In August of 1977, EMI signed Tom Robinson Band, waiting until Ray Davies released the "prince of the punks" from his Konk recording contract under the agreement that Davies would get 10% of everything Robinson earned over the next two years. Robinson and Davies did not part under the best of circumstances. In "Prince of the Punks", Davies snarls "He acts working class but it's all bologna/He's really middle class and he's just a phony/He acts tough but it's just a front,/He's the prince of the punks. "
It was a heady time for Robinson who would soon have a UK#5 hit called "2-4-6-8 Motorway"
"Within nine months we'd made the transition from signing on at Medina Road dole office to Top of the Pops, Radio One, EMI Records and the giddy heights of the front cover of the New Musical Express".
But there's still some drama awaiting EMI and Robinson who wanted his next single to be the year old "Glad To Be Gay". Was the world ready?
Bob Marley and the Wailers' Exodus may be the best known of the reggae albums to come out of 1977, but Heart of the Congos may be the most beloved. Produced by Lee Perry and featuring the falsetto vocals of Cedric Myton and the tenor tones of Roydel Johnson, Heart of the Congos has finally been recognized as a roots rock masterpiece. The songs are spiritual and mystical and they run twice as long as typical reggae tunes so you may find yourself drifting off into dub-land as they wash over you.
In the Summer of '77, The London punk band named after England's emergency telephone number released their self-financed debut single "I'm Alive b/w Quite Disappointing". "I'm Alive" remains one of '77's most memorable singles and led to the band's signing with United Artists Records right after The Buzzcocks. Nick Cash sings a bit too much like Pete Shelley. For one reason or another , 999 would remain a second tier punk band. Perhaps because they didn't bring any thing new to the genre...and suspiciously played too well. Imagine how things might have turned out, if 999 agreed to let Chrissie Hynde join the band.
On August 16, 1977 Elvis Presley, the king of rock'n' roll, died. The stunning news swept around the world where he was worshipped by millions of fans.
I was a 13 year old boy riding with a family friend who was negotiating the streets of San Francisco when we heard about the king's death on the radio. She had to pull over. Her eyes filling with tears.
He had so many fans and yet , after turning "forty and fat", Elvis distanced himself from almost everyone in his life. He died alone in a bathroom in his 23-room mansion, 14-acre estate in Memphis, Tennessee, called Graceland, and is buried there along with his parents and grandmother.
I visited on winter day in 1995 when I stopped in Memphis on the way to a new job in Colorado. There are messages from fans on the stone wall outside Graceland. His gravesite adorned with flowers year round and I even caught a photo of a man who still dresses like Elvis.
By then I was enough of a fan to know what I liked about Elvis : his comeback albums Elvis Is Back! (1961) and From Elvis in Memphis (1969); his gospel album His Hand in Mine (1960) and everything that makes up The Sun Sessions. At his best, Elvis was an incredibly inventive singer, charming, good looking, sexy, and soulful.
Of course he was not at his best in 1977. On stage he was sweating profusely, his prematurely white hair dyed shoe polish black, carrying around several pounds of waste that he couldn't defecate without pain, That's why he died on the toilet in the middle of the night.
On the tenth anniversary of Elvis's death , I wandered the streets of Charleston, South Carolina asking people for their memories. "He loved his mama," one lady said. "Elvis loved his mama".
On August 15, 1977 Ohio State University's Big Ear radio telescope picked up a 72 second transmission that still baffles scientists today... and may be the strongest proof yet of an alien radio transmission. SETI Astronomer Jerry R. Ehman discovered the signal days later, writing "Wow!" on a computer print-out. The Alien Wow Signal has never been heard again.
In the Summer of '77 The Meters released their final album together, the curiously named New Directions. Curious because, if anything, this was a return to the classic Meters sound, after the disco grooves of Trick Bagthe year before. New Directions is a mixed bag, but when they get funky ( on tracks like "No More Okey Doke", "Funkify Your Life" and "Give it What you Can ", they capture some of that Rejuvination sound. When New Directions failed to sell, The Meters broke up with Art Neville, Cyril Neville ad Art's brother Aaron forming The Neville Brothers.
