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The ABCs of 1979 From Aretha Franklin to GQ

1.  Aretha Franklin: “La Diva” (Atlantic). For this release, Aretha Franklin put her musical fortunes in the hands of producer/arranger Van McCoy (of “The Hustle” fame), perhaps aiming for the middle-aged disco audience. My favorite thing about this album is that Vanda and Young (of Easybeats and AC/DC fame) are mistakenly listed as part of the production team on the corresponding Wikipedia page. By the final song, you can even tell that Aretha’s over this mess. Grade: C+  

2.  Robert Fripp: “Exposure” (Polydor). You get punk meets rockabilly (“You Burn Me Up I’m a Cigarette”), a prog rock genre exercise (“Breathless”), collaborations with Daryl Hall and Peter Gabriel, ambient noise, spoken word samples, and lots of flashy guitar work. Some of this is interesting and some of this is “look at me, I’m being interesting.” Grade: B  

3.  Funkadelic: “Uncle Jam Wants You” (Warner Brothers). You can get by with a fifteen-minute song if you are making dance/party music, especially if you include tempo changes and chants and solos that keep the momentum moving forward. Essential Cut: the fifteen-minute,/edited for a #1 R&B hit “(Not Just) Knee Deep,” a sample of which broke De La Soul into the pop charts. Lots of critics noted the more “political” tone of this record, but really, this is music for a block party, not a revolution. The multiple guitar interplay on “Field Maneuvers” wouldn’t have been out of place on the above Robert Fripp record. Grade: B+  

4.  Rory Gallagher: “Top Priority” (Chrsyalis). Gallagher had a serviceable voice, which is a nice way of saying he wasn’t a top-notch vocalist. However, the guitar work on this LP combines some serious slash and flash. More of a head banging album than Quiet Riot ever released. Nothing lands with much emotional impact, but you couldn’t question Gallagher’s level of energy or commitment. Grade: B

5.  Gamma: “Gamma 1” (Elektra). Gamma was a late 1970s/early 1980s standard AOR act that Ronnie Montrose put together in an attempt to siphon off some cash from Foreigner, Bad Company, and Styx. This album included a minor pop hit with a cover of The Hollies’ “I’m Alive,” which is no great shakes, but is a nice break from Montrose’s unimaginative songwriting. The synth effects on this album sound as out of date as a dial up modem. A pompous, humorless outing. Grade: C  

6.  Gang of Four: “Entertainment” (EMI/Warner Brothers). Gang of Four definitely had their own sound – bass lines so plump you could waterski on them and guitar work that kept you checking your skin for paper cuts. You could either dance to the Gang of Four or ponder how they fit into your revolutionary fantasies. Essential Cut: “Damage Goods,” which examines the sweet and sour aspects of sexual politics. In terms of having an uncompromising attitude, these guys made the Clash sound like the Monkees. Grade: A-  

7.  The Gap Band: “The Gap Band” (Mercury). Oral Roberts, Roy Clark and the Gap Band were all based in Tulsa, Oklahoma, although I’m guessing they lived in different parts of town. Despite the eponymous title, this was The Gap Band’s third album and it included the Top Five R&B hit “Shake.” With stabs at disco, funk, and ballads, this sounds like a band trying to find their commercial niche. It’s all fine, but the world didn’t need a poor man’s Earth, Wind & Fire. Grade: B.  

8.  The Gap Band: “The Gap Band II” (Mercury). Nine months after “The Gap Band,” the Wilson Brothers returned with “The Gab Band II” (their fourth album for those keeping score). This one included a few upbeat R&B hits in “Steppin’ Out” and the P-Funk inspired “I Don’t Believe You Want to Get Up and Dance (Oops).” They were a step closer to finder their signature sound, but the ballads are brutal. Grade: B  

9.  Taana Gardner: “Taana Gardner” (West End). R&B vocalist Taana Gardner was nineteen in 1979, but sounded much younger, giving this dance record a weird underage porn vibe. However, as dance music, the singles “Work That Body” and “When You Touch Me” are first rate booty shakers, an activity that everyone should enjoy or admire. In an age-appropriate fashion. Grade: B+  

10.  Larry Gatlin and the Gatlin Brothers: “Straight Ahead” (Columbia). Most of these songs sound more precious than the work of any stereotypical folkie you could name, and the lead singer has always a projected an image that merits a solid pie in his face. Grade: D  

11.  Crystal Gayle: “We Should Be Together” (United Artists). She did have some really long hair. Grade: C

12.  Crystal Gayle: “Miss the Mississippi” (Columbia). Switching labels, Gayle went back to pop radio with “Half the Way,” a song that sounds nothing like the uninspired traditional country of her prior album. She even had a winning ballad with “The Blue Side.” Gayle would have been much better musically moving to L.A. and following Linda Ronstadt’s path. Compare her version of the title track to Rosanne Cash’s and you quickly understand how unnatural traditional country music was for her. Grade: B-  

13.  Generation X: “Valley of the Dolls” (Chrysalis). I doubt that Ian Hunter ever lists his production work on this album at the top of his resume, the double drum set up muddies the waters instead of providing more energy. Also, the band’s reach on dramatic numbers is way beyond their grasp. Billy Idol figured out quickly that he was better off dancing with himself. Grade: C.  

14.  Lowell George: “Thanks, I’ll Eat It Here” (Warner Brothers). George had his admirers as a writer, but his only solo album is mainly a covers outing. Musically, the L.A. studio musicians take the grit out of the attempted Southern soul sound and George’s vocals are way too weak to carry the material. Grade: C+.  

15.  Germs: “GI” (Slash). You can pretty much visualize an old school mosh pit when you play this album, and it bashes away admirably. Not very tuneful, but clearly a band devoted to their scene and their sound. Grade: B  

16.  Gibson Brothers: “Cuba” (Island). This French trio created some fine dance music, but they should have pulled a Chic and hired a solid female duo to do the singing. Rightly or wrongly, the American public wasn’t ready for a band that mixed the Village People with Dr. Buzzard’s Original Savannah Band. Grade: B-  

17.  The Godz: “Nothing is Sacred” (Casablanca). Not the New York noisemakers that Lester Bangs raved about, this other band named the Godz originated from Columbus, Ohio and did imitations of the Beach Boys, AC/DC, and Meatloaf when they weren’t doing basic boogie numbers. This is where the virtue of simplicity tilts into the void of simple-mindedness. Grade: C
 

18.  Robert Gordon: “Rock Billy Boogie” (RCA). I never understood Gordon’s reputation as a barn burner, he was always too stuck in the past for my taste. The Stray Cats had a better groove and (get ready for some blasphemy) Gordon never wrote anything as catchy as “Crazy Little Thing Called Love.” He may have loved Elvis, but he sure couldn’t sing like him. Heck, he embarrasses himself trying to cover Conway Twitty. Grade: C.  

19.  Graham Central Station: “Star Walk” (Warner Brothers). You know a funk band’s in trouble when their seventh album only has one single that barely touches the R&B Top 40. Nice bass sound though. Grade: B-  

20.  GQ: “Disco Nights” (Arista). GQ took this album platinum based on the pop crossover hits “Disco Nights (Rock-Freak)” and the big ballad “I Do Love You.” The dance/romance number “Make My Dreams a Reality” also went R&B Top Ten. It may have been a little early for a cover version of “Boogie Oogie Oogie,” but it fits seamlessly into this smooth soul meets disco outing. Grade: B  

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