Top 10 Albums of 1977
Nineteen-seventy-seven wasn't so much about breaking new ground as it was about holding steady for most classic rockers. While some of the big names were MIA (most notably, Led Zeppelin and the Rolling Stones), most of the usual suspects -- AC/DC, Pink Floyd, Steely Dan -- delivered albums that sounded like sequels to their previous work. Some of them (Fleetwood Mac, Jackson Browne) even turned out to be career highlights. And all of them remain classic records. Here's our list of the Top 10 Albums of 1977.
AC/DC's second U.S. album (but fourth in their native Australia) once again loaded a ton of bluesy and old-school rock 'n' roll riffs that didn't even bother to conceal their jagged roots. But the sounds were more aggressive this time, as Angus Young tears through some of his slinkiest guitar lines and Bon Scott leers ever more lasciviously. Prime paving on the highway.
Pink Floyd released lofty concept albums before, and there were loftier ones to come ('The Final Cut,' anyone?), but 'Animals,' in some ways, is the most focused. Taking a cue from George Orwell's classic political fable 'Animal Farm,' Pink Floyd's 10th album takes aim at England's battered social classes, substituting animals for various figures. It's not subtle, but the long, extended songs build both narrative and tone.
Pete Townshend spent the downtime between the Who's 'The Who By Numbers' and 'Who Are You' making an album with the Faces' bassist Ronnie Lane. Originally, Townshend was just going to produce a solo record by Lane, but it eventually turned into a laid-back collaboration featuring help from some famous friends, including Eric Clapton, the Who's John Entwistle and the Stones' Charlie Watts.
Cheap Trick released their self-titled debut earlier in the year, but the quickly assembled follow-up is the one that shakes, rattles and rolls. The band wisely didn't over-think 'In Color': The 10 songs -- including 'I Want You to Want Me,' 'Hello There' and 'Clock Strikes Ten' -- are packed with power-pop hooks, classic guitar riffs and a sense that anything is possible with four chords.
Unlike most of the other artists on our list of the Top 10 Albums of 1977, Clapton didn't head into the year on a high note (well, at least not figuratively). His previous two albums were boring, lumber letdowns following 1974's No. 1 '461 Ocean Boulevard.' With 'Slowhand,' he got his groove back. It's filled with hooks, riffs and, best of all, actual songs like 'Cocaine' and 'Lay Down Sally,' which Clapton delivers with casual confidence.
Calling 'Aja' Steely Dan's sleekest-sounding album implies sloppiness in the past, which is far from the truth: All of their records are deliberately designed works of audio architecture. But their sixth LP stands out as their jazz-rock masterpiece, an elegant and casually paced portrait of late-'70s Los Angeles told through terrific songs like 'Peg' and 'Deacon Blues.'
After 1975's R&B-shaded 'Young Americans' made David Bowie an even bigger star, he retreated to more experimental terrain on the following year's 'Station to Station.' He burrowed even deeper into the underground on 'Low,' the first of three electronic albums he made with producer Brian Eno in Berlin (and the most forward-thinking album on our list of the Top 10 Albums of 1977). It's not as easily accessible as his 'Ziggy Stardust'-era classics, but 'Low's influence can still be heard today in more adventurous indie-rock groups.
The fifth and final album by the original Lynyrd Skynyrd will forever be shrouded by its tragic legacy: Three days after the album was released, the band's plane crashed, killing singer Ronnie Van Zant and several others. But 'Street Survivors' stands as the group's best album, a smart and hook-filled look at life on the road ('What's Your Name') and its consequences ('That Smell').
Unlike the other records on our list of the Top 10 Albums of 1977, 'Running on Empty' is a live LP. But it's not your typical concert souvenir. Instead of just going through his most popular songs onstage, Browne and his band recorded a bunch of new tracks backstage, on the tour bus, in hotel rooms and at sound check. The result is one of the best live albums ever made, a tour document about touring. Plus, it includes some of Browne's all-time best songs: 'You Love the Thunder,' 'The Load-Out' and the title track.
After years struggling as a cult British blues band, Fleetwood Mac picked up two L.A.-based singer-songwriters and rebooted with a self-titled album in 1975. Two years later, they returned, stoned, brokenhearted and armed with an incredibly powerful batch of songs about their relationships inside and outside the band. Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks gave Fleetwood Mac new life, but the entire group is at its peak on classics like 'Go Your Own Way,' 'Dreams' and 'Don't Stop.' Breakup albums don't get better, or more tuneful, than this.