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The 20 greatest albums of 1979

 

The Clash, London Calling
The Clash, London Calling
Michael Jackson, Off the Wall
Sister Sledge, We Are Family

By Graeme Ross

It was a real blockbuster of a year for music. Graeme Ross chooses his 20 best LPs... but who's at the top of his chart?

20.  Joe Jackson - I'm the Man

This album from the classically trained Jackson included a couple of striking ballads Amateur Hour and It's Different For Girls which proved a natural follow-up single to Is She Really Going Out With Him? However, two albums into his career, Jackson was already moving on, and he wouldn't sound quite like this ever again.

19. Ry Cooder - Bop Til You Drop

The first digitally recorded album by a major label continued musicologist Cooder's journey through the history of American roots music which began at the start of the decade with his self-titled debut album. Mostly concentrating on lesser-known 1950s and '60s rhythm and blues and soul, Bop Til You Drop includes a fine Elvis cover (Little Sister) and an instrumental version of Ike and Tina Turner's I Think It's Going to Work Out Fine.

18. Sister Sledge - We Are Family

Typecast as serial underachievers, the four sisters from Philadelphia became one of many acts to benefit from the patronage of Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards when the duo applied the Chic Midas touch to their third album. The result was a record full of disco classics, including four hit singles, Lost in Music, He's the Greatest Dancer, Thinking of You and the epic title track.

17. Marianne Faithfull - Broken English

The album on which Faithfull, her once purest of crystalline voices ravaged by laryngitis and years of drug abuse, reinvented herself as a smokey-voiced chronicler of the dark side of life. Many of the songs could be viewed as partly autobiographical, particularly her warm cover of The Ballad of Lucy Jordan.

16. The Jam - Setting Sons

The follow up to All Mod Cons found the Jam well on their way to becoming the biggest band in the country with Paul Weller establishing himself as the natural successor to Ray Davies as the foremost commentator on British society's ills. Setting Sons provided the Jam with their first top 10 single with The Eton Rifles, a scathing critique of Britain's class divisions.

15. AC/DC - Highway to Hell

The last AC/DC album to feature original frontman Bon Scott proved to be their breakthrough record and its success owed much to Mutt Lange's production. Monstrous riffs abound on essential AC/DC tracks such as Beating Around the Bush, Touch Too Much, Girls Got Rhythm and the legendary title track, the definitive life on the road anthem.

14. Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers - Damn the Torpedoes

The dazzling 1-2-3 thrust of Refugee, Here Comes My Girl and Even the Losers gets this terrific album, arguably Tom Petty's best, off to a flyer, and the quality barely drops thereafter.

13. Public Image Ltd - Metal Box

John Lydon's modal mix of dub, reggae and noise rock garnered ecstatic reviews on release and 40 years on remains an enduring example of his unique vision.

12. Van Morrison - Into the Music

Van had taken a three-year sabbatical after 1974's superb Veedon Fleece and returned with a couple of middling albums, A Period of Transition and Wavelength. Into the Music was a stunning return to form. There's no Moaning Boy Blues, rather a celebratory tone permeates the album and Van looks forward to the spiritual route he would take on his next albums, Common One and Beautiful Vision, on the uplifting Bright Side of the Road and Full Force Gale.

11. The Specials - The Specials

The band's slices of social commentary lit up the singles charts, with Message to You, Rudy and Too Much Too Young. The rest of the album follows the same compelling formula: a fusion of punk energy and Sixties ska and reggae.

10. Elvis Costello - Armed Forces

Costello's run of great albums showed no sign of abating with his third release which has been called his political album. Green Shirt, Goon Squad and Two Little Hitlers all reinforce that assertion, with Accidents Will Happen and Oliver's Army once more demonstrating Costello's gifts.

9. Pink Floyd - The Wall

A sprawling double album that still divides opinion, the concept's bleak subject matter - the mental decline of a rock star, the vacuousness of the rock star lifestyle and society's oppression of the individual as embodied on Nobody Home was based on Roger Waters' own experiences. Stand-out tracks include Comfortably Numb and Another Brick in the Wall.

8. Gang of Four - Entertainment!

Uncompromising, politically charged post-punk with hints of reggae and dub from the radical and influential Leeds quartet whose funky rhythms along with Andy Gill's slashing cut-and-run guitar technique made for an unlikely but compulsively danceable mix.

7. Fleetwood Mac - Tusk

Tasked with following up two huge-selling albums in a row, Fleetwood Mac resisted the temptation to follow the air-brushed soft rock template of Fleetwood Mac and Rumours. Guided by Lindsey Buckingham they moved into largely uncharted new-wave-influenced territory with the experimental Tusk. It was the first album to cost a million dollars to make and sold "only" four million copies, earning it a reputation as a commercial flop.

6. Michael Jackson - Off the Wall

Michael Jackson's first album after leaving Motown and teaming up with Quincy Jones was a revelation at the time and marked his transition to sophisticated adult performer with an album full of dance-funk classics interspersed with heart-rending ballads. The title track, Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough, Rock With You and She's Out of My Life on which Jackson's tears are real, were all huge hit singles.

5. Neil Young & Crazy Horse - Rust Never Sleeps

Neil Young ended a decade in which he resolutely trod his own path by reuniting with his most trusted collaborators Crazy Horse and the result was one of his finest albums. The title and concept - an acoustic side followed by the electric side two and mostly recorded live - perfectly summed up both Young's refusal to stay still artistically and his career up to that point.

4. Graham Parker and the Rumour - Squeezing Out Sparks

Parker came out of the pub-rock movement, but his biting lyrics and highly charged live performances had more than a hint of punk attitude and soon he was the critics' darling. This is his finest album and appropriately the Rumour, who are to Parker what Crazy Horse is to Neil Young, are on board. Parker's performance and the fantastic songs on Squeezing Out Sparks vividly demonstrate why comparisons to Dylan and Springsteen don't seem outlandish.

3. Talking Heads - Fear of Music

The cover of Al Green's Take Me To the River on Talking Heads' second album foreshadowed the dance beats and African rhythms that would dominate their subsequent albums, as exemplified by Fear of Music's opening track I Zimbra. Paranoia and fear stalk this record in the shape of Life During Wartime and Cities and there's a tired, beautiful resignation about Heaven.

2. Joy Division - Unknown Pleasures

Owing much to Martin Hannett's landmark production, Unknown Pleasures emits an austere beauty and pulses with energy. With bass and drums high in the mix, Bernard Sumner's piercing guitar lines and Ian Curtis' haunting delivery of lyrics that resonate with alienation and despair, the result is an album full of raw, visceral power.

1. The Clash - London Calling

An inspired double album on which the Clash left (most of) their punk roots behind on an astonishingly diverse range of styles including reggae, ska, rockabilly, pop and rock. Released to universal acclaim, it presents the Clash at their most assured, with the anthemic roar of the title track and the menacing Guns of Brixton.

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