59. psycho killer

1977 is not the best Talking Heads album, not even close, but in Psycho Killer, it probably has their best song. Which gets us to the argument I had recently with my lawyer, she claiming to have heard it before, and thus a dubious selection for this list. Hell, it’s in the movie, the very first song, David Byrne stepping out solo on stage, just acoustic guitar and beatbox, and his uniquely wound intensity. But these are records I’m listing here, not songs, and the essential recording of Psycho Killer is the original 1977 album version — funky, tough and psychotic, which clearly not enough folks have heard yet, or it would’ve shown up as the theme song for some eighth rate cop show. Which is a good thing. I’m not complaining. But I was at a friend’s big deal fortieth birthday recently where it brought the house down, which was weird and also kind of beautiful, all these former punks and new-wavers and whatever else hitting the middle of their lives, showing scar tissue, but still moving, liable to explode at any instant, taking everything with them. But in a good way.” (Philip Random)

75. Frankie Teardrop

Frankie Teardrop is probably the one track on this list that I’ve listened to the least, because who f***ing needs it on repeat? Yet we do need such stuff sometimes. Because violence is in our nature and it’s seldom been so viscerally expressed as it is here. No great surprise that it came out of 1977, the year Punk properly broke. Not that Suicide were punk. They were their own genre altogether. And political as hell if only for the full on howl of Frankie Teardrop, young man with a family, just trying to survive, but he’s not gonna make it, he can’t make the payments … and don’t fool yourself, we all know Frankies, perhaps as near as the closest mirror.” (Philip Random)

104. pretty vacant

Because it’s the f***ing Sex Pistols, arguably the greatest rock and roll band of all time, at their most pop, such as it is. Pretty Vacant being the one you could find on a mixtape with the likes of Elvis Costello, The Who, The Doors, The Cars even, without offending anyone.  Certainly no one you didn’t want to be offending. Based on an Abba song apparently.

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212. the night they drove old Dixie down

Joan Baez had a big AM radio hit with this back in around 1972. Meanwhile, the cool FM DJs were playing the Band’s original version, which my teenybop ears didn’t really get. Too gritty, too raw. But jump ahead a few years to The Last Waltz (the movie of the Band’s big deal farewell concert) and yeah, I got it! The vast tragedy of the American South, what it is to lose a war and thus your culture, see it all burned before your eyes by the forces of Northern Aggression. Yeah, they owned slaves or certainly fought for those who did, but … I can’t think of a but for this. Slavery’s about as f***ed up as humanity gets. But there you go – where there’s humanity, there’s also soul, and thus complexity. Which is why we need songs like The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down.” (Philip Random)

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224. don’t worry about the government

“It continues to amaze me that this hit in 1977, the year Punk truly erupted, tore the firmament asunder, tossed multi-dimensional hand grenades up and down the corridors of power and complacency. And Talking Heads were very much part of all that, playing all the relevant clubs, going to all the relevant parties. Except Don’t Worry About the Government isn’t really raucous at all, just a spry ditty about clouds and pine trees and peaches and civil servants and friends, and loved ones. Nothing at all to worry about.” (Philip Random)

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236. five years

“At first I wasn’t even going to include anything from Ziggy Stardust on this list. It just seemed inconceivable that there was anybody who hadn’t already heard it all perhaps way too many times. But then Five Years popped up on an old mix tape and young Tracy (who isn’t even that young) said, is this John Lennon? Five Years being the 1972 song in which David Bowie accurately predicted the end of the world in 1977. Which I realize is a confusing fact to lay down, particularly to those born since 1977. Just trust me, it’s true. This is not the same world as before. Something very odd happened in 1977 and we’ve all been spinning in weird gravity ever since.” (Philip Random)

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253. Allez Ali Baba Blacksheep have you any bullsh**?

“In which the outfit known as Gong put their psychedelic meandering to punk power, their aerie-faerie bullsh** to pure raw rebellion and somehow keep the f***ing world on its axis, doing its revolutionary thing around the sun, which is itself swerving in weird cycles through the unknown (un)limits of infinity. By which I mean, what value anarchy if it does not float? … or should you ever find yourself tripping on weapons grade psychedelics and feel the need for a soundtrack that’s both youthfully raw yet somehow cosmically smooth, seek no further than the Allez Ali Baba blacksheep have you any bullshit mama maya mantram found here. It makes perfect sense. All fifteen minutes of it.” (Philip Random)

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273. plastic people

“As a kid who hit his teens in the early 1970s, I sort of always knew about Frank Zappa and his Mothers and their various crimes against humanity, but I never really fell in love until I heard Absolutely Free toward the end of high school, Plastic People in particular, and how nastily, incisively, hilariously it skewered all the transparent, pre-fab zombies I walked the halls with, who I once thought of as friends, but now, they just seemed hard-wired for lives of desperate boredom, intent on becoming just like their parents, only worse, because normal always gets worse. Yet Plastic People is in fact not about suburbia 1977, but Los Angeles 1967, a grand piss take of pretty much everyone, even the hippies, and how there was plastic where their souls should have been. It was just that kind of town, I guess. Still is, apparently.” (Philip Random)

FrankZappa-1967-Absolutely

280. don’t leave me this way

“Call it bad timing. Disco erupted as I was finishing high school, jammed up all the available radio stations, transformed all the nightclubs (just as I finally had good, foolproof fake ID). Sure it probably served some greater service to the culture as a whole, gave all the former hippie freaks and rebels something to do in the wake of their failed revolutions and insurrections – just snort coke, shake their booties, lay the groundwork for yuppiedom, Reaganomics, Tom Cruise. Yeah, I blame disco for all of that. But I always liked Don’t Leave Me This Way. Thelma Houston had the big hit but nothing touches what Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes did with it, particularly the long version. Though that was actually Teddy Pendergrass singing lead. Things were a little confused in that outfit.” (Philip Random)

HaroldMelvin-1975