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The ABCs of 1979 From the Bee Gees to Duncan Brown

1.  The Bee Gees: “Spirits Having Flown” (RSO). This album kicks off with three consecutive number one pop singles in “Tragedy,” “Too Much Heaven,” and “Love You Inside Out,” which isn’t about seducing intestines. I imagine one would have to dig rather deeply into the Mariah Carey catalogue to find a more uninspired album with three #1 songs. Grade: C

2.  The Bellamy Brothers: “The Two and Only” (Warner Bros.). After scoring a #1 pop hit in 1977 with “Let Your Love Flow,” the Bellamy Brothers turned their sights to country radio. They topped the country charts with the yacht rock stylings of “If I Said You Had a Beautiful Body, Would You Hold It Against Me.” (Whew, that’s clever). The other major hit from this album was “You Ain’t Just Whistlin’ Dixie,” an appreciation of Robert E. Lee. I bet they hated that country radio wouldn’t play “Wet T-Shirt” in 1979. Grade: C-

3.  Pat Benatar: “In the Heat of the Night” (Chrsysalis). Pat Benatar took her theatre trained voice to rock ‘n’ roll with remarkably disciplined results, probably one byproduct of having Mike Chapman as co-producer. This album was filled with covers, almost all but John Cougar’s “I Need a Lover” unknown to U.S. audiences. An uneven debut, but “We Live for Love” wouldn’t feel out of place on a Blondie album. Essential Tough Girl Cut: “Heartbreaker.” Grade: B

4.  Chuck Berry: “Rockit” (Atco). This was Chuck’s first studio album in four years and his first non-Chess release. Despite Johnnie Johnson’s best efforts, this is a set with too much rock and not enough roll. That is to say, “Rockit” would be much more of a thing if it had some more swing. Nothing wrong with the songwriting though. Essential Cut: “Oh What a Thrill,” which was quickly picked up by Rockpile. Grade: B

5.  The Bishops: “Cross Cuts” (Chiswick UK). Regarding this U.K. retro pub-rock act, known as both The Bishops and the Count Bishops, Dave Thompson of AllMusic said, “The sound of the Bishops in sensitive rockabilly mode has a swirling darkness and a restless rhythm, and it rattles by as hellbound as any classic blues locomotive.” I’d love to hear that particular version of the band, instead of one that sounds like a Brit version of the Flamin’ Groovies fronted by a young Tom Waits. An energetic outfit that no doubt set local bars on fire;  the Count Bishops reinforced the idea that you can’t move forward by living in the past. Grade: B-

6.  Bizarros: “Bizarros” (Mercury). There are much worse ideas than pretending to be a CBGB’s version of the Velvets. However, the songs just aren’t there. Essential Cut: Lightly, On the Wrist. (That’s a joke, but not a bad title, eh?). Grade: B-

7.  Black Uhuru: “Showcase” (D-Roy Records). Like the Buzzcocks’ “Singles Going Steady,” “Showcase” is a compilation album of previously released singles, although one must wonder if Jamaican radio was really playing eight-minute-long tunes back in the day. The grooves can be quite trance inducing. In fact, if I played this while stoned, I might sleep for three days. Essential Cut: Everything, if you have high blood pressure. Grade: B+.

8.  Blackfoot: “Strikes” (Atco). Ricky Medlocke’s Southern rock meets boogie band Blackfoot eventually eked out a platinum album out of “Strikes,” which included the hits “Highway Song” (“did we capture that ‘Free Bird’ vibe?”) and “Train, Train,” (the latter penned by Medlocke’s grandfather, who performed the harmonica intro on the album). Besides those fine numbers, you get a clubfooted version of Spirit’s “I Got a Line on You,” a heavy-handed take on Blues Image’s “Pay My Dues,” a competent cover of Free’s “Wishing Well,” and some solid genre exercises. Essential Cut: “Train, Train” (later covered by Dolly Parton). Grade: B

9.  Blondie: “Eat to the Beat” (Chrysalis). “Dreaming” is one of those singles I would marry if I could, even though I have qualms about bigamy. The knock on “Eat to the Beat” is that it isn’t as good as “Parallel Lines,” but how many albums are? It’s my contention that the first side of this album is strong enough to stop, or at least slow down, a charging moose. Some of the experimental tracks on the second side miss the mark, but Debbie Harry’s charisma makes the journey worthwhile. Essential Cuts: “Dreaming,” “Atomic.” Grade: B+.

10.  Blue Oyster Cult: “Mirrors” (Columbia). BOC switched from producer Sandy Pearlman to CBS staffer Tom Werman for their “Mirrors” album and if someone did a blind music test with me, I’d think the lead track (“Dr. Music”) was a demo that Kiss refused to release. The whole album trots out so many late 1970’s AOR Styx/Kansas/That Ilk cliches that it feels like satire. Not particularly humorous satire. Grade: D+.