On August 13 1977, two years into his "househusband" period, John Lennon recorded a demo version of a new song called "Free As A Bird". It's a bare bones cassette recording with Lennon accompanying himself on piano in the Dakota. And yet, to me, it has twice the emotional punch as the reunited Beatles (Threetles) version from 1994. Earlier that year, Yoko gave Paul a few demos. She would say later
"I did not break up The Beatles, but I was there at the time, you know? Now I'm in a position where I could bring them back together and I would not want to hinder that. It was kind of a situation given to me by fate. "
In 1977, LA punkers The Zeros released their first single, "Wimp" b/w "Don't Push Me Around", on Bomp Records. Formed in 1976 in Chula Vista, California, just 5 miles north of the Mexican border, the four members attended Chula Vista High and Sweetwater Union High. Soon they were a tight little band playing their first gig in Rosario Beach, a town south of Tijuana. Before long they were regulars on the L.A. punk scene. Among the founding members: Javier Escovedo (younger brother of Alejandro Escovedo) and Robert Lopez (later known as El Vez). They cited The Ramones, New York Dolls and The Standells as influences. Peter Case of The Nerves was an early supporter. It is truly worthwhile to watch their appearance on this San Diego TV Show.
In August of 1977, the artsy makeup-wearing New Zealand band Split Enz released their third album, the first without co-founding members Phil Judd and Mike Chunn. It was named Dizrythmia, which is another name for "jet lag", something with which the boys must haven been familiar. After all the Kiwi's were recording in England . Beatles engineer Geoff Emerick is the producer. Our hero Neil Finn has now joined the band, bringing the pop sensibilities he shares with brother Tim. No writing credit for Neil yet. The big single is the cabaret-esque "My Mistake", peaking at #15 in Australia and #21 in the band's native New Zealand. The follow-up, though it sounds like it was recorded underwater, is more interesting to my ears.
On August 9 1977, during a break from recording London Town, Wings recorded "Mull of Kintyre", named after the Scottish peninsula where McCartney has owned a farm since 1966.
"I certainly loved Scotland enough, so I came up with a song about where we were living: an area called Mull of Kintyre," McCartney said. " It was a love song really, about how I enjoyed being there and imagining I was traveling away and wanting to get back there ."
McCartney recorded the guitars outside and brought in the Campbeltown Pipe Band to ply bagpipes. The single would hit #1 over Christmas on its way to selling a record two million copies, the biggest selling hit single until Band Aid's "Do They Know It's Christmas?".
When the Brits couldn't get enough of that European synthesizer sound, these French cats would score a U.K. #2 hit with "Magic Fly". Made even more famous 30 years later by a singing cats video. "Velvet Rape" was the unfortunate name of another song on the album.
On August 7 1977, Thin Lizzy returned to the U.K. charts with the single "Dancing in the Moonlight". The catchy tune would peak at #14 in the British charts and at #4 in the Irish charts. Bowie and T.Rex producer Tony Visconti would call "Dancing" one of the sexiest songs he'd ever produced. The band recorded the single and the album Bad Reputation in Toronto. The recording eventually saw the return of guitarist Brian Robertson who had been injured in a brawl and had missed the majority of the most recent tour.
Robertson was back and you'll see him below, to the right of Phil Lynott, in the official video for "Dancing in the Moonlight", filmed at an empty Hammersmith-Odeon. The sax solo is played by Supertramp's John Helliwell.
On the weekend of August 5 and 6, 1977, punk rock fans and the curious one again gathered at Mont de Marsan for what must be called a legendary line-up of bands. The Clash, The Damned, The Jam, The Police, Rich Kids, Eddie and the Hot Rods...well, you can see the poster above so I'll just stop.
French bands opened each day. The Damned came out with their newest member, a second guitarist named Robert "Lu" Edmonds. His purpose was to fatten the sound, but that was the kind of thing the former pub rockers were supposed to be doing, not punk bands. In a month The Damned would record a second album. It wouldn't sell. By January they would be the fifrt major punk band to break up
The Clash came out with fury, opening with "London's Burning" before trying out a cover of Toots and the Maytals' "Pressure Drop". Damned bassist Captain Sensible interrupted the performance by tossing smoke bombs on the stage and unplugging amps. He was roughed up by security.
