Here we are at the last post (cue mournful bugle) of the 1977 series. And how better to wrap it up than by highlighting albums named by Vinyl Connection readers as favourites from that fruitful and varied year. Enjoy.
7 Talking Heads—Talking Heads: 77
A strange yet fascinating oddity; tense with studied nonchalance like an arty teen at the bus stop you keep scoping out of the corner of your eye, wondering what sort of home they come from as they smoke a nervous cigarette while picking bits off a hand-made satchel daubed with obscure pop images and outré social slogans all the while muttering disjointed poetry and squeaking snippets of melody like an caffeinated mouse; then when you’re caught watching them, they move behind the bus shelter glass and begin an angular stick-insect dance of androgynous intensity while you pretend to read Rolling Stone until the bus arrives and you embark, only to score a short wave as you pull away. [On the bus: Peter K, Listening to Records]
6 Yes—Going For The One
Let’s traverse Going For The One (or GFTO as it will henceforth be known) backwards. Side two is completed by ‘Awaken’, a fifteen minute suite that sounds fully Yes, while light on those infectious hooks scattered through earlier epics. It’s pleasant, but you wonder how hot the flame is burning. ‘Wonderous stories’ is a superb ballad: great tune, ripping refrain. ‘Parallels’ is the standout track, good enough to have come from Fragile and a concert staple for very good reason. ‘Turn of the Century’ is a meandering song with no melodic core and certainly no bite. The opening title track, ’Gfto’, was a single here. I was shocked when I heard it on the radio, and not just because the lyrics make Jon Anderson’s other ramblings seem sensible and coherent by comparison. Read them if you dare; they are utter bollocks (and this from a person who loves TFTO). The song is shrill and frenetic—not in a good way—though the coda is nice.
GFTO has been described as the great overlooked Yes album (by me); listening again, I’m reminded how the album made it into my Top Ten Yes Albums and also why it was at #10. [Aphoristical, Arterrorist: go for the one!]
5 Iggy Pop—The Idiot
Pick the 1977 album. The cover has a black and white portrait with the artist, head angled downwards; he is jacketed and presents arms at strange angles. The typeface of album and artist is plain—white on grey—across the top of the sleeve. All songs are co-written by Bowie. Carlos Alomar plays guitar; there’s edgy treble and frowning bass. It includes ‘China girl’. There’s a kind of austere decadence in some of the songs. The sound is spare. It was recorded in Berlin. Stooge or “Hero”? I cannot decide. [1537 and J. have]
4 Dennis Wilson—Pacific Ocean Blue
What a surprise package. The most unlikely Beach Boy to release his own solo album, drummer, surfer, and West Coast hell-raiser Dennis Wilson produced an album of well-crafted songs, graced with inventive and entertaining arrangements. There are certainly influences to be heard—some ‘California Girls’ here, a little ‘Sympathy for the devil’ there—but they are successfully subsumed into Dennis’s personality. Similarly, all but one of the songs are co-written with other musicians, but so what? It worked OK for Mick and Keith and, er, other pairs. What I enjoy most about Pacific Ocean Blue are the arrangements; they are often a bit off-kilter, slightly unexpected. Like listening to summer FM radio and hearing Captain Beefheart. All of which makes this an oft overlooked pleasure I was delighted to include in the Reader’s Choice post. [Thanks for the reminder, J.!]
3 Klaus Schulze—Mirage
Arguably the best Tangerine Dream album Klaus Schulze recorded, Mirage consists of two sides of almost half an hour each, containing some of the most star-dusted meanderings the German solo synthesist ever put to tape. The titles are particularly apt. ‘Velvet Voyage’ (side one), offers drifting analogue waves with occasional bass phrases drifting in and out of earshot. There are no changes of pace, few variations of timbre, and very few chord changes, yet it is far from boring. A mirage of momentum gently propels the music, allowing the listener to drift in and out at will. ‘Crystal Lake’ uses a repetitive upper register keyboard figure slightly reminiscent of Terry Riley’s arpeggiated loops; there’s a digital crispness to the sound that presages 80s New Age music. The arrival of mid-register oscillations and analogue synth pulses ups the intensity; this piece is a classic ‘slow build’ long-form electronic work. Overall, a pensive album that would be an engaging entry portal to the sprawling electronic world of Klaus Schulze. [Thanks to Craig Ziersch of the Prog Rock Vinyl FB page for this nomination]
2 Fleetwood Mac—Rumours
It’s hard to write about an album you can sing along to for its entire length. Similarly, it is not easy to find new things to say about a record whose sales figures suggest the economy of a medium-sized state rather than a rock album. Not that Rumours is rock ’n’ roll—it is the quintessential FM radio soft-rock mega-hit, full of finely crafted and luxuriantly polished songs of emotional suffering and relational torment. Never was breaking up so melodious, nor so profitable. [Whisper it: JDB, Aphoristical & J. listen to rumours]
1 Elvis Costello—My Aim Is True
The debut album from ‘punk’ Elvis Costello is, of course, not punk at all. It’s a polished, sneering, thoughtful pogo through life in the late-middle seventies. If it wasn’t for that unique vocal delivery, this could be a pub-rock record from anywhere in the english-speaking world. But it’s much more than that, mainly due to the pointed, clever lyrics and the pared back economy of the songwriting. The evidence is there in the opening track, ‘Welcome to the working week’, a 1:23 blast of angry intent that doesn’t let up—despite one of the best ballads ever in ‘Alison’—until the film noir-reggae of ‘Watching the detectives’. Classic. [Mentioned by several Readers]
’77 Bonus: Hawkwind—Quark, Strangeness and Charm
To my enduring embarrassment, I have never owned Hawkwind’s 1977 opus, despite knowing a number of the tracks from live recordings. It has become something of a running joke with Neil (timeweleftthisworldtoday). So for him, 1537, and Hawklords everywhere, I offer Allmusic writer Dave Thompson’s spiffing review:
Quark Strangeness and Charm was the first full flowering of Hawkwind’s newly honed drive towards brittle pop, sharp wit, and crystal-clear intent—attributes that, if they’d ever existed in the past, had been entirely overwhelmed by the sheer grandeur of the space rock rocket blast. Now it was the propulsive riffs and deep space echoes that were held in abeyance, and Quark opened as it meant to go on, with ‘Spirit of the Age’’s tight keyboards, unobtrusive washes, and the utterly captivating—if totally skewed—story of love across the light years. A handful of songs fed back into the traditional Hawkwind mythos—the post-apocalyptic ‘Damnation Alley’, the near-industrial instrumental ‘Forge of Vulcan’, and the weary, dream-is-over nostalgia of ‘Days of the Underground’. ‘Hassan I Sabha’, an epic of Middle Eastern terrorist rhetoric, even recalled the prosaic realities of the old favourite ‘Urban Guerilla’, although a haunting Arabic refrain and instrumentation catapulted it to a different realm regardless. And so it went on—Hawkwind’s most unexpected album to date and, today, one of their most endearingly enduring; charming, strange, and, if not quark, then certainly quirky.