Decades
A quarterly report that looks back
on music and film from 10, 20, 30 years ago

Top 25 Songs of 1977

on November 13, 2017, 12:00pm
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iggy pop Top 25 Songs of 197715. Iggy Pop – “Lust for Life”

Lust for Life

Produced and co-written by David Bowie, “Lust for Life” is the crown jewel of Iggy Pop’s ambitious collaborations with the late Thin White Duke. It’s like this huge hit of heroin to the nerves, an ecstatic rush of pop rock that wiggles the hips without tearing the ripped denim. Okay, that heroin metaphor is a little too easy, thanks to the song’s iconic inclusion in Danny Boyle’s 1996 drug romp Trainspotting, but wait a tick. That film’s entire opening sequence — a bunch of skag boys running around Scotland, Ewan McGregor among them, to the song — is rather emblematic of the titular anthem. It’s rough, dirty, but incredibly sexy. That’s long been Pop’s shtick, and while his work with the Stooges will forever sit front and center within his sprawling legacy, “Lust for Life” is his de facto theme song. Fun fact: The band Jet would later carve out an entire career from it. –Michael Roffman

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bobmarleyexodus Top 25 Songs of 197714. Bob Marley & The Wailers – “Waiting in Vain”

Exodus

Sadly, Bob Marley remains an artist that many, especially we Americans, have such a narrow understanding of. Most of us associate the reggae legend with certain religious and political beliefs and music that you can burn one to, but so many seem to neglect just what a brilliant all-around songwriter the man was — and that means tackling issues as familiar to rock and roll as unrequited love and pining. And “Waiting in Vain”, as well as any song ever written, captures those sentiments. With lines as simple as “It’s been three years since I’m knocking on your door/ And I still can knock some more,” and one of the great vocal turns in history following the first chorus, Marley reminds us, as so much of his music does, that matters of the heart are truly universal. –Matt Melis

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rumourshqpngimage Top 25 Songs of 197713. Fleetwood Mac – “Dreams”

Rumours

Stevie Nicks reportedly wrote “Dreams” in 10 minutes, which makes sense when you consider she was pouring her heart out about the dissolution of her relationship with Lindsey Buckingham. The result is a song that reluctantly lets an ex go their own way, albeit with a warning that they’re quite possibly making a huge mistake. But although “Dreams” contains hints of bitterness — courtesy of the inimitable lines, “Thunder only happens when it’s raining/ Players only love you when they’re playing” — the song exudes melancholy more than anything. Restrained guitar, layers of diaphanous vocals, and twirling drum grooves create an aura of sadness that’s made “Dreams” an enduring breakup classic. –Annie Zaleski

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myaimistrue Top 25 Songs of 197712. Elvis Costello – “Watching the Detectives”

My Aim Is True (US Version) 

“Something was supposed to be changing. I spent a lot of time with just a big jar of instant coffee and the first Clash album, listening to it over and over. By the time I got down to the last few grains, I had written ‘Watching the Detectives’,” Elvis Costello recalls. “The chorus had these darting figures that I wanted to sound like something from a Bernard Herrmann score. The piano and organ on the recorded version were all we could afford.” The song, arguably Costello’s finest, just went further to illustrate the unique forms punk could take. While some bands of that time were rioting and others were sitting in, Costello, armed with an eclectic musical background inherited from his musician father, turned the stuff of mundane young married life into a punk record the average person sitting at home could relate to. Nothing on the telly, honey? How about a little reggae-flavored film noir? Fucking brilliant. –Matt Melis

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talking heads Top 25 Songs of 197711. Talking Heads – “Psycho Killer”

Talking Heads: 77

“When I started writing this (I got help later), I imagined Alice Cooper doing a Randy Newman-type ballad,” David Byrne writes of “Psycho Killer” in the liner notes of Talking Heads’ greatest hits compilation, Once in a Lifetime. Well, that’s certainly one way to look at it. Really, what’s stunning about the art pop hit is how simple it sounds. It’s almost elementary, to say the least, and any nuance comes from Byrne’s jocular vocal delivery and whatever the hell he’s doing with the guitar toward the end. It’s haunting (in a good way) and yet also strange (in a good way), but we like haunting and strange, and that’s why, in turn, we loved the Talking Heads. As one of their earliest singles, they waved hello in the weirdest way possible, setting the stage for all of their glorious new wave subversions that would make them one of the most essential New York City exports of all time. –Michael Roffman

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 Top 25 Songs of 197710. Peter Gabriel – “Solsbury Hill”