The Police were still a four piece band. Original guitarist Henry Padovani was far more punk than the ten year older Andy Summers, late of Kevin Ayers. But it looked as though Henry saw what direction the Police were heading, as he stood still on a corner of the stage watching the others.
On August 5, 1977 T.Rex released its final single before Marc Bolan's untimely death the following month. "Celebrate Summer" failed to chart, but Bolan really didn't have time to worry about that. He had been hired by Granada Television to host a six part series of music shows called Marc. The shows featured bands like The Jam, Generation X, and Eddie and the Hot Rods as well as Marc's old friend David Bowie.
If punk was more about attitude than musical ability then The Slits may have been the punkiest punk band the U.K. ever unleashed upon the world. The Slits were made up of guitarist Viv Albertine, drummer Palmolive, bassist Tessa Pollitt and German vocalist Ari Up, who was John Lydon's 15 year old stepdaughter. On August 5, 1977 The Slits were filmed at The Vortex. They're raw. To the point where maybe you have to admire their chutzpah for just going on stage and giving it everything they've got. Ari Up would also make history for peeing on this very stage. Sex Pistols manager Malcolm McLaren liked what he saw. John Peel caught their early bass-heavy sound in a September Peel session.
By the time The Slits recorded their first album, the legendary Cut, they has traded their finest songwriter, Palmolive, for a tighter drummer and a more polished sound.
It may have been one of Manchester's "scuzziest" nightclubs, but on August 3, 1977 , hometown faves The Buzzcocks wowed the crowd and those behind the video cameras with a new song about the loneliness of sleeping in a half empty bed. Recorded the following month, "What Do I Get" would provide the Buzzcocks with their U.K. chart debut, peaking at #37 in early 1978.
In August of 1977 The Animals released a surprisingly good reunion album which I remember seeing rated four stars in one of the original Rolling Stone Record Guides. They hadn't played together since Alan Price left in 1966. Critics liked it. Dave Marsh called it "a surprisingly successful [...] one-shot, with the original group, again dominated by Price and Burdon, turning in fine, hard-nosed blues performances." and Robert Christgau gave the album a B- writing:
Not bad for a reunion LP--a lot more authentic sounding than the Byrds'. But then, the Animals weren't as good as the Byrds. And the only time Eric Burdon really recaptures that old white magic is on "Many Rivers to Cross," such a cliche by now that only a singer as crude as Eric, with his desperate key changes and random enthusiasm, can bring it to life. Me, I'll take "Sky Pilot."
Still living with his parents, Return to Forever's Al Di Meola wrote "Mediterranean Sundance" with the intent on recording it for his second album with the brilliant Spanish flamenco guitarist Paco de Lucia. A nervous Paco showed up at Electric Ladyland, knowing not a single word of English. One of Di Meola's friends scored some pot and, after a smoke, Paco and Al went to work, recording the song in two takes.
"And that tune became a hit single in many countries," Di Meola remembers. "It was on the radio as if it were a pop song. It really helped to propel the whole spectacle of the record, and Elegant Gypsy turned out to be probably my most popular record."
A version of "Mediterranean Sundance" opened the best-selling Friday Night in San Francisco live album, recorded as a trio by De Lucia, Di Meola and John McLaughlin. in 1980.
Named for the Rolling Stones album, Beggar's Banquet was a record store that flirted with concert promotion when they decided to released their first single as a record label in July of 1977: "Shadow" by the London based punk band The Lurkers. One can instantly hear why The Lurkers were dubbed "The British Ramones". The debut album that would follow in 1978 is one of the first punk records purchased by Black Flag's Henry Rollins.
On July 30, 1977 Carly Simon's "Nobody Does It Better" began its second week in the U.S. charts where it would peak at #2, held off from the top spot by Debby Boone's "You Light Up My Life".
