As I have stated before, 1975 marks the start of what I consider the prime listening years of my life. And although I believe that I was keeping abreast of music through 1995, I was also a parent and a young adult attempting to navigate a young family through life. That means from 1985 to 1995, music was not as intense as it had been the prior decade. After 1995, I began to experience music through my boys, students and athletes. And, now, with all the downloading and streaming available to me, I tend to simply be an academic in my experience. Sure, I can still discern the good (Kendrick Lamar) from the bad (Rascal Flatts), but I no longer feel music viscerally, unless it happens to be music from my youth.
I really don’t miss being a young person, with all the drama and such. What I miss is my youthful idealism and enthusiasm for the new, without the truly jaded cynicism of being a middle aged adult. I miss the excitement of the new singles being released by artists from the U.K. or the latest Michael Jackson video. For those of you that actually know me, you know what a huge fan I am of the comic strip Bloom County. In that strip, the character I related to the most was Binkley. Binkley, if you don’t know, was a pre-teen character who was kind of wimpy and full of angst and anxiety. Specifically, I loved the strip in which he went to a “Lost and Found” area at a store looking for his youthful idealism. I loved that strip back in my college days and continue to read it online today. But, that one has stuck with me since I first read it, then cut it out of the Ball State newspaper, The Daily News, and posted it on my dormitory room door (that’s how we did Facebook in the Eighties!).
So, I will not apologize for my bias on this list on the music of my “era.” But, do understand that any list of this sort has a built-in bias. Rolling Stone still skews toward the Boomer/Gen X crowd, while Pitchfork is innately millennial. And, the UK-based magazines will always rightfully tilt toward the music that was popular there. And, all are valid, but I am telling you my leanings upfront so there will be little controversy, except when I leave your favorite albums off the list. So, my suggestion is to try my albums then make your own lists. Nothing is more democratic than that.
Enough all ready Keller! On with the countdown!
Patti Smith – Horses (1975). This album is where the modern punk era began. Smith was known as a writer, rock critic and poet. So when she gathered a band led by former rock critic (and compiler of the great Nuggets compilation on this list back in 1972), Smith set her poems to some of the sloppiest and harshest machine. And, it became absolutely magical and influential to the whole NYC punk scene. If you want to Smith of this era, just watch the Easter episode of SNL during which she performed. It was a game changer.
Paul Simon – Still Crazy After All These Years (1975). Speaking of SNL, Paul Simon’s first two appearances on the show are legendary, and they both were pretty much pimping this monster of an album. Oh, sure, I was so pissed when I found out on American Top 40 that “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover” had hit number one and not my beloved “Rock & Roll All Nite.” But, I have gotten over it. Still, this album has aged well and has become one of my favorites as I have gotten older.
Pink Floyd – Wish You Were Here (1975). I can remember the excitement of high school students upon the release of this album, as expectations were sky high after the landmark success of The Dark Side of the Moon. Much as been made of the fact that this album, and the title song specifically, being a tribute to their fallen leader Syd Barrett. Ironically, Barrett showed up during the recording sessions, and his former bandmates did not recognize him at first. This album represents the band at its most vulnerable.
Queen – A Night at the Opera (1975). Let’s face it, this is the album that made Queen into the stadium rockers they knew they were. If you are reading this, I figure you have seen the movie, so I will not go into the recording. This album made me a life-long fan of the band. It’s simply a fun romp through the minds of one of the most creative and innovative bands of all time.
Roxy Music – Siren (1975). Roxy Music may not have made much of a commercial impact here in the States, but, like Bowie, their influence is everywhere throughout the late-Seventies and Eighties. The whole New Romantic movement’s blueprint is found right here. And, personally, I was hooked the first time I heard the coolness of “Love Is the Drug.” By the way, that’s Mrs. Rupert Murdoch, ex-Mrs. Mick Jagger, former girlfriend of Roxy leader singer Bryan Ferry Jerry Hall on the cover.
Rufus featuring Chaka Khan – Rufus Featuring Chaka Khan (1975). Rufus burst onto the scene in 1974 with their terrific rendition of the Stevie Wonder-written hit song “Tell Me Something Good.” The band was an excellent, tight funk band with talented player. But, up front, they have the most beautiful woman with a voice that could rival Aretha in its soulfulness in Chaka Khan. And, they put it everything together perfectly on this album, which is anchored by the sublime “Sweet Thing.”
Smokey Robinson – A Quiet Storm (1975). What can be said about an album that totally influenced the creation of a whole radio station programming format? That’s how important this album is. Smokey was an established name for his songwriting for Motown and his work with the Miracles, but this album transcended all of that. This was ground zero for all of those smoky (pun unintended) soul ballads that some many of people my age put on their “Make Out Music” mixtapes in college. Oh, and never forget how WKRP in Cincinnati parodied this format with Venus Flytrap’s brilliant show within the show.
The Dictators – Go Girl Crazy! (1975). Okay, was the band heavy metal or punk, two factions that would have nothing to do with each other at the time? I would say both! They were the first to meld the two genres into one dirty sound. If you like Andrew WK’s debut album from the early 2000s, this album is for you, though some of their “jokes” might not be as funny in today’s environment. The music still holds up for those who wanted their punk a little less arty and more from the groin. Oh, Twisted Sister, you better thank these guys for your career.
Willie Nelson – Red Headed Stranger (1975). Who would have predicted that an outcast of the Nashville country music establishment would create an concept album telling the story of a preacher-turned-murderer on the run after killing his former wife and her lover and it would completely change the course of country music? Well, only in the Seventies is what I say. Willie moved country back to the basics as far as playing is concerned and channeled his inner Johnny Cash to create one of the true latter day classics that influenced artists across the musical spectrum.
ZZ Top – Fandango! (1975). ZZ released this half-live, half-studio album just as they popularity was on the rise. And, this one raised their profile even higher. What person in the 55-65 age range didn’t cruise around in their car blaring “Tush” when it came on the radio or 8-Track tape player? It’s even used in Dazed & Confused, so I know it’s an American truth. Plus, the album has “Heard It on the X,” a great radio song if there ever was one.
Wow! I just realized some serendipity with 1976, the year of the bicentennial, being covered around Independence Day. It wasn’t planned that way.