February 2015


220px-Album_Summertime_Dream#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.

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220px-TomPettyDebutCover#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.

letemin#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.

Music_Box_Mariah_CareyMariah 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.

INXS_kickINXS – “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.

Acdc_Highway_to_HellAC/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.

rumours#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.

jbrownrun#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).

ericslow#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.

mglive#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.”

bjstrange#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.

gbweekend#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.