The 1960s may have burst budding pop culture into bloom, but when the swashbuckling counterculture movement fell on its arse, the ‘70s followed it up in a great music dirge to that loss of innocence. In the last outing of ‘Unlucky for Some’, we traversed the depths of the start of the best decade in music and now we’re taking a look at the overlooked gems that followed in its final swansong.
Unprecedented innovation in sound saw music, in all of its rich and varied genres, transform over the course of the ‘70s. What started with iconic bands like The Doors and unheralded new acts like Funkadelic hitting their stripes, ended with equal fanfare but in an entirely different way.
Punk was very much the genre in vogue at the back end of the ‘70s. The music over the course of the decade had been so good that now just about everyone was picking up a guitar and giving it a bash and punk was the natural manifestation of the movement.
The big albums may have been may well have been London Calling by The Clash, Unknown Pleasures by Joy Division and Michael Jackson’s Off The Wall, but there was a plethora of hidden gems swimming under the glimmering surface of the ‘70s last hurrah. We’re taking a look at 13 of the songs that either time, fortune or circumstance has failed, and we’re offering them a second chance in the form of a stellar playlist if I do say so myself.
Dive into the hidden depths of the dirge, below.
The 13 unlucky gems from 1979:
13. ‘The Sound of The Suburbs’ by The Members
‘The Sound of The Suburbs’ peaked at a relatively high number 12 in the UK singles charts, but failed to make an impression in the States and has since somewhat faded into obscurity.
The Members propagated a particularly melodic style of punk, for all the snarling verses in this song the chorus is akin to something that Nick Lowe might have produced in his Jesus of Cool days. The track is a fine example of all of the best elements of punk – the wit, attitude and energy – but it is wrapped in a very rhythmic hook. It is clear that The Members are punks that can play a bit too. ‘Sound of The Suburbs’ is a little youth culture ditty.
12. ‘Do the Du (Casse)’ by A Certain Ratio
A Certain Ratio had a huge influence over the ensuing Manchester post-punk scene that followed the end of the ‘70s and they are all too often unheralded for it. Their unique production style is now ubiquitous and rightly so.
The band are named after a line from Brian Eno’s ‘The True Wheel’ and it is clear that they have a similar enthusiasm for sonic engineering. This song blasts out of the blocks with a rhythm section that yearns to be sampled and thereafter layers a groove and chanted vocal take that creates one hell of an embalming atmosphere. The track is innovative but never gets ahead of itself and remains gloriously simple throughout.
11. ‘Mind Your Own Business’ by Delta 5
A band with two bassists, one guitarist and nothing else is the perfect example of the rough and ready happening scene of the time. It was hip to be rogue and Delta 5 perfectly embodied that. The band consisted of an all-female line-up of Julz Sale, Ros Allen and Bethan Peters who were an integral part of a contingent of art instigators, along with Gang of Four and Mekons that emerged from the Leeds funk-punk socialist scene.
‘Mind Your Own Business’ is a pounding piece of low-end groove brilliance. The bass rumbles around to a high-hat tapping drum loop whilst the band members chant unsynchronised layered verse over the top. The song is a deadpan take on feminist sarcasm, “Can I have a taste of your ice cream,” they robotically yell like an incantation, “No, mind your own business,” comes the answer.
10. ‘Time Goes By So Slow’ by The Distractions
There are certain songs that just seem to fail inexplicably, ‘Time Goes By So Slow’ is certainly one of them. The song currently lingers in the doldrums of Spotify with only 16,699 plays and it’s hard to understand why.
There is precious little information available about The Distractions online. The song is gorgeously catchy and whilst production might be a bit sketchy, surely that was simply the sound of the era. The only explanation I can offer for its lack of attention since release is that the singer was too competent for his typically snarling scene. This song is one of Manchester punks best and should be forgotten no longer.
9. ‘Damaged Goods’ by Gang of Four
Undoubtedly one of the better-known tracks on the list but considering the monumental impact that Gang of Four had on the British music scene, right up to the present day, in fact, the track perhaps isn’t well known enough. Their influence on bands, for the most part, has not been quite as well regarded outside of the music industry.
‘Damaged Good’ is an iconic song of the era. Perfectly produced and constructed the song exhibits funk-punk at its finest. The instrumentation might sound disparate in some ways, but it is tied together by an overarching melody provided by Jon King’s near spoken-word vocal take. Brian Eno said this about The Velvet Underground, “They didn’t sell many records but everyone who bought one went out and started a band,” in some ways the same could be said about Gang of Four in Britain.
8. ‘Number One Song In Heaven’ by Sparks
“They don’t really look like a band,” British talk show host Jonathan Ross declares, “They just look like people who’ve been let out for the day.” The Sparks brothers are perhaps the weirdest duo in pop and when they teamed up with the ‘Godfather of Disco’ Giorgio Moroder they took their theatrical synth sounds to new levels.
The song is a fantastic toe-tapping journey into some of the campest synth music there is. The charm that pulls you through the mayhem is the witty lyricism of the songwriter and Hitler lookalike Ron Mael.
