By the time 1978 rolled around, aliens, Dallas and John Travolta were all the rage. But things weren’t all disco balls and video games. The Son of Sam, Ted Bundy, Jonestown, and Anita Bryant inspired fear and anger across the US, and geopolitical tensions were rising. It’s no wonder 1978 saw an explosion of subversive music driven by dejection and rage. So while Chic, Gloria Gaynor, and Chaka Khan were pushing disco to new heights, a slew of iconic records and debuts from punk/new wave acts like Blondie, X-Ray Spex, Buzzcocks, The Ramones, Pere Ubu, and Devo sizzled just below the surface. Following our 1968 entry in the Best Of The Decades series, here are the best albums of 1978 according to the following vinyl lovers:
Damn, 1978 is absolute GROUND ZERO for no less than a dozen straight punk rock rippers, not limited to the Germs Lexicon Devil, the Psycho Surgeons Horizontal Action, the Dogs Slash Your Face, BOTH of the (Australian) Victims singles, and surely more I’m spacing on. But if I had to pick just one, it’s undoubtedly the Misfits Bullet single. Four tracks of pure distilled punk rock, light years beyond their unsure debut Cough/Cool and arguably the best the band would ever sound. Don’t overlook how CONTROVERSIAL this release is, from the Kennedy assassination artwork to the lyrics that not only suggest murder conspiracy but are downright pornographic towards Jackie O. Even 40 years later, this still seems wildly offensive. The Bullet single is everything punk rock should be.
— Ben Blackwell, Third Man Records
Outlandos D’Amour magpies many different influences and styles into a gorgeous, catchy, timeless glittery jewel of an album. It’s one of those records that both encompasses singles that have become part of the very DNA of music culture, while concurrently being comprised of genius album cuts that are all equally catchy and creative in both lyrics and arrangement. From the reggae spirited stadium belter about a streetwalker (Roxanne) to the manic, desperate, forlorn So Lonely, all the way to punkier Truth Hurts Everyone and Next to You, every track captures the rare perfection of raw, energetic rock with a soul.
— Dr. Jennifer Otter Bickerdike, Rock N Roll Cultural Historian & Fandom Expert
The Stranglers’ oft-overlooked third album Black and White transcends being mere “punk rock,” which is not surprising seeing as they were a half-generation older than their first-wave UK punk compatriots. (the Stranglers’ emeritus drummer, Jet Black, is older than Charlie Watts!) Their sound evokes an older aesthetic as well, most notably with Dave Greenfield’s swirling, psychedelic organ lines. But here they (alongside regular producer Martin Rushent) display a greater sophistication in their complex musical arrangements than most of the DIY crowd dared attempt, keeping the yobbish menace of their earlier work while varying the textures and time signatures on songs like Curfew and Outside Tokyo.
— Eric J. Lawrence, KCRW
With its concentrated nihilism and scrappy deconstructions, no wave cleaved its way through punk rock’s stylized regurgitations and new wave’s pop aspirations with geeky, anti-fashionable fervor. That the Brian Eno-produced No New York compilation — the scene’s seminal foray outside of the Lower East Side — became the de facto stand-in for the short-lived, yet highly influential group of artists speaks to its transient nature. This nasty slop of dissonance and skronk was to be documented, not deified. Whatever value we might retroactively place on no wave and its unending impact, the four bands on this compilation (The Contortions, Mars, DNA, Teenage Jesus) weren’t creating futures, but destroying narratives, reveling in the subaltern, the hybrid, and the rapturously ephemeral.
— Marvin Lin, Tiny Mix Tapes
Penguin Eggs from 1980 is the Nic Jones album that tends to enjoy praise when it comes to this sort of thing. And why not? It’s an utterly masterful, nuanced exploration of traditional song in the hands of someone with a musical worldliness that made it so much more than just a folk album. But he made others that were just as remarkable. They’re just an awful lot harder to find.
Within seconds of 1978’s From The Devil To A Stranger starting, I feel totally at home. It’s stumbling across a cosy country pub when you’re totally sodden; it’s realizing it’s the weekend and you can sleep through the alarm; it’s a new series of Detectorists; it’s that comforting. It’s not remotely twee mind, it’s with a sort of heart-swelling defiance that Jones proudly sings “We bring songs from history/Love and war and mystery/We can lead you from despair/Or can chill the darkening air.”
You realize that this is timeless stuff and his is a voice you can trust. Take Master Kilby. He sounds so sure of himself. His voice is no-nonsense, unaffected and only interested in serving the song. A little worn around the edges yes, but aren’t we all? And when he stops singing, you realize how bare the music is. His beautifully poised, guitar playing — as unschooled and peculiar to him as gloriously bad handwriting – duets with Helen Watson’s piano like a careful conversation.
Here’s to hoping that the contractual wrangles keeping most of Jones’ work under lock and key are soon sorted out. His music deserves to be affordable to many.
