That’s right! 1979! I’m not sure why I put so much emphasis on this year in my mind, except, to me, it represented a definite change of decades which meant there was the possibility of great things ahead. And, I hold onto that naivety, though I believe the Eighties actually led to many of the societal problems that we face today. But, at that moment in 1979, all things seemed possible. Music was making many changes, along with technology thanks in large part to the space program a decade or so earlier.
If you listen carefully to the lyrics of the day, people were really anxious due to the Cold War and an impending nuclear doom. The economy was stagnating, the imperialism policies of the post-World War II was finally facing a backlash both abroad and domestically. And, the cult of personality was in full swing. But, the music tried to keep the whole thing honest.
So, let’s get this first year that is completely in my wheelhouse going!
AC/DC – Highway to Hell (1979). For some reason, AC/DC was big at my high school almost immediately. AC/DC’s music is one of three things you can consistently count on in life, along with taxes and death. And, Highway to Hell is the band’s commercial breakthrough, and, unfortunately, the last one to feature original lead singing madman Bon Scott. This album remains one of the greatest hard rock/metal albums of all time.
Buzzcocks – Singles Going Steady (1979). When it comes to the UK punk scene, the albums that are needed for their Mount Rushmore would be the debut albums by The Clash, Sex Pistols, The Damned and this one. The whole pop punk movement of the Nineties and 2000s have this album to thank. While The Clash cornered the political side, the Pistols the shocking side and The Damned the crazy side of punk, Buzzcocks nailed down the teenage angst within pop constrictions.
Cheap Trick – At Budokan (1979). Originally intended as a special release for Japan in thanks of that country’s population’s massive support, this album quickly became the best-selling import album of the day, prompting Epic Records to release it worldwide. An what you get is Cheap Trick in all its glory in a live setting. Of course, in concert, Cheap Trick’s songs have always been infected with more power, energy and character than ever in the studio. While nerds like me were into Trick long before this album, At Budokan introduced the boys from Rockford, Illinois, to the rest of the world. And, things have never been the same again.
Cheap Trick – Dream Police (1979). This album was in the can and ready to go when the band’s label decided to release At Budokan. Dream Police was released in the fall of 1979 to much anticipation, and the album did not disappoint. If one were to think that the band was following The Beatles’ trajectory, you might be inclined to compare this album to Magical Mystery Tour in its scope and power. The production is dense and layered while this group of songs respond well to this production and actually come alive. While the title song, “Voices” and the studio version of “Gonna Raise Hell” get all the praise, I personally am a fan of “I Know What I Want.”
Chic – Risqué (1979). This is Chic’s most sophisticated album to date. All the playing and vocals are impeccable, while the writing is spot on. Most notably, this album contains THE monster sample of all, “Good Times,” which was used as the backing music for the groundbreaking “Rapper’s Delight” later on in the year. This album will wrap up the band’s commercial period, though its members will go on to big production work throughout the Eighties.
Donna Summer – Bad Girls (1979). Summer was the Queen of Disco for some very good reasons. First, she had some excellent songs. Second, Summer had the best production crew behind her. And, importantly, Summer possessed the perfect voice for disco. On Bad Girls, Summer was able to create a feminist record while setting those songs within a rock-dance sound that became the template of the Eighties. This was dance music for the mind.
Earth, Wind & Fire – I Am (1979). Few bands were as creative and ahead of the game as EWF. This Chicago band was the funk version of Chicago the band, since both acts fused jazz with their respective musics. This just might be EWF’s finest moment, especially their wonderful collaboration with The Emotions on the eternally-blissful “Boogie Wonderland.” For my money, I am a huge sucker for the great ballad “After the Love Has Gone.”
Elvis Costello & the Attractions – Armed Forces (1979). All the rage and fury that Elvis Costello had alluded to on his first two albums were unleashed on this one, both lyrically and musically. This album is my go-to Costello album because of the passion throughout the album. And, Elvis made Nick Lowe’s “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding” his own. It remains my favorite anthem of moral indignation.
Fleetwood Mac – Tusk (1979). If you thought that Cheap Trick was met with much anticipation as they released Dream Police, no band at the time, other than Led Zeppelin or the Eagles, were under as much pressure as the Mac. After selling loads of Rumours, the public was ready for part two. Instead, musical visionary Lindsey Buckingham decided the band needed to respond to the music of the day and went into full-on SMiLE-era Brian Wilson mode. What we got became an avant garde version of Mac’s Southern California sound. Today, this album is considered a classic, but few were willing to take a long ride on this one back in the day.
Gang of Four – Entertainment! (1979). Gang of Four is the kind of band that would perfectly fit into today’s music scene. Their post-punk rock sound is mixed with danceable rhythms, while their lyrics are full of the sociopolitical commentary that sits in perfect tandem in this #MeToo and #BlackLivesMatter era. Plus, this band became huge influences on Rage Against the Machine and Fugazi, among many others.
Gary Numan – The Pleasure Principle (1979). Gary Numan’s fantastic synthpop had made inroads in the UK and Europe under the banner of the Tubeway Army and their hit “Are ‘Friends’ Electric?” But, it was this album that made Numan a global superstar on the strength of his brilliant ode to isolation and paranoia “Cars.” The big surprise is that the rest of the album matches the strength of his most famous song.
Graham Parker & the Rumour – Squeezing Out Sparks (1979). 1979 was a banner year for the angry UK singer/songwriters of Costello, Parker and Joe Jackson, as all three began to receive critical and commercial gains here in the States. This album remains Parker’s greatest album displaying his mix of anger, R&B and punk energy. This is primo stuff!
Joe Jackson – Look Sharp (1979). 1979 was made so much better with Joe Jackson’s debut album and his outstanding hit song “Is She Really Going Out with Him?” Jackson hit all the nails on the head of teenage males’ anxieties. Right with Costello, Jackson has followed a wonderful path of diverse musical excursions.
Joy Division – Unknown Pleasures (1979). Sometimes, a band arises from the most seemingly mundane places only to change the musical world. Who would have thought four mop tops from Liverpool would have ever changed the world? Likewise, who would have guessed that four lads from Salford would come define the sound of the post-punk era and into today? That’s exactly what happened as Joy Division took equal parts of punk and Kraftwerk-influenced synth sounds to create a dark icy sound that was both modern and futuristic.
Michael Jackson – Off the Wall (1979). Remember when we were all taken with Michael’s shyness and Peter Pan qualities? Listening to this album takes me back to those innocent days. When you strip the allegations away from the musician, you have some of the best dance grooves and pop music this side of the Chic Organization. “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough” remains a monster dance cut, while “Rock with You” still works as a slow dance number at wedding receptions. This album gave us the solo Michael Jackson template for his next two albums that he created with Quincy Jones and those wonderful session musicians that included members of Toto.
And, there you have it, the first half of 1979 albums on my list. God willing, I’ll follow this blog up soon. Peace!