Some years you know are going to be good (hello, 1983), some years you know are going to be bad (totally looking at you 1974), and sometimes a year sneaks up on you. Exhibit A in the latter category is 1978. It’s not the killer year that 1977 was, but definitely ends up being a better than average year when all is said and done.
Radio, Radio – Elvis Costello & The Attractions
This Year’s Model is probably my favorite Elvis Costello record if you made me choose, and Radio, Radio is one of two best of the decade worthy songs on it (Pump It Up). Radio, Radio wins out for the famous SNL performance that would see him banned from NBC for years if nothing else. And then it lead to this bit of awesomeness happening years later.
Roland, the Headless Thompson Gunner – Warren Zevon
My favorite Zevon tune from a pretty epic album, Excitable Boy. Hey, if it’s good enough for Dave, it’s good enough for me.
On Nation Under a Groove – Funkadelic
One Nation. Under the Groove. We should be so lucky.
Because the Night – Patti Smith
One of the best songs Bruce Springsteen ever wrote. And since we’re sharing amazing videos, here another. Gotta tell you, Michael was born to sing this song.
Wheel in the Sky – Journey
I am an unabashed Steve Perry fan. The dude just has a killer set of pipes.
Surrender – Cheap Trick
Another under the radar great song from Cheap Trick. They don’t get nearly enough credit for how good they were.
So Lonely – The Police
I was tempted to put Be My Girl – Sally on here, but man that spoken word part is the stuff nightmares are made of, no doubt.
The Promised Land – Bruce Springsteen
This may be THE best song Bruce ever wrote. Mister, I ain’t a boy/No I’m a man/And I believe in the promised land.
Ever Fallen in Love (With Someone You Shouldn’t’ve?)
Yes, hasn’t everyone? You got to love a song that a) has such a universal theme and b) contains a double contraction AND a parenthetical expression.
Some Girls – The Rolling Stones
Some great songs on Some Girls, but the title track nails the “Mick singing in an affected accent = greatness” requirement
I Wanna Be Sedated – The Ramones
I never truly appreciated this song until I had kids.
All Mod Cons – The Jam
From the third great album from The Jam within about a 15 month period. Not bad.
One Way or Another – Blondie
Straight from the Mean Girls soundtrack, from me to you.
Julie’s Been Working for the Drug Squad – The Clash
An under-appreciated Clash gem. RIP, St. Joe Strummer.
Mirage – Siouxsie & the Banshees
If you liked a band with kind of a dark, brooding vibe in the 80s (read, most of the good ones), then they loved and were influenced by this song.
Christmas Card From a Hooker in Minneapolis – Tom Waits
Come on, how can I keep a song with that title off this list? It helps that it is one of the best songs of the decade.
That’s a really strong group of songs, right there. A little something for everybody. Enjoy the Spotify playlist.
Did I miss out on anything? Somebody want to make a case for the Grease sound track or Gerry Rafferty? (j/k about the second one)
When I set out on this little project, there were most definitely certain years that I was looking forward to tackling, and 1977 was near the top of that list (along with 1994 and 1983). 1977 was an absolute transformative year for music, with the likes of The Clash, Television, The Jam, and The Talking Heads taking the punk DIY aesthetic and running with it to create their own brand of “punk,” which sounded the death knell for bloated, FM rock. 1977 rediscovered the joy of the sub 3:00 minute pop rock song, and we are all the better for it.
One of the real challenges though was picking just one song for each artist, especially when acts like David Bowie, Iggy Pop, and The Jam each put out two great albums during the calendar year. And how do you choose between White Riot and Janie Jones? After sifting through some of the earlier years in the 70s though, it was a good problem to have. Apologies to the many excellent songs that had to sit this mix out, but none more so than Neil Young’s Like a Hurricane, a personal favorite that I just couldn’t work in due to the 8+ minute run time.
See No Evil – Television
One of the great album openers in rock history, powered by one of the most epic guitar riffs conceived.
Mannish Boy – Muddy Waters
This is the kind of song that you just assumed was released years before it actually was. Timeless and just so great.
Sound and Vision – David Bowie
Bowie had a monster year in 1977, releasing both Low, the frankly stunning album that this track was taken from, and Heroes, and almost equally great follow up which boasts one of his most iconic songs (the title track). In the end I wanted to make sure that Low got the love it deserved so I went with Sound and Vision over Heroes, but not before seriously considering breaking the one song per artist per year rule. Plus the transition from Muddy Waters is pretty epic.
