Saturday, April 14, 2018

Top 100 Albums of 1978

This came out of a Facebook note on Meat Loaf’s Bat Out of Hell. At least a few of the people reading this have a bunch of albums that came out in 1978 (which, for me, was sophomore and junior year in high school); most of them are probably sitting in a pile in the basement (but for those who have noted vinyl’s revival, better there than donated to Goodwill, right?).

Anyway, here are the top 100 albums of the year (per Billboard magazine’s year-end charts) and a few comments on each.  (Parentheses after the album titles indicates what format I have the album in; either CD, vinyl, or cassette. No parentheses means I don’t own it.)

1. Soundtrack, Saturday Night Fever (CD) – And also on eight-track at one point. Huge seller, obviously (it’s now at 21.6 million units sold in the United States, which is somewhat inflated by the fact it was a double vinyl album; it’s one disc on CD), but not as much of a necessity as you’d think – honestly, I doubt many discos in 1977 Brooklyn were playing the Bee Gees. The first side is all Bee Gee-related originals; the rest is a combination of instrumentals (by David Shire, who’s married, in a neat Saturday Night Fever-Grease crossover, to Did Conn) and leftovers (both KC & The Sunshine Band’s “Boogie Shoes” and The Trammps’ “Disco Inferno” became standalone hits from being on the album, but they had both been recorded a couple of years before).

2. Soundtrack, Grease – Never really wanted this. This is another double album where everything you want (the title track, “Summer Nights,” “Hopelessly Devoted to You,” “You’re the One That I Want”) is on Side 1 (which means it’s completely out of order relative to the movie – odd for a musical). The rest is songs from both the Broadway show and movie performed mostly by cast members other than John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John – I’m curious about “Look at Me, I’m Sandra Dee” given none of the names listed -- Stockard Channing, Didi Conn, Dinah Manoff, Jamie Donnelley – are well known for their singing. (Okay, Channing and Donnelley can sing, but Conn was dubbed in You Light Up My Life, and Manoff freely admits she was cast in Grease before the producers realized she had no background in singing or dancing.) There’s also almost an entire side of ‘50s oldies sung by Sha-Na-Na, who had their own TV show at the time, and a few other nonhits from Louis St. Louis and Cindy (now Cidny) Bullens. Between my Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons and Olivia Newton-John greatest hits sets, I’ve got all the important songs.

3. Fleetwood Mac, Rumours (CD, vinyl) – This came out February 1977 – I think it was still at or near the top of the charts when Saturday Night Fever hit. It still plays great today, of course. There are now two-disc and three-disc sets available; it might be easier to find a one-disc version and download “Silver Springs.”

4. Billy Joel, The Stranger (CD, vinyl, cassette) – Almost everybody had this when I was in high school; New Jersey was close enough to Long Island to have some similar stories, and the hits were all over the radio. This now also comes packages with a concert album which is nice, but not a necessity.

5. Steely Dan, Aja (CD, vinyl, cassette) – Didn’t get this until a few years after it came out (although I’d enjoyed the hits on the radio). It’s as close to a perfect album as I’ve ever heard – no weak tracks (well, maybe “I Got the News”). My CD copy is from the box set Citizen Steely Dan, which includes all of their studio albums from 1972 to 1980.

6. Chuck Mangione, Feels So Good (vinyl) – This was the #1 jazz album of 1978, which gives you an idea where jazz was at that point – this is jazz for those who don’t want to be challenged much, or (like me) guys who thought this might sound seductive (it wasn’t). Thank God Wynton Marsalis came along.

7. Styx, The Grand Illusion – I own no Styx studio albums (I do have a couple of greatest hits sets), and I doubt that will ever change.

8. Linda Ronstadt, Simple Dreams (CD) – This is the one with “Blue Bayou” and “It’s So Easy” on it. If you’re a huge fan of Linda’s, get the studio albums; if not, a good hits set will do.

