Whilst the best individual year in music is debatable when it comes to the best decade, it’s surely the 1970s, without a doubt. It saw the best years of David Bowie, the birth of punk, disco went inferno, Jimi Hendrix hit the guitar equivalent of splitting the atom, Joni Mitchell made everybody cry and lo-fi production died a death. With music booming and a host of genres vying for limited space on the radio waves, it was easy for gems to slip right through the cracks. Even the now-iconic Ramones debut only shifted 6,000 in its first year of release.
In an era where records were limited to 24 minutes per side and double albums were often too expensive to produce, some of these tracks never even made it onto albums, while others couldn’t quite take the punches of the big hits of the day, and some just seem too self-effacing to dip into the fondue of the era’s mainstream. This has left a slew of classics dotted about in record stores reduced bins and generally just gathering dust.
In 1977 in particular, the decade had reached an interesting pinnacle where there seemed to be a need for something new. The two genres jostling to get into the mainstream were punk and disco/funk. Both had considerable hits to their name by the start of ‘77 with The Clash landing a scene-changing debut and Donna Summer dropping the eternal namesake anthem ‘I Feel Love’ and Bill Withers following in with a song simply everybody loves, ‘Lovely Day’. Elsewhere, David Bowie, Iggy Pop and Talking Heads were applying refreshing splashes of cold water to the face of music with some deeply original hits. And sadly, music mourned the loss of Elvis Presley.
Below, we’re finally giving the perennial bridesmaids of that glowing year in music a chance to be the bride, with the 13 most underrated songs from 1977. Furthermore, they’re all wrapped up in a playlist at the bottom of the piece.
13 of the most underrated songs from 1977:
13. ‘Couldn’t Get Right’ by Climax Blues Band
A name like Climax Blues Band comes with a certain attitude, the track ‘Couldn’t Get It Right’ is the gilded embodiment of that attitude. It swaggers with blues style like a Smurf after a makeover. Groovy bass, cowbell throughout and one hell of a hooky chorus, what more could you want?
The song is now perhaps best known for the Fun Lovin’ Criminals version, but back in the day, the Stafford-based UK blues band scored a fairly big hit with this sleazy classic. The rise of punk may have stopped their glossy tones in their tracks thereafter, but for a while, this track was rightfully booming. (It was released in 1976 in the UK but didn’t receive a global release until February 1977).
12. ‘Belle’ by Al Green
Al Green is undoubtedly one of the greatest singers of all time. If his pipes were any smoother, then a gastroscopy of the soul star could double up as a Calgon commercial. He might be successful, but when he could sing Morrissey’s autobiography allowed and have you bobbing your head then perhaps he hasn’t had the success he warrants.
‘Belle’ saw the balladeer enter full confession mode. The record from which it was taken may well be a masterpiece, but it was attached to the troublesome legacy of controversy surrounding the singer’s private life and the born-again connotation of the lyrics, as such, the lighter than air but heavier than helium hit never got a fair crack.
11. ‘Seabird’ by Alessi Brothers
Certain tracks just seem to have some unplaceable quality to them that predestines them for a more fitting rebirth. The idea that the subtle layered ‘Seabird’ was once underrated imbues it with something fittingly spiritual.
The track was released as a single in 1977 it charted at 96 in Australia and didn’t get a look-in anywhere else in the world. The brothers may have had a hit with ‘Oh, Lori’ later that year but the brilliance of its predecessor proves that sometimes you eat the bear and sometimes the bear eats you.
10. ‘I Dig You’ by Demis Roussos
Only about four years separate Demis Roussos crafting biblical prog rock masterpieces with Vangelis in Aphrodite’s Child and becoming the hairiest man on roller-skates at the discotheque. The disparate nature of the two anthems is a sure-fire sign of a man with his finger firmly on the pulse of music.
‘I Dig You’ is transportive, in every which way. It not only rockets you back to an era of open-necked shirts and crushed velvet, but it also transports you to a dancefloor no matter where you are. 405 views for a tune this hip-snaking is simply ridiculous.
9. ‘Three Girl Rhumba’ by Wire
Wire represented everything that was good about punk at its best. In under a minute and a half, they crafted one of the most influential riffs of the era.
They were fiercely experimental which in some ways precluded widespread success as you simply never really knew what you were going to get from them, but for the most part, their innovation was always grounded by enough melodic wizardry to coax fans into new realms. This track from their debut is a calling card for their style and not many songs have ever achieved such influence in such a short space of time.
8. ‘Do Anything You Wanna Do’ by Eddie & The Hot Rods
‘Do Anything You Wanna Do’ is a song that embodies working class vitriol. However, if you shut your ears off to the lyrics, you discover that beneath the blood guts and vitriol, there’s a reverie of melody that seems to capture the in-house nostalgia of memories not yet made, that sepia-toned sanguine feeling, that seemingly abides through youth until those wistful daydreams never matched, crystalise as the real thing in the lines around the eyes of adulthood.
Although it is ostensibly a political song about the thankless grind of working-class life, the mantra seems to perfectly encapsulate the moral of Alan Sillitoe novel, Saturday Night & Sunday Morning, portrays perfectly the blueprint the Hot Rods were working from: “All I’m out for is a good time – all the rest is propaganda. I’m me and nobody else; and whatever people think or say I am, that’s what I’m not because they don’t know a bloody thing about me. Ay, by God, It’s a hard life if you don’t weaken, if you don’t stop the bastard government from grinding your face in the muck.”
7. ‘Whole Wide World’ by Wreckless Eric
Anyone who works the island nation of Tahiti into a pop song is worthy of receiving credit. Wreckless Eric took the dower notion of loneliness and pining and turned it into a groovy headbanging bop.
Wreckless Eric actually wrote the song three years prior to recording it while he was at university. As he told Mojo, “I was trying to avoid this girl I was going out with. I went to the university bar because I never went there, had a drink, then I sat on a bench on the Cottingham Road and wrote most of the words to the song on the back of an envelope.”
6. ‘Chinese Rocks’ by Johnny Thunders & The Heartbreakers
‘Chinese Rocks’ encapsulates the incendiary attack on decency that punk represented. It is quite openly about scoring drugs, inspired by Lou Reed’s track ‘Heroin’. It might not seem like the most judicious way of tackling the subject, but in a way that helps capture the opiate epidemic in New York at the time in a more purified light.
From the epic chanted chorus, to the rolling drum fills, it is certainly a song that can’t be ignored. In the most punk way possible it snarls itself to ascendancy and tears banality asunder as it does so.
5. ‘Short People’ by Randy Newman
‘Short People’ may well be Randy’s biggest hit, but it still represents a level of brilliance that hasn’t been celebrated enough. And in quintessential Newman-Esque fashion, it’s a hit he’d rather have traded in.
‘Short People’ is a vicious, perfectly poppy, tirade against damn stinking short people sung from the perspective of “a maniac”. The only issue is that upon its release, many people thought it was sung from the perspective of Randy Newman, who for some reason had become the first songwriter or perhaps simply human, to develop a prejudice against his shorter fellow man. He was labelled as some sort of heightist bigot, rallying a revolutionary cabal against vertically challenged citizens, and as such received death threats presumably from less than burly six-footers.
For a time, he would bravely play his shows hiding as much of himself as he could behind the microphone, fearing a little bullet from a little gun, whilst touting rhetoric that the song actually highlights the absurdities of prejudice. In reality, the piece is just a very funny track about a crazy person, and it bounded along on enough of a jolly bouncing melody to break through into the mainstream for once.
4. ‘Venus’ by Television
It is a sin that so few people have listened to the wonder of Television’s debut LP Marquee Moon. The titular single may have drawn plaudits and punters, but it would seem that simply not enough people hung around to see what else it had to offer. Tracks like ‘Venus’ can be heard echoed in the work of The Strokes and legions of other indie bands who followed.
The track is a jangling guitar masterpiece that could shake up a sloth from slumber. It rattles around on a symphonic melody that seems almost fragile as though the band are harnessing something that could crack at any moment. All in all, it a truly singular track that remains ahead of its time to this day, from an album that changed music.
3. ‘Could Heaven Ever Be Like This’ by Idris Muhammad
‘Could Heaven Ever Be Like This’ is a near-nine-minute odyssey that remains hot enough to fry an egg on throughout. The anthem pulls together jazz, funk and disco with so much artistic talent that it seems any sound that Muhammad and his bandmates thought up was only an instant away from materialising.
The track may have received a sample inspired rebirth of late, thanks to the likes of Jamie xx and Nas, but sadly upon release reviews were inexplicably lukewarm. Whatever mystic factor kept it from reaching its rightful celestial heights originally have since well and truly eroded, leaving behind a symphonic masterpiece of pure musical elation, fuelled by the rarefied combination of incredible talent, soul-oozing sincerity and a keen eye for a groove.
2. ‘Willow’ by Joan Armatrading
The fatuous field of love songs is crowded with cliches, but Joan sings of a love (or perhaps infatuation) so deep-seated that she’s willing to forgo her own desires to even make her man happy with another woman if that’s what it takes, proving that the phrase ‘I only want what’s best for you’, can, in fact, sometimes be genuine. The pastures of the soul-pop love ballad are bountiful but can bear such samey fruit, Willow stands aside from the welter of vapid platitudes as an act of total originality, making it all the more heartfelt.
Nick Cave is a man who knows a thing or two about songwriting and he says it’s all about counterpoint, “Putting disparate images beside each other and seeing what way the sparks fly.” Joan is in agreement and you’d struggle to find a more exacting moment of counterpoint in song than when she bears her vulnerability as a strength and cries out ‘I’m strong’ with just enough power to sustain the delicate but soaring note.
Willow was never released as a single, the album Show Some Emotion reached number six in the UK album charts and 52 in the US, but it soon slipped off the shelves and nothing released from it broke the top 10 anywhere. It’s hardly the immediate pop hit that warranted a barnstorm but its bittersweet beauty is something to cherish.
1. ‘Going Back to My Roots’ by Lamont Dozier
I don’t say this lightly at all, but as far as hip snaking songs go ‘Going Back to My Roots’, even gives Donna Summer’s ‘I Feel Love’ a run for its money. It may be better known than a few other songs on this list, but for that aforementioned hip-snaking assertion it will never be well known enough. You listen to this walking down a busy street and it will have you snapping off double finger pistols and pirouettes like Peter Parkers infamous Spider-man 3 evil dance scene or Alan Partridge at his cringey best.
The ’70s saw an increase in working hours, thus disco flourished as the weekend tonic. This track captures the Friday night feel and then some, guaranteeing it as a tonic for just about anything dower, not just as a cathartic release from the daily grind. Tragically Dozier’s Spotify only receives 50,000 monthly listens – I think it’s time to ‘recharge our collective souls’.