I am a lifelong music fan raised and residing in Toronto. I want to pay tribute to the music I love and am still discovering, so this site is for sharing my thoughts, memories, and playlists of the bands, genres, and songs that have meant so much to me.

And yes, this site is named after my lifelong favourite song, Ceremony by Joy Division and New Order.

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Something Better Change: 1977 and the Birth of Modern Rock, Part 1

Something Better Change: 1977 and the Birth of Modern Rock, Part 1

Click below on the streaming service of your choice to listen to the playlist as your read along.

Over the course of the playlists on the Builders of Modern Rock, the glam era, and the Birth of punk in 1976, various strains of rock were profiled that pushed the creative boundaries of the rock sound, riding more aggressive approaches that drove short, passionate songs and challenged the established powers of fashion, culture, and industry – they were creating the conditions for a sea change in the evolving world of rock music. 1977 was the year in which that change happened and a separation was created between classic and modern rock; that is, between the traditional, broadly accessible formats of rock and those that are more marginal, antagonistic, and experimental.

The Ramones at CBGBs in 1977

The Ramones at CBGBs in 1977

In the course of complex, sociological activity it is never easy to declare a specific moment in time in which a course-altering event occurs. Especially within art forms, it is rare when collective behaviour changes on a dime, and even when sudden changes do occur, it doesn’t happen simply because the calendar changed over to a new year. However, in the young history of rock music, certain years have stood out for the quantity, quality, and transformational nature of that year’s releases. 1964, 1967, and 1969 were such occasions that marked the British Invasion, the rise of album rock, and the blossoming of psychedelic rock into heavy metal and progressive (prog) rock. Similarly, 1977 was, in broad terms, the fulcrum in which the evolving trends in rock music galvanized around new, different, and course-altering forms and did so with a quantity and quality not seen in the past eight years.

The Playlist - artist \ song

January

  1. The Runaways \ Queens of Noise

  2. The Ramones \ Gimme Gimme Shock Treatment

  3. David Bowie \ Be My Wife

  4. The Stranglers \ (Get A) Grip (On Yourself)

  5. Buzzcocks \ Time's Up

    February

  6. Cheap Trick \ Cry, Cry

  7. Talking Heads \ Love -> Building on Fire

  8. Television \ See No Evil

  9. The Damned \ Neat Neat Neat

    March

  10. Kraftwerk \ Trans-Europe Express

  11. Devo \ Jocko Homo

  12. The Clash \ White Riot

  13. Iggy Pop \ Nightclubbing

  14. Elvis Costello \ Less than Zero

    April

  15. The Clash \ London’s Burning

  16. The Jam \ In the City

    May

  17. Mink DeVille \ Spanish Stroll

  18. The Police \ Fall Out

  19. The Sex Pistols \ God Save the Queen

    June

  20. The Vibrators \ Stiff Little Fingers

  21. Chelsea \ Right to Work

    July

  22. Germs \ Forming

  23. The Saints \ This Perfect Day

  24. Eddie & The Hot Rods \ Do Anything You Wanna Do

  25. The Adverts \ Gary Gilmore’s Eyes

    August

  26. Wreckless Eric \ Whole Wide World

  27. Ian Dury and The Blockheads \ Sex and Drugs and Rock & Roll

  28. Iggy Pop \ The Passenger

    September

  29. Cheap Trick \ Southern Girls

  30. Dr. Feelgood \ She's A Windup

  31. Generation X \ Your Generation

  32. Richard Hell & The Voidoids \ Love Comes in Spurts

  33. The Boomtown Rats \ Lookin’ After No. 1

  34. Tom Waits \ Muriel

  35. X-Ray Spex \ Oh Bondage Up Yours!

  36. Talking Heads \ Psycho Killer

  37. The Boys \ I Don't Care

  38. The Stranglers \ Something Better Change

Throughout Ceremony I refer to modern rock to define the artists and music being profiled and to separate them from other forms of rock and pop music, but just what is it?  I picked it up from radio formats and chart classification – Billboard started a ‘Modern Rock’ chart in 1988 – as well as written works, but its use differs by context. The most common application of modern rock is to group a diverse array of non-mainstream genres into an umbrella category and to differentiate them from the original forms of rock, also broadly referred to as ‘classic rock,’ and other contemporary forms such as hard rock or heavy metal. However, there have also been many artists and periods of time in which modern rock and mainstream tastes have merged, so even just defining modern rock as non-mainstream has its weaknesses. Alternative rock in the 1990s dominated the charts and several modern rock artists have enjoyed chart-topping success for large segments of their career, yet are also legitimate modern rock acts by the nature of some, or much, of their music. Modern rock songs have also topped charts throughout the genre’s forty-year history. Therefore, modern rock also has a defining musical element to it that is formed by distinct aspects of geography, fashion, and politics.

Let’s break these down. First, there is geography. Most of the genres I focus on derive from the UK, with supporting scenes in Europe, underground club and college scenes in North America, Australia, and occasionally, though rarely, from parts of Asia. This is important because the tastes and exposure to the modern rock genres are often based on these separations. Many artists have topped the charts in their homelands on a regular basis while never getting any material level of commercial or chart success in other parts of the world. Therefore, the ‘alternative’ aspect of modern rock is often a geographical situation since it may not be alternative to local audiences, but are foreign in every sense of the word further afield. Being raised in Toronto, my perspective is always North American, and sometimes even from a very Canadian or Toronto based perspective in terms of what is modern rock. Canada is fortunate to be exposed to American and UK arts in equal measure, so the best of both worlds has been readily available for exploration. Modern rock has always had a strong following in the Toronto market, which has likely influenced my own tastes.

Next, there is music, fashion, and politics which are usually tightly bundled in various combinations based on the sub-genre. I will only touch on these briefly since much of Ceremony’s profiles, and this one especially, dive into these aspects specifically, but let’s at least set a little of the incoming context for 1977. Rock music evolved from forms of blues, gospel, jazz, country and folk music through the 1950s and 1960s, particularly formed around the sounds of the electric guitar, electric bass, and drums formatted in the ‘pop’ style of a short, catchy, tightly formatted composition. As artists developed and evolved this sound, many genres and sub-genres developed, moving through soul, R&B, rock, and pop; and then into variants such as psychedelic rock, hard rock, heavy metal, prog rock, glam rock, and an ever-growing and countless number of niche styles based on sounds, scenes and locales. By the mid-1970s these genres had moved from the fringes into some of the most dominant types of popular, mainstream music. Classic rock artists were topping charts, developing huge waves of hysterical fan bases, and filling arenas or, more and more often, stadiums – Led Zeppelin would set a concert attendance record for solo indoor attraction on April 30, 1977 by performing to 76,229 people in Detroit, narrowly beating The Who’s record from 1975. The instrumentation and musicianship of rock artists had also expanded considerably. The broad commercial appeal of rock music was now big business. Music industry efforts to harness and focus rock music into predictable, reliable, and lucrative revenue streams was creating a growing tension between artists and the labels, which were enjoying considerable control over their rosters of talent and product and thus were able to manage their investment risk by steering clear of sounds less likely to find an audience. It was an environment ripe for disruption.

In the Builders of Modern Rock playlist we traced the evolution of raw, loosely structured, passionate, and aggressive forms of rock through the 1950s to the mid-1970s that was increasingly working in the fringes the of rock universe. In the early 1970s there was the explosion of glam rock that brought fashion and social politics into that mix of edgy, powerfully structured rock sounds. Finally, in 1976 there was the arrival of punk rock, a form that created significant disruption in the music universe and set in motion the arrival of modern rock. It’s easy to argue that 1976 was more appropriately the year in which modern rock was born, given the influential artists of that year and the start of punk, but I am choosing 1977 because it was broader, bigger, and more influential on all that followed and thus has a greater claim to the origin story of modern rock as a broader categorization. The volume of music in this profile dwarfs any year prior, regardless the strain of modern rock. The punk playlist was only ten songs and even at that, included a few songs that straddled its boundaries. 1977 was more relevant in establishing punk in breadth, quality, and importance.

So in 1977 the scene was set for a year in music that not only continued the evolution of certain forms of rock music but exploded them into a variety of new forms. The new sounds were experimental, challenged convention, defied the expectations and preferences of the masses, and opened up the possibilities for even more growth in sound and styles. The world of rock music would never be the same and would eventually require a separate classification to define and understand the alternative strains of rock music from what had come before, and thus modern rock was born. Let’s listen and learn about those that made it all happen over that historic twelve months.

January

The Runaways

The Runaways

Queens of Noise \ The Runaways – We’ll start with one of the acts already profiled in the Builders playlist, the ground breaking, all-female rock act, The Runaways. They released their first album in 1976 and following early in the new year with their second LP, Queens of Noise. The band was never very punk and this album likewise stayed in the rock vein, though with a notable hard rock and glam metal sound and a more aggressive tone than the debut. The title track was the first single released and was one of the more pop-oriented songs, similar to the first album. The song was written by LA band, The Quick (also on the Builders playlist), who were also managed by the Runaways manager, Kim Fowley. Aside from their pioneering presence as women, The Runaways stripped down sound helped pave a path for the modern rock acts going against the prog, later glam, corporate rock, classic rock, and heavy metal genres.

Gimme Gimme Shock Treatment \ The Ramones – After their trailblazing entry to the music world in 1976, as profiled in the Birth of Punk playlist, The Ramones returned with their second LP on January 10, 1977, Leave Home. It was accompanied by a non-album single, a live recording of “I Remember You” which included a live version of their cover of The Rivieras’ “California Sun,” in which the studio version appeared on the album. The second single, “Swallow My Pride,” came from the LP and neither single cracked the charts. The LP only reached #148 in the US, much lower than the likewise mild response to the debut LP. However, this album did build their presence in the UK following their tours over there in late ’76, with Leave Home reaching #45.

“Sheena Is A Punk Rocker” was not on the original release for the album and was released as a single in May. It was the first for the band to crack the US charts, peaking at #81. When Leave Home was re-issued in order to remove the song, “Carbona Not Glue” (due to trademark infringement with the company, Carbona), “Sheena” was inserted in its place on the LP. However, of the original track listing, “Gimme Gimme Shock Treatment” was the standout song showing the band’s continued excellence with their fast – and getting faster – short, catchy, and relentless punk sound.

