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Top 25 Albums of 1977

These are the albums that continue to shine or have revealed a hidden luster along the way

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    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.

    (See: How 1977 Broke All the Rules and Changed Music Forever)

    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.

    –Matt Melis
    Editorial Director


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    elo out of the blue2 Top 25 Albums of 197725. 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


    leave home Top 25 Albums of 197724. 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


    simple dreams Top 25 Albums of 197723. 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


    damned damned damned Top 25 Albums of 197722. The Damned – Damned Damned Damned

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    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


    brian eno before and after science Top 25 Albums of 197721. 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


    lovegun Top 25 Albums of 197720. KISS – Love Gun

    Being a KISS fan means having to accept that, like most rock acts who strutted out of the ’70s, there’s an inherent sexual grossness to the lyrics. Luckily, the band’s kabuki makeup and comic book personas have always rendered them goofy as opposed to some kind of actual threat, and the hedonism would never be sillier or more specific than on Love Gun. Yes, the title track is probably about Paul Stanley’s cock. Going even further down the phallic rabbit hole, “Plaster Cater” pays tribute to a groupie famous for making an alginate cast of Gene Simmons’ cock— and other rock stars’ cocks. Despite the carnal cartoonery, Love Gun remains the hardest-rocking of KISS’ ’70s output and the proper conclusion to their six-album winning streak. After the release of all four members’ solo albums and the fracturing of the original lineup, the debauchery became less focused. For nearly a decade, though, we wanted the best and we damn well got it. –Dan Caffrey


    slowhand Top 25 Albums of 197719. Eric Clapton – Slowhand

    Long before Dad Rock was a thing, there was Eric Clapton’s Slowhand, an album that most, if not all, of our fathers owned and probably abused alongside bottles of bourbon, packs of Camels, and Hefty bags of cocaine. Look, there’s going to be a lot of talk about China White in these blurbs, at least by this writer, if only because these albums are so intrinsically tied to the substance. This one takes the whole cartel, though, as it opens with a titular theme song for the ages, a sonic fuckfest of woozy riffs and Clapton’s shaggy-carpet vocals. From there, it’s a cabin trip of rock ‘n’ roll as the six-string maestro earns his nickname by crocheting a delightful sweater of meditative rock, from “Wonderful Tonight” to “We’re All the Way” to “Looking at the Rain”. Just when you think he’s turned into Donovan, though, he tosses out an epic like “The Core”. Um, looks like we should have called him Sleight of Hand. –Michael Roffman


    david bowie heroes Top 25 Albums of 197718. David Bowie – “Heroes”

    David Bowie’s Berlin era produced one of the most enigmatic stretches of records in any discography, let alone the discography of one of the all-time greats. The center of those three albums, ”Heroes” may not have the grand adventure of its previous counterpart, Low, but it revels in the smaller moments and wide expanses in equal parts. The record honors the Krautrock influences that were a part of the reason Bowie decamped to Germany in the first place, with one song named after a member of Kraftwerk (“V-2 Schneider”) and the title itself referencing Neu!’s “Hero”. Pairing with Brian Eno and Robert Fripp and co-produced by Tony Visconti, ”Heroes” is Bowie embracing a moment in time and still somehow producing a masterpiece beyond time and space. –Lior Phillips


    r 223354 1381947085 7813 jpeg Top 25 Albums of 197717. Wire – Pink Flag

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    Over the course of the 21 songs on Wire’s highly influential debut LP, Pink Flag, only a trio of tunes cross the three-minute mark. The vast majority sit comfortably under two minutes, and a fair amount even manage to get their point across in less than one minute. It was a different shape of punk than that of the Ramones, less bounce-along anthems than flexing bursts of attitude. Wire still loved a good melody and didn’t feel married to a single temper, with their mere existence presupposing a post-punk before punk had even fully matured. It’s for these reasons that those that would follow, be it in hardcore or college rock or Britpop, would all be so inspired by the dial-switching style of Pink Flag. Much has been written about the definition of punk, but with Wire, the lack of rules was underscored. They might not have been as accessible as many of their peers, but managed to be every bit as inspirational. –Philip Cosores


    talking heads Top 25 Albums of 197716. Talking Heads – Talking Heads: 77

    The Talking Heads released three superb albums in the ‘70s, beginning with their debut, Talking Heads: 77. The record is an announcement of a wholly unique perspective on both pop and art; from the “Uh-Oh” in “Uh-Oh, Love Comes To Town”, it’s clear that David Byrne, Tina Weymouth, Chris Frantz, and Jerry Harrison were throwing something new into the mix. Instant classic “Psycho Killer” was just new wave pop enough to make a splash on the singles chart and just no wave enough to keep the art kids fascinated. 77 blazes a trail that Byrne and co. would push further in years to come, but the debut hits some astronomical heights in its deceptive simplicity and magnetic eccentricity.–Lior Phillips


