1986: Come On Home

When I posted my 1985 mix, I suggested the following year was more “Peak Eighties”—think state-of-the-art, ultra-synthetic, BIG sounds that evoke bright neon colors, huge hair and millions spent. At least half the tracks below conform, often blatantly (Bananarama’s S/A/W-produced Shocking Blue cover, Siouxsie and the Banshees at last embracing the sparkly pop in their goth, Talk Talk bridging the gap between their new-pop past and near-ambient future) but occasionally accidentally as well. Given their timeless melodies, one can easily imagine what songs from The Bangles, Peter Gabriel (with crucial help from Kate Bush) and Eurythmics would’ve sounded like if recorded in another era.

Still, not everything in ’86 was synths and spandex (to quote another blog). British-inspired jangle guitar pop was at a shimmering peak, whether it was made by Americans (The Feelies, R.E.M.), Australians (The Go-Betweens, Crowded House) or actual Brits (XTC, The Smiths, The Housemartins.) In the earlier essay, I also alluded to another “underrated, pastoral, anomaly-within-the-artist’s-catalog ballad”: ‘Til Tuesday’s “Coming Up Close” not only transcends 1986, it’s the song of theirs that most closely predicts Aimee Mann’s unlikely (at the time) solo career.

As always, I love the year’s true oddities, from an ingeniously cheeky track off of They Might Be Giants’ debut album to the rise of innovative producers Jam/Lewis via Janet Jackson and The Human League to more sophisti-pop from Simply Red and The Blow Monkeys to Everything But The Girl’s brief departure into orchestrated Burt Bacharach splendor. Also, actual one hit wonders like Timbuk 3’s goofy/caustic rave-up and the immortal “I Can’t Wait” by the terribly-named Nu Shooz, which both reeks of 1986 and also could’ve come out yesterday.

Go here to listen to my favorite songs of 1986.

  1. The Feelies, “Let’s Go”
  2. Nu Shooz, “I Can’t Wait”
  3. They Might Be Giants, “Number Three”
  4. The B-52’s, “Ain’t It A Shame”
  5. The Go-Betweens, “Spring Rain”
  6. The Housemartins, “Think For A Minute”
  7. Erasure, “Oh L’Amour”
  8. Bananarama, “Venus”
  9. Pretenders, “Don’t Get Me Wrong”
  10. R.E.M., “Fall On Me”
  11. Billy Bragg, “Honey, I’m A Big Boy Now”
  12. The Smiths, “There Is A Light That Never Goes Out”
  13. Siouxsie and the Banshees, “Cities In Dust”
  14. The Blow Monkeys, “Digging Your Scene”
  15. Crowded House, “Don’t Dream It’s Over”
  16. The Human League, “Human”
  17. Janet Jackson, “What Have You Done For Me Lately”
  18. Husker Du, “Don’t Want To Know If You Are Lonely”
  19. Pet Shop Boys, “Love Comes Quickly”
  20. The Smithereens, “Blood and Roses”
  21. ‘Til Tuesday, “Coming Up Close”
  22. Rubber Rodeo, “Souvenir”
  23. Love and Rockets, “All In My Mind”
  24. Talk Talk, “Life’s What You Make It”
  25. Peter Gabriel, “Don’t Give Up”
  26. Madonna, “Live To Tell”
  27. Everything But The Girl, “Cross My Heart”
  28. Simply Red, “Holding Back The Years”
  29. New Order, “All Day Long”
  30. The Chameleons, “Swamp Thing”
  31. Prince, “Kiss”
  32. The Bangles, “Manic Monday”
  33. Timbuk 3, “The Future’s So Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades”
  34. Cameo, “Word Up”
  35. Paul Simon, “The Boy In The Bubble”
  36. XTC, “Earn Enough For Us”
  37. Eurythmics, “Thorn In My Side”
  38. Cocteau Twins, “The Thinner The Air”
  39. Hunters & Collectors, “Through Your Arms Around Me”
  40. Concrete Blonde, “True”

1980: A Ride Through Paradise

I’ve already written about how 1980 was an exceptionally weird year for pop culture: on the basis of such stupendous offerings as The Jazz Singer (starring Neil Diamond!) and Pink Lady and Jeff, one detects a higher-than-average collective lapse in good taste. Happily, that’s not the case regarding the year’s music—I had to show restraint in limiting it to forty tracks.

