A 1978 Top Ten

1978 saw the Yorkshire Ripper claim his eighth victim. The Sex Pistols fell apart in San Francisco. Saatchi & Saatchi launched their Labour Isn’t Working campaign and Tory poll ratings immediately shot up. Keith Moon died. Dallas appeared on TV screens for the first time. Over 900 members of religious cult, the Peoples Temple, died in Guyana after drinking Kool-Aid laced with cyanide, in what became known as the Jonestown Massacre.

In Scotland, the World Cup In Argentina helped take people’s minds off all the misery but that feelgood factor didn’t last long. On the plus side, Space Invaders was launched, Ian McEwan’s The Cement Garden was published and on the big screen there was The Deer Hunter, Blue Collar, Jubilee, Midnight Express and Halloween.

Best of all there was plenty of amazing new music.

Aged sixteen, I left school and took on a job in a local factory. A lousy labouring job but it provided me with the money to get my hands on a Waltham music centre and a Lucky Hit Phillips cassette player. Home recording, we were warned, was killing the music industry, although I bought a shedload of vinyl that year, more than in any other year before or since. Go figure.

I also reckon I saw more live shows in 1978 than I have in any other year. There was The Clash and Suicide, The Buzzcocks and Subway Sect, The Stranglers, Skids, Magazine, The Banshees, Damned, Rich Kids, Rezillos, Jam, Television, Ultravox, Devo, Eddie and The Hotrods and many, many more.

 
Inventive new bands emerged on a weekly basis. Think the likes of The Cure, Joy Division, Undertones, Stiff Little Fingers, The Television Personalities, Gang of Four, Mekons and, of course, The Fall while some old wavers returned and proved they were still very capable of delivering. Lou Reed’s Street Hassle made a compelling case for his continued relevance. The Stones issued their last great album, Some Girls, with nods to punk and disco along the way and The Walker Brothers’ final album Nite Flights proved inspirational to David Bowie and many others.

There were many fantastic punk records released in 1978 including albums by The Buzzcocks, Ramones, Lurkers and The Adverts although, in many respects, you could say that 1978 was the year of Post-Punk with the launch of PiL and Magazine and Subway Sect, The Banshees and Wire helping suggest a whole new way forward for guitar bands.

 
Reggae scored big in ’78 with Althea and Donna’s Uptown Top Ranking securing a UK #1 slot early in the year while Is This Love provided Bob Marley and The Wailers with another big hit that summer. In Britain, Handsworth Revolution by Steel Pulse became one of the best reviewed albums of the year.

Then there was disco. Saturday Night Fever was a phenomenon in Britain at this point. I didn’t go to see it at the cinema but really should have. It’s a very accomplished movie even though the soundtrack does nothing for me.
Disco did tend to suck but the genre could also claim some real artistic triumphs, chief among these being Sylvester’s joyous You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real) and the C’est Chic album, where the dizzying marriage of Nile Rodger’s infectious, choppy guitar licks and Bernard Edward’s muscular, masterful and soon to be much imitated basslines created a new blueprint for sophisticated disco.

From that album, here’s Le Freak, a dancefloor filler extraordinaire:

 
Electronic music continued to come to the fore around the globe, occasionally making real commercial inroads. Yellow Magic Orchestra formed that year and issued their self-titled debut; Fast released Being Boiled by The Human League while Midnight Express, Giorgio Moroder’s first commission to compose a movie soundtrack, went on to win an Academy Award for Best Original Score. Best of all, Kraftwerk (who were a highly prolific lot back then) brought out The Man-Machine, an album immediately proclaimed by NME as ‘one of the pinnacles of 1970s rock music.’

 
Also worth noting is that this was the year Brian Eno arguably invented ambient music with his Music For Airports. At the very least, this was the first album ever to be specifically designated as ‘ambient’.

And then there was the uncategorizable Kate Bush. Nowadays you can turn on 6 Music and it might not be too long before you hear a female artist like Joanna Newsom or Regina Spektor who obviously possess some Kate in their musical DNA. Back then, Kate Bush was a true one-off and hearing Wuthering Heights for the first time was an extraordinarily odd experience. Could I detect any influences? Not really, maybe a faint echo of Noosha Fox. I may even have wondered momentarily if this was some kind of novelty song.

Wuthering Heights was the big hit but I have a slight preference for this, single #2, written by an insanely precocious Kate when she was a mere thirteen years old.

 
Here’s my complete top ten in no particular order:

Kate Bush: The Man With the Child in His Eyes
Chic: Le Freak
Sylvester: You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)
TV Personalities: Part Time Punks
Kraftwerk: The Model
Walker Brothers: The Electrician
Wire: I Am The Fly
Brian Eno: 1/1
The Clash: (White Man) in Hammersmith Palais
The Only Ones: Another Girl, Another Planet

I’ve omitted any tracks like The Light Pours Out of Me and Ambition that I’ve featured before but still feel I have to include honourable mentions for a further ten. Lou Reed: Street Hassle, La Dusseldorf: Viva, The Cramps: Human Fly, The Undertones: Teenage Kicks, Steel Pulse: Ku Klux Klan, X-Ray Spex: Identity, Siouxsie and The Banshees: Hong Kong Garden, The Cure: Killing an Arab, Stiff Little Fingers: Suspect Device & Blondie: Heart of Glass.

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