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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iggy pop Top 25 Songs of 197715. Iggy Pop – “Lust for Life”

Lust for Life

Produced and co-written by David Bowie, “Lust for Life” is the crown jewel of Iggy Pop’s ambitious collaborations with the late Thin White Duke. It’s like this huge hit of heroin to the nerves, an ecstatic rush of pop rock that wiggles the hips without tearing the ripped denim. Okay, that heroin metaphor is a little too easy, thanks to the song’s iconic inclusion in Danny Boyle’s 1996 drug romp Trainspotting, but wait a tick. That film’s entire opening sequence — a bunch of skag boys running around Scotland, Ewan McGregor among them, to the song — is rather emblematic of the titular anthem. It’s rough, dirty, but incredibly sexy. That’s long been Pop’s shtick, and while his work with the Stooges will forever sit front and center within his sprawling legacy, “Lust for Life” is his de facto theme song. Fun fact: The band Jet would later carve out an entire career from it. –Michael Roffman

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bobmarleyexodus Top 25 Songs of 197714. Bob Marley & The Wailers – “Waiting in Vain”

Exodus

Sadly, Bob Marley remains an artist that many, especially we Americans, have such a narrow understanding of. Most of us associate the reggae legend with certain religious and political beliefs and music that you can burn one to, but so many seem to neglect just what a brilliant all-around songwriter the man was — and that means tackling issues as familiar to rock and roll as unrequited love and pining. And “Waiting in Vain”, as well as any song ever written, captures those sentiments. With lines as simple as “It’s been three years since I’m knocking on your door/ And I still can knock some more,” and one of the great vocal turns in history following the first chorus, Marley reminds us, as so much of his music does, that matters of the heart are truly universal. –Matt Melis

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rumourshqpngimage Top 25 Songs of 197713. Fleetwood Mac – “Dreams”

Rumours

Stevie Nicks reportedly wrote “Dreams” in 10 minutes, which makes sense when you consider she was pouring her heart out about the dissolution of her relationship with Lindsey Buckingham. The result is a song that reluctantly lets an ex go their own way, albeit with a warning that they’re quite possibly making a huge mistake. But although “Dreams” contains hints of bitterness — courtesy of the inimitable lines, “Thunder only happens when it’s raining/ Players only love you when they’re playing” — the song exudes melancholy more than anything. Restrained guitar, layers of diaphanous vocals, and twirling drum grooves create an aura of sadness that’s made “Dreams” an enduring breakup classic. –Annie Zaleski

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myaimistrue Top 25 Songs of 197712. Elvis Costello – “Watching the Detectives”

My Aim Is True (US Version) 

“Something was supposed to be changing. I spent a lot of time with just a big jar of instant coffee and the first Clash album, listening to it over and over. By the time I got down to the last few grains, I had written ‘Watching the Detectives’,” Elvis Costello recalls. “The chorus had these darting figures that I wanted to sound like something from a Bernard Herrmann score. The piano and organ on the recorded version were all we could afford.” The song, arguably Costello’s finest, just went further to illustrate the unique forms punk could take. While some bands of that time were rioting and others were sitting in, Costello, armed with an eclectic musical background inherited from his musician father, turned the stuff of mundane young married life into a punk record the average person sitting at home could relate to. Nothing on the telly, honey? How about a little reggae-flavored film noir? Fucking brilliant. –Matt Melis

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talking heads Top 25 Songs of 197711. Talking Heads – “Psycho Killer”

Talking Heads: 77

“When I started writing this (I got help later), I imagined Alice Cooper doing a Randy Newman-type ballad,” David Byrne writes of “Psycho Killer” in the liner notes of Talking Heads’ greatest hits compilation, Once in a Lifetime. Well, that’s certainly one way to look at it. Really, what’s stunning about the art pop hit is how simple it sounds. It’s almost elementary, to say the least, and any nuance comes from Byrne’s jocular vocal delivery and whatever the hell he’s doing with the guitar toward the end. It’s haunting (in a good way) and yet also strange (in a good way), but we like haunting and strange, and that’s why, in turn, we loved the Talking Heads. As one of their earliest singles, they waved hello in the weirdest way possible, setting the stage for all of their glorious new wave subversions that would make them one of the most essential New York City exports of all time. –Michael Roffman

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 Top 25 Songs of 197710. Peter Gabriel – “Solsbury Hill”

Peter Gabriel

Countless songs have been written about musicians embarking on a solo career. But the elegant and nuanced “Solsbury Hill” a tune Peter Gabriel wrote about his decision to leave Genesis, is special. The lyrics make a veiled reference to an enlightening religious experience, which Gabriel secretly uses for solace and guidance while grappling with the career change. After he breaks the news, this faith buoys him (“I will show another me/ Today I don’t need a replacement”) and provides a welcoming embrace (“‘Hey,’ I said, ‘You can keep my things/ They’ve come to take me home'”). Musically, “Solsbury Hill” is also deceptively simple: Although galloping acoustic guitars and upbeat flute trills dominate, the song layers on blazing guitar accents and scribbling sonic effects and has a 7/4 time signature. –Annie Zaleski