While not perverse enough to include anything from The Apple or Can’t Stop The Music soundtracks, I’ve made room for two from Xanadu without apology: Olivia Newton-John’s “Magic”, because I retain so many memories of hearing it in the backseat of my parents’ Mercury Monarch, and ELO’s “All Over The World”, arguably the Xanadu song most perfectly capturing the futuristic cheese it was attempting (even more than the beloved title track, I’ll argue.)

Still, I don’t think any of these annual playlists will have as many actual number one hits as this one. At its death throes, AM Top 40 radio gave us such glories as Diana Ross’ Chic-produced eleganza, Blondie’s Moroder-produced iconic New Wave sleaze, Streisand’s Gibb-produced immaculate, melodramatic soft rock, McCartney’s kooky new wave experiment (actually a hit in the US in a less interesting live recording), and, most intriguingly, Lipps Inc.’s midway-between-disco-and-synthpop one-shot whose remedial genius will likely outlive all of its chart-topping cohorts. I didn’t even have room for worthy number ones from Queen (take your pick) or Pink Floyd, instead opting for two from the UK: one of Abba’s least overplayed (and thus, freshest) standards and Bowie’s chilling-but-catchy “Space Oddity” sequel.

As Macca knew, Post-Punk/New Wave was a big thing at the time, if not always on the charts. The Brits were all over it (The English Beat, The Cure, The Soft Boys, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Joy Division, XTC, etc.) as was Australia (Split Enz), Canada (Martha and the Muffins, Rough Trade), and in the USA, representatives from Akron, Ohio (Devo, Pretenders’ Chrissie Hynde), Athens, Georgia (The B-52’s, Pylon) and, oh, New York City (Talking Heads). Proto New Wave stalwarts Roxy Music effortlessly adjusted to the times (the scintillating “Same Old Scene”); forgoing easy categorization, Prince on his third album crafted a New Wave song because he could and naturally it was great.

The rest is a typically eclectic assortment of post-disco both mainstream (The Jacksons pushing lessons learned from Michael’s Off The Wall into euphoric overdrive) and esoteric (Cristina’s deranged Peggy Lee cover) brushing up against a bevy of smooth pop that we now call “Yacht Rock”: late Steely Dan, brief superstar Christopher Cross, Rupert Holmes’ slick and drenched-in-irony follow-up to “Escape (The Pina Colada Song)” and George Benson, who pioneered the R&B strain of this with 1976’s Breezin’ and this year brought Quincy Jones on board for Give Me The Night, its title track his biggest and best hit.

Go here to listen to my favorite songs of 1980.

  1. Diana Ross, “Upside Down”
  2. The English Beat, “Mirror In The Bathroom”
  3. Roxy Music, “Same Old Scene”
  4. Blondie, “Call Me”
  5. Split Enz, “I Got You”
  6. Prince, “When You Were Mine”
  7. The Cure, “A Forest”
  8. Martha and the Muffins, “Echo Beach”
  9. Steely Dan, “Babylon Sisters”
  10. Stevie Wonder, “Master Blaster (Jammin’)”
  11. Cristina, “Is That All There Is?”
  12. Kate Bush, “The Wedding List”
  13. Visage, “Fade To Grey”
  14. Lipps Inc., “Funkytown”
  15. The Soft Boys, “Tonight”
  16. Rough Trade, “High School Confidential”
  17. Devo, “Whip It”
  18. Paul McCartney, “Coming Up”
  19. Peter Gabriel, “Games Without Frontiers”
  20. Barbra Streisand, “Woman In Love”
  21. Olivia Newton-John, “Magic”
  22. ABBA, “Super Trouper”
  23. George Benson, “Give Me The Night”
  24. Christopher Cross, “Ride Like The Wind”
  25. Rupert Holmes, “Him”
  26. Squeeze, “Pulling Mussels (From The Shell)”
  27. Siouxsie and The Banshees, “Christine”
  28. Pylon, “Stop It”
  29. The B-52’s, “Private Idaho”
  30. The Jam, “Man In The Corner Shop”
  31. Joy Division, “Love Will Tear Us Apart”
  32. Talking Heads, “Crosseyed and Painless”
  33. Pretenders, “Mystery Achievement”
  34. Donna Summer, “Cold Love”
  35. XTC, “Towers of London”
  36. Stephanie Mills, “Never Knew Love Like This Before”
  37. The Jacksons, “Can You Feel It”
  38. Electric Light Orchestra, “All Over The World”
  39. David Bowie, “Ashes To Ashes”
  40. Paul Simon, “Late In The Evening”

