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The A+ List – 1978

what's love got to do with it

what’s love got to do with it

1. “Ain’t Talkin’ ‘bout Love,” Van Halen. Van Halen erupted on the scene in ’78 with Eddie’s unmatched guitar pyrotechnics and David Lee Roth’s tongue-in-cheek (and elsewhere) macho posturing. Pretty much a coin flip on whether to select this one or “Dance the Night Away,” but the campy “I been to the edge” monologue makes the difference for me. Wish DLR would have told The Edge to stay away from Bono.

2. “Another Girl, Another Planet,” The Only Ones. As I’ve mentioned before, the Only Ones were only one hit away from being one hit wonders. The guitars positively soar on this marvelous extraterrestrial love song. Peter Perrett calmly flirts with death in polite British fashion.

3. “Candy’s Room,” Bruce Springsteen. A lovesick Boss falls in love with a sad prostitute who teaches him about passion. The E Street Band provides the exclamation point with indisputable fervor.

4. “Comes a Time,” Neil Young. At the end of the ‘70s, The Village Voice named Neil the “Artist of the Decade.” During that era, Young was able to transition between the dinosaur stomp of Crazy Horse to traditional folk music with baffling ease. On “Comes a Time,” Neil delivers one of his most enduring melodies. Unhappy with the sound on the album, our unpredictable hero bought 200,000 copies of the record, and then used the vinyl as shingles on a barn.

5. “Ever Fallen in Love (With Someone You Shouldn’t’ve),” Buzzcocks. Yes.

6. “Hanging on the Telephone,” Blondie. Blondie delivered a perfect pop rock album with Parallel Lines – filled with ‘60s girl group influences but with a contemporary sound that flirted with both new wave and disco. “Hanging on the Telephone,” a two minute and seventeen second exploding cover of a song by the Nerves, went Top Ten in the U.K.

7. “Just What I Needed,” The Cars. While punk music was about raging passion, The Cars were purveyors of icy detachment. Ric Ocasek’s crew imitated the sound of Roxy Music, but preferred catchy hooks to artistic experimentation. We probably would have never heard the lawn mowing criticism of Stacy’s mom without the Cars’ first Top 40 hit.

8. “Le Freak,” Chic. Chic, the most critically acclaimed band of the disco era, hit Top Ten in 1977 with “Dance, Dance, Dance (Yowseh, Yowseh, Yowseh),” but really broke through with this 1978 #1 single. The hook “Freak Out!,” inspired by the group being turned away from Studio 54, had the working title of “F**k Off!”

9. “Life’s Been Good,” Joe Walsh. Walsh chronicled the life of a rock star with a typically droll, drunken perspective. Walsh is pretty inspirational in that he has gotten sober while maintaining a professional association with Don Henley and Glen Frey.

10. “Miss You,” The Rolling Stones. The disco influenced “Miss You” was something of a comeback hit for the Stones – their first #1 single in the States since 1973’s “Angie.” The Some Girls album created controversy both due to its lyrical content and unauthorized use of images on the cover, but for Mick and Keith it was just more cash flow into the corporation.

11. “One Nation Under A Groove (Part One),” Funkadelic. By the late ‘70s, P-Funk had taken the funk/black pride baton from James Brown. George Clinton scored hits with both Parliament and Funkadelic in 1978. Parliament’s “Flash Light” went #1 R&B and #16 on the pop charts, then Funkadelic scored their first hit with “One Nation” topping out at #28. In the ‘80s, we traded funk for rap. Can we get a do-over?

12. “Pump It Up,” Elvis Costello and the Attractions. How many A+ songs could you list off of This Year’s Model – “The Beat,” “Lipstick Vogue,” “Radio Radio,” and “Pump It Up” for starters. While Costello’s vocal personality is always front and center, the contributions from bassist Bruce Thomas and keyboardist Steve Nieve demonstrate the difference between a typical punk band and a musically adventurous, versatile backing unit.

13. “Running on Empty,” Jackson Browne. In general, I find Jackson Browne about as exciting as discussions about the mating habits of indigenous Japanese raccoon dogs that have been psychologically traumatized due to overexposure to freeze dried kelp byproducts. However, JB hits every note, musically and lyrically, with perfection on this road ode about survival, ambivalence, and ambition. Thanks, Jackson. Now, drive away.

14. “Stayin’ Alive,” The Bee Gees. No pop act capitalized on disco more successfully that the Bee Gees, who added a dance beat to their unique vocal harmonies and first-rate songwriting skills. John Travolta’s cocksure strut to this song in the opening credits of Saturday Night Fever became one of the iconic film images of the decade.

15. “Surrender,” Cheap Trick. Producer Tom Werman’s pop sensibility and Cheap Trick’s Beatles/Who inspired songwriting meshed much better on the Heaven Tonight album than on In Color. On the band’s signature song, a young boy worries about VD, while his parents crank up his KISS records, get stoned, and make out on the couch. Maybe not the best song ever recorded, but my personal favorite one.

16. “Take Me To The River,” Talking Heads. Originally, a 1973 Al Green album track, this was the first Talking Heads pop hit and gave the unit a soulful/funky edge that they would continue to explore for the next several years. Co-writer Mabon “Teenie” Hodges passed away on June 22nd of this year in Waco, Texas, due to complications of emphysema. More than 20 artists have recorded “Take Me to the River”, but according to Teenie, his biggest royalty check came from the singing Big Mouth Billy Bass toy.

17. Uptown Top Ranking, Althea & Donna. With Jamaican rhythm section legends Sly Dunbar and Robert Shakespeare providing the groove, two Jamaican teenage girls scored a #1 U.K. hit with this swaggering reggae tune about styling in a Benz and causing heart attacks with their skimpy clothing. I’m not sure the Mormons are right about modest girls being the hottest girls.

18. “What You Won’t Do for Love,” Bobby Caldwell. Soul singer Caldwell scored his only Top Forty hit with this quiet storm query. Caldwell was marketed so hard to the R&B community, the record label kept his picture of his debut album, so that radio stations would think he was black.

19. “(White Man) In Hammersmith Palais,” The Clash. The Clash broke out of their three chord punk fury with the ska/reggae influenced “Hammersmith Palais.” Unfortunately, nothing makes an act sound less relevant than singing about something as passé as income inequality.

20. “You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real),” Sylvester. Not “The Cat,” Sylvester was a gay black man that started recording in 1973 and rode the disco wave with the hits “Dance (Disco Heat)” and “You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real” in 1978. Sylvester took the artistic statement that was “I Feel Love” and turned it into hedonistic fun. It’s too bad he never did a cover version of “It’s Raining Men.”

Bonus 1977 A+ Tune:

Cheap Trick, “He’s A Whore.” Robin Zander was too upscale to work 53rd and 3rd, but he was still just a gigolo on this fierce rocker from Cheap Trick’s debut album. The song is built around a sharp, aggressive riff (think “You Really Got Me” on amphetamines) that was later used by the Ramones on “The KKK Took My Baby Away.” The object of Zander’s financial attention may have had a face that could stop a clock, but I once dated a girl, sans remuneration, with a face that could have stopped Switzerland.

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