Decades
A quarterly report that looks back
on music and film from 10, 20, 30 years ago

Top 25 Songs of 1977

on November 13, 2017, 12:00pm
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Decades is a recurring feature that turns back the clock to critical anniversaries of albums, songs, and films. This month, we dial it back to the top 25 songs of 1977.

As we wrap up the musical side of our inaugural year of Decades — a trip that revisited the best albums and songs from 2007, 1997, 1987, and 1977 — it feels incumbent upon me to draw some grand, or at least significant, conclusion. Never have I spent a calendar year digging through more old records and charts, and, if I’m honest, never have I spent more time ignoring new releases. Some might say it’s downright backwards for the Editorial Director of a pop-culture publication to spend so much time looking backwards when what we all really want to know is what the fuck is going on right now in our royally fucked-up world and, of course, what will happen next. To that reasonable point, I simply say that I’ve learned that good music will take care of itself — it “will out,” as they say. That doesn’t mean there won’t be digging to do; there’s a slush pile around every corner in the pop-culture world. But it means that the music that stokes our passions, understands what it feels like to be us, and allows us to go through this intolerable world with an ally in our ear always finds a way to surface. Whether it’s an all-but-forgotten punk EP from the late ’70s or that neglected 2017 song that’ll help you endure 2018, take heart: the music you need will find you in the end.

–Matt Melis
Editorial Director

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51x7adui9pl Top 25 Songs of 197725. Commodores – “Brick House”

Commodores

Just like Badfinger’s “Come and Get It” will forever be associated with used car commercials, “Brick House” has been rendered into somewhat of a novelty song through its extensive use in sitcoms and kids’ movies. So it bears repeating that, even when disregarding the impenetrable funk armor of the Commodores’ ’70s output, “Brick House” is still built like the metaphorical structure of its title — all brass and congas and mortar-thick bass. And, in a final mythologizing touch, bassist William King eventually revealed to his bandmates that it wasn’t he, but his wife, Shirley Hanna-King, who wrote the playful lyrics about an unstoppable woman. That’s the move of a real-life brick house. —Dan Caffrey

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cheap trick in color1 Top 25 Songs of 197724. Cheap Trick – “I Want You to Want Me”

In Color

Let’s get the hubbub out of the way: Yes, the 1979 live version of “I Want You to Want Me” is a superior version to the studio version of the track that appears on Cheap Trick’s sophomore album, In Color. The live version has a better tempo, and Robin Zander doesn’t sound like he’s on a bag of Xanax. Still, the original one works as a slow-as-fuck ’70s pop song, a little ditty that says everything you want to say on Valentine’s Day without resorting to the Hallmark monopoly. Plus, there’s an echo on the chorus, adding to the song’s angst, and, oh yeah, this song is all about angst. For Christ’s sake, it was probably recorded for all those high school sweethearts sucking face under the bleachers and passing notes like little rascals. This is heart-on-its-sleeve rock ‘n’ roll, one of Cheap Trick’s best songs, and easily the reason most people know about Letters to Cleo. –Michael Roffman

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simple dreams Top 25 Songs of 197723. Linda Ronstadt – “It’s So Easy”

Simple Dreams

As our two ’77 music lists suggest, women, as least as solo acts, weren’t topping many charts that year. While the Wilson sisters from Heart, Stevie Nicks, and Tina Weymouth all made their indelible contributions to the music scene as part of successful or emerging bands, Linda Ronstadt was one of the few out there commanding the spotlight on her own. With Simple Dreams, the hall of fame singer scored one of her biggest records ever — including the feat of knocking Rumours out of the No. 1 spot on the charts after 29 weeks — lending her inimitable, full-throated rock pipes to a handful of covers, including Buddy Holly’s “It’s So Easy”. The now FM radio staple not only climbed the charts but paved the way for so many future females to stand center stage at arena rock shows and command audiences screaming every bit as loud for them as for their male counterparts. Ronstadt’s an original whose contributions too often go unsung. –Matt Melis 

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saturdaynightfever Top 25 Songs of 197722. Bee Gees – “More Than a Woman”

Saturday Night Fever OST

The first of two Bee Gees cuts on this list shed the rhinestones for roses: With “More Than a Woman”, the Gibb brothers went full Shakespeare, delivering an essential disco jam that requires more heart than soul. It’s all about the strings and the way they elevate the romance. It’s elegant, it’s innocent, and it’s groovy. Coming straight outta Saturday Night Fever, the song ably captures the free-wheeling heartache of the ’70s, no doubt leftover from all the flower children who had grown up, bought in, and turned their long hair into a perm. But, it’s more than that. There’s something achingly nostalgic about the production, hearkening back to a time when classical elements could own the mainstream consensus. Even today, it sounds sophisticated, making for a timeless anthem that does nothing but celebrate a feeling everyone can relate to: falling head over platform shoes in love. –Michael Roffman

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steely dan Top 25 Songs of 197721. Steely Dan  – “Peg”