1985: You Will Find It

Whether 1985 qualifies as Peak ‘80s is a matter of personal taste (personally, I’d lean towards ’86 or ’87), but mid-decade is by design an ideal place to assess when we think of its music as a whole. This playlist’s run from the greatest up-tempo Madonna single of her imperial phase to Murray Head’s musical-project-written-by-Benny-and-Bjorn-from-Abba oddity (I remember it sounding like nothing else on syndicated TV series Solid Gold at the time) exhibits the lofty heights mainstream radio could then ascend to. And yes, I unironically love “The Power of Love” and still might even if it wasn’t from the best studio blockbuster movie of the era.

Sade and Prince also scored pretty neat leftfield ’85 hits too, undoubtedly scanning as Top 40 while reinterpreting the very notion of such in ways that were beyond, say, Phil Collins or Dire Straits. Not as much as Kate Bush, of course—her sole top 40 hit in the US still startles, not least because it doesn’t dilute one whit of her otherness. Although built almost entirely on era-specific synthetics, it somehow sounds as out of time now as it ever did.

Punchy singles from New Order, Big Audio Dynamite, The Cure and OMD would suggest 1985 was the year of Brit postpunk bands making big pop moves (I didn’t even include the fine but overplayed Tears For Fears), but I spot a more novel trend: a cool, crisp, slightly jazzy subgenre dubbed Sophisti-Pop: Sade, definitely, but also Prefab Sprout, Everything But The Girl, Fine Young Cannibals (to a lesser extent) and even a few old(er) souls like Bryan Ferry and Leonard Cohen (transforming his sound from monochrome folk to Casio keyboard pastels.) I’ve also slotted in some Sci-Fi Sophisti-Pop: The Rah Band’s daffy but strange and charming “Clouds Across The Moon”, a UK top ten hit I’d never heard of until two years ago.

As for the INXS album track I’ve highlighted, it doesn’t particularly sound like 1985 or anything else the band ever did; however, it does remind me of another underrated, pastoral, anomaly-within-the-artist’s-catalog ballad that will likely be the centerpiece of my eventual 1986 mix.

Go here to listen to my favorite songs of 1985 on Spotify:

  1. Prefab Sprout, “Bonny”
  2. Sade, “The Sweetest Taboo”
  3. Kirsty MacColl, “He’s On The Beach”
  4. Suzanne Vega, “Marlene On The Wall”
  5. Wall of Voodoo, “Far Side Of Crazy”
  6. Fine Young Cannibals, “Johnny Come Home”
  7. Everything But The Girl, “When All’s Well”
  8. Tom Waits, “Clap Hands”
  9. Felt, “Primitive Painters”
  10. Madonna, “Into The Groove”
  11. Aretha Franklin, “Freeway of Love”
  12. Huey Lewis & The News, “The Power Of Love”
  13. Murray Head, “One Night In Bangkok”
  14. Oingo Boingo, “Dead Man’s Party”
  15. Camper Van Beethoven, “Take The Skinheads Bowling”
  16. Prince, “Raspberry Beret”
  17. R.E.M., “Driver 8”
  18. Kate Bush, “Running Up That Hill (A Deal With God)”
  19. Big Audio Dynamite, “The Bottom Line”
  20. Echo & The Bunnymen, “Bring On The Dancing Horses”
  21. New Order, “Love Vigilantes”
  22. Leonard Cohen, “The Law”
  23. INXS, “Shine Like It Does”
  24. Grace Jones, “Slave To The Rhythm”
  25. Bryan Ferry, “Slave To Love”
  26. Commodores, “Nightshift”
  27. The Jesus and Mary Chain, “Just Like Honey”
  28. Talking Heads, “Road To Nowhere”
  29. The Smiths, “That Joke Isn’t Funny Anymore”
  30. The Cure, “A Night Like This”
  31. OMD, “So In Love”
  32. The Rah Band, “Clouds Across The Moon”
  33. Mekons, “Last Dance”

1970: We Had Our Own Kind of Heaven

At the dawn of a decade, no one can possibly predict where music will go over the next ten years. In that respect, 1970 was probably no different from 1990 (or even 2020.) With hindsight, looking over these selections from half a century ago, one notices how Laura Nyro’s “Blackpatch” anticipates Tapestry and Todd Rundgren, but most of them could’ve easily come out in ’69 or ’68.

