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“Don’t Stop Thinking About Tomorrow”

December 29, 2017

Forty years ago in 1977, rock music was beginning to change. Likewise my life was changing. I began the year at Fidelity Union Trust Co. in a do-nothing job, but by the middle of the year I was a securities analyst providing buy and sell recommendations for the investment advisers to the bank’s trust and pension funds. My personal life was improving too. My distance relationship had become more settled at least for a time, and I started to interact more with friends in New York.

Changes in 1977 in rock music were mostly for the better, but rock still was playing second fiddle to conventional pop songs and disco in popularity. In fact, not one of the top twenty most popular songs of the year could be classified as a harder rock song.

Major British Artists “Missing in Action”

In 1977, most of the major British “classic” rock artists did not record any new material. The Rolling Stones had no top 40 singles for the first time since 1963 and no new studio albums either. The Who, Led Zeppelin and the Moody Blues recorded no new material either. Pink Floyd did have a reasonably good, new album Animals (loosely based on George Orwell’s “Animal Farm”) but it paled in comparison to the group’s previous two albums – the outstanding Wish You Were Here and Dark Side of the Moon.

Individual British artists fared no better with Elton John, John Lennon, George Harrison and Paul McCartney with no new studio albums. The lone positive note was McCartney and Wings release of its excellent live album “Wings over America” which included the release of one of my favorite songs  “Maybe I’m Amazed (live)” as a single. The album was also unique in that it was the first “live-concert” album from any of the four Beatles and included several Beatles tunes performed by McCartney.

While American rock artists were generally more active than the Brits, there was another year of no new Bruce Springsteen records (owing to his contract dispute) and the king of rock n’ roll,  Elvis Presley died 8/16/1977 at only 42 years of age.

Best Rock Albums

While British and hard rock music were mostly absent in 1977, rock albums were still quite good, albeit mostly on the softer side. In fact, there were ten very good new studio albums by existing rock/pop artists:

My favorite album was also the most popular album of the year: Rumours (Feb. 1977)  by Fleetwood Mac. Good songs often come out of breakups. In the case of Rumours, great songs came out of the breakup of John and Christine McVie’s marriage as well as the end of the long-running affair between Stevie Nicks and Lindsay Buckingham. This was a great album with emotional and catchy songs by each of the three main artists/songwriters (Nicks, Buckingham and Christine McVie), including the optimistic and happy “Don’t Stop” (“thinking about tomorrow”)  (#3 Sep.) and “You Make Loving Fun” (#9 Dec.); angry songs such as “The Chain” (“And if you don’t love me now, you’ll never love me again, I can still hear you saying you’d never break the chain!”), “Blue Letter”, and “Go Your Own Way” (“you can call it another lonely day”)  (#10 Mar.); and melan­choly songs such as “Dreams” (#1 June), “Songbird”, and “Never Going Back Again”. The album features excellent song melodies, compositions, guitar playing by Lindsay Buckingham, and a number of beautiful vocals by Christine McVie.

While there are many songs that Steely Dan has recorded that I like a great deal, Aja (Sept. 1977) was their only album where I enjoyed ALL the tracks. Aja is Steely Dan at their jazziest, though still fundamentally a rock-jazz fusion group. And I can remember listening to this album frequently in the months before heading west to California and Stanford Business School in the summer of 1978. The album starts with “Black Cow”, a wonderful song about rocky relationships (“I can’t cry anymore while you run around. Break away. Just when it seems so clear that it’s over now, drink your big black cow and get out of here”). The song features great saxophone, keyboards and guitar that fit the mood of the song brilliantly. Next, the title track “Aja” has a distinctly different Asian char­acter, albeit with equally jazzy instrumentation, a lengthy musical interlude in the middle and an extremely relaxed feel to it. In fact, it remains one of my favorite Steely Dan songs to this day. Side One ends with the single “Deacon Blues” (#19 June ’78), another excellent song and the third lengthy track on the side. Side 2 features the two excellent singles “Peg” (#11 Mar. ’78) and “Josie” (#26 Oct. ’78).

