Pickled Priest Mixtape: Our Favorite Songs of 1978
1978: I was so much younger then, I'm older than that now. A crucial year in Pickled Priest evolutionary history. A time to move on from childish pursuits (wholly unsuccessful) toward something more substantial (partially successful). It took a long time to reconcile the totality of such a groundbreaking year for music and it has been a total pain in the ass to arbitrarily and senselessly reduce all of it into only one single mixtape with 26 songs (13 per side, like a real BASF100 cassette). But rules are rules, so these are my selections for 1978. Only from the mind of the Pickled Priest. What would your songs be? I'd love to know.
Ranked in descending order of preference to ensure unbearable drama.
26 “One Chord Wonders” | The Adverts
Formed a band, we formed a band
Look at us, we formed a band!
-Art Brut, "Formed a Band"
The sheer joy in that Art Brut song from 2005, other than being the perfect choice for a debut single, comes from the reality that forming the band is often the only magical moment for most bands. That brief time when anything is still possible, from hit songs to world domination to backstage groupies/buffets. I am drawn to stories, be they in songs, movies, or books, where so-called normal people are about to be thrust into something beyond their wildest dreams. Crossing the Red Sea With the Adverts, one of the great debut albums of the 70s, brilliantly blasts off with "One Chord Wonders" a punk anthem that's ready for anything: I wonder how we'll answer when you say / We don't like you - go away / Come back when you've learned to play. Their response is punk attitude 101: Fuck you if you don't like us. Fuck you if we can't play our instruments. Fuck you if you don't come to our shows...We don't give a damn! And it sounds like they mean it, too—they go on to repeat that phrase over and over and over again with a convincing level of snarl. It's not a bad mindset to have at the start; play for yourselves first and sometimes the rest will take care of itself. Of course, in this case we know it did as the Adverts made some serious noise in the UK during their short time together, delivering a set of classic singles that are still revered today by punk purists. Forming a band is easy, making something of lasting value is the hard part.
25 “Bangkok” | Alex Chilton
One night in Bangkok and the world's your oyster
-Murray Head, "One Night in Bangkok"
Bangkok is a city that's been written about romantically in several rock and roll songs over the years from Rush's weed-fueled road tip "A Passage to Bangkok" to the Murray Head Top 10 hit referenced above (originally written for the 1984 musical Chess—and if anything is worse than a Broadway musical, it's a Broadway musical about playing chess!). Alex Chilton's "Bangkok," on the other hand, is a geographically confused paean to Thailand's most populous city that sounds pretty fucking cool as long as you don't work as a fact checker. Among the issues: the first verse incorrectly puts Bangkok in Indonesia and calls the city of 11-million people a "little town" (Here’s a little thing that’s gonna please ya / Just a little town down in Indonesia). Uh, not in Indonesia, Alex. Next, he references Hong Kong out of the blue, but seems to think it's in Japan (Making love the Japanese way / Learned aggressively in Hong Kong). Uh, Hong Kong not in Japan, Alex. My only guess is that he was doing this on purpose perhaps to convey the disorienting (pardon the pun) effect that a trip to the Far East can have on a novice traveler, especially if you're a touring musician hopping from city to city night after night. He does, to his credit, course correct in the second half of the song: I‘m not living on Chinese rocks / I’m in Bangkok (reference to the New York Dolls song "Chinese Rocks" appreciated) so it appears someone has set him straight. He even corrects his Indonesia problem in the final verse: Here’s a revision that’s kind of minor / It’s just a little town down in Indochina / Bangkok. It's such an odd approach to writing lyrics, and the whole two-minute length is more left field nonsense, but that's exactly what makes this weird two-minute excursion such a fun trip.
24 “Non-Alignment Pact” | Pere Ubu
At the time of this writing, Pere Ubu had just released a new album, Trouble on Big Beat Street, almost 50 years into their existence and somehow they still don't sound like any other band on the planet. If they sound original now, imagine what they sounded like when they debuted in 1975 with their bizarre first single "30 Seconds Over Tokyo," which sounds like an LSD trip in a war zone. There wasn't much precedent for their sound which is retroactively referred to by historians as "art-punk" even though the band formed before most people even knew what punk was. Now that's a band ahead of its time! I can tell you this much: When Pere Ubu released The Modern Dance in 1978 I had no awareness of their existence nor would I have understood them if I did. You don't go from Kiss to Pere Ubu in a couple moves—you just don't. Even when I picked up a couple of their then-elusive records years later, I still wasn't quite ready. But somewhere along the line, when I had sufficiently broadened my horizons and was skewing toward the wild and weird, I began to appreciate their demented genius more and more and have been a fan ever since. And this isn't a band who peaked early and faded away; they've consistently released excellent records over the decades with some of their most recent being my absolute favorites. "Non-Alignment Pact" was the first song on The Modern Dance and it initially sounds like some ham radio operator has picked up an alien transmission in the middle of the night. Then, with a little dial twiddling and antenna repositioning, the signal locks onto something vaguely recognizable as raw rock and roll from another time, with a singer who sounds like he was recorded while freaking out in a padded cell. Oddly, the lyrics are the most conventional aspect of the song, assuming you also look at your broken relationships in terms of Cold War politics. I know I do. Well, now I do.
