Archive for May, 2011

“God Save the Queen” by The Sex Pistols (1977)

It must have been fun watching the Sex Pistols in 1977. If you were a fan you would have been amazed at how much press the group got, after they sacked their musically inclined bass player Glen Matlock and replaced him with musically novice but straight from central casting Sid Vicious (born: John Ritchie). The band was signed and dropped by several record labels, and were constantly in the news. If you were an outsider, you likely would have been appalled by the band’s boorish public personas and overall anti-social behavior. And you likely would have been aghast at their single “God Save the Queen.” Ironically, that is exactly what the Pistols wanted you to feel.

Released with great fanfare and hitting number two on the charts, “God Save the Queen” was controversial and many radio stations did not play it as it was considered disrespectful towards the Queen. The powerful message of the underclass who had “no future” was not hard to miss. The song was featured on the Sex Pistols’ only album, Never Mind the Bollocks Here’s the Sex Pistols. The album hit number one and today is considered the seminal album of British Punk.

But the Sex Pistols would burn out quickly and after a ill-fated U.S. tour would break up in early 1978. Vicious would die shortly thereafter from a heroin overdose, while Johnny Rotten would revert to his real name and would be the frontman for Public Image, Ltd as John Lydon. The Sex Pistols reunited with Matlock in 1996 for a tour, and have played off and on since. They famously boycotted their overdue induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

“Margaritaville” by Jimmy Buffett (1977)

Jimmy Buffett was a music journalist-turned country singer in the early 1970s, but after relocating from Alabama to Florida began to embrace the island lifestyle in both music and mood. This style caught on with his rabid fans, nicknamed “Parrotheads”, and landed him firmly on the scene thanks to his top 10 hit “Margaritaville.”

Margaritaville” was written in Key West and described the tourists who descended on that island getaway. The radi0-friendly chorus was a hit in the party-hardy 70s but has remained as popular standard ever since. Thanks to the hit song, Buffett’s 1977 album Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes went platinum. Two follow-up albums, Son of a Son of Sailor and Volcano were also successful, containing several fan favorites including “Cheeseburger in Paradise”, “Fins”, and “Livingston Saturday Night”. During the early and mid-1980s, however, Buffett’s albums were less successful. It seemed that Jimmy Buffett was a trend who’s time had come and gone – his 1985 greatest hits album even played on the “one hit wonder” label by being named Songs You Know By Heart: Jimmy Buffett’s Greatest Hit(s) (implying there was only one hit on the album).

But a funny thing happened on the way to obscurity: Jimmy Buffett became a huge concert draw. Always popular with hardcore baby boomer fans, by the late 1980s Jimmy Buffett was headlining arena-sized outdoor amphitheaters for a series of summer tours. The festive atmosphere of Buffett and his backing band The Coral Reefer Band made the boomers with large pockets of disposable income welcome. Buffett smartly leveraged the popularity by diving head first into merchandising with retail stores, best-selling books, and later restaurants. By the mid-1990s Buffett’s albums were regular Platinum sellers and his 2004 album License to Chill debuted at number one.  A 1992 quadruple platinum boxed set Boats, Beaches, Bars, & Ballads also helped get new fans up to speed.

In 2003, Buffett guested on Alan Jackson’s number one country hit “It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere.” The song also reached the top 20 on the pop charts, while reinforcing Buffett’s party image (and providing yet another catch-phrase).  Jimmy Buffett continues to record and tour.

“Go Your Own Way” by Fleetwood Mac (1977)

Fleetwood Mac had been recording since 1968, originally as a blues oriented group led by Peter Green. During this period they were well regarded but hardly commercial (they did record “Black Magic Woman” prior to Santana’s version, though). After Green left the group, the group’s success was muted. During this period the group included drummer Mick Fleetwood, bassist John McVie and his wife, keyboardist Christine McVie. But, the key addition of singer Stevie Nicks and guitarist Lindsey Buckingham changed the group’s dynamics as well as their sound. It also set the band on a long stretch of very popular albums and singles.

Buckingham and Nicks had been in bands together, including an album issued as Buckingham Nicks shortly after they joined Fleetwood Mac. The pair were also a couple. Or, at least they were for a time. After the number one success of 1975′s Fleetwood Mac album, the band members reconvened to record a follow-up album.  However, the tensions in the band were high during this period. The McVie’s divorced, and Nick and Buckingham broke up as well. Substance abuse was in effect, a common scene in the mid-1970s.

