Over the past few months at Record Breaker, we have been reflecting on the music of 1977 – now forty years ago. It was a year of change and innovation – with the rise of punk and disco, the increased use of multi-track recording and synthesizers and the development of classic rock, 1977 is an important year in music history.
All of the staff here at Record Breaker have taken the time to take a closer look at defining albums from the year 1977 – whether they found themselves near the top of the charts or not – and picked out the ones we found hold an important place in the world of music in 1977, in order of rank according to bestalbumsever.com. From the bottom of the chart to the very top – these albums are worth researching and listening to.
#63: Love You by The Beach Boys
By Ashley Spina
Over a decade after The Beach Boys ditched their “surf tunes” and released the hugely iconic and influential Pet Sounds, the group released Love You. The album, was the last Beach Boys album that was entirely written and produced by founding member Brian Wilson, and was initially intended to be released as Wilson’s debut solo album. It was released just before the rise of punk and disco and after the “Brian’s Back” campaign, which celebrated Wilson’s recovery from a mental breakdown that occurred just a year or so before, and left him struggling with mental illness, alcoholism, overeating and drug addiction. It peaked at number 53 on the US Billboard 200, as well as number 28 on the UK Top 40 Albums.
Love You was one of the first albums to make use of multi-track recording – meaning that one man was able to do the work of an entire band by himself, including production. Because of this, Wilson played nearly every instrument on the album and then produced the album on his own afterwards. It was also one of the first albums to experiment heavily with synthesizers, making it an early contributor to synth-pop, and an influence on new wave and punk bands that came afterwards. The synthesizers combined with Brian’s eccentric chords, melodies and sometimes unusual lyrics and subject matter make for a collection of songs that are unique, airy, yet bizarre. In a review of the album, singer-songwriter Patti Smith described that Wilson is “[seemingly] frozen forever within the light bubbly aura of a birthday party.”
Though it was considered a flop during the time of it’s release, Love You eventually developed a cult following for decades afterwards, and according to Musician, Played and Listener in 1981, it ranked with Fleetwood Mac’s Tusk, Steely Dan’s Katy Lied, and Neil Young’s Zuma as one of the best California rock albums of the decade. Many reviewers and fans have claimed the album to be Wilson’s most ambitious work of the decade, as it reflected Wilson’s anticipated journey to find happiness again.
#58: Street Survivors by Lynyrd Skynyrd
By Bilan Mohamed
Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Street Survivors was released on October 17, 1977. The album itself embodies southern rock, which was Lynyrd Skynyrd’s signature sound for their run as a group. This sound is one that remains throughout the album itself, which is shown through songs like Honky Tonk Night Time Man, Sweet Little Missy, Georgia Peaches, and many others. It is a sound that Lynyrd Skynyrd stuck with, as it is their most well known genre and one that they are good at.
One of the songs on the album is called “That Smell”, which is a song written by late lead singer Ronnie Van Zant. This is a song that is very famously speaking out against drug use. It is the most well known song on the album.
This is an album that wound up going down in history as the most memorable album that Lynyrd Skynyrd ever released, and this wasn’t because of the music. Unfortunately, that would not be the case, as the group was maybe expecting. This album is well known for one reason, and that is one that is in no way cheerful. Sadly, just three days after the album was released, the plane that the band were in crashed, killing three of the band’s members (lead singer Ronnie Van Zant, the recently acquired guitarist Steve Gaines, and Gaines’ sister Cassie as well as a crew member and the pilots). As a result, the title of the album wound up taking on another meaning entirely. The group eventually continued on with their careers, with the younger brother of Ronnie Van Zant replacing him as the lead singer, but the plane crash would forever become a part of their legacy, and Street Survivors is the last album that was recorded with all of the original members on hand.
#52: Moonflower by Santana
By Veronica De Silva
Santana, an American Latin rock band released an album called Moonflower in October 1977. The album was quite different from other works that were made during the time. It consisted of both studio and live versions of the tracks. Not to mention the fact that Moonflower also contains hit singles from later albums such as “Black Magic Woman,” and “Carnival.” To make it easier for fans, Santana decided to put all of their amazing songs onto one disk.
This may have been great and all, but a few fans did not like the repeat of songs. They would have preferred new ones instead. But even so, to this day lovers of Santana still refer back to those same songs off the album. It provided them inspiration to be able to play these songs. The songs on the album are quite different from other bands music. Usually in a band, the lead singer would stand out in the songs. Carlos instead, has his guitar shining through in the songs. In fact, not all of the songs have frequent singing in it, most of the time it has his famous tone.
In the life of Carlos Santana, the lead guitarist and creator of the band, he had a few influences in his life. B.B King is one of them. King is a well famous blues singer and guitarist. It is no wonder where Carlos and his band got their style of genre from. They decided to fuse the styles of Latin, blues and rock music together to create something new. It also contains a well polish and tranquil guitar rhythm, which Carlos plays in all of the music he creates especially in this album. But most of the time, the band is considered in the genre of rock because of Carlos being a guitar virtuoso for his skills. Because of their Latin roots, Santana’s sound is quite traditional compared to most bands.