Be My Wife \ David Bowie – For a deeper look at the legendary career of David Bowie, explore the deep dive playlist. Bowie was also included in the glam playlist though by 1977, had well moved on from that style. He is one of the few artists that managed to straddle the traditional and modern rock categories, with his chameleon-like career being one reason for his huge success both artistically and commercially. Having just finished a trilogy of records from 1974 to 1976, moving though the ‘plastic soul’ of his Thin White Duke period, Bowie had relocated to Berlin to try and reign in his lifestyle excesses and to explore new musical horizons by soaking in the electronic and experimental German music scene. Working with producer and glam era pioneer, Brian Eno, they embarked on a new trilogy.

The first of the Berlin trilogy was the album, Low, issued on January 14, 1977. The experimental aspects of the album threw critics and fans for a loop and it marked a mild drop-off in popularity for the artist. It was the first LP of his prior four to not crack the top ten in the US, though it reached #2 in the UK where his homeland had always supported him well. The first side of the album was closer to his rock sound of the time, mixing sax into an edgy, rock and R&B sound. “Sound and Vision” appeared on that side and was the first single, reaching #3 in the UK chart. The first side also included the intriguing instrumental opening and closing tracks, “Speed of Life” and “A New Career in a New Town,” the funky “Breaking Glass,” and the sublime “Always Crashing in the Same Car.” “Be My Wife” was also on that side and was the second single, but didn’t chart; it was, however, a great example of Bowie’s shifting sound, taking his pop-rock and R&B sound into a tougher, edgier rock sound.

Low’s status and importance stemmed from its second side, which were four mostly instrumental, largely electronic, and atmospheric songs that explored new territory for Bowie and opened up audiences to a new form of rock music. It was this side of the album that modern rock artists would draw inspiration in forging new blends of electronic and rock music. Joy Division first called themselves Warsaw, named after the first track on side two of Low, “Warszawa.” There are few as namechecked by modern rock artists as David Bowie, and the Berlin Trilogy was a big reason why.

The Stranglers

The Stranglers

(Get A) Grip (On Yourself) \ The Stranglers – This band was just getting started in 1977, issuing their first single, “(Get A) Grip (On Yourself)” on January 28. It set them up for success by reaching #44 in the UK singles chart and introduced their keyboard and bass sound to audiences. Their energy and attitude have generally placed them in the punk category, and this single is often cited as the third UK punk single after the debuts from The Damned and the Sex Pistols the previous fall, yet their sound didn’t gel with the driven guitars of those bands or The Ramones. So what kind of music was it? Thus, we arrive at the germination of modern rock, where a sound like The Stranglers, mixing garage rock, the keyboard sound of The Doors, and the guitar and attitude of the punks, formed a new music that seemed divorced from anything heard before. We’ll visit The Stranglers again on this playlist, but you can also lean into the Stranglers’ history in their playlist and profile.

Time's Up \ Buzzcocks – Another band that has received the Ceremony profile treatment, the Buzzcocks were the next UK punk band to release music, this time delivering from the northern punk scene of Manchester — famously spurred by the 1976 summer show of the Sex Pistols which was promoted by Howard Devoto and Pete Shelley of the Buzzcocks. On January 29 they released their first LP, Spiral Scratch, which featured four impeccable punk songs that presented a more accessible, pop-oriented sound that would help grow the punk audience in the UK by reaching #31 in the album chart. I’ve included the tracks “Boredom” and “Breakdown” in their profile and the playlist on Manchester music, so this time I’ll offer up the tune, “Time’s Up,” for a taste of their early, raw, fun, punk sound.

Spiral Scratch was also an important release because it was self-recorded and released by the band on a label they formed, New Hormones, making it one of the first and most inspirational in establishing the DIY approach to modern music. The Buzzcocks showed you didn’t need to be on a major label – or any label – nor be based in London in order to release music in England. It was a bold and exciting example to the many nascent bands toiling in clubs across England.


On January 20, Jimmy Carter was inaugurated as president of the United States, drawing to a close the controversial rule of Richard Nixon, who had resigned in the midst of scandal and likely impeachment and was followed by his vice-president, Gerald Ford, who angered many by pardoning Nixon. Following a rising conservatism in response to the post-war rise of the welfare state, civil rights progress, and the quandaries of the ‘70s economy marked by high inflation, high unemployment, and oil crisis, the Democrats claim on the white house increased the political tensions in America. In the UK a similar rise in conservatism and a push for austerity to break the cycle of deficits and high unemployment was being led by Margaret Thatcher, the leader of the opposition Conservative Party. Similar to the US, racial tension and economic conflicts over labour rights raged in the streets. These were the conditions that had given rise to the anger and appeal for the aggressive tones of punk music and a rising interest in countercultural expression.


February

Cheap Trick

Cheap Trick

Cry, Cry \ Cheap Trick – In the Builders playlist the power pop sound was highlighted, a less menacing form of aggressive rock than punk. As modern rock found its legs it would be power pop in which a lot of acts dwelled. It offered a way to hit the guitars hard without the confrontational posturing of punk, the extravagance of classic rock and glam, or the loose and raw feel of garage rock. Power pop was too aggressive for mainstream audiences and thus formed one of the pillars of the emerging modern rock scene.

Cheap Trick’s debut and self-titled LP, issued in February of 1977, offered one of the most straightforward examples of the modern, power pop sound. The band was formed in Rockford, Illinois in 1973 by Tom Peterson, Rick Nielsen, and Bun E. Carlos. Once Robin Zander was added on vocals the line-up was set. The first album didn’t sell well or chart but started the band on its way towards a progressively more successful career, which we’ll touch on further in this playlist. “Cry, Cry” was not the single from the LP (that was “Oh, Candy”) but was the album’s best example of Cheap Trick’s power pop sound.

Love --> Building on Fire \ Talking Heads – The importance of New York club CBGBs has been well-covered in both the Builders and Birth of Punk playlists. Out of that scene came Talking Heads, whose career and legacy has also been profiled. While punk has dominated the focus of attention on that club and era, the truth is that the music from that scene was diverse and accomplished for its time. Indeed, CBGBs was a birthplace for punk and modern rock.

In February one of the club’s most intriguing, distinctive, unconventional, and uncategorizable acts released their first single. “Love -> Building on Fire.” Talking Heads at that point were just a trio of David Byrne, Chris Frantz, and Tina Weymouth. The non-album single didn’t gain the band much attention, but strongly revealed the band’s rhythm-based sound and quirky, artsy form of pop music.

See No Evil \ Television – Another CBGBs act, Television had established itself as regulars at the New York club. With the double-lead guitars of Tom Verlaine and Richard Lloyd intertwining through intricate playing, the band wasn’t classic rock but nor was it punk. Like Talking Heads, it was a form of art rock that drew you in with their smartly crafted songs, repeating rhythms, and unique vocals.

Television

Television

The band was originally formed in 1973 out of the ashes of the act, Neon Boys, which had included Verlaine, Richard Hell, and Billy Ficca. When Lloyd was added they changed their name to Television and, through their manager Terry Ork, began playing in 1974 including their first gigs at CBGBs. In 1975 Richard Hell, whose unruly and unpolished punk style was increasingly out of step with the band as it evolved into its more accomplished musicianship, left the band to form The Heartbreakers. He was replaced by Fred Smith, who had been playing with fellow CBGB act, Blondie. Terry Ork soon after formed indie label Ork Records in order to release the band’s first single, “Little Johnny Jewel.”

On February 8, 1977 the band released its first LP, Marquee Moon. Television would never be a big seller nor release much music in its time, but with Marquee Moon they issued indisputably one of the greatest, most influential and highly regarded albums of the early modern rock era. It is routinely included in ‘greatest’ album lists even to this day. There was nary a misplaced note on the album, and with repeated listens revealed ever-greater joys of composition, melody, rhythm, and subtly placed hooks that drew you in deeper and deeper to its brilliance. The title track was an epic tune of over ten minutes, built around a sublime, recurring guitar riff that simply melted your heart through your ears, especially over the extended jam that was the second half of the song. It’s not often you’re left sad at the conclusion of an almost eleven-minute song. Its duration was as non-punk as it got, especially when it was released as the first UK single in which its length would assuredly result in little to no radio airplay (it still reached #30 in the UK chart and needed to be split in two when put onto a 7” single).

In addition to “Marquee Moon” were seven more impeccably delivered songs, of which “See No Evil” was just one. It perfectly showed off the great dual-guitar sound, tight delivery, intoxicating and repeated riffs, and Verlaine’s off-kilter and charming vocal. Of course, being out of step with anything else going on, the album wouldn’t sell well in its time, but regardless modern rock had received its first monumental album and a stake had been put in the ground for the birth of a new era of rock music.

Neat Neat Neat \ The Damned – Also in February The Damned released their second single, “Neat Neat Neat,” released like their first through Stiff Records. We visited them in the 1976 profile on punk where they made the claim of being the first UK punk band to release a single. This single’s release on February 18 was concurrent to the release of their debut LP, Damned Damned Damned (see what they did there, with the triplicate naming of song and album? If not anything else, punks had a sense of humour about their art.). The album was produced by Nick Lowe and while the single didn’t chart (probably a disappointment after the first single, “New Rose,” had reached #81 in the UK chart), the album did get up to #36 in the UK, showing audiences were willing to embrace the growing punk sound. “Neat Neat Neat” was yet another great, fast-paced, bass-propelled song from the band, delivering on punk’s ability to demand that listeners get on their feet and jump around.

March

1977-07.jpg

Trans-Europe Express \ Kraftwerk – The Ceremony new wave retrospective kicked off with the title track from German synth pioneers Kraftwerk’s 1974 album, Autobahn. It was a sign of how early they started building the swell that would drive the synth sounds of new wave. In 1975 they released their fifth LP, Radio-Activity, which was included in the Builders of Modern Rock profile. Now, here they were again in 1977 with their sixth LP, Trans-Europe Express. Yup, this band was influential in ways that cannot be understated. Pretty much every band that laid fingers on a keyboard over the next ten years cited Kraftwerk as an inspiration. Recall, it was the German scene that influenced David Bowie’s trilogy with Brian Eno starting in 1977 (both of which are namechecked in this song). And though the synth focused onslaught of new wave bands was a few years away, Kraftwerk’s consistently inventive releases helped till the soil. In 1978’s they released The Man-Machine LP and the singles “The Robots” and “The Model” (which didn’t achieve its popularity until a re-release in 1981), and then issued 1981’s Computer World with the single, “Computer Love,” which finally delivered them their first #1 single in the UK.

