30 Rock Albums Turning 40 in 2017: The Best of 1977: from punk to metal to electronic music, ’77 was one of the most pivotal years in music history. Here are the 30 best albums from four decades ago.
By SLIS and Peter Marks
Besides sharing the same regional address, neither band has much in common, but both albums are beyond iconic. But this wasn’t an anomaly: 1977 was FULL of iconic albums, so many in fact, that it can be overwhelming retracing that year’s musical steps.
Perhaps it was just something in the air. ’77 saw the release of Star Wars. NYC had its famed blackout. The UK was locked in a bitter class struggle. Apple sold its first personal computer. Elvis died. Serial killers like the Son of Sam terrorized America. Led Zeppelin player their final North American tour. South Africa was gripped in apartheid.
In other words it was a cultural molotov cocktail–a pressurized blast of stress and innovation, and music responded appropriately. Is it any wonder that 77 was the year punk rock became a household name?
But that was just part of it—77 saw a variety of other sub genres emerge and thrive—metal and electronic experimental music coinciding with classic rockers finest hours. It was an embarrassment of riches.
With that in mind, here are the 30 best albums of the year, from a variety of genres that still sound as fresh now as they did during the Carter era. Like any great “best of year” list it was a tortuous undertaking. I could’ve done a top 1000 if I didn’t have other life obligations—but sometimes you gotta rein it in.
With that in mind, some disclaimers: the 70’s were also the decade of the “concert album,” but that would’ve made this list balloon way too big, so for streamlining purposes, we’ve left them out.
Also: we’re mainly sticking to rock releases, but we have a healthy bevy of honorable mentions of a variety of genres at the conclusion.
If you want to own any of these classics, just click on the album cover to go to Amazon. We get a percentage of each sale, so thanks in advance if you buy through us.
Okay, let’s get started!
The début album from the world’s weirdest punk band remains an immersive and disorienting delight.
The album that bridged Eno’s art-rock roots with his pioneering ambient aesthetic, its album title befits one of the greatest mad scientists of music.
The British trio’s pioneering mix of punk rock and mod revival sounds as stylish as ever, with Paul Weller possessing an old soul voice that made him one of the most unusual vocalists of his generation.
The Runaways sophomore album may lack songs as iconic as Cherry Bomb, but features improved musicianship, and an emancipated sound, with the band pushing back against producer Kim Fowley’s manipulative methods and following their own instincts.
One of the major building blocks of the snot-nosed NYC punk blueprint, The Blank Generation feels like every ugly, scary and beautiful moment of 1977 distilled onto wax. Hell’s impact on the punk scene is still undervalued.
If they had not made this album nobody else would have. Guitars, vocals, drums and bass were no stranger to the music buying public of 1977 but working violins and electronics into the mix surely would have been. Where to even begin… well I suppose what’s worth mentioning first is how disliked, unpopular and downright reviled the band were during their initial phase with John Foxx. As to why that is, put it down to the price of vision; the nightmarish brilliance of “I Want to be a Machine” remains potent four decades later. Two years and two albums later they were dropped by their label and Foxx was gone, the rest is new-romantic chart topping history but right here is where it began.-Peter Marks
Another classic punk début album, The Damned’s opening salvo featured the first U.K. punk single to get a wife release, the euphoric banger New Rose.
Done on a budget well below shoestring, this is a début overshadowed by virtue of it’s follow-up being the massively lauded Bomber album. For myself, there’s no way that could have happened without what this first outing introduced: an iconic frontman/bassist, pounding drums and guitar work which at times almost became one with the words Lemmy spat out. “Keep Us on the Road” certainly pulled no punches and if you were wondering just why they played so fast, “White Line Fever” ought to sort you out just fine.-Peter Marks
With Farewell the Canadian prog rock trio had their cake and ate it too, crafting some of their most adventurously complex compositions while also boasting a hit single (Closer to the Heart), all of which helped solidify their rabid cult following.
Anne and Nancy Wilson never suffered fools, and proved they could rock just as heavy as their macho peers. Barracuda has one of the most satisfying guitar riffs of all time, and Anne Wilson’s falsetto still creates chills.
The album that helped pioneer disco, house techno and electronic film scores is a hypnotic ass shaker that still sounds like it’s a transmission from the future.
How do you top an album like The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway? You don’t. You pack it in and go on under your own name. This is where one of the most unique and innovative solo careers in the world began and though he’d become a pop star and household name by the mid-1980s it never felt as though that was part of the plan. More an accidental success you might call it, but when your début has songs on it like “Down the Dolce Vita”, “Solsbury Hill”, “Slowburn” and “Waiting for the Big One” is it really so strange.-Peter Marks
At a time when disco dominated the airwaves and truly foul shit like Speedwagon and Air Supply were touted as some kind of option along came this record. I owe an anonymous DJ at 92.3 KGON a dinner at the very least for having the balls to sneak “Go Down” into the proceedings. I heard this a few months before Highway to Hell came out and my first grade ears were hooked.
All these years later, they still include “Whole Lotta Rosie” in just about every setlist. Other classmates preferred KISS but not me, Bon and the boys were the absolute essence of rock. The riffs remain unequaled to this day; goddamn right hell ain’t a bad place to be.-Peter Marks
Gotta say, I’m not a big Elvis Costello fan. Liked a few songs, but he mainly leaves me cold. But don’t hate me, he’s still on the list okay?
