The Greatest Years In Music #1

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Wednesday 1st November 2017

1977

For the first instalment of this column it seemed fitting to pick a year of great debuts, 1977. In the UK, ‘77 was the year of punk following the development of the genre in the USA. In the preceding years young Brits were caught by its rebellious spirit, and alongside new wave it had an immense impact on musical history. The loss of one of music’s great icons, Elvis, shocked the world as eras changed and one generation gave way to another.

Two figureheads of the UK punk movement released their first, and in the case of The Pistols, their only, studio albums. The Sex Pistols’ Never Mind The Bollocks stuck two fingers up to any figure of authority. The yellow and pink album cover went on to become one of the defining images of the genre whilst Anarchy In The UK, the album’s lead single, became one of UK punk’s great anthems. Johnny Rotten’s snarl spoke to a generation of young people that discovered a new found freedom from the once pervasive conservative social norms and expectations. Equally influential was The Clash’s eponymous debut. It was a far more intellectual affair than Never Mind The Bollocks, with principle songwriters Joe Strummer and Mick Jones drawing on their love of reggae. It was a politically charged album – White Riot asked why the white youth were not standing up for itself in the way young black people were, and I’m So Bored With The USA reacted against the hegemonic grip American culture had over broader global culture.

Alongside the development of punk came new wave, which had the same energy but focused far more on the intricacies of music. In the UK Elvis Costello released My Aim Is True, an album laden with potent imagery, stylish guitar licks and, at points, tender vocal performances. Across the pond Talking Heads ’77, with its sharp guitar riffs, was very much in the same vein, with songs like the ‘deceptively funky’ Psycho Killer showing off front man David Byrne’s songwriting skills. Ian Dury’s first album with The Blockheads, New Boots And Panties, is possibly the best of the new wave debuts released in ‘77. Following the single Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll it was a carefully crafted collection of different voices. In Billericay Dickie we hear a young man’s tales of his sexual exploits in the South East of England, told in what would become Dury’s characteristic sardonic drawl. The quality of The Blockheads’ playing is what makes this album stand out for me – the drumming is tight and subtle, the bass laid back and groovy, and the guitar and keys add occasional inspired frills.

David Bowie released the first two installments of his Berlin trilogy in ’77, Low and Heroes. This was arguably the singer’s most musically creative period, as he worked extensively with Brian Eno. Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours, a tale of love and loss, has in the subsequent 40 years sold 20 million copies, making it the 8th best-selling album of all time. Additionally, no band has had a more wide-ranging influence than Kraftwerk, whose 1977 album Trans-Europe-Express has been described as “an extraordinary mixture of enchanting, accessible pop and precisely realized concept and composition”.

It is to be to be expected that when someone dubbed “The King of Rock and Roll” dies it would shock the world of music and beyond. This is exactly what happened when Elvis Presley died on 16th August 1977. Such was the iconic status of Elvis that then President of the USA, Jimmy Carter, released a statement saying: “his music and his personality…permanently changed the face of American popular culture”.

1977 was undoubtedly a revolutionary year in music; the generation that grew up in the ‘60s was finding its voice. The birth of new wave gave music some of its most innovative and insatiably creative figures, and would later influence the Britpop movement. It was a year of change with old orthodoxies thrown out and replaced by boundless creativity.