— Jamie Atkins, Record Collector
Maestro composer and musician Ryuichi Sakamoto first emerged into Japan’s waiting public consciousness during the ’70s as a cofounder of pioneering electronic trio Yellow Magic Orchestra. Though YMO also released their seminal debut LP in 1978, Sakamoto’s solo outing, Thousand Knives Of, is undoubtedly tops. (Its cover art alone should be enough to win you over at first sight.) If you’re the harder to convince type, its opening track filled with vocoder incantations awaits to guide you by the hand into his idiosyncratic realm: one where tropical bird synth samples rub shoulders with computer raindrop guitar breakdowns and roboto anime beatboxing in equal measure. In short, it’s an essential auditory overture into Sakamoto’s singular genius.
— Gabriela Helfet, The Vinyl Factory
I find every element of Équinoxe as absorbing in 2018 as I did in 1978. Not just the two sides worth of solid electronic wonder. Not just the dystopique française of the cover art. Just the whole cohesive experience.
Hopefully I’m not alone, but it felt like I was when the album was released. Melody Maker’s review was scathing, describing it “as slushily, pseudo-galactically crass and vapid as last year’s Oxygène… The melodies are trite, harmonies predictable, textures almost determinedly hackneyed.”
The fact that they “knew,” or felt they knew, what this music was all about is even more laughable now than it was then. But especially now that Équinoxe has formed the template, literally, for all music — from elevators to dance floors.
— Ian Peel, Long Live Vinyl
Elvis Costello & The Attractions
Despite the victory lap that is the recent documentary on New York’s radio station WLIR, New Wave: Dare to Be Different, there were quite a number of radio stations taking note of the differing notes fomenting in ’78.
Among them, Friday’s “Things from England” on New York City’s WNEW-FM hosted by radio legend Scott Muni reveled in brand new records and bands from the UK, and WPIX-FM aired the “PIX Penthouse Party” which spun the best of the CBGB scene, the Detroit scene, and what was morphing into post-punk from the UK. And for this 11-year-old dialing up these sounds out of NYC at the Jersey Shore, it was a revelation.
If there was a constant among each station’s playlist, it was Elvis Costello’s second full-length release and first with The Attractions, This Year’s Model. Nervy, twitchy, literate — it was the amalgam of the moment and boasted some damn fine songs. Pump it Up, (I Don’t Want to Go to) Chelsea, Radio Radio on the US version, and Watching the Detectives on the UK pressing, it was ultimately voted best album of 1978 among The Village Voice’s Pazz & Jop poll of those with opinions put to paper. Commercially it was received far better than say, the four KISS solo albums (for which a lot of lawns were raked in the autumn of ’78 by yours truly).
This Year’s Model is an unassuming landmark — and “a sound salvation” indeed.
— Jon Meyers, The Vinyl District
A perk at my first record store job was getting a free LP once a month. That initial pick was tough, but I went with Bruised Orange because a cute coworker suggested it. She was clearly also very smart.
Prine has made a lot of glorious records, but Bruised Orange is his pinnacle. His gift for high-level absurdity had been perfected by 1978, and no other Prine record offers a more breathtaking combination of cheerful fatalism and nonnegotiable human truths. The first six songs are fundamentally perfect in every respect, still startling 40 years later, and the last four merely great.
Prine is a treasure, and Bruised Orange is a goddamned embarrassment of riches.
— Jeffrey Lee Puckett, Courier-Journal
With The Kick Inside, Kate Bush arrived in exactly the wrong place at exactly the wrong time, but somehow managed to conquer the world regardless. By 1978, the punk revolution had already started to smell suspiciously funny, and the days of ornate rock and roll were over. However, in just 13 songs Bush was able to fill a niche that previously had not even existed — for a good reason, perhaps. There was simply no one else who could pull off a similar stunt and walk away unscathed. Drawing from prog rock, folk, jazz, Bush’s unconventional phrasing, literal whale song and an unhealthy dose of piano, The Kick Inside offered a kaleidoscopic view of pop’s rawest talents at that time.
Following her breakthrough single Wuthering Heights from the year before, the LP was met with much critical acclaim and little commercial success, but perfectly encapsulated the messy beauty that made Kate Bush one of the most outstanding songwriters of the eighties and beyond. As incoherent The Kick Inside may sound some 40 years later, this is where it all began.
— Kristoffer Cornils, Groove
Though the second “British invasion” was well underway in 1978, Saturday Night Fever dominated the charts and disco ruled the airwaves — much to the dismay of rock fans.
Guitar-based punk was too extreme and reggae too “ethnic” to push aside disco, but when a jazz-rooted R&B guitarist, the son of a CIA agent and a castrati-voiced elementary school teacher formed a trio and mashed together punk and reggae, the rock cognoscenti fell hard for the single Roxanne and for The Police.
In addition to Outlandos D’Amour (have original U.K. blue vinyl) my faves in no particular order (I hate order) are: Wire’s Chairs Missing, Brian Eno’s Ambient 1 (Music for Airports), Elvis Costello’s This Year’s Model, Talking Heads’ More Songs About Buildings and Food, The Cars self-titled album, Ry Cooder’s Jazz, The Rolling Stones’ Some Girls, The Buzzcocks’ Love Bites, and Little Feat’s Waiting For Columbus.
— Michael Fremer, Analog Planet