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The ABCs of 1979 from Mutiny to Teddy Pendergrass

1.  Mutiny: “Mutiny on the Mamaship” (Columbia). You’ve heard Jerome Brailey’s work – he was the drummer on “Ooh Child” by the Five Stairsteps and Parliament’s “Give Up the Funk (Tear the Roof off the Sucker”). This album starts with a total P-Funk style party track and then moves into a disco track with psychedelic guitar. There’s also a vocalist who does an almost perfect Bootsy imitation. Despite clearly trying to replicate George Clinton’s approach to music, this funk record does more than stand on its own two feet. This is a triumph. Grade: B+

2.  Willie Nelson and Leon Russell: “Willie and Leon” (Columbia). A double album filled with Western swing music, country standards, showtunes, the Great American Songbook stuff, whatever tickled their fancy. The vocal harmonies will not remind you of the Everly Brothers. This isn’t an embarrassment, but none of these covers stand up to the original or best-known versions of these songs. Grade: B-

3.  New England: “New England” (Infinity). Synth heavy, melodic AOR clearly aimed at the Styx/Boston/Journey crowd. This sounds more like a bad investment than actual music. Grade: C-

4.  Randy Newman: “Born Again” (Warner Brothers). The ELO parody is pretty funny, but this is primarily a mean-spirited album with pretty obvious targets – greed, aging racists, xenophobia, homophobia. This is a case where an artist doesn’t understand the difference between being clever and being smug. Grade: C

5.  Ted Nugent: “State of Shock” (Epic). Ted had emptied out his reserve of killer riffs by the time he recorded “State of Shock” and without killer riffs Ted is just another white guy with a big mouth. Also, vocalist Charlie Huhn was a significant downgrade from Derek St. Holmes. Grade: C

6.  999: “High Energy Plan” (PVC). This album was released in 1978 in the U.K. as “Separates” and has a slightly different track listing than the U.S. version. I’ve always loved the spiky opener “Homicide,” which gave the band something to believe in. A lot of mid-tempo tracks for a late 1970’s punk act. Got lots of punch, ain’t got much lift off. Grade: B

7.  NRBQ: “Kick Me Hard” (Red Rooster/Rounder). It’s always a plus when it sounds like a band is having fun and NRBQ’s off kilter instrumental prowess is always a treat. No Essential Cuts but finding an obscurity like the Lincoln Chase penned “Hot Biscuits and Sweet Marie” is what this band was born to do. Almost every song on this album is like a piece of candy. This album manages to be lightweight and filling at the same time. Grade: A-

8.  Gary Numan: “The Pleasure Principle” (Beggars Banquet). Well produced, hooky synth pop. You know and love “Cars” (An Essential Cut) and the intro to “Films” sounds like proto-techno dance pop. Elsewhere, it’s just background music for writing computer codes and avoiding humans. Grade: B

9.  Gary Numan & Tubeway Army: “Replicas” (Beggars Banquet). Depending on your point of view, this was either an album by the band Tubeway Army or a Gary Numan album with backing by the Tubeway Army. “Are ‘Friends’ Electric?” topped the U.K. pop charts (Numan, “It was a No. 1 single with a song about a robot prostitute and nobody knew”) and it sounds like a synthesizer symphony. However, it’s the slow, creepy “Down in the Park” that always landed in my sweet spot (an Essential Cut). Despite the obvious talent on display, music that has the intention of portraying emotional distance ultimately feels…emotionally distant. Grade: B

10.  The O’Jays: “Identify Yourself” (Philadelphia International). Vocal groups succeed or fail based upon their producers and material. Of course, anyone could do worse than working with Leon Huff and Kenny Gamble, but this isn’t their best work. “Sing a Happy Song,” the opener, sounds like a simple-minded ploy to recreate “Love Train.” The forgettable ballad “Forever Mine” made the Top 40 charts, but I’m sure it didn’t lumber on for over six minutes on the radio. Depressingly mediocre. Grade: C

