at this bass-ackwards and it’s weird hearing such a primitive version of the band. Hell, the lead off track barely sounds like this band at all.

My poor listening habits aside, this is a central early document of New Wave, pointing out an alternative approach than punk to revitalizing music. I wasn’t born so I have no idea what it was like to see these bands in New York before they put records out, but it must have been a shock to come upon records like this, when everything on the radio sounded very, very blues (or country) based. Then you get this and you’re like “whaaat?”

They definitely got a lot better as a band (and Byrne got better as a songwriter), but this is still pretty great.

 

12. Iggy Pop: Lust for Life (9/10)

Sometime between now and 2010, I wrote the following:

This is a pretty fantastic album.

It’s way tamer than The Stooges but that doesn’t matter at all.

Obviously, “Lust for Life” and “The Passenger” are clear highlights. But there’s more here than just the hits.

The background vocals on “Success” are ridiculous. The best part is at the end when Iggy sings something he thinks they won’t bother to try and they try singing it anyway, and then he laughs “Oh Shit” and they sing “Oh shit.”

But the masterpiece of the album is the soul song “Turn Blue.” It features Pop’s best vocal performance and it is coupled with a fantastic, semi-traditional-but-still-fresh-sounding arrangement (or series of arrangements), including the backing vocals, which changes a number of times. The lyrics are also standout, which suggests that maybe Iggy would have done even better to have co-written more lines with Lacey. It’s a great song in every way.

Also, it’s pretty incredible that Bowie could have been in the midst of creating such incredible music of his own and then making this album at the same time. It’s kind of mind-blowing.

A classic.

I agree with my previous assessment but would add that, instead of being tamed, maybe Iggy was showing the way to the new punks, showing you could still make vital rock music while honouring rock tradition instead of trying to destroy it all.

 

13. Peter Hammill: Over (9/10)

A couple of years ago I wrote the following:

At first the concept of a break-up album from the lead singer of the loudest and rawest prog band of the 70s seems a little odd. After all, prog isn’t really known for its confessional lyrics (with some notable exceptions, obviously), nor for songs (again with a few exceptions). But that was changing in the second half of the decade, at least for some bands. Unsurprisingly, this sounds a lot more like VDG without the Generator than with it. From the liner notes it sounds like the sessions were part of the reason why they got back together with the new name. And we can understand why. Over has many of the positive qualities of the singer-songwriter album – honesty, good songs, humour – while avoiding the sheen that afflicted so many of these albums in the 70s (but who would really expect Hammill to release an overly-polished album, let alone an overly-polished break up album?). Though there are the keyboard over-dubs and even an orchestra, none of these things take away from the rawness of the emotions; his arrangements manage to avoid 70s singer-songwriter cliche, which makes sense, given Van der Graaf’s output. A classic.

I agree with all of that, but then this happened. I never really had a breakup before because I had never really had a serious relationship. But when we broke up I listened to Over and it became so much more relevant to me. Though Blood on the Tracks, some parts of and Use Your Illusion, it was Over that I listened to over and over again (pardon the terrible pun). It was central to my life for a month or two and now it is central to memories of that time. If I ever was objective about it, I can’t be any more. But, trying to put that aside…

Over isn’t strictly about the end of a romantic relationship (whether or not Hammill’s relationship ended, though we must assume that) as one song is about empty nest syndrome (seriously) but this is, for me, one of the great breakup albums (and, for me, personally, the greatest, or at least the most meaningful). Hammill’s songs about the breakup (one of which is written from the perspective of his ex) may take a long time to worm their way into your soul (in part because Hammill likes to stretch out his melodies to the point where they are far less catchy than they would be otherwise) but they are as good summaries as I know of what you go through when your romantic relationship ends. The one song that isn’t about a romantic breakup has as much emotional power as anything else on the record.

One of my most cherished albums.

 

14. The Saints: (I’m) Stranded (9/10)

Longer songs than other punk bands. Read the review.

 

15. Pink Floyd: Animals (9/10)

The first of the Waters-dominated albums is a near masterpiece, finding a balance between the things we already loved about the band and Waters’ lyrical vision (flipping 1984 on its head).

