Ever since I went to art school in the mid-80s, my musical tastes have favored the alternative stuff. And, at the time, I can remember friends of mine with a similar taste in music remarking on how many of our favorite albums came out in 1979. I’m not sure why it was such a good year for alternative music. Perhaps it was that the punk bands getting better at playing their instruments. I guess the world will never know, but so what?
I’ve compiled a top ten list of my favorite punk or post-punk or power pop punk (is there such a thing?) from that great year in music: 1979…
10) Look Sharp! – Joe Jackson It may have had a Top 40 hit with Is She Really Going Out With Him?, but Jackson’s punkish pop waves the alternative banner quite well. In 1990, when the thrash metal band Anthrax covered Got The Time a friend said that it surprised him that he liked it so much. I said, “Of course, you do. Joe Jackson wrote it!”
Favorite track: Got The Time
9) Regatta de Blanc – The Police This album did fairly well, reaching 25 on the US album chart, but I still consider the band to have been in the alt bin in 1979. I think their brand of punk-infused reggae or reggae-infused punk, whichever, is great. These guys might just make it.
Favorite track: Message In A Bottle
8) The Specials – The Specials Produced by Elvis Costello, this album of two-tone British ska is still awfully infectious. Who knew an album filled with songs about unemployment, bad marriages, underage pregnancy, awful tasting beer, and racism could be so much fun.
Favorite track: A Message to You, Rudy
7) The Undertones – The Undertones This is what I mean by power pop punk. This Irish punk band produced a debut album of one pogo-inducing song after another. I loved the first time I listened to it.
Favorite track: Get Over You
6) London Calling – The Clash I realize having this album by the “only band that matters” in the sixth spot in a top ten list may seem low, but just think how great the rest of the list will be. Even though this album was released in December 1979, Rolling Stone magazine declared it the greatest album of the 80s. Go figure. It is an excellent album that demonstrated punk was so much more than leather jackets, safety pins, and slam dancing.
Favorite track: London Calling
5) Fear Of Music – Talking Heads The punk rock of New York City was very different than that of the UK. It was more arty than political. Always artful, this album found Talking Heads beginning to expand their sound, taking on some of that World Music feel they would later cultivate. Depending on what day you might ask me, I usually consider this my favorite Talking Heads effort.
Favorite track: I Zimbra
4) Entertainment! – Gang of Four Another hell of a debut album makes this list. Andy Gill is on my list of favorite guitarists; his choppy, feedback-laden rhythm guitar is mesmerizing. The lyrics are challenging in their socialist, anti-capitalist ideals; and the music blends disco and punk seamlessly.
Favorite track: I Found That Essence Rare
3) Setting Sons – The Jam If I had to rank my all-time favorite bands The Jam would likely come in number three, behind The Who and XTC, respectively. Being a bit of a Mod myself in those days, The Jam really appealed to me and this is my favorite of their albums.
Favorite track: Thick As Thieves
2) Drums And Wires – XTC XTC is my second favorite band and they’re not number one on this list?! Yep. Did The Who release an album in 1979? Yes, but not a new studio album.
This is an excellent album, their first after keyboardist Barry Andrews left and guitarist Dave Gregory joined. The sound is notably different without Andrews’ maniac keyboard playing. But Gregory was able to expand their sound and point the band into a direction away from quirky pop to a more rock heavy sound and then, later, a more pastoral form of pop music.
Favorite track: Making Plans For Nigel
1) A Different Kind of Tension – Buzzcocks My goodness, but this is a great album! I hadn’t listened to it in a while, until just recently. And when I did listen to it again, I was blown away.
Buzzcocks are another example of what I call power pop punk. Their songs can be extremely catchy. Listening to this album again had the 25 year-old in me wishing the 51 year-old me could still skank and pogo the way I used to: To exhaustion when seeing this band in concert. The knees and the back just won’t allow it.
These songs are all very tight and driven by some excellent drumming. This album is as much about the drums as it is about the swirling, buzzing guitars and drummer John Maher scores big. The transition from the end of Mad, Mad Judy (with the fantastic closing line, “I’ve got all the answers!”) to Raison D’etre takes my breath away. It’s possibly the greatest such transition between two songs ever!
The album is simply relentless and, I my opinion, the best album of 1979.
Favorite track: The whole damn album!
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