We had never seen the likes of much that took place in 1979.
The sky fell; Vietnamese refugees and Mississauga evacuees went homeless in unprecedented ways and numbers; and Iran made former draft dodgers believe in war. Likewise, in the world of pop music there was the sound of something snapping. You could hear it in the best and worst:
• Ethel Merman got disco rhythm and lent sense to the title of Talking Heads’ Fear of Music. This album was one of the year’s crowning achievements in that the band could proclaim, This ain’t no party, and make it sound like good news.
• Though it was Judy Collins who bared her buttocks for the camera, it was Debbie Harry who got saddled with the bombshell name. But as credits for hair, clothes and makeup appeared on more and more albums, Blondie demonstrated what real style was about. Eat to the Beat also displayed wit, drama, intelligence and some of the year’s best singing and drumming.
• No ’60s survivor re-emerged with more vigor than Bob Dylan on Slow Train Coming, as musically rich and provocative as any album in 1979. Sadly, though, Aretha Franklin seemed to forget she ever owned a soul. The first cut on La Diva, a name she used to deserve, held all the promise of the Gates of Hell. The rest of the album lived up to it. • As if to answer those who wondered how you could ever dance to New Wave music, Lene Lovich included a polka on Stateless, an album unmatched for cheerful vocal stylings.
• Barbra Streisand dunked her head in a hot tub and came up all sensitive tendrils on the cover of Wet. The giggle that completed her version of Splish Splash, an insult to the memory of Bobby Darin, qualified as the year’s most insincere laugh.
• Nobody in 1979 sang with more conviction than Graham Parker. In a year given to retro phenomena, he was one of
In the world of music there was the sound of something snapping: you could hear it in Deborah Harry's voice a few who bothered with anything so old-fashioned as moral dilemma. You Can’t Be Too Strong on Squeezing Out Sparks ranks as one of the year’s most passionate performances.
• Of many misguided intentions in 1979 (remember Joni Mitchell’s shrine to Mingus), none compared with Stevie Wonder’s Journey Through the Secret Life of Plants. The two discs, packaged in a jacket as big as a toboggan, set new standards for simple-mindedness and musical claptrap. Next to this lecture on botany, Lajleur! an album on which TiGuy taught kids about hockey and their moms about body checking, seemed like valid instruction, even though the best lesson all year came from The B-52’s, whose debut album told us how to Dance This Mess Around.
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