     Top 25 Albums of 197715. Pink Floyd – Animals

    Long before our pigfuck of a president took office — he was busy marrying Ivana Trump, who was pregnant with his first devil child, Junior — Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters was already comparing politicians to swine. Fueled by an inherent love for George Orwell’s Animal Farm, the singer-songwriter swapped Stalinism for capitalism and the titular farm for the social-political landscape of late-’70s Britain. While the band maintained the spectral suites that made 1975’s Wish You Were Here so sprawling and epic, they brought the jams down to Earth for Animals, marrying the sonic textures with ultra-visceral storytelling, the likes of which would inform their following masterpiece, 1979’s The Wall. “With your head down in the pig bin/ Saying ‘Keep on digging’/ Pig stain on your fat chin,” Waters sings on “Pigs (Three Different Ones)”. “What do you hope to find down in the pig mine?” His feelings are further exacerbated by the six-string lassoing of David Gilmour, the keyboard wizardry of the late Richard Wright, and the eerie accoutrements of percussionist Nick Mason. It’s a furious blend that earns the album’s brilliant cover, which continues to haunt our politicians today. Or maybe just Trump. –Michael Roffman


    myaimistrue Top 25 Albums of 197714. Elvis Costello – My Aim Is True

    Chained to family life and ignored by every label in London, Nick Lowe and new label Stiff Records finally took a chance on a young Declan MacManus, first as a songwriter and then eventually as a recording artist dubbed Elvis Costello. The genius of My Aim Is True stems from Costello’s deep love and knowledge of all types of music, instilled in him by his musician father. Each song rings of a familiar style that Costello adapts for himself, mixing these sounds with a preternatural sense of melody and lyrics drawing from the frustrations of daily life. From the pain of pre-record deal Monday mornings (“Welcome to the Working Week”) and stress of being a provider (“Miracle Man”) to regretting the girl who got away (“Alison”) and fumbling on the couch as the disturbing politics of the day unfold (“Less Than Zero”), Costello spins the mundanity of young married life into a punk record that actually relates to the average listener. –Matt Melis


    iggy pop Top 25 Albums of 197713. Iggy Pop – Lust for Life

    After The Stooges’ second breakup and an attempt to kick his heroin habit, Iggy Pop released Lust for Life, produced by David Bowie, while in Berlin. With its tight production, punk rock base, and traces of Bowie’s melodic hand, the album is still hailed as Pop’s most successful solo-effort. Tracks like “Tonight” and “Turn Blue” take a surprisingly haunting turn in their depiction of drug abuse. On the other hand, “Lust for Life” — with its now-famous drum line pulled from Motown — acts as a lively rallying cry, full of vim and vigor. Though a touch more polished than the din of The Stooges, Lust for Life still thrashes in comparison to the soaring seventies soundscape. By 77, the punk scene was on fire. Taking cues from more art-driven punk acts like Television and Patti Smith, Lust for Life marks Pop’s move from proto-punk provocateur to a conscious, unabashed artist. –Carly Snider


    marquee moon Top 25 Albums of 197712. Television – Marquee Moon

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    Where much of the music from punk’s early days is notable for its grime and grit, Television’s debut album, Marquee Moon, stands in stark opposition. The band rehearsed extensively before recording the record and chose instead to draw in musical techniques associated with jazz and mainstream rock to get their points across. The result is a record as remarkable for its technical proficiency as it is for its refusal to play by the rules. Standing as the centerpiece is the 10-minute-plus title track that finds playful, battling guitars reaching celestial heights, but Marquee Moon often manages to impress through a singular vision from leader Tom Verlaine. Television created rock music that felt like the future, where they could pick and choose the best of what other subgenres were doing and package it into a product that sounded like nothing else. What they didn’t know at the time is that no one else would really be able to take Television’s vision much further. Sure, there would be combos like Thurston Moore and Lee Ranaldo or Jeff Tweedy and Nels Cline who would betray an influence from the group and recontextualize their accomplishments into new sounds, but it’s hard to find anyone that could make dual guitars work in tandem the way Television could. Decades later, Marquee Moon still sounds like the cutting edge, like a mystery we’re only just beginning to solve. –Philip Cosores


    steely dan Top 25 Albums of 197711. Steely Dan – Aja

    Steely Dan’s trick was always one of juxtaposition — impenetrable tales of lowlifes and science-fiction discord paired with pristine, rather pleasant-sounding (at times, rocking) musicality. On their masterpiece, Aja, Donald Fagen and the late, great Walter Becker pulled somewhat of an inverse, their jazz rock now so hard to play that it couldn’t help but be clinical. Not so for the lyrics. While the album’s characters aren’t always the best people, the loser in “Deacon Blues” is more sympathetic than, say, the pedophile in “Everyone’s Gone to the Movies”, if only for his self-awareness. Likewise, the source material for “Home at Last” (The Odyssey) and the prodigal hood in “Josie” are far more familiar to me than anything else in The Dan’s catalog. Aja isn’t just their coldest-sounding album — it’s their most relatable. –Dan Caffrey


    sex pistols never mind the bollocks Top 25 Albums of 197710. Sex Pistols – Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols

