Can We Still Be Friends? Revisiting the Most Acclaimed Pop Albums of the 1970s

[Blogger’s note: In this series, I’m taking the Wayback Machine to a bygone musical era that began with the public break-up of the Beatles and ended with the first Top 40 singles by Prince. My source is Rolling Stone’s best 100 albums of the 1970s, culled from the magazine’s 500 all-time greats by an obliging Reddit user. I’ll focus on selected albums from the list and, if I may be so bold, award Test of Time Points based on how well they’ve held up over the decades, from 1 (stale as old toast) to 10 (still poppin’ fresh) in each case. Enjoy, and rock on!]

#93: Parliament – Mothership Connection (1975)

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Growing up in America in the mid-1970s, back in the pre-Spotify Stone Age, my go-to sources for new music were the three Rs: radio, record stores, and the roller rink. (Wait, is that four Rs?) Radio gave me my fix of the top pop hits of the day – “Philadelphia Freedom,” “Jive Talkin’,” etc. And as the record stores in my vicinity seemed to be staffed solely by long-haired potheads, I likely experienced my first taste of Pink Floyd and Yes in those hippie havens. But the roller rink is where I got schooled in funk and soul. Savvy ‘70s rink DJs knew that if they wanted to get us kids away from the snack bar and out onto the slick floor for an “All Skate,” they just had to drop the needle on “Getaway” by Earth, Wind & Fire, or “Love Rollercoaster” by the Ohio Players, or Parliament’s crossover smash “Give Up the Funk (Tear the Roof Off the Sucker).” I couldn’t get enough of these rousing rink faves then and I’ve held them close to my heart ever since, even though I haven’t been on eight wheels in decades. Continue reading

Can We Still Be Friends? Revisiting the Most Acclaimed Pop Albums of the 1970s

[Blogger’s note: In this series, I’m taking the Wayback Machine to a bygone musical era that began with the public break-up of the Beatles and ended with the first Top 40 singles by Prince. My source is Rolling Stone’s best 100 albums of the 1970s, culled from the magazine’s 500 all-time greats by an obliging Reddit user. I’ll focus on selected albums from the list and, if I may be so bold, award Test of Time Points based on how well they’ve held up over the decades, from 1 (stale as old toast) to 10 (still poppin’ fresh) in each case. Enjoy, and rock on!]

#96: The Cars – The Cars (1978)

cof

Can I get through this review without resorting to automobile-related adjectives, metaphors, and/or puns? For you, dear reader, I shall attempt to steer clear abstain.

Unlike the band at #100 on the RS list, which launched its career full of quirky promise then grew artistically over several successive albums, the Cars peaked with this high octane dynamic and catchy first outing. At a time when rock was going through a bumpy transition from the bombast of superstar acts like Queen and the Who to the terse, punk-tinged sounds of the new wave era, one dweeby-looking Boston quintet managed to cruise in both lanes appeal to fans across the board. Classic rock aficionados heard echoes of Queen in the layered backing vocals on the hits “Good Times Roll” and “My Best Friend’s Girl” – no surprise, since producer Roy Thomas Baker worked wonders with both bands. And the robotic singing, succinct synthesizer melodies, and coolly detached personas of the group members, particularly gangly bandleader Ric Ocasek, appealed to new wavers, suggesting Gary Numan with meatier guitar hooks. (The punchy intro to “Just What I Needed” remains one of the great attention-grabbing riffs of all time.) The strong follow-up album, 1979’s Candy-O, nearly equalled its predecessor, lacking only the original’s showroom floor shine element of surprise. But then the lustre began to fade. (I’ll give that one a pass.) Ocasek and company would continue to have Top 40 hits throughout the 1980s, including “Shake It Up” and “Magic,” but the albums themselves never again matched the consistency and – I give up – drive of this still spry debut.

Test of Time Points (out of 10): 8
Blogger’s Success in Avoiding Car-Centric Clichés: Licence Revoked

Can We Still Be Friends? Revisiting the Most Acclaimed Pop Albums of the 1970s

[Blogger’s note: In this series, I’m taking the Wayback Machine to a bygone musical era that began with the public break-up of the Beatles and ended with the first Top 40 singles by Prince. My source is Rolling Stone’s best 100 albums of the 1970s, culled from the magazine’s 500 all-time greats by an obliging Reddit user. I’ll focus on selected albums from the list and, if I may be so bold, award Test of Time Points based on how well they’ve held up over the decades, from 1 (stale as old toast) to 10 (still poppin’ fresh) in each case. Enjoy, and rock on!]

#100: Talking Heads – Talking Heads: 77

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One of the principal architects of American new wave music, along with Blondie, Devo, and a select few others, NYC’s Talking Heads upended the pop paradigm in 1977 with this groundbreaking debut. Frontman David Byrne’s agitated nerd persona, pretty much fully formed from the get-go, was a real game-changer at a time when Donna Summer and the Bee Gees ruled the airwaves. The top tune here is of course “Psycho Killer,” which rivals The Doors’ “Riders on the Storm” as the most sinister jukebox classic of the rock era. That career-defining track alone likely lifts this album into the nether regions of the RS list ahead of the Heads’ two later ‘70s releases, More Songs About Buildings and Food and Fear of Music, both of which are superior in my opinion. While the 11 tracks on 77 all thrum with energy and wit – “The Book I Read” and “Don’t Worry About the Government” are among the standouts – in hindsight the musicianship and melodies sound a bit rudimentary compared to the subsequent globe-spanning work by this ever-evolving band. Still, as rock ‘n’ roll introductions go, this is a tantalizing taste of things to come.

Test of Time Points (out of 10): 7