Playing all the records in my collection in reverse chronological order, I’m still working my way through 1977 and am struck by how well some albums I loved then hold up over time…and how some fall flat.
It was a big year for me: the year I graduated from high school and started college, the year I bought my first car ($200 for the Catalina), took my first trip without my family, had my first real crush on a real guy, and got so stinkin’ drunk I thought I’d die.
Musically, it was a pretty big year as well: Rock and pop collided with disco, Donna Summer’s glorious “I Feel Love” ushered in electronica, while punk rock exploded in Britain and New York. AM radio was all “Night Moves,” Rumours, Andy Gibb, Hotel California, Styx, and Steve Miller; FM was Blondie, “Psycho Killer,” the Sex Pistols, and Bowie’s Low…to name just a few highlights.
1977 gave us Star Wars, Roots, the birth of Apple and Studio 54, the first albums by Foreigner and Elvis Costello, and the death of that other Elvis. Jimmy Carter took office. My mom drove an AMC Gremlin the color of Campbell’s condensed tomato soup. My hair was long. Well, long for me.
You know how it is when you’re first starting college — independent for the first time, at least sort of, you try to cobble together an identity using whatever you can grab onto. That punk and new wave took off at the same time as I did was kind of a good coincidence, but, Patti Smith aside, I didn’t embrace it all right away.
The Sex Pistols were the hottest thing, and Talking Heads had just released their first album, but my favorite records that first semester at SMU were Don Juan’s Reckless Daughter by Joni Mitchell and Steely Dan’s Aja. And you know what? They both still sound great. Play ’em and see!
Never Mind the Bollocks? Historically important, sure. Is it an album I want to play over and over 35 years later? Not so much. Talking Heads ’77: Kind of impossible to not like, right? But is it genius? Not really.
As far as I can recall, my favorite band in 1977 was still Queen. I’d seen them in concert more than once, and I bought all their records. In retrospect, though, News of the World is Queen past their prime. Their attempt at punk rock, “Sheer Heart Attack,” is pretty good, but the rest of the album? Well, it’s no Sheer Heart Attack (1974).
Animals by Pink Floyd: Here’s an album that might easily have failed to hold up over time. Why? It’s bombastic, it’s self-conscious, it’s a concept album with a message, just the kind of thing you love at 17…and guess what? It’s still really wonderful. (Are we surprised? It’s Pink Floyd, fer god’s sake.)
Here’s another one you’d never guess: The Light of Smiles, Gary Wright’s follow-up to The Dream Weaver. Really good. Book of Dreams by the Steve Miller Band? Still good, not great. Foot Loose and Fancy Free by Rod Stewart? Pretty bad. But you knew that.
What about the year’s biggest hit album, Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours? How does it sound all these years later? Brilliant. But you knew that, too.