Jocko Homo \ Devo – In the Builders playlist the importance of Ohio was highlighted as Iggy Pop set out from there and helped launch punk through The Stooges, based out of Detroit. There had also been a vibrant proto-punk scene in years recent to 1977 with the likes of the electric eels and Rocket from the Tombs. And out of Akron came Devo, an act which couldn’t have been further in sound and spirit from those bands.

Devo was formed around two pairs of brothers, Mark and Bob Mothersbaugh and Gerald and Bob Casales. Gerald Casale met Mark Mothersbaugh in the early ‘70s and they started to blend Casale’s art performances with Mothersbaugh’s musical talent. They named themselves Devo as a reference to de-evolution and the idea that society was regressing, especially after the Kent State shootings in 1970. Between 1973 and 1976 various line-ups of the band played around Ohio, developing their quirky rock sound that mixed guitar-rock with keyboards. Their shows were notable for the use of costumes, sci-fi themes, satirical humour, and punkish confrontation – which in that regard put them completely in the same space as the electric eels.

Devo in 1977 - never a dull picture

Devo in 1977 - never a dull picture

By the time of the release of their first single on March 12, Devo’s line-up had settled into the brother pairings and drummer Alan Myers. The single, “Mongoloid,” was released on their own label, Boojie Boy (named after one of their onstage characters) though they would soon after sign with Warners thanks to help from David Bowie (who along with their fellow Ohioan, Iggy Pop, had been given a Devo demo tape), who proclaimed Devo the band of the future. The B-side, “Jocko Homo,” was a far more interesting song (which also meant far less commercially viable) and a wonderful example of what Devo was all about. The song was disjointed, featured quirky, oft-chanted vocals, a mix of punky guitar accents with keyboards riding a descending sequence, and various sound effects. One thing was clear, there was no other music around that sounded like this, it was modern rock.

Devo released another single in September 1977, a very disjointed cover of The Rolling Stones’ “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction.” It accompanied their debut LP, issued in late August, Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo! (a play on the lyrics from “Jocko Homo,” which in themselves were taken from the H.G. Wells novel, The Island of Dr. Moreau, which asked the question, “are we not men?”) and was produced by Brian Eno with some assistance from David Bowie. In ’78 “Jocko Homo” was released as a single in the UK on Stiff Records and reached #62 in the UK charts, showing the Brits embraced Devo far more than American audiences in those early days.

Devo went on to release eight albums up to 1990, as well as a ninth in 2010. They would chart consistently though never very high, with the single “Whip It” being their top success with a #14 spot in the US in 1980. Mark Mothersbaugh also became a prolific provider of film and television scores, TV show themes, and video game and branding ID music. If you haven’t been familiar with Devo, you’ve inevitably heard Mark’s work through the visual arts.

White Riot \ The Clash – The varied sound differences between “Trans-Europe Express,” “Jocko Homo,” and “White Riot” on this playlist only helps to reinforce the breadth of styles that were happening in 1977. On March 18 that year, one of the most important acts of the era released their first single and it was a wake-up call to anyone that hadn’t yet considered the talent and seriousness of the punk movement.

The Clash came together in 1976 with assistance from Malcolm McLaren associate Bernie Rhodes, who was helping McLaren with the Sex Pistols and was also trying to get another band, London SS, off the ground. It was through Rhodes that London SS’ guitarist, Mick Jones, saw the Sex Pistols early in ’76 and realized the punk sound was what he wanted to pursue. He persuaded Paul Simonen to join him on bass (even though, in typical punk fashion, he didn’t yet know how to play), and they started rehearsing with a few different people on drums. Keith Levene also joined on guitar. They needed a singer, though Jones could provide them adequately, but the problem was solved when Rhodes persuaded John Mellor, who performed under the name Joe Strummer (named from his guitar playing style), to jump from the pub-rock band The 101ers. Same as Jones, Joe realized he needed to move to punk after also seeing the Sex Pistols. You have to give Rhodes credit, because he had also discovered Johnny Rotten for The Pistols, so he only found the two most charismatic, identifiable, and iconic lead punk singers of all time.

After a few false starts, Terry Chimes became their regular drummer and the band debuted on July 4, 1976 in an opening slot for the Sex Pistols. Their early months saw sporadic shows as the band focused on tightening their sound and improving their playing while Jones and Strummer wrote songs. In September 1976 Levene was fired, leaving them a quartet, and the new line-up debuted at the historic 100 Club Punk Special festival in London that same month. As punk grew in notoriety and the first singles issued during the fall of ‘76 by The Damned and the Sex Pistols, interest grew in unsigned acts like The Clash, leading to them signing with CBS Records in January 1977 for an eye-opening advance of £100,000.

The Clash

The Clash

As the first single from their debut LP “White Riot” immediately gave notice of what to expect from The Clash. The song was inspired by the Notting Hill Carnival riots in August of 1976, wherein the annual Caribbean street festival was marred by fighting between the festival-goers and the police, who took a heavy-handed approach to maintaining order. Strummer was affected by what he saw and wrote the song in response, “Black people gotta lot a problems / But they don't mind throwing a brick / White people go to school / Where they teach you how to be thick.” While some accused the song of seeking to incite race conflict, the band denied this and as The Clash progressed it became clear where their politics lay; they would become one of the most political and lyrically charged acts of the early punk era. Fitting to the song’s content, the song was delivered in a classic, 3-chord punk strumfest with shouted vocals and at a furious pace. It had the speed of The Ramones, the attitude of the Sex Pistols, and a message – it was a new step forward for punk. The Clash had arrived and the song reached #38 in the UK singles chart.

Nightclubbing \ Iggy Pop – Since the break-up of The Stooges after the 1973 LP, Raw Power, Iggy Pop’s drug abuse had taken its toll and he hadn’t made any more music (he had recorded with fellow Stooge, Jim Williamson, but it was not released). David Bowie took him under his wing, taking Iggy on tour with him during the 1976 Station to Station tour. Pop followed Bowie to Berlin where the two of them lived together while Bowie embarked on his trilogy, and they both worked to clean themselves up.

Actually, the two of them also wrote and recorded music together starting in August 1976 and preceding Bowie’s work with Brian Eno that would result in the LP, Low, so the Bowie-Pop work was the first creative output for the two in Berlin. Iggy secured a contract with RCA Records early in ‘77, paving the way for the release of his first solo LP, The Idiot, on March 18, the same day as The Clash’s debut. All the songs were co-written by Pop and Bowie, David produced the album and played on it, and the backing band was Bowie’s current line-up including guitarist Carlos Alomar. Iggy couldn’t have had a better opportunity to re-start his career and he made the most of it.

Though it didn’t feature any prominent singles (“Sister Midnight” and “China Girl” would be released as singles but wouldn’t chart – and of course, Bowie would have a huge hit with his version of “China Girl” in 1983), The Idiot was a fantastic album and once again, put Pop at the vanguard of the newly emerging rock sounds of the time. Less atmospheric and electronic than the work Bowie and Eno were producing, Iggy’s music presented a raw, stripped-down take on rock that wasn’t punk, power pop, or glam, and didn’t tie into the classic or corporate rock sounds dominating at the time. It made sense that it was tied musically to Bowie’s recent LPs, but without the plastic soul influences. Iggy’s deeper, resonant vocals also made the songs darker and more menacing than Bowie’s. In “Nightclubbing,” the twisted take of Bowie’s plastic soul mixed with German experimentalism resulted in a droning fusion, which when combined with Pop’s understated, murky vocal made for an affecting and hypnotic tune and one of Iggy’s career standouts. While the singles didn’t chart, the LP reached #72 in the US and #30 in the UK, outdoing all of The Stooges’ success. Iggy was back, making his presence known once again, and again forging a new musical path not just for himself but the entire rock world.

Elvis Costello

Elvis Costello

Less than Zero \ Elvis Costello – Born in London but of Irish descent, Declan McManus has made his mark in the world under his stage name, Elvis Costello, launching his career with the release of this first single on March 25, 1977. He had been playing around London from 1974 to 1976 as part of a pub rock act, Flip City, but chose to go solo in pursuit of a recording contract, which he landed with Stiff Records in 1976. “Less Than Zero” captured a unique blend of pub rock with a punk edge, wherein Costello’s charged lyrics rode over a tightly constructed, tense pop blend of melody and rhythm in which guitar and keyboards interplayed. The song was a reaction to having seen a former leader of a 1930s British fascist political party being interviewed and his attempts to deny his former actions and beliefs. The lyric, “everything means less than zero,” referred to the obfuscation and the harm it could do to those that didn’t understand the truth. Brett Easton Ellis used the song title for his first novel in 1985 which was made into a movie in 1987.

Elvis’ sound was different than anything else of the time, blending the pub rock sound with US power pop along with dashes of early ‘60s rock n’ roll, rockabilly, reggae, and R&B. It wasn’t tough enough for punk, but had attitude, strength, and Costello’s unique vocal delivery. “Less Than Zero” would be included on his debut LP, My Aim Is True, released later that year in July. The album was a tour de force and landed Elvis the #14 spot in the UK and #32 in the US. Like Talking Heads and Television in the US, Elvis Costello was creating a new form of rock that stepped away from the showiness of recent rock yet wasn’t going the way of punk. Yet despite the influences from many styles it was a fresh take and provided modern rock another landmark album.