It was an all star production for title track of the 1977 James Bond film "The Spy Who Loved Me" with music by Oscar winner Marvin Hamlisch, "lust-drunk" lyrics by Carole Bayer Sager and production by Richard Perry.
I am introducing my 12 year old son to James Bond movies. We started with "Goldfinger". Maybe this should not have been the second film despite the great opening sequence and the human can opener, "Jaws". It's just a bit silly in places.
A better story is that, when asked to provide his annual personal evaluation, one of my work colleagues thought about sending this song to our manager. No additional comments needed.
I suggested that our female boss might wonder what he's trying to say with awkward lyrics like :
The way that you hold me Whenever you hold me There's some kind of magic inside you That keeps me from runnin' But just keep it comin' How'd you learn to do the things you do?
On July 29, 1977 Essex pub rockers Eddie and the Hot Rods released their biggest hit single, the UK#9 "Do Anything You Wanna Do". At the beginning of the years, NME had named the Rods the most promising emergent act ( ahead of Racing Cars, Graham Parker and Sex Pistols). Now with the addition of Kursaal Flyers guitarist and songwriter Graeme Douglas, the band fattened their sound to great effect.
'Do Anything You Wanna Do", written by Dougas and band manager Ed Hollis, is one of the most exuberant songs of the year, its lyrics delivered with gusto by Barrie Masters who seems to be living every high school boy's dream on stage.
In retrospect, issuing a single with a photograph of occultist Aleister Crowley in Mickey Mouse ears might not have been such a good idea.
Bassist Paul Gray said:
It wasn't long afterwards that what was to be known as the Curse of the Hotrods struck. In retrospect it wasn't the best of ideas to mess about with Alistair Crowley. The single cover featured the image above featuring Crowley's face with a pair of Mickey Mouse ears, a play on Crowley's mantra - "Do What Thou Wilt Shall Be The Whole Of The Law" . It wasn't long before the letters started coming from his followers, saying we were playing with fire and threatening dire retributions on us all. At the time it was unnerving and we tried to laugh it off, but uncannily enough we suffered more than our fair share of tragedies soon after. In no particular order one of the guys responsible for the cover committed suicide, our manager died of a drugs overdose and all sorts of other troubles befell band members that I won't go into here.
In the week of July 27, Detroit's Floaters were racing up the U.K.charts with "Float On", a smooth R and B smash featuring members of the vocal harmony group introducing themselves by their zodiac signs. For six weeks "Float On" topped the U.S. R and B charts . It would also top the U.K. charts on August 27th .
Not sure how this kind of patter would work in a singles bar forty years later:
Libra and my name is Charles Now I like a woman that's quiet A woman who carries herself like Miss Universe
Like The Ramones, The Boys could effectively rock on that tightrope where punk and pop merged. On July 27, they released "First Time", a song about losing one's virginity. Sounds Magazine made it single of the week.
The week of July 26, 1977 witnessed rock veteran Steve Gibbons entering the U.K.charts with his band's cover of Chuck Berry's "Tulane", a song that would climb all the way to #12. It's here mainly because it name checks my alma mater multiple times.
With Donna Summer's "I Feel Love" at the top, the U.K. charts were pretty exciting this week. Among the singles:
They were best known as Graham Parker's backing band, but in July of 1977, The Rumour released their won album, the Mutt Lange produced Max. The title was a witty retort to Fleetwood Mac calling their best selling album Rumours ( not unlike Nick Lowe titling his EP Bowi in response to Bowie's album, Low).
The Rumour were made up of all stars from the pub rock world: Brinsley Schwartz (guitar) and Bob Andrews (keys) cane from the band Brinsley Schwartz, Martin Belmont (guitar) came from Ducks Deluxe, and Andrew Bodnar (bass) and Steve Goulding (drums) came from Bontemps Roulez.
Among the highlights: a cover of Nick Lowe's "Mess Around With Love", Duke Ellington's "So Nothing Till You Hear from Me" and the Ducks own "Something's Going On".
