Forty Years On? A brief overview of 1978, Part III

Finishing up on this little diversion, here are a few more songs and albums that were on my radar in my youth.  The year would of course end with my mom buying me 1967-1970 (aka the Blue Album) for Christmas, kicking off a now forty-year obsession with buying and listening to music on a daily basis.  And it’s not stopping any time soon…

 

Styx, Pieces of Eight, released September. Not quite prog, not quite arena rock, not quite glam, and sometimes a bit ridiculous, but Styx was a radio favorite for years. “Renegade” still gets played nowadays, both on radio and in stadiums.

The KISS solo albums, released 18 September. All four members released a solo album in the fall of 1978. Though it didn’t generate the critical or fan excitement the label had expected (and we now know that Casablanca was known for its brilliant yet catastrophic ideas…), a lot of KISS fans I knew went out and bought them anyway. The only track that got any major play was Ace Frehley’s discofied “New York Groove”, but it’s a hell of a fun track regardless.

Ramones, Road to Ruin, released 22 September. I may have been only seven, but I knew about “I Wanna Be Sedated” even then, thanks to WAAF’s hard rock playlist. Plus, one of my cousins was a big fan. [She was also the same person that would get me hooked on Duran Duran a few years later.]  They were never far from my radar, so I’ve always been a fan.

Blondie, Parallel Lines, released 23 September. I was never the biggest Blondie fan, but I loved “Heart of Glass”. Production so sleek you could see your reflection in it, and the insistent drumbeats front and center and propelled by that ticking sequencer.

Billy Joel, 52nd Street, released 13 October. Another musician whose songs you could not escape in the 70s. Not that I minded, because I quite enjoyed his piano work at he time! This album was a huge hit for him and started a long string of pop radio hits lasting well into the 80s.

The Police, Outlandos d’Amour, released 2 November. When “Roxanne” dropped, it was picked up by every rock station out there and never left. Their debut album is amazingly tight and shows off their punkier side, even when it veers into silliness (the classic ode to a blow-up sex doll, “Be My Girl – Sally”). A fun album from start to finish.

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So yeah, I definitely skipped a LOT of stuff in between. Some releases that I don’t own, some singles I’ve missed… but thinking about it now, 1978 was a watershed year on multiple fronts. As I’ve mentioned here before, this was the year where radio listening habits shifted from AM to FM. While FM was becoming more commercial and focusing more on set rotations, there was still quite a bit of room for free-form playlist experimentation. It was a turning point for a lot of music genres on radio; disco was on the wane, rock was rediscovering its spine, punk and post-punk was sneaking on to college radio, funk was still going strong, and even country would experience a surge in popularity. I may have been seven, but there was a lot going on musically that excited me!

Forty Years On? A brief overview of 1978, Part II

Welcome to another wave of great tunage that dropped when I was a mere seven years old and already listening to the radio far more than anyone else my age probably was.  (Again — I’m skipping a lot of music that could be listed here but isn’t, merely because I did not start listening to those albums and bands until years later.)

Journey, Infinity, released 20 May. The first Journey album to feature Steve Perry, this album finally pushed them into the limelight with less focus on lengthy jams (a holdover from Neal Schon’s Santana days) and more on power pop. They would remain an arena rock favorite for the next ten years.

Bruce Springsteen, Darkness on the Edge of Town, released 2 June. After the powerhouse that was 1975’s Born to Run (and its ensuing tour), it took Bruce another three years — and some very ugly legal issues concerning a manager he’d needed to jettison — he returned with this strong and tense album. He can barely contain the energy he’d been holding onto for far too long.

The Cars, The Cars, released 6 June. Living in MA as a kid, you’d hear a track from this album on every single rock station that came in at least once a day, for decades. And you wouldn’t just hear one of the two singles, either; of its nine tracks, seven of them would end up in heavy rotation. There aren’t that many albums that can claim to have that much success, let alone debut albums. It truly is a classic worth owning.