7. ‘Duchess’ by The Stranglers
Although The Stranglers are one of the biggest bands from the period, their 1979 record The Raven is often unfairly maligned. The album may not have been their best of the era, but it still had some tracks that other bands would have killed for.
‘Duchess’ is a catchy piece of brilliance built around Hugh Cornwall’s brilliant knack of crafting a catchy chorus. The song is another example of the excellent musicianship that set them apart from the rest of the punk scene. The success of this single was sadly hindered by the fact that the BBC banned the video as they deemed it blasphemous for showing the band dressed as choirboys – how times change!
6. ‘Hammond Song’ by The Roches
The Roches consist of three sisters, Maggie, Terre and Suzy. Their style is instantly notable with exultant vocal harmonies that somehow seem nakedly soul-bearing over such simple melodies.
In 1979 they produced an album with Robert Fripp (King Crimson and David Bowie etc.) and his perfectly melodic chord progression and resonantly delicate strumming offer the perfect platform for the soulful sisters to soar over. The track may be jarringly unusual in its three-part inflexion of pitches but it is stirringly emotional and a gladdening summer accompaniment.
5. ‘Why Can’t I Touch It’ by Buzzcocks
Another of the better-known tracks on the list, but the few folks who haven’t heard it before are in for a treat. There is an argument to be made that ‘Why Can’t I Touch It’ is the grooviest punk song of all time, making it just about as easily palatable as the gritty genre gets.
The track follows the traditional punk stylings of a particularly prominent and rhythmically driving bass, but Buzzcocks layer this brilliantly into a full ensemble of exuberant sound. The track captures the youthful energy of punk, but with a lot more joy and sanguine overtones than the usual disdainful growl that can prove to be oversaturated amongst less original imitators.
4. ‘Up The Junction’ by Squeeze
There is a place in any era for great storytelling and that’s what Squeeze provide with this classic from their iconic Cool For Cats record. Once again, the track may well be one of the better-known songs on this list but its place is warranted because as far as narrative songs go it is one of the greatest of all time and until it is widely held in that regard it can always be considered underrated.
Chris Difford’s Clapham Junction fairy tale gone awry encapsulates a work class story in the folksong style of old. He pens it, however, without cynicism or disdain and offers a semblance of hope via the contrastingly upbeat melody. It is a timeless classic that often doesn’t draw the plaudits it deserves because quite frankly Johnny Clash would be happy to sing this one.
3. ‘If I Could Only Fly’ by Blaze Foley
Sometimes the backstory and the song coalesce in such a way that both elements are imbued with an emboldened sense of poignancy. This is exactly the case with ‘If I Could Only Fly’ and the work of Blaze Foley in general. He was dubbed ‘The Duct Tape Messiah’ for the patchwork strappings that held his boots together and this urban cowboy’s legend is one that seems to have been weaved by some mystic figure of fate that meddles in the misfortune of folks forebearers.
The song is pure heartbreak hotel material. There is a raw, yet wistful pain to Blaze’s voice that synergizes perfectly with the melody. It is a deeply sad song, but somehow it offers comfort too, and the lyrics at play are simply fantastic. Legendary songwriters like John Prine have admired his brilliance but few outside the Outlaw scene have heard his work.
2. ‘Outdoor Miner’ by W.I.R.E
As has become patently apparent from this list, the music scene of 1979 was being heavily encroached upon by an explosion of British post-punk bands. Written by Colin Newman and Graham Lewis, ‘Outdoor Miner’ appears on the second album of eternally prolific but not always consistent genre-spanning band W.I.R.E.
The very notion of a track about an insect, or more specifically a Serpentine Leaf Miner, tells you a lot of what you need to know about the band. There is a distinct intellectualism behind the lyricism, but it is the swelling euphoria of the sanguine melody that passes the odd impetus off as post-punk poppy perfection. The song feels like an ‘80s indie movie if that’s not too much of a mad thing to say, complete with a glossy-eyed notion of green fields and youthful adventure.
1. ‘Baby’ by Donnie & Joe Emerson
The music industry is an area fraught with so many circumstantial pitfalls that some track, no matter how brilliant they may be, never stand a chance. Donnie and Joe Emerson grew up in Fruitland, Washington, a place with a population of 751. You could just about fit the entire town on the same flight, thus when it comes to gathering up the necessary organic hype to make a wider impact the brothers were heavily handicapped from the get-go. When ‘Baby’ was released and didn’t gather up much traction the boys simply had to jump back on the tractor and get back to work.
The song plays off this notion of small-town pop escapism perfectly. It couldn’t possibly be further away from the idea of a tireless working day. Certain songs act as the perfect summer’s day accompaniment, but other’s pipe summer directly into your ears. ‘Baby’ schmoozes up to you in a sultry fashion, breaks out the sun, whisks up a sweet breeze and pops an ice-cold beer in your palm. It is the sort of Valium-laden track that could subdue a riot and turn it into an orgy of spaced-out harmony, beautiful and brilliantly opulent. This track was the perfect way to herald in the ‘80s and it was sadly failed by fate, until now.