11.  Boney M: “Oceans of Fantasy” (Hansa Germany). When you think of German/Caribbean vocal dance/funk acts, you probably think of Boney M or take an aspirin. This album topped the U.K. album charts and is filled with repetitive, cotton candy dance hooks. Judge this 13-track, over fifty-four minutes album by how much Silver Convention (of “Fly, Robin, Fly” fame) inspired music you need in your life. The big ballads “El Lute” and “I’m Born Again” were major hits in Germany, creating unmatched tourism booms in France and Switzerland in 1979. Grade: C.

12.  Karla Bonoff: “Restless Nights” (Columbia). No relation to Boris Karloff, Karla Bonoff has had her songs covered/recorded by Linda Ronstadt, Bonnie Raitt, Wynonna Judd, and Alison Krauss, among others. This album is MOR L.A. studio soft rock and Bonoff has the vocal personality of someone who fears she will be pelted with tuna melts if she displays any genuine emotion. How sad must it have been for a “singer/songwriter” to have her lead single be a rote cover of “When You Walk in the Room?” Grade: C.

13.  The Boomtown Rats: “The Fine Art of Surfacing” (Phonogram). The Rats were all over U.K. radio in 1979 with “I Don’t Like Mondays” being a #1 hit, “Someone’s Looking at You,” with its I’m-more-new-wave-than-you organ break hitting #4, and “Diamond Smiles” peaking at #13. Bob Geldolf’s ego has always been bigger than my stomach and as a vocalist he makes a hell of an activist. Still, they caught the proverbial lightning in the bottle once. Essential Cut: “I Don’t Like Mondays.” Grade: B-

14.  Debby Boone: “Debby Boone” (Warner Bros.). Debby “You Light Up My Life” Boone had a #11 country hit in 1979 with “My Heart Has a Mind of Its Own.” On this album, she often sings as though she is completely rhythmically divorced from her material. Must be a genetic condition. Grade: C-

15.  Bootsy’s Rubber Band: “This Boot Is Made For Fonk-n” (Warner Brothers). Bootsy always makes me smile, a fact that can’t be undervalued, but he never hits a solid groove on this album. And, when you’re not hitting a solid groove for six to nine minutes at a time, funny voices can’t carry the day. Grade: C+

16.  David Bowie: “Lodger” (RCA Victor). On this album, you get Bowie the pop crooner (“Fantastic Voyage” which is not as good as the Lakeside song with the same title), Bowie the dance rock innovator (“DJ”), Bowie the glam rock elder statesmen (“Boys Keep Swinging”) and lots of Bowie “look at me, I’m being really arty.” Not a bad record, but it doesn’t peak very high. Grade: B

17.  Herman Brood and his Wild Romance: “Herman Brood and his Wild Romance” (Arista). Once you get past Golden Earring and Shocking Blue, Dutch bands haven’t had great success in the U.S. Herman Brood, known to his mom as Hermanus Brood, got this wooden shoe act a #35 pop hit in 1979 with the throbbing/driving “Saturday Night.” Arista repackaged the band’s 1978 “Shpritsz” album for the American market and the album is filled with sharp blues and upbeat rockers that generally last two and a half minutes or less. Who knew there was a really good tune named “Doreen” before the Old 97’s used that title? Brood really was a “Rock & Roll Junkie” – unable to escape addiction, he ended his messy life by jumping off a hotel roof at the age of 54. Grade: B

18.  Chuck Brown and the Soul Searchers: “Bustin’ Loose” (MCA). Chuck Brown was a convicted murderer who learned to play guitar in prison before becoming the “Godfather of Go-Go,” (“Go-Go” being the percussion heavy funk music associated with the Washington, D.C. area). The title track is one of the 70’s best dance numbers and was sampled in 2002 for Nelly’s #1 U.S. pop hit “Hot in Herre.” Beyond the title track, you get Philly soul, ballads, and lively grooves from a band that must have been a gas live. Essential Cut: “Bustin’ Loose.” Grade: B+

19.  James Brown: “The Original Disco Man” (Polydor). Much better than the original Disco Duck, Brown brings funk to the dance floor with assistance from Muscle Shoals producer Brad Shapiro. You might notice the Chic-style break on “It’s Too Funky in Here,” but J.B. was too much his own man to sound like he was imitating someone else’s style in 1979. This album is an interesting, high-spirited effort with the singer sounding like he was pushing himself rather than just trying out a new set of clothes. Essential Cut: “It’s Too Funky in Here.” Grade: B+.

 20.  Duncan Browne: “Streets of Fire” (Sire). Duncan Browne was an English singer/songwriter who sounded a bit like Dylan and a bit like Mark Knopfler and had Springsteen influenced titles like “Streets of Fire” and “American Heartbeat.” A morose and mediocre effort; the best chance for this record to sell was someone getting drunk and confusing it for Jackson Browne in the bargain bins. Grade: C.

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