1979: It’s Not Against The Law

Looking back forty years to an era I’m too young to recall—well, almost. One of my earliest memories is hearing “The Logical Song” in my parents’ car multiple times, to the point where it was likely one of the first pop songs I ever consciously liked. Of course, its words were gibberish to a four-year-old, but its melody and somewhat unique structure (that key-changing coda, with the stuttered “d-d-d-digital” followed by an electronic ringing phone noise) were things I took note of and began anticipating whenever the song reappeared.

Still, this is an odd, transitional year as a whole, with disco fading, new wave ascendant and very little else on this list untouched by either. Even the catchiest song on Fleetwood Mac’s Tusk differentiated itself from Rumours by latching onto a sort of power-pop that would flourish in the coming decade (and even sort of invent The New Pornographers twenty years later.) Meanwhile, veterans from Marianne Faithfull (I should’ve included Broken English in 100 Albums) to Bowie (of course) to Giorgio Moroder-produced Sparks adapted to the times while displaying enough insight to help define them. Of these selections, only Herb Alpert (with an accidental number one hit, thanks to General Hospital!) and Wings (with a B-side that should’ve been a hit) remained mostly unencumbered by the new, now sounds (although I’m sure the former played well in mainstream discos.)

1979 might be the precise moment that catch-all term new wave expanded to include all sorts of new mutations, from second wave ska (The Specials) to retro girl group-isms (Kirsty MacColl’s first single and maybe her most perfect still); the best dance music, on the other hand, understood a need to push its limits. Note how rock-friendly (Donna Summer), shamelessly campy (Don Armando’s Annie Get Your Gun cover) and sublime and sophisticated (the Chic organization, represented here by two cuts) it could be.

A few songs convincingly brought a familiar sound seamlessly into the present (XTC’s first Brit-Invasion pastiche, The B-52s’ surf/trash rock nirvana), while others now scan as thrillingly ahead of their time: Gino Soccio’s “Dancer” could be a ’80s or ’90s house music spectacular if you toned down the disco specifics a bit; “Video Killed the Radio Star” is thought of as an ’80s tune due to its first-ever-video-played-on-MTV status, but it fully fits the bill.) Although the Village People infamously declared they were “Ready For The ’80s” in the closing months of this year, they honestly weren’t—the likes of Blondie and later, Prince, would rapidly supplant them as cultural bellwethers.

Go here to listen to my favorite tracks of 1979 on Spotify:

  1. David Bowie, “DJ”
  2. Prince, “Why You Wanna Treat Me So Bad?”
  3. XTC, “Life Begins At The Hop”
  4. Blondie, “Dreaming”
  5. The Flying Lizards, “Money”
  6. Marianne Faithfull, “The Ballad of Lucy Jordan”
  7. Patti Smith, “Dancing Barefoot”
  8. The Specials, “A Message To You Rudy”
  9. Lene Lovich, “Lucky Number”
  10. Donna Summer, “Bad Girls”
  11. Herb Alpert, “Rise”
  12. Wings, “Daytime Nightime Suffering”
  13. Roxy Music, “Still Falls The Rain”
  14. The Cure, “10:15 Saturday Night”
  15. The B-52s, “52 Girls”
  16. Dave Edmunds, “Girls Talk”
  17. Sniff N The Tears, “Driver’s Seat”
  18. Chic, “My Feet Keep Dancing”
  19. Elvis Costello and the Attractions, “Accidents Will Happen”
  20. Gino Soccio, “Dancer”
  21. Supertramp, “The Logical Song”
  22. Talking Heads, “I Zimbra”
  23. Sister Sledge, “Lost In Music”
  24. Kirsty MacColl, “They Don’t Know”
  25. Squeeze, “Up The Junction”
  26. The Buggles, “Video Killed the Radio Star”
  27. Don Armando’s 2nd Avenue Rumba Band, “I’m An Indian Too”
  28. Sparks, “Tryouts For The Human Race”
  29. Patrice Rushen, “Haven’t You Heard”
  30. The Clash, “The Card Cheat”
  31. The Jam, “Strange Town”
  32. Fleetwood Mac, “Think About Me”
  33. Ramones, “Rock N Roll High School”

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