My first record was a Magic Roundabout album (which melted a few days later because I’d left it in the car window one hot summers day. I could still listen to it on my little record player, but it was even more surreal as the voices were all slow-fast-slow and sounded particularly demonic). My first pop single was a second-hand copy of A Hard Day’s Night, given to me by an older kid called Alan who lived next door. I used to go round to his house and we’d listen to Beatles albums then turn out the lights and put on the Jaws soundtrack. I loved the Beatles so much that I spent all my spare pocket money buying their early albums and begged the grown ups for copies of Beatles records I didn’t have (thanks Mrs. Cullen for The White Album! Thanks Auntie Tina for Sgt. Pepper!) In my first year at high school I got an A+ in music for my project on The Beatles, where I pasted in photocopies of pictures from my Beatles books and wrote such useful anecdotes as “George Harrison hated shaving” and “Paul McCartney used to be my favorite Beatle but now I like George.”
In the UK, popular music of the 1970s included prog rock, heavy metal, glam rock, punk. In the second half of the decade electronic pop music finally arrived. In my household I heard a lot of Rock & Roll, Country & Western and soundtrack music (usually from some Clint Eastwood movie or another). From about 1977 onwards I started listening to my own music: so here for my indulgence (and hopefully your enjoyment) are my Top 10 favorite albums from the 1970s!
ABBA – ABBA: The Album (1977)
I used to live in a Scottish town called Penicuik, previously known for its paper mills but when I was there that had all long gone. It had a small cinema that showed Saturday matinees, and it’s there that I saw ABBA: The Movie. I went back the next week to see it again. And again. I completely fell in love with the music, Agnetha Fältskog and lycra catsuits. I bought ABBA: The Album on cassette and played it to death. I’d lay on the living room floor near the stereo, position a speaker either side of me, put this album on then close my eyes and just float away to the beauty and brilliance it contained. Opening song Eagle was frequently my favourite, but Take a Chance on Me, The Name of the Game, and especially Thank You for the Music were and still are some of my favourite songs of all time.
Jeff Wayne – Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version of The War of the Worlds (1978)
The closing theatrics of ABBA: The Album perhaps prepared me for another album I played to death when I was a little boy. Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version of The War of the Worlds totally blew me away, I think I fell off my chair when I first heard The Eve Of The War and those opening strings kicked in. My Mum would say things like “Oh, that’s David Esssex” and tell me how much she loved Richard Burton who’d been in her favorite film (Cleopatra). But I hadn’t really heard of any of the stars on this album: for me it was simply an awesome sci-fi musical that sent Martian chills up and down my young spine. I’d sit and pore over the fabulous illustrations inside the gatefold sleeve for hours, something you sadly can’t do in these streaming days.
Sky — Sky (1979)
Herbie Flowers played on The War of the Worlds album and he was on bass (and tuba) duties when I saw Sky at the Usher Hall in Edinburgh in 1982. It was a local kid with a speech impediment who got me into Sky: I think his parents were classical music fans and Sky were a kind of gateway band for him to please his folks while indulging in a little bit of light rock. This was my first “proper” concert and the music and setting had quite a lasting impression on me. I’m still not a massive fan of classical music, but I do have some favourite composers and pieces and many of them I can trace back to this band. Hearing Sky really opened my ears up to the range of possible music and for that I’ll always be grateful to young Donald.
My introduction to electronic music was probably courtesy of a 7″ copy of Radiophonic Workshop’s Doctor Who (the theme From The BBC TV Series) in 1980. I was particularly impressed by the B-side, an instrumental called The Astronaut by Peter Howell. Then one day, I was sitting in the family room listening to my Beatles records when my mum came home with a new double LP. One look at the cover and I was intrigued: what in Earth is that? The record was Jean Michel Jarre’s Oxygène/Équinoxe and it was to change my life. I’d never heard anything like it before; it left me awed, amazed, and above all breathless. Where did those sounds come from? Those beautiful, eerie, alien noises that ebbed and flowed and didn’t even have a singer on it! I think I played that record all evening until I was sent to bed. I got up early the next day and raced downstairs: yep, still there, I hadn’t dreamt it. Both these albums are as amazing and listenable now as they were back then.
