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)

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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

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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

Death by Streaming? My (Possibly Final*) List of the 10 Best Albums of the Year

3. Field Music – Open Here

27747790_10215571744268124_6901869236334913515_oSerendipity bonded me to the English pop-rock combo Field Music, led by Sunderland brothers David and Peter Brewis, on a sunny afternoon last winter. I’d only recently become aware of the 15-year-old group, having read a rave review of its sixth album, Open Here, in a magazine, and listened to the catchy, lyrically potent single “Count It Up” online. Curiosity piqued, I ambled down to my favourite Portsmouth record shop-slash-eatery Pie & Vinyl to see if perchance the album was in stock. I entered the shop to find, amongst the pies and the vinyl, none other than the Brewis bros performing an in-store set to a rapt audience. I was only able to catch the last song, but I grabbed a copy of Open Here and got them to autograph it. (Dig their marker scrawls on the cover in the accompanying photo.) In that moment, I felt that fate was telling me I’m meant to be a fan. Continue reading

Death by Streaming? My (Possibly Final*) List of the 10 Best Albums of the Year

5. Elvis Costello & The Imposters – Look Now

cofIt was love at first listen. My devotion to Elvis Costello started when I wandered into a suburban Atlanta record store at the tender age of 16 and heard This Year’s Model blasting out of the sound system. I snapped up that album, Costello’s second, then and there, and returned to buy his equally brilliant debut, My Aim Is True, the next time I got paid. Dutifully, I purchased each successive release for many, many years, and saw him play live on three concert tours. Other than David Bowie, no solo artist takes up more space in my record collection. But as with any lengthy relationship, ours has had its rough patches. I’m lukewarm about Costello’s forays into genres outside his pop-rock wheelhouse, including classical music (The Juliet Letters) and country (Almost Blue). And sometime after 1989’s Spike, which featured his biggest U.S. hit, “Veronica,” the intensity of my ardour began to wane. In the years since, it’s dulled to a pleasant, comfortable-shoe familiarity. These days, I test-drive his latest efforts via streaming before committing to an LP or CD. I’ve never entertained the thought of “breaking up” with him – he’s meant too much to me in the past for that to happen. But the old magic has gone astray. Continue reading