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The ABCs of 1979 from Pere Ubu to Rainbow

1.  Pere Ubu: “New Picnic Time” (Chrysalis UK). 1978’s “Dub Housing” is one of my favorite albums of the 1970s, but this sounds like a band who knew their best shot wasn’t going to get them out of the dingy club circuit. David Thomas was a creative and inspired frontman, “Kingdom Come” is a nice merger of their experimental sounds and garage rock, but most of this material should have stayed in an outtake pile. Grade: B-

2.  The Persuasions: “Comin’ At Ya” (Rounder/Flying Fish). A capella groups always have a novelty feel, like a barbershop quartet. This album contains spirited covers of “Return to Sender,” “One Mint Julip,” “Let Them Talk,” and “Love Me Like a Rock,” among others. Only the Paul Simon competes favorably with the original. There’s a reason why pop songs have instrumentation. Grade: B-

3.  Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers: “Damn the Torpedoes” (Backstreet/MCA). This album made Petty a mainstream rock ‘n’ roll star, which he remained for the rest of his life. “Refugee,” “Don’t Do Me Like That,” and “Even the Losers” all fall into the Essential Songs category. “Here Comes My Girl” is a smart Byrds update. Petty’s always been overrated, “Louisiana Rain” sounds like a third-rate Dylan imitation, but this is a record that deserved to go multi-platinum. Grade: A-

4.  Pink Floyd: “The Wall” (Columbia/CBS). As a young teen, I thought this was a VERY HEAVY RECORD and I’m sure that was the point. As an adult, I find the transitions from bombast to melodrama tiresome, although they did use more hooks than most art rock acts. Essential Cuts: “Another Brick in the Wall (Part 2)” and “Comfortably Numb,” which explore two completely different emotional aspects of the human condition. Is it weird that two of the best songs (“Another Brick” and “Run Like Hell”) use a traditional disco beat?  Grade: B-

5.  Point Blank: “Airplay” (MCA). This Southern boogie band was based out of Irving, Texas and was managed by ZZ Top’s business guru Bill Ham. They released seven major label albums from 1976 to 1982 and they scraped into the Top 40 in 1981 with “Nicole.” On this album, “Mean to Your Queenie” is a sold opening track, but too much of this album sounds like Kansas instead of Skynyrd. Maybe they should have tried for the Atlanta Rhythm Section instead. Grade: C+

6.  The Pointer Sisters: “Priority” (Planet). The Pointer Sisters went to #2 on the pop charts in 1978 with their version of Bruce Springsteen’s “Fire,” which may be why this album is filled with material from Ian Hunter, Bob Seger, Graham Parker, Jagger/Richards, Richard Thompson, etc. Unfortunately, the arrangements represent a very Vegas take on rock ‘n’ roll. And this time the Springsteen cover, “(She Got) The Fever,” lumbers on for six minutes. Grade: C+

7.  The Police: “Regatta de Blanc” (A&M). Even though ego wise Sting was the U.K. version of Don Henley, he still fronted a good band. This is where their reggae flavored rock stopped feeling like a left field sound and moved into the mainstream. Still once you get past the singles “Message in a Bottle” and “Walking on the Moon,” the drop-off in material is borderline criminal. Essential Cut: “Message in a Bottle.” Grade: B

8.  Poobah: “Steamroller” (Peppermint). An Ohio power trio that merged Cream with Ted Nugent and added strange falsetto interjections into the mix. Lotsa dark, heavy music with titles like “Frustation” and “Atom Bomb.” Not a lot of good dark, heavy music. Their cover version of Led Zeppelin’s “Rock and Roll” sounds like the equivalent of the Osmonds covering “Gimme Shelter.”  Grade: C

9.  The Pop: “Go!” (Arista). A power pop act than Arista tried to make into a merger of the Knack and the Cars. Minus the hooks and good songs. Grade: C+