9. Kansas, Point of No Return – Same situation here as with Styx.

10. Eric Clapton, Slowhand – Can’t believe I don’t have this but I do have such crappy Clapton albums as August and Pilgrim. I can’t stand “Wonderful Tonight,” which may have something to do with it.

11. Jackson Browne, Running on Empty (CD, vinyl, cassette) – Another one all the white kids in suburban New Jersey had to have. It’s stood the test of time better than some of the other albums on this list, not to mention most of Browne’s other albums.

12. Earth, Wind & Fire, All ‘n All (CD) – This is the one with “Serpentine Fire” and “Fantasy.” I didn’t get into EWF until I was in college, but honestly, anything they released from That’s the Way of the World (1975) to Raise! (1981) is worth getting.

13. Meat Loaf, Bat Out of Hell (CD, vinyl) – An album that was an absolute necessity then, but not now. I spent a few years thinking this became a hit because we were in between Springsteen albums, but this came out nine months before Darkness on the Edge of Town and stayed on the charts much longer. It’s another one for white suburban teenagers, but it hasn’t held up as well as, say, Running on Empty.14. Rod Stewart, Foot Loose and Fancy Free – No thanks.

15. Peter Brown, Fantasy Love Affair – This first “who the hell is this?” entry. Brown had a pretty big crossover hit from the disco charts with “Dance With Me” in 1978 (not the Orleans soft rock song; that was a couple of years earlier), and apparently that dragged the album to multiplatinum status. “Do Ya Wanna Get Funky With Me” had hit the top 20 the year before; you never hear that song on oldies stations at all. Anyway, his followup album didn’t hit; his record label (TK Records) collapsed, and that was that. He now does architectural design.

16. Barry Manilow, Even Now (vinyl) – Yeah, I once bought a few Barry Manilow records. I don’t want to talk about it.

17. Bob Welch, French Kiss (CD, vinyl) – Almost anything that was attached to Fleetwood Mac was a huge seller in 1978, including their former guitarist, who managed to get Christine McVie, Lindsey Buckingham, and Mick Fleetwood to play on a remake of his Mac song “Sentimental Lady.” Welch slowly ran out of good songs over the next few albums, but this one is still listenable, although Gene Page’s string arrangements haven’t aged well.

18. Electric Light Orchestra, Out of the Blue (vinyl) – The story behind my purchase of this album is interesting. I bought the album for a ridiculous $3.99 (it’s a double LP) at Korvettes in the spring of 1979, after it had fallen off the charts. It wasn’t a cut-out, but it was fairly warped – still playable, however. Years later, I learned ELO and their label, Jet Records, had pulled the distribution deal they had with United Artists after they learned UA was letting the warped vinyl copies into the marketplace against their wishes – they moved Jet to Columbia Records (which eventually bought out Jet).

19. Foreigner, Foreigner – I had a vinyl copy of this at one point, but I think I gave it to my sister.

20. Dolly Parton, Here You Come Again – Her first big crossover hit on the pop charts.

21. The Bee Gees, Here at Last… Live – Released in 1977; I have no doubt this revived when Saturday Night Fever hit.

22. Abba, The Album – I can’t imagine buying an Abba studio album – the hits are all anybody knows.

23. Jefferson Starship, Earth – Marty Balin and Paul Kantner barely wrote anything for this one (Balin left the band a few months after its release), all the hits were written by outside songwriters, and Grace Slick was tossed out of the band during the tour due to a drinking problem. Any questions?

24. Natalie Cole, Thankful – Don’t have any of her albums other than Unforgettable.

25. Eddie Money, Eddie Money (CD) – Downloaded this a year or so ago, and it wasn’t worth the wait.

26. George Benson, Weekend in L.A. – Double live album, which for some reason I don’t have (I have 10 others, including all of his Warner Brothers albums released between 1976 and 1985).