Going for the One (July 1977) represented a comeback album for Yes, after their previous two efforts, Relayer and Tales of Topographic Oceans, lacked the cohesiveness and musical completeness of their earlier albums. To be sure, Going for the One was still not as good as the superb Fragile, The Yes Album or Close to the Edge. Nonetheless it was a solid effort with the title track “Going for the One” and “Parallels” both excellent hard rock songs, while “Wondrous Stories” and “Turn of the Century” were two of Jon Anderson’s better soft ballads. The album benefitted significantly from the return of Rick Wakeman (keyboards) after a three-year absence from the group. Despite its length “Awaken” doesn’t meander and features Wakeman’s stellar keyboards and wonderful use of the church organ at St. Martin’s church in Switzerland. Call me sentimental, but this album evokes wonderful memories so will always be a favorite.

Running on Empty by Jackson Browne (Dec. 1977)  was Browne’s best album.  Its strengths were the singles “Running on Empty” (#11 Apr. ’78) and “Stay/The Load Out” (#20 Aug. ’78) as well as three other tracks “You Love the Thunder” (“and you love the rain”), “The Road” and “Cocaine”. This was Browne’s album about touring but it was much more upbeat and much less depressing than his former effort The Pretender which is probably why I enjoyed it much more. This album and particularly the superb “Running on Empty” became a bit of a theme song on my first drive across country during the summer of 1978 with friend Dave Dorsey, on my way to Stanford Business School.

Likewise, Billy Joel released his best album The Stranger (Sept. 1977) featuring the beautiful love song “Just the Way You Are” (#3 Feb. ’78) which was to become a soft rock/adult contemporary staple for years to come. However, the album had much more, most notably the lively hits  “Movin’ Out (Anthony’s Song)” (“Working too hard can give you a heart attack yak yak yak”) (#17 May ’78) and “Only the Good Die Young” (#24 Jul. ’78) as well as the slower and melodic “She’s Only a Woman”(#17 Oct. ’78). However, the hidden gem on the album was the brilliant “Scenes From an Italian Restaurant” (“Bottle of red, bottle of white…I’ll meet you anytime you want at our Italian Restaurant”). The seven and a half-minute tour-de-force was about high school reminiscing and catching up. Lyrically and musically, it was exquisite.

In addition, Eric Clapton released Slowhand (Nov. 1977) which was his best album  since 461 Ocean Boulevard three years earlier. The album included the hit singles “Wonderful Tonight” (#16 Jul. ’78) and “Lay Down Sally” (#3 Apr. ’78) and two other classics: a brilliant remake of J.J.Cale’s “Cocaine” (“She don’t lie”) and “The Core”. While lesser known, “The Core” was one of my favorites: nine minutes in guitar heaven.

Songs in the Key of Life by Stevie Wonder was released at the end of 1976 and became very popular during 1977. I never bought the album, because my brother owned it and I taped many of the songs from his vinyl to cassette. The best songs from the album included the singles “I Wish” (#1 Jan), “Sir Duke” (#1 May), “Another Star” (#32 Sep.) and “As” (#36 Dec.) as well as the album cut “Isn’t She Lovely”. The latter song wasn’t released as a single but received a huge amount of airplay during 1977. The album is considered by many as Stevie’s best over his illustrious career and one of the best rock/R&B albums of all time.

Little Queen (May 1977) by Heart was a solid follow-up to the group’s debut album “Dreamboat Annie”. The album featured three excellent lively rockers, Barracuda (#11 Aug.), Kick it Out (#79 Dec.) and the superb “Love Alive” as well as the slower ballad “Little Queen” (#62 Oct.). Though lacking the dynamite of “Crazy on You” and “Magic Man” from the previous album (my two favorite songs by Heart), Little Queen still delivered.

Book of Dreams (May 1977) by Steve Miller was almost the equal of the previous year’s Fly Like an Eagle. It was highlighted by such excellent, catchy tunes as “Jungle Love” (#23 Sep.) and “Swingtown” (#17 Dec.) and my favorite by the group “Jet Airliner” (#8 July). This last song became my a theme song that I hummed/sang to myself on plane trips when returning home thru much of my working career. The album also had several excellent tunes that weren’t hits such as “Winter Time” and “True Fine Love”.