Let’s pause for a moment to take stock of what we just reviewed. In just the first three months of 1977 there had been the arrival or significant contributions from fourteen of the most renowned and soon to be legendary contributors of modern rock – and that’s every single artist we’ve profiled so far. These weren’t one-hit wonders or novelty contributions of an avant garde artform; though at that point these also weren’t the breakout or best works of these artists, yet unmistakably, it was evidence that something special was happening that late winter. The music had strength, creativity, distinctiveness, and breadth, and as much or more than ever before, it was happening concurrently in both the UK and the US, not to mention the German and Australian connections. Sure, it was a continuation of the neophyte punk movement and the evolution of garage and glam rock, proto-punk, power pop and pub rock scenes, but in 1977 these genres were moving from their nebulous positions in the corners of the music world into something to be reckoned with, to be noticed, to be respected, and perhaps, in which to invest. It was too early to take stock of that and consider what was happening in those early months, but a trend was afoot.

To compare with what we’ve heard, the following were the top music in the UK and US in March of 1977.

UK Top Twenty Songs, March 27, 1977

  1. Knowing Me, Knowing You \ ABBA

  2. Going in with My Eyes Open \ David Soul (yup, that’s ‘Hutch’ from the Starsky & Hutch TV show)

  3. Chanson D’Amour \ The Manhatten Transfer

  4. When \ Showaddywaddy

  5. Sound and Vision \ David Bowie

  6. Moody Blue \ Elvis Presley

  7. Sunny \ Boney M

  8. I Don’t Want to Put A Hold on You \ Berni Flint

  9. Torn Between Two Lovers \ Mary MacGregor

  10. Boogie Nights \ Heatwave

  11. Oh Boy \ Brotherhood of Man

  12. Love Hit Me \ Maxine Nightingale

  13. Red Light Spells Danger \ Billy Ocean

  14. Rockaria \ Electric Light Orchestra

  15. Romeo \ Mr. Big

  16. My Kinda Life \ Cliff Richard

  17. Baby I Know \ Rubettes

  18. Lay Back in the Arms of Someone \ Smokie

  19. Another Suitcase in Another Hall \ Barbara Dickson (from Tim Rice & Andrew Lloyd Webber’s ‘Evita’)

  20. Saturday Night \ Earth, Wind and Fire

US Top Twenty Albums, March 26, 1977

  1. Hotel California \ The Eagles

  2. Rumours \ Fleetwood Mac

  3. A Star Is Born Soundtrack \ Barbra Streisand & Kris Kristofferson

  4. Songs in the Key of Life \ Stevie Wonder

  5. Fly Like An Eagle \ The Steve Miller Band

  6. Boston \ Boston

  7. John Denver’s Greatest Hits, Volume 2 \ John Denver

  8. Leftoverture \ Kansas

  9. In Flight \ George Benson

  10. Animals \ Pink Floyd

  11. Night Moves \ Bob Seger

  12. Year of the Cat \ Al Stewart

  13. Love at the Greek \ Neil Diamond

  14. The Roaring Silence \ Manfred Mann

  15. Unpredictable \ Natalie Cole

  16. This One’s for You \ Barry Manilow

  17. Torn Between Two Lovers \ Mary MacGregor

  18. Rock and Roll Over \ KISS

  19. A New World Record \ Electric Light Orchestra

  20. Wings Over America \ Paul McCartney and Wings


April

London’s Burning \ The Clash – A few weeks after the release of “White Riot,” The Clash released their debut, eponymous LP. While Terry Chimes played drums on it, he had never settled in as a permanent member of the band and left after the recordings. After extensive auditions they settled on Nicky ‘Topper’ Headon as the new drummer and their classic line-up was set. The new line-up would embark on the ‘White Riot’ tour in May along with the Buzzcocks, Subway Sect, the Slits, and the Prefects. CBS released “Remote Control” as the album’s next single against the band’s wishes, leading them to release the non-album single, “Complete Control” later that year in response to their anger at the label’s action. It was the kind of move that led many early modern rock artists to go the indie route as much by choice as by necessity.

The Clash was punk’s first classic album, a furious mix of fantastic songs filled not just with speed, energy, and the delirious mix of fast-strumming guitars and pounding drums, but also with respites in the forms of reggae infused tracks such as the awesome cover of Junior Murvin’s “Police and Thieves,” the mid-tempo rock of “Hate & War” and “Garageland,” and the retro-pop-punk of “Janie Jones.”

“London’s Burning” was another example of the band’s ability to mix up their punk sound, combining a tough, reggae chop with their punk invective, with Strummer spitting out their typically socio-politically charged lyrics, decrying the boring and apathetic behaviour of Londoners, hypnotized by their TVs, cars, and traffic while the city underwent strife.

The Jam

The Jam

In the City \ The Jam – The story of The Jam and its driving force, Paul Weller, are profiled in this Ceremony playlist. Weller was a huge fan of ‘60s soul music and mods such as The Who. Combining with Bruce Foxton on bass and Rick Buckler on drums, the trio developed their R&B sound over the early ‘70s into a more aggressive style, tracing the strains heard in the pubs around England from 1974-1976. They distinguished their fashion from other punks by staying true to the ‘60s mod style by wearing suits and ties. In early ’77 they signed with Polydor Records and on April 29 released their first single, “In the City,” which would also be the title track on their debut LP to be released a month later. In the City was the next classic punk release, driven by Weller’s fantastic song writing and passionate playing and singing. This was evident in this song, a typically up-tempo punk tune that displayed more polish than the likes of the Sex Pistols, given its purer R&B foundations. The Jam bore more resemblance to The Clash in its sound and politics, also providing social commentary through smartly written tunes.


On April 26 the disco nightclub Studio 54 opened, helping propel the disco scene to the fore of music culture. With its glimpses of drugs and beats fuelled partying, an air of sexual licentiousness and tolerance, and as a playground for the celebrity scene, Studio 54 set the tone for American culture’s touchstones of music, art, film, and fashion and became an iconic place of the times. It was also emblematic of the gulf that existed between popular music and the scene that was happening downtown at CBGBs and Max’s Kansas City. While Studio 54 was garnering huge lineups, the attention of the media, and an international reputation, the East Village punk clubs were still host to a mostly local or bi-coastal scene with links to London and other, sporadic urban centres such as Detroit and Cleveland.

Studio 54 was notorious for being arbitrarily selective about who got let in, creating a nightly frenzy of hopefuls looking for entrance

Studio 54 was notorious for being arbitrarily selective about who got let in, creating a nightly frenzy of hopefuls looking for entrance

Studio 54 co-founder and co-owner Steve Rubell with Liza Minnelli, Bianca Jagger, and Andy Warhol in 1977

Studio 54 co-founder and co-owner Steve Rubell with Liza Minnelli, Bianca Jagger, and Andy Warhol in 1977

Meanwhile, back on March 10, 1977, New York City Police had held a press conference to make it known they were pursuing a serial killer they believed was responsible for several murders going back through 1976 and early 1977. Originally dubbed the ’.44 Caliber Killer,’ David Berkowitz soon became known as the ‘Son of Sam’ killer, a title based on references he’d made as such in letters left behind at the crime scenes and from a letter sent to journalist Jimmy Breslin on May 30. New York was already a city marked with seediness, grittiness, and a certain level of barely restrained lawlessness, so adding a serial killer to the mix only made the city’s 1977 vibe all the more surreal. Punk, disco, culture wars, and crime were all captured in the 1999 film, Summer of Sam. In a city that could feature the leading punk and disco clubs in the country (perhaps the world) a mere 50 blocks apart (indeed, the distance between the East Village and Midtown have likely always felt worlds apart), 1977 made New York, as much as ever, a place in which anything could, and did, happen.


May

1977-13.jpg

In the last week of May 1977 the first Star Wars film hit theatres. Though not identified at the time (there wasn’t yet a need to differentiate episodes) it was to become known as Episode IV: A New Hope. After the election of Jimmy Carter and the slow recovery of the economy, there was perhaps some level of hope among people and the film’s plot of plucky rebels overcoming the dominant forces of a faceless empire registered among those looking for new energy and a new order among the economic and creative classes. The imaginative and visual leaps of the movie compared to the sci-fi and fantasy films of the past and compared to the gritty fare from the likes of Martin Scorsese (Taxi Driver, 1976) or the disco-drama, Saturday Night Fever (which debuted later that December), was akin to the modern trends happening in music.

Star Wars arrived in theatres the same week as my seventh birthday. At that age I was oblivious to the trends in music and art, most likely relying on The Muppets for my cultural education (not the worst place to start). However, over that summer I did see Star Wars in the theatre twice, and like every other young child that year began a lifelong fascination with that franchise, despite not becoming much of a sci-fi fan overall.

Spanish Stroll \ Mink DeVille – We visited Willy DeVille (Billy Borsay) and his band, Mink DeVille, at the end of the Builders playlist. Their significance in the music scene was as the house band at CBGBs from 1975 to 1977. Harkening more to the ‘60s garage sound, Mink DeVille wasn’t punk in the way of The Ramones, but like other CBGB acts had plenty of swagger and an openness to challenging the conventional forms of music and performance. The band originated in San Francisco but DeVille was drawn back to New York (he was raised in Stamford, CT) through the invite of an audition call in the The Village Voice newspaper.

After building their repertoire and audience through CBGBs, they signed to Capitol Records and released their debut LP in May 1977, Cabretta. The album was produced by Jack Nitzsche, who was the arranger and conductor for Phil Spector and had played keyboards and did arrangements for many Rolling Stones songs in the ‘60s, produced several Buffalo Springfield and Neil Young albums, and was a member of Young’s band, Crazy Horse. The album was a contemporary take on standard R&B, soul, and rock n’ roll sounds (they sound like CCR at times).

The notable track was “Spanish Stroll,” which peaked at #20 in the UK charts, but like many of the New York acts of the times, success in the US was hard to come by. The song was a great soundtrack to 1977 New York, referring to the colourful characters and behaviours of the times, mixing in Spanish lyrics and a reference to Tito Puente (American performer of Puerto Rican descent, known as the ‘King of Latin Music’). Built around a ‘60s pop structure, the song had a great vibe and captured the diverse urban landscape of their scene.