27. The Village People, Village People – I’m not sure how this ranked #27 for the year considering it never made it past #54 on the charts. Did somebody double-check the bean counters at Billboard?

28. Journey, Infinity – The first of the band’s big best sellers. No top 40 singles, though; “Wheel in the Sky” did the best at #57. Journey’s another “greatest hits sets only” band for me.

29. Queen, News of the World – This is the one with “We Will Rock You”/”We Are the Champions.” Again, I only have greatest hits sets by Queen, but I don’t find them irritating like I do the other top 40 rock bands of that era (Styx, Kansas, Journey, REO Speedwagon, Foreigner, etc.)

30. Andy Gibb, Flowing Rivers – Joe Walsh played guitar on “I Just Want to Be Your Everything” and “(Love Is) Thicker Than Water”? How far down did they mix his parts, anyway?

31. Atlanta Rhythm Section, Champagne Jam (vinyl) – ARS had their biggest hits while the Allman Brothers were broken up and after Lynyrd Skynyrd’s plane crash. I think that’s just a coincidence; their sound isn’t much like those two bands, even though they’re all Southern rockers. It’s a pretty decent record.

32. Donna Summer, Once Upon a Time – first of four double albums in a row for Summer (along with Live and More, Bad Girls, and On the Radio: Greatest Hits), which may (along with the Saturday Night Fever and Grease soundtracks) explain the 1979 oil shortage for some people (I’m kidding, really).

33. Van Halen, Van Halen (CD) – almost nobody was doing metal in 1978 except these guys and Kiss (Led Zep was between albums); that would change in a few years.

34. The Village People, Macho Man – geez, their albums were short – neither this nor Village People made it to 30 minutes, which was just about the minimum for a single album at this time. I figured they were budget priced, but their first album was $7.98 list price for 21 minutes of music. (The download for that same album today is $3.49. Music and soda are cheaper now than they were 40 years ago.)

35. Barry Manilow, Live (CD) – Yeah, I know, you want a piece of me?

36. Roberta Flack, Blue Lights in the Basement – Contains “The Closer I Get to You,” her duet with Donny Hathaway. She started recording a full album with him a few months later, before his death in early 1979.

37. Chic, Chic – Contains “Dance, Dance, Dance (Yowzah, Yowzah, Yowzah),” which was all over the radio in 1978. Still, this would be forgotten today if it weren’t for their next few albums.

38. Gerry Rafferty, City to City (CD, vinyl) – Rafferty’s huge hit after spending a few years knocking around with other band (he was the guy who sang and cowrote “Stuck in the Middle With You” for Stealer’s Wheel). This one actually knocked Saturday Night Fever off #1 on the album charts. This and 1979’s Night Owl yielded five top 30 hits. It’s too bad Rafferty didn’t record his subsequent albums at a more leisurely pace (I don’t know if that was his choice or his record company’s); by the time Snakes and Ladders came out in 1980, he was remaking old songs to fill out the track list. He worked more leisurely after he stopped charting in America, but by that time he’d also developed a drinking problem, which killed him in 2010.

39. Carly Simon, Boys in the Trees – this one has “You Belong to Me” on it, cowritten with Michael McDonald. Apparently the danskin she’s wearing on the cover was airbrushed on; she posed for the photo topless but then decided that was unnecessary. That’s pretty impressive work for that era, as most 1970s airbrushed art looks very fake.

40. Parliament, Funkentelechy vs. The Placebo Syndrome – “Flashlight” was the big hit from this one.

41. The Commodores, Natural High – “Three Times a Lady,” which I still don’t care for to this day, was the one that sold this record.

42. Lynyrd Skynyrd, Street Survivors – Their last studio album before the plane crash that killed Ronnie Van Zant, Steve Gaines, and Cassie Gaines.

43. The Rolling Stones, Some Girls (vinyl) – This makes it obvious the top 100 albums of the year are from roughly November 1 to October 31 (in order to allow time to calculate the results); this would have been much higher on the list if it was the actual year.

