ROCKTOBER 2012: 1977 - This is the Day of the Expanding Man

What a year. 1977 saw the first test flight of the Space Shuttle, the incorporation of Apple, and the release of the first personal computer—the Commodore PET. There were events that would affect the life-philosophies of little boys and girls for the foreseeable future—the release of the first Star Wars movie and of the Atari 2600. It saw the death of a King (Elvis) and the birth of a slayer (Sarah Michelle Gellar). It saw the completion of long projects, now no more--the Concorde and the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center (designed to withstand and impact of a Boeing 707—a common commercial plane at the time). Steven Biko died in a South African jail, the first MRI scanner was tested in Brooklyn, and GPS was ushered in by the US government. All of these events had the effect of moving the collective to be better, to be different, to expand.

The effects of 1977 are still expanding popular music. Punk had its start a few years earlier, but the release of the Sex Pistols’ Never Mind the Bollocks. Here’s the Sex Pistols slammed the genre into the ears of complacent mid-1970’s “rock” music listeners with all the subtlety of a steel-toed boot. Rock had arguably lost a lot of the biting edge that had so wonderfully angered adults of the 1950’s. Unfortunately, Punk also meant a loss of virtuosity. The Sex Pistols, the Ramones, the Stranglers, Iggy Pop - all proved that you could make seriously compelling music without having studied at Berkley or Eastman. To this day though, hipsters often consider a band less than authentic if its members can actually play their instruments and exhibit this proficiency either on stage or in recordings. To quote one such lost soul overheard at a show at the 9:30 Club featuring some of the best musicians of this modern day: “they’re just wankin’ off.”

But in September of 1977, in what can now be seen as a preemptive strike on such uninformed criticism, jazz-rock titans Steely Dan released their masterpiece, Aja, an album that is not only considered to be one of the greatest in Rock and Roll history, but one that could never, EVER, be accused of “wankin’ off.” Delivered by a gang lead by Donald Fagen and Walter Becker, this truly amazing collection of musicians (Larry Carlton, Lee Ritenour, Tom Scott, Wayne Shorter [more on him later], Michael McDonald, and Chuck Rainey made a classic jazz/blues/rock/progressive rock album that even the most jaded hipster could not (and should not) dismiss. The title track exhibits probably the most tasteful and, god forbid, spiritual drum performance in all of recorded music--Steve Gadds’ performance on Aja is a thing of beauty.

But beauty in music isn’t only borne of taste and perfection. More often than not it springs from pain, suffering, and jealously, and there’s no better example of that than Fleetwood Mac’s Rumors. Almost everyone has a favorite track from this legendary quintet but most will tend to agree, myself included, that the the Franken-song “The Chain,” stands head and shoulders above the rest. On the multi-track SACD version of this masterpiece, the band members tell the story of how this seemingly coherent song was pieced together from bits of other songs and song concepts. It all somehow came together to form not a monster, but a striking entity, conceived from personal agony. Beauty borne from ultimate suffering.

1977 saw the inaugural albums of the Clash, Peter Gabriel sans Genesis, and an artsy collective called Talking Heads, and each of these artists’ influence is still expanding music—pop, rock, whatever. Weather Report (Joe Zawinul, Wayne Shorter, Jaco Pastorius …) put out a jazz fusion album, Heavy Weather, that defined the genre. Disco (love it or hate it) came into its own with the release of ‘Saturday Night Fever’ while Meatloaf was cementing his place in rock and roll history with Bat Out of Hell. The other Elvis – Costello, that is - released an almost perfect album with ‘My Aim is True.’ Bob Marley’s ‘Exodus’ produced reggae classics that have kept white people dancing for over 40 years—hurray (and sometimes, alas) Bob. Seasoned veterans Queen’s 1977 offering ‘News of the World’ would have stadiums rocking out long past the death of Freddie Mercury. ‘The Stranger,’ Billy Joel’s best, gave us such great songs as “Movin’ Out,” “Just the Way You Are,” my personal favorite “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant,” and the Catholic school anthem “Only the Good Die Young.”

1977 saw the formation of bands that would come to define and influence most of the 80’s —the Police, XTC, Human League, INXS, Bad Brains, Misfits, the Psychedelic Furs, Scritti Politti, Def Leppard, Dire Straits, Black Flag, the Thompson Twins, Gang of Four, and the Buggles, creators of the video that ushered in MTV. The year also saw the breakup of the Supremes and the end of the original Lynyrd Skynyrd, when a plane crash claimed three of its members. In 1977, Warner Brothers signed Prince Rogers Nelson to a three album deal—the rest, as they say, is history.

Or in other words….

1977—“Peg” the “Psycho Killer” stood on “Solsbury Hill” showing “No Compassion” that “London’s Burning,” as “Three Little Birds” passed overhead. Considering herself “More Than a Woman” she was “Waiting in Vain” for her “Miracle Man.” She thought “If I Can’t Have You” she’d would “Get Down, Make Love” with “the Stranger” who tried to seduce her like a “Bat Out of Hell”, yet seemed “Cold As Ice.” Having a “Lust For Life,” she left this “Hum Drum” to find “Paradise by the Dashboard Lights,” escaping the “Anarchy in the UK.” She had reached the “Point of No Return” when “Alison” called. She said the “Gold Dust Woman” has “Sneaky Feelings” that “We Will Rock You”. She was standing in “The Hall of Mirrors” screaming “The Angels want to Wear My Red Shoes.” “Jammin’” her into “Submission,” she convinced her to return to “Vienna,” where the “Heros” were “Never Going Back Again.” “Home At Last,” no “Jive Talkin’,” just a big “Black Cow” and the “Remote Control.” Her world, expanding.

The Top 100 Hits of 1977