Aja

It’s difficult to pin down the best part of “Peg”. Is it the chorus, a burst of stacked harmonies bolstered by Michael McDonald? The slinky rhythmic backdrop influenced by jazz and funk? The colorful pops of unique textures, courtesy of an instrument called the Lyricon, a hybrid of a saxophone and analog synth? Or is it how Steely Dan’s knack for askew pop structures reached its apex? Either way, “Peg” is an example of when the band’s studio-based perfectionism paid off handsomely. Although this pickiness could be ridiculous — amusingly, in a “making of” video, Walter Becker and Donald Fagen can’t remember exactly how many guitarists they cycled through before settling on Jay Graydon, who gives a fleet-fingered performance — attention to detail elevates “Peg” above most other songs in Steely Dan’s formidable catalog. –Annie Zaleski

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damned damned damned Top 25 Songs of 197720. The Damned – “Neat Neat Neat”

Damned Damned Damned

The Sex Pistols and Ramones’ singles dominate most of the Class of ’77 punk attention — but The Damned’s Nick Lowe-produced “Neat Neat Neat” may be the best 7-inch to emerge from that revolutionary time. Chalk that up to the band’s ability to create well-crafted chaos. Rat Scabies’ drums are gleefully unhinged but precisely on beat; Brian James’ blurry, proto-rock ‘n’ roll-inspired guitar is raucous but reverent; and Captain Sensible’s rubbery bass line is roiling and propulsive. Throw in Dave Vanian commanding attention with his matter-of-fact, vampiric vocals, and it’s no wonder “Neat Neat Neat” is a gothic punk landmark. –Annie Zaleski

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heart Top 25 Songs of 197719. Heart – “Barracuda”

Little Queen

In the 1970s, Heart’s Ann and Nancy Wilson crashed rock ‘n’ roll’s boys’ club — and weren’t afraid to call out the sexism they saw and faced. Exhibit A: “Barracuda”, which pairs towering waves of ferocious electric guitars with one of Ann Wilson’s first great Heart vocal performances. She wails, snarls, and howls lyrics lambasting the sleazeballs they’ve met and, at the end of the song, sings of leaving behind the “silly, silly fools.” “[‘Barracuda’] was about a moment when Nancy and I realized that in the entertainment industry — and the world really — the equality of men and women is pretty screwed up,” she told The A.V. Club in 2012. “The system of radical acceptance of women as equals was really broken.” In other words, “Barracuda” also works as a galvanizing empowerment anthem for the modern world. –Annie Zaleski

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slowhand Top 25 Songs of 197718. Eric Clapton – “Wonderful Tonight”

Slowhand

While perhaps better known for melting faces in bands like Cream and Derek and the Dominos, blues guitar god Eric Clapton opted to melt hearts on his hit single “Wonderful Tonight”. “Layla” had once been inspired by Clapton’s unrequited love for Pattie Boyd, then George Harrison’s wife, and “Wonderful Tonight” found the guitarist once again inspired by Boyd, this time with them already a couple and him waiting for her to get dressed for an annual Buddy Holly party hosted by Paul and Linda McCartney. There’s nothing to dig for here. Clapton, in a soft voice that trails off into a falsetto, recounts a night out with gentle playing that conjures a series of soft-lit moments where two people are perfectly content with one another. While many rock songs talk about the trials and tribulations of love, not many choose to just smile and recount a nice, quiet evening in the right arms. –Matt Melis 

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queen Top 25 Songs of 197717. Queen – “We Are the Champions”

News of the World

Guess what? You’re never, ever, ever going to stop hearing Queen’s “We Are the Champions”. The ubiquitous Winning anthem has since become a utility song, one that will forever be intrinsically tied to sporting events. So, if your favorite team wins — or, even worse, your least favorite team triumphs — you’ll hear the late and great Freddie Mercury belting that opening line. Because of this, the song has seemingly serve no purpose other than to make truckers feel better when they’re driving late at night and need an FM pick-me-up. Short of that, the song is as integral to sporting as the ball itself, and without it, we’d be stuck listening to that stupid jock jam from that pedophile shithead Gary Glitter. Thankfully, that’s not the case, and we get a little class, instead. And if you’re really lucky, you’ll hear “We Will Rock You” before it, a pairing that will never not lead this writer to think about Emilio Estevez. –Michael Roffman

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the clash Top 25 Songs of 197716. The Clash – “White Riot”

The Clash

So many seminal punk albums came out in 1977, and yet it feels like there’s so little overlap among them. Sure, most of these bands aped the Ramones by speeding up the proceedings, but all had such different personalities. While their UK brethren the Sex Pistols touted anarchy and the unexplained need to destroy everything, The Clash brought a more working-class aesthetic to punk — an ethos that didn’t look to destroy but to improve conditions, only this time for a more deserving class of people. Take your pick off the band’s debut for a favorite, but nothing sums up The Clash any better than the blazing “White Riot”, with a barking Joe Strummer and the rallying vocals of his posse. The track’s the musical equivalent of picking a fight in a pub and soon learning you’re seriously outmanned and in for far more than you bargained. –Matt Melis

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