Liner Notes

The Year That Was: 1977

by Benjamin Ray

Quite simply, there is no year as chaotic in rock music history as this one.

This was the year punk broke, with angry young youths rising up against the "dinosaurs" of rock, those who had become complacent and rich and stopped trying to change the world. This was the year disco fully broke via the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack and many other songs. This was the year classic rockers delivered some of their best material and a new breed of streamlined, powerful artists sowed the seeds of what would become the alternative movement.

The Clash was the best entry in the punk movement, a jagged, angry and thoughtful album, although its counterpart Never Mind The Bollocks, Here's The Sex Pistols got more press and notoriety for songs like "Anarchy In The UK." American counterparts The Ramones offered Rocket To Russia and Leave Home, Wire had Pink Flag, the Vibrators had Pure Mania, the Runaways had Queens Of Noise and Richard Hell and the Voidoids offered the sharp, challenging Blank Generation, which blasted out of the CBGB scene in New York City. The Damned, Johnny Thunders, the Jam and the Dead Boys also snarled out classic punk albums in this groundbreaking year. 

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The scene burned bright with these and other newcomers eager to do something new, to inject youth and passion back into rock and roll. These included Elvis Costello's My Aim Is True, Blondie's eponymous debut, Television's Marquee Moon, Talking Heads '77 and Cheap Trick's debut and In Color. Learning from these kids, many of whom they inspired years earlier, was David Bowie and Iggy Pop, who released the forward-thinking Low and the pounding title track of Lust For Life, respectively, which fit in perfectly with the musical tenor of the day. Also noteworthy was Peter Gabriel's first solo album and "Solsbury Hill."

On the complete opposite end was progressive rock, in which the songs were getting even longer, stranger and out of touch; there were a few exceptions, but the scene was pretty much finished after this year. Emerson, Lake & Palmer released both Works volumes, Yes and keyboardist Rick Wakeman returned with Going For The One (and the stunning "Awaken"), Electric Light Orchestra had Out Of The Blue, the Alan Parsons Project had the interesting I Robot, Kansas had Point Of Know Return ("Dust In The Wind") and Pink Floyd released the jagged yet melodic Animals, which was as pointed and angry about class warfare as anything the Clash said that year.

Mainstream rock saw a number of career highlights, most notably the enormously popular Rumours, Fleetwood Mac's breakup album that remains timeless, emotional and solid, regardless of one's musical tastes. Eric Clapton offered the strong Slowhand, Billy Joel had The Stranger and AC/DC offered Let There Be Rock. Neil Young put out American Stars 'N' Bars, Queen had the stripped-down News Of The World, Steely Dan the sleek, jazz-fusion Aja, the Steve Miller Band had the hit-heavy, radio-ready Book Of Dreams, Styx offered the over-the-top The Grand Illusion and Supertramp released the moody near-prog of Even In The Quietest Moments, of which the title track is among their best songs.

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1977 also saw debuts from Eddie Money, Heart (Little Queen) and Foreigner, as well as songs like "Godzilla," "Black Betty," Paul McCartney's "Mull Of Kintyre," Jimmy Buffet's "Margaritaville," the Rocky soundtrack, Hall & Oates' "Rich Girl," Ted Nugent's Cat Scratch Fever, and Lynyrd Skynyrd's tragic Street Survivors, released shortly after the plane crash that killed two of its members. Other good albums to check out include Weather Report's jazz fusion Heavy Weather and Bob Marley's Exodus. And, of course, this was the year of Elvis Presley's final single, "Way Down," Barry Manilow's "Looks Like We Made It" and Dave Mason's poignant "We Just Disagree."

Still, for many listeners, punk was too angry, Elvis Costello was too insular and mainstream rock wasn't cutting it, and so they turned to the dance floor. Disco had been lurking around the fringes for a while, of course, but the Bee Gees' soundtrack to Saturday Night Fever brought it to a mass audience and became a huge seller. In addition to songs from that album like "Stayin' Alive," dance floors were filled with people getting down to Marvin Gaye's "Got To Give It Up," the Commodore's "Brick House," ABBA's "Dancing Queen," Rose Royce's "Car Wash," "I'm Your Boogie Man," "Don't Leave Me This Way" and others. 

From the Sex Pistols to Fleetwood Mac, from the Bee Gees to the Alan Parsons Project, from Pink Floyd to Barry Manilow, 1977 has few rivals as a year of diversity, groundbreaking debuts and stylistic shifts in popular music. In a few short years, disco would be done, punk would be done, progressive rock would be done and post-punk and alternative would be driven underground for a while, leaving this year as a fascinating study and possibly the last truly great year for music for at least 10 years.

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




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