47 Awesome Albums from ’77, Vol. 2

  • Going for the One – Yes

CHART POSITION: #8 in the US, #1 in the UK, top ten in six other countries

SINGLES: “Wonderous Stories”, “Going for the One”

MY FAVORITE TRACKS: “Turn of the Century”, “Parallels”, “Wonderous Stories”

FUN FACT: “Turn of the Century” is about a sculptor named Roan whose wife dies; in his grief, Roan creates a statue of her – and brings her back to life. The song was inspired by Puccini’s opera La bohème and the Greek myth of Pygmalion, who fell in love with a statue he carved out of ivory. Pygmalion was also the basis for George Bernard Shaw’s 1913 play Pygmalion and its musical adaptation My Fair Lady.

  • The Grand Illusion – Styx

CHART POSITION: #6 in the US, #49 in Australia

SINGLES: “Come Sail Away”, “Fooling Yourself (The Angry Young Man)” 

MY FAVORITE TRACKS: “The Grand Illusion”, “Come Sail Away”, “Miss America”, “Man in the Wilderness”

FUN FACT: “Come Sail Away” features in the pilot episode of my all-time favorite television series, Freaks and Geeks. Our hero Sam has finally gotten up the nerve to ask his crush Cindy for a slow dance and they make their way to the dance floor – just as the music speeds up.

  • My Aim is True – Elvis Costello

CHART POSITION: #32 in the US, #14 in the UK

SINGLES: “Less Than Zero”, “Alison”, “(The Angels Wanna Wear My) Red Shoes”

MY FAVORITE TRACKS: All of the above, plus “Welcome to the Working Week”, “Waiting for the End of the World”, “Watching the Detectives”

FUN FACT: Costello’s backing band Clover could not be credited on My Aim is True for contractual reasons. Clover was an American country-rock band that consisted of future members of Huey Lewis and the News, The Doobie Brothers, and Toto.

  • Chicago XI – Chicago

CHART POSITION: #6 in the US, #17 in Australia

SINGLES: “Baby, What a Big Surprise”, “Little One”, “Take Me Back to Chicago”

MY FAVORITE TRACKS: “Mississippi Delta City Blues”, “Take Me Back to Chicago”, “Takin’ It on Uptown”

FUN FACT: Chicago XI was the last Chicago album to feature Terry Kath, who died from an accidental self-inflicted gunshot wound just four months after the album’s release. The band nearly broke up after Kath’s death but they decided to carry on, hiring session guitarist Donnie Dacus to replace Kath.

  • Talking Heads: 77 – Talking Heads

CHART POSITION: #97 in the US, #60 in the UK

SINGLES: “Uh-Oh, Love Comes to Town”, “Psycho Killer”, “Pulled Up”

MY FAVORITE TRACKS: “Tentative Decisions”, “No Compassion”, “Don’t Worry About the Government”, “Psycho Killer”, “Pulled Up”, “Love → Building on Fire”

FUN FACT: “Love → Building on Fire”, Talking Heads’ first single, was released about seven months before Talking Heads: 77 but didn’t appear on the album until a 2005 reissue.

Talking Heads were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in their first year of eligibility, 25 years after the release of Talking Heads: 77
  • Aja – Steely Dan

CHART POSITION: #3 in the US, #5 in the UK

SINGLES: “Peg”, “Deacon Blues”, “Josie”

MY FAVORITE TRACKS: All of the above, plus “Black Cow”, “Aja”

FUN FACT: Aja is the third album on my list to have been nominated for the 1977 Album of the Year Grammy (along with James Taylor’s JT and Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours, both of which were included in the first volume of this post). Aja did win the Grammy for Best Engineered Recording, Non-Classical; Steely Dan’s music won the same award twice more in the next four years, for their 1978 single “FM (No Static At All)” and their 1980 album Gaucho.

  • The Stranger – Billy Joel

CHART POSITION: #2 in the US, Australia, Canada, and New Zealand, #24 in the UK

SINGLES: “Just the Way You Are”, “Movin’ Out (Anthony’s Song)”, “The Stranger”, “Only the Good Die Young”, “She’s Always a Woman”

MY FAVORITE TRACKS: All of the above, plus “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant” and “Vienna”

FUN FACT: The Stranger is stacked with five top-forty hits and popular album tracks like “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant” and “Vienna”, but it was far from a sure thing. Joel had failed to capitalize on the success of his second album, Piano Man; Streetlife Serenade and Turnstiles, his third and fourth albums, were commercial disappointments and Columbia Records was prepared to drop Joel from the label if his next album wasn’t a hit. Feeling the pressure, Joel hired legendary producer Phil Ramone, whom he would work with through 1986’s The Bridge. The Stranger ultimately became Columbia’s best-selling album ever, with more than ten million copies sold.