Go Your Own Way – Fleetwood Mac
Rumors has a half dozen songs that I could have included, but my Buckingham bias prevails again.
Brick House – The Commodores
This is just a tightly wound ball of irresistible, funky goodness.
In the City – The Jam
The Jam had almost as good of a year as Bowie did, putting out two heavyweight albums overflowing with classic, um, jams. In the City still sounds fresh to this day and is more than worthy of inclusion here.
White Riot – The Clash
There are few things in life I love more than The Clash at their peak. This one gets my vote for best song ever under 2:00.
Talking Heads – Uh-Oh, Love Comes to Town
Another of my favorite bands ever. I could just as easily slotted in Psycho Killer, of course, but this one is a personal favorite.
Barracuda – Heart
The powerhouse riff-age here is just undeniable. Don’t fight it, just go with it.
Funtime – Iggy Pop
Iggy was another one with an embarrassment of musical riches in 1977, with both The Idiot and Lust for Life dropping. I probably would have picked Lust for Life for this spot had it not been sullied by 1) being in a terrible Carnival Cruise line ad 2) being the bumper music for the awful Jim Rome show. Funtime, one of the ultimate intersections of punk and glam, is no slough replacement.
One Love/People Get Ready – Bob Marley
Exodus is such a great record. Yet another one with 3 or 4 couldn’t go wrong selections.
Mystery Dance – Elvis Costello and the Attractions
Like The Ramones, Elvis found the sweet spot between punk and Buddy Holly, and this is one of the best examples. Take your pick of songs from My Aim is True though and you couldn’t go wrong.
I Want You to Want Me – Cheap Trick
There’s no denying how much fun this song is, even if it isn’t a stone classic like some of the others on the list.
God Save the Queen – The Sex Pistols
Here’s a little secret. I think the Sex Pistols are kind of overrated, especially when compared with their contemporaries The Clash. This is a great one though, even more so than the better known Anarchy in the UK.
Spread Your Wings – Queen
Any disparaging words I have for FM radio rock most assuredly do not apply to Queen. It’s hard to pull off these kinds of sweeping theatrics in rock and not look ridiculous, but it helps to have Freddie Mercury in your corner.
Watch the Moon Come Down – Graham Parker & The Rumor
Cut to 90% of the people reading this: “Who?” Do a little searching on the interwebs. You’re welcome.
Rockaway Beach – The Ramones
One of about 5 songs I could have put here. There’s no diminishing how great and utterly cool The Ramones were, despite Bono’s best efforts recently.
King’s Lead Hat – Brian Eno
Closing things out with an underappreciated gem.
Wow. That’s an 18-song powerhouse of a mix tape. When all is said and done this may end up being my personal favorite of the bunch. It’s definitely one of the best to set on repeat and let it play over and over. Here’s the Spotify version for your listening pleasure.
Which one of your favorites did I leave off the list?
1976 was one of the hardest years yet to distill down to one 60 minute mix tape. Not because it was a particularly wonderful or awful year for music, but because there really wasn’t much that stood out. I think you’ll see that on this mix, which is one of the least varied and most classic rock heavy of the bunch so far. For that reason I get the sneaking suspicion that this one would score pretty highly if I asked 100 random people in a bar to rate their favorites, but I just can’t get overly enthused about it.
Somebody to Love – Queen
Love this mix, hate it, or shrug your shoulders at it, I don’t think you can deny it is starting off strong. Killer Queen.
Crazy on You – Heart
Solid tune. Anne and Nancy were pretty excellent there for a while in the mid to late 70s.
Beat on the Brat – The Ramones
Music was about to get a lot more interesting thanks in large part to them, 2 minutes and 30 seconds at a time.
Sir Duke – Stevie Wonder
Songs in the Key of Life put the cap on one of the most amazing runs of greatness ever in music.
Detroit Rock City – KISS
Meh. The song is better than the movie at least.
Takin’ It To The Streets – The Doobie Brothers
A fine song. I still thought the Doobie’s peaked with their appearance on the Very Special Episode of What’s Happening! when Rerun got busted trying to bootleg their concert by concealing a comically oversized tape recorder within a comically oversized rain coat, the kind normally only worn by the creepiest of flashers.
I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead – Warren Zevon
Hope you are enjoying your rest, Z.