This record contains some of The Floyd’s best music of the 70s and, paired with Waters’ devastating lyrical critique of capitalism (albeit hypocritical critique, given how rich he had grown off of selling albums), it is one of my favourite records of theirs.

But what keeps it from being one of the very best is the weird, bookend of the two solo acoustic love songs that have literally nothing to do with the overall lyrical concept and have nothing to do with the music of the three main tracks.

PS That point in “Dogs” when Waters takes over from Gilmour on lead vocals is one of my favourite moments in music.

Listen to me talk about Animals.

 

16. Peter Tosh: Equal Rights (9/10)

The best reggae album I’ve ever heard. (Well, the one that appeals to me the most.) Read the review.

 

17. Kraftwerk: Trans Europa Express (9/10)

The first synthpop album? Read the review.

 

18. Henri Dutilleux: “Ainsi la nuit” (9/10)

The Dutilleux quartet really does sound to me like it “came from” Debussy’s, I can’t really articulate why except to say that it feels natural. The first time I listened I had to double check the track because I thought I was still listening to Claude and it made no sense (because you know, atonality wouldn’t make sense in 1893). There’s just something about Dutilleux’s quartet, something traditional despite its avant-gardeness, that makes me think of it as part of a tradition.

 

19. Dead Boys: Young, Loud and Snotty (9/10)

Louder and more violent than any contemporary American punk – by a lot – this record is as close as the first wave of punk in the US got to the Sex Pistols. As such, it’s basically the genesis of hardcore, charting the path for numerous other American bands. (Only those later hardcore bands would take the politics of the UK bands for their lyrics, rather than these lyrics, which is for the best.)

A landmark, even though its lyrics, designed to offend, have dated horribly.

 

20. Led Zeppelin: Listen to This, Eddie (9/10)

Now this is a show.

I would highly recommend this to anyone who thinks The Song Remains the Same is Zeppelin at their live best. Here they are ragged, loose, powerful and full of a ridiculous amount of stamina. This is one of those nights, I guess, when a great band just didn’t want to stop playing.

Everything great about Zeppelin is here: the loud, pummeling and frenetic rock music, the super indulgent solos from Jones, Page and Bonham, and the general dance-ability of most of it. There’s also an acoustic set, which I believe is rare for this period of their performances.

Yes, Page’s last super long guitar solo and Bonham’s drum solo (as usual) go on too long, but otherwise this is an incredible show, and the one I most would have wanted to attend had I been alive.

 

21. Brian Eno: Before and After Science (9/10)

Somewhere back in the mists of time, I wrote the following:

This is the album that seems to prefigure the Talking Heads collaboration the most. Well one track in particular I guess. It’s pretty great stuff. As usual, way ahead of its time.

I don’t know if I was aware that “King’s Lead Hat,” the most new wave-ish and Talking Heads-ish song on the record, is an anagram of “Talking Heads.”

Eno attempts to walk a line between his earlier records and the ambient music he was working on at the time. Much like Low, Eno sequences his album so that we get the (relatively) more conventional music first. It would be a novel trick had he and Bowie not employed it already.

This is not Eno’s best set of songs – in particular because of the move towards ambient – but it is arguably more risky than previous efforts. And, in hindsight, we can see that it really was the bridge between his early solo records and the rest of his career.

Eno was such a trailblazer that I feel like everything he made before he went full-on ambient is worth your time. But of his classic solo albums, this is the least significant if only because he had done most of this stuff before. Still, very, very good.

 

22. Radio Birdman: Radios Appear (8/10)

I like this more than The Saints but it’s less important as it’s pretty traditional. Read the review.

 

23. Iggy Pop: The Idiot (8/10)

More Bowie than Pop, though that’s okay. Read the review.

 

24. Oliver Knussen: Cantata (8/10)

The Cantata is so far from my idea of a cantata that I really don’t know how to think of it. Maybe I need to listen to more cantatas. As a piece of music, though, I like it as it has a mournful quality (was does an oboe not sound mournful?) and it feels more like an elegy in its introduction than anything else. A couple minutes in that changes to more of the energetic music we’re used to from Knussen. I like this.