  • Flowing Rivers – Andy Gibb

CHART POSITION: #19 in the US, #25 in Australia

SINGLES: “I Just Want to Be Your Everything”, “Love Is (Thicker Than Water)”

MY FAVORITE TRACKS: “I Just Want to Be Your Everything”, “Words and Music”, “Love Is (Thicker Than Water)”, “Flowing Rivers”, “In the End”

FUN FACT: The Brothers Gibb had a very, very good year in 1977. The Bee Gees helped craft the soundtrack for Saturday Night Fever, and baby brother Andy released his debut album. Barry Gibb co-wrote and provided harmony vocals for Flowing Rivers‘ two #1 hits, “I Just Want to Be Your Everything” and “Love Is (Thicker Than Water)”. But another artist that you might not guess also appears on both tracks: Eagle Joe Walsh. Flowing Waters was recorded at Miami’s Criteria Studios in the fall of 1976, at the same time the Eagles were recording Hotel California. Gibb borrowed Walsh for a day to lay down guitar tracks for the two songs.

  • In Color – Cheap Trick

CHART POSITION: #73 in the US, #93 in Australia

SINGLES: “I Want You to Want Me”, “Southern Girls”

MY FAVORITE TRACKS: “Big Eyes”, “I Want You to Want Me”, “Oh Caroline”, “Come On, Come On”

FUN FACT: “I Want You to Want Me” didn’t chart in the US upon its initial release in 1977 – but it went to number one in Japan. The group’s success in Japan paved the way for a series of concerts at the Nippon Budokan in Tokyo, where Cheap Trick recorded a live album – the imaginatively titled Cheap Trick at Budokan – that went on to be the band’s best-selling album. The live version of “I Want You to Want Me” was released in the US in 1979; this time, the song made it into the top ten.

  • Simple Dreams – Linda Ronstadt

CHART POSITION: #1 in the US, Australia, and Canada

SINGLES: “Blue Bayou”, “It’s So Easy”, “Poor Poor Pitiful Me”, “Tumbling Dice”, “I Never Will Marry”

MY FAVORITE TRACKS: All of the above, plus “Carmelita”

FUN FACT: At the time, Simple Dreams was the second-best-selling album ever by a female artist, after Carole King’s Tapestry. Ronstadt also became the first female artist to have two singles in the top five at the same time, with “Blue Bayou” and “It’s So Easy”.

  • Lust for Life – Iggy Pop

CHART POSITION: #120 in the US, #28 in the UK

SINGLES: “Success / The Passenger”

MY FAVORITE TRACKS: “Lust for Life”, “Some Weird Sin”, “The Passenger”, “Neighborhood Threat”

FUN FACT: As he did with “China Girl” off Pop’s other 1977 album, The Idiot (featured in volume one of this list), co-producer David Bowie later recorded his own version of a song he wrote with Pop. “Tonight” was the title track to Bowie’s 1984 follow-up to Let’s Dance.

  • Out of the Blue – Electric Light Orchestra

CHART POSITION: Top five in eight countries, including the US, the UK, Canada, and Australia

SINGLES: “Turn to Stone”, “Mr. Blue Sky”, “Sweet Talkin’ Woman”, “Wild West Hero”, “It’s Over”

MY FAVORITE TRACKS: All of the above, plus “Standin’ in the Rain”, “Sweet is the Night”

FUN FACT #1: Out of the Blue‘s liner notes credit some highly unusual instruments for a pop record, including violins and cellos, a gong, a Wurlitzer piano, and – I am not making this up – a fire extinguisher. It was also one of the first albums to extensively use the vocoder, a speech decoder/synthesizer; the vocoder appears on the singles “Sweet Talkin’ Woman” and “Mr. Blue Sky”.

  • Point of Know Return – Kansas

CHART POSITION: #4 in the US, #7 in Canada

SINGLES: “Point of Know Return”, “Dust in the Wind”, “Portrait (He Knew)”

MY FAVORITE TRACKS: All of the above, plus “Paradox” and “Hopelessly Human”

FUN FACT: “Dust in the Wind”, Kansas’ most iconic song, was inspired by biblical passages from the books of Genesis and Ecclesiastes as well as the opening lines of the Japanese war epic The Tale of the Heike (“…the mighty fall at last, and they are as dust before the wind“).

  • “Heroes” – David Bowie

CHART POSITION: #35 in the US, #3 in the UK

SINGLES: “Heroes / V-2 Schneider”, “Beauty and the Beast / Sense of Doubt”

MY FAVORITE TRACKS: All of the above, plus “Sons of the Silent Age” and “Blackout”

FUN FACT: After “Rebel Rebel”, “Heroes” is David Bowie’s most commonly covered song. A 1998 version by The Wallflowers appeared on the Godzilla soundtrack. Peter Gabriel, whose solo debut was highlighted in volume one of this list, recorded a gorgeous stripped-down version of “Heroes” for his 2010 album of covers, Scratch My Back. And after Bowie’s 2016 death, “Heroes” tributes were performed by artists like Lady Gaga, Blondie, and Prince.

