I have done top ten lists of great alternative albums from 1977, 1979, 1980, 1981, 1982, 1983, 1985, and the combined years of 1986 – 1989. The years for me to draw from are nearly used up, because these years are from my personal era of paying close attention to the alternative music scene (or any music scene for that matter). I guess for most of us there is that time when music is close to an all-consuming obsession, but as we age we just don’t have that need to keep up with what’s going on.
Besides, most of the more recent stuff sucks! Whoops. I slipped into grandpa mode there.
I do have a couple of years left that I can feature, so let’s get on with 1978. By the way, this list clearly disputes the notion of the sophomore slump, the phenomenon that postulates that an artist has their whole life to write their first album, but only a year or so to write their second, so the second album suffers. Half of this list is second releases.
This is also the first great alternative albums list I’ve done that features a band with two entries.
This is my list, your results may vary.
10) Outlandos d’Amour – The Police It’s true this band would be worldwide rock superstars in less than five years from this album’s release, but in 1978 they were as alternative as a band could get. Far better musicians than many of their punk contemporaries, The Police combined reggae and punk to create their signature sound. Roxanne was a bit of a hit at the time (which they would ruin in concert by drawing it out to the point of shear tedium) and it’s a good song, but it’s not my favorite track. Other stand out tracks include: Next To You, Truth Hits Everybody, and Can’t Stand Losing You.
Favorite track: So Lonely
9) Give ‘Em Enough Rope – The Clash Overlooked in favor of their debut album or their third album the classic London Calling, Give ‘Em Enough Rope is a very good sophomore effort. The band branches out in their sound a bit more on this album. There’s still the aggressive punk and the reggae influence, but there’s also a touch of Disco (!) to be found in the song Stay Free.
Favorite track: Safe European Home
8) Chairs Missing – Wire This is another sophomore effort by another pioneering punk band. Wire took their music in a more artful, avant garde direction than most of their punk compatriots. Chairs Missing has the punk aggression (Sand In My Joints, Too Late) alongside the artfully weird (I Am The Fly, I Feel Mysterious Today). And they even deliver as catchy a pop song as any pop band, as my favorite track demonstrates. All with lyrics that are completely inscrutable.
Favorite track: Outdoor Miner
7) Road To Ruin – Ramones When Modern Rock radio became a commercial success in the Twin Cities market, after Nirvana broke punk rock into the American mainstream consciousness, you might have thought the Ramones had only one song. That is if you were going by what the Modern Rock station was playing. They only played I Wanna Be Sedated. It was infuriating to any Ramones fan. Road To Ruin gave us that song, but it also gave us I Just Want To Have Something To Do, I’m Against It, and She’s The One. For shame, Modern Rock radio, for shame.
Favorite track: Needles And Pins
6) Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo This debut album by those unusual boys from Ohio set the music world on its head. What is this? What kind of Rolling Stones cover is that? The excellent kind is what! Much more guitar based than later releases, Are We Not Men is full of catchy quirkiness. There’s Jocko Homo, Praying Hands, Gut Feeling/(Slap Your Mammy), and that Stones cover (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction. All great!
Favorite track: Uncontrollable Urge
5) Love Bites – Buzzcocks Sophomore efforts continue with this release by another of punk rock’s pioneers. Almost from the beginning, Buzzcocks delivered a more pop version of punk. Sure there was the angst and frustration, but all of it was delivered with such great melodies and hooks. And I love hooks! Stand out tracks include Ever Fallen in Love (With Someone You Shouldn’t’ve), Just Lust, Love Is Lies, and the terrific instrumental Walking Distance.
Favorite Track: Nothing Left
4) More Songs About Buildings And Food – Talking Heads Again we have ourselves a second effort by a punk pioneer. Like Wire, Talking Heads had a more artsy approach to their sound, however they tended not to be as aggressive. As was the case with most of their albums, Brian Eno was co-producer along with the band. This is the one with the excellent cover of Al Green’s Take Me To The River, which was the first song I’d ever heard by this legendary band.
Favorite track: I’m Not In Love
3) Go 2 – XTC Yep. Sophomore slump be damned! If anything XTC improved upon their songwriting from their debut album White Music (1977). Still in their quirky, edgy, pop/punk phase, this collection of songs is more focused. Bass player Colin Moulding’s songwriting had improved significantly since that first album and keyboardist Barry Andrews contributed two decent songs. But Andy Partridge was still in control.
Favorite track: Are You Receiving Me?
2) All Mod Cons – The Jam It can be said that the sophomore slump did affect UK Mod band, The Jam. Their second album This Is The Modern World (1977) was not nearly as well received as their debut (In The City also from 1977), but they righted the ship with this their third studio release. The album moves by at a brisk 37 minutes, but it is packed with outstanding tunes and sophisticated songwriting as heard on Mr. Clean, ‘A’ Bomb On Wardour Street, and Down In The Tube Station At Midnight.
Favorite track: It’s Too Bad
1) Another Music In A Different Kitchen – Buzzcocks I said there would be an artist with two entries on this list and it’s the Buzzcocks. It should be obvious that the band was really good in those early years. Crashing by at a faster clip than All Mod Cons, at just under 36 minutes, don’t think you won’t get your money’s worth. The band comes blasting out of the gate with Fast Cars and they don’t let up. I Need, You Tear Me Up, Love Battery, Get On Our Own, and Fiction Romance will have your inner punk wanting get slam dancing to exhaustion, which is what I did whenever I saw these guys in concert. This album is relentless.
Favorite track: Autonomy
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