 

25. Elvis Costello: My Aim is True (8/10)

It’s unfortunate I guess that early Costello is constantly connected with punk, if only because of his lyrics (which are rather more biting than most ’70s pop rock lyrics). The music is decidedly not punk: it’s pure pub rock; one of the most overrated underground movements in rock music history I say. But that’s not really to slight Costello; he was probably the best thing to happen to pub rock. He moved on and so I guess the world forgets. I don’t know.

Anyway, I generally like his songs but the aesthetic is not great: it’s a little herky jerky but mostly just the same thing that was going on in the states at the same time: ’50s revivalism (Springsteen – who he sounds like at times – Petty, Seger) only Costello is a better writer and has managed to capture at least a little of the modern sense that comes with punk. And whether he was a punk or not, he was certainly more literate / eloquent than any of them which helps me get over the power pop contained herein.

2017 update: I don’t entirely agree with this. It is perhaps a little unfair. He’s a great songwriter. But this is not punk music.

 

26. Parliament: Funkentelechy vs. the Placebo Syndrome (8/10)

Perhaps the most typical of the Parliament records I’ve heard. Read the review.

 

27. Rush: A Farewell to Kings (8/10)

I believe there is a critical consensus that this is a step back from 2112, and it’s a consensus that I probably agreed with when I was younger but now I find kind of baffling.

2112 is known for its title track, which basically set up the template for an amalgam of hard rock and prog that would eventually become progressive metal, but the rest of the album is basically just generic hard rock – albeit very well played hard rock, and featuring the odd thing that is not generic. On this record, the two styles are far better integrated.

The title track does sort of set up their new formula, for good or ill, but it is an effective version of the prog mini suite.
You could say that “Xanadu” sort of repeats the pattern, albeit at twice the length, but I think it’s one of their better efforts at combining the form of a prog epic (the mini moog and percussion are very proggy) with their harder rock sound. Also, though Peart is highly overrated as a lyricist, his lyrics here are at least different (albeit brief).

“Closer to the Heart” was probably Rush’s biggest song before they actually had hit singles. It’s so over-played and I’ve come to find it kind of annoying over time. But it’s probably the best shorter song they’ve written but to this point.

Rush gets attacked for being Randian libertarians, something that at least Peart claims is a popular confusion based on his desire not to get sued for stealing her idea for “2112.” But “Cinderella Man” (lyrics by Lee, not Peart) sure seems like it’s from the same fount of inspiration. I’d like the song better if I didn’t find the lyrics problematic.Because the music is classic Rush.

I have long had a love-hate relationship with Rush ballads. I often find that the lyrics are not great (or sometimes awful) and Lee is not a great ballad singer as I find him kind of maudlin a lot of the time (I’d much rather listen to him sing up=tempo music). But Rush often includes some of their most interesting music in their ballads (the best example being “Entre Nous,” which has just a crazy ending). “Madrigal” is pretty rote, though.

I would be humming and hawing over whether or not this record was one of Rush’s best from the ’70s (perhaps their best) if it weren’t for the last track. “Cygnus X-1” is everything great about a prog sci fi epic. After the rather cheesy intro, it opens with one of the great moments in the Rush canon, with Lee playing this bass line that refuses to stay in one time signature. What follows is just an onslaught of everything that makes Rush great; complicated music played fast and well,too proggy to be hard rock but too hard to be most prog. One of my favourite Rush songs.

Though it might sound like I’ve been damning this thing with faint praise, I’d rather listen to it than just about any other Rush album from the ’70s.

 

28. The Jam: In the City (8/10)

Read the review.

 

29. Suicide (8/10)

I respect this but I do not enjoy it particularly. Read the review.

 

30. Cluster & Eno (8/10)

What you would expect: something very much in the middle of Cluster and Eno. Read the review.

 

31. Junior Murvin: Police and Thieves (8/10)

His voice makes this more unique, as do his lyrics. Read the review.

 

32. Weather Report: Heavy Weather (8/10*)

 

33. Ramones: Rocket to Russia (7/10)

Probably their most consistent (i.e. best) record though hardly as influential as the debut, which changed the world. Read the review.

 

34. Pete Townshend and Ronnie Lane: Rough Mix (7/10)

Somewhere in the mists of time, I wrote the following:

This is a forgotten classic. Just a great album that feels like it was recorded randomly, purely for the fun of it (with the exception of one song). This has got some great stuff from Townshend and some of Lane’s best work. But possibly what makes it so great is the supporting cast (especially Clapton, who is superb here). Glyn Johns producing helps too. Also, Townshend and Lane stretch out and play a whole whack of instruments, which is great.