Fall Out \ The Police – In early 1977 American drummer Stewart Copeland was in London and looking for a new band after his prog rock act, Curved Air, had disbanded. He’d previously met Brit singer and bassist Gordon ‘Sting’ Sumner who was in a jazz-fusion band, Last Exit, and had been looking to move towards a punkier sound. The duo joined with Corsican guitarist Henry Padovani to make for a very diverse trio. They called themselves The Police and joined the pub rock circuit in the spring of ’77 and also toured as an opening act for Wayne County & the Electric Chairs (profiled in the glam playlist). They had also recorded a song, “Fall Out,” back in February before they’d played any live dates. The single was released on May 1, 1977 on indie label, Illegal Records, which was founded by Copeland’s older brother, Miles Copeland, along with The Police’s manager, Paul Mulligan. Miles Copeland would go on to also found I.R.S. Records which would be an important label for issuing modern rock artists throughout the 1980s.

The Police in 1977: Sting, Stewart Copeland, and Henry Padovani

The Police in 1977: Sting, Stewart Copeland, and Henry Padovani

The Police’s early sound was a mix of ‘60s styled rock n’ roll R&B and pub rock, with power pop chords driving short, catchy tunes. “Fall Out” was in this mold, hewing to a more contemporary, classic rock ‘70s sound. Their more diverse, modern rock and reggae sound was not yet developed. However, their arrival in 1977 cannot be ignored given their later status and the breadth and quality of their contributions.

Also in May 1977, Sting joined the band Strontium 90 who were also in need of a drummer, so Copeland was invited. The guitarist in Strontium 90 was Andy Summers, who had already built a journeyman career playing with the likes of ‘60s psychedelic rockers The Animals. Not satisfied with Padovani’s playing in The Police, Sting asked the far more accomplished Summers to join. Before long Padovani was shown the door, returning The Police to a trio and settling it into its soon-to-be legendary line-up of three of the most talented players of their generation. In early 1978, The Police released their first single under the new line-up, “Roxanne.” On its initial release the single didn’t chart, that didn’t happen until its re-release in ‘79. Their debut LP, Outlandos d’Amour, issued in November 1978, reached the top ten in the UK and #23 in the US, launching their stellar career.

God Save the Queen \ The Sex Pistols – The Birth of Punk playlist covered the arrival of the Sex Pistols extensively, and thus far on this playlist their frequent references further established how important they were to the emerging sounds in the UK in 1976-77. After the release of their initial single, “Anarchy in the UK,” in late ’76 which came after their celebrated signing to EMI records, the band’s notoriety continued to grow after their controversial appearance on the Today programme and the interview with host, Bill Grundy. The media began tracing the band’s shows and activities, delivering the British tabloids salacious tales of their misbehaviour. EMI, facing public pressure and finding it hard to justify support of the band, dropped the band in January 1977. In February, Glen Matlock left the band – or was fired, depending on the perspective – and was replaced by Johnny Rotten’s friend and companion to the band, John Simon Ritchie (aka Sid Vicious), the very epitome of the London punk. Replacing Matlock’s more subdued look, with Vicious on board the Sex Pistols, now more than ever, carried the brand of London punk in its purest form. Matlock went on to form the band, Rich Kids, which included Scottish singer, keyboardist, and guitarist, Midge Ure.

On March 10, 1977 the band had their next notorious escapade with a staged PR stunt to sign their next contract, this time with A&M Records, in front of Buckingham Palace. Later, with the band increasingly intoxicated and now back in the A&M offices, they wreaked havoc amongst the office and staff. A few days later a fight in a club with another band ended with a friend of the band’s threatening an A&M executive. Only six days after signing them, A&M also dropped them. Copies of their next single, “God Save the Queen,” had already been pressed and had to be destroyed.

The Sex Pistols contract signing to A&M in front of Buckingham Palace. L to R: Johnny Rotten, Steve Jones, Paul Cook (signing), and Sid Vicious. Malcolm McLaren is third from right.

The Sex Pistols contract signing to A&M in front of Buckingham Palace. L to R: Johnny Rotten, Steve Jones, Paul Cook (signing), and Sid Vicious. Malcolm McLaren is third from right.

Sex Pistols: Paul Cook, Sid Vicious, Johnny Rotten, and Steve Jones

Sex Pistols: Paul Cook, Sid Vicious, Johnny Rotten, and Steve Jones

In May the band signed to Virgin Records and this time lasted long enough to release the single, though not without further incident as the workers at the pressing plant first refused to print the record due to its less than respectful depiction of the Queen on the single’s cover. The single’s timing couldn’t have been better, with its fiery take on the British monarchy coinciding with the Queen’s Silver Jubilee, being celebrated with great aplomb across the nation that year, culminating in Jubilee Weekend on June 6 & 7. The Pistols’ manager, Malcolm McLaren, planned another PR stunt by having them perform that weekend while cruising down the Thames River, on a boat called ‘The Queen Elizabeth’ no less, and passing the Palace of Westminster. As usual, chaos ensued and the police forced the boat to dock, arresting eleven of the attendees including McLaren.

The single, having been recorded earlier, included Matlock’s playing and contributions to the song’s structure. Originally titled, “No Future,” the band eventually decided to adopt the country’s anthem as the song’s title. Johnny Rotten has stated he didn’t intend the song to protest or interfere with the Silver Jubilee – that was just coincidence – but it was certainly meant to call out their disdain for the monarchy. Considered one of the most controversial songs in British history (building on what was started with “Anarchy in the UK”), the song was rich with attitude, “God save the queen / She's not a human being / And there's no future / And England's dreaming. Don't be told what you want / Don't be told what you need / There's no future / No future / No future for you.” The song also concluded with the chant, “no future.” The song rode a delicious, consummate punk power chord, a driving bassline, pounding beat, and Rotten’s snarling, invective-laden delivery.

The song, of course, wouldn’t be played by the BBC and many record shops wouldn’t stock the single with its unpatriotic cover. Regardless, the single took fire and by its second week, coinciding with Jubilee Weekend, was at #2 in the UK singles chart. There are claims that it actually sold more and reached #1 but the results were suppressed to ensure it wouldn’t be in that slot during the weekend celebrations. NME magazine did give it the #1 slot on their chart. The song’s arrival, notoriety, and success marked the arrival of punk in irrefutable ways for British society, and many were none too pleased about it. Young rockers across the UK and abroad, however, celebrated the new attitude and accompanying sounds, having found a way to express their dissatisfaction with conservative England.

The single’s promo poster with the picture that offended patriots during the jubilee

The single’s promo poster with the picture that offended patriots during the jubilee

June

1977 saw the arrival of another symbol of the modern era, home computing. In January, the Commodore PET was introduced at the Consumer Electronics Show and on June 10 the Apple II was introduced. Though it would be many years before home computers became commonplace, it was another modernity starting point in which electronics and computing began to transform people’s lives in remarkable ways. In September the Commodore PET launched its first units and by December was the first to be sold retail to the public.

Also in September, Atari launched its 2600 game console, marking a significant leap forward from the previous Pong game. Personally, I didn’t get a home computer until the mid-1990s (I did use some friends’ Commodores over the years), but we did have Pong in the late ‘70s and in 1980 I was given the 2600 for Christmas and spent many blissful hours playing Donkey Kong, Defender, and Ms. Pac Man. Moving video games from arcades, notorious dens of the bad influences your mom always warned you about and hard and fast purveyors of classic rock, to living rooms and bedrooms also ushered in a modern electronics era for youth, which quickly became associated with new wave and modern rock variants through the early 1980s.

The Commodore PET 2001, the first personal computer sold to the public

The Commodore PET 2001, the first personal computer sold to the public

The first of the Apple II series, introduced in 1977

The first of the Apple II series, introduced in 1977

The Atari 2600. I still remember blowing on the game cartridges before jamming them in.

The Atari 2600. I still remember blowing on the game cartridges before jamming them in.

Stiff Little Fingers \ The Vibrators – The Vibrators were one of the first UK punk bands to issue music, as noted in the Birth of Punk playlist. After issuing their first three singles on Micki Most’s RAK label between November 1976 and March 1977, the band signed with Epic Records and released their debut LP, Pure Mania, in June. The album reached #49 in the UK charts showing, along with the Sex Pistols success that month, that there was a growing audience for punk music. The single was “Baby Baby” but it didn’t crack the charts. The Vibrator’s penchant for a purer rock sound meant they didn’t always conform to the purists’ punk groove, but it did mean there was a fun variety of great songs to take in on the LP. Not the least of which was the song, “Stiff Little Fingers,” which soon after became the name of another leading punk act from Ireland, formed in ’77 and releasing their first, brilliant single in 1978, “Suspect Device.” The song, “Stiff Little Fingers,” was one of The Vibrators punkier and catchier tunes carried by a wonderful guitar riff and strumming energy.

Gene October and William Broad (not yet Billy Idol) of the band, Chelsea

Gene October and William Broad (not yet Billy Idol) of the band, Chelsea

Right to Work \ Chelsea – As noted in the Birth of Punk profile, the Sex Pistols were the contentious centre of the growing UK punk movement and that included a core circle of people that travelled with the band, like disciples spreading the word of three chords and a snarl. Known as the Bromley Contingent, one of its regulars was a young William Broad, an aspiring singer and guitarist. He, along with drummer John Towe and bassist Tony James (ex of London SS, a band that never recorded anything but included – or auditioned – members of The Clash and The Damned), applied to an advert in late ‘76 in Melody Maker looking for musicians. The ad was placed by John Krivine, the owner of Acme Attractions, a clothing shop on the King’s Road that was a competitor to Malcolm McLaren’s shop, SEX. In the same way that the Sex Pistols were an emerging, notorious walking and singing advertisement for SEX, perhaps Krivine was looking for a similar act for Acme. Krivine joined the trio of applicants with singer John O’Hara (aka Gene October) and the band started rehearsing and performing under the name Chelsea in the fall of 1976, offering covers of old ’60s rock n’ roll tunes.

Chelsea only lasted a short while before Broad, Towe, and James decided to leave and form their own band, Generation X (more on them in a bit). Gene October continued with Chelsea, and after some of the usual line-up changes, returned to a quartet along with Henry ‘Daze’ Badowski on guitar, James Stevenson on bass, and Carey Fortune on drums. In June 1977 they released their first single, “Right to Work,” on indie label, Step Forward Records, another label formed by Miles Copeland. Like most other punk songs that year it didn’t break through, but over time has been recognized as a worthy contribution to the genre’s formative days. The song had a wonderful, thick, snarling guitar riff that felt like punk but drew from a heavy metal vibe. It rode over a lively beat with multiple, quick fills, creating a liveliness that punk hadn’t yet shown much adeptness. It was such accents that helped expand the idea of what was happening in music, as new sounds were being developed by both expanding the core formats and blending them together.