#19: Out of the Blue by Electric Light Orchestra
By Taylor Severin
Electric Light Orchestra was a band that incorporated modern rock music with classical overtones; it was a chaotic sound that was exhilarating to hear. Using “electric” sounding rock instruments such as electric guitars, and combining them with “light orchestra” sounds such as violins and cellos, their album Out of the Blue, released in October of 1977, encompasses this mixture of classical and rock the most clearly. As Electric Light Orchestra’s seventh studio album and most commercially successful record, Out of the Blue was a double LP that sold about 10 million copies worldwide. When you hear the combination of sounds, you might believe that this album is from today, however the harmonies and rock aspect of this album also remind listeners of the Beatles sound. The band’s songwriter and multi-instrumentalist, Jeff Lynne, wrote the entire album in only three and a half weeks. In a rented chalet in the Swiss Alps, he left himself in solitude, determined to write. After two weeks of terrible weather and writer’s block, the sun finally came out; sparking a sudden burst of creativity which inspired Lynne to write the hit single “Mr. Blue Sky”: a contagiously catchy song that celebrates the excitement and triumph that one feels upon inclement weather clearing up. Stimulated by how the weather affects one’s mood, 16 other songs were written swiftly by the inspired Lynne. The orchestral and choral arrangements and rehearsals with band members occurred quickly and only one month after Lynne’s excursion to Switzerland, Electric Light Orchestra was ready to record the double album. With Lynne’s enticing melodies, perfect production, and clever arrangements, Out of the Blue stayed on the charts for over two years and was a Top 5 platinum hit in both the United States and the United Kingdom. Hit singles include “Turn to Stone,” “Sweet Talkin’ Woman,” “Wild West Hero,” and “Mr. Blue Sky.”
#15: Rocket to Russia by Ramones
By Kerrisa Drouillard
Rocket to Russia was the second album to come out by the Ramones in 1977, after Leave Home, but was also their highest-charting to date. In a sense, it was their reaction to the release of the first album by British punk rock group The Sex Pistols, wanting to out-do them. This inspired the band to step up their game in quality production, while sticking to their classic routine of a three-chord pattern over witty and dark lyrics. This was originally seen in one of the band’s most famous tracks, from their first and self-titled album what is said to have helped with the invention of the punk sound, “Blitzkreig Bop.”
In the case of Rocket to Russia, “reductionist aggression” seems to sum it up quite nicely, as described by Rolling Stone author Dave Marsh in ’77. While it still has the fast aggression of rock typical of the Ramones – this being their third album, and every track being less than two minutes long – it also is a great example of the punk tradition of criticizing traditional aspects of society. With songs like “We’re A Happy Family,” “I Don’t Care,” “I Wanna Be Well,” and even with hints in this album’s single “Sheena Is A Punk Rocker,” the band is unabashed in their reflections on the typical, white-picket-fenced, suburbia America represented at the time.
This is where they differed from band’s like The Sex Pistols, who were all about taking rash political stances, and part of why they believe this album didn’t do as well as they’d hoped. Suddenly, the Ramones didn’t match this edgy tone with their reductionist style. On the other hand, the Ramones saw this new style as being fake and consumerist-based.
No matter the stance, the Ramones and Rocket to Russia rose to fame for a reason, keeping the influence of punk rock alive in the music scene. Ah, and you know that style of leather jackets and ripped jeans that’s still around? You can thank them for that too.
#14: Bat Out Of Hell by Meat Loaf
By James Holland
Bat Out Of Hell is the brainchild of composer Jim Steinman and Meat Loaf, and drew inspiration from Steinman’s play Neverland, essentially a metal version of the Disney classic. What spurred Steinman and Meat Loaf’s decision to convert the play into an album was a raising ‘car crash epidemic’ that began to emerge in the 60s, which resulted in music romanticizing the concept, which for some reason proved popular with the teenage audience. The album’s titular song “Bat Out of Hell” was believed by Steinman to be the “greatest crash song ever created”, which prompted his desire to push it as a single. The resulting album blended together rock and roll, opera, pop and elements of theatre to create an album and a sound that is still unique and unreplicated to this day.
The songs themselves are as hilarious as they are memorable, with Meat Loaf saying he’ll stay with a girl till the end of time, and then praying the end of time comes soon in the next line. Or the titular track “Bat Out of Hell” which is a hard core, epic track romanticizing a motorcycle crash with dueling guitars, a heavy drum line and pop undertones thanks to the keyboard.
Not only was Bat out of Hell unique in sound, but the composition and subject matter were similarly out of place as well. The longest track on the album clocks in at around 9:48, and yet despite the album being filled with almost an hour worth of epic music, it still leaves you longing for more. And Meatloaf delivers on that with 2 sequels to his infamous album and handful of years later.