10.  Iggy Pop: “New Values” (Arista). For an acknowledged innovator, the most striking thing about “New Values” is how much the music sounds like the typical rock ‘n’ roll/new wave album of its era. Iggy sounds more relaxed and confident than manic. For my biorhythms, “Five Foot One” is the best track and the quick fills/tempo changes, not to mention the punchy horns, make it sound like a template for They Might Be Giants. This album is a completely enjoyable effort, although I’m not sure he could have gotten by with the stereotype pumping “African Man” much beyond this point. Grade: B+

11.  The Pop Group: “Y” (Radar). Post punk, which means Gang of Four style funk rhythms, and, in this case, heaps of harsh noises. Completely out of my wheelhouse. Grade: C

12.  Pretenders: “Pretenders” (Sire). An English band with a punk sensibility and pop rhythms fronted by one of rock ‘n’ roll’s most iconic female rockers. Songs like “Precious” and “Tattooed Love Boys” delivered an unflinching perspective toward relationships and sex. Also, the band’s energy matched Chrissie Hynde’s give no quarter attitude. However, our heroine could get soft and melodic on “Kid” and the radio hit “Brass in Pocket” (both Essential Cuts). There are a few duds (“Space Invader,” “Private Life”), but this is a powerful debut album. Grade: A-

13.  Charley Pride: “You’re My Jamaica” (RCA). Many years ago, I was on a Jamaica tour bus and saw one man chasing another across a field with a machete. You don’t get that kind of violence on a Charley Pride album, but you do get top notch singing on “No Relief in Sight.” The production is too countrypolitan for my tastes, but Pride’s vocals are better than this material deserves. Grade: B

14.  Prince: “Prince” (Warner Brothers). This wasn’t the little multi-instrumentalists first album – that one was titled “For You” and was released in 1978. This does include the Purple One’s first pop hit, the Essential Cut “I Wanna Be Your Lover,” which was undeniable dance music and undeniably not disco. This album also includes a lot of synth pop ballads (yawn) and the original version of “I Feel for You,” later a major 1980’s comeback hit for Chaka Khan. Grade: B

15.  John Prine: “Pink Cadillac” (Asylum). If you want to know why Prine is now considered a songwriting God among the Americana crowd (and they do have a point), this isn’t where you would start. This natural folkie saluted the spirit of 1950’s rock ‘n’ roll by singing like Dylan and recording a weird mish mash of 50’s homages and covers. The best song on the album is Rory Salley’s “Killing the Blues,” which sounds like nothing else on the record. Grade: C+

16.  Public Image Ltd: “Metal Box” (Virgin). This art punk has nothing to do with the snotty thrash of the Sex Pistols, which was smart for Johnny Rotten from a public image perspective. From a musical perspective, The Edge should send Keith Levene every royalty check he’s ever received, and Jah Wobble plays some monster bass, as the kids say. Lots of interesting atmospheric numbers and very few traditional verse/chorus songs on this sixty-minute set. A more than suitable soundtrack for life in an insane asylum. Grade: B

17.  Suzi Quatro: “Suzi…And Other Four Letter Words” (RSO). A Detroit girl, Suzi became a U.K. pop star in the early 1970s and a U.S. television star in the late 1970s. On this album, the rockers mix a 1950’s sensibility with new wave synths. Suzi’s not going through the motions here, but there’s no standout tracks. It all sounds glossy and energetic and an inch deep. Grade: B-

18.  Queen: “Live Killers” (Elektra). Queen’s approach to music was always way too theatrical for my punk rock soul and having a muddy mix on this live album defeats the point of the band’s strutting pomposity. The studio versions are better than everything on this double live set with “better” being a very relative term. Grade: C

19.  Eddie Rabbitt: “Loveline” (Elektra). Eddie Rabbitt made music for people who thought the Eagles just rocked way too hard. This hairy crooner was regularly topping the country charts during this timeframe, so you can tell rather easily it wasn’t a golden age for the genre. As a balladeer, he sounded more like a creep than a seducer. Grade: C

 20.  Rainbow: “Down to Earth” (Polydor). Failed anthems, metal pomposity, and a radio friendly cover of Argent’s “Since You Been Gone,” a Top Ten U.K. hit. That hit cover tune just reinforces how bad the rest of the material is. Grade: C+

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