A fair amount of musical icons appear on this playlist, from relatively early Bowie to prime James Brown to late Simon and Garfunkel. There’s also the best track off The Beatles’ last released album, plus choice cuts from three of the Fab Four’s post-breakup Major Solo Statements (sorry, Ringo.) Album cuts are favored over massive, overplayed hits, with a few exceptions like Sly & The Family Stone’s ridiculously-titled but undeniable number one single or The Temptations nicely acclimating themselves beyond the old Motown sound (as for the now Diana Ross-less Supremes, “Stoned Love” studiously but successfully clings to it.)

Among the weirdos and one-offs: Polish vocal quartet Novi Singers’ quirky vocalese; Linda Perhacs’ wild psychedelia, somehow both firmly of and way ahead of its time; a charming novella of a song from future adult-contemporary art-popper Al Stewart; and a deep cut from British folk singer John Martyn and his wife Beverly—one of my all-time favorite songs first heard on Saint Etienne’s curated mix The Trip in 2004. Also, don’t forget the inimitable Tom Jones, whose “Daughter of Darkness” has to be one of the most over-the-top, transcendentally demented top twenty hits ever. Coincidentally, I also first heard it in 2004 and remember thinking how difficult it must’ve been for the studio musicians to keep a straight face while playing on this gloriously (and probably unintentionally) goofy gem.

Click here to listen to my favorite songs of 1970 on Spotify.

  1. Desmond Dekker, “You Can Get It If You Really Want”
  2. David Bowie, “The Man Who Sold The World”
  3. The Free Design, “Bubbles”
  4. Sly & The Family Stone, “Thank You (Falettinmee Be Mice Elf Agin)”
  5. Cat Stevens, “I Think I See The Light”
  6. Rodriguez, “Crucify Your Mind”
  7. Van Morrison, “Into The Mystic”
  8. Al Stewart, “A Small Fruit Song”
  9. Novi Singers, “Torpedo”
  10. Laura Nyro, “Blackpatch”
  11. John Martyn and Beverly Martyn, “Auntie Aviator”
  12. Joni Mitchell, “The Priest”
  13. John Lennon, “Look At Me”
  14. Dionne Warwick, “Paper Mache”
  15. Dusty Springfield, “Spooky”
  16. George Baker Selection, “Little Green Bag”
  17. The Beatles, “Two Of Us”
  18. Aretha Franklin, “Pullin’”
  19. James Brown, “Get Up (I Feel Like Being A) Sex Machine”
  20. Tom Jones, “Daughter Of Darkness”
  21. Randy Newman, “Have You Seen My Baby?”
  22. Harry Nilsson, “I’ll Be Home”
  23. Paul McCartney, “Every Night”
  24. Linda Perhacs, “Parallelograms”
  25. Neil Young, “Don’t Let It Bring You Down”
  26. Linda Ronstadt, “Long Long Time”
  27. Nick Drake, “Northern Sky”
  28. The Temptations, “Ball of Confusion (That’s What The World Is Today)”
  29. Simon & Garfunkel, “The Only Living Boy In New York”
  30. The Kinks, “This Time Tomorrow”
  31. George Harrison, “What Is Life”
  32. The Velvet Underground, “Oh! Sweet Nuthin’”
  33. The Supremes, “Stoned Love”

1975: Just A Silly Phase I’m Going Through

I’ve often heard my birth year described as the absolute nadir of the 1970s—just peruse the era’s fashions, architecture and home furnishings. It now appears as an Earth-toned world atoning for the sins of the prior decade’s psychedelic, Technicolor spectacle.

It follows that the music of 1975 would fall right in line with this perspective. After all, the year’s top-selling US single was The Captain and Tennille’s “Love Will Keep Us Together”, as deathless an encapsulation of mid-seventies kitsch as one could imagine. Easy listening, in addition to prog-rock and earnest singer/songwriter stuff seemed to dominate. Punk and new wave were still a year or two off from creating seismic change (in the UK, at least.)

Still, scanning through this year’s number-one singles, look beyond the likes of Olivia Newton John, John Denver, Tony Orlando and Dawn, etc. and you’ll find imperial phase Elton John (for good (“Philadelphia Freedom”) and for ill (his pointless Beatles cover)), Earth, Wind and Fire (somehow their only Hot 100 number-one) and even David Fucking Bowie (with help from arguably the coolest Beatle.)

