Although it isn’t my era in the way the eighties is, it did deliver some beauties. Here’s a quick run through and not necessarily by my faves.
1 XTC – MAKING PLANS FOR NIGEL Released in ’79, the first thing that caught my attention was the drum sound, unusually crisp for the time and I think courtesy of Hugh Padgham who went on to much greater acclaim as a producer in the eighties. Both B-side’s presented a consummate force in the modus operandi of the new wave; serious, quirky and on ‘Pulsing, Pulsing’ comical. ‘Nigel’ was also a mainstay of New Zealand’s then ultra-cool music TV show ‘Radio with Pictures.’
2 BOB WELCH – EBONY EYES The music world is littered with members of ‘key’ bands that left for one reason or another prior to their rise to mega-stardom. I always liked this late seventies stunner, without knowing he’d been part of Fleetwood Mac. The follow up was nice too; both top 10s on the Billboard chart and his demise a few years back was a very sad twist in the tail.
3 ELO – SUMMER AND LIGHTNING/STRANGE MAGIC As one might expect, a lot of what our parents listened to feeds directly into ones initial music tastes as a youngster. A library of sound from which to explore before embarking on what makes us tick during our own generation which for me lurked around the corner. None the less, the few ELO records that peppered my elder’s collection met with varied response from me. A New World Record bored the hell out of me but Out of the Blue was a revelation! Visually and sonically. ‘Turn to Stone’ was bouncy pop, ‘Jungle’ was fun and ‘The Whale’ emotional, ‘Mr Blue Sky’ had drama while the song proceeding ‘Summer and Lightning’ had beauty, warmth, joy. Both Sky and S&L form part of the Concerto for a Rainy Day. OUTB is a very grand album which some may call pompous or overblown but I have fond memories of it. I also liked ‘Shine..’ and ‘Last Train..’ from Discovery and later chanced upon Strange Magic in a bookstore.
4 HALL AND OATES – RICH GIRL/SARA SMILE The first thing I heard of Hall & Oates was a performance of ‘You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling’ on Solid Gold or Soul Train (can’t remember which). Like many of my favourite artists’ I initially hated them. Now it is possible that I heard She’s Gone, Rich Girl and Sara Smile without knowing who they were. After all, just about every bloody song I can recall from ’76 seems to be in the key of (what is to me) purple – you all know about my colour sound theories by now right? And of course they went stellar during the eighties during which I bought the cassette of Rock N’Soul Part 1 comprising all their hits at that point, two of which were Rich Girl and Sara Smile both more soulful than their more stylised eighties sound. Also while we’re on the subject of the seventies H&O, X-Static is really an underrated gem, especially The Woman Comes and Goes and their pre-Scissor Sisters disco-funk workout Portable Radio.
5 CHIC – WARM SUMMER NIGHT This is a relatively recent find. Though I’ve long known about CHIC and its personnel, this album track from ’79’s Risque is an absolute beauty. Most know of Nile Rodgers as producer and exponent of disco but what is greatly overlooked is his ability to paint audio pictures of New York. This is a nice example (as is the middle section of In It to Win It from 1992’s CHIC-ism). You can see the skyline at dusk, the yellow taxi cabs zipping up and down the boulevards with their headlights on, you can see the people maybe as a mass of black or grey shuffling/darting around after work going to a café, a diner or home and you can see the sky in dazzling shades of pink, crimson and so on, perhaps even glimpse the Statue of Liberty reaching out to it, thankful she is there on an especially magical warm summer night as captured by the CHIC organisation. *Big love also to Happy Man, absolutely divine!!
6 GENESIS – ONE FOR THE VINE Now from the warm scenes of the metropolis to a very English affair from Wind and Wuthering which as you may know from my super successful drum blog remains a fave even if I don’t have time to play it as much. Not sure how Mr Banks put this ten minute epic to the band, possibly something like ‘Hi guys, got a new song for the album, oh, by the way it’s 10 minutes long and has a multitude of key shifts and tempo changes.’ One wonders whether the other guys were irked or took rise to the challenge but the result is incredible, and it’s only track 2!!! * Also came across It’s Yourself in the last few years and it blew me away.