I think what makes the album stand out is its humour and strange composition, something which initially threatened the entirety of the project in its infancy. To this day, Bat Out of Hell is praised as one of the greatest rock albums ever made, a crown which it has rightly earned.
#12: The Stranger by Billy Joel
By Brady Anderson
As far as pop/rock went in 1977, there were many things going on. We saw the emergence of punk rock and the success of pop rock with Fleetwood Mac taking centre stage, but another artist keen on making a name for himself in terms of rock music came about big time in 1977 as well: Billy Joel.
Billy Joel started his rise to fame with Turnstiles released in 1976, but it was really only the stepping stone for him on his way to fame and fortune. In 1977 he followed up his first major success with his best selling album of all time; The Stranger. The Stranger combined styles of Joel’s rock piano background with his rock and roll vocal style to create a piano album without equal.
The album features piano rock song classics such as “Just the Way You Are” (#3 on the top 100 rock/pop songs of the year), “Only the Good Die Young” (#24) and “She’s Always A Woman” (#17) that paved the way for piano pop/rock artists like Vanessa Carlton, and Ben Folds who both talk about Joel’s influence on their careers listening to him while they were younger.
The sounds of this album are often described as full and innovative due to the influence Phil Ramone had on it. He added more of a shaped mix to the pre-recorded samples that Joel and his band had laid down, and he also added touches of new ideas – like the iconic whistle heard all throughout the album – that influenced artists – like John Mayer – to follow the same sort of groundwork when it came to their production.
#11: Pink Flag by Wire
By Andrew Whitmarsh
Released at the tail-end of 1977, Wire’s debut, Pink Flag, is an album that has quietly garnered a legacy over the past forty years. While it was initially given little attention both critically and commercially upon its release, it proved to have a long lasting influence with its unique approach to punk.
It is an album that had already begun to play with the limitations of what was possible within punk before 1977, the year in which punk exploded, had even finished. Although Wire were a London group still rooted in punk at the time of the release of Pink Flag, it was clear they had greater ambitions than simply getting angry. Indeed, their interesting approach to song writing on Pink Flag – in which they played songs only as long as they felt necessary, regardless of traditional song structure – and surprising ear for pop melodies allows the album to stick out from its peers in hindsight.
While post punk may not have yet started in ‘77, Wire’s brand of art punk illustrates that there was already a certain awareness of the limitations of punk – something post punk would officially recognize and proceed to break in the coming years. Thanks to this, Pink Flag proved to have one of the most lasting impacts of albums released during the punk’s first wave. So, even though the impact of such albums as Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols proved to be much more immediate, Pink Flag was a stew set to boil at a glacial pace and proved to be all the tastier when finished as a result.
Ultimately, Pink Flag was an exceptionally forward looking album for its time, both influencing and predicting aspects of hardcore, post punk and alternative rock. It is an album worth looking back to in order to receive a greater awareness of the lasting influence punk has proven to have on music.
#10: Heroes by David Bowie
By Taylor Campbell
Heroes is a collaborative masterpiece of ambience and pop. It came out of a time in Bowie’s life when he was winning the battle against a cocaine addiction in Berlin with friend Iggy Pop. The two immersed themselves in the German art scene, shrouded in the liberating veil of anonymity that freed them temporarily from pop-stardom. In Berlin, Bowie found inspiration, and a comfort to create substance-free that had evaded him for the two years prior. Low, which preceded Heroes by only nine months, barely hinted at the healing to come.
For Low, Bowie teamed up with his long time producer Tony Visconti, as well as Brian Eno of Roxy Music fame. The two stayed on board for Heroes; Visconti had some new, even more eccentric production techniques to test out on this album, and Eno, a pioneer of electronic ambience and art pop, had in mind a change from Low’s dark sound with his addition of King Crimson guitarist Robert Fripp. The contributions of these three men, along with Bowie’s own ability to create, culminated in an album that travels from the driving wail of looped guitar distortion to ambient synthesizer and saxophone cries. Bowie sings on these tracks like someone’s tearing his heart out. He screams and shouts at mics that Visconti has 50 feet from Bowie’s face.
Some tracks are dark (“Sense of Doubt”), and some are optimistic (“Moss Garden”), but all of them tell some part of Bowie’s 1977 story. “Blackout” covers his upcoming divorce from Angie, his interest in Japanese art, and his alcoholic amnesia. “The Secret Life of Arabia” details his transition into sobriety. The title track has become an anthem for young lovers, and is widely regarded as one of the greatest songs of Bowie’s career. No matter what year you first listen to it, Heroes is always something new.
#1: Rumours by Fleetwood Mac
Of course, the iconic Rumours – which is found at the top of every 1977 album charts – deserves a mention in this list of ours. We wrote a feature on this unforgettable LP earlier this year for it’s 40th anniversary, which can be found here.
Below, we’ve included a Spotify playlist with notable songs from each album for you to listen to. Enjoy!