You had to figure this was gonna happen eventually…
We’ve covered the ’80s and the ’90s, and now, the Popblerd staff stretches back about as far as its’ collective musical knowledge can go: into the ’70s. I supposed we could go into the ’60s if we wanted to, but a) there were only a handful of truly groundbreaking albums released that decade, so any list would be fairly predictable, and b) looking around the Popblerd offices, only one or two of us were actually around in the Sixties. Not that you have to have been born in or before a particular decade to enjoy the music made then, but it helps to at least have some connection.
Anyhow, the braintrust (with some help from buddies on our sister sites) got together, deliberated, laughed, smoked a bowl, deliberated some more, and finally came up with this list of the 100 best albums of the decade that brought us the CB radio, the disco craze, snazzy mutton chops, and Afros blown out to here. Over 500 albums appeared on a ballot at least once, and here’s the cream of the crop. We’ve added a couple more albums to avoid settling ties, so the list is actually 102 instead of 100 (we just couldn’t let a couple of records go.) Join us over the next week or so as we go ten at a time-landing on funk favorites, rockin’ classics, the beginnings of new wave and funk, the smoothest soul, and even some disco..
Now, let’s get started.
Joe Jackson burst out of the gate with this outstanding 1979 debut album, a frenetic collection of snotty rock tunes that was lumped in with the New Wave, ska and punk releases of the time but really doesn’t fit in any of those camps comfortably. If anything, Jackson and his terrific band (Gary Sanford on guitar, the amazing Graham Maby on bass and David Houghton on drums) were a power pop act. Certainly there were ska rhythms on “Fools In Love” and a punk edge on the title track and “Got the Time,” but there’s no denying Jackson’s propulsive pop sensibilities on “Sunday Papers,” “One More Time” and of course, the album’s big hit, “Is She Really Going Out With Him?” That song put Jackson and the album on the map, hitting #21 on the U.S. singles chart, but Look Sharp! is much more than one song or sound. Jackson followed it up in October 1979 with I’m the Man, which delivered more of the good stuff. After that, Jackson explored various sounds and genres, but he was never as potent as he was on those first two releases. (Jay)
101: I’m Still in Love with You (Al Green, 1972)
Let’s Stay Together might have more name recognition, but I’m Still in Love with You has album cover recognition! Who can forget the album’s unforgettable visual image of a smiling Al Green, Afro puffed up just right, dressed in smooth all white and sitting in a wicker chair? It’s damn near iconic, and the music is equally so. This is the quintessential Memphis soul album, all organ trills and acoustic guitar strums and sumptuous strings. Al’s voice is the icing on the cake, capable of jumping from the pulpit to the bedroom in one fell swoop. Everything on Still in Love is golden, from his gently pumping cover of Roy Orbison’s “Oh, Pretty Woman” to the sermon-like classic “Love & Happiness”. The title track is a solid sequel to the anthemic “Let’s Stay Together,” and “Simply Beautiful” is an intimate ballad that, if listened to on the proper stereo system (or a good pair of headphones) will make you melt. Later smooth lover men like Luther Vandross took lessons from this album, a primer of good Southern soul. (Big Money)
100. Van Halen II (Van Halen, 1979)
What can I say about this record? Van-fucking-Halen! With the self-titled debut being as great as it is, how is it that this album is the one I listen to the most? This, for me, is the greatest Van Halen record in an almost-seven-way-tie between all the Roth-era records.
There is no such thing as a sopohomore slump for the mighty VH. The album starts off with “You’re No Good,” a song popularized by Linda Ronstadt a few years earlier, and then we get into the meat-and-potatoes of this record with “Dance The Night Away”. The album just doesn’t let up! “Somebody Get Me A Doctor,” “Bottoms Up,” and “Outta Love Again” finish off Side A, in a way that makes you get off your ass and flip that record over as fast as you can.
On side B, it just keeps going – “Light Up the Sky” is one of the finest moments Van Halen has ever put down. “Spanish Fly” showed everyone that Eddie can do cool shit on an acoustic guitar too! “D.O.A.” – Isn’t that just the catchiest riff ever? “Women in Love” is just plain sweet – at least by Van Halen standards, and of course “Beautiful Girls” rounds out the record with a kiss! (May)
The Idiot is the result of a musical marriage made in heaven. David Bowie, at the height of his fame, was transitioning away from the “blue-eyed soul” he had ridden to success on Young Americans and parts of Station to Station, and was finding inspiration from the avant-pop leanings of collaborator Brian Eno, the Walker Brothers, and emerging Krautrock acts like Neu! Iggy Pop, three years removed from the breakup of the Stooges, was simply looking for a second chance to prove his mettle as an artist of consequence. Both men were clinging to life (and, in Pop’s case, a fractured career) in the wake of crippling drug addictions (and, in Pop’s case, an extended stay in a mental institution).
