As 1979, the year I turned 13, began I tried to fast-track myself to serious popfanship. The previous year I had started to investigate the pop music of the past. I had read up about the rock ‘n’ roll of the 1950s in a fanzine, and I had been particularly taken with the 1960s. The Box Tops’ “The Letter”, released ten years earlier and therefore in another lifetime altogether, was a particular favourite. For Christmas I asked for and received the three essential Beatles double album compilations: 1962-66, 1967-70 and Love Songs.
And in 1978 I had dabbled in punk. Now I flirted with the other side. I listened to Al Stewart, whose music I still like but who didn’t really aim for 13-year-olds. I pompously expounded on the “brilliance” of Barclay James Harvest’s XII album, which I neither understood nor actually liked. It is, indeed, quite awful. I soon became sick of the pretense. That didn’t stop me, however, from getting Supertramp’s Breakfast in America album later in the year.
By the time my birthday in April arrived, I had reverted to eclectic record-buying. LPs by Status Quo and Queen, and singles by artists as diverse as Thin Lizzy, Hot Chocolate, Billy Joel and the disco outfit The Richie Family. With that in hand, Barclay James Harvest and their prog-rock noodling was soon passé.
I was not immune to questionable musical choices. I would hesitate to describe ownership of Olivia Newton-John’s Totally Hot LP or Suzi Quatro’s Smokie-produced If You Knew Suzi… album as evidence of musical sophistication. Still, I knew the real horrors of 1979, the songs which are forgotten by the nostalgia that recalls the year as a highwater mark in pop — which, of course, it was..
Much of the charts were infected by some of the worst music ever made. There were some post-disco horrors around in Europe: Snoopy, Luv and Luisa Fernandez (couldn’t sing, couldn’t dance) were among the most talent-free offenders, and the Vader Abraham Smurfs song cannot be redeemed even by the most indulgent childhood nostalgia (Holland, you nearly fucked up 1979!).
But I reserved my most virulent bile for two particular songs which, with hindsight, I acknowledge to be quite brilliant. First there was Patrick Hernandez “Born To Be Alive”, which blighted every German school disco (where I lived, it was “danced” to by jumping with legs closed from one side to another, if possible with the beat). The song still evokes the taste of cheap cola and peanut twirls, and the anxiety of relating to girls who suddenly had become romantic notions.
The other musical nemesis was Cliff Richard’s “We Don’t Talk Anymore”. It’s a very good song, but it was ubiquitous in the summer of 1979. Besides, I had taken a dislike to Cliff Richard before I ever knowingly heard a note he sang. I was not going to surrender my antipathy to that song.
Cliff scored my unhappy summer of 1979, on which I was sent on a church youth camp, as I had been two years before. In 1977 the camp group had been great. I had fallen “in love”, we had great outings and fantastic leaders. In 1979 the group was populated by creeps, and I didn’t like any of the girls other than those older than I was, and therefore unattainable. On top of that, the camp leaders ignored my complaint of theft, the sort of commandment-violation one might think would require some sort of reaction in a church-run jam. I never went again.
Things picked up in autumn. And what an autumn it was — indeed, the stretch from autumn 1979 to early summer 1980 produced a fantastic run of singles purchases. It started with The Knack’s “My Sharona”, the cover of which, I must confess, excited my hormones the way the girls in my age cohort on summer camp didn’t (I liked the song, too. Still do). There were some new kind of sounds. Gary Numan’s Tubeway Army, with the synth sound that seemed more musical to me than the robotic Kraftwerk, set the scene for the New Romantics which would arrive within a year and a bit. “Video Killed The Radio Star” sounded very unusual too.
But my favourite act of 1979 was the Boomtown Rats. I had liked them before, of course, but “I Don’t Like Mondays” was a few cuts above “She’s So Modern” or “Like Clockwork”. I loved their The Fine Art Of Surfacing LP. It has not really stood the test of time, but I’ll stand by the trio of singles — “Mondays”, “Diamond Smiles”, “Someone’s Looking At You” — and closing track “When the Night Comes” .
And as 1979 ended, I started to get into AC/DC — just in time for Bon Scott’s death in February 1980.
For those who really need to know, songs with a green asterisk I owned in 1979 on Single, red on LP (track 7 on a compilation album), blue on tape.
1. Status Quo – Accident Prone **
2. Thin Lizzy – Rosalie (live) *
3. Hot Chocolate – I’ll Put You Together Again *
4. Patrick Hernandez – Born To Be Alive
5. Ritchie Family – American Generation *
6. Billy Joel – My Life *
7. Gerard Kenny – New York, New York *
8. Elton John – Return To Paradise *
9. George Harrison – Blow Away *
10. Art Garfunkel – Bright Eyes *
11. Clout – Save Me *
12. Amii Stewart – Knock On Wood *
13. The Knack – My Sharona *
14. Tubeway Army – Are ‘Friends’ Electric *
15. Electric Light Orchestra – Don’t Bring Me Down *
16. B.A. Robertson – Bang Bang *
17. The Buggles – Video Killed the Radio Star *
18. Thom Pace – Maybe *
19. Boomtown Rats – Diamond Smiles *