As a Matter of Fact, It’s All Dark: My Favorite Albums 1970-1979



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That last list was incredibly difficult for me. Great releases from Simon and Garfunkel, Jimi Hendrix, and The Stooges were eliminated in the final round and didn’t quite make the cut for my 60’s list. Maybe some of you would have gone a different way with your own lists. Such is the subjective nature of art.

As hard as that was, this may be even harder. After all, we’re talking about the decade that spawned punk, modern British heavy metal, kraut-rock and new wave, among other sub-genres. Forcing myself to pick five albums and then actually rank them against one another is both liberating and confining. I’ve had to make some really tough decisions. I’m not saying I know how Meryl Streep’s character felt in Sophie’s Choice (I assume her name is “Sophie”) but I definitely experienced something resembling loss when I eliminated Led Zeppelin’s first record.

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But we’re uncovering silent truths all over the place, and ultimately all we can do is use rock music to discover new things about ourselves.

Or some such nonsense. Here we go:

My Favorite Albums 1970-1979

5.Talking Heads – More Songs About Buildings and Food (1977)

For my money, the Talking Heads released their two best records during this decade (see also Fear of Music), and it was truly a coin toss between these two stellar records. Ultimately I opted for Buildings because it’s a little bit more overtly satirical and funny. Check out the pseudo-cult platitudes of “The Good Thing,” or the entertainment-as-lifestyle lessons of “Found a Job.” David Byrne’s consummate everyman protagonist is easily enraptured by the colorful lights and swallowable solutions of the rapidly-approaching new millennium, and through him, we see ourselves reflected back at us. It might be too much for us to bear, were it not cloaked in syncopated rhythms and truly inventive instrumentation. Talking Heads are a true American creation. They specialized in acidic satire back then, and it’s still plenty corrosive these days.

4. Neil Young – After the Gold Rush (1970)

Haunting, sparse, reverent, relevant. I could list adjectives all day. Young’s finest hour is by turns sad and sweet, never taking one form for too long. Whether Young is haranguing the multitudes (“Southern Man”) or approaching whimsy (“Cripple Creek Fairy”), his voice and guitar are top-notch. The upcoming decade of the 70’s permeates this entire record; it surrounds and binds, but is kept at bay by Young’s gentle spirit and refusal to give way to cynicism. After the Gold Rush  is the confident solo artist Neil Young using every tool at his disposal to produce a work that leaves something hanging in the air long after it has finished playing. This album leaves a residue on the moment, a physical presence that cannot be lifted out.

3.Television – Marquee Moon (1978)

Simply put, Marquee Moon is one of the best guitar albums of all time. Tom Verlaine and Richard Lloyd crank out complex and intertwined leads, piggybacking off each other with musical phrases that are so neat and perfect, they’re almost witty. Marquee Moon is ostensibly a punk album, and it certainly makes with the authentic street details (“Venus DeMilo”), but Television is higher-minded than that. The multi-part title track and melodramatic “Torn Curtain” take a few notes from the progressive rock playbook. Though they historically tend to stand at opposite ends of a great schism, punk and prog have more overlap than you might think. Television, with this multi-layered work, have crafted something for fans of both disciplines.

2. Bruce Springsteen – Born to Run (1975)

Bruce Spingsteen has fashioned quite a career out of being either the most virtuous or most seemingly virtuous rock and roll singer of all time. He loads his story-songs with “warm-beer and sweaty-forehead” details that suggest a genuine nature. Bruce is a warrior-poet; he chronicles the working class objectively while strenuously advocating on its behalf. It’s a testament to his power as a performer and songwriter that part of me believes everything he says. “Thunder Road” is an escape fantasy to rival the story of Exodus. But Springsteen doesn’t shy away from the gritty underbelly either. “Meeting Across the River” is as harrowing a portrait of desperation as the Boss has ever produced (and nicely teases the subject matter of his later masterpiece, Nebraska). All these details are necessary if we want to be truly authentic. The wide open country of this record is a place of darkness, but also a place of true magic. When Springsteen says, “You ain’t a beauty, but hey, you’re alright,” to an unnamed woman, he could just as easily be describing the world itself, wrinkles and all.

1. Pink Floyd – The Dark Side of the Moon (1973)

This has always been it. This was the first “album” I ever listened to all the way through. This was the first piece of music I wrote about in any significant way. Dark Side of the Moon is the bow on my musical existence, tying together past and present and wrapping everything up quite neatly.

Every criticism about it is true: It’s both pretentious and portentous. David Gilmour’s vocal range is lacking, while Roger Waters has gone back to the same well (re: mask of sanity) again and again as a songwriter.

And yet, this is the most important album I have ever heard. Of course, I can’t claim any sort of objectivity both 43 years after the release of the album and 22 years after I heard it for the first time.

All I can say is that if you’re attempting to make a case for “Album as Cohesive Work of Art” rather than “Collection of Singles,” there will be about 5 exhibits.

One of them will be Dark Side of the Moon.

It is inevitable.

As a Professional Music Appreciator, I love my share of albums, but nothing else even came close as far as convincing me that music was a thing to be always tested; a boundary to be stressed again and again. It wouldn’t break. It would only get calloused and ultimately grow stronger. Pink Floyd did that for me, when I was ten years old. As it turned out, It happened at just the right time, as I had a bit of an inkling that everything I had been led to believe so far was actually bullshit.

I haven’t had a sincere thought since.

See you in the 80’s!

Honorable Mentions:

Elvis Costello – This Year’s Model

The Rolling Stones – Exile on Main Street

Rush – 2112

Big Star – #1 Record

Bob Dylan – Blood on the Tracks

Frank Zappa – One Size Fits All

 

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4 comments on “As a Matter of Fact, It’s All Dark: My Favorite Albums 1970-1979
  1. Yo brother…great list…heard Dark Side for the first time when my sister brought it home the week it released. It stayed on her turntable for the better part of a year. Loved it from the opening of On the Run…I used to listen to Great Gig in the Sky over and over. More Songs About Buildings and Food was my intro to Talking Heads at like 15…it became my internal soundtrack..my theme music…After the Gold Rush…Neil Young is one my top 3 singers/ songwriters…The title track and When You Dance are my two favorites from this album…Cowgirl in the Sand is my favorite NY track…Frank Zappa Live in New York or Apostrophe would have been on my list but props for the honorable mention! I definitely respect Springsteen and dig his stuff…I have to say I’m not familiar with Television but am certainly going to check them out…so much music so little time! Great article!

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