“My Baby Gives it Away” is a great, fun song that’s obviously not intended to be serious (would they really play it like that if Townshend was seriously bemoaning his slutty girlfriend?). Charlie Watts doesn’t hurt either. The lyrics are far from Townshend’s best, but the song sets the tone for the album.

“Nowhere to Run” is a great Lane song and introduces the somewhat alternating rock song then softer, slower acoustic numbers. This one features drums from Henry Spinetti, Harmonica from some guy I’ve never heard of, and organ from the Who’s stage keyboardist, John “Rabbit” somebody. The accompaniment is totally appropriate for the song. It kind of sounds like Lane is being smothered by his family…

The title track is a fantastic rock song featuring some great leads from Clapton and a great solo from Townshend (I think). Also, Spinetti and “Rabbit” are back too. Credited to both guys, it’s probably a group effort.

“Annie” is Lane’s again, this time cowritten by Clapton and ex-Who manager Chris Lambert. Clapton’s work here is just rhythm. The accordion is a nice touch. So’s the violin and acoustic bass. I actually wonder if Lane plays an instrument on this one…it’s hard to know. Anyway, it’s a nice, pleasant song.

“Keep Me Turning” is Townshend’s first more sedate song. More organ and drums from that tandem. Some great electric and acoustic guitar leads from Townshend, more than likely. The lyrics are kind of odd, but whatever.

“Catmelody” is a straight ahead rock song from Lane (cowritten again by Lambert). The Stones lend a hand (fittingly enough) with both Watts and Stones’ road manager Ian Stewart lending a hand. Nice to see Mel Collins out of the prog rock setting too. He’s got a nice solo. This is closest Lane comes to the Faces on this album. Don’t know who plays the guitar solo, (Townshend? Lane?) but ir’s pretty straightforward. Nothing special.

“Misunderstood” is very strange lyrically. Another more subdued number from Townshend, with an interesting arrangement. This is the song that gave his greatest hits album its title. One thing about this album is it has some of Townshend’s weirdest lyrics. But enough of about that.

My favourite song on the album is Lane’s “April Fool.” It’s just a fantastic ballad, featuring some awesome dobro from Clapton. His tone is just ridiculous. The mandolin is also a nice touch.

Townshend’s “Street in the City” feels totally out of place on the album and kinda ruins the vibe for me. It’s a strange song, with some great playing by Townshend. But the string arrangement doesn’t make sense on this laid back album. It’s the only ut that feels like it was put on here because it already existed. (I’m probably wrong, but that’s what it feels like.).

“Heart to Hang Onto” is the only Townshend album that sounds like it belonged on a Who album. It sounds tailor-made for that band, why they rejected it (or Townshend never offered it up) makes no sense to me. The version here is good, but I bet the Who would do an awesome version. In any case, Entwistle is here to provide brass, but I still think the song could use some Daltrey and Moon. But then it wouldn’t be on this album. And instead of Entwistle’s bass, there’s ex-Crimson member Boz Burrell (I think he was in Bad Company or something like that at the time…maybe not, who knows), who is a poor substitute, but I gotta stop complaining cuz I like the song.

“Till the Rivers All Run Dry” is the only cover and an appropriate end to the album. It has a relaxed, end of the show type feel. More great Dobro from Clapton. Don’t know who plays the tasteful piano.

So yeah, it’s a great album, with only one kinda weak track. It’s too bad not too many people know it.

I can’t say that I agree with that any more. If there’s one thing I would label this record it’s “amiable,” though Lane’s efforts are more in that vein than Townshend’s. It’s pleasant but slight. It won’t convince you that Townshend’s a great songwriter, though it might convince you Lane is… There are some really nice guest spots on here too. But the whole thing is a bit of hodgepodge as Townshend’s material in particular feels like songs The Who rejected or he left off a previous solo record, rather than written explicitly for this record.

But if you want to hear two of the finest British songwriters of their generation having a good time with their friends, you won’t be disappointed.

