New Musical Express, December 24, 1977
Fifty good reasons why 1977 was
It has been difficult to take end-of-year summaries in the rock press too seriously ever since Melody Maker closed 1967 with a front-cover banner headline proclaiming "The Year Of Engelbert!"
In a way it was, of course: the guy came out of total limbo with three number one hits, but one wouldn't have thought that that was the crowning musical achievement / breakthrough of the year. The point is that the musical environment gets more and more complex and fragmented all the time, and each different section of the audience has different perspectives on whatever has just happened.
You could point out — with equal truth —that 1977 was another hot year for disco, particularly of the Continental variety. The continued success of Donna Summer — a black American who records in Munich —and her assorted cohorts, the plethora of idiotic records by the likes of Baccara and La Belle Epoque — in a dark recess of my soul there are horrid little voices perpetually yammering, "Ve like zer moozik! Ye like zer disco sound ooh !" and "Yassir I can bougey, bougey wougey," and best of all -W0000000h Black Betty Ram-a-lam" —would indicate that 1977 was a disco year for those of you who're that way inclined. Alternatively, you could say that 1977 was a monster year for Anglo-Californian mellow-yellow music: Frampton, Fleetwood Mac, the Bee Gees and — surprise surprise —Manfred Mann.
If you possess a slightly more morbid perspective, then 1977 was a year of death and loss: Elvis Presley, Marc Bolan, Groucho Marx (the godfather of the smart-ass one-liner), Rahsaan Roland Kirk and Maria Callas.
It could he any of those things, provided that you stay in your own tight little pocket of the rock scene and don't look outside it, but from where I'm sitting 1977 was a year in which a lot of the traditional institutions of rock were shaken — it would he entirely too much to ask for them to be dismantled completely — and new alliances, allegiances and ideas were formed. You got it: the year of punk.
There's been an awful lot of garf talked about the New Wave: and the most serious and fundamental error that one can make about the linked upsurge of new bands and artists and their energies for a long time is to keep bagging it all together.
How long can one keep talking about The Sex Pistols, The Clash, The Stranglers. The Jam, The Tom Robinson Band, The Damned, The Boomtown Rats, Generation X — etc etc blah blah — as one phenomenon'? "New Wave" and "Punk" were convenient shorthand terms to describe what's happened between the end of '75 and now, but at this stage of the game the terms are more of a hindrance than a help.
After all, how long did people keep referring to The Beatles as simply "the leading Mersey beat hand" or the Stones as "the best of the London R& B bands"? Any rock and roll hand worth its curly leads defines its own role, identity and place in the Cosmic Scheme Of Things: catchall definitions are only useful as an interim measure.
You simply can't lump Elvis Costello and The Clash — to name just two of the new major artists — together except to say that they're (a) new (h) very good (c) very real (d) got short hair. maaaaaaaan.
IF I WAS MORE mystically inclined, I'd concoct sonic harebrained theory about new energy sources and planetary vibes (and that's the only real New Wave) because there seems to he mote power and imagination about all over the world — and not just in rock and roll. 'rake Sadat's breathtaking pilgrimage to Israel as an example of a positive manifestation of this phenomenon, and the increasing strength of The National Front as the ultimate negative use of this new energy.
There's a lesson to be learned: seize the power and use it positively, or your (our) enemies will seize it and use it for evil. After all, power is there to be used.
Perhaps the most telling musical evidence that this new energy is not simply limited to the denizens of tower blocks has been the revitalisation of an old giant like Muddy Waters and the tandem revival of Johnny Winter. Neither of those guys knows anything about UK punk rock — sorry 'bout that, chief — and they'd probably hate it if they did. but they've both produced their best work in years during the last 15 months or so. after they'd both appeared on their last legs: Winter in a heavy-metal post-junk wasteland and Waters succumbing to old age, ill-health and career hassles.
Closer to home, the Stiff Records Home For Aimless Oddballs has brought a lot of people out of their shells and into something good and constructive. Ian Dury — realising his true potential for the first time — and Nick Lowe — now recognised for his many and varied talents by more than just his hardcore fans and his immediate circle of acquaintances — are just two of 'em.
Hell, even Bruce Springsteen's made a new album which should be on its way in 1978.
Tom Robinson's been around for a few years now. but it was 1977 that brought him into the mainstream. And it wasn't just the bands who had the energy: it was the audiences. The modern rock audience is more receptive and open-minded than it's ever been, more eager to hear and accept new hands than at any time in this decade. The way that they've taken new hands to their hearts is incredibly encouraging
For example. The Boomtown Rats came out of Dublin in the spring and started to gig in every khazi khluh in England, and they're now a national headline act: not so much a punk band as a superlative pop R&B band with New Wave credibility.
Me, I reckon that the more obvious and cliched trappings of Punk will fade, all the Cassandras will yell "Punk is dead!" and kid themselves that they've articulated something vital and important. You know it: they'll have missed the point. Punk will go the same way as flower power and glam: whatever's good and useful w ill be absorbed into the rock mainstream — which doesn't mean that it'll be defused and neutralised — and what's simply-trendy and superfluous about it will be discarded as Last Year's Thing — which is just as it should he. because to stay statically anywhere is a death-trap suicide rap.
What's happened this year hasn't simply been "back to basics — no way. It's been "forward to basics", which is where rock and roll should always be headed.
I hope it carries on like this, 'cuz it's was too good to stop now. New singers, new musicians, new songs, new ideas, new things to sing about, new ways of singing and an equal respect for the past, the present and the future .
For the first MM. in a long time. rock and roll has respect for the future (man of the match: Howard Devote). Don't lose the energy. and the momentum, because we've SO us a future now even if it took making "No Future!" a rallying cry to do it. Let's keep it new let's keep it i'resh, let's keep it alive.
And let's keep the new bands comin'; no Rotten, Strummer or Elvis Costello in nineteen seventy aaaaaaaaaaaaaate!
New Musical Express, December 24, 1977
Charles Shaar Murray's 50 reasons why 1977 was a great year for rock and roll includes Elvis Costello, Nick Lowe, and Stiff Records.