Where were you in 1979? I was halfway through my glorious high school years (cough, cough), living in Appleton, Wisconsin. But not all year. For half the summer I was someplace else entirely - Guatemala City. My high school had a Guatemalan exchange program and each year a bunch of kids from Guatemala would come to lovely Appleton, while in the summer a bunch of us would go to Guatemala. I haven't written much about that experience here, but at some point I will. Put it this way -- with the Somoza government falling in nearby Nicaragua, it was a very interesting time to be in Guatemala.
But this series is about music and 1979 was very much a year of transition. Disco fever started to break that year and the symbolic event that signaled that disco had finally jumped the shark took place on a hot Friday evening on the South Side of Chicago. At 35th and Shields, to be precise. There, in between games of a doubleheader against the Tigers, the White Sox allowed a Chicago disc jockey named Steve Dahl to undertake a "Disco Demolition" night. Dahl blew up a bunch of disco records on the field and, hard as it is to believe, a certain cohort of drunken Sox fans essentially took over the field and tore it to shreds. Somehow, disco was never quite the same after that.
But when we look back at the music of 1979, disco was still pretty big. Donna Summer was all over the radio, as was our first contestant. It was easy to miss it at the time, but there were some awfully good musicians playing disco music. Two of the best were Nile Rogers and Bernard Edwards, the masterminds behind Chic. This 1979 smash was perhaps their biggest hit and certainly has one of the most frequently ripped-off bass lines in music history. It's our new state of mind, because these are the
The dudes at Comiskey didn't agree, of course. And so the time was ripe for something new. Thing was, there were a lot of things competing for new at the time. One thing was Europop. It wasn't disco, but you could theoretically dance to it. And a lot of it looks and sounds dated now. But here's one that I remember well from that year. I couldn't decide if I liked this song or not at the time and I guess I'm still not sure. But it's pure 1979. As M reminds us, whether you are in New York London Paris or Munich, everybody talk about
I got back to the States in the middle of July, about a week after the fun at Comiskey. And the song that was exploding all over the radio was from a Michigan band that was being marketed as a sort of new wave Beatles. They weren't anywhere close to that, of course, and they were resented quite a lot in certain quarters for this marketing. In fact, while they had a few singles after this initial splash, they are remembered today for this song only. But it was a lot of fun and it was definitely the single of the summer in '79. Here they are, from a performance on Japanese television. It's the Knack, with:
I remember thinking a lot about music in 1979. Like most teenage boys, I had no use for disco and was glad to see it going away. I was hardly a musical sophisticate at the time. I owned Styx albums. But the experience away from Appleton gave me an idea that there was more out there than the endless rotation of Styx, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Jethro Tull and Bob Seger that was on the local radio stations. I was ready for something new, but I wondered what was coming next. Pop Musik and My Sharona were fun enough, but they weren't what I was looking for. I had heard about the new wave, but didn't know much about it. But some of the cooler kids had a few ideas. One band I learned about late that year was a bunch of refugees from the Rhode Island School of Design. They would become huge in the years to come, but in 1979 they weren't quite there yet. But I heard this song in the fall of 1979 and liked it a lot. What's not to like about a song with a line like: "this ain't no party, this ain't no disco, this ain't no foolin' around?" It's Talking Heads, discussing
But it was at the very end of 1979 that I heard the album that changed everything, at least for me. I'd only heard of the Clash once, in a news report talking about unrest in England. The film showed three guys bouncing around on a stage and that was about all I knew. But the record they released would become an eternal classic. I've owned it in one form or another ever since. And while the breadth of songs and the incredible ambition of the record remain something that I marvel at, it's still the chiming opening chords of the title track that get your attention. It was the Clash, with the title track from:
Place your votes and, if you feel like it, share where you were in 1979. And yes, I realize that a few of my readers were holding rattles at the time.