7 EAGLES – I CAN’T TELL YOU WHY Should favourite records when you were nine become a pop culture phenomenon this would rank right up there. Although a single during 1980 it was written in the late seventies and was part of The Long Run album, also at the tail end of the seventies. Along with the XTC track it was one of the earliest singles I bought.
8 ENGLAND DAN AND JOHN FORD COLEY – I’D REALLY LIKE TO SEE YOU TONIGHT Another of those ‘purple’ ones from ’76 this is very romantic – just check those lyrics.. ‘..I was thinking maybe later on, We could get together for a while, It’s been such a long time, And I really do miss your smile’ Well I can certainly identify with that. ‘I’m not talking ’bout moving in, And I don’t want to change your life, But there’s a warm wind blowing, The stars are out and I’d really love to see you tonight’ Hmm.. yep that too. We could go walking through a windy park, Or take a drive along the beach, Or stay at home and watch TV, You see, it really doesn’t matter much to me..’ and the hat-trick is completed though I’m not sure if they had to reprise it four times but it worked reaching number 2 (in the States).
9 LITTLE RIVER BAND – HOME ON MONDAY Always liked this one, don’t know why.. could be as simple as that it mentioned Las Vegas, somewhere I have still never been but perhaps from the ears of a well travelled kid it stood as a as an early romantic beacon of the travelogue. Someone is calling from the Las Vegas Hilton, it’s far away but they are thinking of home, in other words, home thoughts from abroad and the music is every bit as romantic with its earnest seventies strings and middle section homage toward Hollywood. Great harmonies, wonderful band and dare I say it, they don’t make ’em like this anymore.
10 BEE GEES – SPIRITS HAVING FLOWN And so to another quintessentially seventies production; both cosy and beautifully poetic, the title song of one of their biggest selling albums was never a single though it still receives reasonable airplay. The song as much as the album is mostly held together by the perfectionist Barry Gibb.
11 THE MOODY BLUES – QUESTION The Moodies are somewhat an overlooked force when it comes to British bands. Overshadowed by The Beatles and The Stones (weren’t they all?) the Moodies existed in their own place and operated at their own pace. Pink Floyd brought visuals and light to their sound, Roxy married style to theirs but few could incorporate spoken word the way Edge and Pinder could albeit to their sixties output. For the year of my own birth Question resonates as one of the few decent records I can think of what with Floyd’s Atom Heart Mother another stepping stone toward their true sound (found on Meddle) and Roxy yet to record. I first heard it on my father’s This is the Moody Blues compilation – a good and worthy intro or threshold to the deep interior that is the Moody-sphere! Not only that but watching the striking THRESHOLD label go round and round on the turntable was equally spellbinding. It was also the first time I came across the word Melancholy (as in Melancholy Man), hmmm.
12 ROXY MUSIC – RE-MAKE/RE-MODEL Speaking of Roxy, you might have thought I’d have picked something off Manifesto and sure enough there’s a few I love from that record (Ain’t That So, My Little Girl, Stronger Through the Years and the eerie menace of its title song) BUT… let’s start at the beginning. Again it could be Virginia Plain or it could be Streetlife which was bizarrely the first Roxy album I bought, still the best compilation of their work to me. From there I began to explore what came before Avalon and indeed Manifesto and ended up buying a rattly black cassette of the first album, quite a stupid move when you consider the much lauded album cover art, and its the opening track which bowled me over – so to speak. Re-Make is a song where every member gives their all from Ferry’s over the top crooning to Manzanera’s 50’s razor sharp guitar, Mackay’s sexy sax to Eno’s squawking electronics which sound something like a couple of budgies having a multiple orgasm followed by a very stroppy argument, topped off by Thompson’s outrageous but enthralling drum fills. It is the sound of things to come! Or to put it in Moody Blues vernacular Days of Future Passed. If there is a way to kick off your début album and kick start your career, this was it.