Peter Gabriel

Countless songs have been written about musicians embarking on a solo career. But the elegant and nuanced “Solsbury Hill” a tune Peter Gabriel wrote about his decision to leave Genesis, is special. The lyrics make a veiled reference to an enlightening religious experience, which Gabriel secretly uses for solace and guidance while grappling with the career change. After he breaks the news, this faith buoys him (“I will show another me/ Today I don’t need a replacement”) and provides a welcoming embrace (“‘Hey,’ I said, ‘You can keep my things/ They’ve come to take me home'”). Musically, “Solsbury Hill” is also deceptively simple: Although galloping acoustic guitars and upbeat flute trills dominate, the song layers on blazing guitar accents and scribbling sonic effects and has a 7/4 time signature. –Annie Zaleski

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neil young Top 25 Songs of 197709. Neil Young – “Like a Hurricane”

American Stars ‘N Bars

Neil Young treated American Stars ‘N Bars more like a compilation than a new studio album, cherry-picking the various styles and players he had recorded with up until 1977. And despite the rhythm section of Crazy Horse appearing on most of the songs, we don’t get a proper rock hypnosis session until the penultimate track. Young’s tunneling solo gets all the credit (as usual), but “Like a Hurricane” only reaches a state of trippy perfection with Frank “Poncho” Sampedro’s Stringman synthesizer, the melancholy drone launching the arrangement into full-on psychedelia. Okay, make that Crazy Horse’s version of psychedelia. Weirdo interpreters ’til the end. —Dan Caffrey

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ramones rocket to russia 1977 Top 25 Songs of 197708. Ramones – “Sheena Is a Punk Rocker”

Rocket to Russia

UK outfits like Sex Pistols and The Clash finally caught up with the influential Ramones in 1977, putting out their own debuts. But breakneck speed was about all these bands had in common. While the Pistols touted anarchy and The Clash introduced a more blue-collar ethos, the Ramones were just a bunch of purists who longed for a bygone time when rock and roll was short, sweet, and to the point. Few songs sum that mantra up better than “Sheena Is a Punk Rocker”, a sub-three-minute, surf rock-indebted ode to an outsider who finds her place in the punk scene. While many on the scene viewed punk as a means to a political ends (or at least a chance to vent some anger), the Ramones saw it as a vehicle to recapture everything they grew up loving about rock and roll. –Matt Melis

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meat loaf bat out of hell Top 25 Songs of 197707. Meat Loaf – “Bat Out of Hell”

Bat Out of Hell

Meatloaf and writer Jim Steinman have consistently downplayed the Springsteen comparisons on “Bat Out of Hell” — never mind that E Streeters Roy Bittan and Max Weinberg both play on the song. But maybe Jim and Meat’s grievances stem from them originally wanting the song to sound bigger than Springsteen, with an orchestra, soprano boys’ choir, and god knows what else. It’s a testament to their grand ambition that, even without those embellishments, “Bat Out of Hell” still functions as a parody of The Boss. Their trick is that it manages to pack the power of a song like “Jungleland” while also making fun of it (however unknowingly): the teenage yearning, the Spector-esque rock bombast, the melodramatic imagery. Equating one’s self to a flying rodent isn’t all that different from comparing guitars to switchblades — it’s just a lot funnier. —Dan Caffrey

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billy joel Top 25 Songs of 197706. Billy Joel – “Only the Good Die Young”

The Stranger

Following the global success of The Stranger, Billy Joel could practically write his own press clippings. Prior to this breakout album, though, Joel was still widely known as the balladeer belting out “Piano Man”. While most youngish songwriters still scrapping for a bit of the spotlight would kill to have that kind of calling card, Joel thought it mislabeled him. Despite sitting behind a piano rather than wielding a guitar, he had always seen himself as a rock and roller, and “Only the Good Die Young” marked one of the first times his audience and the press couldn’t begrudge him that title. With its swinging hound dog vocals, controversial pro-lust lyrics (“Well, your mother told you all I could give you was a reputation”), groping plunks and debauched horns, Joel finally had a hit unfit for candlelit dinners or, according to many Catholic groups determined to ban it, public consumption. –Matt Melis

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sex pistols never mind the bollocks Top 25 Songs of 197705. Sex Pistols – “Anarchy in the U.K.”

Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols

Never mind what you’ve come to think of the Sex Pistols, or punk rock in general, over the years. When Johnny Rotten lets the words “Rrrright now” trill off his tongue before loosing a diabolical laugh in the opening seconds of “Anarchy in the U.K.”, the only thing for any upstanding citizen to do is take bloody cover. The band are playing nearly as fast as the Ramones but taking the time to spell out precisely what they are (“Anteechrist”, “An-ark-ist”), what we are (collateral damage), and their modus operandi (“an-ark-eee”). What they can’t explain, though, is what exactly they’re after, and that makes the band’s debut single all the more unnerving. “All we’re trying to do is destroy everything,” shrugged Rotten after EMI dropped the Pistols. And all a square, prudish British society was trying to do when this single dropped was not be terrified. –Matt Melis

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marquee moon Top 25 Songs of 197704. Television – “Marquee Moon”

Marquee Moon

With an intense love for poetry, it’s natural that Television frontman Tom Verlaine sees the more urban elements in nature and vice versa. The moon is a marquee, a Cadillac roars out of an overgrown graveyard, darkness takes on the same menace as a mugger on a street corner. But those are just the images of “Marquee Moon”. They only become poetry when bound together by Verlaine’s guitar solo with Richard Lloyd. Together, they form a musical double helix — a strand of DNA that created whatever hatched out of the egg on the cover of Wilco’s A Ghost Is Born. Guitarists are poets, too. They just use a different instrument. —Dan Caffrey

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saturdaynightfever Top 25 Songs of 197703. Bee Gees – “Stayin’ Alive”

Saturday Night Fever OST

If you’ve never heard “Stayin’ Alive”, you’re probably not too versed in pop culture. The second slice of Bee Gees on this list is as synonymous with disco as the glittery disco ball from above. That buttery groove, that shuffle, those strings, and that chorus are unmistakable, and the song has since become one big ol’ calling card for the ’70s. So much so that the song’s bigger than the film and soundtrack that birthed it — Saturday Night Fever — and that’s kind of a big deal given that both were straight-up colossal. Lyrically, it’s all about the struggle on the streets of New York City, which jives with the themes of the film, but also anyone trying to cut in this crazy world. Sadly, chest hair and two pizza slices won’t get you very far in this world anymore, but that doesn’t take away from the song’s majesty, even if it’s led to a really, really shitty movie of the same name by Sylvester Stallone. –Michael Roffman

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rumourshqpngimage Top 25 Songs of 197702. Fleetwood Mac – “The Chain”

Rumours

Did you know that “The Chain” is the only song on Rumours credited to all five members of Fleetwood Mac? That’s a pretty big deal given the band’s contentious legacy, but it speaks to the volume of sound that carries the drama from the starting line to its fiery finish. There isn’t a single MVP on this song, as everyone works in tandem, perhaps in an effort to stay true to the song’s namesake. Obviously, there’s no discrediting the brilliant duet between Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham, but then there’s Christine McVie delivering chill with her Hammond, Mick Fleetwood keeping things in check on percussion, and John McVie delivering the greatest bass interlude of 1977. Toss in a choice lyric for a tattoo (“And if you don’t love me now/ You will never love me again”) and some creaky Western vibes (blame the Dobro), and you’ve got Dream Team rock ‘n’ roll. –Michael Roffman

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heroes david bowie Top 25 Songs of 197701. David Bowie – “‘Heroes'”

“Heroes”

David Bowie fans — make that music fans; hell, make that people in general — tend to view “Heroes” as his message of ultimate optimism and rightfully so. It’s a song that helped mobilize the demolition of the Berlin wall. It’s a song written in the wake of defeating an all-consuming cocaine addiction. It’s a song written about unbridled love. But it’s also a song where the triumphant title gets bracketed by ironic quotation marks. It’s a song where the lovers at the center have a conflicted relationship. The guy drinks, the partnership might only last a day, and the couple really shouldn’t be together in the first place — remember, Bowie wrote the lyrics after seeing producer Tony Visconti secretly kiss his girlfriend at the Berlin Wall (Visconti was married at the time to Welsh folkie Mary Hopkin).

But that doesn’t mean these glimmers of light — the sobriety, the revolution, the romance (even the illicit kind) — shouldn’t be celebrated, even when cornered by darkness. That’s what Bowie’s getting at on “Heroes”. That’s why he eventually has to scream over Brian Eno’s white noise, because sometimes that’s what it takes to be heard. His shouting doesn’t drown out the more atonal elements of the song. They’re still there, same as always, but so is his achingly beautiful voice. And yes, it has beauty even when it’s raspy. Especially when it’s raspy. “Heroes” doesn’t make fun of wishing for goodness in the world. It just reminds us the shadow of real life is there, too. —Dan Caffrey

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