Rock and anti-rock: 1976-79
As disco and sappy ballads dominated the charts, rock was taking a beating. However, there was still some good music to hear. Punk reared its angry head as an antithesis to what these bands saw as rock's musical excess. Even Pink Floyd's "The Wall" took a stab at the music industry.
The Ramones: "Pinhead"
The first concert I went to see was the Ramones. I was 15, and it was Good Friday. The band lurked out onto the stage and played a rapid-fire couple of hours, hardly speaking to the audience.
The New York band is one of the most influential bands in rock, jump-starting the punk music scene in England. The Ramones sought to purify rock of all its pretense and create a sound that expressed the music's essence. The Ramones wanted to make rock fun again. They succeeded.
"Pinhead" is one of the band's anthems , providing the crowd chant, "Gabba, gabba, hey."The song is based on the 1932 film "Freaks," about a carnival side show using real sideshow performers.
Fleetwood Mac: "Go Your Own Way"
When you listen to the album "Rumors," you are listening to Fleetwood Mac's dysfunctions: Keyboardist/vocalist Christi McVie and bassist John McVie had split; Guitarist/vocalist Lindsey Buckingham and vocalist Stevie Nicks were breaking up; and drummer Mick Fleetwood's wife was having an affair.
However, Fleetwood Mac's pain is our gain as it created a superb album. Buckingham's "Go Your Own Way" was written as a way to get back at Nicks and became one the band's strongest songs.
Sex Pistols: "God Save the Queen"
When I was 13, I saw the Sex Pistols on a Saturday evening television news show. I couldn't believe what I was hearing. The sound spoke to the very core of my angry, disenchanted and moody teenage self. It was the only album my parents ever banned me from having. So, naturally, I bought the record and hid it from them.
The Sex Pistols were brought forth in an attempt to create an English version of the Ramones. The Pistols put anger to music and were mean, the very definition of the genre "punk rock." "God Save the Queen," which says she "ain't no human being," was banned from British radio, but was still a massive hit.
The Cars: "Just What I Needed"
The Cars' debut album could easily make a top ten list by itself. Their sound was entirely unique and captured a dominating position in rock music in the late '70s and early '80s.
Written by Ric Ocasek, "Just What I Needed" is sung beautifully by bassist Benjamin Orr.
Musically, the song utilizes dead chords (in which the picking hand rests on the strings), one of the chief characteristics of the Cars' sound. Guitarist Elliot Easton, an unsung rock guitar master, is brilliant as is drummer David Robinson. And no matter how much time has passed, Greg Hawkes' keyboard work always sounds fresh and never dated, usually a real risk for keyboards.
Blondie: "Hanging on the Telephone"
Blondie came through the CBGB incubator, the New York club that also spawned the Ramones, Talking Heads and the Misfits. The group was formed by vocalist Debbie Harry and guitarist Chris Stein and helped define the New Wave movement.
"Hanging on the Telephone" has a strong double back beat that controls the song, which moves from guitar dominance to keyboards. Harry's voice is gruff and aggressive, not to be taken lightly.
Rush: "La Villa Strangiato"
Guitarist Alex Lifeson, bassist/vocalist Geddy Lee and drummer Neil Pert set a high standard for musicianship. You will have to search hard to find a stronger collection of musicians. Indeed, Pert has morphed into the very archetype of drumming greatness.
"La Villa Strangiatto" is an instrumental that contains several shifts and moods. The song even contains an homage to Looney Tunes with a rendition of Raymond Scott's "Powerhouse," usually recognized as the music played in the cartoons during scenes of complex machinery and assembly lines.
Cheap Trick: "Come On, Come On"
Two days after the Ramones, I saw Cheap Trick on Easter Sunday. And one thing anyone who has seen this band will tell you, Cheap Trick is a live band. In fact, it was a live performance that made them famous.
Getting very little attention in the U.S., Cheap Trick was massive in Japan, being referred to there as the American Beatles. They toured the country to great fanfare, recording before a big, excited crowd at Tokyo's Budokan.
When "Cheap Trick at Budokan" was released in the U.S., the band finally saw success stateside.
The Knack: "My Sharona"
To say "My Sharona" was a big hit would be an understatement. It was the fastest song to sell a million copies since the Beatles' "I Want to Hold Your Hand" and was No. 1 for six weeks.
The main riff was written by guitarist Berton Averre and the song's raunchy lyrics were penned by singer Doug Fieger.
While "My Sharona" is certainly an infectious tune, the primary reason I have it on the list is because of Averre's magnificent guitar solo, which is one of the best ever and certainly my second favorite behind "Stairway."The radio-friendly version that is sometimes still played drastically cuts the solo and does serious injustice to the best part of this song.
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers: "Even the Losers"
Tom Petty has amazingly been writing hits for 36 years.
Off his third album, "Damn the Torpedoes," "Even the Losers" features the sound that is the distinctive and purely Americana sound that is Petty and the Heartbreakers.
Pink Floyd: "Comfortably Numb"
The most popular song off "The Wall," "Comfortably Numb" is considered by many to be Pink Floyd's best song and David Glimore's best guitar work.
The song features two characters: the doctor, sung by Roger Waters, and the patient, sung by Gilmore.
This song proves that Pink Floyd was, is and always shall be cool.