On July 24, 1977 Television re-entered the U.K. pop charts, following the title track of Marquee Moon with "Prove It" b/w "Venus". The single would peak at U.K. #25. The song seems to take place on a New York City dock where the singer has woken up before the birds. It's an odd hour to be up, even in New York.
As Tom Verlaine told a U.K. magazine in 1977, "Living in New York you somehow become very night-oriented. Especially in the summers, when it gets so hot and the streets get so dirty...I've always thought of New York as an inspiration. It isn't for many people, but it is for me. Obviously it was Lou Reed , too. ..New York is a really concentrated microcosm of emotions, you know, and atmosphere. The song do deal mostly with atmosphere, yes; I think that's what art is all about."
On July 22, 1977 just two weeks before the U.S. chart debut of the futuristic synth pop masterpiece "I Feel Love", which he produced for Donna Summer, Giorgio Moroder released his own all synth creation. "From Here to Eternity" kicked off an A side that would steam up disco floors all around the world. As the liner notes state,"only electronic keyboards were used in the making of this album."
On July 22, 1977 Elvis Costello released is debut album, My Aim Is True. It was my introduction to Costello's music and I was immediately taken by the smart wordplay, the passion and the pub rock sounds. I was thirteen years old and by the time I picked up one of those prerecorded cassettes, I was trying to survive boarding school.
It wasn't as bad as Costello's description of his rehearsal room, Headley Garage:
It was dark when I awoke. I could hear the rats scuttling across the rehearsal room floor. I t was just as I had been warned. If the light went off, the rats came out.
Feeling for my shoes, I edged to the light-switch and illuminated the drinking party passed out on another ragged sofa.
I tried to go back to sleep with the lights on, I was going to make a record the next day.
The future Huey Lewis Band, Clover, may not get as much love as the Attractions but Costello remembers feeling incredibly lucky to be "playing with such great musicians", especially after John McFee came up with the intro to "Alison"
Critics were enthralled. Only the Sex Pistols rated higher in the Village Voice critics poll for that year.
1. Sex Pistols: Never Mind the Bollocks, Here's the Sex Pistols (Warner Bros.) 412 (32)
2. Elvis Costello: My Aim Is True (Columbia) 367 (33)
3. Television: Marquee Moon (Elektra) 327 (26)
4. Fleetwood Mac: Rumours (Warner Bros.) 318 (26)
5. Steely Dan: Aja (ABC) 266 (23)
From Robert Christgau's B+ review
I like the nerdy way this guy comes on, I'm fascinated by his lyrics, and I approve of his rock and roll orientation; in fact, I got quite obsessive about his two cuts on the Bunch of Stiff Records import. Yet odd as it may seem, I find that he suffers from Jackson Browne's syndrome--that is, he's a little boring. Often this malady results from overconcentration on lyrics and can be cured by a healthy relationship with a band. Since whenever I manage to attend to a Costello song all the way through I prefer it to "The Pretender." I hope he recovers soon.
About the same time the king of rock put out the big light, we first heard an impressive New Wave import by a Buddy Holly look-alike calling himself Elvis Costello. On his debut LP, My Aim Is True, Costello has captured the rare synthesis that every Sixties rock band dreamed of -- the raw bluesiness of the Stones successfully mixed with a bouncy, early Beatles sound. My Aim Is True taps riffs that span two decades of popular rock. From "Mystery Dance," which sounds a tribute to his namesake's "Jailhouse Rock," to the Bowieish "I'm Not Angry," the album, penned entirely by Costello, effects a stylistic history of rock 'n' roll. Imagine Van Morrison with The Yardbirds produced by Phil Spector and you'll have an idea. Even better: Graham Parker meets Bruce Springsteen in Motown. Confused? Listen to My Aim Is True and tell us where you've heard it all before.
From Rolling Stone's Greil Marcus:
My Aim Is True (the title is a line from "Alison") is in the Top Twenty in Britain; it is likely to go higher, as Costello recently managed to get himself busted for taking his electric guitar into the streets. The LP is already getting airplay on American FM stations, and a tour of sorts is set for late fall. How far Costello can go — especially given the unfortunate timing that surrounds his assumed first name — remains to be seen, but I have a feeling that once he is heard, he is going to shake up a lot of his erstwhile peers and make many musicians whom he would not consider his peers seem quite irrelevant — he has the musical sophistication, which is to say access to the musical credibility, to do that, as, at the moment, the Sex Pistols don't.