You also have The Bee Gees thrillingly reinventing themselves with “Jive Talkin’”, reflecting how disco, not yet entirely dominant, started seeping into the mainstream. This mix’s first third is made for dancing, bouncing between instrumental funk (Average White Band–the number one song when I was born), orchestral splendor (Tavares) and pure camp (Disco Tex and His Sex-O-Lettes). It shows how disco gradually spread across the globe, from Philly (The Spinners) to Miami (KC and the Sunshine Band) and over to Munich, with Silver Convention’s remedial but transcendent simplicity setting the stage for Donna Summer’s 16-minute-long orgasmic aria, truly like nothing preceding it in the clubs or on the charts.

Perhaps another innovative single, 10cc’s “I’m Not In Love” evokes the era more vividly, its watery electric piano and overdubbed expressionist vocals suffusing the air like pea soup; both its era-specificity and peculiarity anticipate the weird assortment of songs that follow. On one hand, the artists everyone knows: Fleetwood Mac, Paul Simon, Led Zeppelin, Heart, Steely Dan (albeit with an (admittedly catchy) album track about a pedophile!); on the other, the cultish stuff my contemporaries will lionize decades later—mid-period Joni Mitchell and Neil Young, but also Sparks and The Rocky Horror Picture Show, and even some proto-punk/new wave stuff like Patti Smith and Brian Eno.

Visually, yes, 1975 remains a flurry of deep browns, harvest golds and avocado greens; sonically, however, like any other year, it contains a considerably wider spectrum of color.

Click here to listen to my favorite songs from 1975 on Spotify.

  1. Average White Band, “Pick Up The Pieces”
  2. Silver Convention, “Fly Robin Fly”
  3. Earth, Wind & Fire, “Shining Star”
  4. Tavares, “It Only Takes A Minute”
  5. LaBelle, “Lady Marmalade”
  6. Bee Gees, “Jive Talkin’”
  7. The Pointer Sisters, “How Long (Betcha’ Got A Chick On The Side)”
  8. Disco Tex and His Sex-O-lettes, “Get Dancin’ (Part 1)”
  9. KC & The Sunshine Band, “That’s The Way (I Like It)”
  10. Donna Summer, “Love To Love You Baby”
  11. Electric Light Orchestra, “Evil Woman”
  12. The Spinners, “They Just Can’t Stop It The (Games People Play)”
  13. Dionne Warwick, “Once You Hit The Road”
  14. Elton John, “Philadelphia Freedom”
  15. Shirley & Company, “Shame, Shame, Shame”
  16. Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes, “Bad Luck”
  17. David Bowie, “Young Americans”
  18. The O’Jays, “I Love Music”
  19. 10cc, “I’m Not In Love”
  20. War, “Low Rider”
  21. Paul Simon, “50 Ways To Leave Your Lover”
  22. ABBA, “Hey Hey Helen”
  23. Richard & Linda Thompson, “Hokey Pokey”
  24. Fleetwood Mac, “Say You Love Me”
  25. Tim Curry, “Sweet Transvestite”
  26. Sparks, “Looks, Looks, Looks”
  27. Teach In, “Ding-A-Dong”
  28. Al Stewart, “Carol”
  29. Neil Young, “Tonight’s The Night”
  30. Dwight Tilley Band, “I’m On Fire”
  31. Pink Floyd, “Wish You Were Here”
  32. Steely Dan, “Everyone’s Gone To The Movies”
  33. Joni Mitchell, “Edith and The Kingpin”
  34. Patti Smith, “Gloria: In Excelsis Deo”
  35. Brian Eno, “The Big Ship”
  36. Heart, “Crazy On You”
  37. Sweet, “Fox On The Run”
  38. Wings, “Call Me Back Again”
  39. Bruce Springsteen, “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out”
  40. ZZ Top, “Tush”
  41. Led Zeppelin, “Kashmir”
  42. Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel, “Make Me Smile (Come Up and See Me)”
  43. Roxy Music, “Just Another High”
  44. Queen, “Bohemian Rhaspody”
  45. Dickie Goodman, “Mr. Jaws”

2019: Could This Be A Forgery?