The Rolling Stones, Some Girls, released 9 June. The Stones went through so many different style changes over the years they give David Bowie a run for his money. This particular album has them sounding like the two sides of Manhattan nightlife at the time: equal parts punk and disco. It was a critical success and the fans loved it.

Dire Straits, Dire Straits, released 7 July. They were a blues band that sounded nothing like Clapton, a jam band that sounded nothing like the Dead, and a London-based band that sounded Middle American. They were hard to pin down but they were amazing musicians and you couldn’t ignore them. And “Sultans of Swing” is still an amazing song after all these years.

The Who, Who Are You, released 18 August. After a long wave of two rock operas, a few filler albums and the occasional single, the band released one hell of a powerful and timely album. Alas, it would be the last record featuring Keith Moon, who passed away three weeks after it was released. Still, it’s one of their best albums of their 70s output and the title single still gets away with an uncensored “who the fuck are you” on commercial radio. Heh.

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More groovy tunes from 1978 coming soon!

Forty Years On? A brief overview of 1978, Part I

You knew it was going to happen sooner or later.  This is by no means complete, and I’m leaving out a LOT of great tunage primarily because it’s stuff I didn’t listen to or even know about until years later… but here’s a smidge of some of my favorite songs I heard on the radio when I was seven and my lifelong obsession was just starting out.

Electric Light Orchestra, “Mr Blue Sky” single, released January. Their fantastic Out of the Blue had been out for a few months by this time, but this became the fan favorite for years to come. Hearing it as the opening song for Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 made me ridiculously happy.

ABBA, “Take a Chance on Me” single, released January, My sister was a big ABBA fan and I loved listening to The Album, which had come out in December. They may be sugary pop, but they could write one hell of a great song.

Van Halen, Van Halen, released 10 February. The local rock stations LOVED this album and played most of its tracks. A staple cassette in your boombox or your car stereo at the time.

Wings, London Town, released 31 March. I always say that Yellow Submarine and the Sgt Pepper movie kickstarted my Beatles obsession, but I’m pretty sure Paul’s “With a Little Luck” single had something to do with it as well, as it got played EVERYWHERE and I remember my mom and I liking it a lot.

Hot Chocolate, Every 1’s a Winner, released April. I loved the funky groove and the wonky production of this track, and it (along with their “You Sexy Thing” remains one of my favorite 70s songs.

KISS, Double Platinum, released 2 April. One of my other sisters was a KISS fan and got this for her birthday. I was quite familiar with their songs, so this was a great entry point for all involved.

Cheap Trick, Heaven Tonight, released May. “Surrender” drops and becomes everyone’s favorite rock song for the entire summer and for decades to come. One of the best rock songs of the 70s. A and I drove down a highway towards Houston with this song blaring, the both of us singing along like happy idiots!

Coming up: More 1978 goodness!

Twenty Years On: September 1998

September 1998: It’s starting to get cooler out, the days are getting shorter. The commute home gets me there in the dark. On the occasional Wednesday I’ll do my comic book road trip across the state; while I’m enjoying buying the comics and taking the long drives, I think it’s more about me finding a new outlet to escape the frustration of living back at home with family. It’s about doing something for myself, just like my occasional drives into Boston on the weekend, or my hiding down in the basement to write. I’m pretty much finding my own unique self at this point. It’s a perfect time to do so, considering that I’ve disconnected from most everything and everyone else that had held me back a few years earlier.

Just me, my music, and my writing. I could live with that.

The House of Love, The Best of the House of Love, released ?? September 1998. I’d been a fan of this band since “I Don’t Know Why I Love You” but for some reason I never got around to buying any of their albums…! This was a perfect jumping-on point, as it’s an excellent mix of their late 80s-early 90s output.

Depeche Mode, “Only When I Lose Myself” single, released 7 September. A new teaser single to add to their upcoming greatest hits album (The Singles 86>98, which would drop on 28 September), it’s got the grim darkness of 1997’s Ultra, but it also has the tenderness of some of Martin Gore’s best balladry. It’s a lovely, relaxing song.