Chelsea would undergo regular line-up changes but release singles regularly through the ‘80s and then more sporadically through the ‘90s and 2000s. They have now released eleven albums, including its latest in 2017. Today Gene October and James Stevenson (who has played with many notable modern rock acts over the years, including Gen X, The Cult, Kim Wilde, Gene Loves Jezebel, and The Alarm) remain the only original members.


At the mid-year point, let’s check in again on what was going on in the mainstream charts in the UK and the US. This time we’ll reverse the view in albums and singles.

Top twenty albums, UK Charts, July 2, 1977

  1. A Star is Born Soundtrack \ Barbra Streisand and Chris Kristofferson

  2. The Muppet Show \ The Muppets

  3. The Beatles at the Hollywood Bowl \ The Beatles

  4. The Johnny Mathis Collection \ Johnny Mathis

  5. Arrival \ ABBA

  6. Hotel California \ The Eagles

  7. A New World Record \ Electric Light Orchestra

  8. Exodus \ Bob Marley & The Wailers

  9. Deceptive Bends \ 10CC

  10. Sheer Magic \ Mr. Acker Bilk

  11. Love at the Greek \ Neil Diamond

  12. Stranglers IV (Rattus Norvegicus) \ The Stranglers

  13. Rumours \ Fleetwood Mac

  14. Kenny Rogers \ Kenny Rogers

  15. Endless Flight \ Leo Sayer

  16. Coming Out \ The Manhatten Transfer

  17. Greatest Hits \ ABBA

  18. 20 All-Time Greats \ Connie Francis

  19. I’m in You \ Peter Frampton

  20. 20 Golden Greats \ The Shadows

Top Twenty singles, US Billboard Hot 100, July 2, 1977

  1. Gonna Fly Now \ Bill Conti

  2. Undercover Angel \ Alan O’Day

  3. Got to Give It Up (Pt. 1) \ Marvin Gaye

  4. Da Doo Ron Ron \ Shaun Cassidy

  5. Looks Like We Made It \ Barry Manilow

  6. Dreams \ Fleetwood Mac

  7. I Just Want to Be Your Everything \ Andy Gibb

  8. Angel in Your Arms \ Hot

  9. Jet Airliner \ The Steve Miller Band

  10. Margaritaville \ Jimmy Buffett

  11. Life in the Fast Lane \ The Eagles

  12. My Heart Belongs to Me \ Barbra Streisand

  13. Do You Wanna Make Love \ Peter McCann

  14. Feels Like the First Time \ Foreigner

  15. I’m in You \ Peter Frampton

  16. Lonely Boy \ Andrew Gold

  17. Lucille \ Kenny Rogers

  18. (Your Love Has Lifted Me) Higher and Higher \ Rita Coolidge

  19. High School Dance \ The Sylvers

  20. Whatcha Gonna Do? \ Pablo Cruise

Also of note in the lower sections of the UK chart:

  • Atlantic Crossing \ Rod Stewart

  • Even in the Quietest Moments \ Supertramp

  • Book of Dreams \ The Steve Miller Band

  • A Night on the Town \ Rod Stewart

  • Clash \ The Clash (at #33 that week)

  • Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers \ Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers

  • Cat Scratch Fever \ Ted Nugent

  • Sin After Sin \ Judas Priest


July

Darby Crash of The Germs

Darby Crash of The Germs

Forming \ Germs – This Los Angeles band was formed in 1976 and was one of the earliest influencers on the west coast punk scene. Formed by Darby Crash (Jan Paul Beahm) and Pat Smear (Georg Ruthenberg) after they were kicked out of high school, their line-up changed a couple times over the year before settling on Lorna Doom (Teresa Ryan) on bass and Donnna Rhia (Becky Barton) on drums. Rhia joined as the drummer to replace Belinda Carlisle who never got around to playing with the band and was instead focusing on her main act, the increasingly popular all-girl group, The Go-Go’s. If the sound of their first single, “Forming,” sounded rough, that was likely because it was recorded in Smear’s garage on a 2-track, reel-to-reel recorder. Its release via new indie label, What Records?, in July was one of the earliest punk releases from LA and a rarity with the all-female rhythm section. The band lasted four years, ending when Darby Crash committed suicide in 1980, and released just one album, GI, in 1979.

Smear, however, went on to an interesting career. Through the ‘80s he did some acting in TV shows, released some solo music, and played with other artists such as Nina Hagen and The Adolescents. In 1993 he joined Nirvana as a touring member. His first show with them was on Saturday Night Live and he also performed on their famous MTV Unplugged show. He then joined Nirvana drummer Dave Grohl’s next venture, Foo Fighters, playing with them from 1994 to 1997 and then re-joining the band in 2005, where he remains to this day.

This Perfect Day \ The Saints – The Saints, from Australia, were the first punk act outside the US to release a single in September 1976, as noted in the Birth of Punk playlist and profile. The single, “(I’m) Stranded,” was the title track for their fantastic debut LP, issued in February 1977. In May they released their second single from the album, “Erotic Neurotic.

In July they released the first single from their upcoming second album, Eternally Yours, which wouldn’t be released until May of 1978. The Saints rode the boundary between a straight-ahead hard rock sound and a purer punk vibe. “This Perfect Day” was a great example as it had a punk feel but, lacking the hard strumming, speed, and invective of typical punk music, it seemed to have more in common with garage rock or proto-punk. No matter, it was a great song and reached #34 in the UK charts, which incredibly would make it their only song to chart. It didn’t even chart in Australia and would take many more years before they had that level of success, which is astounding given the band’s talent and the quality of their songs. At the very least Eternally Yours hit #86 in the Australian charts in 1978 and the band would go on to greater LP chart success in the 1980s.


A looted store from the 1977 blackout in New York

A looted store from the 1977 blackout in New York

Adding yet another memorable dynamic to New York’s tumultuous 1977 was a citywide blackout. Two lightning strikes to a power substation created a cascading development of issues, resulting in a loss of power to Manhattan and most of the other boroughs around 9:30pm on July 13, plunging the city into the blackness of a hot, muggy summer night. The associated heat wave, the Son of Sam murders, high crime, economic depression, and now literally a powerless city led to an outbreak across the city, resulting in looting throughout the night and into the daylight of the next morning. 550 police officers were injured, 4,500 people were arrested, and over 1,000 fires were reported related to the blackout. Power wasn’t restored until late morning, marking an end to one of the literally darkest moments in New York history and another notorious 1977 event. It was no wonder people were embracing the discordant sounds of CBGBs or getting off their heads on drugs and beats at Studio 54; anything to take their minds off the disorder of New York City that year.


Eddie & The Hot Rods at Max’s Kansas City, 1977

Eddie & The Hot Rods at Max’s Kansas City, 1977

Do Anything You Wanna Do \ Eddie & The Hot Rods – After their debut singles and LP in 1976 (profiled in the Builders playlist), Eddie & The Hot Rods, a UK pub rock band, returned in 1977 first with the non-album single, “I Might Be Lying,” and then the lead single from their second LP at the end of July, “Do Anything You Wanna Do.” The single would become their best-known and most successful song, reaching #9 in the UK singles chart. It was co-written and produced by the band’s manager Ed Hollis, brother of Mark Hollis of future band, Talk Talk. It had a great rock-pop feel sustained on a solid melody with edgy guitar accents, encapsulating the core pub rock sound. More and more, the spaces between classic rock and punk were being filled in and tunes like this that had a retro-60s feel but were assertive and powerful in a modern fashion gave audiences the best of both worlds.

The song also defined the spirit of modern rock, inspiring independence and freedom in its lyrics, “Tired of doing day jobs / With no thanks for what I do / I'm sure I must be someone / Now I'm gonna find out who. Why don't you ask them, what they expect from you? / Why don't you tell them, what you are gonna do? / You'll get so lonely, maybe it's better that way / It ain't you only, you got something to say / Do anything you wanna do.” More than forty years after those lyrics were penned, is there anything more poignant to the aspirations and yearnings of people? Such was the appeal of modern rock, that artists were willing to explore such questions.

The Adverts

The Adverts

Gary Gilmore’s Eyes \ The Adverts – The Adverts were formed around a couple from Devon, England, Tim ‘TV’ Smith and Gaye ‘Advert’ Black. The band was formed in London and was an active presence in the early London punk scene. They released their first single, “One Chord Wonders,” via Stiff Records in April 1977. Their second single was issued via Anchor Records on July 31 and was the tune, “Gary Gilmore’s Eyes.” It was their best charting single, reaching #18 in the UK to make it one of the most successful punk singles in the UK that year, trailing only the Sex Pistols and The Stranglers. Like The Stranglers, it could be argued that The Adverts weren’t pure punk either, but as proven over and over again such debates aren’t productive and only serve to distract from the greatness of the music and its contribution to the evolution of new music. “Gary Gilmore’s Eyes” had energy, pace, drama, and sounded unlike anything else around, and that made it a great addition to the development of modern rock. The song wasn’t included on their debut LP, Crossing the Red Sea with The Adverts, issued in February 1978, but was added in subsequent releases.

The Adverts’ reference to Gary Gilmore also touched on a notorious 1977 story. Gilmore was an American who murdered two people in July 1976. That same month, a series of cases in the US Supreme Court resulted in the affirmation of the use of the death penalty in the US, ending a moratorium on its use since 1972. Gilmore, who had been sentenced to death and subsequently tried to commit suicide twice amidst several stays of his execution, demanded the enforcement of the death penalty on his case. In January 1977 he was executed by firing squad, making him the first person to undergo capital punishment in the US in ten years. Norman Mailer wrote the 1979 book, The Executioner’s Song, based on Gilmore’s case.

