Decades is a recurring feature that turns back the clock to critical anniversaries of albums, songs, and films. This month, we dial it back to the top 25 albums of 1977.
No year is ever insignificant. However, we do have a habit of writing off years, even decades, as being dead periods — spans where creativity slumped and art bore the brunt. We also toss around terms like golden age or golden era to mark both chronology and a certain perception of quality. As time accumulates in our collective rearviews, we have the luxury of slowing down, hitting the brakes, and sometimes even backing up for a moment. We examine our past and sometimes find a patina on what was once thought golden or something glistening through the cracks of what once seemed trashy, ephemeral, and destined for the pop cultural ash heap.
Looking back at 1977, how little they could’ve known about what would matter far, far away in 2017 or even in the interim. It’s why time so often makes fools of criticism. We can’t tell the future, nor can we always predict what we’ll feel about a song or album tomorrow, let alone 40 years from now. To the ’77 state of mind, this list must be full of affirming nods, outright surprises, and glaring omissions. To us, it’s a testament to a golden era for so many types of music. In that spirit, these are the albums from 1977 that continue to shine or have revealed a hidden luster along the way. Read on and shine on.
25. Electric Light Orchestra – Out of the Blue
ELO released Out of the Blue not even two weeks after Steely Dan’s Aja, making 1977 a banner year for musical perfectionists. But where The Dan’s studio-rat methodology was always in the name of a sardonic kind of wit, Jeff Lynne wrote, played, and arranged, arranged, arranged with nothing but sincerity. It’s why there’s an entire concerto here dedicated to a rainy day — a rainy day that ends in one of ELO’s most famous and uplifting songs, “Mr. Blue Sky”, no less. Lynn’s spaceship could easily flood with sap if his tastes weren’t so eccentric, pulling from the happiest parts of disco, Britpop, and The Beach Boys, then weirding up the works with cybernetic vocals and sound design worthy of an Orson Welles radio play. It’s rare that optimistic pop music sounds so wonderful and strange. –Dan Caffrey
24. Ramones – Leave Home
Between 1976 and 1978, the Ramones would release four albums of primarily original material, quickly honing a craft that was very much at the forefront of inventing the punk rock wheel. Their second album, Leave Home, demonstrated that a bigger budget and more professional recording environment wouldn’t strip the band of their bratty edge. As songwriters, the Ramones embraced their obsession with the pop music of their youth, dressing it up in leather jackets and rolling around in the gutter for their grimy fans. For anyone who could see past the aesthetic, Leave Home was a firm declaration of the band’s place within the music canon, even if the band itself wasn’t considering anything that lofty at the time. And it allowed the album’s most adventurous moments — the fist-shaking “Pinhead”, the swinging harmonies of “Oh Oh I Love Her So” — to both contextualize the Ramones within the punk rock movement and to stretch the definition of what could be considered punk. For a band that released so much music within such a short amount of time, Ramones are special in that it all served a purpose and all aged incredibly. –Philip Cosores
23. Linda Rondstadt – Simple Dreams
It’s easy to focus on Simple Dreams for its commercial success. As Linda Ronstadt’s eighth album, it managed to knock Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours from the top of the Billboard charts after an unprecedented 29 weeks and would later earn a Grammy nomination for Record of the Year for its standout, “Blue Bayou”. But numbers and accolades aside, Simple Dreams cements Ronstadt in a special place that defied genre constraints in a way that was particularly ’70s. She could evoke both Echo Park and Montana on neighboring songs, dueting with Dolly Parton in one moment and singing the lyrics of Mick Jagger the next. It’s fitting that one of the album’s best moments, her exuberant vocals on the rollicking Warren Zevon-penned “Poor, Poor Pitiful Me”, could fit easily next to Lindsey Buckingham’s contributions on Rumours, even if it did go on to become a country music tent pole. With a voice that drifts seamlessly from mournful to ferocious, Ronstadt refused to be a single thing on this standout record. She contained multitudes. –Philip Cosores
22. The Damned – Damned Damned Damned
Even if they’re not accounted for in the family record collection, punk bands like Ramones, The Clash, and Sex Pistols are probably familiar names in many households. It’s less likely The Damned will ring as many bells, though, despite the fact that they were on the forefront of the British punk scene. In fact, their debut single, “New Rose”, put out on Stiff Fingers by Nick Lowe, beat out the Sex Pistols for the first punk single released in the UK by just over a month. This discrepancy in notoriety might merely be a matter of marketing. Looking at album covers and band attire, we have the Ramones in leather jackets, blue jeans, and sneakers; The Clash sporting more working-class fashions; and the Sex Pistols appearing as though the revolution has already begun. Look at The Damned, however, and, well, what do faces full of unidentified white goop (it’s cream pies) suggest? As for the record itself, Damned Damned Damned can stand up to any other punk album on this list, songs like “Neat Neat Neat” and “New Rose” spinning as fast, wild, and reckless as any of the band’s better-known contemporaries. Damn, damn, damn, indeed. –Matt Melis
21. Brian Eno – Before and After Science
Brian Eno has made a prominent mark in both the ambient world and the upper echelons of rock ‘n’ roll — and his 1977 solo album, Before and After Science sits as an intersection between the two. The record features contributions from German experimentalists Can and Cluster as well as members of English folk and rock outfits like Fairport Convention and former bandmates Roxy Music. More than its guests, the record’s ability to split the difference results in remarkable efforts like “King’s Lead Hat” (an anagram of Talking Heads, which offers an idea of what to expect). Though Eno is often known for heady abstraction, Before and After Science makes a personal, approachable impact and wins in its subtleties. –Lior Phillips