This is it. The year a youth numbed by corporate rockers and disco diversions got a stiff arm shot by punk at the peak of its vitality. In actuality, the movement only appealed to a very small portion of the populace (particularly in the U.S.) and the first wave was over almost as soon as it began. Still, the detritus remains staggering. Not all of 1977’s great records were made by punks, but almost all of them were infused with the fresh spirit mined from this controversial new form of expression. Many of Rock & Roll’s greatest records were released in 1977 (as well as what may be its most overrated one. You’ll know the one I mean by its absence from the following list). Certainly it is an unchallenged year for great debuts. On the 60th anniversary of Joe Strummer’s birth, let’s look at 13 of the best releases from one of Rock’s most crucial years.
13. “Heroes” by David Bowie
12. Pink Flag by Wire
11. In the City by The Jam
10. Talking Heads: ‘77 by Talking Heads
9. Rough Mix by Pete Townshend and Ronnie Lane
8. & 7. Cheap Trick & In Color by Cheap Trick
An interesting byproduct of the back-to basics spirit of ’77 was renewed productivity. While Fleetwood Mac were spending the better part of a year toiling over Rumours, bands like The Ramones, The Damned, and Cheap Trick each spat out two records apiece in 1977. That kind of thing had basically been unheard of since the mid-‘60s, when a group like The Beach Boys could churn out as many as three L.P.s in a year. Cheap Trick’s ability to put out their first—and best—two albums in the same year is particularly appropriate since they so beautifully recapture the refreshing pop of the ‘60s, while sieving their glorious melodies and harmonies through a rough grate of ‘70s irony and snarling attitude. Their eponymous debut is unquestionably the year’s best power pop album; too harmonious and intricate to be deemed punk, too streamlined and unpretentious to fall in the lumbering footsteps of the decade’s corporate rockers. As such, Cheap Trick was a real rarity in 1977. No other pure pop group was willing to exploit pedophilia, suicide, man-whoring, and serial murder as subject matter for potential hit songs. Of course, Cheap Trick was not a hit, nor was its follow-up, which scaled back some of the lyrical mania and upped the sweetness for such near bubble-gum confections as “I Want You to Want Me”, “Southern Girls”, and “Come On, Come On”. The guys still mined metal on “Big Eyes” and “You’re All Talk” and got weird on yet another (though not their final!) ode to suicide, the marvelously moody “Downed”, but In Color leaves a decidedly sweet aftertaste. Soon the group’s wonderful songs and totally unique persona—two big haired Rock Stars meet two rejects from an adult home for wayward boys—would pay off. While Cheap Trick were getting little love in their home country, pop-crazed Asian kids were eating them up. A trip to Japan would yield Cheap Trick at Budokan. It’s no wonder that most of the material on that triple-platinum blockbuster was pulled from their superb first two albums.
6. Marquee Moon by Television
5. & 4. Leave Home & Rocket to Russia by The Ramones
If any band has ever painted itself into a corner with their very first album, it’s The Ramones. Their image and music was so keenly sculpted, there wasn’t much to do on their follow up but follow up their debut with more of the same. That was precisely what The Ramones did on both their second and third albums. The sound is a little slicker, the playing a little less manic, and the more outré subject matter is out (no Nazis schätzes or chicken hawks this time). All the speed, catchiness, and cracked nostalgia are back though. The formats of Leave Home and Rocket to Russia ape Ramones too. Each record trots out bracing updates of early-‘60s treasures in the home stretch (The Riviera’s “California Sun” on the second album; Bobby Freeman’s “Do You Wanna Dance” and The Trashmen’s “Surfer Bird” on the third). Both albums revel in rejects, love songs both sincere and cynical, violence, stationery-store drugs, psycho relationships, and NYC. Rocket to Russia goes so far as to recreate the Ramones album cover. Rather than wafting of redundancy, the albums feel like much, much more of a really good thing. Played back to back to back, Ramones, Leave Home, and Rocket to Russia soundtrack an all-night party for pinheads, cretins, and punk rockers. The recent additions give us the dream girls Sheena, Suzy, and Ramona. Glass-strewn Rockaway Beach becomes a destination for leather-clad beach boys. The guys mangle a bit of nonsense from Freaks and come away with a rallying cry for their freaky fans. You will inevitably count among their ranks after getting brainwashed by the pinheaded pop pulchritude of Leave Home and Rocket to Russia. You are now one of us. Gabba Gabba Hey.
3. Damned, Damned, Damned by The Damned
2. My Aim Is True by Elvis Costello
1. The Clash by The Clash