44. Steve Martin, Let’s Get Small (vinyl) – The late 1970s was about the last gasp for standup comedy albums hitting high on the charts.

45. Bob Seger & The Silver Bullet Band, Stranger in Town (CD, vinyl) – Four top 40 hits from this one, which is one of his two best-selling studio albums (along with Night Moves) at six million copies.

46. Kiss, Alive II – Geez, these guys moved product. Between their debut in 1974 and the end of 1978, they released six studio albums, two double live albums, a double greatest hits set, and four solo albums.

47. Grover Washington, Jr., Live at The Bijou – This is another one I can’t figure out. It did peak at #11, but it didn’t even go gold – which, considering it was a double vinyl album (which counted as two sales), makes it seem unlikely that it could be in the top half of albums sold over the entire year. Also hard to understand how The Crusaders’ Images finished ahead of this in the Jazz year-end charts, but didn’t show up on the overall 100 top albums at all.

48. Ashford & Simpson, Send It – UPS or through the mail?

49. Lou Rawls, When You’ve Heard Lou, You’ve Heard It All – Lou was doing Budweiser commercials at the time, which explains the album title.

50. Waylon Jennings & Willie Nelson, Waylon & Willie – This is one I would have liked to have downloaded before my library’s Freegal subscription expired.

51. The O’Jays, So Full of Love – This is another good one I missed. “Use Ta Be My Girl” was the hit from this one.

52. Shaun Cassidy, Shaun Cassidy – Could have been worse; could have been Leif Garrett.

53. Randy Newman, Little Criminals – Newman’s biggest seller (actually, some of his Pixar soundtrack work may have done better) on the strength of “Short People.” It’s a shame such a good songwriter is best known for a Dr. Demento-worthy song, but that’s the way it goes.

54. Warren Zevon, Excitable Boy – Zevon’s biggest seller; this includes “Werewolves of London.”

55. The Commodores, Live – With only twelve songs on a seventy-minute album, a bunch of these songs are very long – “Easy,” “Sweet Love,” and “Just to Be Close to You” are all over seven minutes long, which is way too much for ballads on a double live album.

56. Wings, London Town – Not one of Paul’s best; the album was recorded in kind of a chaotic period (Joe English and Jimmy McCulloch both bailed on the band).

57. Kenny Rogers, Ten Years of Gold – 34 minutes of dreck.

58. Shaun Cassidy, Born Late – And another one from Shaun.

59. Genesis, And Then There Were Three – The trio of Tony Banks, Phil Collins, and Mike Rutherford recorded six studio albums and three live albums as Genesis (excluding the reunion album Live Over Europe 2007). I have all of them but this one.

60. Soundtrack, Thank God It’s Friday – This may have been slightly more reflective of what discos were actually playing in this era than Saturday Night Fever, and certainly did more than anything else to move Donna Summer’s career into the stratosphere. I’ll keep an eye out for it.

61. Soundtrack, FM – I’d like to see this movie (which is supposed to be pretty good). The soundtrack I can live without, mostly because I already have 18 of its 20 songs elsewhere. It was assembled by Irving Azoff, who managed The Eagles, Steely Dan, Jimmy Buffett, and Dan Fogelberg.

62. Player, Player – They weren’t a one-hit wonder, “This Time I’m in It for Love” was also a top 10 hit.

63. Jimmy Buffett, Son of a Son of a Sailor (CD) – If you’re going to start listening to Buffett and a greatest hits set isn’t available, start here: “Cheeseburger in Paradise,” “Livingstone Saturday Night,” and the great title track are all on this album.

64. Elvis Costello, My Aim Is True (cassette) – Hard to believe I haven’t gotten this on CD yet, but with all the different versions (the original came out on Columbia, and Rykodisc, Rhino, and Hip-O have all rereleased the album with demos, additional tracks, and live versions) I haven’t found one I liked at a reasonable price. I’m also of the opinion that This Year’s Model, Armed Forces, and Get Happy! are better albums.