 

35. Dennis Wilson: Pacific Ocean Blue (7/10)

Bad lyrics. Bizarre (and great) arrangements. Read the review.

 

36. Oliver Knussen: Autumnal (7/10)

Whereas the word Autumnal to me conjures up yellowish and reddish leaves on the ground, and feeling the cooling air. It conjures up something else entirely for Knussen. This duet for piano and violin is divided into two parts.

The first (the “nocturne”) has its moments of peace but mostly sounds like the falling leaves are a bad omen.

Much like the “nocturne,” the “serenade” is not something you would immediately associate with the title, however it’s a little closer to my ears. It still makes this autumn an eerie, trepidacious experience.

On the whole, I enjoy this brief piece, even if I do not get the title.

 

37. Earth, Wind & Fire: All ‘n All (7/10)

Way better than I was expecting. Read the review.

 

38. Bob Marley and the Wailers: Exodus (7/10)

Good, to the best of my knowledge. Read the review.

 

39. Al Green: The Belle Album (7/10)

Green picks up a guitar and the result is a funkier sound. Read the review.

 

40. Heartbreakers: Like a Mother Fucker [L.A.M.F.] (7/10)

The New York Dolls minus the camp. Read the review.

 

41. The Lee Konitz Nonet (7/10)

I feel like I’ve heard this before. Read the review.

 

42. Heart of the Congos (7/10)

I don’t know how to evaluate this. Read the review.

 

43. Peter Gabriel [Car] (6/10)

A very uneven debut. Doesn’t know what he wants to be. Read the review.

 

44. Lynyrd Skynyrd: Street Survivors (6/10)

Meh. Read the review.

 

45. Fleetwood Mac: Rumours (6/10)

When I was young, I listened to Oldies radio (“1050 Chum” in Toronto). The station played very little music from the ’70s, with the exception of Canadian bands like The Guess Who, who they had to play for Cancon reasons, and a few other bands, Fleetwood Mac and The Eagles in particular. They played this era of Fleetwood Mac because it was the rare ’70s music safe enough for an Oldies audience. And, all these years later, after I’ve heard the singles from this record too many times to count, and the remaining tracks enough times, I still think of it as so incredibly safe. And that’s not what I want in a breakup record.

All that aside, this album is way better than the self-titled record that preceded it. Buckingham and McVie have upped their game as songwriters considerably, both writing much better songs. (Ironically, I would say that Nicks, who is the best songwriter of the three, has a poorer showing this time out.)

And I actually like a few of these, such as “The China” and “Never Going Back Again” (though that’s a solo performance that feels like it doesn’t belong).

But I still can’t escape how safe this is. “Mom rock” as my friend would say.

 

46. Jethro Tull: Songs from the Wood (6/10)

When I first discovered prog, Ian Anderson was probably my favourite prog songwriter, I just ate up everything he wrote. I don’t know what happened but age (and listening to a lot more songwriters) has made me start to dislike a lot of his lyrics, like the lyrics here, obsessed with English country life and sex in the country. When Ray Davies writes about English country life it’s appealing. When Anderson does, it just feels like an old British guy (who wasn’t even very old) longing for the days when men were Men.

This record is their first return to a more folkie sound. It is, according to many, the last great Tull album. (Some would suggest Heavy Horses.) But the older I get, the less I like it. Why are their synthesizers? Why aren’t the songs better? Why do they abandon the strong melodies and riffs for weaker ones so often?

Also, Anderson is an ass: he gets full financial credit for writing the songs but just admits that two of his bandmates wrote material but won’t get publishing rights? What a dick.

 

47. The Jam: This is the Modern World (6/10)

Read the review.

 

48. Steely Dan: Aja (6/10)

Not my thing at all. Read the review.

 

49. Culture: Two Sevens Clash (6/10)

The things I don’t like about dubby roots reggae are made worse when it’s all about a prediction of the world ending before I was even born. Numerology is stupid. Read the review.

 

50. The Alan Parsons Project: I, Robot (6/10)

Pretty wussy. Read the review.

 

51. Emerson, Lake and Palmer: Works (6/10)

 

52. Throbbing Gristle: Second Annual Report (6*/10)

I kind of want to rate it lower but it’s more important than that. Read the review.