    With the occurrence of Queen Elizabeth’s Silver Jubilee, 1977 seemingly should have been a pretty patriotic year in England. Instead, it became knows as the year the monarchy was challenged through one of the most powerful forms of societal commentary — punk rock. Throughout their debut album Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols, the Sex Pistols honed a ferocious sense of abandonment in their music that would later go on to define the band’s career. Their sonically charged, delectably unapologetic commentary on England’s government shook up the country — so much so that their music was banned from radio and television. This, of course, only contributed to the growing public intrigue surrounding the band. With tracks such as “Anarchy in the U.K.” and “God Save the Queen”, Never Mind the Bollocks… revels in rebellion and reminds us that, at its core, rock ‘n’ roll is rooted in resistance. Though the Sex Pistols called it quits shortly after the album was released, they achieved widespread cultural influence despite having just one album to their name — an especially impressive feat when that one album is regarded as the pioneer of punk rock. –Lindsay Teske


    kraftwerk Top 25 Albums of 197709. Kraftwerk – Trans-Europe Express

    While 1978’s The Man-Machine may be more widely recognizable (thanks to that black and red cover), Trans-Europe Express is the peak of Kraftwerk’s ability to develop ultra-effective pop songwriting through intensely and intelligently layered synths decades ahead of their time. For that reason, it had a lingering impact on everything from Radiohead to Madonna. But, of course, its also the root of so much of modern electronic and dance music, equal parts expressionistic soundscape and body-moving mysticism. As synths and electronic music become more and more important, so too does Trans-Europe Express.–Lior Phillips


    billy joel Top 25 Albums of 197708. Billy Joel – The Stranger

    Apart from mixing in old hits during his highly successful solo tours and lucrative “face-to-face” performances with Elton John, Billy Joel has more or less drifted away from rock and roll over the last 25 years. However, if you dialed back the clock to the mid-‘70s, you’d find the young New York rock pianist still scratching for the limelight and doing all he could to shake labels like “soft rock” and “balladeer” in favor of his music being dubbed pure rock and roll. By the time 1977’s The Stranger got done saturating the airwaves and dominating the charts, Joel could call his music whatever the hell he liked. Mixing rock, jazz, and pop like nobody else, he lusted for Virginia (“Only the Good Die Young”), championed working-class life (“Movin’ Out (Anthony’s Song)”), and defended a new breed of modern woman (“She’s Always a Woman”), scoring hit after hit and unknowingly shaping classic rock and FM radio for the next 40 years in the process. –Matt Melis


    bobmarleyexodus Top 25 Albums of 197707. Bob Marley & The Wailers – Exodus

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    If ever a record has been culturally misappropriated, it’s Exodus, the ninth full-length from legend and reggae ambassador Bob Marley and his band, The Wailers. No doubt Marley, in spirit, would approve of the album being welcomed into as many homes as it has and further uniting people, but let’s be honest: far too often we’ve heard this album spun at Neanderthal frat parties, on drunken boat outings, and as a token bit of diversity in an otherwise whiter-than-white record collection. It’s a shame when you learn that Exodus directly followed a failed assassination attempt on Marley’s life, which led to him embracing more direct messages of hope, change, and politics. To listen to a song like opener “Natural Mystic” is to be called to the table of humanity in the same way that Bob Dylan summoned people with songs like “Blowin’ in the Wind” or “The Times They Are a-Changin’”. Part of the appeal of Exodus has always been that you can spin “Jamming”, burn one, and not think about a damn thing. Unfortunately, never has Marley given us more to contemplate and give a damn about. –Matt Melis


    the clash Top 25 Albums of 197706. The Clash – The Clash

    Let’s clarify things: There are a lot of bands out there that matter. It’s just that when you’re spinning a Clash record, all those other bands and their names seem to melt into one unidentifiable, forgettable blob. That ability to hold a mob’s attention already existed on the band’s 1977 self-titled debut. Disenchanted, fiercely melodic, and socially conscious, Joe Strummer’s barking and Mick Jones’ guitar work threaten to stage a sit-in or spark a riot on each and every track from the opening salvo of the rallying, disgruntled “Janie Jones” to the album’s closing pledge to not forget the band’s roots (“Garageland”). Forty years later, pressing play on any of these songs still feels like picking a fight in a pub with a guarantee of getting more than you bargained for. That a record this inventive still left the band unchartered places to go on London Calling remains a bloody miracle. –Matt Melis


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