August

Whole Wide World \ Wreckless Eric – ‘Wreckless’ Eric Goulden was another Stiff Records artist, hailing from Newhaven, England. His pub rock style, putting a modern edge on the classic, R&B, soul and garage rock sounds, was a good fit for the growing indie label. Eric’s distinct vocals also set his music apart from his pub rock contemporaries. His first single would be his best known, “Whole Wide World,” which was produced, like so many others on Stiff, by Nick Lowe. Though it didn’t chart it would grow in public appreciation and be covered by many artists over the years. I recall being shocked when Will Ferrell’s character broke into it in the 2006 movie, Stranger than Fiction. The single’s B-side was the equally fantastic, “Semaphore Signals.” “Whole Wide World” was included on Wreckless Eric’s first LP which came out in June 1978 and made it to #46 in the UK album charts.

Ian Dury in 1977

Ian Dury in 1977

Sex and Drugs and Rock & Roll \ Ian Dury and The Blockheads – Another Stiff Records pub rocker, we first visited Ian Dury in the Builders playlist as a member of the earlier pub rock outfit, Kilburn and the High Roads, which released an LP in 1975 and dissolved shortly after. Dury formed a new band, Ian Dury and the Kilburns, before switching it to The Blockheads. The new band brought together Norman Watt-Roy (bass) and Charlie Charles (a Guyanese-born drummer) from The Loving Awareness Band, pianist and guitarist Chaz Jankel, and sax player Davey Payne who continued on from Kilburn and the High Roads. It made for a creative and eclectic mix of talent that came through in the music. After a lack of interest from labels, the band found a home at Stiff, whose audiences embraced the new line-up after a tour with Elvis Costello, Nick Lowe, Wreckless Eric, and Larry Wallis (of Pink Fairies and Motörhead).

Dury was a distinctive performer and singer, singing with a heavy accent and using colourful word play and mixes of spoken word and singing. His movements were marked by a disability stemming from having polio as a child. The music was a mix of R&B, jazz, and soul music roughed up with the pub rock guitar sound. The first single issued as Ian Dury and The Blockheads was the amusing and quirky, “Sex and Drugs and Rock & Roll,” released on August 26, 1977. It didn’t catch on in sales but over time has become more popular after Dury gained more success later on and his catalogue was celebrated more widely. Although Dury suggested the song was not a scold of the excesses of rock n’ roll, the song’s title became a broader go-to phrase in reference to the rock lifestyle.   

The Passenger \ Iggy Pop – The veteran rocker, still hanging with Bowie in Germany, returned to the studio after touring The Idiot and quickly recorded a follow up. Again, Bowie produced and played on it, but this time all lyrics were written by Pop while the music was mostly done by Bowie with contributions from Bowie’s band. Iggy Pop is only credited as the sole writer of one song, “Sixteen.” The new LP was released on August 29, giving Iggy his second solo album of 1977 and his career. Lust for Life did about the same as The Idiot in the UK chart (#28 versus #30) and charted less well in the US, failing to crack the top 100. Over time though total sales would make it the only gold record of his career.

The title track has been the best-known track from the album, especially in recent years after its prominent use in the 1996 film, Trainspotting, and in TV commercials. The music was written by Bowie and though it didn’t catch on commercially (except in the Netherlands and Belgium), it has become one of the most iconic songs of the era. It was built on rhythms from ‘60s songs and provided the perfect foundation for Pop’s vocals, now more forceful and confident than ever, in delivering its take on a William S. Burroughs novel.

The album’s first single was “Success,” but it was the B-side and album track, “The Passenger,” that revealed the strength of the album. The song was the perfect distillation of Iggy’s style and the perfect sound for the modern rock era. Loose and hypnotic, Iggy sang with his usually resonant tone over the strumming rhythm. The music was composed by band member, Ricky Gardiner. “The Passenger” was covered in 1987 to some chart success by goth and post-punk band, Siouxsie and the Banshees. Lust for Life capped off a brilliant year for Iggy Pop and, thanks to David Bowie, re-started his career and created an impressive second chapter after his initial turn in The Stooges.

September

Southern Girls \ Cheap Trick – Also releasing their second album of the year and career, Cheap Trick returned in September with In Color, featuring greater polish on their power pop sound. The album reached #73 in the US and featured the lead single, “I Want You to Want Me.” I have to admit, as a youngster at the time I heard that song on the radio all the time and would have thought it was a huge hit, but it never charted at the time, not getting its success until released as a live version in 1979 from their hugely successful live LP, Cheap Trick at Budokan. Based on that song alone, Cheap Trick would seem to be moving into a purer pop-rock sound, leaning more into a commercially safe space. Much of the rest of In Color would support that, but at least the meaty, power pop of “Southern Girls” still offered a modern rock take on their sound. It didn’t chart as a single either but helped build the band’s audience. Cheap Trick is still going today, having released 19 albums and over sixty singles, and while they haven’t topped the charts too often, they’ve appeared regularly and always stayed in the mix of popularity in the US rock scene through the ‘80s and even into the early ‘90s. In 2016 they were inducted to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Dr. Feelgood’s  Be Seeing You  LP

Dr. Feelgood’s Be Seeing You LP

She's A Windup \ Dr. Feelgood – This pub rock band is another featured on the Builders playlist and who carried on strong through the modern rock era. Like Cheap Trick, Dr. Feelgood also released two LPs in 1977, Sneakin’ Suspicion in March and Be Seeing You in September, their fourth and fifth albums. Their third, a live album from 1976 called Stupidity, had brought them a #1 album in the UK. In March of ’77 the title track from Sneakin’ Suspicion gave them their first charting song with a #47 placing. “She’s A Windup” was the first single from Be Seeing You and it did better, reaching #34, and was the first album after principle songwriter Wilko Johnson had left the band (or fired, either way it was due to disagreements), replaced with John ‘Gypie’ Mayo. The new line-up would score Dr. Feelgood’s one and only top ten hit in 1979 with “Milk and Alcohol.” Through this steady output the band relied on their edgy, pub rock take on blues and R&B, combining originals and cover songs and performing them with energy and swagger. They released albums through the ‘80s and while not having released anything since 1989, evolving versions of the band (with no original members after the last in the line-up, Lee Brilleaux, died in 1994) continues to tour to this day.

Your Generation \ Generation X – As noted in the write-up above for Chelsea, in November 1976 William Broad, John Towe, and Tony James left that band and started their own, happy to not have to compete with Gene October for control. They added Bob ‘Derwood’ Andrews on guitar with Broad moving to vocals, at which point he also took on the stage name, Billy Idol. The new line-up made its first performance in December 1976, including being the first band to play at the soon to be influential London punk venue, The Roxy.

While the band pursued a label signing, they self-recorded and released in February 1977 a short-run promo single of “Your Generation.” They toured heavily through the spring, building their reputation and refining their sound, a process that included replacing Towe on drums with Subway Sect’s Mark Laff. Towe went on to help form the band, Alternative TV. In July, Generation X signed with Chrysalis Records, a former sub-major label that had gone independent and was helping to promote modern rock, most notably by wresting Blondie from its label in September ‘77. That same month Generation X released its first single, this time a proper recording of “Your Generation,” which rose to #36 in the UK singles chart. It had the speed and aggressive guitars of punk along with an irrepressible melody and slick delivery. Some dismissed it as a less legitimate version of punk, indicating Generation X was a pop band, an impression that wasn’t helped when they appeared on the show Top of the Pops that month, being one of the first punk acts to do so. Whatever the view, it couldn’t be denied it was simply a fantastic song.

Billy Idol and Tony James of Generation X

Billy Idol and Tony James of Generation X

Whether “Your Generation” represented the end of punk as a subversive presence on the music scene was debatable, but it was clear the band intended it to be a statement of the times. It was more easily interpreted as a response to The Who’s 1965 declaration, “My Generation,” with “Your Generation’s” opening lyrics, “Trying to forget your generation / You tell any way I’ll see you / Well the end must justify the means / I said your generation don't mean a thing to me.” Clearly the economic and social struggles of 1977 Britain were not being viewed well as a legacy from the likes of the ’60s generation. The Who were more overtly called upon in the lyric, “There ain't no time for substitutes / There ain't no time for idle threats / Actions are the hard to place / 'Cause what you give is what you get.” “Substitute” was one of The Who’s best known songs, and after being one of the most incendiary acts of the ‘60s, by 1977 were now known for rock operas and whose most recent hit had been the song, “Squeeze Box,” the kind of song punks were rebelling against. Generation X’s band name came from a ‘60s novel about the mods and rockers and their battles, and Tony James and Billy Idol wanted to reinvent that passion and excitement into what had become a staid music scene. They weren’t seeing it in The Who or The Rolling Stones, who had created that original promise.

It was now up to the youth, the punks and modern rockers, to find their way. This was evident in Generation X’s next single in November, the equally catchy, punk-pop-chant song, “Wild Youth”. This generation, the wild youth, “…got no money, well that’s okay / because I live from day to day / And I’m free to come and go just as I please.” New music would set them apart, “My records are so loud / I gotta hang out with the crowd / Because the usual crew got sus on what to do / My mom and dad say I can’t win / Because it’ll get you in the end / But the stray cat is the gun that shoots the man.” It was a new era of unpredictable music, from a new generation with nothing to lose and free of constraints.

“Wild Youth” didn’t chart but the third single, “Ready Steady Go,” taken from their self-titled debut LP, did by reaching #47 in the UK in 1978. The LP also did well, reaching #29 in the UK also in ‘78. Their next album in 1979 was less punk, being produced by glam rocker Ian Hunter. Their change in sound brought them less success, and under pressure from the label to build on their early promise and in the face of conflicts between the band over the direction of their music, Andrews left and Laff was fired by the end of ‘79, leaving it just down to James and Idol. By the time of their next and final album, now under the shortened name, Gen X, they added Terry Chimes (The Clash’s first drummer) and guitarist Steve New and pursued a more melodic, post-punk and new wave sound. This resulted in the release of their final and best-known track, “Dancing with Myself,” though due to poor promotion it only reached #62 in the UK chart. It and the album’s lack of success spelled the end of the band with Idol going solo and reaching levels of success Generation X was never able to achieve.

