In the United States, there are five birthdays which are major in one’s life. The first one is when you turn 10, because you are now in double digits. Next, that’s when you turn 13 because you are officially a teenager, whatever that means. Then, when you turn 16, you are eligible to get your driver’s license, which you think means freedom. Unfortunately, no one warns you that it means insurance payments to you parents so you can drive their car, or, if you’re lucky, your own car. That one is followed up by your eighteenth birthday, meaning you are somewhat, but not fully, an adult. Finally, you turn 21, then you can drink, in addition to being required to take on adult responsibilities, which you discover sucks more than ever.
Oh, sure, your 30th, 40th and 50th birthdays are big deals to others but honestly not to you. And, I am certain that the rest of my birthdays will be the same to me, as 51 through 57 have been met with my own personal nonchalance. Truth be told, I would much rather watch my grandkids play around than to celebrate another birthday. Then, either retire to listen to music and write or read or watch a basketball game. But, those birthdays are special to my family, so I will play the game for them.
So, what does this have to do with 1977? Well, I did reach a somewhat significant milestone in the fall of that year because I started high school. I was excited because I had large intellectual dreams of higher learning at the time. Boy, was I ever wrong. I guess that’s why I attempted to teach chemistry at a higher level than what was required by the state. I know many of the students I would be teaching would be coming into it bored and developing a deep cynicism toward public education. I knew that because I had been there. So, I attempted to make chemistry and microbiology at a high enough level that it would challenge the average “good” student, resulting in everyone being forced to raise their academic efforts. I wanted to be close to the teacher that I would have wanted growing up. You know, someone that students bitched about because they were being forced out of their comfort zones.
Anyway, if you were to look at my favorite 15 years of music as a baseball batting lineup, 1975 and 1976 represent the lead-off hitter, basically setting the table for what was to come latter in the order. Now, 1977 and 1978 are batting in the “two-hole” so they can advance the runner for the meat of the lineup that’s waiting to hit. So, 1977 is definitely advancing my musical palette with some obviously classic albums, along with some surprises, as usual.
Billy Joel – The Stranger (1977). This album was kind just selling steadily until Joel skipped his high school class reunion to perform on Saturday Night Live early in the year. His great performances really jump-started his career, which we all know how it went. And, this album remains his finest statement. Often compared to Elton John as an American version, I find that limiting and unfair. Joel IS uniquely American, as his music is as steeped in rock & roll as it is Broadway and Tin Pan Alley. This album was one of my pre-race “go-to” albums when I was a high school runner.
Bob Marley & the Wailers – Exodus (1977). As 1977 rolled around, Marley had become the most successful reggae artist in the world and, perhaps, the most powerful man in Jamaica. At least, Marley was believed to be powerful enough to have an assassination attempt taken on him. This only solidified his resolve to produce what I consider his greatest album. Seriously, he has the title song, “Jamming,” “One Love/People Get Ready” and “Waiting in Vain” all on this album. Please!
Cheap Trick – Cheap Trick (1977). Cheap Trick’s debut album set the stage for the Alternative Nation of Eighties and Nineties, as well as, unfortunately, hair metal. Their American Beatles sound channeled through early Who power also set the stage for power pop and new wave. Were they punk or arena rock? Yes.
Cheap Trick – In Color (1977). Our heroes from Rockford, Illinois, released two classic albums in the calendar year of 1977. This was steeped more on their pop side more than their rockier side. Still, it remains a power pop classic in the truest sense. Plus, much of what is recorded for At Budokan is found in its rudimentary forms. I became a life-long Cheap Trick fan with this album.
David Bowie – “Heroes” (1977). The middle of Bowie’s much regarded Berlin trilogy just might be his finest of the three. As he and producer Brian Eno did with Low earlier in the year, half of the album has vocals while the other does not. All of these albums were steeped in the synthesizer experiments as defined by Kraftwerk. Simply a brilliant album.
David Bowie – Low (1977). If you bought this album hoping to hear either “Fame 2.0” or “Golden Years, Part 2,” you were disappointed. But, you were cognizant of Bowie’s penchant for musical shifting, you were left stunned by the greatness of this album. No, it is not a punk album either. Instead, this album, along with the other two albums that he and Eno produced in Berlin anticipated the whole post-punk and new wave world that would be left in punk’s wake. Jarring, yet beautiful!
Dennis Wilson – Pacific Ocean Blues (1977). The one Wilson brother voted least likely to have a solo career is the one who created the best adult version of The Beach Boys’ sound. This album, which I did not discover until well into the 21st century, is simply spectacular.
Electric Light Orchestra – Out of the Blue (1977). Seriously! Who knew that you could actually record a compelling concept album based upon the weather. Of course, ELO could. And, it is magnificent in its scope, as only a Seventies album this side of Queen could ever create. Oh, and it has one of the greatest odes to The Beatles EVER concocted in “Mr. Blue Sky.” Jeff Lynne actually “out-Beatled” The Beatles.
Elvis Costello – My Aim Is True (1977). Once again, another album that completely changed my life, Costello IS my Elvis. This is just a perfect album in a long line of perfect albums that Elvis made early in his career. Much is made about his lyrics, but his music mind is every bit as deep as his wordsmith. He is my generation’s Dylan, Lennon or Cobain.
Fleetwood Mac – Rumours (1977). Another of the HUGE selling albums of the Seventies, this album chronicled the falling apart of three couples, two of which were in the band together. And, how, when each one knew a song was about another, could hold it together to create such terrific music is incomprehensible to us mortals. Every song is just impeccably written, performed and produced. And, every one of them deserves to be overplayed on Classic Rock radio.
So, until next time! Peace!