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neil young Top 25 Songs of 197709. Neil Young – “Like a Hurricane”

American Stars ‘N Bars

Neil Young treated American Stars ‘N Bars more like a compilation than a new studio album, cherry-picking the various styles and players he had recorded with up until 1977. And despite the rhythm section of Crazy Horse appearing on most of the songs, we don’t get a proper rock hypnosis session until the penultimate track. Young’s tunneling solo gets all the credit (as usual), but “Like a Hurricane” only reaches a state of trippy perfection with Frank “Poncho” Sampedro’s Stringman synthesizer, the melancholy drone launching the arrangement into full-on psychedelia. Okay, make that Crazy Horse’s version of psychedelia. Weirdo interpreters ’til the end. —Dan Caffrey

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ramones rocket to russia 1977 Top 25 Songs of 197708. Ramones – “Sheena Is a Punk Rocker”

Rocket to Russia

UK outfits like Sex Pistols and The Clash finally caught up with the influential Ramones in 1977, putting out their own debuts. But breakneck speed was about all these bands had in common. While the Pistols touted anarchy and The Clash introduced a more blue-collar ethos, the Ramones were just a bunch of purists who longed for a bygone time when rock and roll was short, sweet, and to the point. Few songs sum that mantra up better than “Sheena Is a Punk Rocker”, a sub-three-minute, surf rock-indebted ode to an outsider who finds her place in the punk scene. While many on the scene viewed punk as a means to a political ends (or at least a chance to vent some anger), the Ramones saw it as a vehicle to recapture everything they grew up loving about rock and roll. –Matt Melis

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meat loaf bat out of hell Top 25 Songs of 197707. Meat Loaf – “Bat Out of Hell”

Bat Out of Hell

Meatloaf and writer Jim Steinman have consistently downplayed the Springsteen comparisons on “Bat Out of Hell” — never mind that E Streeters Roy Bittan and Max Weinberg both play on the song. But maybe Jim and Meat’s grievances stem from them originally wanting the song to sound bigger than Springsteen, with an orchestra, soprano boys’ choir, and god knows what else. It’s a testament to their grand ambition that, even without those embellishments, “Bat Out of Hell” still functions as a parody of The Boss. Their trick is that it manages to pack the power of a song like “Jungleland” while also making fun of it (however unknowingly): the teenage yearning, the Spector-esque rock bombast, the melodramatic imagery. Equating one’s self to a flying rodent isn’t all that different from comparing guitars to switchblades — it’s just a lot funnier. —Dan Caffrey

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billy joel Top 25 Songs of 197706. Billy Joel – “Only the Good Die Young”

The Stranger

Following the global success of The Stranger, Billy Joel could practically write his own press clippings. Prior to this breakout album, though, Joel was still widely known as the balladeer belting out “Piano Man”. While most youngish songwriters still scrapping for a bit of the spotlight would kill to have that kind of calling card, Joel thought it mislabeled him. Despite sitting behind a piano rather than wielding a guitar, he had always seen himself as a rock and roller, and “Only the Good Die Young” marked one of the first times his audience and the press couldn’t begrudge him that title. With its swinging hound dog vocals, controversial pro-lust lyrics (“Well, your mother told you all I could give you was a reputation”), groping plunks and debauched horns, Joel finally had a hit unfit for candlelit dinners or, according to many Catholic groups determined to ban it, public consumption. –Matt Melis

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sex pistols never mind the bollocks Top 25 Songs of 197705. Sex Pistols – “Anarchy in the U.K.”

Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols

Never mind what you’ve come to think of the Sex Pistols, or punk rock in general, over the years. When Johnny Rotten lets the words “Rrrright now” trill off his tongue before loosing a diabolical laugh in the opening seconds of “Anarchy in the U.K.”, the only thing for any upstanding citizen to do is take bloody cover. The band are playing nearly as fast as the Ramones but taking the time to spell out precisely what they are (“Anteechrist”, “An-ark-ist”), what we are (collateral damage), and their modus operandi (“an-ark-eee”). What they can’t explain, though, is what exactly they’re after, and that makes the band’s debut single all the more unnerving. “All we’re trying to do is destroy everything,” shrugged Rotten after EMI dropped the Pistols. And all a square, prudish British society was trying to do when this single dropped was not be terrified. –Matt Melis

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marquee moon Top 25 Songs of 197704. Television – “Marquee Moon”

