(Pictured: the Doobie Brothers and Kenny Loggins celebrate their Record of the Year and Song of the Year Grammys for “What a Fool Believes” in 1980.)
For a brief time in college, I was a music columnist for The Exponent, the campus paper at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville. And for the last edition of the fall semester in 1979, I ranked the top singles and albums of the year. I wrote about those rankings at this website in 2005 and 2016. After the last time, our friend HERC wondered how and if my perspective has changed so many years down the line. Given that the stuff first appeared 40 years ago this week, it’s a good time to respond to HERC’s query.
My 1979 album list was as follows:
2. The Long Run/Eagles
3. Minute by Minute/Doobie Brothers
4. In Through the Out Door/Led Zeppelin
5. 52nd Street/Billy Joel
6. Breakfast in America/Supertramp
7. Rickie Lee Jones
8. Get the Knack
9. Time Passages/Al Stewart
10. Spirits Having Flown/Bee Gees
That’s a pretty reasonable list even now. I wouldn’t mess with the very top at all. 52nd Street and Time Passages were released in the fall of 1978 and should probably be disqualified, and I put the Bee Gees on just to troll my readers. I’d keep the rest. Tom Petty’s Damn the Torpedoes should be on here, although in December 1979, we’d just started playing it on the college station and I didn’t recognize its impact yet. Pink Floyd’s The Wall came out the week before I wrote. The biggest omission is probably Fleetwood Mac’s Tusk.
You will notice that the album many critics name today as the best one of 1979 is not here: London Calling by the Clash. First, it was released in mid-December, after I made this list. And second, as I’ve said several times over the life of this website, I grew up in a world where punk rock didn’t happen. The vast majority of the people I knew weren’t interested in the Clash or the other bands that had come out of the UK in the late 70s—or the Ramones either, for that matter. Given our choice, my friends and I were far more likely to put on Tusk or The Wall or Foreigner or Bruce Springsteen.
The singles list as originally compiled went like this:
1. “What a Fool Believes”/Doobie Brothers
2. “Cruel to Be Kind”/Nick Lowe
3. “Heart of Glass”/Blondie
4. “Goodbye Stranger”/Supertramp
5. “Rise”/Herb Alpert
6. “Bad Case of Loving You”/Robert Palmer
7. “Let’s Go”/Cars
8. “Tragedy”/Bee Gees
9. “Goodnight Tonight”/Wings
10. “Sail On”/Commodores
Were I to formally re-rank these today, I would no longer include “Rise” and “Goodnight Tonight” on the list. (“Tragedy” stays, though.) Also, I am not sure that “What a Fool Believes” would stay at #1—I’d be inclined to bump Nick Lowe up there now, or maybe even the Commodores—and “Heart of Glass” wouldn’t be so high, either. Today, I would have to consider the two Gerry Rafferty singles, “Days Gone Down” and “Get it Right Next Time,” “Gold” by John Stewart, “Mama Can’t Buy You Love” by Elton John, and “Is She Really Going Out With Him” by Joe Jackson. Other possibilities might be “Life During Wartime” by Talking Heads or J. D. Souther’s “You’re Only Lonely,” and how I missed including “Driver’s Seat” by Sniff ‘n’ the Tears I cannot imagine. In 1979, I shared with many other young white guys a severe anti-disco prejudice, and so I would not have been caught dead endorsing what I would have considered a disco record. (Never mind that there were disco remixes of “What a Fool Believes” and “Goodnight Tonight,” and that “Tragedy” got some dancefloor action too.) I would not have considered “Good Times” by Chic or “September” by Earth Wind and Fire for my list, but they’d both make the semifinals today.
However interesting it might be to revisit more of these columns (and I have clips), we aren’t going there. They are almost without exception miserably bad, badly written and badly argued, and I come off utterly foolish in many of them. These 1979 lists were the best of the lot.