Love Comes in Spurts \ Richard Hell & The Voidoids – This act was profiled in the Birth of Punk playlist, noting that Richard Hell (Richard Meyers) was an unsung catalyst of the punk scene by giving birth to the spiked hair, ripped clothes and safety pin look that Malcolm McLaren would take back from New York to London. After Hell’s stints with Television and The Heartbreakers he formed The Voidoids with guitarist Robert Quine, bass player Ivan Julian, and drummer Marc Bell (the future Marky Ramone). They issued one of the first punk EPs in 1976 and in September 1977 issued their first LP, Blank Generation. It included songs from the EP and added the excellent, tongue-in-cheek, “Love Comes in Spurts.” It was a creative song that blended the punk aggression with the art rock style of Television, including off-kilter and inventive guitar from Quine. It was yet another song that revealed punk had more to offer than just three chords.

The Boomtown Rats \ Lookin’ After No. 1 – Sir Bob Geldof is so famous today from his philanthropy and tireless work for the lesser developed regions of the world – having organized the first Ethiopian relief fundraising effort with the Band Aid single, “Do They Know Its Christmas” in 1983 and then the Live Aid benefit concert in 1985 – that it’s sometimes easy to forget he was at first a successful modern rocker. Heck, it can even be forgotten he was the lead actor in Pink Floyd’s movie, The Wall (in which he also performed the vocals for several of the movie versions of the songs). What’s not hard to forget was The Boomtown Rats’ 1979 single, “I Don’t Like Mondays,” which went to #1 in the UK and to the top ten around the world (but only to #73 in the US). Yet, that was their second single to top the charts after “Rat Trap” in 1979.

The Boomtown Rats

The Boomtown Rats

But, before all that there was just a sextet of Irish youth playing pub rock and set apart by the accented, charismatic voice of Geldof. Success in London led to their signing with Ensign Records in 1976, a new label formed by Universal Chairman Lucian Grainge’s brother, Nigel Grainge, which with the success of the Rats would become a formidable modern rock label by the mid-80s. The Rats issued in August their first single, “Lookin’ After No. 1,” leading to the release of their self-titled, debut LP in September, a wonderful blend of pub rock, punky enthusiasm driven by power pop chords and a harmonic catchiness that would presage new wave. The album was also produced by Robert ‘Mutt’ Lange, a South African emerging into a prolific career. He also produced the The Motor’s album released the same month as The Rats’ debut, that included the great song. “Dancing the Night Away” (sadly, not available on streaming services).

Tom Waits in Amsterdam, 1977

Tom Waits in Amsterdam, 1977

Tom Waits \ Muriel – As noted in the Builders playlist, when Tom Waits’ was featured from his 1974 second LP, he is never a clean fit to modern rock playlists given his purer blues and jazz style. Yet his personality and appeal to modern rock audiences has been consistent such that he fits in, regardless. By 1977 he was on to his fourth LP and his gravelly voice and different approach to his music were gaining an alternative based audience. Though it wasn’t as commercially successful or charted as well as his other LPs of the era, Foreign Affairs was a respected LP and the start of a string of LPs that built his awareness and credibility among modern rock fans, even though its feature song was a duet with his girlfriend of the time, pop-rock singer Bette Midler (he moved on to Rickie Lee Jones later that year). Foreign Affairs wasn’t well-received by critics or fans and paused the upward trajectory of his career. The album featured no singles. “Muriel” was representative of the album’s sound and his vocal style.

Talking Heads \ Psycho Killer – And now for something completely different, just to give a sense of how varied music was in 1977, we go from Tom Waits’ sultry jazz to the quirky, smart-pop of Talking Heads. As noted earlier in the playlist, Talking Heads arrived on the scene via CBGBs but hadn’t gained much notice with their first single that year. By September they were issuing the debut LP, Talking Heads: 77, but things still weren’t clicking after the funky first single, “Oh-Oh, Love Comes to Town,” didn’t catch on.

The next single, a far more interesting song but not a sure bet for commercial appeal, was “Psycho Killer.” The song started their legend and put the band on the map even though it only reached #92 in the US and didn’t chart in the UK. Yet, it went on to become one of their signature songs as modern rock audiences and the band’s profile grew. It’s another great example of how music in 1977 was venturing to new places. There wasn’t much precedent for a song like, “Psycho Killer,” with its tight, tension-filled arrangement built around David Byrne’s off-kilter vocal, Tina Weymouth’s walking bassline, Chris Frantz’ marching drum beat, and Jerry Harrison’s light and loose guitar strums and off-kilter playing over the song’s closing segment. The song’s French vocal to set up the chorus and the song’s content made it equally strange. It was punky in spirit but not in sound, it wasn’t pop, or even power pop, and neither was it R&B or blues. “Psycho Killer” was alternative, unique, and new – yes, it was modern rock.

Lora Logic & Poly Styrene of X-Ray Spex

Lora Logic & Poly Styrene of X-Ray Spex

X-Ray Spex \ Oh Bondage Up Yours! – Continuing the abrupt musical changes, we go from Talking Heads’ tightly constrained, off-kilter punk-pop to the all-out aggression and screaming assertions of X-Ray Spex and its singer, Poly Styrene. Born Marianne Elliott-Said, she had released solo reggae material in 1976 as Mari Elliott, but like so many others switched to punk after seeing the Sex Pistols. X-Ray Spex was formed in London in 1976 and was a rare punk act for including two women and including sax, provided by the other female in the band, sixteen year-old Lora Logic (Susan Whitby).

“Oh Bondage Up Yours!,” their first single released on September 30 (though a live version was previously issued on a compilation album that June), has become an early punk classic. Opening with Poly’s famous, heavily accented, spoken/screamed opening refrain, “Some say little girls should be seen and not heard / But I say… Oh Bondage Up Yours!,” it then launched into a consummate punk romp marked with Logic’s not so classic, unrestrained, wailing sax. To say this was unlike any other song in the music scene was an understatement. The aggression, the unrestrained female vocal, the sax, and the barely contained wildness of the performance showed, as much as anything by the Pistols or The Clash, that punk was going to push the musical boundaries more than anything else going on at the time. X-Ray Spex released a fantastic LP the next year, Germ Free Adolescents, that included many great songs, but in their short career it was “Oh Bondage Up Yours!” that cemented their legacy.

The Boys \ I Don't Care – Formed by Matt Dangerfield, who had played in the now oft-mentioned act in this playlist, London SS, The Boys started in 1976 and had a productive career before their end in 1982. He was joined by Casino Steel (Norwegian keyboard player, Stein Groven) from defunct glam-punk act, Hollywood Brats, who had also had a stint in London SS (who didn’t?), Duncan ‘Kid’ Reid, and Jack Black (no, not the actor of several decades later). “I Don’t Care” was their first single, issued concurrently with their self-titled debut LP, which reached #50 in the UK chart. It was a punk-styled version of pub rock as the genres further blended. Though never very successful, the band released four albums and eight singles over the next four years, including the notable 1978 tune, “Brickfield Nights.” The Boys also recorded Christmas music under the name, The Yobs (a reversal of ‘Boys’), and after breaking up in 1981 reformed in 1999.  They have released further music as both The Boys and The Yobs over the past twenty years.

The Stranglers \ Something Better Change – Issuing their second album of 1977 The Stranglers continued their strong opening year. They continued to build and refine their keyboard-accented and dark-tinged variation of pop and punk. They were one of the most successful and widely embraced of the early punk acts. Their debut LP, Rattus Norvegicus, reached #4 in the UK album charts, and this follow-up, No More Heroes, did better at #2. It didn’t, however, sell as much as the debut in the long run. They also had an impressive run of success in 1977 with their singles. The debut, which we heard earlier, Grip, reached #44 in the UK singles chart. It was followed by “Peaches” which reached #8 and then two more top ten singles off the second album, “Something Better Change” and “No More Heroes.” Less menacing looking than the rest of the London punk bands and with a more accessible sound, The Stranglers challenged the boundaries of punk and created an opening for a darker strain of pop-punk, paving the way for the likes of Joy Division, Killing Joke, Siouxsie & The Banshees, The Cure, and other bands that filled out the moodier side of modern rock.


This wraps up Part 1, and as we transition take note the cadence of tracks we’ve covered thus far. To the end of August we covered an averaged of three-and-a-half songs per month, and then in September there were eleven tracks. This higher output wasn’t just the usual seasonality of music releases, it was the incredible growth in modern rock as it was building momentum. What started as an impressive list of releases from future legendary acts (or current, in the case of Bowie), led to an increase in lesser known, more diverse, and quantitative output from a variety of artists. Some would break through, just as many would not. Such is the case with an emerging genre, a trickle becomes a flood and the bold, undeniable leaders of the wave are followed by legions of followers in their wake.

David Bowie and Marc Bolan

David Bowie and Marc Bolan

Also of note during this time were the deaths of two of the most influential figures of rock’s formative years. First, on August 16, Elvis Presley died in his home at the age of 42. His early music had been an inspiration to the many artists past and present that had given birth to modern rock, but his later shift to mostly gospel and country music, focusing on emotional ballads combined with his showy and schmaltzy appearances, and movie appearances had moved Elvis away from the mainstream charts and quite a distance from the rock world. His recent weight gain, erratic behaviour, and the demise of his health left him a caricature of the rock star he’d once been and a symbol of all that had gone wrong with rock n’ roll over the course of the 1970s. Elvis’ death marked the end of that initial era, the removal of a colossal presence that, while after briefly having a resurgence in the charts in tribute to his passing, created room for the sweeping changes that music was undertaking in 1977.

In September, Marc Bolan died in a car crash in London. As the driving force of T. Rex, he had led the glam revolution and was a huge influence on the rising contingent of modern rockers in 1977, especially those exploring the darker sounds and fashions that would become goth. His death was, in many respects, the end of the glam era and also helped open the door for the new sounds coming through.


Part 2 of this playlist and profile covers the final three months of 1977 and features another forty-two tracks over just that final quarter. the large percentage of which were, and are, not well-known songs or artists. They are, however, indicative of the rich music scene of the time and, cumulatively, helped the birth of modern rock.

The playlist continues, so you only need to click through to the second part of the profile.

Blitzkrieg Bop: 1976 and the Birth of Punk

Blitzkrieg Bop: 1976 and the Birth of Punk

The Modern World: 1977 and the Birth of Modern Rock, Part 2

The Modern World: 1977 and the Birth of Modern Rock, Part 2