JT (June 1977) by James Taylor was his best effort since his 1970 Sweet Baby James album. This album represents the pinnacle of Taylor’s optimism with his then-marriage to Carly Simon no doubt at its happiest. The album exudes Taylor being head-over-heels in love featuring an excellent cover of a Jimmy Jones 1960 classic “Handy Man” (#4 Sep.) (‘That’s me, I’m your handy man“) and one of Taylor’s best love song compositions  “Your Smiling Face” (#20 Dec.) (‘Whenever I see your smiling face, I have to smile myself“), as well as a nice co-performance with Carly on”Secret O’ Life”. The up-tempo “Honey Don’t You Leave LA” (#61 Mar. ’78) adds nice variety to the album.

Rock Newcomers

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers self-titled debut album was released at the end of 1976 and began to get airplay in 1977. “Breakdown” (#40 Feb. ’78) was released as single at end of 1977 and also appeared on the album FM which put Petty on the map. Surprisingly, “An American Girl” the other standout song from the album (and a personal favorite) was never released as a single, but later became a staple on FM radio. Music critics such as Rolling Stone made much of Petty’s throwback sound to Roger McGuinn and the Byrds (both guitar and vocals) which is probably the reason his “new” sound appealed to me. This was the beginning of a lengthy and successful career for Petty until his too-early death this year.

Meat Loaf’s Bat Out of Hell was the first album for this veteran of the cult movie of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” and member of one of Ted Nugget’s road bands. To be sure, this was a very derivative album but I still enjoyed it nonetheless. My favorites of the album included “Bat Out of the Hell”, “All Revved Up With No Place to Go” and the classic duet “Paradise by the Dashboard Light”. This last song was notably performed live by Meatloaf and co-artist Ellen Foley including a live “make-out” scene on SNL  in late 1977.

Punk and New Wave

1977 was also the year that punk rock and new wave began to make its mark on a changing rock landscape. Punk was led by the Sex Pistols and their first and only studio album Never Mind the Bollocks Here’s the Sex Pistols. ‘It featured such rebellious songs as “Anarchy for the UK” and “God Save the Queen”. The Sex Pistols and its future imitators in punk rock was in-your-face hard rock music with little if any melody. Also from Britain, punk/new wave rockers The Clash released their first album The Clash in 1977. In the U.S. the new wave was led by the Talking Heads with the release of their first album  Talking Heads ’77 .  Much like punk rock, I didn’t get it at the time. I found a bit too “weird” for my liking, but that was to change, particularly as I grew to love the one single from the album “Psycho Killer” (#92 Feb. ’78) (“Qu’est que ce? You better run run away“). As the late ’70s move forward, I was soon to realize that some “weird” music could be excellent and the Talking Heads definitely fit that mold. Interestingly, the Talking Heads were formed at the Rhode Island School of Design in 1974 only a couple of miles from my dorm room at Brown at the time. Little did I know.

“We Will Rock You”

Many other rock songs were good as well.

A new group from New York, Foreigner first two singles were top 10 hits. Their first,  fittingly entitled, “Feels Like the First Time” (#4 June) was perhaps their best, a great rocker driven by stellar vocals and strong guitar from Ian McDonald. “Cold as Ice” their second hit (#6 Oct.) was a sign of what was to come with Lou Gramm’s soaring vocals a hallmark of the group during their heyday from the late 1970s through the 1980s.

Queen  News of the World album was nothing special except for the double-sided hit  “We Will Rock You/We Are The Champions” (#4 Dec.). The album version was excellent as it segued between “We Will Rock You” and “We Are the Champions” (“no time for losers”) and is still played this way on classic rock stations to great effect. Of course, these two songs have been subsequently been overplayed in sports arenas and stadiums, but when they first came out they were quite interesting to listen to and very different.

While I was never much of a Boz Scaggs fan , “Lido Shuffle” (#17 May) was my favorite by him. An upbeat and lively tune, it stood in sharp contrast to his late 1976, depressing tunes “Lowdown” and “It’s Over” (see my 1976 music blog or my book “I’ve Got the Music in Me” )

Electric Light Orchestra had a somewhat disappointing, double-album Out of the Blue  in 1977 after the excellent A New World Record in 1976. However, it did boast the interesting and catchy “Turn to Stone” (“when you are gone”) (#13 Jan. ’78) and my daughter Maryanne’s favorite ELO song “Mr. Blue Sky” (#35 Aug. ’78).

