Liner Notes

The Year That Was: 1979

by Benjamin Ray

Signs of exhaustion were creeping in to the latter half of the ‘70s, especially in 1979, when disco and the first wave of punk were fading away, arena rock was on the rise and pop music was still flailing prior to the transition to New Wave. But the year still had some great music that ended the decade on a strong note.

A few big double albums spanned the year: Pink Floyd's overrated concept album The Wall, which became a huge seller, the Clash's excellent, stylistically varied London Calling and Fleetwood Mac's sprawling, feverish Tusk. Great albums arrived from Cheap Trick (At Budokan), Supertramp (Breakfast In America), the Scorpions (Lovedrive), Neil Young (Rust Never Sleeps...better to burn out than fade away) and David Bowie (Lodger, the third in his Berlin trilogy and the most accessible of the three).

Bowie and Cheap Trick were ahead of the pack in embracing the sounds of new wave, power pop and post-punk, along with Blondie's Eat To The Beat, the Knack's "My Sharona," Talking Heads' strong Fear Of Music, the Cars' Candy-O, the very good debut from the Pretenders and the Police's best album yet, Reggatta De Blanc. Other strong entires in this genre included Joy Division's Unknown Pleasures, the Attractions' Armed Forces, the Jam's Setting Songs, debuts from the Specials and B-52's, XTC's Drums And Wires, Public Image Ltd.'s Second Edition and Graham Parker's Squeezing Out Sparks. And, in punk, highlights included Gang of Four's Entertainment! and the Damned's Machine Gun Etiquette. 

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These bands represented an alternative to the mainstream rock of the time, becoming the first entry into the movement that would bear that name in the next few years. And Lord knows fresh voices were needed to counteract the bloated, exhausted air of The Wall, Tusk, the Eagles' The Long Run and Led Zeppelin's In Through The Out Door. Decent albums arrived from Journey (Evolution), Heart (Dog & Butterfly), Tom Petty (Damn The Torpedoes), Bad Company (Desolation Angels) and Van Halen (Van Halen II), but listeners shouldn't have to settle for decent.

Other rock songs of 1979 included ELO's "Don't Bring Me Down," Robert Palmer's "Bad Case Of Loving You (Doctor, Doctor)," Midnight Oil's "Back On The Borderline," Jefferson Starship's "Jane," Foreigner's "Head Games" and "Dirty White Boy," Billy Joel's "Big Shot" and the return of Bob Dylan as a born-again Christian on Slow Train Coming.  

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Michael Jackson finally made his proper album debut with Off The Wall, breaking himself away from the Jacksons and setting him up for his massive success a few years later. Other pop and disco hits included Gloria Gaynor's "I Will Survive," Earth Wind & Fire's "September," Chic's "Good Times," Donna Summer's Bad Girls album, Nick Lowe's "Cruel To Be Kind," Sister Sledge's "We Are Family," Anita Ward's "Ring My Bell" and Rupert Holmes' irritating "Escape (The Pina Colada Song)." And then there were outright embarrassments from KISS ("I Was Made For Loving You"), Rod Stewart ("Do Ya Think I'm Sexy") and Chicago (Chicago 13).

But at least we had Ry Cooder's Bop Till You Drop, Charlie Daniels Band's "The Devil Went Down To Georgia" and the Sugarhill Gang's "Rapper's Delight," which, while goofy, heralded the start of a new kind of music that would become a huge cultural and musical force in the next decade. Hip-hop, New Wave pop, heavy metal (and its bastard cousin hair metal) and alternative rock/punk would all join to tell the story of the 1980s, and audiences were ready for that change.

And that, friends, is the Year That Was in music.




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