Forty years ago.
Punk sprouted, prog continued, pop morphed; great albums littered the highways of contemporary music…
This is the first post of a possible series, presenting albums worthy of acclaim four decades after release.
I’ve excluded albums previously covered at Vinyl Connection. So to read about the following gold-plated favourites, just click on the link.
Steely Dan — Aja
Genesis — Wind & Wuthering
Radio Birdman — Radios Appear
Steve Winwood — Steve Winwood
Tangerine Dream — Sorcerer
The Vibrators — Pure Mania
Ramones — Rocket To Russia
The biggest challenge was limiting this pop/rock list to just ten. Leaving out The Idiot by Iggy Pop was painful, while overlooking faux-Essex poet Ian Dury (New Boots & Panties) was an outrage. But enough equivocating.
Let the countdown begin.
10 Santana — Moonflower
Given its unusual combination of live and studio material, Moonflower is surprisingly satisfying. While perhaps missing the creative drive of the first five albums, Moonflower is thoroughly enjoyable, due in no small part to the outstanding keyboard contributions of Tom Coster. Choosing a song to cover is a fraught business, but Carlos and the lads got it right with The Zombie’s ‘She’s not there’, a Top 10 single. I often drag Moonflower out as the weather gets warmer; it begs for a long cold drink and somewhere to put your feet up. Or dance, if you’re that way inclined.
9 The Saints — (I’m) Stranded
Sometimes called Australia’s Sex Pistols (dumb—they were much more Downunder Ramones), The Saints roared out of Brisbane with uncompromising ur-punk rock dripping sneer and kick-arse guitar. Except they’d been going four years by the time this album arrived. When you listen, it makes sense; plenty of Stooges, Ramones, MC5 here, but powered by a raging desire to cut through suburban malaise. They succeed indelibly.
8 Jethro Tull — Songs from the Wood
In 1977, many progressive bands were easing towards the mainstream (Yes, PFM, ELP). Not Jethro Tull. They headed for the deep countryside, spinning tales of Jacks-in-the-green and rustic folk (‘Hunting girl’). This is folk-rock for lost England, a beguiling fantasy of elegant (yet robust) playing and tight harmonies (‘Ring out Solstice bells’). Yet they don’t forget to rock out (‘Pibroch (Cap in hand)’) while spinning some terrific melodies. Sprightly and refreshing.
7 Genesis — Seconds Out
To dismiss Seconds Out as a stop-gap release between the wonderful Wind and Wuthering and the disappointing post-Hackett And Then There Were Three would be critically defensible but manifestly unfair. Sure, they had something to prove—that Genesis sans-Gabriel was a viable operation capable of both creating and touring—but to prove it so decisively was a magnificent effort. Phil Collins is fabulous on vocals, while Chester Thompson on the drum-stool performs with power and finesse (talking of which, Bill Bruford appears as well). I know some are averse to live albums, but this could change the mind of even a Genesis doubter. Fabulous across four sides.
6 Little Feat — Time Loves A Hero
While not the best album in the Little Feat catalogue—key figure Lowell George was drowning in addictions and far from present during recordings—Time Loves is an excellent example of their laid back but insistent groove. Sometimes jazzy (the title track), sometimes super funky (‘Rocket in my pocket’), the playing is fabulous and the arrangements inventive and tight. If you don’t know Little Feat, start with Sailin’ Shoes. But if you haven’t grooved with the Feat for a while, this will remind you that heroes sometimes do transcend time.
5 David Bowie — Low
It’s like Bowie took the train from Station to Station, abandoning the histrionic romanticism of that album’s ballads at the German border. These songs are complex and dense, angry and intense. There is a kinship between Low and Marquee Moon, which speaks to the street-fighting elegance of both artists.
Standouts: The extraordinary triple-play of ‘Sound & vision’ leading into ‘Always crashing the same car’ then dissolving into ‘Be my wife’. The Bowie/Eno co-composed instrumental pair of ‘Warszawa’ and ‘Art Decade’ is captivating.
4 Television — Marquee Moon
For those who thought ‘guitar album’ meant The Allman Brothers or Wishbone Ash, Marquee Moon was a slice of six-string ear-corrugation. Guitarists Tom Verlaine and Richard Lloyd weave jagged industrial interplay throughout deceptively simple songs, creating an adventurous record that richly rewards repeated listening. The album doesn’t groove or strut, it lopes the mean NY streets with its collar turned up against the wind and a pocket bulge that may or may not be a gun.
Standouts: ‘Venus’ is a crazy garage romance—I stood up, walked out of the arms of Venus de Milo—while the title track is a stuttering ten minute epic whose recurring riffs drill into your psyche.
3 Pink Floyd — Animals
The balance between social observation and self-indulgence is tricky. Unlike the albums that followed, Roger Waters got it right here, producing the last great Pink Floyd album. Bitter, angry and sullen by turns, Animals counterbalances the dreamy romanticism of Wish You Were Here with bleak lyrics and throbbing, rolling instrumental sections. There’s more Gilmour guitar here than you’d think, and it cuts through the gloom like a flashlight. So late 70s, yet paradoxically timeless.
Standouts: Pointless to sub-divide the work. It is what it is and you love-hate it or not.
2 The Clash — The Clash
Holy shit, what a debut. Smashing out angry rock songs full of piss and vinegar, The Clash showed both that they really could play and that they were no one-trick ponies. There is a clutch of memorable street-savvy songs here, adding up to an album spurting energy, sweat and conviction. The US version replaced no less than five songs from the UK original with tracks that are, frankly, stronger.
Standouts: ‘White riot’ howls, ‘London’s burning’ snarls, and ‘Career opportunities’ stamps its feet, while the surprising reggae cover ‘Police & thieves’ presages later work. Add another cover (US version), ‘I fought the law’ and the chest thumping ‘Clash city rockers’ and you have a kick-down-the-door arrival.
1 David Bowie — Heroes
A side of songs and a side of instrumentals. What pop artist has been so daring? Well, Bowie, obviously; he did it at the beginning of the year with Low. Here there is added edge to the sound, due in no small part to the guitar contributions of Robert Fripp, while a moody intensity pervades the non-vocal pieces, completely drawing in the listener with detail and electronic filigree. A perfect black and white snapshot of an era that was future-retro before the term had been coined.
Standouts: almost everything, but particularly strutting, exotic opener ‘Beauty and the beast’, ‘V2 Schneider’ (a nod to Kraftwerk) followed by ‘Sense of doubt’ (equally riveting on Philip Glass’s ‘Heroes’ Symphony) and of course the iconic title cut.
Something here sound appealing? Outraged by an omission? Put in your tuppence worth!