Revisited

1978 Revisited

I’ve been sitting on these lists for a while with no time to write anything about them. I’m going to toss out some rambling notes and just post, since all the relistening is now in the past tense. But I’m likely to have a little more hobby writing time on my hands for the next few weeks …  so after a dormant period, I’d expect a few more years to tumble out in short order. As for 1978 …

It’s a bit of an odd year. Classic rock and soul is mostly over. Hip-hop is still on the horizon. The early excitement of punk’s arrival has subsided, but so much of the most interesting stuff is the aftermath of that arrival, the sorting out of the new world being forged.

It’s a year full of good (ok, very good) work from great artists: Rolling Stones, Parliament-Funkadelic, Ramones, New York Doll David Johansen, Neil Young, The Clash, Talking Heads, Brian Eno, Prince, Pere Ubu, Television.

All made albums in 1978 good enough to crack this list, or come close. All made better records soon before or soon after.

Exceptions: Elvis Costello and Blondie were career artists that did peak early here, and those are my chart-toppers. This Year’s Model grows less relatable but no less raging as years pass. X-Ray Spex was a shooting star, still thrilling but on revisit best as a singles band despite the eternal album title Germfree Adolescents. Wire was a little of both.

Classic rock, declining (Stones), ascending (Springsteen), or imploding (Big Star) still does pretty good though. Some Girls is a disreputable album (that title track) from a disreputable band, but one musically incapable of making a bad record for most of their recording lives. Whatever else, that’s still Charlie Watts playing drums, Bill Wyman playing bass, Keith Richards scratching out riffs. They play the hell out of this one.

Darkness on the Edge of Town raises the question of what makes a great album. It is the personal Springsteen favorite of many (maybe most) of the biggest Springsteen fans I know. In a peak period that I’d say runs 1974-1987, it is the only Springsteen record that has songs I actively skip over. But what is a lack of perfection in the face of “Badlands” and “Promised Land”? (See here.) There are more flawless records I would leave behind to save Darkness if only so much music could be preserved.

The singles list is more repetitive and probably overlaps more with the album list than in most years. I’m sure this reveals some gaps in my listening and/or perception, but I think a lot of it has to do with the year. Punk was a great singles genre, and disco too. But we’re really waiting for hip-hop and Prince and the pop energy of the 1980s to start shaking things up.

1978 albums

ALBUMS

  1. This Year’s Model — Elvis Costello
  2. Parallel Lines — Blondie
  3. Some Girls — The Rolling Stones
  4. Darkness on the Edge of Town — Bruce Springsteen
  5. Third — Big Star
  6. Motor-Booty Affair — Parliament
  7. Road to Ruin — Ramones
  8. Honky Tonk Masquerade — Joe Ely
  9. Germfree Adolescents — X-Ray Spex
  10. Pink Flag — Wire
  11. Comes a Time — Neil Young
  12. Give Em Enough Rope — The Clash
  13. More Songs About Buildings and Food — The Talking Heads
  14. The Modern Dance — Pere Ubu
  15. One Nation Under a Groove — Funkadelic
  16. David Johansen — David Johansen
  17. Stardust — Willie Nelson
  18. Pure Pop For Now People — Nick Lowe
  19. Body Meta — Ornette Coleman
  20. Shiny Beast (Bat Chain Puller) — Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band
  21. Pure Mania — The Vibrators
  22. Before and After Science — Brian Eno
  23. For You — Prince
  24. Generation X — Generation X
  25. Adventure — Television

SINGLES

  1. “Badlands” — Bruce Springsteen
  2. “Ain’t U/Hedi’s Head” – Kleenex
  3. “What Do I Get?” – Buzzcocks
  4. “(White Man) In Hammersmith Palais” — The Clash
  5. “Radio, Radio” – Elvis Costello
  6. “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding” — Elvis Costello
  7. “Hanging on the Telephone” – Blondie
  8. “The Day the World Turned Day-Glo/I Am A Poseur” — X-Ray Spex
  9. “Le Freak” – Chic
  10. “Uptown Top Ranking” – Althea & Donna
  11. “One Nation Under a Groove” – Funkadelic
  12. “Another Girl, Another Planet” – The Only Ones
  13. “Take Me To the River” – Talking Heads
  14. “Damaged Goods” – Gang of Four
  15. “I Don’t Mind” — Buzzcocks
  16. “Pump it Up” — Elvis Costello
  17. “Ever Fallen in Love” – Buzzcocks
  18. “Life’s Been Good’ – Joe Walsh
  19. “Miss You” — The Rolling Stones
  20. “Identity/Let’s Submerge” — X-Ray Spex
  21. “Alternative Ulster” – Stiff Little Fingers
  22. “Beast of Burden” — The Rolling Stones
  23. “Flash Light” – Parliament
  24. “Soft and Wet” — Prince
  25. Teenage Kicks” – Undertones
  26. “You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)” – Sylvester
  27. “(I Don’t Want to Go to) Chelsea” – Elvis Costello
  28. “Shattered” — The Rolling Stones
  29. “Promises” – Buzzocks
  30. “Because the Night” — Patti Smith
  31. “I Want Your Love” — Chic
  32. “September” — Earth, Wind & Fire
  33. “Just What I Needed” — The Cars
  34. “Clash City Rockers” — The Clash
  35. “Listen to Her Heart” — Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers
  36. “Everyone’s a Winner” – Hot Chocolate
  37. “Surrender” – Cheap Trick
  38. “Running on Empty’ – Jackson Browne
  39. “Shake Your Groove Thing” — Peaches & Herb
  40. “Love You More” – The Buzzcocks

MOVIES

There’s too much from 1978 I’d either need to rewatch to place (Days of Heaven, American Hot Wax, Fingers, The Deer Hunter) or that I’ve just never gotten around to (Get Out Your Handkerchiefs, Interiors, An Unmarried Woman), so I’ll just offer five faves from the year. The first was mostly unseen until a revival a few years ago (actually, it’s still mostly unseen) and is among my very favorite films. I wrote about it here. “The Last Waltz” is a movie I love almost beyond rationality, though my experience of it has evolved over the years. (Read Levon Helm’s bio, where he and Ronnie Hawkins take the piss out of its mythologizing, and you’ll never see it quite the same way again.)

  1. Killer of Sheep (Charles Burnett)
  2. Gates of Heaven (Errol Morris)
  3. Dawn of the Dead (George Romero)
  4. The Last Waltz (Martin Scorsese)
  5. Blue Collar (Paul Schrader)

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