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The ABCs of 1979 From the Buzzcocks to Bruce Cockburn

1.  Buzzcocks: “A Different Kind of Tension” (United Artists). The spirit was willing, the buzzsaw energy never flagged, but not enough tunes find the pop punk sweet spot. B+

2.  Buzzcocks: “Singles Going Steady” (I.R.S.). This singles compilation massages every pleasure center in a punk rock wired brain. Universal themes – sex, unrequited love, bad romance – are wedded to eternally wonderful tunes. “Ever Fallen in Love (With Someone You Shouldn’t’ve?”  Who hasn’t? Essential 1979 Cut: “Harmony in My Head.” Grade: A

3.  Cabaret Voltaire: “Mix-Up” (Rough Trade UK). Have that friend who doesn’t know when to leave your house? This lumbering “industrial”/””post punk” collection of throbs, splats, and gurgles will do the trick. The perfect background music for a goth funeral or a suicide pact. Grade: C-

4.  J.J. Cale: “5” (MCA). I don’t trust Okies in general and anyone deeply admired by Eric Clapton must be viewed with alarming suspicion. If you listened to any individual track on this album, you’d think, “Hey, that’s not bad.” If you listened to the entire album, you’d think, “I’m too sleepy to drive.” My favorite track is “I’ll Make Love to You Anytime,” because it pushes back against the stereotype that men have to be pressured into having sex. Grade: B-

5.  John Cale: “Sabotage/Live” (Spy Records). Recorded live at CBGB’s, Cale chronicles gun lusting mercenaries, paranoia, nuclear war, and colonialism, sounding a bit like David Byrne without the funk. I’m sure this was quite an event as a performance, but the documented results just grind and bash and sink. Then, it sinks some more. Grade: B-

6.  Cameo: “Secret Omen” (Chocolate City). Cameo toiled away on the funk/R&B circuit for twelve years before hitting the mainstream in 1986 with their classic crossover single “Word Up.” This album included the Top Five R&B single “I Just Want to Be,” pushing the album to Gold status. Excepting one ballad (which was another R&B hit), Larry Blockmon kept the beats per minute fast enough to keep this album from stalling out. However, this is a record that sounds more like a grab bag of influences than an original band. Grade: B-

7.  Glen Campbell: “Highwayman” (Captiol). The title track would later gain fame by the country supergroup The Highwaymen. Campbell clearly doesn’t have the gravitas to lasso the mythology of the lyrics. Strange but true – a number of songs on this album were penned by Micheal Smotherman, a one-time keyboardist for Captain Beefheart. Anyhoo, Campbell was supposedly a big cocaine freak in the 1970s. This album was clearly recorded during a crash period. Grade: C-

8.  Cars: “Candy-O” (Elektra). I always admired the Cars’ sleek, fresh, fine-tuned take on rock ‘n’ roll. Precision sometimes undercut passion, but the results were often stellar. “Candy-O” had the unwelcome challenge of following their multi-platinum debut album, but they delivered top notch singles with “Let’s Go” and “It’s All I Can Do.” It’s hard to imagine a better marriage between a producer and band than Roy Thomas Baker and the Cars – check out how he perfectly integrates the escalating guitar and synthesizer riffs in the claustrophobic “Night Spots”. Also, not too many late 1970’s acts were paying homage to Suicide (cf. “Shoo Be Doo”). Essential Cut: the hand clapping, radio friendly “Let’s Go.” Grade: A-

9.  Johnny Cash: “Silver” (Columbia). Artists don’t tend to peak on their 62nd studio album and Johnny Cash sounds like he’s reading lines as much as he’s singing this time out. However, nobody was built better for grand mythos, and he had his penultimate Top Ten country single (as a solo artist) with this Essential Cut: “(Ghost) Riders in the Sky.” Grade: C+

10.  Ray Charles: “Ain’t It So” (Atlantic). This album’s so obscure it hasn’t even earned a Wikipedia entry. Perhaps the world wasn’t ready for a disco version of Irving Berlin’s “What’ll I Do.” I can’t even find the entire album on YouTube. Grade: Incomplete.

