Wednesday, January 9, 2008

The Best Songs of the 70s Debate continues

My good friend Eric Caplan, McGill professor, keyboardist with the band "The Diminished Faculties" and well, all-round one of the nicest, smartest guys I know, has responded to the gauntlet I threw down. As expected, his note is thoughtful, his suggestions grounded in knowledge and his arguments cogent (if at times slightly misguided - I mean, leave out Joe Jackson? And Bowie's 'Heroes' Realllly!) And, as always, Eric is polite to a fault, calling the Telegraph writer a "gentleman" while I accused him of being on drugs. Of course, I hang my head in shame to think that I neglected to include Bob Marley. Thanks for that corrective Eric. He writes:

I don’t think that a decade of music can be distilled down to 10 songs. I think that it’s also possible that from a qualitative perspective, the 10 best songs were written by two or three people. So, I think the best that can be done with a list such as this is to come up with songs of artists that you consider the great songwriters of the decade and that hopefully point to trends in the music of the decade.

With that said, here’s my response to your list and the list of the other gentleman:

Fleetwood Mac had a long presence in the 70s, but I don’t think that they were exceptional songwriters. Good ones, yes; extraordinary, no. I wouldn’t include them in this list. The BeeGees are also central to the decade and are also the only “disco-ish” band that were actual songwriters. The BeeGees are not great songwriters but they did have some killer 45s in the decade, and disco needs to be represented in some way. I’d take “Nights on Broadway” over “You Should be Dancing.” I think the California, singer-songwriter scene is under-represented in both lists. How about Jackson Browne’s “The Pretender” or “Before the Deluge”? I agree that Elton should be there. Indeed, I think there could be two tracks of his because he is so central to the decade. “Levon” could be one of them although I’m a bigger fan of “Tiny Dancer.” But Elton’s rockier side could also be represented. Either “Saturday Nights Alright for Fighting” or “Bitch is Back” would do. The Who, definitely. “Won’t get Fooled Again” is a good choice but I might go with “Naked Eye” or “Love Reign Over me” just to be less conventional.“Born to Run,” yes. I love “Midnight Train to Georgia”. Perhaps something from the Philadelphia soul scene could also work on this line. “Love Train”? Paul Simon did great work in the 70s. “Still Crazy After all These Years” is, in my view, an extraordinary song. You’ve got to have some Neil Young. All the songs from the early 70s are excellent but I might go with “Needle and the Damage Done” because it speaks to what was going on at the time. Dylan can’t be ignored. He wrote some powerhouse songs between 73 and 75. It’s a toss up: “Dirge,” “Idiot Wind,” “You’re a Big Girl Now,” or “Hurricane.” The punk aesthetic needs to be there, for sure. I don’t think any of Joe Jackson’s work of the 70s deserves to be included. In my view, “Night and Day” is his first great album. So I’d go with Elvis Costello, “Watching the Detectives,” Patti Smith “Because the Night,” or the Clash “London Calling” (the Clash would be my preferred choice). Few artists have had a stronger run than Stevie Wonder between “Talking Book” and “Songs in the Key of Life.” Almost any song will do but I’d go with one of :”Superstitious,” “Living for the City,” “Higher Ground,” “Sir Duke.” Bob Marley was also essential to the 70s. One of: “Is this Love,” “I Shot the Sheriff,” “Exodus.” Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On” (May 1971) has really stood the test of time. Although Gaye wasn’t an essential artist of the 70s, this LP is one of the great releases of the decade.

So that’s the core 10-12 songs. But there are other artists who were less essential to the decade but who did great work that was important to me. Here are some of them: Linda Rhonstadt’s versions of “It don’t Matter Anymore” or “Blue Bayou,” George Harrison: “Give me Love,” “Crackerbox Palace,” or “Blow Away” Joni Mitchell: “Help Me” or “Free man in Paris,” John Lennon: “#9 Dream,” or “Mind Games” Joan Armatrading: “Love and Affection,” “Show Some Emotion,” or “You Rope you tie me,” Van Morrison: the “Moondance” LP came out in February 1970. Every song on the first side is a gem, Al Stewart: I really loved the whole “Year of the Cat” LP. The song “Time Passages” from the follow up LP is also wonderful, Warren Zevon: “Poor Poor Pitiful Me” or “Excitable Boy” Electric Light Orchestra: “Can’t get it out of my Head” or “Fire on High,” David Bowie: I can’t see “Heroes” as one of the best songs of the decade or even of his catalogue. I’d go with any of the following: the first side of “Hunky Dory,” side 2 of “Ziggy Stardust,” “1984,” or “Young Americans,” Billie Joel: “My Life,” “Just the Way you Are,” “Honesty.”

The 70s were also famous for the long song. You know, the ones that were the last song played at dances in grade 7. My personal favorites were “Funeral for a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding” by Sir Elton John and “Paradise by the Dashboard Light” (Meatloaf).

And one more, my all-time favourite, fast-slow-fast-you-can-never-dance-to-it long song "Evie" by Aussie Stevie Wright.

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