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The ABCs of 1979 from the Raincoats to Diana Ross

1.  The Raincoats: “The Raincoats” (Rough Trade). Sounding like a distaff Velvet Underground with vocal arrangements influenced by the Clash and the Roches, this album doesn’t lack punk enthusiasm and energy. Like the Mekons, the amateurish DIY approach adds to the charm factor. With “In Love,” they stumble into a perfectly beautiful chord sequence and then obliterate it with chaotic noise. Grade: B+

2.  Bonnie Raitt: “The Glow” (Warner Brothers). Around the same time ZZ Top released their cover of “I Thank You,” Raitt released her version as the lead track on “The Glow.” It’s a fine song in both artists hands, but there’s a stark difference between Texas grit and Los Angeles coffee house blues. Excellent singer, fine song selection, unimaginative studio rock. Grade: B

3.  Raydio: “Rock On” (Arista). There’s a definite light touch to the funk on this album. It seems like Ray Parker Jr. didn’t want to scare a less than urban audience. You could view this effort as radio friendly black pop music or something that seems more calculated than an amortization schedule. Essential Cut: “You Can’t Change That.” Grade: B-

4.  Chris Rea: “Deltics” (Magnet). U.K singer Chris Rea had a #12 U.S. pop hit in 1978 with “Fool (If You Think It’s Over).” He had a solid career in the U.K, Australia, and Europe, but never reached the U.S. Top 40 again. There are times on this album when you think Rea wants to be Elton John or Van Morrison or Leonard Cohen. He had to settle for something much less impressive. Grade: C+

5.  The Records: The Records (Virgin). I can’t rate this album since it isn’t on the streaming services and the YouTube version is too low fidelity for consideration. However, “Starry Eyes” is the bad luck rocker that every power pop fan knows (An Essential Cut, included on approximately 3.6 million compilation records). Grade: Inconclusive

6.  Red Crayola: “Soldier-Talk” (Drag City). Red Crayola started as a Houston based psychedelic act in the mid-1960s. Mayo Thompson of Red Crayola hooked up with the Pere Ubu crew in 1979 to record “Soldier-Talk,” an album that sounds more like it was improvised than written. There’s a difference in what sounds good to art school students at 2:00 a.m. versus what sounds good to the pubic in the light of day. Grade: C+

7.  The Reds: “The Reds” (A&M). Uptempo and dark are an odd combo, but that was the specialty of this Philly hard rock act. A meaty, thick, aggressive sound, this almost sounds like pre-emo emo at times. I have no idea why a major label thought this might be a commercial sound in 1979, but this album has more of a kick than your favorite energy drink. Grade: B+

8.  Jerry Reed: “Half Singin’ and Half Pickin’” (RCA). Good grief, even Jerry Reed was doing MOR, countrypolitan music in 1979. He got a country hit out of that style with “Second Hand Second Lady” and had another hit with the weak comedy tune “Gimme Back My Blues.” This album’s second side has a lot of guitar noodling with the best being the closer “Nervous Breakdown.” He even covers “Stars and Stripes Forever” on this schizophrenic outing. Grade: C

9.  Lou Reed: “The Bells” (Arista). Lou had a weird sense of humor, “Disco Mystic” sounds like something you would play to end a party (“Hey, well, I guess I need to be somewhere else – anywhere else – right now”). “I Want to Boogie with You” sounds like a drunken joke. He seems to be singing in an exaggerated Broadway manner on many of these songs. Lou must have cracked up when he handed this self-indulgent, commercial trash heap of an album to Clive Davis. Grade: C

10.  The Residents: “Eskimo” (Ralph Records). The art rock version of KISS, at least in terms of image, got a lot of mileage out of funny costumes. This is a very…um…atmospheric album (blowing winds, underlying chants, tribal drums, crying babies) that theoretically has something to do with, of course, Inuit culture. Conceptually audacious and interesting, if not compelling. Grade: C+

11.  Marty Robbins: “All Around Cowboy” (Columbia). Robbins is singing in his classic Western ballad style on this album and got a Top Twenty country hit with the title track. His rich voice is comforting, and he almost reaches the old magic on “The Ballad of a Small Man.” However, the general feel is that you have an artist either living in or (unsuccessfully) trying to recreate his past. Grade: C+