11.  Cheap Trick: “At Budokan” (Epic). Nobody boos their childhood, and this was the first rock album I fell in love with. Power pop doesn’t get better than “Come On, Come On” or “Lookout,” and classic rock never got better than “Surrender.” Of course, this record also delivered the deserved breakthrough radio hits with “I Want You to Want Me” and “Ain’t That a Shame.” I haven’t forgotten the magnetism of Robin Zander of the charisma of Rick Nielsen. Essential Cuts: “Surrender,” “I Want You to Want Me.” Grade: A-

12.  Cheap Trick: “Dream Police” (Epic). The title track is classic Cheap Trick off kilter arena rock and “Way of the World” is a perfect mesh of the Beatles and ELO. However, “Writing on the Wall” is one of the band’s worst cuts of the 70’s and didn’t we just hear “Need Your Love” on “Budokan”? Essential Cut: “Dream Police.” Grade: B+

13.  Chic: “Risque” (Atlantic). With their sophisticated take on disco music, Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards created one of the most influential bands of the late 1970s. “Good Times,” famously sampled by the Sugarhill Gang for “Rapper’s Delight,” was both a peak (a #1 pop hit) and a swan song, being their final Top 40 hit. “Risque” has been named by Blender, Rolling Stone, Mojo, The Guardian, and NME as one of the best/most important albums ever. As for me, I’ve never thought one brilliant single equated to a brilliant album. Essential Cut: “Good Times.” Grade: B+

14.  Chrome: “Half Machine Lip Moves” (Siren). A San Francisco – oh boy – “post punk”/”industrial band, influenced by the Stooges as demonstrated by the lead track title “T.V. As Eyes.” They even rewrote “Search and Destroy” and called it “Zombie Warfare (Can’t Let You Down).” (Well, halfway through the song, it changes and becomes a series of video game noises). The whole thing reeks of punkier-than-thou, let’s toss out weird noises “experimentation. ”To say this album was “produced” is like calling Pauly Shore “an actor.” Grade: B-

15.  Christopher Cross: “Christopher Cross” (Warner Brothers). I’ve always hated this schmuck and his hollow, L.A. soft rock music. His Mr. Potato Head features were so ugly that his label didn’t even put his pic on this multi-platinum album cover. The perfect record for simulating a slow death experience. Grade: C+

16.  City Boy: “The Day the Earth Caught Fire” (Atlantic). City Boy didn’t have their feet in L.A., but their minds in Tennessee. This U.K. act was produced by Robert “Mutt” Lange and sounded like theatrical pomp rock (a poor man’s Queen or a British Styx). I guess it was refreshing for someone to find six guys in 1979 so thoroughly uninfluenced by punk rock. I don’t think that someone was me. Favorite lyric: “Spilling coffee on my shoes, I noticed you.” Was she an ant? Grade: C-

17.  Roy Clark/Gatemouth Brown: “Makin’ Music” (MCA). “Hee-Haw” met Texas jump blues on “Makin’ Music” and the vibe is looser than David Byrne’s suits. Ain’t nothin’ here that will change your life, but you could put on a much less effective soundtrack for your next cookout. Fun covers: “Caldonia,” “Take the ‘A’ Train.” Grade: B+

18.  The Clash: “The Clash” (CBS). The Clash’s debut album was released in the U.K. in 1977 and then released in 1979 in the States with a different track listing. On current streaming formats, you’ll find the U.K. version. In any event, this sounds like a “Greatest Hits” album, documenting a ferocious young band on a mission to change the world. And, maybe, in a slight way, they did. During this timeframe, the Clash had an undeniable power – reminiscent of what the first-generation rock critics pretended the early Who sounded like. 1979 Essential Cut: “I Fought the Law.” Grade: A+

19.  Linda Clifford: “Let Me Be Your Woman” (RSO/Curtom). A beauty pageant winner (Miss New York State) turned actress turned disco diva, Clifford scored a #1 dance hit in 1978 with the Broadway tune “If My Friends Could See Me Now.” On this album, the opener (“Hold Me Close”) repeatedly threatens to morph into the as yet unreleased “It’s Raining Men.” Showing some versatility, she sounds like a suburban Millie Jackson giving romantic advice on the R&B hit “Don’t Give It Up” (“that’s right, girls, don’t give nothing away”). As a demonstration on how weird 1979 was, Clifford just missed the Top 40 with a bad disco take of “Bridge Over Troubled Water.” Have I mentioned this is a DOUBLE LP? Grade: B-

20.  Bruce Cockburn: “Dancing in the Dragon’s Jaws” (True North). Cockburn’s always been an interesting cat – a serious man who seems like a committed Christian due to legitimate faith instead of social convenience. Cockburn sounds like a folkie Canadian Van Morrison on this outing, in the way he lets his muse direct his path. This is serious, thoughtful work and he added congas and a marimba into the mix for sonic variety. It could have used a few more tempo changes though. Essential Cut: the petroglyph referencing “Wondering Where the Lions Are.” Grade: B

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