Friday Five: 1977

This is the year.

The movie Star Wars was released on May 25, 1977. I don’t remember that day or much of anything related to the event of the release. Since I was 5, that’s not surprising. I don’t even remember watching the movie for the first time. But I do remember that my entire cultural life afterwards was related to the Star Wars universe in some way, shape, or form. It was what I played. It was the toys I bought, the drawings I made, the imagination I indulged in. Star Wars was everything.

On August 16, 1977, Elvis Presley died. I do remember that day. It rained in southern California. I remember being with my mom in the parking lot of Zody’s when we heard the news on the radio. Elvis has always been another little obsession of mine. The music, the movies, the entire popular culture that grew around him in life and continued to thrive in his death, it all was a measurable part of the things I love.

Let’s take a lot at 1977 musically. These are 5 songs from that year that meant something to me in the years after.

5. “Nickel and Dime” (Journey)
Journey will always be a band best known for the music they released beginning in 1978, when lead singer Steve Perry came aboard. I certainly never heard of them until 1981, when the Perry-fronted band released Escape. (More on that album in a month.) But Journey is really the band of guitarist Neal Schon, who played with Santana before leaving to form his own band. They released three albums before Perry, each reflective of their “prog rock” origins that owe much to Schon’s guitar and Bay Area rock culture. This is one of my favorites from their 1977 album Next, a song I obsessed over in the late 1990s.

4. “Celebrate Me Home”(Kenny Loggins)
I can’t explain why I seem to know Kenny Loggins so well. He’s just one of those musical acts who was well-placed in the media during my upbringing. He was a fixture on the radio stations we listened to in the car, too. This track from his 1977 debut solo album (he had already been a part of the successful duo “Loggins and Messina”) is one of those lingering songs for me. I also remember him singing this on TV, probably during the holiday seasons. It’s a good song, one that spotlights his talents well. There’s also a little bit of the sound that would dominate 80s pop emerging in the track, a credit to his influence.

3. “Three Little Birds” (Bob Marley)
I don’t remember knowing of the existence of Bob Marley before his untimely death in 1981. I do remember hearing his music in high school, and becoming somewhat obsessed with his music and life in the early 90s while in college. College has turned Marley into music for drinking or getting high, but he is so much better than the individual tracks that make up the typical playlist. In the 90s, I started to listen to Bob Marley an album at a time, from the beginning forward. I grew in my appreciation for his talent and also for his visionary message. This song, from his 1977 album Exodus, is a deceptively simple song. In context, you get a sense of how much it thrives on the amazing talents of everyone involved with what is arguably his best studio album.

2. “Come Sail Away” (Styx)
Styx is one of those things that I sometimes feel like I have to defend. In my older age, I’ve stopped feeling that as much. Groups like them or like Foreigner were really good at what they did. Maybe it wasn’t the most important music ever made, but it was good. It fulfilled the expectations of the pop rock genre and did it in big, bold, funny, and sometimes (often) melodramatic ways. What works is that they take themselves seriously, as well they should. That genuine caring for their sound and their fans translated onto vinyl. This song is one of their biggest hits from one of their biggest albums. It is a great example of all they did well, and all they did to excess. It is 70s mightiness!

1. “Dreams” (Fleetwood Mac)
I really love Fleetwood Mac. Even though I wasn’t old enough to be a part of their meteoric rise in the 70s, their music still has a very close relationship to me and my musical identity. But it’s a very “academic” kind of thing, too. They’re not a personal thing for me in the same way the are/were for those who loved them and lived through those times. I understand what they meant, and as I got into their music it started to become a very personal thing for me as a fan, maybe even as a historian.

All this is related to why I picked this song. For me, this is not their best song. It’s not even my favorite song. I do love it. But, more importantly, it is a musical sound that transports me back to the feeling of those times more than any other. That’s saying something, because there hasn’t been a time that this song hasn’t been a fixture of FM radio since its release. That my feeling of it is “70s” and not “80s” must mean something.

“Dreams” is the only song from Fleetwood Mac to make it to #1 on the pop charts. It’s from the album Rumors, which was not only their biggest album but also one of the biggest-selling albums of all time. The really rich recording warmth of a vinyl sound, the drums, and Stevie Nicks voice make it all happen.

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