Canadian group Rush had their first charting singles, the excellent “Fly by Night” (#88 Jan.) and “Closer to the Heart” (#76 Dec.). The songs featured what would become the groups trademark rock sound and Geddy Lee’s high voice. I’ll confess that I only really started to listen to Rush a few years later after songs such as “The Spirit of Radio”, “Limelight” and my favorite “Tom Sawyer” were released and the group started receiving a lot more airplay on FM rock-oriented radio.

Hall and Oates had their first rollicking single “Rich Girl” (#1 Mar.) (“You can rely on the old man’s money”) and their first number one. This song was presaged the duo’s success in the 1980s with songs with more upbeat rhythms and melodies (e.g. “Out of Touch” and “Maneater”)

Dearborn, Michigan native Bob Seger had been on the charts since late 1968’s “Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man” , but it was the best song of his career “Night Moves” (#4 Mar.) that first got my attention. Later in the year, “Main Street” (# 24 May) and “Rock And Roll Never Forgets” (#41 Aug.) were good efforts. Though  I was never a big Seger fan, I did like some of his hits.

The Southern rock group, Marshall Tucker Band  had their biggest hit record “Heard it in a Love Song” (#14 June) followed by the even better  “Can’t You See” (#75 Sep.).

Best of Soft Rock/Pop

One of my favorite soft rock songs of the year was Carly Simon’s singing “Nobody Does it Better” (#2 Oct.) from the James Bond film “The Spy Who Loved Me” , continuing the series of great opening theme songs from Bond films. (E.g. “Goldfinger” “You Only Live Twice”, “Live and Let Die” etc.). This song showcases Carly’s unique vocal talents and has a melody that is irresistible. My apartment mate David Carroll came home one Saturday evening in late 1977 obviously drunk and singing the song, a personal memory that fortunately doesn’t blot out Carly’s version in my mind.

“Baby, What a Big Surprise” (“right before my very eyes”)(#4 Nov.) was another very catchy soft-rock hit by Chicago featuring stellar vocals by Peter Cetera. It was hard not to notice the unintentional and tragic irony, in that as the song was still being played on the radio in January 1978, Terry Kath (guitarist for the group) accidentally shot and killed himself.

Paul Simon had no new album, but he did have a nice single “Slip Slidin’ Away” (“the nearer your destination the more you’re slip slidin’ away”) (#5 Jan. ’78) which rose up the charts late in 1977.

Another good soft pop song, “Lonely Boy” (#7 June) by Andrew Gold had simplistic lyrics and theme, but the tune was excellent and it was very catchy.  

But my favorite soft rock ballad was “Year of the Cat” (#8 Feb.) by Al Stewart, a very enjoyable song with an irresistible piano intro and hook, though it still makes me sad at times listening to it. And the song lyrics were pure poetry “She comes out of the sun in a silk dress. Running like a water-color in the rain. Don’t bother asking for explanations she’ll tell you that she came in the year of the cat”.

English art rockers, Supertramp had their first American top twenty with the tuneful and catchy “Give a Little Bit” (#15 Aug.).  However, their breakout year was to come two years later when “Breakfast in America” topped the album charts.  In a similar sounding vein, but from Chicago, Styx had their second top ten single “Come Sail Away” (#8 Jan. ’78) also a very catchy tune with Dennis DeYoung’s high-tenor vocals.

Strangely enough, 10cc  had a nice soft rock, love song “Things We Do For Love” (#5 Apr.) (“Like walking in the rain and the snow when there’s nowhere to go”) which was their first big hit since 1975’s “I’m Not in Love”. “Things…” was a much more conventional love song and far more upbeat both musically and lyrically than the brooding and psychedelic sounding”I’m Not in Love”.