In one corner: the power pop king’s rough and tumble début featuring raw rockers like a and He’s A Whore. In the other their follow-up featuring I Want You To Want Me, Hello There and Southern Girls. Let’s call it a draw because that’s a win-win for rock and roll.
Full disclosure: I don’t get Steely Dan. Never have and never will. But Aja is one of the most revered albums of the decade so here it is.
Alan Vega (RIP) and Martin Rev’s electro rock sound was light years ahead of its time, and their self titled début is as hypnotically unnerving as ever. Ghost Rider is an aural hellride par excellence, while the utterly terrifying Frankie Teardrop is a horror movie in music form.
The most inscrutable release of Pink Floyd’s career doesn’t go down as smoothly as their more revered efforts, but it’s scathing attack on capitalism and class warfare has to be admired for its ambition.
Queen’s best selling album is an instant classic for the double whammy of We Will Rock You/ We Are The Champions alone. Toss in deep cuts like Get Down Make Love and it solidifies their genius. And Freddie Mercury never sounded better.
WTF is with all these amazing artists releasing two albums in one year? The 70s were weird like that I guess. Whether at his most atonal and strange on The Idiot or accessible and euphoric on Lust For Life, Iggy Pop’s collaborations with David Bowie (in the producers chair) showed their unorthodox serendipity.
Even when punk was at it’s height, Wire were doing things to the formula no one else would have ever considered. There are several songs on this album which barely crack the one minute mark and why not? Once they’d finished with a particular approach it was on to the next and then the next…
Re-issued numerous times and with varying bonus content, Pink Flag is a snapshot of a band already moving through guises faster than the public could keep up with. That Elastica band certainly owned a copy or two of it.-Peter Marks
Talking Heads utterly original art rock début still packs a quirky yet catchy punch, showing even in their earliest phase they existed in their own fully-formed musical microcosm—Psycho Killer remains a whackadoo delight that befit the era where we learned that nice, quiet fellow down the street could be a potential maniac.
The Clash’s début album is correctly renown as one of the best punk albums of all time. Funnily enough its legacy (and 1977 in general) is best summed up by the lyrics to, wait for it, 1977, a song not included on the album (but issued as a B-side to lead single White Riot):
In 1977 I hope I go to heaven
‘Cause I been too long on the dole
And I can’t work at all
You better paint your face
No Elvis, Beatles, or The Rolling Stones
Yet another band who squeezed out two amazing albums in one year, Ramones blasted out two seminal punk masterpieces. Leave Home was faster, meaner and less commercially accessible, while Rocket to Russia was brimming with the likes of Sheena is a Punk Rocker and Rockaway Beach, which proved their infectious brand of punk was basically 50’s rock and roll played at whiplash inducing speeds.
After surviving an assassination attempt, Bob Marley convalesced the only way he knew how, by lighting up and making amazing music. Exodus was written in exile, examining politics, religion and sex as only the reggae master could tackle.
Trans Europe Express is the most unlikely of beasts—it’s both the band’s most accessible and experimental album. The fact that a record from a group of German introverts would go on to influence 80’s hip hop is one of the most amazing and charming collision of culture in music history.
The Pistols’ punk cred when was always in question given the involvement of Svengali huckster Malcolm McClaren.
But disputing a band’s origins usually amounts to snobbery. Who cares how they got started as long as they rocked? And their cultural force is undisputed. The Pistols terrified the establishment. They made more headlines then they sold albums, sure. But the music is nothing to sneeze (or gob) at.
Bollocks is slower in its attack than almost any other punk record, but that doesn’t mean it lacks power. It’s brute strength is still bracing, and Johnny Rotten’s snide vocals still cut through the bullshit. Angst never goes out of style.
I’m not even a big Mac fan, but who can deny its legacy? Fleetwood Mac pioneered the “breakup album” with Rumours. Not only were the songs about love gone bad, it was written by two couples going through divorce—yet staying together as a band. You Can Go Your Own Way and The Chain cut deep, showing even the bitterest of splits can result in joyous noise.
Not content to limit his 77 output to working on two albums for Iggy Pop, Bowie’s experimentation led to his Berlin period, crafting two albums so epic and formidable in scope I simply can’t choose, and you shouldn’t either. Sound and Vision indeed.
Is there really much more to say about this one? Marquee Moon remains in print on vinyl in 2017 and the band are still out there playing sporadic live shows crammed with songs from it. If you haven’t heard the spine-tingling guitar on “Friction” then for god’s sake get your ass a copy of their début. The follow-up, Adventure, is a more subdued and nuanced affair while their 1992 reunion album still doesn’t do a lot for me. Verlaine has had an exceedingly odd solo career throughout the years as well.-Peter Marks
So that wraps up our list! Be sure and check out the honorable mentions before you start (understandably) bitching about what we left off. 1977 was generous in its awesomeness. We’re still in its debt.
Throbbing Gristle The 2nd Annual Report
Dead Boys Young Loud and Snotty
Johnny Thunders & The Heartbreakers Chinese Rocks
Judas Priest Sin After Sin
Parliament Funkadelic Funkentelechy Vs. The Placebo Syndrome.
EW&F On and On
T. Rex Dandy of the Underworld
Radio Birdman Radios Appear
Jonathan Richman and The Modern Lovers Rock ‘N’ Roll With The Modern Lovers
Thin Lizzy Bad Reputation
ELO Out of the BluChrome Alien Soundtracks