When January 1978 began, I was 12 and far from a music freak. I owned a few bargain-bin Elvis Presley LPs that collected the King’s movie music along with his Golden Records collection, The Monkees Greatest Hits, a two-LP Donny & Marie collection and the soundtrack to The Spy Who Loved Me, along with a handful of singles by Jan & Dean. The untimely death of the king of rock ’n’ roll, Elvis Presley, in August ’77 kickstarted something, but most of my time was spent on other pursuits – TV, the movies, pro wrestling and comic books, primarily.
America, that winter, was limping along: 1977 ended with unemployment at 7.1 percent and inflation at 6.5 percent. Jimmy Carter was president. The biggest movie of the previous year was Star Wars, and other popular films included Smokey & the Bandit, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, The Goodbye Girl, The Spy Who Loved Me and Saturday Night Fever. The last film, thanks to its Bee Gees-laden soundtrack, pushed the disco craze over the top.
The Bee Gees eventually became one of the main targets of the disco backlash, but at the crack of dawn on January 1st, 1978 – a Sunday – they were ensconced atop the charts with “How Deep Is Your Love.”
“Baby Come Back” by Player would displace it a week later, but no matter – by the start of the next month, they’d be at No. 1 again with “Stayin’ Alive.” Other popular songs that New Year included Linda Ronstadt’s “Blue Bayou,” Dolly Parton’s “Here You Come Again,” Debby Boone’s “You Light Up My Life,” Paul Simon’s “Slip-Sliding Away”…and Shaun Cassidy’s “Hey Deanie.” (The year’s week-by-week charts can be found here.)
Not that you’d know any of that from this issue of Trouser Press. Billed as “America’s Only British Rock Magazine,” it opens with a note from editor-in-chief Ira A. Robbins: “For those of us permanently afflicted with a fascination for the rock ’n’ roll business (as something totally detached from the music), this is an amazingly interesting time to be alive. The first attempts by U.S. companies to import new wave bands are vying with and against home-grown groups trying to win acceptance in their own backyards. The first half of 1978 is the make-or-break time for p*nk rock in America because U.S. companies know their limits when it comes to developing new trends in music: they’ll go as far as it takes to decide how much (or little) money there is to be made, and base their future involvement on the early results.”
There’s also a reader’s poll of the best LPs of all time. Who’s Next tops it, followed by Ziggy Stardust, the White Album, Sgt. Pepper and…The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway by Genesis?! Genesis scores an impressive three additional albums on the list, too, including the Gabriel-less A Trick of the Tail; solo Gabriel scores one, too. I’ve never been much of a Genesis fan, but that seems about right for that time and place. Some punk/new wave make the cut, too, but so does – as evidenced by the Gabriel-era Genesis – a preponderance of progressive rock. ELP’s Brain Salad Surgery rates higher than the Clash’s self-titled debut. (To see the entire list, click on the image.)
Anyway, onward to today’s Top 5: January 1978 (circa Trouser Press).
1) Suzi Quatro – “Devil Gate Drive.” My introduction to Suzi Quatro wasn’t that different from most of America: on consecutive Tuesday nights in November 1977, when she guest starred on Happy Days. The Detroit-born rocker found success in England in the early/mid ‘70s, and would score a hit in the U.S. in 1979 with “Stumblin’ In,” but – for a generation of kids – she’ll always be known as Leather Tuscadero, the kid sister of Fonzie’s one-time flame Pinkie.
2) The Jam – “In the City.” There’s an excellent article about the Brit band by Robbins. It opens with: “Try calling Paul Weller of the Jam a punk rocker, and find out how icy a cold stare can be. The intense young man who fulfills the Townshend role in England’s only mod new wave band has very definite ideas about the Jam, and punkdom plays no part therein.”
3) Graham Parker & the Rumour – “Stick to Me.” Parker sits for an interview about his third album, Stick to Me. The initial, month-long recordings for the album had to be scrapped due to a serious mishap, as the rocker explains: “We did the whole thing and it sounded absolutely great. When we went to mix it, the power didn’t come out. We went to another studio and they said there’s something wrong with the bottom frequencies, some fault with the studio.” So back into the studio they went, with Nick Lowe as producer, and they banged out the album in about a week.
The interviewer, Jon Young, mentions that he hears Motown influences on the first two albums. Parker agrees, to an extent: “Definitely the power of some of that stuff. I mean, you couldn’t say we sounded like a soul band, but the dynamics of that are something we learned.”
“I think it’s much more valid than Bruce Springsteen,” comments Young.
“I don’t know about that,” responds Parker. “I’m a fan of his. I can’t wait for his new album, whenever he gets it together. He’s done loads of tracks.” (That album-in-the-making, of course, was Darkness on the Edge of Town.)
4) David Bowie – “Heroes.” John Walker delves deep into Bowie and Bowie lore in his review of the Heroes album, opening with: “If David Bowie ever conceded that his origins were extraterrestrial, I think the announcement would carry about as much impact as his earlier admission of his own bisexuality. People would ‘ooooh’ and ‘ahhhh’ for a bit, then it would be cool to admit that you were from another planet; finally the Western world would assimilate the outer space culture. Eventually Bloomingdale’s would offer a line of antennae.”
Of the song “Heroes,” he writes that it “could be Dream #1. It too offers no promise of physical permanence – ‘Though nothing will keep us together/we can beat them/for ever and ever’ – but ‘we can be Heroes/just for one day.’ The persistent set of quotation marks surrounding the title indicates some sort of neo-realistic perspective that acknowledges a context greatest that the world of celebrities.”
The review ends with: “I suggest you buy two copies. Listen to one and bury the other in the garden. See what happens.”
5) The Clash – “White Riot.” In Brian Hoggs’ “Ramblings” column, he mentions/reviews a Clash concert. “…Joe Strummer had spent most of the day in bed, trying to shake a throat infection. (He’d collapsed twice the night before in Glasgow.) It was a miracle that the show was on; two other places had refused to let the Clash play. But they came; Joe screamed ‘London’s Burning’ and everything else was forgotten. Mick Jones’s guitar work gets better and better, spitting and spilling solos. Paul Simonon’s bass is tight and Nicky Headon is a perfect drummer for the group, forcing and cutting into the rhythm. But your eyes fall back on Strummer. Sometimes he plays guitar, smashing into the sound, sometimes he doesn’t, but leans and screams into the mike. Sometimes he stands just stares and twinkles.”
The piece concludes thusly: “The Clash finished their set with a ‘White Riot’ that had eight times the power of the album and single version put together. It showed how far the group as progressed even with their older material. It also reminded me of when the 45 first came out and how the Clash has possibly become the most vital and exciting British group in years.”