But the tensions paid off as Rumors again went to number one and with worldwide sales of 40 million units has since become one of the best selling albums of all time.  The record has sold over 19 million in the United States alone. The album had a number of popular top-10 songs including “Dreams” (sung by Nicks), “Don’t Stop” and “You Make Loving Fun (both sung by Christine McVie). The group’s sound was a mix of soft rock and more up-tempo numbers.

But Buckingham’s “Go Your Own Way” is perhaps the most representative song on the album. Issued as the first single ahead of the album, the song’s lyrics are clearly autobiographical as a breakup song oriented toward Nicks. Unlike Nicks’ hopeful “Dreams” this breakup song was bitter and pessimistic.

Fleetwood Mac would go on to record several more albums before the early 1980s, and following a number of solo albums from Nicks and other members did reunite in 1987 for another successful album. The band found renewed popularity in 1992 with “Don’t Stop” being used as a theme song for the Clinton campaign. Since then, the group as toured extensively and recorded sporadically, the last album being issued in 2003. However, Christine McVie did leave the group and the music business for good in 2003.

“Let There Be Rock” by AC/DC (1977)

AC/DC are one of the most successful bands of all time. Formed in Australia in the early 1970s by brother Angus and Malcom Young (lead and rhythm guitars, respectively), the band has played what they call “straight ahead rock and roll” but they do so in a way that is loud and aggressive and bears only passing resemblance to Chuck Berry or Little Richard. The Scottish-born brothers soon added a charismatic frontman to the group who also was born in Scotland. Bon Scott became the group’s singer and primary lyricist. The group quickly became known for their riotous live performances, as Scott would hold court as the insane frontman and Angus Young would wow the crowd with his school-boy uniform and wild guitar playing.

After a series of increasingly popular albums, the group was signed by Atlantic Records in the United States in 1976. Various records were issued that were compilations of previous Australian or European releases, but in 1977 Let There Be Rock was the first album issued simultaneously worldwide (though the song list differed slightly). The album featured a crowd favorite, “Whole Lotta Rosie,” and featured an aggressive set of songs that contained lyrical allegories to sex and partying.

The album’s title track had altogether different sort of lyrics. Taking cues from Chuck Berry’s “Roll Over Beethoven” the song tells the tale how Rock and Roll was born. This song definitely harkens back to early rock and roll (in a modern way, of course) both structurally and lyrically. The song also takes inspiration from The Book of Genesis, with light being called for, but also guitars, drums, and rock. The live performances of the song often include an extended solo by Angus Young.

The group would follow Let There Be Rock with Powerage and then with the Highway to Hell albums. The later in particular greatly propelled the group to worldwide stardom.  That album’s title track and other popular songs including “Touch Too Much” turned the group from a popular act and into superstars of hard rock. Unfortunately, on the evening of February 19, 1980 Scott died after a heavy night of drinking (either due to suffocating on his vomit or due to alcohol poisoning). One of rock’s most flamboyant showman was dead.

But AC/DC the band was not dead…

“Stayin’ Alive” by The Bee Gees (1977)

The Bee Gees contributed several songs to the soundtrack to the John Travolta disco drama, Saturday Night Fever. But the standout track was “Stayin’ Alive” as it was memorably used during the movie’s opening credits sequence, with Travolta walking in step with the beats of the song. Indeed, if you were to survey 100 people to name a single disco track, surely “Stayin’ Alive” would poll in the strong majority.

The Saturday Night Fever Soundtrack was released ahead of the movie in November 1977, and was an immediate hit. In addition to the Bee Gee tracks, the double album also featured disco favorites from KC and the Sunshine Band, Kool and the Gang, Walter Murphy, and Yvonne Ellman. By early 1978, the movie was a hit and the soundtrack was locked in at number one on the charts. In fact, it topped the charts from January 21st to July 7th of 1978, eventually selling over 16 million copies. The album would later win the Grammy for Album of the Year.

Stayin’ Alive” was the second single from the album, and it too topped the charts for four weeks in February 1978. The song’s signature drum sound was created through the use of samples from an earlier Bee Gees record, “Night Fever.” The record company wanted the song to be called “Saturday Night” but the Bee Gees refused, claiming there were already too many songs with Saturday in the title.