Marquee Moon

With an intense love for poetry, it’s natural that Television frontman Tom Verlaine sees the more urban elements in nature and vice versa. The moon is a marquee, a Cadillac roars out of an overgrown graveyard, darkness takes on the same menace as a mugger on a street corner. But those are just the images of “Marquee Moon”. They only become poetry when bound together by Verlaine’s guitar solo with Richard Lloyd. Together, they form a musical double helix — a strand of DNA that created whatever hatched out of the egg on the cover of Wilco’s A Ghost Is Born. Guitarists are poets, too. They just use a different instrument. —Dan Caffrey

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saturdaynightfever Top 25 Songs of 197703. Bee Gees – “Stayin’ Alive”

Saturday Night Fever OST

If you’ve never heard “Stayin’ Alive”, you’re probably not too versed in pop culture. The second slice of Bee Gees on this list is as synonymous with disco as the glittery disco ball from above. That buttery groove, that shuffle, those strings, and that chorus are unmistakable, and the song has since become one big ol’ calling card for the ’70s. So much so that the song’s bigger than the film and soundtrack that birthed it — Saturday Night Fever — and that’s kind of a big deal given that both were straight-up colossal. Lyrically, it’s all about the struggle on the streets of New York City, which jives with the themes of the film, but also anyone trying to cut in this crazy world. Sadly, chest hair and two pizza slices won’t get you very far in this world anymore, but that doesn’t take away from the song’s majesty, even if it’s led to a really, really shitty movie of the same name by Sylvester Stallone. –Michael Roffman

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rumourshqpngimage Top 25 Songs of 197702. Fleetwood Mac – “The Chain”

Rumours

Did you know that “The Chain” is the only song on Rumours credited to all five members of Fleetwood Mac? That’s a pretty big deal given the band’s contentious legacy, but it speaks to the volume of sound that carries the drama from the starting line to its fiery finish. There isn’t a single MVP on this song, as everyone works in tandem, perhaps in an effort to stay true to the song’s namesake. Obviously, there’s no discrediting the brilliant duet between Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham, but then there’s Christine McVie delivering chill with her Hammond, Mick Fleetwood keeping things in check on percussion, and John McVie delivering the greatest bass interlude of 1977. Toss in a choice lyric for a tattoo (“And if you don’t love me now/ You will never love me again”) and some creaky Western vibes (blame the Dobro), and you’ve got Dream Team rock ‘n’ roll. –Michael Roffman

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heroes david bowie Top 25 Songs of 197701. David Bowie – “‘Heroes'”

“Heroes”

David Bowie fans — make that music fans; hell, make that people in general — tend to view “Heroes” as his message of ultimate optimism and rightfully so. It’s a song that helped mobilize the demolition of the Berlin wall. It’s a song written in the wake of defeating an all-consuming cocaine addiction. It’s a song written about unbridled love. But it’s also a song where the triumphant title gets bracketed by ironic quotation marks. It’s a song where the lovers at the center have a conflicted relationship. The guy drinks, the partnership might only last a day, and the couple really shouldn’t be together in the first place — remember, Bowie wrote the lyrics after seeing producer Tony Visconti secretly kiss his girlfriend at the Berlin Wall (Visconti was married at the time to Welsh folkie Mary Hopkin).

But that doesn’t mean these glimmers of light — the sobriety, the revolution, the romance (even the illicit kind) — shouldn’t be celebrated, even when cornered by darkness. That’s what Bowie’s getting at on “Heroes”. That’s why he eventually has to scream over Brian Eno’s white noise, because sometimes that’s what it takes to be heard. His shouting doesn’t drown out the more atonal elements of the song. They’re still there, same as always, but so is his achingly beautiful voice. And yes, it has beauty even when it’s raspy. Especially when it’s raspy. “Heroes” doesn’t make fun of wishing for goodness in the world. It just reminds us the shadow of real life is there, too. —Dan Caffrey

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Click ahead for a complete Spotify playlist.

01. David Bowie – “‘Heroes'”
02. Fleetwood Mac – “The Chain”
03. Bee Gees – “Stayin’ Alive”
04. Television – “Marquee Moon”
05. Sex Pistols – “Anarchy in the U.K.”
06. Billy Joel – “Only the Good Die Young”
07.  Meat Loaf – “Bat Out of Hell”
08. Ramones – “Sheena Is a Punk Rocker”
09. Neil Young – “Like a Hurricane”
10. Peter Gabriel – “Solsbury Hill”
11. Talking Heads – “Psycho Killer”
12. Elvis Costello – “Watching the Detectives”
13. Queen – “We Are the Champions”
14. Fleetwood Mac – “Dreams”
15. Bob Marley & The Wailers – “Waiting in Vain”
16. Iggy Pop – “Lust for Life”
17. The Clash – “White Riot”
18. Eric Clapton – “Wonderful Tonight”
19. Heart – Barracuda”
20. The Damned – “Neat Neat Neat”
21. Steely Dan  – “Peg”
22. Bee Gees – “More Than a Woman”
23. Linda Ronstadt – “It’s So Easy”
24. Cheap Trick – “I Want You to Want Me”
25. Commodores – “Brick House”

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