23 “Mystery Action” | The Rezillos
Not the first and not the last B-side to make one of our year-end mixtapes, this inexplicably exiled sugar buzz wasn't ready for the band's single-packed debut, Can't Stand the Rezillos, but eventually found release on the flip of the inferior so-called A-side "Destination Venus" later that same year. If there's a band from the UK absolutely built to deliver mixtape highlights, it's the Rezillos. I originally slotted their killer cover of (early) Fleetwood Mac's ghostly "Somebody's Gonna Get Their Head Kicked In Tonight" on this tape, then I oscillated to the definitive art-school love song "(My Baby Does) Good Sculptures" next. But in the end, there's just something about the manic pop thrill that is "Mystery Action," which sounds like it could be a hyper-speed production number from The Rocky Horror Picture Show soundtrack.
22 “No Second Thoughts” | Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers
Petty saved some of his best songs for side two during his career, but he outdid himself when assembling the track listing for his emphatically titled second record, You're Gonna Get It! In retrospect, perhaps the title should've been You're Gonna Get It...On Side Two! for he could've easily front-loaded the record with instant classics "I Need to Know" and "Listen to Her Heart," but instead he opted to save them for later (just as he slotted "American Girl" last on his debut record two years earlier) and I've gotta think it was partly to spite his record label, a favorite pastime of Petty's. With full recognition that both are all-time Petty ringers, I've always been smitten with song three/side two, spare yet somehow still vivid sketch of infidelity in progress, "No Second Thoughts." Two lovers, one more hesitant than the other, finally making good on a long-contemplated fresh start once and for all. Despite the title, there are some second thoughts. With such a weighty decision, how could there not be? You can feel a combination of guilt and excitement with every Yeah yeah, ooh, yeah yeah that punctuates each verse. This is Petty at his finest, telling a complex story through a few isolated moments.
21 “Riff Raff” | AC/DC
I contend that the almighty "Riff Raff" would've been even better as an instrumental. It's all right there in the title, after all. This is a track built to stack riffs upon riffs upon riffs just like Angus piled up his beloved Marshall amps onstage. The song thrusts out of the gate like a jumbo jet on the tarmac with three distinct sets of gargantuan riffs in the first 100 seconds, with a Bon Scott vocal and some hastily assembled lyrics merely an afterthought at best (not an uncommon occurrence, of course). Oh, sweet artificial lord, please allow me play these riffs just once to a stadium sized crowd with the switch thrown at full power, that's all I ask. Oh, if you want to know what that might sound like, check out the blowtorch live version that kicks off If You Want Blood, also released in 1978. It's the definition of volume with all amps on the verge of a nuclear meltdown. If you want to talk monster riffs, don't come at me with anything less than "Riff Raff."
20 “Only You Can Rock Me” | UFO
While on the subject of supreme riffage...if you want to hear a band captured at the peak of its powers, look no further than Strangers in the Night recorded live in late-1978 during UFO's Obsession tour—for me, and many others, the definitive document of prime UFO chronicling their glorious run from 1974-1978 (Phenomenon through Obsession). It's an absolute feast of guitar solos thanks to the brilliance of genius guitarist, and insufferably pretentious schwanz, Michael Schenker. Even better, part of it was recorded in my hometown of Chicago (Lights out, Lights out in Chicago!). Unfortunately, we don't put live versions of songs on these mixtapes as a rule, but thankfully the studio take of "Only You Can Rock Me" from Obsession brings a very live-wire sound to the UFO standard. It's spotlight rock at its finest, with plenty of showcase room for a killer Schenker solo or two, even though Sir Ego left to form his own relatively unsuccessful band before the tour even ended. No matter, what's in the can is in the can, and it should be said that this band was not a one man show. "Only You Can Rock Me" benefits from a stellar vocal from Phil Mogg, one of the more under-celebrated singers in all of rock and roll, and the always reliable, always wasted, rhythm section of Pete Way and Andy Parker. UFO isn't mentioned among the great rock bands of the 70s, but they were. Make no mistake about it.