The Bee Gees commercial appeal was so great that four consecutive songs written by the group hit number one in 1978 (including one by brother Andy Gibb). The group would follow Saturday Night Fever with another huge album, Sprits Having Flown, in 1979. Despite being so associated with Disco, the group continued to record successfully during the 1980s. A sequel to Saturday Night Fever was produced in 1983, and was titled Staying Alive (again featuring Bee Gees music). Since the early 1990s the group has recorded but only sporadically. Maurice Gibb died in 2003, but Barry and Robin continue to occasionally perform.

Bee Gees Music from Saturday Night Fever (Stayin’ Alive starts at 15 second mark)

“Show Me the Way” by Peter Frampton (1976)

If there is any single artist that is most known and reached the greatest success due to a live album, Peter Frampton has to be your pick. A former member of bands such as Humble Pie, Frampton recorded several albums in the early 1970s. These were considered minor hits at best, despite guest stars including Ringo Starr. But Frampton’s 1976 live album, Frampton Comes Alive was a surprise hit. The album was fueled by radio-friendly hits including “Do You Feel Like We Do” and “Baby, I Love Your Way.” The album went to number one and has sold over six million copies.

The signature track on the album was “Show Me the Way” that featured the use of the talk box. Though this was only used on two tracks on the album it is the sound most associated with Frampton. The song hit number six on the charts, and the album was the most popular album of the year.

Frampton had a few more successful albums, though his credibility took a hit as a member of the faux-Beatles in the Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band movie. He was involved in a near-fatal car accident in 1978, and this also slowed his momentum as a commercial artist. Though Frampton continues to tour, he never recaptured the popularity of his lightning in a bottle success of Frampton Comes Alive.

“Space Intro / Fly Like an Eagle” by Steve Miller Band (1976)

Steve Miller was a blues guitarist who transitioned from straight-ahead rock and embraced a lighter rock sound that featured synthesizers for a four album stretch that culminated in Greatest Hits 1974-1978, one of the biggest selling albums ever (despite the fact that one of the tracks dated from 1973, and none dated from 1978). The Steve Miller Band were everywhere in the mid-1970s, and are one of the leading artists on “classic rock” radio stations. Key tracks included “Jet Airliner,” ”The Joker,” and “Rock’n Me” all of which were top ten hits (the last two were number one hits).

Fly Like an Eagle” came from the 1976 album of the same name. On FM radio, it was most often paired with the opening track from the album, the trippy “Space Intro.” (Miller often separately tracks such as these, to increase his royalty payments for songwriting on the albums). However, the single was edited to remove this section of the piece, though it kept a large portion of the swirly keyboard sections that are a trademark for the song. Those keyboard sections certainly went along with the theme of flying.  The song was a number two hit in early 1977.

The Steve Miller Band took a break from albums after the greatest hits, but had some big comeback album with Abracadabra in 1982. The new-wave influenced title track went to number one on the charts. The band continues to tour to this day.

Fly like an Eagle Promo Video:

Space Intro / Fly Like an Eagle

“Hotel California” by The Eagles (1976)

The Eagles were formed when a group a studio musicians came together to back Linda Rondstadt for a concert. Afterwards, they decided to form a group together. They were led by Don Henley (drums) and Glenn Frey (guitar, keyboards), along with Bernie Leadon (guitar, banjo) and Randy Meisner (bass, ex-Poco). The group blended light rock and country elements, creating one some might call the perfect representation of early 1970s rock. In 1975, Don Felder joined the group as a lead guitarist, foreshadowing a harder rock orientation. Leadon didn’t like the rock direction and left the group, replaced by Joe Walsh (ex-James Gang, established solo arist).

Hotel California

By 1976, The Eagles had issued four albums and a greatest hits album that has since gone on to sell over 29 million copies. Their Greatest Hits (1971-1975) was also the first album to be certified as Platinum by the RIAA. So, the Eagles were one of the top groups in the country, but their greatest success came with their epic album Hotel California. Many tracks, including the title track and Life in the Fast Lane commented on the hedonistic lifestyle that was taking place at the time. The group’s sound mirrored the change in society, from “A Peaceful Easy Feeling” of their earlier era and now playing much more straight-ahead rock. The name provides an indication that California was a focus for the subject of the album’s lyrics. The album’s last track “The Last Resort” was a statement about the end of the American dream. But the dream wasn’t over for The Eagles, who took the album to number one and have sold over 16 million copies of the album.