One of my all-time favorite needle drops occurs in chapter three of Stranger Things, “Holly, Jolly”, with an emotional scene set to Peter Gabriel’s haunting version of “Heroes”.
  • Street Survivors – Lynyrd Skynyrd

CHART POSITION: #5 in the US, #13 in the UK, #3 in Canada

SINGLES: “What’s Your Name”, “That Smell”, “You Got That Right”

MY FAVORITE TRACKS: All of the above

FUN FACT: Ronnie Van Zant wrote “That Smell”, which includes the lyric “The smell of death surrounds you”, about the rampant drug and alcohol abuse some of his bandmates were engaging in. But the song took on a whole new meaning when, three days after Street Survivors was released, the band’s plane ran out of fuel and crashed near Gillsburg, Mississippi, killing Van Zant, guitarist Steve Gaines, backing vocalist Cassie Gaines, assistant road manager Dean Kilpatrick, pilot Walter McCreary, and co-pilot William Gray (and seriously injuring many of the twenty survivors).

  • Bat Out of Hell – Meat Loaf

CHART POSITION: #14 in the US, #9 in the UK, #1 in Australia and New Zealand

SINGLES: “You Took the Words Right Out of My Mouth (Hot Summer Night)”, “Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad”, “Paradise by the Dashboard Light”, “All Revved Up with No Place to Go”, “Bat Out of Hell”

MY FAVORITE TRACKS: That about covers it.

FUN FACT: The album’s genesis was a musical called Neverland, a futuristic rock & roll take on Peter Pan, which songwriter Jim Steinman workshopped in 1974. Steinman and Meat Loaf agreed that three of the songs – “Bat Out of Hell”, “Heaven Can Wait” and “The Formation of the Pack” (which became “All Revved Up with No Place to Go”) – were good enough to record. They were rejected by every major label and finally signed with upstart indie Cleveland International Records. Producer Todd Rundgren thought the album was hilarious; he was certain Steinman had written a Springsteen parody (nope, Steinman was 100% sincere). For his part, Meat Loaf called Rundgren “the only genuine genius I’ve ever worked with.”

  • Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols – The Sex Pistols

CHART POSITION: #106 in the US, #1 in the UK

SINGLES: “Anarchy in the U.K.”, “God Save the Queen”, “Pretty Vacant”, “Holidays in the Sun”

MY FAVORITE TRACKS: All of the above, plus “Bodies” and “E.M.I.”

FUN FACT: The Sex Pistols only released one album in their brief but glorious life span, but it’s one of the most influential albums of all time. Kurt Cobain was a huge fan, and Nirvana named their second album Nevermind in the Pistols’ honor.

The Sex Pistols were eligible for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2002, 25 years after the release of Never Mind the Bullocks…, but they weren’t inducted until 2006. Naturally, they refused to attend the ceremony. Jann Wenner unironically reading John Lydon’s letter is absolutely hilarious.
  • News of the World – Queen

CHART POSITION: #3 in the US, #4 in the UK, top ten in eight other countries

SINGLES: “We Are the Champions / We Will Rock You”, “Spread Your Wings”, “It’s Late”

MY FAVORITE TRACKS: All of the above, plus “Fight From the Inside” and “Who Needs You”

FUN FACT: Queen recorded News of the World at Wessex Studios, where The Sex Pistols were recording Never Mind the Bullocks…, leading to several interactions between the two bands. An infamous exchange occurred when Sid Vicious stumbled into Queen’s studio and asked (referencing a recent article in New Musical Express), “Have you succeeded in bringing ballet to the masses yet?”. Freddie Mercury replied, “We’re doing our best, dear” and referred to Vicious as “Simon Ferocious”. As always, Freddie Mercury for the win.

  • Here You Come Again – Dolly Parton

CHART POSITION: #20 in the US (#1 on the country album chart), #12 in Canada

SINGLES: “Here You Come Again”, “Two Doors Down”, “It’s All Wrong, But It’s All Right”, “Me and Little Andy”

MY FAVORITE TRACKS: All of the above, plus “Baby Come Out Tonight” and “Sweet Music Man”

FUN FACT: Both the album and the title track were huge pop crossover successes for Parton, who was predominantly known as a country artist to that point. The single spent five weeks at #1 on the country chart and peaked at #3 on the Billboard Hot 100 (it was her biggest pop hit until 1980’s “9 to 5”). “Here You Come Again” also earned Parton the Grammy Award for Best Female Country Vocal Performance.