11.  The Oak Ridge Boys: “The Oak Ridge Boys Have Arrived” (ABC). The Oak Ridge Boys trafficked in unapologetic shlock and that approach worked brilliantly on the Rodney Crowell penned “Leaving Louisiana in the Broad Daylight” (an Essential Cut). Everything else leaves you feeling that you need a shower. Grade: C

12.  Off Broadway: “On” (Atlantic). These Chicago power poppers shared management with Cheap Trick. The band almost reached the Top 40 with the Essential Cut “Stay in Time,” a catchy number about conformity angst. “Full Moon Turn My Head Around” sounds like a solid Raspberries b-side, but everything else is pretty forgettable. Grade: C+

13.  Nigel Olsson: “Nigel” (Bang). This long time Elton John drummer scored two Top 40 hits in 1979 – the swaying ballad “Dancing Shoes” and an adult contemporary cover of The Jarmels’ “A Little Bit of Soap.” There’s also a very Spectorian version of Billy Joel’s “Say Goodbye to Hollywood and several overblown ballads. This album has over 25 musicians/singers credited, not to mention the orchestra. For such a thin guy, he really liked bloated music. Grade: C+

14.  The Only Ones: “Even Serpents Shine” (Columbia). I have a soft spot for the Only Ones since I love “Another Girl, Another Planet” more than I love my dog. Peter Perrett had a dynamic band and this is set of uniformly good songs. However, on this record they were admittedly no longer reaching for the stars. Grade: B

15.  The Only Ones: “Special View” (Epic). I’ve avoided compilation records on this list, but this album with selected tracks from the 1978 album “The Only Ones” and the 1979 album “Even Serpents Shine” (as well as both sides of a 1977 single) was an introduction between the band and the U.S. marketplace. The previously mentioned “Another Girl, Another Planet” is simply one of the best songs in the history of rock music. Peter Perrett’s world-weary vocals provided a sharp contrast to his high energy band. Vital, smart, dynamic rock ‘n’ roll. Grade: A-

16.  Robert Palmer: “Secrets” (Island). Palmer scored a Top Twenty hit with his driving cover of Moon Martin’s “Bad Case of Loving You (Doctor, Doctor),” an Essential Cut. There’s also a solid remake of Todd Rungren’s “Can We Still Be Friends,” which doesn’t stray far from the original arrangement. This is a batch of average to good songs, but Palmer was somewhat of an enigma as a performer. You really couldn’t tell if he was emotionally invested as a singer, perhaps because he never explored any interesting lyrics. Grade: B

17.  Graham Parker: “Squeezing Out Sparks” (Arista). One of the best bands of their era gets their strongest set of songs from the always angst filled Graham Parker. Tough, smart, unflinching, explosive rock ‘n’ roll. Essential Cuts: “Discovering Japan,” “Passion Is No Ordinary Word,” “Protection.” In a great moment in marketing, one of the least interesting cuts on the album (“Local Girls”) was released as the U.S. single. Grade: A

18.  Parliament: “Gloryhallastoopid” (Casablanca). The crossover pop hits stopped for Pariliament with 1978’s “Flash Light” and they only eked out one Top Ten R&B single from this album, “The Theme from the Black Hole.” Feeling the changing winds, this includes a failed disco effort in “Party People.” Think of this album like the Ramones “End of the Century” or “Pleasant Dreams,” a legendary band with a signature sound struggling with uneven material. Grade: B

19.  Dolly Parton: “Great Balls of Fire” (RCA). The big production/dance number “Star of the Show” is the opener, showing Dolly’s willingness to adapt to the times. The ballad “You’re the Only One” topped the country charts, showing Dolly’s willingness to serve her traditional audience. The remake of “Help!” shows that Dolly ran out of ideas. Also, she didn’t have any business covering Jerry Lee. Grade: C

20.  Teddy Pendergrass: “Teddy” (Philadelphia International). This seduction/sex album was the most successful of Teddy Pendergrass’s career, peaking at #5 on the pop album charts without a corresponding Top 40 pop single. The #2 R&B hit/Almost Essential Cut “Turn Off the Lights” is steamier than a sauna. This isn’t a man you wanted to introduce to your wife or girlfriend. However, the ballads sound like post coitus exhaustion. Grade: B

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