Bowie’s Low is often considered one of the most masterful works of his career, but The Idiot – written and recorded during the “Low” sessions and featuring many of the same musicians – is actually the greater musical achievement of the two and, for my money, the finest album of the decade. What sets The Idiot apart is Pop’s ability to write lyrics with spontaneity, a disregard for craftsmanship, and a disdain for self-censorship – an ability that Bowie, from the singer-songwriter school of the late ‘60s that drew from Bob Dylan and the Brill Building writers, very much envied but could never equal. Pop’s raw approach to lyricism fit perfectly with Bowie’s experimentation with dissonant guitars and multi-tonal synths, as well as his Eno-inspired “restrictive” approach to multiple takes in the studio. The result was a collaborative effort that transcended what either man could have done without the other in 1977, when the album was released.
Not surprisingly, The Idiot – which was recorded by a pair of recovering drug addicts and took its name from a Dostoyevsky novel – was dark in its tone. It was sprinkled with humor throughout, however: Pop hanging with “Dracula and his crew” on “Funtime”; the ridiculously melodramatic amount of reverb on the highest note of Bowie’s sax solo in “Tiny Girls.” The only truly nihilistic song on the album is its closer, “Mass Production,” a drudgey, desperate appeal to a disinterested, prototypical women to, “give me the number of a girl who looks almost like you, with lips almost like you,” characterized by a proto-industrial, white noise decrescendo that is chilling in its ambient minimalism. (Michael Cunningham)
98. Station to Station (David Bowie, 1976)
In a career characterized by dramatic transitions, both musically and in terms of public persona, 1976’s Station to Station was certainly a transitional album for David Bowie. He had not completely abandoned the “Philly Soul” sound he had dabbled in on Diamond Dogs and obsessed over on Young Americans, but he had not yet fully embraced the Krautrock-inspired electronic experimentation that permeated his “Berlin Trilogy” collaborations with Brian Eno and Iggy Pop. As a result, Station to Station is something of a hodgepodge that features elements of funk, disco, electronic music, and romantic balladry. Station to Station never fit tidily into any one of the “musical periods” ascribed to Bowie by music journalists and historians, and as a result, it is often overlooked as a gem of Bowie’s catalogue, despite its brilliance.
Though the album lacks musical cohesiveness, its songs are inextricably linked by Bowie’s detached, “Thin White Duke” baritone, and by the cocaine that fueled the recording sessions for Station to Station. Indeed, nose candy is directly referenced in the lyric sheet for the album’s title track, but it also inspires many other moments throughout the LP in more subtle ways (most notably “Stay,” which is perhaps pop music’s archetypal example of a song written from the perspective of “coke logic”). But for all of its drugged-out detachment, Station to Station also includes two of the most passionate vocal performances of Bowie’s career. His yearning, heartfelt cover of “Wild is the Wind” gives Johnny Mathis’ 1957 recording of the Washington-Tiomkin composition a run for its money, and the epic “Word on a Wing,” a Bowie original, is arguably one of the most beautiful romantic ballads in rock history. (Michael Cunningham)
97. Aladdin Sane (David Bowie, 1973)
96. KC & the Sunshine Band (KC & the Sunshine Band, 1975)
Thirty-eight years later the music of KC and the Sunshine Band can still fill dance floors. “That’s the Way (I Like It)”, “Get Down Tonight” and my favorite “Boogie Shoes”.
But since this was two years before I was born I’m going to let my mom explain how this album made her feel, as a 17-year-old cruising the streets in Southern California.
