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.