March 2, 2015
#18 – The Doobie Brothers – “It Keeps You Runnin’” – (1976)
This Doobie Brothers classic was written by lead singer Michael McDonald and features his silky smooth blue-eyed soul voice. The Doobie Brothers spot on this list came down between this and “Takin’ It To The Streets.” I picked this one for the great vocals and funky Steely Dan-esque groove it has.
February 27, 2015
#19 – Gordon Lightfoot – “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” – (1976)
This huge hit for Gordon Lightfoot has to have the weirdest inspiration for a hit song ever. The SS Edmund Fitzgerald sank in 1975 and Lightfoot, for some reason, decided to write a folk ballad about it. Stranger still, it was a #2 hit in the U.S. and a #1 in Canada. This song is basically a story, sung, about a giant boat sinking in a storm and killing its crew. It’s not really a happy tune and there have been so many disasters in the past 100 years, so to single out one ship that went down in the “Great Gitche Gumee” is so bizarre to me. I don’t know. But Lightfoot is one of Canada’s proudest sons and this is his best work.
February 25, 2015
#20 – Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers – “Breakdown” – (1976)
“Breakdown” was Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers’ first single. Ever. It came from their self-titled debut album that was released near the end of 1976. It just barely became a top 40 hit in the U.S. and Canada – good enough that radio stations continued to give Petty airtime for many years to come.
February 23, 2015
#21 – Wings – “Let ‘Em In” – (1976)
Okay, so we’re on to 1978. Originally, I had “Live and Let Die” at #2 on this year’s rundown, but I already featured that song as part of our James Bond countdown. So I bumped everything up a spot and Wings again became eligible for the list, turns out “Let ‘Em In” is good enough to make the cut, but not good enough to make the top two. It’s a good song, and it made it into the top three on the Hot 100 and was an Adult Contemporary #1.
February 20, 2015
Mariah Carey – “Anytime You Need a Friend” – (1993)
Music Box was one of Mariah Carey’s biggest albums and while this wasn’t even among the album’s three biggest songs, it still managed to hit #12 on the Hot 100 (it was the album’s fourth and final single). Remember, in the early 1990s, Mariah still had the full range of that amazing voice (it changed as the decade progressed to where she tried to stay as high as possible in that range by ’99). But what’s great here is the gospel feel the song has with those backing vocals.
February 18, 2015
INXS – “Need You Tonight” – (1987)
This is INXS’s best song. I am befuddled as to why this didn’t appear on our Top 100 Songs of the 80s countdown, because it should’ve been in the top 25. Strange. It’s that guitar riff that sets this song apart and gets it stuck in your head for hours. That’s part of the reason it became INXS’s signature tune. It was also a Billboard Hot 100 #1.
February 16, 2015
AC/DC – “Shot Down in Flames” – (1979)
Highway to Hell was AC/DC’s final album with Bon Scott on lead vocals and it was packed with good hard rock songs. “Shot Down in Flames” is the second-best track on the album, behind the title track, of course. It wasn’t one of the album’s three singles, but I still hear it on classic rock radio from time to time.
February 13, 2015
#1 – Fleetwood Mac – “The Chain” – (1977)
Honestly, if I didn’t abide by the rule of “only one song per artist per year” on this whole “Top 21 by Year” thing, then Fleetwood Mac would’ve covered half of 1977. Rumours is the greatest album of all time – every single song is fantastic. It’s one of the biggest-selling albums of all time and “The Chain” is the only song on the album that is credited to every member of the band. Really, it’s incredible that this album was ever finished considering that the band was basically exploding from within – and that’s where the genius of a lot of the songs come from. I could’ve picked almost any song from this album to be #1 (I had to whittle it down from five), but this, to me, stands out among the others.
