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The ABCs of 1979 from Bob Dylan to Peter Frampton

1.  Bob Dylan: “Slow Train Coming” (Columbia). Born again Bob had his last U.S. Top 40 hit with “Gotta Serve Somebody” and he’s clearly not just going through the motions here. A lot of people screamed, “HIS BEST ALBUM SINCE ‘BLOOD ON THE TRACKS,’ while kind of ignoring that the intervening releases rated somewhere between dog food and stale chips. With an average song length that runs over five minutes, this record feels long and dull. Like most sermons. Grade: B-

2.  Eagles: “The Long Run” (Asylum). As appropriate for these archbishops of mediocrity, the singles were merely acceptable radio fare and the preponderance of the album is mere garbage. What functioning adult thinks that “The Greeks Don’t Want No Freaks” is clever?  And how smug is Don Henley? He makes Bono look like Dave Grohl. Grade: C+

3.  Earth, Wind, & Fire: “I Am” (Columbia). A fantastic singles band, “I Am” adds the Essential Cuts “After the Love Has Gone” and “Boogie Wonderland” to their future “Greatest Hits” album. The other songs on the album, especially the dance numbers, demonstrate what a remarkable talent Maurice White was as an arranger and producer. Grade: B+

4.  Dave Edmunds: “Repeat When Necessary” (Swan Song). Elvis Costello gave Dave Edmunds a Top Five U.K. pop hit with the perfect pop tune “Girls Talk.” Elsewhere, Edmunds (backed by Rockpile) covered Graham Parker (“Crawling from the Wrecking”), Huey Lewis (“Bad is Bad”) and beat Juice Newton to “Queen of Hearts.” Edmunds sounds like he’s having a blast here, mixing his love for 1950’s rock ‘n’ roll with first rate contemporary songwriting. Essential Cut: “Girls Talk.” Grade: A-

5.  ELO: “Discovery” (Columbia). ELO’s disco move (check out the ABBA homage “Shine a Little Love”) resulted in four Top Ten U.K. singles, one of which was a double-sided hit. It’s overproduced (of course), and the recycled Beatles ideas (“Just Like Horace Wimp”) aren’t terribly clever this time out. It is kind of funny how shamelessly “Last Train to London” rips off Heatwave’s “Boogie Nights.” Almost Essential Cut: “Don’t Bring Me Down.” Grade: C+

6.  Joe Ely: “Down on the Drag” (MCA). Ely made his career album in 1978 with the groundbreaking “Honky Tonk Masquerade.” On “Down on the Drag,” neither Ely’s energy nor his crack band can make a batch of average songs sound better than average. Grade: B-

7.  England Dan & John Ford Coley: “Dr. Heckle and Mr. Jive” (Big Tree). Guitar ace Steve Lukather’s power chord contributions on this album are amusing in a jarring way, he makes this MOR duo sound like they are aiming for a hard rock breakthrough. They recorded the gag reflex testing ballad “Broken Hearted Me” before Anne Murray, which is like being the first junkie to find a used needle. Still, they got a soft rock classic with their cover of Utopia’s “Love is the Answer.” There’s a reason why God made 45s. Grade: C+

8.  Essential Logic: “Beat Rhythm News” (Rough Trade UK). An English post punk outfit, fronted by future Krishna Lora Logic, Essential Logic had an unhinged, “dragging you into a dark alley” vibe that was appealing although definitely not commercial. A solid soundtrack for anyone who wants to dress like a goth while dancing on an enemy’s grave. Grade: B+

9.  The Fabulous Poodles: “Think Pink” (Epic). Neither fabulous nor poodles, this is the type of music that is created by people who are proclaiming “Look at us, we’re so clever!” In rock ‘n’ roll, unless you’re the Coasters, the class clown shtick gets old pretty quickly. Grade: C+

10.  The Fabulous Thunderbirds: “The Fabulous Thunderbirds” (Takoma Records). The alternate title for this album is “Girls Go Wild,” because all the babes love Slim Harpo and Li’l Millet covers. This was recorded way back when Jimmy Vaughn was considered the hotshot guitarist in the family and this is a fine document of a fully committed, young Texas blues band. A solid debut effort, but their performance chops outpaced their songwriting skills at this time. Grade: B

