1979 Revisited

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 … 


  1. Rust Never Sleeps – Neil Young & Crazy Horse
  2. The Pretenders – The Pretenders
  3. Into the Music – Van Morrison
  4. Off the Wall – Michael Jackson
  5. Squeezing Out Sparks – Graham Parker & the Rumor
  6. Risque – Chic
  7. Singles Going Steady – Buzzcocks
  8. Lubbock (On Everything) – Terry Allen
  9. Forces of Victory – Linton Kwesi Johnson
  10. Fear of Music – Talking Heads
  11. Prince – Prince
  12. Live Rust – Neil Young & Crazy Horse: 
  13. Tom Verlaine – Tom Verlaine
  14. Armed Forces – Elvis Costello & the Attractions
  15. B-52s – The B-52s
  16. Damn the Torpedoes – Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers
  17. Dub Housing – Pere Ubu
  18. The Roches – The Roches
  19. Eat to the Beat – Blondie
  20. Bad Girls – Donna Summer
  21. Labour of Lust – Nick Lowe
  22. Tusk – Fleetwood Mac
  23. Cut – Slits
  24. Truth n Time – Al Green
  25. In Style – David Johansen


  1. “Dreaming” – Blondie
  2. “Good Times” – Chic
  3. “Cruisin’” – Smokey Robinson
  4. “I Wanna Be Your Lover” – Prince
  5.  “We Are Family” – Sister Sledge
  6. “Don’t Stop Til You Get Enough” – Michael Jackson
  7. “Hey Hey My My”/“My My Hey Hey” – Neil Young
  8. “Heart of Glass” – Blondie
  9. “There But For the Grace of God Go I” – Machine
  10. “Rappin’ and Rocking the House” – The Funky 4 +1
  11. “Ain’t No Stoppin’ Us Now” – McFadden & Whitehead
  12. “Why Can’t I Touch It?” – Buzzcocks
  13. “Rock With You” – Michael Jackson
  14. “Bad Girls” – Donna Summer
  15. “Family Tradition” – Hank Williams Jr.
  16. “Everybody’s Happy Nowadays” – Buzzcocks
  17. “Rock Lobster” – B-52s
  18. “Stop Your Sobbing”/“The Wait” – The Pretenders
  19. “Bright Side of the Road” – Van Morrison
  20. “Oliver’s Army” – Elvis Costello
  21. “Mind Your Own Business” – Delta 5
  22. “Cruel to Be Kind” – Nick lowe
  23. “Life During Wartime” – Talking Heads
  24. “Reunited” – Peaches & Herb
  25. “Vicious Rap” – Tanya Winley
  26. “Kid”/“Tattooed Love Boys” – The Pretenders 
  27. “Money Changes Everything” – The Brains
  28. “One Way Or Another” – Blondie
  29. “At Home He’s a Tourist” – Gang of Four
  30. “Rapper’s Delight” – The Sugarhill Gang
  31. “Girls Talk” – Dave Edmunds
  32. “Tusk” – Fleetwood Mac
  33. “Someone is Looking for Someone Like You” – Gail Davies
  34. “1-2 Crush on You” – The Clash
  35. “Boogie Wonderland” – Earth, Wind and Fire
  36. “Hot Stuff” – Donna Summer
  37. “(Not Just) Knee Deep” – Funkadelic
  38. “Money” – The Flying Lizards
  39. “You/U” – Kleenex
  40. “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. 

  1. Real Life (Albert Brooks)
  2. Richard Pryor — Live in Concert
  3. Breaking Away (Peter Yates)
  4. Stalker (Andrei Tarkovsky)
  5. Apocalypse Now (Francis Ford Coppola)
  6. The Brood (David Cronenberg)
  7. Alien (Ridley Scott)
  8. Mad Max (George Miller)

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