Top 10 Songs of 1978
Rock ‘n’ roll wasn’t totally dead in 1978. It just seemed that way as it swatted away incoming assaults by punk, disco and the always-pesky pop music. The year’s best albums faced some of these changes by adapting to them. Likewise, the Top 10 Songs of 1978 also incorporated some new sounds to stay relevant, bolstering their classic-rock sway with some disco bounce and punk fury. It wasn’t always an easy mix, but it kept rock ‘n’ roll alive.
Zevon’s only Top 40 hit, and a centerpiece of his best album, boasts a lineup of ’70s Los Angeles all-stars, including Mick Fleetwood and John McVie and producer Jackson Browne. Fittingly, the song satirizes the late-’70s, but underlining that frivolity is one of the tightest performances on ‘Excitable Boy.’
The Cars’ debut album isn’t quite New Wave, but it isn’t quite mainstream rock either. It falls somewhere in the middle, with its gurgling synths and riffing guitars playing nice on almost every song. ‘Just What I Needed,’ the band’s debut single, works it better than just about any other song on that terrific first LP.
Rod Stewart was always pretty adept at rolling with the changing tide, so the No. 1 ‘Da Ya Think I’m Sexy?’ wasn’t too much of a surprise. He still gets plenty of hate for this disco hit, but it’s better than most everything else he released immediately before and long after it. Plus, that rhythm section is super-tight.
Even though rock ‘n’ roll was struggling in 1978, there’s no shortage of great album openers that year (four of the songs on our list of the Top 10 Songs of 1978 kick off their respective LPs). ‘Runnin’ With the Devil,’ in addition to being the explosive first song on Van Halen’s self-titled debut, has the privilege of introducing the world to Eddie Van Halen, rock’s best guitarist since Hendrix.
The original quartet’s final album (Keith Moon died less than a month after its release), ‘Who Are You’ is an occasionally spotty work. Pete Townshend seemed more occupied with solo projects than the band at the time. But he did manage to pen a handful of great songs for the album, including the title track — the band’s last great song.
Even though it isn’t billed as a rock opera, Springsteen’s 1978 opus certainly unfolds like one, as a running list of characters repeatedly show up and the album consistently points in the same desolate direction. ‘Prove It All Night’ was pulled as a single and reached the Top 40, but its penultimate placement on ‘Darkness on the Edge of Town’ serves as the album’s last sigh of hope.
Following 1972’s landmark ‘Exile on Main St.,’ the Stones spent the next few years catching their breath with a handful of good songs but mostly boring albums. ‘Some Girls’ is their monster comeback (see No. 1 on our list of the Top 10 Songs of 1978), and ‘Beast of Burden’ is one of their all-time best singles.
The Police’s debut album, like the Cars’ (see No. 9 on our list of the Top 10 Songs From 1978), doesn’t fall squarely into any one category. It’s a little bit rock, it’s a little bit pop, kinda punk — definitely a splash of reggae in there. But most of all it’s a sterling showcase for three terrific musicians schooled in jazz and prog. ‘Outlandos d’Amour’ is one the year’s best debuts; ‘Roxanne’ is its highlight.
Cheap Trick’s main songwriter and guitarist Rick Nielsen could play both sides, penning Beatlesque songs with power-pop flash that weren’t above Camaro-cruising, mullet-waving guitar riffs. ‘Surrender’ is his best song, a hooky, witty look at the generational divide that erupts in one of the era’s all-time greatest choruses. Turn it up.
By the end of the decade, the Stones were in desperate need of a shot of relevancy (see No. 4 on our list of the Top 10 Songs of 1978). By finding comfort in punk and disco grooves, they turn ‘Some Girls’ into their best album in six long years. ‘Miss You’ is just as much about its dance-floor shuffle as it is about the band’s tendency to pull it together under pressure. It may swing in disco’s direction, but ‘Miss You’ is pure Stones at its core.