I was cruising the streets with my girlfriends on Friday night going to parties and hanging out with boys … well trying to. My girlfriend’s would always get on my case cause I would always be singing to the radio and playing it loud while we cruised. I remember listening to KC and the Sunshine Band – gosh I loved that song “Get Down Tonight” (which I still have the 45 – ED NOTE:that’s a record for those of us who are too young to remember). Boy I could do the bump to that song! ED NOTE:The bump was a 70s fad dance in which the main move is to lightly “bump” hips on every other beat of the music. (Kevin and Kevin’s Mom)
95. Low (David Bowie, 1977)
In the 1970s, Bowie quickly established himself as a constantly shifting musical innovator. The growing artistic complexity of Bowie’s work reached its zenith in his now-legendary work with Brian Eno. Low began the so-called Berlin trilogy, a triage of collaborations with Eno that remains among the most compelling work in Bowie’s extensive catalog. Tempering a side of shorter, mostly vocal work with a side of mostly instrumental ambient-tracks, Low manages to work across a broad sonic spectrum, without ever losing its sense of consistency (this template was replicated on “Heroes,” released later that same year). Collectively, Bowie, Eno, and Visconti paid more attention to sound on Low than they perhaps had on any of Bowie’s prior work. From a production standpoint, the trio’s willingness to experiment with recording and production techniques makes Low one of Bowie’s most interesting albums. (Dr. Gonzo)
The title track—which is 18 minutes and takes up the entirety of Side One—is at once the most bombastic and most beautiful defense of progressive rock ever constructed, a multi-tiered suite by turns muscular and melodic. They lyrics are absolute gibberish—helium-voiced Jon Anderson uses words for their sounds and cadences, as opposed to, you know, their meaning. Bill Bruford powers the thing like an enormous turbine engine, and Steve Howe’s whirling guitarama veers between lovely atmospherics and wingedy-dingedy garage twaddle that barely holds together as music. The real star, though, is Rick Wakeman, whose wizard cape must’ve held at least one or two extra sets of arms, so that he could shuttle from synth to cathedral organ to Hammond organ, back and forth and round and round again. Such virtuosity was a given in early Seventies prog, particularly the British version of it, but “Close to the Edge” was something completely different. It’s Yes’ greatest creation, the one that showed the very extent of the band’s creative force in full flower.
And that’s just Side One. Flip the record over, and you have another four-part epic in “And You and I,” with its own brace of beautiful moments and absurd lyrical flitting about. And after that, there’s “Siberian Khatru,” staple of bedroom guitarists the world over for a good 20 years. Really, the whole of Close to the Edge is a nerd’s paradise, an aural Narnia whose portal was not a wardrobe, but a tone arm, needle, and headphones. (Rob Smith)
93. Commodores (The Commodores, 1977)
This self-titled 1977 album was the tipping point for the Commodores – the perfect midpoint between their funkier incarnation and the more ballad-heavy Lionel Richie Show. Drop the needle on “Funky Situation” and the immortal “Brick House” (the first song to celebrate big guls everywhere) for some Earth-shaking basslines and funky, danceable goodness. You’ll realize that in their day, The Commodores were as heavy a soul band as the Ohio Players. Then flip the script and take a taste of the country-flavored “Easy” so you can revel in one of the decade’s prettiest tracks. “Zoom” combines the two worlds perfectly-one of Lionel Richie’s best (and most underrated tunes) that carries pain and uplift at the same time. (Big Money)
92. Fresh (Sly & the Family Stone, 1973)
Allegedly recorded while Sly was seriously addicted to drugs, Fresh is probably one of the deepest Funk records ever recorded. By deep, I mean Funk that just makes your head nod in that involuntary way that creeps up on you. I distinctly remember the first time I heard it. Gone were the band sing-a-longs. The, mostly, lone haunting voice of Sly was the main focus. Gone were the “get up and dance” vibes of the early record. The vibe of this one was gritty with some of the nastiest, and I mean that in the good way, playing that had found it’s way into my ears, anchored by some phenomenal bass and drums, big horn blasts, this was the sound of a masterpiece. The album spent three weeks at the top of the R&B charts in 1973, probably on the strength of its hit, “If You Want Me To Stay.” But other gems like the wonderfully constructed, “In Time,” “Frisky” and “Thankful ‘n’ Thoughtful” really make Fresh something special. (Heavy Soul Brutha)
When I was 10 years old I started cutting lawns in the neighborhood. The first time I got paid, I got my moms to take me to the local K-Mart so I could buy some records. On constant rotation on the radio in 1979 was Sister Sledge’s, “We Are Family.” Every time I went to Skateland, the local roller skating rink, I’d be getting down to one of the huge hits, “He’s The Greatest Dancer,” imagining the girls were singing about me and my awesome moves and spins. And of course, the album’s title cut, “We Are Family” was a smash with the girl’s performing it on American Bandstand, Soul Train, Solid Gold and probably more TV shows I missed. I’m sure if you have ever been to a family reunion that song HAS to have been played at some point. Needless to say, my first grass cutting dollars were spent wisely. The album was produced by that Disco era duo, Nile Rogers and Bernard Edwards of Chic. Seems like those cats couldn’t miss back then. Although not a hit, the fantastic tune, “Thinking Of You” is one of the best love jams of that Disco era. And, I’m proud to say I still own the exact record I bought at K-Mart so long ago and it gets plenty of spins to this very day. (Heavy Soul Brutha)
What do you think our top three albums will be? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org with your guesses. If you’re correct, you’ll be entered to win a CD or a digital version of your favorite (in print) album from this list!