February 11, 2015
#2 – Jackson Browne – “The Load Out/Stay” – (1977)
This is actually two songs. But they’re so commonly played as one that I’m including them as one. “Stay” is sometimes heard on it’s own, but no one ever plays “The Load Out” alone. The first part is a tribute to Browne’s fans and roadies. It’s basically about tearing the stage down after a show and the piano is hauntingly beautiful. It was recorded live in Maryland in ’77 but wasn’t released as a single with “Stay” – a cover of the Maurice Williams & the Zodiacs song from 1960. This is a long track, with the tempo not really picking up until well after the three minute mark. And the “Stay” part – no that’s not actually an aging Maurice Williams hitting those high notes, its Browne band member David Lindley (and Rosemary Butler is the female voice).
February 9, 2015
#3 – Eric Clapton – “Wonderful Tonight” – (1977)
This is a wonderful slow dance song from Slowhand himself. This charted into the top 20 on the Hot 100 when released and has remained a staple at weddings either as the first dance (for older couples, primarily) or as just a slow dance song. It’s beautiful.
February 6, 2015
#4 – Marvin Gaye – “Got To Give It Up (Pt. 1)” – (1977)
Marvin Gaye was an incredible artist and one we lost far too soon. Because if you can pen a song like this, you probably have a lot more to give. But he was killed less than 10 years after this live album’s release. There are elements of disco, funk, and soul here and it topped the Hot 100 in the summer of ’77. More recently, this song is known as the one Robin Thicke sampled without permission in the still-catchy “Blurred Lines.”
February 4, 2015
#5 – Billy Joel – “Movin’ Out (Anthony’s Song)” – (1977)
Man, listen to those opening bits of music. It has a fantastic, underrated groove to it. “Movin’ Out” was also the name of the Broadway play based around the songs of Billy Joel. And it’s one of his best songs. It’s rare to hear songs nowadays that actually tell a story, and Billy Joel was a master at it. This song is very New York, too – and if you don’t know what I mean, I’m afraid I can’t explain it any more than that.
February 2, 2015
#6 – George Benson – “On Broadway” – (1978)
“On Broadway” is a soul classic, originally recorded by The Drifters in 1963. But in 1977, George Benson recorded a live album in L.A. And recorded an awesome jazzy, R&B version of the song. Sure, Weekend in L.A. was released in 1978, but the recording was in ’77, thus it’s inclusion here (yeah, right, as if I didn’t goof my years when I made my list). The original version really isn’t comparable to this – the arrangements are completely different. And this one is amazing.
January 30, 2015
#7 – The Emotions – “Best of My Love” – (1977)
This might be the best disco song ever released. It’s a fantastic blend of soul and disco and R&B. It was a Hot 100 #1 hit and if you’ve never seen the opening sequence of the film Boogie Nights, do yourself a favor and watch it as it uses this song in a fantastic way. This song was written by two members of Earth, Wind & Fire, which is perhaps why it is so awesome. It is completely unrelated to The Eagles “Best of My Love” that came three years earlier.
January 28, 2015
#8 – James Taylor – “Your Smiling Face” – (1977)
James Taylor: king of soft rock. But not like 1980s-kinda-sappy-soft-rock. But like actually really good music. He’s a fantastic singer. It only reached #20 on the Hot 100, but peaked at #6 on the Adult Contemporary chart. Fun fact: James Taylor was the first non-British singer signed to Apple Records. That’s right, to get his first record contract as a solo artist, he had to audition for The Beatles. Also: this song is lovely.
January 26, 2015
#9 – Jimmy Buffett – “Margaritaville” – (1977)
This is Jimmy Buffett’s signature tune. It’s also the name of the many of the Buffett-themed products and restaurants out there. Seriously, when I typed in “Margaritaville” into Amazon, the “Digital Music” category didn’t even appear. Instead, “Home & Kitchen,” “Appliances,” and “Grocery” were the top results. Cliche or not, this is the perfect song if you’re sitting in white sand and drinking.
January 23, 2015
#10 – Queen – “We Will Rock You/We Are the Champions” – (1977)
Whoa – number 10 is actually two songs. Two songs that are often played back to back as a single, uninterrupted track. They were issued as a singe together and flow perfectly between each other. Queen was a wonderful band that made beautiful music. You don’t often hear rock and roll called “beautiful” but that’s exactly what Queen’s music was. These two songs are perfect for sporting events, specifically hockey where they seem to live on forever (thanks to The Mighty Ducks).