Hotel California” is an epic track all to itself, and it too was a number one hit. As was common, the lyrics are sung by Henley (one of the few drummers who sang a majority of his group’s songs). Felder and Walsh duel on guitars at the end of the track, with Felder going first and then Walsh. The song’s lyrics were open to many interpretations, including some who said that there were satanic references on the album.

In 1977, Meisner left the band and was replaced by Timothy B. Schmidt, the bass player who replaced him in Poco. The Eagles released The Long Run in 1979 but tensions among the band were high. Felder and Frey nearly came to blows at concerts, and Frey and Henley produced a subsequent live album from separate coasts (tapes were shipped back and forth). During the 1980s the members embarked on solo careers, most notably Henley who scored several top hits. Frey also had several popular singles and did some acting as well. Walsh continued his own successful solo career, and maintained his “Ordinary Average Guy” persona.

In 1994 the Long Run era lineup reunited for a live album with some new tracks, and toured occasionally after that. In 2001 Felder was fired and later sued Frey and Henley for royalties. In 2007, the group recorded a new album Long Road Out of Eden that debuted at number one and has already sold over seven million copies.  Members of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, The Eagles are one of the best-selling acts in history. And the quintessential 1970s rock group.

Watch The Eagles sing “Hotel California” in 1976

“Anarchy in the U.K.” by The Sex Pistols (1976)

Guitarist Steve Jones and drummer Paul Cook were band members looking for management and convinced boutique owner and occasional band manager Malcolm McLaren to manage their fledgling group. Art student Glen Matlock joined the group on bass, but the group was looking for a lead singer.  John Lydon appeared in the store one day with green hair and a “I Hate Pink Floyd” tshirt, and McLaren realized he found his frontman. Lydon auditioned by singing “I’m Eighteen” by Alice Cooper and then joined the group under the moniker “Johnny Rotten.”

McLaren’s idea of promotion was to make the group as outrageous as possible. Hence the name, the Sex Pistols, and a series of inflammatory statements by the band members and promotional appearances designed to raise their profile as hell-raisers. The group were pioneers of the punk movement in Britain and the band built a following playing covers such as The Who’s “Substitue” and The Monkees’ “(Not Your) Steppin’ Stone.”

The group’s first single was “Anarchy in the U.K.” The song encapsulated Rotten’s underclass rage, and social alienation. In other ways, the song was an anthem of the youth of the period, reclaiming rock and roll for their generation. The video shown below captures the energy of the punk scene in Britain. Released in late November, the song would be a top 40 hit in U.K.

“Anarchy in the U.K.” was covered by Megadeth in 1988. Some of the lyrics were changed to reflect American issues, and Steve Jones guested on the track, playing the second solo.

“Breakdown” by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers (1976)

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers are a popular straight-ahead rock band who have proven themselves as both socially conscious as well as acclaimed hitmakers. Guitarist Mike Campbell is the main musical counterpart to lead singer Tom Petty. Formed in Florida, the group’s first album was issued in 1976, including the then-little noticed single “Breakdown.”  The song peaked at number 40 in 1978, after the group’s second album became a minor hit.

The inclusion of “Breakdown” on our countdown is both to acknowledge the body of work for the group, but also the incredible live version of the song issued in 1985. The song’s easy tempo made it friendly for audience participation, and the crowd for the live recording sang the song note for note, forcing Petty to stop singing. After the first verse, and then the chorus, Petty quipped, “You’re gonna put me out of a job.”  To me, this is one of the best live rock recordings ever.  The video linked below dates from the same period but does not feature some of the elements on the album Pack Up the Plantation: Live!

The group has scored a series of massive hits, such as “Refugee,” “You Got Lucky,” and “Don’t Come Around Here No More.” In 1981, the group resisted “superstar pricing” for their new album, winning support of their fans for not going greedy like the record companies. The band survived New Wave but never selling out, but still making some subtle changes from album to album. In later years, they would incorporate more acoustic and folk-oriented sounds and themes.

In 1989, Petty issued a solo album (but recorded with Campbell’s assistance) called Full Moon Fever which ultimately became his biggest selling album. The year previous, he had recorded with The Traveling Wilburys and had participation on his solo album but all current members. The group has continued to produce albums, recently charting at number two with their 2010 album, Mojo.

“Breakdown” live in 1980 (Petty goes crazy)

“Breakdown” live in 1985 (audience participation) (embedding disabled)