13 GINO VANNELLI – I JUST WANNA STOP Around the same time as Bob Welch was serving up his French Kiss album, Canada’s Gino Vannelli was keeping it in the family with his Brother to Brother release featuring this seminal summertime ballad, another US hit in 1978. The album isn’t bad either, check out the seventies funk of Appaloosa and the soothing People I Belong To. Beautiful songs from a different time and place, slightly dated, still worth a visit.
14 ODYSSEY – NATIVE NEW YORKER Remember what I said about CHIC? Well this is of the same ilk, feel good disco which perhaps unwittingly describes a time and place. Again those sunset images are fluttering through the mind like a swirling subway wind on a balmy summer night.
15 YES – PARALLELS Feeling good didn’t just mean on the dance floor, nope, even prog-acts could deliver as found here on Chris Squire’s grooving Parallels culled from Going For The One. Not too sure what the hell a naked guy in front of a skyscraper pertains too but as far as archi-eroticism goes, this has got to be the dog’s nads.
16 YVONNE ELLIMAN – IF I CAN’T HAVE YOU Back to the disco now for this bonafide classic, was it meant this way? Well.. yes and no. If it weren’t for the Bee Gees manager Robert Stigwood it would’ve been the songs creators take on it, but truth is stranger than fiction and it was said manager’s decision to give the Hawaiian songstress her biggest hit and presumably enough royalties to rent a nice condo with.
17 PINK FLOYD – SHEEP/BRICK #1 Having found their niche with Meddle, the latter seventies saw an increasingly splintering Floyd prior to producing two more towering records (and I’m not referring to Battersea Power Station though it is forever associated with Animals from which my first selection appears). What I didn’t realise as a kid is how dark this seemingly bouncy ditty actually is. More or less owing to the idiom of following the flock, Sheep, save the humorous middle section, is an acidic account of the people being led toward their imminent doom. So how do you follow Animals? With a rock opera about a rock star who goes mad of course, kind of a culmination of Dark Side of the Moon and Wish You Were Here, lunacy and absence have always been part of the Floyd psyche courtesy of the looming shadow cast by one time guitarist Syd Barrett. Brick 2 may have been the big hit but I quite like its forerunner just for the mood conveyed, it’s the first time on The Wall that we see the menace of things to come.
18 TODD RUNDGREN – I SAW THE LIGHT/CAN WE STILL BE FRIENDS? This is one of those songs I knew of for years without knowing who it was. Both have been covered by a multitude of artists, the latter by Robert Palmer and Rod Stewart.
19 PAUL McCARTNEY – JUNIOR’S FARM 1980’s McCartney II is probably my favourite due to its quirky instrumentals however backing up a few years to a time when he sailed under the very seventies banner of Wings we find a non album cut that is seriously rocking! Though a little inept in the lyrics department what with poker men and eskimos but hey it’s a step up from Wild Life. *Also check out Spin it On from 79’s Back to the Egg album.
20 DONNA SUMMER – ON THE RADIO Lighter than both Hot Stuff and Bad Girls, it’s hard to believe this breezy beauty is a break-up song! Or is it a reunion song? As far as I can gauge the couple end up back together because of an airing of a note on the radio, Whichever, songs to ex or reunified lovers have never sounded so glorious! If you’re thinking of ditching that old brown overcoat with the holes in it, think again and no I’m not going to follow this with Peaches and Herb’s Reunited.
21 STEELY DAN – PEG Many cite the album Aja as perfection and judging by this the hordes of musicians Steely Dan fans are not wrong. A wonderful blend of smooth pop-rock and jazz which only narrowly missed the US top 10, though it did make it north of the border, good call Canadians.