Mansun, Six, released 7 September. While this certainly didn’t come close to the Britpoppy goodness of their minor hit “Wide Open Space” and was resequenced and pretty much ignored in the US, it remains my favorite Mansun record for its grandiose scope. It’s a long album, but it goes in so many interesting and unexpected directions that it’s a hell of a lot of fun to listen to. Another record that got heavy rotation during my writing sessions.

Belle & Sebastian, The Boy with the Arab Strap, released 7 September. Critics loved this band since their start, but it was this album that expanded their fanbase exponentially, thanks to being signed to Matador in the US. [This is also the album that infamously received a ridiculously pompous negative review on Pitchfork, thus branding the site by some as being written by and for hipsters who only listen to obscure bands.] It’s light and poppy — and the perfect example of ‘twee’ which became the code word for them around this time — but it’s also full of great tracks including the title song. Another writing session album.

The Fireman, Rushes, released 21 September. Paul McCartney’s side project into chilled-out electronica gets a second album here, this time of completely new source samples and sounds. It’s relaxing and lovely and totally not what you would expect from Macca at all.

American Football, American Football EP, released 29 September. A band that partly inspired the late 90s-early 00s resurgence of quiet, meandering post-rock, this band had only released this EP and a single album (of the same name) the following year before breaking up (and not acrimoniously: their college years had come to an end and were now in different cities). They’re a cult favorite and well worth checking out; they’ve also reunited as of 2014 and put out a second album (yes, of the same name again) in 2016.

UNKLE, Psyence Fiction, released 29 September. I rarely embed a full-album video stream, but this is definitely an album you need to hear from start to finish, as it’s JUST THAT AMAZING. Producer/DJ James Lavelle created this group, initially with DJ Shadow, and created a ‘band’ that defies description. It’s hip-hop, electronic, soul, hard rock, industrial, and who knows what else, and melded into a semi-thematic album of aliens, space travel, mind travel, and spiritual healing. It can be dark and dense, hard and heavy, but also amusing and just plain weird. And its guests run the gamut as well: Thom Yorke (Radiohead), Mark Hollis (Talk Talk), Jason Newstead (Metallica), Kool G Rap, Badly Drawn Boy, Richard Ashcroft (The Verve), and Mike D (Beastie Boys). It’s a phenomenal album that you should definitely have in your collection. [And yes, another writing session album. I still listen to this one quite a bit to this day.]

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Coming soon: October 1998!

Fly-By Because It’s Been That Kind of a Week, [feat. Portishead]

Been stupidly busy lately due to the Day Job, so I’m doing a fly-by here.  I’ve been thinking a bit about Portishead lately; I haven’t listened to them in a while and after happening to hear “Glory Box” on the radio, I figured it was time to bring them back into rotation.

I do dearly love that late-90s slinky, smoky trip-hop sound.

We’ll (hopefully) be back to normal next week!

Thirty Years On: September 1988

September 1988:  The beginning of senior year.  All I had to do was get through these nine months of school and I’d be escaping this small town (for good, I’d planned at the time) and moving onto bigger and better things.  The only thing keeping me back was my own damn self.  Which, considering my mindset at the time, was a pretty big fucking obstacle.  Embracing the Creative Moody Bastard was probably not the best of ideas in hindsight.  I worked damn hard on my writing, sure… but at the expense of my own emotional and mental well-being.

Strap in, folks — we have a lot of great tunage to sort through this time!

U2, “Desire” single, released 1 September. The teaser single to their big movie/album project Rattle & Hum, this was a great rock track linking Bo Diddley beats to modern rock. I loved this track when it came out, and I certainly have a soft spot for the album and film.

That Petrol Emotion, The End of the Millennium Psychosis Blues, released ?? September. I finally got into this UK band during this album, and got to see them at UMass Amherst later that year. They had a great mix of Irish folk, funky grooves and loud noise.

Front 242, “Headhunter” single, released ?? September. I became a fan of industrial through this band, specifically this song. This is their best known track, though I’d been familiar with their previous tracks like “Agressiva” and “Quite Unusual”, which got a lot of play on 120 Minutes and WAMH. One of my favorite tracks of 1988.

