Tom’s Top 5’s: Albums of 1979

I suspect I have some readers who are deeply disappointed by my almost complete shutout of punk in these lists. For whatever reason, I’ve never been able to get into punk. Perhaps I spent too much of my childhood listening to Tchaikovsky and Brahms for that aesthetic to make much sense to me. “Youthful rebellion” has never been one of my primary criteria for enjoying music, for better or for worse (I mean, I love Billy Joel for God’s sake), and if I’m looking disaffection (in the late 70s at least), Elvis Costello or Roger Waters are far more interesting to my ears. Moreover, I tend to find punk’s instrumental textures rather cold and monotonous – perhaps it’s the frequent absence of keyboards of any sort. (That might also explain why the Clash are handily my favorite classic punk act – Costello and Joe Jackson don’t really count as “punk” if you ask me.) Give me the shifting dynamics of progressive rock or the melodic warmth of classic guitar pop any day. But, of course, your mileage may vary.

5. BREAKFAST IN AMERICA (Supertramp)

Breakfast in America

I’m actually of the opinion that Crime of the Century is Supertramp’s finest hour, but that album was fighting a tougher fight for inclusion back in 1974. That’s not a knock on Breakfast in America though  – even the title track getting sampled on Gym Class Heroes’ abysmal “Cupid’s Chokehold” a couple years ago can’t distract from how good this record is. By this point Rick Davies and Roger Hodgson have traded most of their earlier prog sensibilities for smart, sleek, ultra-melodic pop, but this is decidedly progressive pop: unpredictable, imaginative, irresistible.

4. DISCOVERY (Electric Light Orchestra)

Discovery

The joke that always gets made about this album is that it was “disco – very” (get it?). And certainly, “Shine a Little Love” and “Last Train to London” attest to contemporary Top 40 radio’s influence on ELO’s sound. But honestly, you can find aural antecedents for Discovery in “Showdown” all the way back in 1973, and the twee voices and swelling strings of “The Diary of Horace Wimp” or the stomping, retro, string-less “Don’t Bring Me Down” (which was, in fact, the big hit) aren’t particularly disco. And anyway, disco in the expert hands of Jeff Lynne was a force to be reckoned with.

3. DAMN THE TORPEDOES (Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers)

Damn the Torpedoes

On their finest album (with the possible exception of Full Moon Fever, but that was a Petty “solo effort”), Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers peel back the layers of arena rock excess every bit as well as their punky contemporaries, synthesizing Dylan, the Byrds, and the Stones for a “roots rock” sound that’s distinctive but versatile, lean yet muscular. Just listen to Benmont Tench’s wailing organ on “Refugee” or the Roger McGuinn jangle of Mike Campbell’s guitar on “Even the Losers.” Why couldn’t punk have sounded like this?

2. THE WALL (Pink Floyd)

The Wall

At this point it was Roger Waters w/Pink Floyd, really. But Roger was writing some pretty mind-blowing stuff, even if it wasn’t very Floydian, and David Gilmour still manages to sneak in with a handful of the greatest guitar solos ever played (“Comfortably Numb,” anyone?). Add in a tripped-out filmization, a little Kurt Weill & Bertolt Brecht (“The Trial”), and one of the most indelible singles of the late 70s, and you’ve got one of the quintessential albums of teenagedom,  adolescent alienation blown up to operatic proportions, dark and brooding and completely magnificent.

1. INTO THE MUSIC (Van Morrison)

Into the Music

After about 1974, Van Morrison had been in something of an artistic slump. Into the Music isn’t just his best album since ’74; it’s his best album since Moondance, a real contender for the best album he ever made. And like Moondance, the key here is joy: this is music at its most ecstatic and liberatory, sweeping you up in a full force gale, inviting you to walk on the bright side of the road, making you feel so free. And if you let the music move you, if you enter fully Into the Music, then truly, the healing has already begun.

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