12.  Smokey Robinson: “Where There’s Smoke…” (Tamla). This is high quality background music that also works when you give it deeper attention (like Steely Dan with better singing). I had never heard this album before starting this project and it immediately felt like an old friend. OK, I could live without the disco take of “Get Ready.” Essential Cut: the Top Five pop hit “Cruisin’.” Grade: A-

13.  Tom Robinson Band: “TRB Two” (Harvest). This is a mixture of bracing pub rock and material that feels like it was written on a deadline. I’ve always rooted for Robinson, but this really falls apart on the second side. Still, check out “Bully for You” to see what Roger Waters ripped off from it. Grade: B

14.  The Roches: “The Roches” (Warner Bros.). Playful, smart, minimalist, eccentric, startingly original. World class harmonies. The bare bones instrumentation could have used more variety, and this was way too quirky for mainstream success. Still, the Roches were as striking and original as the B-52s were in 1979, taking folk music to places it had never been. Essential Track: “Hammond Song.” Grade: A-

15.  The Rockets: “The Rockets” (RSO). The Rockets were formed in the early 1970s by a few former members of Mitch Ryder’s Detroit Wheels. They brought a little funk and a little boogie to their melodic hard rock style, which sounded closer to Skynyrd than it did the MC5. Essential Cut: their Top 40 remake of Fleetwood Mac’s “Oh Well.” This album isn’t bad, but it’s not a good long-term sign when the best song is a cover. Grade: B-

16.  Rockets: “Plasteroid” (Rockland France). Not to be confused with our friends the Rockets from Detroit, this band was a French space rock outfit, according to Wikipedia. According to my ears, this album sounds like electronic dance music that Daft Punk probably studied in depth. If you love layered synthesizers and all the strange noises they can make, this is the band for you. This album makes me feel like I’m trapped in a video game with no escape hatch. Grade B-

17.  Johnny Rodriguez: “Rodriguez” (Mercury). Quite a snazzy title for an artist’s fourteenth album. The lost love lyric of “Down on the Rio Grande” was a solid opener and a Top Ten country hit. There’s nothing here you can’t live without, but for easy listening country, this is a pretty solid effort. It peaks with the non-single closer, “I Give My Life a Second Look.” Grade: B-

18.  Kenny Rogers: “Kenny” (United Artists Group). Kenny was such a hip dude that he opens this album with a DANCE NUMBER! Get that man a polyester suit! Next, he WOOS the listener with “You Decorated My Life” (I just pulled back the covers, Kenny!). He pulls out the strings on “She’s a Mystery” and funky horns on “Tulsa Turnaround”! What a versatile singer/actor/photographer/chicken salesman! All of this material is various levels of calculated tripe. Kenny Rogers’ dominance in country and pop radio during this timeframe was a great argument to either watch more television or become a drug addict. Grade: C-

19.  Kenny Rogers and Dottie West: “Classics” (United Artists). This sounds like music from a 1970’s variety show. Two of the “classics” on this album are “Just the Way You Are” and “You Needed Me.” This whole project is so cynically brazen that it would make Rudy Giuliani blush. Grade: D

20.  Diana Ross: “The Boss” (Motown). A concept album about Bruce Springsteen, Diana documents his career from his humble Jersey shore beginnings to his cover appearances on “Time” and “Newsweek,” closing the record with a disco version of “Born to Run.” Ok, that’s all lies. The truth – a boring dance album with delusions of grandeur. It is funny hearing background singers proclaiming “I Ain’t Been Licked” with no sense of irony. Grade: C+

Additional 1979 Review

Pere Ubu: “Dub Housing” (Chrysalis). I can’t undervalue music that makes me smile and this album has soaked me in happiness for decades. “Dub Housing” is a smorgasbord of fun, mixing the shrieking vocals of David Thomas and his stream of consciousness lyrics, Allen Ravenstine’s playful keyboard interjections, and a rhythm section that, when it wants to, can make an uncoordinated clod like me want to dance. And the closer, with its repeated mantra “I think about you all the time,” has that obsessive creepiness that Sting took to the bank on “Every Breath You Take.” Grade: A  

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