Laibach, “Sympathy for the Devil” single, released ?? September. I became a fan of Laibach and their brand of industrial right about the same time. I loved the fact that they were both frightening and amazing due to their distinctively Slovenian style of operatic melodies, military beats and guttural singing. You never quite knew if they were serious or merely acting.

Siouxsie & the Banshees, Peepshow, released 5 September. An amazing album of their latter period. They’d gone from twitchy post-punk to proto-dreamwave to neo-psych, and this marked the beginning of their modern rock phase. It’s filled with some of their best tracks and highly recommended.

The Psychedelic Furs, All of This and Nothing, released 6 September. Everyone knew the hits from this band from the early days of MTV, of course, and this was a fantastic collection for anyone who hadn’t gotten around to picking anything up from them. Containing both hits and deep cuts (including the original version of “Pretty in Pink”, not the movie version), it shows just how great Richard Butler and co were as songwriters.

The Feelies, Only Life, released 13 September. This got a ton of play on WMDK and other progressive/AOR stations at the time, partly because it was a welcome return for a band that had been critical darlings at the start of the decade but had remained quiet for a good couple of years. Thanks in part to director Jonathan Demme, who used their music in his movies (and featured them as a party band in 1986’s Something Wild), they remained fan favorites all the way into the early 90s, and have come back strong in the current decade as well.

Cocteau Twins, Blue Bell Knoll, released 19 September. An album that stayed with me for years, and one that influenced my bass playing style early on. I fell in love with this band with this album and went out of my way to find the rest of their discography, even if it was dubbed from someone else’s collection. One of my favorite albums of all time, and highly recommended.

Enya, Watermark, released 19 September. This was an unexpected gem that grabbed my attention, thanks to her first hit. It might have been a big hit with the adults, but I loved its gorgeous, cavernous production. I found myself listening to this one a lot when I needed to chill for a while.

They Might Be Giants, Lincoln, released 25 September, I adored the lo-fi wackiness of their debut album and loved the teaser single for this album. It took me a while to get into it, though… it wasn’t as silly and absurdist, but it was still damn catchy. It was a slow burner for me, but I grew to love it dearly.

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Coming Up: October 1988, a month filled with albums running the gamut from incredibly noisy to quietly brittle.

 

More Thoughts on Mixtaping in the 21st Century

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I know, I know… they call it making a playlist now.  You grab a few tracks from Spotify and gather them together and call it done.  Where it used to take a good couple of hours to make one on a 90-minute cassette, now it only takes an hour, if that.

As I’ve explained before, my current mixtape creation process is by way of copying mp3s into a new folder, shuffling them into some semblance of order, and retagging them accordingly.  I’m keeping it old-school by having a sort-of-physical end result instead of a playlist.

I’ve noticed over the past few years that one thing hasn’t changed:  the urge to make a mixtape usually comes from hearing a specific song that I truly love.  For instance, my current obsession with Bob Moses’ “Heaven Only Knows” has inspired me to throw the next Listen in Silence mix together.  From there I’ll think a bit about what other songs caught my attention over the last few months.  They’ll just as often be tracks I’ve been hearing on Indie617 or SiriusXM as they’ll be deep cuts from newer albums I’ve downloaded.  The rest of the process is still the same, asking the same questions: what’s the best opening track?  Closing track?  Which songs segue the best?  Which ones sound awkward?  The only thing really missing is writing out the tracks on the c-card.

Do I listen to these after I’ve made them?  Sure!  I listen to them a lot, actually, just as I always have.  I listen to them during writing sessions, during the Day Job, or when I’m at the gym.  And they’re great to listen to on long flights as well.  I’ll even listen to older ones I’d made a few years previous.

I don’t share them as much as I used to, though.  Back in high school I’d give my buddy Chris the track list or make a copy of it for him.  I used to make the occasional mixtape for my then girlfriends of course, but for the most part I made them for my own enjoyment.  And that’s cool too.  Come to think of it, I should probably start posting some of them here.  I haven’t used my Spotify account in ages, so perhaps it’s time to dust it off and create some of my mixtapes for your enjoyment!