 

53. ABBA: The Album (6/10)

Well, it’s not awful. Read the review.

 

54. KISS: Love Gun (5/10)

Much better than Destroyer. Read the review.

 

55. Meat Loaf: Bat Out of Hell (5/10)

Somewhere in the mists of time (2009), I wrote the following:

This is well-produced and arranged for what it is. That would be Rundgren, me thinks. It’s so cheesy, sometimes it’s so cheesy it’s good but most of the time it’s just cheesy. Meat Loaf is clearly the star, and he’s so much better than the backup singers that they kind of sound bad. The lyrics seem a little inconsistent too, as sometimes it’s summer but then suddenly it’s winter. Maybe I’m nitpicking, but I figure it could be better thematically. This is so overdone, you can understand why punk happened. That being said, it’s well-done, not burnt.

I do not agree. No, I do not.

I grew up with this record as much as I grew up with any record my parents liked. Bat Out of Hell seems to have been one of those records that a lot of people of my parents generation had around the house, and I can understand why. I know pretty much every word of this record, thanks to my parents’ generation.

Punk was scary. Though punk was reviving rock and roll and British Invasion rock music, it was reviving it with the teenage spirit of rebellion. Boomers didn’t want to remember their rebellious youth, they wanted to remember the tranquility they imagined existed when they were young. And so a ton of music that revived rock and roll became popular in the late ’70s; “Heartland” rock being perhaps the most successful genre. But there were musicals too: Rocky Horror Picture Show, Grease. These all provided “safe spaces” for the boomers who were scared by punk, despite so many music and thematic similarities to the best rock and roll they grew up with.

Bat Out of Hell is a lot more “rock” than Rocky Horror or Grease, and less campy too (a lot less campy than Rocky Horror) but it still feels to me like a musical, lacking most of the dialogue and much of a plot. It’s basically revivalist rock and roll meets the American Musical, via the bombastic, arena production of someone like Bob Ezrin. (Is Rundgren’s production work always this over-the-top? I know him more as a performer than a producer.) It’s incredible that it’s taken Steinmen 40 years to turn this into a musical, because it feels like it is one already, and it feels like a direct inspiration of so many of those rock musicals, especially those using hits, strung together with the flimsiest of plots. (I should mention that, if this set of songs really was meant to have some kind of narrative coherence, it fails: “Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad” stands out like a sore thumb among a set of songs that appear to be about teenage or early 20-something love.)

Steinman’s songs are catchy (though way too long!) but his lyrics are so fucking cheesy. His songs remind me a bit of Mink DeVille’s brand of revivalist kitsch rock and roll masquerading as “New Wave” only Steinmen is a better songwriter, he knew enough to let someone else sing his songs and he went out and found a producer, someone who admired the same music as he did, but could modernize it.

Unfortunately, Steinmen and Rundgren lean in heavily to extreme arena rock bombast, bombast these songs already had in spades. I guess these songs deserve their over-the-top production, as they are already over-the-top. But I can’t help but feel like the production is so over-the-top that it almost undermines the nostalgia – nothing sounded like this in the ’50s or ‘early ’60s. Case in point might be “For Crying Out Loud,” a song that starts out as the most restrained thing on the record, featuring just Meat Loaf and piano, until the most ludicrous arrangement on an album full of ludicrous arrangements is introduced, seemingly trying to set some kind of record for the feat of the most absurdly over-the-top use of an orchestra in a pop context.

This is super cheesy music, music that I cannot love because its cheese is rooted in things I didn’t grow up with. But the arrangements attack taste with a razor blade and I find myself wanting to admire their balls – it takes something to go this over-the-top – but actively disliking the finished product, particularly when I am left wondering if maybe one or two instruments less might have helped.

But it isn’t just the arrangements, the songs are the worst kind of nostalgia, they are just very catchy, which is probably the only reason I am not sneering while writing this.

A preposterous record.

 

56. Eric Clapton: Slowhand (5/10)

Meh. Just very meh. Read the review.

 

57. The Enid: Aerie Faerie Nonsense (4/10)

Prog rock without the rock. Read the review.

 

58. Saturday Night Fever Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (4/10)

Ugh. This thing is 75 minutes long… Read the review.

 

59. Billy Joel: The Stranger (4/10)

Boomer pablum. Read the review.

