Top 10 1979 Rock Albums
As the ’70s turned into the ’80s, a funny thing was happening: Rock music couldn’t be as easily categorized as it once was. Punk, pop, disco and New Wave all found their way into music made by the era’s best new bands as well as many of the ones that came of age a decade earlier. Our list of the Top 10 1979 Rock Albums is evenly split among relative newcomers and established vets. And they all have one thing in common: The records they made at the end of the ’70s rank among their all-time best.
Fleetwood Mac followed up their gazillion-selling ‘Rumours’ with an ambitious, two-record set that was to that point the most expensive album ever made. At times, ‘Tusk’ plays like the band’s version of the White Album, with the group’s three singer-songwriters essentially backing each others’ solo records. But Lindsey Buckingham‘s meticulous production pulls together this sprawling, fascinating work by a group that was both on top of the world and unwilling to take the easy way out.
‘Reggatta de Blanc’
The second album by the Police pretty much picks up where 1978’s debut left off, with spiky, reggae-influenced rhythms meshing with punk, pop, jazz and New Wave basics. But ‘Reggatta de Blanc’ also extends the notion that the group wasn’t comfortable with labels and preferred to let its music land wherever it happened to fall. Here, it’s somewhere between the ’70s and ’80s.
Elvis Costello thickened his sound on his third album, tightening the musicianship of his backing band the Attractions and focusing his songwriting on matters of the heart, which just so happened to be filtered through political and global unrest. ‘Armed Forces” best songs — ‘Accidents Will Happen,’ ‘Oliver’s Army,’ ‘(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding’ — ooze with spite, confidence and style.
‘Cheap Trick at Budokan’
Cheap Trick had three albums out when they played Tokyo’s Budokan arena in 1978. And unlike back home in the States, they were hugely popular in Japan, which gave ‘Cheap Trick at Budokan’ an energetic buzz missing from so many cash-in live albums. Originally available as an import, this record finally made the group stars in the U.S., where ‘Budokan’ soared into the Top 5 and spawned a pair of Top 40 singles. It’s still one of the best live albums ever made.
‘Squeezing Out Sparks’
Like Elvis Costello (see No. 8 on our list of Top 10 1979 Rock Albums), Graham Parker played bar-band rock ‘n’ roll whose jagged music got him lumped in with the angry young punks. But Parker’s smarter than that, and on his best album, he and the Rumour tear into a set of songs about love, hate, abortion and extraterrestrial beings. Every song here surges with grit and energy.
‘Rust Never Sleeps’
Neil Young is no stranger to mixing his albums with electric and acoustic, live and studio. And on ‘Rust Never Sleeps,’ essentially a live record with all new songs, he checks in with one of his best. Crazy Horse turn up the amps for part of it, but the delicate solo cuts featuring just Young, his guitar and a harmonica are just as powerful.
‘Highway to Hell’
Bon Scott died six months after AC/DC‘s breakthrough album was released, but he’s the force behind ‘Highway to Hell,’ a blazing, full-speed-ahead trip fueled by winking innuendo and three-chord riffs. The title track is the killer cut here, but throughout the album the band sparks with an intensity that eventually gave way to formula. Here, it’s all real, and it’s a rock ‘n’ roll classic.
‘Damn the Torpedoes’
By the time Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ third album arrived in 1979, they were ready for the hit it would quickly become. With instant classics like ‘Refugee,’ ‘Here Comes My Girl,’ ‘Even the Losers’ and ‘Don’t Do Me Like That,’ ‘Damn the Torpedoes’ brims with confidence. Gutsy, unpretentious and catchy as hell, Petty has never sounded so full of life and optimistic. The music business eventually wore him down.
‘The Wall’ was pretty much Roger Waters‘ project from the start, with the other members of Pink Floyd following his directions as he steered them on his most personal record, a mostly autobiographical chronicle of a rock star who isolates himself from his friends, family and audience. The double-LP concept album became a huge hit, but it also further divided the group, which would soon split with Waters after one more solo record disguised as a band project.
The Clash were eager to shed their punk label when they released their third album at the tail end of 1979. And they did it with pop, jazz, rockabilly, reggae, R&B, old-time rock ‘n’ roll and, yes, punk on this sprawling, two-LP masterpiece that never lets up. After ‘London Calling,’ there was little doubt that the Clash were rock’s best band going into the new decade.