19 "One Nation Under a Groove" | Funkadelic
If 1970's "Free Your Mind and Your Ass Will Follow" was funk's Declaration of Independence, "One Nation Under a Groove" was funk's Constitution, funk's Bill of Rights, funk's Pledge of Allegiance, and funk's National Anthem all rolled into one convenient location. George Clinton was the Thomas Jefferson of funk, too, but he didn't need fancy words to get his point across; he just needed a groove so deep and wide that you couldn't get around it, under it, or over it. All that's left, then, is to get down to it. So I ask you one last time, before the Supreme Court of Funk, Do you promise to funk, the whole funk, and nothin' but the funk? If we're going to Make America Groove Again, your answer depends on it.
18 “Julie’s Been Working for the Drug Squad” | The Clash
Even the so-called "lesser" Clash albums have plenty of great songs and Give 'Em Enough Rope has its share of outright Clashics. With that said, I was tempted to go with one of two non-album singles from 1978, either "Clash City Rockers" or the beloved landmark "(White Man) In Hammersmith Palais," but I'm a sucker for the "shave and a haircut" rhythm of this album cut, so here it is. Plus, the song is about a big drug bust and all the people it put behind bars, clogging jail cells in the process. The song was based on a real drug raid in the UK called "Operation Julie," named after police Sgt. Julie Taylor, that busted over 100 people and crippled the UK's LSD market when 90% of available product was seized by the squad. Oh Julie, we thought we could trust ya.
17 “New York Groove” | Ace Frehley
The most memorable song from the four Kiss solo albums without a doubt. To this day, it’s the only cut you hear on the radio regularly. I give credit for well-chosen covers, and it takes some savvy to pluck this from all the possible options out there. How many even knew the original version from the relatively unknown British band Hello? How many of you have their 1975 album Keep Us Off the Streets in your collection? The song was written by accomplished songwriter Russ Ballard (of Argent fame, known mainly as singer of the band’s enduring AOR staple “Hold Your Head Up”*), and it's a perfect track for Ace vocally and thematically. Ace is a guy who was perpetually yearning to get back to his New York home while on the road self medicating with drugs and booze to dull the pain of homesickness. I do think having a real New Yorker singing the track, and not a British band, helps sell the song and Ace brings some authentic New York swagger to the track that's lacking in the original. I also like his “It’s New Yawk, yo” opening which adds some local street flavor. In the end, it’s the perfect addition for your “Songs About New York” mixtape (which I’ve made) and there’s no denying its unique and starling presence on Ace’s otherwise ham-fisted, cocaine and booze-fueled solo album.
*Ballard’s resume also includes “You Can Do Magic” by America, “I Know There’s Something Going On” by Frida, and better yet, one of my all-time favorite pop songs, Santana’s “Winning” from the band's Zebop! LP.
16 “Emotional Traffic” | The Rumour
One of the most underrated backing bands ever, the Rumour are best known for supporting Graham Parker during his prime years (Howlin’ Wind through The Up Escalator—quite an amazing run), but they released some pretty decent material on their own, too. They were even signed to London’s legendary Stiff Records for a cup of coffee, which around here holds major weight. There are but a few record labels we revere as highly and their aesthetic—great songs promoted with a sense of humor—is basically what we’ve always aspired to here at Pickled Priest. If only we had a slogan as good as “If it ain’t Stiff, it ain’t worth a fuck!” maybe we’d actually get somewhere with this venture. That said, for “Emotional Traffic” (released in 1978 on the album Frogs Sprouts Clogs and Krauts it has to be noted) the normally muscular pub rock band that added such tough backing to Parker’s snarling early records sounds downright new wave here, which only furthers the theory that they were either trying to fit in with their new labelmates at Stiff (Nick Lowe, Elvis Costello, Dave Edmunds, et al) or they were trying to acclimate to the times (likely a little of both). The song is one of those “Why didn’t I think of that? moments, equating routine auto traffic to our complicated and often overwhelming internal lives, each needing just the right temperament to navigate sanely. The song takes a simple yet super catchy chorus and wisely drives it for all it’s worth for the duration of the ride.