65. Heatwave, Too Hot to Handle – One of two solid albums by the group (this contains “Boogie Nights”).

66. Linda Ronstadt, Greatest Hits (CD) – This came out in December 1976, and still ranked here in 1978. Pretty great set.

67. Joe Walsh, But Seriously Folks – It has “Life’s Been Good,” which is a great song; since I’ve never heard anything else from the album to my knowledge, I think I’m good with the greatest hits set.

68. Bruce Springsteen, Darkness at the Edge of Town – Darker than Born to Run (Springsteen had been sidelined for a couple of years due to management lawsuits), this didn’t do as well as expected on initial release, probably because it didn’t have a great single (“Prove It All Night” and “Badlands” did just okay, neither making top 30). But it’s still sold 3 million copies.

69. Rufus featuring Chaka Khan, Street Player – The billing is important; Rufus’ next few albums didn’t always have Chaka in the lineup. The title track was cowritten by Chicago drummer Danny Seraphine, which that band tried releasing the following summer as a disco single. Didn’t work.

70. Heatwave, Central Heating – Their other solid album (this one has “Always and Forever” and “The Groove Line”). After this one came out, Rod Temperton left the band to focus on songwriting, then the bass player was stabbed by his girlfriend, and a year later the lead singer was paralyzed in a car accident, and the group slowly ground to a halt.

71. Andy Gibb, Shadow Dancing – I know some people loved Andy Gibb, but to me it’s just more Bee Gees songs with a weaker lead singer.

72. Neil Diamond, I’m Glad You’re Here With Me Tonight – Uh, okay Neil.

73. Johnny Mathis, You Light Up My Life – Debby Boone’s version of the title song was still on the charts when this came out, and there are two Bee Gees songs, plus “Too Much, Too Little, Too Late,” his #1 duet with Deniece Williams. Anything else you need to know?

74. The Steve Miller Band, Book of Dreams (CD, vinyl) – Another leftover from 1977, albeit one of my favorites.

75. Little Feat, Waiting for Columbus (CD) – Double live album and probably the best place to hear the band; original CD version is hurt by lopping off two songs to fit the whole thing on one disc.

76. Evelyn “Champagne” King, Smooth Talk – Her big hit from this album was “Shame.”

77. Pablo Cruise, Worlds Away (vinyl) – Poppy band from the late ‘70s had three chart hits here: “Love Will Find a Way,” “Don’t Want to Live Without It,” and “I Go to Rio.” My copy was manufactured by RCA Music Service; I was very confused as a result when my vinyl copy had the Mercury stock labels instead of A&Ms (manufacturing error).

78. Foreigner, Double Vision – Released in late June 1978, which is why it ranks so low. The opening of “Hot Blooded” is fairly similar to Pablo Cruise’s “Love Will Find a Way” to the point that I couldn’t always tell which one it was in the first 10 second of listening on the radio.

79. Todd Rundgren, Hermit of Mink Hollow (CD) – A pretty good Todd album, after a few years of confusing listeners with a move toward prog rock. Sometimes I wish he’d had someone else in the room when he made this record (he played all the instruments and did all the vocals, engineered and produced himself); “Can We Still Be Friends” might have been an even bigger hit if he’d done something a little more interesting with the bridge and outro.

80. A Taste of Honey, A Taste of Honey – This is where you’ll find “Boogie Oogie.” It’s a shame in a way it was such a fluke hit because it’s enormously catchy, and the two women in the band weren’t there as eye candy – they played guitar and bass and cowrote most of the songs.

81. Willie Nelson, Stardust – His first album of standards.

82. The Isley Brothers, Showdown (CD) – I just downloaded this a few years ago; it’s pretty good. “Groove With You” was the biggest hit.

83. Rick James, Come Get It – His first big solo album (only took ten years; he originally signed with Motown in the mid-1960s), with “You and I” and “Mary Jane.”