 Meanwhile, Rita Coolidge had the rock cover of the year with her beautiful rendition of “(Your Love Has Lifted Me) Higher and Higher” (#2 Sep.). While the song wasn’t better than Jackie Wilson’s original , it was sufficiently different (slower tempo and with Coolidge’s beautiful voice) that it was still an excellent version. She also had a lesser hit but still a nice song with “We’re All Alone” (#7 Nov.).
Lionel Ritchie and the Commodores had the smooth sounding “Easy” (#4 Aug.), a nice crossover hit from their normally harder R&B/funk sound.
Last but not least, Linda Ronstadt had two of her biggest hits at the end of 1977 with “Blue Bayou” (#3 Dec.), as well as “It’s So Easy”(#4 Dec.). Both of these came from her massively popular “Simple Dreams” album. Both her hits were good and her voice was excellent, but I found that her style of covering old hits by Buddy Holly, Roy Orbison, the Everly Brothers, the Rolling Stones etc. was hit or miss for me. I liked the up-tempo “It’s so Easy” but the slow “Blue Bayou” made me pine for Roy Orbison’s version.
 The Funk and The Disco 
While I was not enamored with funk music, there were a couple of excellent funk/R&B songs in 1977. This included my favorite “Brick House” (#5 Oct.) by the Commodores which featured a great sax section as well as “Boogie Nights” (#2 Nov.) by Heatwave.
While most disco music was simply too much for me to handle, there were a few songs (albeit precious few) that warrant praise. The best of the lot was “Best of My Love” (#1 Aug.) by the Emotions an upbeat disco/R&B tune which had a nice rhythm and tune.  Co-written by Maurice White (founder of the group Earth, Wind and Fire) the song sounds much like a good EWF tune, not surprisingly. Also, I was a bit of a sucker for “Star Wars’ Theme/Cantina Band” (#1 Oct.) by Meco which made listening to disco interesting again as it cleverly wove John William’s various sounds and musical themes (including memorable music from the Cantina band in the bar on Tatooine) into a three-minute instrumental record.
The Bad, the Blah and the Ugly
Unfortunately, 1977 had its share of bad songs which more often than not made it to the top of the pop charts. In the category of unbearable schmaltz, we have the two most popular songs of the year: Debby Boone’s “You Light Up My Life” (#1 Nov.) and The BeeGees “How Deep is Your Love” (#1 Dec.) respectively. Though slightly more up-tempo than “How Deep is Your Love”, younger brother Andy Gibb also had the bland and saccharine “I Just Want to Be Your Everything” (#1 Aug.). As if that weren’t sufficient, Leo Sayer ventured into the world of slow pop with “When I Need You” (#1 May) which I tired of quickly. Then there was yet another unbearable mega-hit from Barry Manilow “Looks Like We Made It” (#1 Jul.), the only good news was that it was Barry’s last #1 song. And in the category of awful remakes, there was Shaun Cassidy (yes this was Partridge Family’s David Cassidy’s younger brother) covering  “Da Doo Run Run” (#1 Jul.)  which no doubt had the Crystals figuring they should release the original again.

In the blah category, there was “I’m in You” (#2 Aug.) by Pete Frampton, not a bad song (and interestingly, his top charting US  hit), but I found myself turning the radio dial. Then there was “Short People” (#2 Jan. ’78) by Randy Newman. A clever and catchy parody on discrimination but one that grew VERY tiresome after repeated listenings. Likewise, Bill Conti’s “Gonna Fly Now” (#1 Jun.) reminded us interminably of Sylvester Stallone training in the movie Rocky. Not a bad tune, but enough is enough.

In the ugly category, there were two more entries into the depressing, ‘I don’t want to hear this song’ category, particularly after the breakup of a two-year relationship with my girlfriend in November 1977. This included “Whatcha Gonna Do?” (#6 Aug) (“when she says goodbye“) by Pablo Cruse and “Baby Come Back” by Player (#1 Jan. ’78) (“And I just can’t live without you“). Eerily and depressingly, the latter song was hitting the charts just as my relationship ended.


Fortunately, there were many fewer depressing songs than in 1976 AND good news was around the corner. In December 1977, I received a phone call from the head of Admissions at Stanford Business School letting me know that I had been accepted for the fall of 1978. This meant big changes ahead in 1978 which per usual seemed to parallel rock music moving in a more exciting direction. But that is the subject for my next music blog.


From → Music 60s70s

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