An interesting thing happened to the music industry in the 1970s. Large corporations discovered that impressive sums of money could be made off of music-loving teenagers. Of course, that created a conundrum: rock music was supposed to be fighting the man, not working for him. Thus the underground music scene was born.
By the time Jimmy Carter took the oath of office on January 20, 1977, the albums dominating the critics’ “best of” lists had begun to look a little different from the albums on the “best-selling” lists. That doesn’t hold true across the board, mind you, but underground bands were being recognized more and more as the ones producing the best music. The top ten from the years that President Carter was in office demonstrate how the underground music scene was beginning to reshape music. But first, the honorable mentions:
Animals, Pink Floyd; Talking Heads:77, Talking Heads; Rocket to Russia, Ramones; Peter Gabriel III (Melt), Peter Gabriel; My Aim is True, Elvis Costello; Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps), David Bowie; Ace of Spades, Motörhead; Los Angeles, X; Unknown Pleasures, Joy Division; Van Halen, Van Halen; The River, Bruce Springsteen; Back in Black, AC/DC; Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables, Dead Kennedys.
10. Highway to Hell – AC/DC
The favorite whipping boy of anti-rock and roll preachers throughout the eighties, Highway to Hell is a great example of gritty rhythm and blues-influenced rock and roll. After drinking himself to death less than a year after the album’s release, the title track “Highway to Hell” became an apropos eulogy for Bon Scott.
9. Some Girls – The Rolling Stones
In 2017, as The Rolling Stones continue to slog through a worldwide tour, it’s hard to imagine that people considered the rock band old and washed up in 1978. In the six years after Exile to Main Street, people began to consider The Rolling Stones past their prime — many said they were finished. Some Girls proved the doubters wrong.
8. Exodus – Bob Marley
Lyrics about sex and religion set to the laid-back sounds of reggae are sure to be polarizing. They also proved to be popular. Bob Marley found international stardom with the release of Exodus.
7. Pretenders – The Pretenders
Many people consider the late nineties and early aughts as the highpoint of pop-punk. Those people are insane. Almost opening the decade, The Pretenders released what may very well be the greatest pop-punk album of all time. The punk angst of the lyrics is complimented by a youthful optimism that shines forth in the power-pop chords.
6. The Clash – The Clash
The tag “The Only Band that Matters” may have been promotional hyperbole cooked up by the label’s advertising department, but The Clash is one of the extremely few bands that, without being accompanied by hysterical laughter, could even be considered for that made-up distinction. Why? Well, besides the important fact that they produced really great music, The Clash provided the catalyst, not to mention the blueprint, for much of the early ’80s underground music scene. And it began with their self-titled debut, proving that anger and disenfranchisement do not need to be unintelligible and unintelligent.
5. Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols – Sex Pistols
Johnny Rotten probably hates being included in lists like this one. I wish that I could oblige him and leave him and his unfortunate bandmates off of this list, but, alas, I can’t. The Ramones may have swung punk music’s first major blow at the music establishment in 1976, but the music world, much less the world at large, was barely ready for the vitriolic rage of the Sex Pistols. Johnny Rotten’s sneering, barely discernible vocals forced society to confront the reality that things were not ok, and hardcore was born.
4. Remain in Light – Talking Heads
Remain in Light served as a bridge between the 1970s and the 1980s. Experimental, surrealistic, and utilizing blistering African rhythms, Remain in Light flipped the world of punk music on its head and demonstrated the potential of New Wave, although, sadly, a potential that was never reached again by New Wave.
3. Closer – Joy Division
With Closer, Joy Division produced an emotionally haunting album that is as beautiful as it is disturbing. The suicide of lead singer Ian Curtis is buried deep within the album’s lyrics, and the searching bass finds the listener and doesn’t let go until the story is told.
2. The Wall – Pink Floyd
The Wall is a brilliant concept album executed with Pink Floyd’s usual high level of musicality. The two guitar solos in “Comfortably Numb” are worth the price of the album alone, but the listener isn’t going to want to skip the previous eighteen tracks of this seamless rock opera to get to the song. By the way, the seven tracks that follow “Comfortably Numb” shouldn’t be ignored either. If you’re doing the math, that’s twenty-six tracks that are all so good you won’t realize that you just spent almost an hour and a half listening to one album.
1. London Calling – The Clash
What happens when a punk band flexing their varied and substantial musical chops releases a post-punk album with politically charged yet poignant lyrics? Well, London Calling is what happens – one of the most acclaimed albums ever. With the album, The Clash not only demonstrated that the punk ethos needn’t be chained to the three-chord “punk sound,” the English band also proved that weaving in other musical influences may be the most punk thing to do.