84. Odyssey, Odyssey – You know, I have no problem with “Native New Yorker,” which isn’t really a standard disco tune.

85. Peabo Bryson, Reaching for the Sky – I’m not really familiar with Bryson’s work, but what I’ve heard makes me think he’s a less interesting version of Luther Vandross.

86. Bootsy’s Rubber Band, Bootsy? Player of the Year – Bootsy Collins was an offshoot of George Clinton’s Parliament/Funkadelic stable, although he hasn’t been associated with Clinton in decades. I’d like to start hearing some of this, but the chances of finding a used Bootsy CD aren’t good. The only sample I have of his work is on Deee-Lite’s “Groove Is in the Heart.”

87. Barbra Streisand, Songbird – The title track was a moderate hit; the big song is her solo version of “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers,” which only became a duet after some enterprising DJs mashed up her version with Neil Diamond’s version on I’m Glad You’re Here With Me Tonight.

88. Boz Scaggs, Down Two Then Left (vinyl) – Really uninteresting followup to Scaggs’ Silk Degrees, which sold approximately five times as many copies.

89. Teddy Pendergrass, Life Is a Song Worth Singing – Sometimes the lead singer does better after bolting the group, sometimes not. In this case, Pendergrass was trying to improve his billing in Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes (some fans thought he was Melvin, since he was their lead singer). The end result was he left the group, who bolted Philadelphia International Records for ABC (and never got the handle again outside of one nifty single, “Reaching for the World”). Pendergrass stayed at PIR and with superproducers Gamble and Huff, and became even more popular than before.

90. Heart, Magazine – Heart bolted the tiny Canadian label Mushroom after “Magic Man” hit because, frankly, their promotions for the band were gross (Google for details). Mushroom tried to get vengeance by releasing an album of outtakes; Heart sued to have the original version taken off the market and won. This is the rerelease; it ain’t great but it’s better than what it was.

91. L.T.D., Something to Love – I guess they’re less particular than Jefferson Airplane, who wanted “Somebody to Love.”

92. Little River Band, Sleeper Catcher – Two top 10 hits on this one, “Reminiscing” and “Lady,” but I don’t think I’d bother with LRB except for greatest hits sets.

93. Bob James, Heads – yet another mellow fusion jazz album from the late 1970s. Again, I question Billboard’s accounting methods, as albums by both Joe Sample and Quincy Jones finished ahead of this one on the year-end jazz album chart, but not here.

94. Brick, Brick – “Dazz” was their monster hit. They’re still around.

95. War, Galaxy – Not a bad showing considering the title track was the only hit, and that barely cracked the top 40. I only have a greatest hits set by the band; my knowledge of their hits is limited by the fact WABC seems to have kept many of their hits off the air (at least in the daytime).

96. Santa Esmeralda, Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood – Title track was a major pop and disco hit.

97. Raydio, Raydio – no, not Elvis Costello’s song. This is the band’s first album (with “Jack and Jill”); Ray Parker Jr. later became the focus of the band.

98. Patti Smith, Easter – Probably her best-known album due to the hit “Because the Night” (written by Bruce Springsteen) and Gilda Radner’s impression of her on Saturday Night Live. Smith’s still releasing albums on major labels, and they’re still charting (her latest, Banga, hit #57 in 2012).

99. Boston, Boston (CD) – this came out in August 1976; to be on the top 100 albums two years later is quite a feat. Don’t Look Back came out in August 1978, too late to be included here.

100. Rita Coolidge, Anytime… Anywhere – Coolidge’s stuff never interested me (as Robert Christgau once noted, “It takes a very special kind of stupidity to slow "Higher and Higher" into a down”), as she’s not a songwriter herself and thus is dependent on whoever’s producing to get her good material. Linda Ronstadt made a career out of that, but Ronstadt’s a better singer than Coolidge in my opinion.

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