From Michael Heatley's 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die
My Aim Is True was recorded, before the recruitment of The Attractions, in six four-hour sessions in an eight-track demo studio in North London Costello now likens to a telephone booth. It says much for the standard of the songwriting that his debut stands up as a classic.
With future Doobie Brother John McFee laying down Byrds-like guitar licks, "Red Shoes" was an obvious single choice. It had been preceded by "Less Than Zero," inspired by British fascist leader Oswald Mosley, and the brilliant (and untypical) ballad "Alison," from whose lyric the album title had come. But it would take "Watching The Detectives" to make the necessary singles-chart mark at the very end of 1977. (Recorded with members of The Rumour, this track was included only on later reissues of the album.)
The overriding emotion of My Aim Is True was a lack of satisfaction, openly expressed by "Blame It On Cain" and "Mystery Dance," while "No Dancing" was a second song to equate dancing and sex. Producer Nick Lowe, whom Costello had followed round the country when Lowe was frontman with Brinsley Schwarz, added just enough studio fairydust to make this a "proper" record rather than another set of demos, but there was no doubting songs like "Mystery Dance," with its Jerry Lee Lewis vibe, would add a new dimension live when attacked by The Attractions.
Few of Costello's songs bar "Alison" have been covered, and this No. 14 album (in the UK), which retains its quirkiness today, suggests why. A heady combination of punk and quality songcraft, it remains unique even by Elvis' standards.
On July 22, 1977 Squeeze released their debut record, an EP titled "A Packet of Three". The title comes from a standard package of condoms in the UK, which is a good preview of the kind of humor Squeeze would inflict on listeners during the first two albums. Inspired by punk and a good dose of Dr. Feelgood by the sounds of it, the sessions for the three songs were produced by former Velvet Undergrounder John Cale , which shows how small the world is. Squeeze named their band after the 1973 Velvet Underground album whose only recognizable member was Doug Yule. Squeeze are Glenn Tilbrook, Chris Difford, Jools Holland, Harry Kakoulli and Gilson Lavis. The EP helped Squeeze get a deal with A and M Records.
Cale would also produce Squeeze's 1978 debut album, which would be a bit of a mess.
Finally the boys of BBD do something predictable. They release a live album. Whether you got off on Be Bop Deluxe's Live! In the Air Age, released in July of 1977, depended on whether you thought the studio sheen was a benefit or hinderance to your enjoyment of their music. Recorded on the Modern Music tour, it was originally released as a two record set, one black vinyl, the other white vinyl.
On July 19, D-I-Y evangelists The Desperate Bicycles released their second self-released single, "The Medium Was Tedium", a song that seemed to be a response to the question the English punk rockers must have been asked the most: how did they make a record. The answer is in the refrain: "It was easy/It was cheap/Go and do it"!
On July 18, 1977 The Ramones followed up "Sheena is a Punk Rocker", a UK #22 hit, with a new single, "Swallow My Pride" b/w "Pinhead". The new single would peak at #36, a number they'd fail to reach again until 1980 with "Baby, I Love You". Even the biggest Ramones fans might not know "Swallow My Pride" had ever been a single. "Pinhead", with its "Gabba Gabba Hey" chorus, is far better remembered forty years later.
On July 17, 1977 The Sunday Times published an article entitled "Good Clean Punk" about The Clash and their fans:
For most people, "punk rock" still means four-letter words, safety-pin jewelry, and a rude song about the Queen. After the Sex Pistols' infamous language on TV, concerts were cancelled, contracts were torn up, and righteous outrage swept the land. Punk, it seemed, was sunk. But eight months is an eon in pop; the record companies, hungry for a genuine youth phenomenon, have swallowed their misgivings and re-opened their cheque books. Punk, deodorised and re-packaged as the "New Wave", is here to stay - at least for half an hour.