Tom’s Top 5’s: Albums of 1977

1977 is a harbinger of things to come. The first Apple computer goes on sale; Steve Biko dies in police custody in South Africa, giving new life to the movement against Apartheid; Deng Xiaoping comes to power in China, kicking off the world’s largest country’s move away from Maoism. Likewise in the music world: Elvis Presley, the King of Rock n’ Roll, passes on, and in his place arise… the Bee Gees? There’s been a trend on my blog lately: namely, that I’ve been kind of into disco. Well, 1977 is THE year of disco, of Saturday Night Fever and “Staying Alive” and the rest of it. Meanwhile, the Sex Pistols release Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols and the Clash serve up their self-titled debut.

The outcome of all this? China has become a new economic superpower, everyone and their grandmother now has an iPhone, and songs like “Get Lucky” and “Treasure” still manage to crack the Top 5. History is funny like that.

5. THE STRANGER (Billy Joel)

The Stranger

Billy Joel had already been writing some of the best songs of the 70s before he finally hit it big with The Stranger, and he went right on doing just that. “Just the Way You Are” is the perfect late 70s love song, “Only the Good Die Young” just the right mix of scandalous and irresistibly catchy, “She’s Always a Woman” a gorgeous-yet-ambivalent piano ballad. But it’s the album tracks that give The Stranger its staying power: the Broadway-ready “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant” (which Joel admits was directly inspired by Side II of Abbey Road) and the exquisite “Vienna” are every bit as good as the radio hits.

4. OUT OF THE BLUE (Electric Light Orchestra)

Out of the Blue

After A New World Record‘s triumph, Jeff Lynne took things to the next level with this spectacular double LP. It’s not as consistent as its predecessor, but the highs–“Sweet Talkin’ Woman,” “Turn to Stone,” “Steppin’ Out,” “Sweet Is the Night”–are every bit as high. Plus, it contains the single best side of music ELO ever made, the “Concerto for a Rainy Day.” Sure, it contains “Mr. Blue Sky,” and that’s fantastic. But it also contains “Big Wheels” and “Summer & Lightning,” and that’s even more fantastic.

3. THE GEESE & THE GHOST (Anthony Phillips)

The Geese & the Ghost

After more than half-a-decade on the sidelines following his 1970 departure from Genesis, guitarist Anthony Phillips reemerged (with Mike Rutherford and Phil Collins in tow) to produce one of the most unique, affecting prog albums of all time. This is Genesis’s pastoral side  both concentrated and expanded upon, a dreamlike reverie that lulls the listener into a true sense of security and allows him to stay there, undisturbed and untroubled, for 45 minutes, floating on warm currents of 12-string guitar and gentle flute. An album that comforts and soothes without once verging on boredom.

2. BAT OUT OF HELL (Meat Loaf)

Bat Out of Hell

Bat Out of Hell is one of those albums that you either love or hate. For my part, I LOVE it, even as I recognize why many react so strongly against its excesses. For this is indeed an excessive record, the West Side Story histrionics of “Born to Run” cranked up to 11 (with a little help from 1/3 of the E Street Band as it turns out, not to mention Todd Rundgren). I mean, it’s sung by a 300-pound man named Meat Loaf for God’s sake. But Mr. Aday vaults Jim Steinman’s teenage rock operettas from the depths of ridiculousness to the heights of Wagnerian drama, sacrificing neither the endearing silliness nor the genuine pathos.

1. AJA (Steely Dan)

Aja

To hell with punk, man, and to hell with disco: give me Aja. When you think of Steely Dan, of their über-sophisticated jazz-rock hybrid, this is what you’re thinking of. Put this one on, and you get to hear Wayne Shorter and Steve Gadd grace the title track with some of the best saxophone and drum work, respectively, you’ll ever hear; you get to hear master drummer Bernard “Pretty” Purdie do the Purdie Shuffle underneath the modern-day Odyssey “Home at Last”; you get to hear Jay Graydon drop a perfect guitar solo between Michael McDonald’s tight vocal harmonies on “Peg.” But mostly you get to hear one of the tightest, sharpest, classiest albums of the 1970s.

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