Two of my top three albums of 1979 come from white male classic rockers hitting peak form a little bit later than might have been expected at the time.
Into the Music isn’t as singular as 1968’s Astral Weeks or as perfect as 1970’s Moondance, but arrived as Van Morrison’s third best album and arguably his last great one.
Rust Never Sleeps probably wasn’t Neil Young’s last great album, but is his greatest, so says me and plenty of others.
Half acoustic, half electric, it’s all the best of the Seventies’ greatest rock artist in one place, lifted up by visionary songs about punk rock, Southern fatalism, technology, and Pocahontas. Young & Crazy Horse were so peak of powers in ’79 that a live reprise nearly makes my Top 10.
Live albums are rarely the best way to engage a recording artist, and Live Rust is certainly no exception. But it serves as a nice career overview to this point. And Side 4 is the shit.
Additionally, two of my top five albums of 1979 — The Pretenders and Squeezing Out Sparks — are trad-rock hookfests informed and elevated by the urgency of punk. (You could also put Rust Never Sleeps in this category.)
And yet if 1979 has a story, traditional rock informed by punk comes in second. Rather, I’d point to a few other related entries: Michael Jackson’s Off the Wall (#4 album), “Don’t Stop Til You Get Enough” (#6 single), and “Rock With You” (#13 single), Chic’s Risque (#6 album) and “Good Times” (#2 single), Prince’s Prince (No. 11 album) and “I Wanna Be Your Lover” (#4 single), Donna Summer’s Bad Girls (#20 album, #13 single) and Sister Sledge’s “We Are Family” (#5 single).
Hip-hop was just then bubbling up from block parties and clubs (Funky 4+1, Tanya Winley and Sugarhill Gang singles), but those artists collectively were concocting a kind of tough, modern black pop drawing from soul, rock, funk and disco. A few years later, Prince and Michael Jackson would make it the biggest music in the world.
Right, the Michael Jackson is a little “problematic” now. This is not the space for an endless essay on the complicated relationship between art and artist. I’ll only say that I would no longer play Jackson were I DJing or programming on the radio or in any public spaces. He should be someone people choose to listen to, not someone you encounter without intention.
But I’m not playing any music here, only noting the best albums and singles of 1979 and Off the Wall and its big singles are most certainly among them.
(One note: The original 1977 version of The Clash was my #1 album of that year. The U.S. version came out in 1979 and is pretty different. If I had included it here, it would have probably been #2. I decided not to double up on different versions of the same album.)
Without further commentary, the lists …
- Rust Never Sleeps – Neil Young & Crazy Horse
- The Pretenders – The Pretenders
- Into the Music – Van Morrison
- Off the Wall – Michael Jackson
- Squeezing Out Sparks – Graham Parker & the Rumor
- Risque – Chic
- Singles Going Steady – Buzzcocks
- Lubbock (On Everything) – Terry Allen
- Forces of Victory – Linton Kwesi Johnson
- Fear of Music – Talking Heads
- Prince – Prince
- Live Rust – Neil Young & Crazy Horse:
- Tom Verlaine – Tom Verlaine
- Armed Forces – Elvis Costello & the Attractions
- B-52s – The B-52s
- Damn the Torpedoes – Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers
- Dub Housing – Pere Ubu
- The Roches – The Roches
- Eat to the Beat – Blondie
- Bad Girls – Donna Summer
- Labour of Lust – Nick Lowe
- Tusk – Fleetwood Mac
- Cut – Slits
- Truth n Time – Al Green
- In Style – David Johansen
- “Dreaming” – Blondie
- “Good Times” – Chic
- “Cruisin’” – Smokey Robinson
- “I Wanna Be Your Lover” – Prince
- “We Are Family” – Sister Sledge
- “Don’t Stop Til You Get Enough” – Michael Jackson
- “Hey Hey My My”/“My My Hey Hey” – Neil Young
- “Heart of Glass” – Blondie
- “There But For the Grace of God Go I” – Machine
- “Rappin’ and Rocking the House” – The Funky 4 +1
- “Ain’t No Stoppin’ Us Now” – McFadden & Whitehead
- “Why Can’t I Touch It?” – Buzzcocks
- “Rock With You” – Michael Jackson
- “Bad Girls” – Donna Summer
- “Family Tradition” – Hank Williams Jr.
- “Everybody’s Happy Nowadays” – Buzzcocks
- “Rock Lobster” – B-52s
- “Stop Your Sobbing”/“The Wait” – The Pretenders
- “Bright Side of the Road” – Van Morrison
- “Oliver’s Army” – Elvis Costello
- “Mind Your Own Business” – Delta 5
- “Cruel to Be Kind” – Nick lowe
- “Life During Wartime” – Talking Heads
- “Reunited” – Peaches & Herb
- “Vicious Rap” – Tanya Winley
- “Kid”/“Tattooed Love Boys” – The Pretenders
- “Money Changes Everything” – The Brains
- “One Way Or Another” – Blondie
- “At Home He’s a Tourist” – Gang of Four
- “Rapper’s Delight” – The Sugarhill Gang
- “Girls Talk” – Dave Edmunds
- “Tusk” – Fleetwood Mac
- “Someone is Looking for Someone Like You” – Gail Davies
- “1-2 Crush on You” – The Clash
- “Boogie Wonderland” – Earth, Wind and Fire
- “Hot Stuff” – Donna Summer
- “(Not Just) Knee Deep” – Funkadelic
- “Money” – The Flying Lizards
- “You/U” – Kleenex
- “Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick” – Ian Dury & the Blockheads
Per usual, I don’t have time (or the inclination with the time I have) to rewatch movies for listmaking purposes. So the movie lists are really more of a hunch about what I would think now based on my memory of when I did see them.
- Real Life (Albert Brooks)
- Richard Pryor — Live in Concert
- Breaking Away (Peter Yates)
- Stalker (Andrei Tarkovsky)
- Apocalypse Now (Francis Ford Coppola)
- The Brood (David Cronenberg)
- Alien (Ridley Scott)
- Mad Max (George Miller)