1977: The Greatest Year for Rock Music Ever?

Nineteen-seventy-seven was a year of styles congealing and pointing beyond themselves, musical moments coming into focus and then, just as quickly, getting blurry. Four decades later, this single year of music continually haunts us with its greatness through deaths and rebirths, reissues, and reunion tours. With the Sex Pistols’ Never Mind the Bollocks…, the Ramones’ Rocket to Russia AND Leave Home, and The Clash’s self-titled album, it was a major year for punk; through Television’s Marquee Moon and Wire’s Pink Flag, we glimpsed the dawn of post-punk. And I, for one, still don’t know what to call Iggy Pop’s dual masterpieces from that year, The Idiot and Lust for Life, two records that strayed far enough outside the conventions of rock, proto-punk, and post-punk that they should maybe just be left under the art-rock banner. Likewise, Suicide’s ghostly, self-titled classic could be called anything from proto-punk to post-punk to synth-pop; its mercurial nature only amplifies its staying power as we continue to struggle to digest it in light of Alan Vega’s 2016 death.

Also along the lines of the weirder, more avant-garde pop: David Bowie (who produced Iggy Pop’s two releases from that year) dropped Berlin-trilogy classics ”Heroes” and Low—the latter produced by Brian Eno, whose own Before and After Science came out that December. These records, alongside Talking Heads: 77, Kraftwerk’s Trans-Europe Express, and Elvis Costello’s debut LP, My Aim Is True, pointed clearly and forcefully toward the New Wave of the ‘80s.

Nineteen-seventy-seven also saw rock continuing to explode into a vast diaspora of sub-genres: disillusioned folk rock (Neil Young’s American Stars ‘n Bars, Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours), politicized prog rock (Pink Floyd’s Animals), country-inflected jam rock (Grateful Dead’s Terrapin Station), smooth jazz rock (Steely Dan’s Aja), and whatever you’d call Billy Joel’s The Stranger. (Oh yeah, and John Williams’ Star Wars: Episode IV — A New Hope soundtrack came out.)

This (incomplete, to be sure) list has probably inspired thoughts of nostalgia, as well as, possibly, some feelings of melancholy about the music of our own time. If strong opinions about any of these records have surfaced, it’s because 1977 is still very alive today. The year still guides the rock we make, and it still infiltrates our playlists. The political and social issues of 1977 still, in many ways, exist, and we still struggle to respond to them in ways that are appropriate and meaningful. This playlist isn’t going to change the world, but if it leads to a new way of understanding the present, that’s a good thing. Or, if you just jam out to it while cleaning your house or going for a run, that’s fine, too.