  • Slowhand – Eric Clapton

CHART POSITION: #2 in the US, #3 in the UK

SINGLES: “Lay Down Sally”, “Wonderful Tonight”, “Cocaine”

MY FAVORITE TRACKS: “Lay Down Sally, “Cocaine”

FUN FACT: “Wonderful Tonight” and The Beatles’ “Something” share the same subject: Pattie Boyd, whom George Harrison married in 1966 and divorced in 1977. In 1979, Boyd married Harrison’s good friend Eric Clapton. Clapton’s “Layla” and “Bell Bottom Blues” are also about Boyd (Clapton and Boyd divorced in 1989).

  • Running on Empty – Jackson Browne

CHART POSITION: #3 in the US

SINGLES: “Running on Empty”, “The Load-Out/Stay”

MY FAVORITE TRACKS: “Running on Empty”, “The Road”, “Shaky Town”, “The Load-Out”, “Stay”

FUN FACT #1: Running on Empty‘s songs all revolve around life on the road, and all of the songs were recorded while Browne was on tour, either live on stage or in locations associated with touring, such as backstage, in a hotel room, or on a tour bus. For example, “Cocaine” and “Shaky Town” were recorded in room 124 of the Holiday Inn in Edwardsville, Illinois, and “Nothing But Time” was recorded “on a bus somewhere in New Jersey”. By the way, “Cocaine”, written by blues artist Rev. Gary Davis with additional lyrics by Browne and Glenn Frey, is unrelated to Eric Clapton’s “Cocaine”.

FUN FACT #2: “The Load-Out”, Browne’s gorgeous ode to his roadies and fans, and “Stay” are technically two separate tracks, but they blend together seamlessly and are often played as a medley on the radio.

  • ABBA: The Album – ABBA

CHART POSITION: #14 in the US, #1 in five countries including the UK, New Zealand, and the band’s native Sweden

SINGLES: “The Name of the Game”, “Take a Chance on Me”, “Eagle/Thank You for the Music”

MY FAVORITE TRACKS: “Take a Chance on Me”, “The Name of the Game”, “Hole in Your Soul”, “Thank You for the Music”, “I’m a Marionette”

FUN FACT #1: In spite of the fact that Western music was actively discouraged in Eastern Europe at the time, ABBA: The Album sold a million copies in Poland, using up the country’s entire allocation of foreign currency. In the US, it was the third-best-selling album of 1978, after the soundtracks for Saturday Night Fever and Grease.

FUN FACT #2: A 1992 EP titled Abba-esque featured the best ABBA cover of all time, Erasure’s “Take a Chance on Me”.

  • Eddie Money – Eddie Money

CHART POSITION: #37 in the US, #24 in Canada

SINGLES: “Baby Hold On”, “Two Tickets to Paradise”, “You’ve Really Got a Hold on Me”

MY FAVORITE TRACKS: All of the above, plus “Wanna Be a Rock ‘n’ Roll Star” and “Don’t Worry”

FUN FACT: Money toiled for almost a decade in Bay Area bars before being discovered by rock impresario Bill Graham and signed to Graham’s Columbia imprint Wolfgang Records.

  • Pink Flag – Wire

CHART POSITION: N/A

SINGLES: None

MY FAVORITE TRACKS: “Three Girl Rhumba”, “Lowdown”, “Pink Flag”, “Strange”

FUN FACT: In true punk fashion, seventeen of Pink Flag‘s twenty-one songs clock in under 2:30.

Elastica borrowed the opening riff of “Three Girl Rhumba” for their killer 1995 single “Connection”
R.E.M. recorded a cover of “Strange” for their 1987 commercial breakthrough Document
  • Suicide – Suicide

CHART POSITION: N/A

SINGLES: “Cheree”

MY FAVORITE TRACKS: “Ghost Rider”, “Johnny”

FUN FACT: “Frankie Teardrop” was inspired by the real-life story of a factory worker who lost his job (and his mind), murdered his wife and child and committed suicide. Lead singer Alan Vega used a method approach to the song, putting himself into the mindset of the killer and improvising the lyrics – as well as the blood-curdling screams, wails, and moans. It’s disturbing as fuck, which of course is precisely the point. In his book 31 Songs, Nick Hornby proclaimed that “Frankie Teardrop” is the kind of song you want to listen to “only once” (he’s not wrong). In 2017, Henry Rollins described the song as  “the single most intense song I’ve ever heard in my life”. And Lou Reed once lamented that he wished he’d written “Frankie Teardrop”.

“Frankie Teardrop” was the inspiration for Bruce Springsteen’s song “State Trooper” off his bleak as fuck album Nebraska

And finally, here’s the updated 1977 playlist:

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