22 PRINCE – I WANNA BE YOUR LOVER I can’t say I thought much of it at the time but the funk certainly caught up with me, even more so on the full length version of this. I like a lot of his early stuff and a fair proportion of his later stuff too.
23 AMERICA – HORSE WITH NO NAME ‘There were plants, and birds, and rocks, and things’ Hmm, well it was the early seventies. Does it bother me that this sounds like Neil Young, not really. Horse and Ventura remain staples of all that was right with acoustic Americana, beautiful harmonies coupled with quaint naivety and visceral imagery.
24 TASTE OF HONEY – BOOGIE OOGIE OOGIE Like Prince above, this comes in two versions; the very well known single mix at around 3.40 and an expanded album version – again approaching six minutes. This must have been a feature of late seventies disco-funk crossover but this time it’s the single version I prefer.
25 JOHN LENNON – NUMBER 9 DREAM The power of dreams in living colour here. Words that don’t mean anything; wimpy or art? It didn’t do the Cocteau Twins, INXS (Shabooh, Shoobah) or indeed Earth, Wind and Fire (see later) any harm. I can testify to that in my own poem Your Ocean, I used Emerald Zenith just because that’s how it came to me and it sounded good, thus I kept it in. Strangely despite being a huge A-ha fan I really didn’t like their version at all. Getting back to Lennon, I find Mind Games musically pleasing like the fact that #9 eerily came to rest at said number (in the States), but only 23 at home! Come on!
26 MARSHALL HAIN – DANCING IN THE CITY Very much part of the soundtrack to 1978 and the proverbial flash in the pan. This duo danced, ran through alleys then dissolved like a rainy puddle, although both went onto to other things; mainly songwriting for other artists.
27 10cc – I’M MANDY FLY ME This one may demand its own essay! Such is the complexity of the song and its background which I would not have guessed without reading up on it. On its own, Mandy seems like a prog-pop surreal film and that’s how I look on it, with many intricate layers, sections and effects. In short a man is dragged through a poster by a beautiful woman – Mandy – a bit like a reversal of a-ha’s Take on Me video but instead of menacing dudes with pipe wrenches in the middle, a dream sequence intercuts that glorious guitar break with Mandy giving the hapless hero the kiss of life. You’ve got to hand it to 10cc, they really did come up with some extraordinary music, albeit 70s music and that was to be their fate, there was no way for them to blend into the eighties in the way that Genesis, King Crimson and even YES were able to.
28 EARTH WIND AND FIRE – SEPTEMBER Feel good funk doesn’t get much better than this and there’s a lot that went into it. For one the power of improve and phonetics make the 21st night of September the only night that worked with that groove. And Ba de ya, who cares what that means, it is joyful music and the same warm red as features on the album cover (in case you’re interested).
29 FLEETWOOD MAC – SARA/DON’T STOP/SECOND HAND NEWS You might think being Welsh I would’ve picked Rhiannon but no I plumped for the serene yet haunting Sara (another of my faves from around age nine which I seldom play nowadays). The power in this is really when Stevie Nicks cranks it up a gear for the spine tingling line ‘SARA.. YOU’RE THE POET IN MY HEART!’ By stark contrast the sunshine bliss of Don’t Stop and Second Hand News weigh in pretty close too as well as some of the other Tusk material.
30 ULTRAVOX – JUST FOR A MOMENT Don’t know what to say about this one but it’s rather lovely save that awful voice treatment on the ‘we’ll never leave here ever’ parts. I’m sure it might have sounded hip at the time but it’s not aged well or as well as the rest and I like the idea of the floor changing into an ocean, John Foxx always had a wonderful way with words.
OTHER WORTHY MENTIONS…
ANDREW GOLD – LONELY BOY/NEVER LET HER SLIP AWAY
MARVIN GAYE – GOT TO GIVE IT UP
JAPAN -THE TENANT
THE POLICE – REGATTA DE BLANC
STARBUCK -MOONLIGHT FEELS RIGHT
GERRY RAFFERTY – RIGHT DOWN THE LINE