Rock’n Me – Steve Miller
Steve Miller is the starting point guard on my “Tom Petty All Stars” team, aka musical acts that you don’t turn off when they come on the radio, but you wouldn’t never consider spending any money on (Petty, Miller, John Cougar, Journey, and Elton John are my starting five, with Eddie Money coming off the bench).
New York State of Mind – Billy Joel
Again, not my favorite thing in the world, but a pretty solid tune.
Pablo Picasso – The Modern Lovers
Now here’s a song that I do love a lot, even if I have to skip it in the car with the kids to keep them from repeating the lyrics.
Rich Girl – Hall & Oates
I think I’ve asked this question before, but is there any more bizarre and bizzare revival in entertainment than the mini-Hall & Oates one? I mean, they had some fine songs and all, and this is one of the best, but it is still puzzling to me. Then again, Matthew McConaughey is now one of the biggest and best actors in the world, so I guess anything is possible. The Manhattan Transfer eagerly await their revival if so.
Cocaine – JJ Cale
Yeah, Clapton made it famous, but JJ’s original is tops.
Cherry Bomb – The Runaways
Thanks to Guardians of the Galaxy, this is now my kids’ favorite song of the moment.
American Girl – Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
Got to give the captain his due.
Hurricane – Bob Dylan
The story of Reuben “Hurricane” Carter, falsely accused of murder when he would have been champion of the world. Only Dylan could pull off this sprawling, lyrically dense epic
Here’s the Spotify playlist for your listening pleasure.
Is my apathy for this one misplaced? What did I leave out? And who is on your Tom Petty All Stars?
1975, it’s such a pleasure to settle into your warm, classic rock embrace. We fought our way through the mediocrity of the two preceding years, so we’ll gladly settle down and bask in Blood on the Tracks, Horses, and some righteous P-Funk.
Before we do that, though, I need to make a correction. About 30 minutes after I hit publish on the best of 1974 mix, Spotify announced that much of John Lennon’s solo catalog was now available on their service. Had this been the case from the beginning, at least a couple of mixes would look differently, including 1974. I took the liberty of substituting #9 Dream in for Bad Company, since both tracks are exactly 4:47. It’s good to have you with us, John. I wouldn’t make a retroactive change for just anyone.
Now, back to 1975. It’s probably the most top heavy year we’ve covered so far, with some seriously classic albums floating amongst a sea of Supertramp and Gary Wright. It makes for one of the shortest “long lists” yet, but one of the best mixes from start to finish.
Mothership Connection (Star Child) – Parliment
See, I told you it was a good mix. Any mix that starts off with some P-Funk is going to be strong.
Shelter From the Storm – Bob Dylan
My favorite Dylan song from my favorite Dylan album, though I could have picked virtually any tune off Blood on the Tracks and been ok.
Born to Run – Bruce Springsteen
How’s that for a 1-2-3 punch? Thunder Road is my favorite song on the album, but the sing along appeal of Born to Run is undeniable.
S.O.S. – ABBA
Laugh and scoff if you must, but you can’t deny that ABBA produced some great pop songs. Trust me, this is the one that will stuck in your head an hour after you listen to this mix.
Young Americans – David Bowie
Bowie at his glam best.
Still Crazy After All These Years – Paul Simon
Some people might argue for 50 Ways to Leave You Lover instead, but those people are probably unstable and shouldn’t be trusted.
Monday Morning – Fleetwood Mac
Landslide is probably the better song, but I always leaned towards Lyndsey Buckingham as my go to Fleetwood Mac performer.
Toys in the Attic – Aerosmith
It’s easy to forget how great Aerosmith was in the 70s after they spent most of the 90s doing their best to wipe those memories from your mind.
Rhinestone Cowboy – Glenn Campbell
This is one of the most perfect songs ever, and I’ll hear not a word against it.
Houses of the Holy – Led Zepplin
There’s a lot of funkiness smoldering under the surface of this one, and it takes the song to a higher level.
Redondo Beach – Patti Smith
So many good songs on Horses, but this is my favorite.
Cortez the Killer – Neil Young
You may have only heard the Dave Matthews cover of this song, and if that is the case then I’m sorry. I’m really sorry.
You’re My Best Friend – Queen
I might have made the obvious selection and picked Bohemian Rhapsody, but Cortez demands a lot of space. I ended up with the better Queen song in the process.