January 21, 2015
#11 – Samantha Sang – “Emotion” – (1977)
When you’re listening to this song, it’s very probable that you’re thinking “Who is Samantha Sang? This is obviously the Bee Gees.” Well, you’re kinda right. It was written by Barry & Robin Gibb and that is definitely them on backing vocals. And Ms. Sang’s voice itself sounds like she is one of the Gibb brothers. It’s a vocal gem and a was a top three hit for the Australia-born Sang – her only hit.
January 19, 2015
#12 – Steve Miller Band – “Jet Airliner” – (1977)
I once read somewhere that Steve Miller listened to all of his songs over and over and over again to ensure he didn’t get sick of them too quickly – and if they passed the test, he’d release them. Maybe that’s why he’s responsible for some of the catchiest rock songs of the 1970s. This song was actually written by Paul Pena but he didn’t release his version until 2000 and Miller was able to score a top ten hit with his version in 1977. It’s great.
January 16, 2015
#13 – Sanford-Townsend Band – “Smoke From a Distant Fire” – (1977)
John Townsend and Ed Sanford aren’t really household names in the world on rock ‘n’ roll, but they did have a successful single in 1977 with this soft rock hit. In fact, it broke the top ten, peaking at #9. Interesting note: this group was the opening act for Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours tour. That would’ve made for a pretty awesome show.
January 14, 2015
#14 – Ram Jam – “Black Betty” – (1977)
Not only one of the top songs of 1977, this is one of the best driving tunes ever recorded. “Black Betty” is a traditional song whose true roots are unknown but the first recorded version is usually attributed to Lead Belly. The Ram Jam version is the best version and also the most popular. It was the band’s biggest hit and still shows up everywhere.
January 12, 2015
#15 – Iggy Pop – “Lust for Life” – (1977)
Those drums. The beat of this song is amazingly catchy and lends the song to a sort of pop second life as it was originally a punk song. Sure, the lyrics are weird, but it’s just so damned catchy that it could’ve made it on pop radio, I think. Where Iggy Pop failed, Jet succeeded in the early 2000s with a song that eerily mimicked what Pop had done so many years before. It gained a second wind when it was used in Trainspotting in the mid-1990s and later when it was used in a Royal Caribbean commercial. Strange how a song about heroin can sell family cruises.
January 9, 2015
#16 – Electric Light Orchestra – “Mr. Blue Sky” – (1977)
ELO has some great, lesser-played songs – “Mr. Blue Sky” the best amongst them. It might be my favorite ELO song because it’s just so upbeat and happy sounding. It is very similar in structure to “A Day in the Life” by the Beatles… I think that every time I hear it. It’s like a fresh take on that song (and a happier one at that). Anyone who doesn’t consider Jeff Lynne a master song-crafter needs to re-evaluate. Also, this track features what sounds like a talk box but is really a vocoder, which is pretty cool.
January 7, 2015
#17 – Randy Newman – “Short People” – (1977)
Gotta love Randy Newman. Sort of like Warren Zevon, his songs never featured the typical subjects (love, etc.) – instead, they feature offbeat things like… well, short people. What’s funnier is that this album is called Little Criminals which sounds like he’s levying an even greater insult at people that are short. This actually made it to #2 on the Hot 100 but was largely considered a novelty song, which sucks because it’s a pretty good song that has long been misinterpreted as a song about Newman’s hate for short people. It’s not his view, it’s a song. Fun fact: three of the Eagles perform background vocals on this track.
January 5, 2015
#18 – Peter Gabriel – “Solsbury Hill” – (1977)
I always forget this song actually came out in 1977. It could’ve come out during the 80s at any point and been right at home (maybe that’s because it charted in 1977 and in 1983 on the Hot 100… which is odd because it wasn’t because of a movie). This was Gabriel’s first single after he left Genesis. It only reached #68 on the Hot 100 (in ’77 – it was #84 in ’83), but it’s one of his most famous songs and it’s a really good one at that.