1977: Thunder In The Afternoon

The year of RumoursStar Wars and Saturday Night Fever (all represented!) but also so much more. For one thing, punk very much becomes a thing in ‘77—not on American Top 40 but certainly in the UK, where The Clash and The Sex Pistols lead the charge and leave room for a bevy of weirdos (from XTC to X-Ray Spex) who would come to shape and define what we now call new wave (or post-punk if you prefer.) In addition to OG punks The Ramones putting out their second and third albums, you can also hear the stirrings of this new genre bubbling up in fellow yanks Talking Heads and Television; France also has its say with Plastic Bertrand’s cheeky one-off, which smashes the 50s, 60s and 70s together until it resembles punk.

Even before Travolta transformed into a silver screen, white-suited icon at year’s end, disco was arguably at its creative peak. The extended dance remix, popularized by Donna Summer the previous year nearly dominates this playlist, from Santa Esmeralda’s epic flamenco-disco take on an Animals song and Belle Epoque’s quirky fiddle-laced take on the genre (when I first heard those intro vocals, I thought I’d put on Joan Jett or Suzi Quatro by mistake) to Cerrone’s proto-hi-NRG anthem and, of course, Summer’s own synthetic, predicting-the-‘80s-and-beyond masterpiece “I Feel Love”.

And yet, “Marquee Moon” remains the longest track here, for the post-punkers and prog-rockers felt more comfortable taking their time as well. By then, you expected six-minute mood pieces from the likes of Supertramp and newly solo Peter Gabriel, perhaps even Brian Eno too (“Julie With…” serenely drifts in and gradually coalesces only to gently fade into the ether.) But Steely Dan? Making the title track of their best-selling LP an eight-minute tone poem almost jazzy enough for fusion-era Miles Davis? And endurable enough for me to first hear on classic rock radio on a chilly Saturday afternoon in early 1993?

Balancing out other big hits from rockers (ELO, Heart, the unsinkable Meatloaf), MOR-ers (Jimmy Buffett, Commodores, ABBA) and dancers (Chic, KC, Marvin Gaye and the most perfect disco single of all time from Thelma Houston) are the relatively lesser-known gems: Joan Armatrading’s rhythmic folk, a track from Leonard Cohen’s Phil Spector-produced LP (mostly included for its title, but whatta title), ex-Beach Boy Dennis Wilson’s attempt to make his own Nilsson Schmilsson and Bobbie Gentry, who recorded a few tracks around this time that didn’t see the light of the day until much later. “Thunder In The Afternoon” sounds very little like her 1967-74 catalog but it’s so full of promise it leaves one wondering what else she could’ve done had she kept releasing albums well into the next decade or three.

My 1977 Playlist: