Every other music critic compiles an annual "best of" list so why not me? All of the records selected were marketed to appeal to rock listeners. This does not mean they are all rock albums). The selections are listed in approximate order of preference. (I vacillate from playing to playing).
1. Elvis Costello — My Aim Is True.
Costello has sometimes been inaccurately described as a punk rocker. Nothing could be further from the truth. Like Bruce Springsteen and even more like his countryman Graham Parker, Costello has simply decided to explore the possibilities of basic rock. The album features material in several early rock styles. Costello is not defiant, but rather is a frustrated romantic. His writing is witty and funny. This is rock at its best.
2. Television — Marquee Moon.
This is the finest punk rock album released to date. Tom Verlaine's angst ridden voice and the unique coupling of the guitars gives the band a distinctive style. Verlaine took his moniker from the French romantic poet. His adopted name suggests the lyrical orientation. Nothing tough about these guys!
3. Kate & Anna McGarrigle — Dancer With Bruised Knees.
This could be called a folk album (it actually contains two traditional French ballads). Most people are familiar with the McGarrigles through Linda Ronstadt's commercialized rendition of "Heart Like A Wheel." The original compositions on this record are of uniformly high quality. Both sisters have pure, powerful voices
4. Be Bop Deluxe — Live In the Air Age.
No doubt about it — BeBop Deluxe is Bill Nelson's band. The record features Nelson's guitar pyrotechnics. Among the album cuts are most of Nelson's most stunning compositions imagery wise.
5. Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel — Face To Face.
If you're not familiar with Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel this specially priced live double album is the place to start. The band members are skilled and the group is tight. Harley's pained vocals are perfect for his compositions whose primary theme is love unrequited.
6. Garland Jeffreys — Ghost Writer.
Jeffreys' personal history is fascinating. His experiences form the core of this album. Ghost Writer is an ambitious work utilizing varied musical idioms; Latin, reggae, blues, and straight rock are all represented on the album. "Wild In the Streets" (which was a Rolling Stones' hit a few years ago) was penned by Jeffreys' and is contained on the album.
7. Maddy Prior & June Tabor — Silly Sisters.
If not for Maddy Prior's success with Steeleye Span I'm sure this record would have been released on a folk label, or worse, not at all. All but one of the selections are traditional folk songs. The women have strong, clear, expressive voices. The harmonies are astounding. The record also features some of England's most respected folk musicians.
8. Ramones — Rocket To Russia.
The Ramones have been called "minimalists" which seems to be a nice way of saying that they are musical incompetents. The band sports a bass player who knows but three chords, a guitarist who isn't good enough to play lead, a drummer who is so puny he makes Ringo Starr sound powerful, and a mumbling vocalist with a five note range. Still the album is fun and funny. The album includes such high school band standards as "Surfin' Bird" and "Do You Want To Dance?" Punk rock joins the Beach Boys on "Rockaway Beach" and "Sheena Is A Punk Rocker." The Ramones' "Cretin Hop" may be the biggest dance craze since the "Twist."
9. Tom Waits — Foreign Affairs.
This record impresses me more with each playing. The drunken blues singer is backed by a first rate jazz combo. Frank Vicari's sax deserves special mention. The album was recorded directly onto a two track master tape without overdubbing or multi-tracking. The result is a lean, honest sound.
10. Peter Tosh — Equal Rights.
With reggae's moderate recent success in the United States the consumer is now able to buy slick, commercialized reggae (e.g. Bob Marley's Exodus and Rastaman Vibration) and bastardized reggae (e.g. Third World). Tosh produces an album true to the music and its politics and doesn't find it necessary for us to hear yet another exposition of Rasta philosophy/religion.
11. Sex Pistols — Never Mind the Bollocks Here's the Sex Pistols.
Johnny Rotten's voice sneers and snarls. The music is loud, driving power rock. The Sex Pistols have brought anger back to the music. Unfortunately their politics are a perverse mixture of fascism and anarchism.
12. Eddie Hazel — Game, Dames, and Guitar Thangs.
Eddie Hazel is one helluva guitarist and it sounds so easy when he does it. I've always enjoyed George Clinton's Parliament and Funkadelic recordings which not uncommonly include Hazel. Hazel's album is funky and heavy. The record has only about thirty minutes total playing time however.
13. Jackson Browne — Running On Empty.
Browne's earlier '77 release The Pretender is a dull and abysmal recording. I don't care what anybody says, I think Jon Landau is a horrid producer. Browne does two things right on this album. He produces himself and doesn't rely entirely on his own compositions. His writing is often great but he doesn't write enough good material fast enough to make a record every ten months. The one Browne classic remains Late For the Sky.