Thursday, January 18, 2018

Songs from '78: "Werewolves of London"

For much of last year, I got caught up in just how fine a year I thought 1987 was, at least insofar as the pop/rock radio I tuned into was concerned. I ended up celebrating ten different albums from 1987, all of which I still regularly listen to 30 years on. I was kicking around doing something similar for this year when an FB friend of mine pointed out this fine blog, which is going to be looking at all sorts of albums that are hitting their 50th anniversary throughout the year. Well, 1968 was an important year--in additional to everything else, it was the year I was born, for whatever that's worth--but I can't reach back 50 years in my musical memories. But 40 years? I could do that. After all, it was 40 years ago, 1978, the year I turned 10 years old, that really first started to listen to the radio, or at least so I remember.

Moreover, the more that I thought about it, the more I realized that I loved and still love much of the music of 1978. Yes, there was a ton of crap on the radio--but there's always a ton of crap for every ounce of good pop; it's always been that way, and always will be. More importantly, I think back to what I was listening to in 1978, and I'm remembering a tremendous amount of solid rock and roll--shaped as it was by the rise of funk, the rise and (relative) decline of both punk and disco, and the decline and (almost total) fall of progressive rock. All those influences, ebbing and flowing, flooding and retreating (but sometimes enduring), making a pop sludge that spread across the airwaves in a late 70s world. Why shouldn't radio have been loud and mixed-up and filled with little discoveries in such a cultural environment? The late 70s were a moment when almost no one could successfully lie to themselves and pretend that the post-WII dominance of the supposed American Century wasn't collapsing all around us, but no one (yet) had any idea of what was going to come next. The twin forces of global finance capitalism and the personal computer and internet revolutions were still just glimmers in the eyes of a few bankers and geeks, and the death gasps of the old studio system was allowing a bunch of film and art school graduates to make some of the finest films that had ever come out of Hollywood, and probably ever will. And pop music? Well, I'm here to tell you: if you're willing to search for it, it was a very, very, very good year.

So I've picked out 30 or so songs that were released in 1978, or that achieved prominence in 1978, or that--in a couple of instances--I just strongly associate with 1978, my first year as a radio listener, and I'm going to share them here, usually as close as possible to their actual listed release dates. Get ready for a lot of fine rock and roll, everyone; I'll be here at all year.

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Warren Zevon was a terrifically talented songwriter and musician, and he wrote and recorded a lot of wonderful, cool, catchy songs. But "Werewolves of London"--released on January 18, 1978, the first single from his marvelous album Excitable Boy, the only fully realized work of his whole musical career--was the big one, a lean, driving rock tune and a monster hit, with a bluesy rhythm (provided by half of the original Fleetwood Mac line-up) and lyrics that are just winking and clever and ridiculous enough that their macbre nihilism--are we singing to the werewolf? do we admire him? what's the deal?--becomes part of the whole song's outrageous charm. How many times have all of us sung along with it (even though we probably don't get all the lyrics quite right)? Hundreds, I'm sure. From the dirty, glorious, decadent yet still solid underbelly of 1978, this is the right song to start us out.

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