 

60. Emerson, Lake and Palmer: Works Volume II (3/10)

Years ago, when I was still young enough to maintain that ELP was a truly great band, I gave this a listen or three and rated it 6/10. I think I wanted to believe the common idea that this is better than Volume 1 because at least here the bands sometimes sounds like ELP. Well, there are a bunch of problems with that.

The idea that this album is related to Volume One is, in itself, a bit of a foolish idea. Volume One was, after all, a way for all three band members to record on their own while still putting out a “group” album. This album is really a rarities album collecting outtakes not just from Volume One but from Brain Salad Surgery. And as such, it suffers from the usual problem with rarities albums: some of these tracks were outtakes for a reason.

But the album was indeed released as some kind of sequel and as such it fails pretty miserably. It sounds nothing like its predecessor, which could be a good thing.

But what we get is so all-over-the-place as to please no one, or at least only the biggest of ELP devotees who are prepared to forgive them all their faults.

“Tiger in the Spotlight” is a traditional rock and roll number considerably modernized with synthesizers – and a bridge that doesn’t really belong in a rock and roll song. It feels like two separate pieces: the traditional chorus – not really a song in total, that is marred by the presence of synthesizers – and the interesting bridge section that features some playing by Emerson that could be mistaken for turntabilism if it hadn’t been recorded in 1973. There is a reason it was left off that album.

“When the Apple Blossoms Bloom in the Windmills of Your Mind I’ll Be You” is more along what you might expect from the band, despite it’s reputation as a throwaway. Listen, it won’t change your life, but it is, at the very least, the sound of three very able musicians having a good time together, which can’t be said for most of the rest of the material they recorded during this time. And that’s because it was recorded in 1973, apparently.

“Bullfrog” is far and away the best thing here and probably the best thing Palmer ever wrote. It appears to be an outtake from his sessions for the earlier Works album but it is more fun, more unhinged and arguably more daring than anything the band chose to include on that album. If you must acquire this album for completeness sake, at least this piece is present.

The title track from most people’s candidate for the band’s masterpiece, “Brain Salad Surgery,” was left off that album for a reason: it is terrible. I don’t know why this band felt like they had to include some kind of unfunny “comedy” number on each album after their debut. I wasn’t sure that I ever enjoyed “Benny the Bouncer” but if this was the alternative then they made the right choice.

“Barrelhouse Shakedown” is a fine recreation of traditional honky-tonk, but that is all it is.

“Watching Over You” is another piece of shit Lake ballad that should never have been released by a “progressive” rock band. The only thing positive I can say about its inclusion is that at least there isn’t a whole side of these on this record. Ugh. (It is better than pretty much everything he included on the first Works album, but so what?)

“So Far to Fall” feels like a legitimate attempt to do something new. I’m not sure it works, but it at least feels like a band effort and it is musically interesting.

Emerson’s overly-orchestrated cover of “Maple Leaf Rag” is unnecessary and adds nothing to the original. That said, it is still one of the best things here; damning with faint praise.

Then there is the Christmas song, with typical Lake-Sinfield pseudo-profound lyrics. I can’t begin to say how ridiculous it sounds for the band that recorded “Toccata” to have created a Christmas song – admittedly now a “rock” Christmas staple. There is nothing to say about it.

“Close But Not Touching” is another Palmer contribution that shows just how much more fun he was at this point. Regardless of whether or not the rest of the band was involved – I doubt it, given their general lack of involvement in his 1977 output – it stands as one of the best things here.

I have not heard the original of “Honky Tonk Train Blues” but I suspect it is relatively similar to the original. I don’t know that for a fact and I must say it is enjoyable, even if it is revivalist, if only because so much of the rest of the album isn’t enjoyable.

Finally, their cover of “Show Me the Way to Go Home” is insipid and utterly unnecessary. Isn’t this a British pub song? Then why does it sound like the band is a lounge act with good production values and a decent arranger?

The whole album reeks of an attempt to make more money without putting in any effort. But it contains so little in the way of “progressive” rock that it is hard to understand why they thought their fans would go for it.

 

Not Ranked: Wiener Philharmoniker, Charles Mackerras et al.: Káťa Kabanová (8/10)

Read the review.