11.  Marianne Faithfull: “Broken English” (Island). Critics always rooted for Marianne Faithfull, the teen girlfriend of Mick Jagger turned heroin addict. Although this album includes a lot of new wave keyboard squiggles, Faithfull brings a significant amount of emotional depth to the proceedings. Check out the holy hell, woman scorned closer “Why d’Ya Do It?” if you need some genuine emotion in your life, a song of jealousy and betrayal right up there with Elvis Costello’s “I Want You.” Essential Cut: “Broken English.” Grade: B+

12.  The Fall: “Live at the Witch Trials” (Step-Forward). Mark E. Smith has one of those voices that make every lyric seem significant and at times this debut album sounds more like a garage rock band fronted by a beat poet than “post punk.” “Frightened,” the lead track and an Essential Cut, is wonderful rock ‘n’ roll chaos. A very promising and original album for a debut effort. Grade: B+

13.  The Fall: “Dragnet” (Step-Forward). By The Fall’s second album, it became clear that the band existed to fulfill whatever vision Mark E. Smith pursued. Having an identifiable sound is a definite advantage for any rock act. However, tossing out an occasionally melody shouldn’t be viewed as a major artistic concession. Grade: B-

14.  Fashion: “Product Perfect” (I.R.S.). Fashion brought a lot to the party – reggae/dub influences, choppy Devo-like hooks, and gloomy synthesizer textures. A smart band. However, given the number of positive reviews that they received, many critics enjoyed the high school theater vocals of Al James (a.k.a. “Luke”) much more than I do. Grade: B

15.  Fischer-Z: “Word Salad” (United Artists). Another conceptual act, with poet John Watt applying his craft to synth pop. Musically, this is a band that didn’t know whether it wanted to be Yes or Ultravox. Also, the often high-pitched vocals have to be categorized in the “acquired taste” category. Grade: B-

16.  Fleetwood Mac: “Tusk” (Warner Brothers). “Rolling Stone” magazine convinced me to spend what was then an ungodly amount of money to purchase “Tusk” in 1979 and I’m still mad about it. The record label’s reaction to this filler stuffed double LP according to Lindsey Buckingham? They “saw their Christmas bonuses going out the window.” Essential Cut: “Tusk.” Grade: C+

17.  Foghat: “Boogie Motel” (Bearsville). Willie Nelson once told a story about hooking up with a woman in a sleazy Fort Worth motel after a gig and then barely escaping with his life when her husband appeared. He was supposedly saved by his gun toting bodyguard/drummer Paul English. I am only telling this story because it’s more interesting than Foghat’s “Boogie Motel” album. What’s worse than generic boogie? Watered down, generic boogie. Grade: C

18.  Steve Forbert: “Jackrabbit Slim” (Nemporer). “Yeah, I got a deal and so did John Prine/Steve Forbert and Springsteen, all in a line/They were lookin’ for you, signin’ up others/We were new Bob Dylans!/Your dumb ass kid brothers,” Loudon Wainwright III, “New Bob Dylan.” Number of slow songs: too many. Essential Cut: “Romeo’s Tune.” Grade: B-

19.  Foreigner: “Head Games” (Atlantic). The title track and the politically incorrect rocker “Dirty White Boy” were the hits. Elsewhere, you get the usual buffet of serious minded if not particularly inspired material, this time sounding a bit like the Cars (check out “I’ll Get Even with You”) due to having Roy Thomas Baker as a co-producer. Also, the lyrics to “Blinded by Science” are as bad as mainstream rock music ever got. Grade: C+

20.  Peter Frampton: “Where I Should Be” (A&M). “Almost as exciting as a surprise mass urinalysis,” said Creem. The quasi-disco number “Got My Feet Back on the Ground” makes me laugh, although that probably wasn’t the goal. And Pretty Boy Pete just sounds silly covering Sam and Dave. Grade: C

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