David Bowie – The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars (1972)
I first heard Bowie in the early 1980s, thanks to my friend Stuart (who also introduced me to Kraftwerk). He had the Hunky Dory album which we would listen to in his parent’s lounge while eating our supper of bacon rolls and mugs of tea. I didn’t have supper at my house and I didn’t have any David Bowie records either. That soon changed of course, and out of all his albums I still find Ziggy Stardust to be an absolute masterpiece. Every single song is superb: from the apocalyptic sci-fi opener Five Years to the cosmic hopefulness of Starman, the balls-to-the-wall rock of Hang On To Yourself and the final, majestic Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide. Wonderful.
My most-listened to cassette for many months when I was a young teenager was a C90 copy that had Trans-Europe Express on one side and The Man Machine on the other. Following Jarre, Kraftwerk were my second great electronic love. I was there at the dawn of the personal computer age, living in the future in 1981, staying late at school to program their sole Commodore PET and listening to Kraftwerk on my Walkman on the bus home. I don’t really have many good memories of my school days but this is definitely one of them. These two albums are completely timeless and still sound as good today as they did back then. I always heard them together so for me they are one long, glorious electrified journey.
Sex Pistols – Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols (1977)
It wasn’t until the mid 1980s that I discovered punk, and that was through comedy punk band The Toy Dolls. I then worked backwards from Pete Shelley to the Buzzcocks and eventually got to listen to this, the definitive punk album. Extract the surrounding palaver and what remains is a fantastic record, full of kicking tunes and smart, wry lyrics that I expect many listeners at the time completely missed the point of. It’s perhaps a cliché to say it now but this album IS full of energy and spittle; a product of its time but still, alas, remarkably relevant today.
The Clash – London Calling (1979)
In another musical reversal that was typical of my youth, I only got into The Clash through Big Audio Dynamite. I’d heard White Riot b/w 1977 before so was a bit surprised to find how “non-punky” London Calling was. At the time I’d also started listening to a lot of dub reggae so felt right at home with London Calling’s fusion of styles. I never got to see The Clash play live, but I got to hear all about it. A couple of years after I graduated I got a job as a junior technical writer with computer company Digital Equipment. My boss was Judy Parsons, an incredibly energetic, slightly lanky but seriously intelligent woman who it turned out had been the drummer in 80s girl-band The Belle Stars. I was in awe of her tales (and, I think, of Judy in general: absolutely the coolest person I’ve ever worked for). The Belle Stars had supported The Clash on tour one time and so Judy had some amazing on-the-road stories of The Clash and sex and drugs and rock and roll. Actually come to think of it, there apparently wasn’t much sex but certainly a lot of the other!
Pink Floyd – The Wall (1979)
I remember liking Another Brick In The Wall Part 2 when it came out, but it wasn’t until the mid-1980s that I heard the full album for the first time. I’d borrowed the album from a friend and promptly left it on the bus on the way home – oops! So I bought him a replacement copy and of course gave it a listen first. I’d expected some kind of heavy rock album (I used to confuse Pink Floyd with Led Zeppelin) so was quite surprised at how nuanced and gentle it was. Then I put it on a few more times and started to listen to the lyrics properly, and this was when the whole concept of it all finally clicked.
Human League – Reproduction (1979)
This is minimal cold wave synthpop with a dystopian science fiction setting. Light years away from Don’t You Want Me, Reproduction is essentially a goth-punk album with synthesizers instead of guitars. And I think it’s a masterpiece. My cassette copy of this was dangerously stretched by the time I bought it on CD, I loved this album so much. From its tick-tock metronomic fade-in to its cacophonous ending, Reproduction is packed with incredible, spooky, powerful songs and is an often overlooked classic in the electronic pop world.
To be continued…