Wish You Were Here – Pink Floyd
Man, I must be mellowing on Floyd. 18 year old me is somewhat speechless right now. Perhaps all those years of avoiding Floyd like the plague have finally paid off some.
That’s a pretty strong 14 song mix right there. Here’s the Spotify playlist for your repeated listening pleasure. And don’t act like you’re going to skip Rhinestone Cowboy all the time, because you won’t.
Which one of your favorites did I disrespect in favor of ABBA?
First off, I need to apologize to the year 1973. I bad mouthed it a bit when comparing it to the awesomeness that was 1972, and that wasn’t fair. Especially when you look at the steaming hot mess that was 1974. I feel pretty confident in saying that this is hands down the worst year for music that I’ve tackled so far.
My normal process for putting together these mixes is to scroll through lists of albums released during the year and create a “long list” of songs to consider for the final mix. Normally this “long list” is around 30-35 songs long, although it has been as high as 40. For 1974 I was barely able to scrape together 25 songs, and I was pushing it to get that many. If you want an example of how terrible the year in music was, there was an album released called “Having Fun With Elvis On Stage” that had no music on it; only Elvis’ stage banter. AND IT MADE THE TOP 200 ALBUM CHARTS. So, several thousand people thought it a good idea to buy this record.
The funny thing is, some of my favorite songs and albums of all time were released in 1974, so the entire year wasn’t a complete waste. I was tempted, however, to just put all the songs from Big Star’s Radio City on this mix and call it a day. I’m still not convinced that wasn’t the way to go, but here’s the final list that I came up with following the usual criteria.
Mighty Mighty – Earth, Wind & Fire
Mighty mighty indeed. EW&F were a ridiculous groove machine for a good part of the decade.
Killer Queen – Queen
Freddie Mercury & Co make their first appearance on the best of mixes. There’s most definitely more to come.
Love Hurt – Gram Parsons
Gram was already gone by the time this song and the album Grievous Angel were released, which makes it all the more poignant and tragic. Plus, Emmylou Harris, Grams perfect foil.
September Gurls – Big Star
May just be the most perfect pop song ever, from perhaps the most perfect pop album album ever.
Don’t Start Me Talking – The New York Dolls
Another vital precursor for punk and modern “alternative” music. I’m still trying to get over David Johansen’s “Hot Hot Hot’ turn though. *shiver*
Take Me To The River – Al Green
The Talking Heads version is better known, but nobody did this song with more soul than Rev. Al.
Sundown – Gordon Lightfoot
I will defend the greatness of this song to anyone, in any venue, at any time.
Bad Company – Bad Company
The true marker of how much I dislike this year is that I had to put a Bad Company song on here to get close to 60 minutes. I really do not like Bad Company, but what else was I going to put on here? Leo Sayer?
Rebel Rebel – David Bowie
Another mark of how bad 1974 was is that even Bowie put out one of his worst overall albums of the decade (Diamond Dogs), but this song is one of the few highlights.
Jolene – Dolly Parton
One of my favorite songs ever, and another artist that I defend with terminal intensity as one of America’s great songwriters.
Up for the Down Stroke – Parliament
Yeah, this song is a little overplayed, but it’s Parliament and overwhelmingly funky, so all is forgiven.
Jackson Browne – Late for the Sky
This album is an under-appreciated gem.
If You Can’t Rock Me – The Rolling Stones
In just about any other year this song likely wouldn’t have even sniffed the final cut, but this is 1974. I mean, I like it and all, but it is a far cry from Exile or Beggars Banquet or side 2 of Tattoo You even.
Blue Skies – Tom Waits
Look, I totally get it if you can’t listen to Tom Waits because of his voice. It’s an acquired taste, no doubt. You can’t, however, dispute his greatness as a musician and songwriter. Here’s a great example.
You Haven’t Done Nothin’ – Stevie Wonder
I’ve used most of my superlatives for Stevie Wonder already, but this mix would be sorely lacking without this track.
Tin Cup Chalice – Jimmy Buffett
Another great example of how good he could be when he wasn’t off endorsing blenders and sleeping on piles and piles of money. (And for the record, I don’t blame him, I would have done the same thing probably, though perhaps the Margaritaville branded Florida lottery scratch off tickets are a bit much.)
So there it is, the new worst year in music so far. I have a feeling 1975 will give it a run for its money.
Have I been too hard on 1974? If so, what did I miss?