2019 was kind of an amazing year for singles and tracks—so much that I thought about doing another countdown in addition to my top ten albums list. However, with the end of the decade approaching, I need to save some brain cells to assess that in a few weeks, so instead, here’s the annual playlist.

The first two songs are my favorites, both by new artists and completely out of left-field. Orville Peck is a queer, fringed-mask Canadian cowboy crooner, while Kelsey Lu is a Charlotte-born, African-American freak-folk original. Peck’s vocal on “Dead of Night” blatantly recalls Roy Orbison, Morrissey and Chris Isaak but when he shifts into his higher register on the chorus, it gives me chills like nothing Roy or Chris ever did (and like the Moz hasn’t in decades.) “Poor Fake”, on the other hand, instantly achieves soulful dancefloor splendor when the beat kicks in at 0:34 and approaches Kate Bush-levels of delightful eccentricity in its subject matter (counterfeit art) and bonkers spoken-word section.

Other discoveries this year: Cate Le Bon’s pleasant/peculiar avant-pop where at times her vocal recalls no one so much as Patti Smith (!); Weyes Blood’s own brand of avant-pop, as if Aimee Mann and Brian Eno had a daughter; Steve Lacy’s Prince-meets-Daryl Hall comedown; Maggie Rogers’ compulsively singable declaration of desire; Yola’s retro-baroque-complete-with-harpsichord-soul (“Faraway Look”, an inspired choice to conclude the rebooted, fourth season of Veronica Mars.)

Albums that nearly made my top ten (Vampire Weekend, Hot Chip, The Divine Comedy) are represented by their best songs, as are spottier full-lengths that were slight let-downs (Jenny Lewis, Marina (now “and the Diamonds”-free, to her detriment), Carly Rae Jepsen, The New Pornographers.) Also, more tracks not attached to an album at all: Sufjan Stevens’ released-for-Pride-month chillout anthem, another superb Jessie Ware single (when is that fourth album coming out?), an orphaned Florence + The Machine song preferable to anything on last year’s High As Hope, and best of all, another fantastic, delirious disco epic from Roisin Murphy, who actually released two of ’em this year—the other’s called “Incapable” and would also be here if I didn’t limit this playlist to one song per artist.

Go here to listen to my favorite tracks of 2019 on Spotify:

  1. Orville Peck, “Dead Of Night”
  2. Kelsey Lu, “Poor Fake”
  3. Vampire Weekend, “This Life”
  4. Robert Forster, “No Fame”
  5. Bat For Lashes, “Kids In The Dark”
  6. Tegan and Sara, “Hold My Breath Until I Die”
  7. Jenny Lewis, “Wasted Youth”
  8. Steve Lacy “Hate CD”
  9. Deerhunter, “What Happens To People?”
  10. Marina, “Handmade Heaven”
  11. Andrew Bird, “Manifest”
  12. Belle & Sebastian, “Sister Buddha”
  13. Cate Le Bon, “Home To You”
  14. Raphael Saadiq, “This World Is Drunk”
  15. Of Monsters and Men, “Wild Roses”
  16. Calexico & Iron & Wine, “Midnight Sun”
  17. Roisin Murphy, “Narcissus”
  18. Carly Rae Jepsen, “Want You In My Room”
  19. Lana Del Rey, “Norman Fucking Rockwell”
  20. Cigarettes After Sex, “Heavenly”
  21. Chromatics, “You’re No Good”
  22. The New Pornographers, “Falling Down The Stairs Of Your Smile”
  23. Guster, “Don’t Go”
  24. Jessie Ware, “Adore You”
  25. Holy Ghost!, “Heaven Forbid”
  26. The Divine Comedy, “Absolutely Obsolete”
  27. Weyes Blood, “Everyday”
  28. The Mountain Goats, “Younger”
  29. Hot Chip, “Spell”
  30. Yola, “Faraway Look”
  31. Alex Lahey, “Don’t Be So Hard On Yourself”
  32. Florence + The Machine, “Moderation”
  33. The Dream Syndicate, “Bullet Holes”
  34. Maggie Rogers, “Burning”
  35. Sufjan Stevens, “Love Yourself”
  36. Michael Kiwanuka, “Piano Joint (This Kind of Love)”
  37. Sharon Van Etten, “Seventeen”
  38. Charly Bliss, “Chatroom”
  39. Imperial Teen, “How To Say Goodbye”
  40. The National, “Light Years”

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”