15 “Ever Fallen in Love (With Someone You Shouldn’t’ve?) | The Buzzcocks
Yet another punk song inspired by the 1955 film version of Guys and Dolls—so what else is new? Actually, this Buzzcocks classic, their most successful song ever, doesn’t present as punk to me, more power-pop really, but who cares about genre labels? It’s just a killer song whatever you call it. To close the loop, the song was inspired by a line of dialogue from the aforementioned film where one character (Miss Adelaide) warns Marlon Brando’s character (Sky Masterson) to “Wait until you fall in love with someone you shouldn’t’ve.” Pete Shelley, in classic Motown “any phrase can be a song” fashion, wrote “Ever Fallen in Love” in response, albeit 30 years later. I’m only shocked the screenwriter’s estate hasn’t sued for a portion of the songwriting royalties. It’s a great gender-unspecific love song from the pen of Shelley, who was a gay man himself, so it’s refreshingly all inclusive (and also explains the Guys and Dolls influence to a degree, not that straight folks can’t enjoy a good Broadway musical with an absolutely preposterous plot). Nonetheless, the Buzzcocks were known for taking pop songs and accelerating them just to the cliff’s edge like a roadster navigating a curvy mountain road and you need the skill of a Formula 1 driver to cram this wordy title into a chorus to which many of us can relate.
14 “Hollywood Nights” | Bob Seger & the Silver Bullet Band
Many of the songs on this list were discovered after, sometimes long after, the year 1978 ran its course. As is well-documented in previous posts, until about mid-1978 I was a lowly private in the Kiss Army, resistant to almost any other band for a two, perhaps thee, year enlistment. I don’t regret my loyalty during that formative time, but the Kiss era ended in very cold and abrupt fashion. In retrospect, I think radio was to blame. Radio became a much bigger part of my life suddenly and I was soon exposed to all kinds of great new music, from 70s AM pop (WLS) to FM classic rock (WLUP, aka “The Loop”), my horizons were quickly expanding. The days of "one-boy, one-band" were over. It didn’t happen overnight, but my Kiss obsession soon gave way primarily to two bands: The Who and Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band. The Who we’ll talk about shortly, but as luck would have it, Seger’s long road to fame and fortune finally came to fruition with his ninth album, Night Moves, from 1976, and his superstar status cemented with his 10th LP, Stranger in Town, from 1978. Now that’s perseverance! There was simply something about Seger’s songs that immediately resonated with me; perhaps because they seemed to have a down-to-Earth accessibility, something I hadn’t experienced until that point in my life. He was a “Midwestern boy on his own” to quote “Hollywood Nights,” grappling with his new fame, but seemingly still grounded by the blue-collar work ethic of a veteran road warrior. Stranger in Town hasn’t aged as well for me as some other Seger albums, but it does include “Brave Strangers,” one of his greatest recorded moments, which was a coin-flip away from being on this tape,. But there’s something about the story arc of “Hollywood Nights” that kills me every time; ambition realized, but at what personal cost? Once “Almost Famous” with eight commercially unsuccessful albums under his belt, Seger was now a bona-fide star caught in the bright lights of the big time. It’s a lot to deal with for anyone, let alone a humble, veteran rocker from Michigan. This is his story told cleverly as a conventional love (actually lust) story, but the inspiration is clear.
13 “So It Goes” | Nick Lowe
When it comes to cutting-edge pop and punk singles from the New Wave era, there’s nothing better for me than a punchy Stiff Records single. In fact, the Stiff Record Box Set, featuring four CDs of brilliant pocket-sized gems released by the label, is one of my prized possessions. It’s no surprise that there’s three tracks from that set on this mixtape alone (songs #26 and #16 being the others). And things started off brilliantly for Stiff, too. Nick Lowe’s sparkling “So It Goes” was originally released in the UK as the first-ever Stiff single (with the clever catalog number “BUY 1”) in 1976, but it wasn’t formally released on an LP until 1978’s Pure Pop for Now People (in the US) and Jesus of Cool (in the UK)—the latter being a much better title, the US has now adopted it for subsequent reissues, but you could’ve predicted that prudish American Jesus freaks would get their shorts in a bunch over the original title). Nonetheless, on an album filled with numerous pure pop creations, “So It Goes” has the effervescent innocence of an early British Invasion single with lyrics inspired by Kurt Vonnegut’s 1969 novel, Slaughterhouse Five, for added intrigue. What more could you ask for?
*If you’re a UK resident, feel free to move this to my 1976 mixtape. In most cases, I’m using album release dates in the US to determine where songs falls so I don’t have to drive myself batshit crazy researching single release dates. And adding UK vs US release dates to the mix is enough to drive a sane Priest stark raving mad. And don’t call me if something technically slips into the wrong year now and then. I’m doing the best I can with the time and budget I have available.
12 “One Way or Another” | Blondie
I haven’t looked at them all (yet), but I don’t think Debbie Harry has ever taken a bad photograph. She always seems to be the coolest and most interesting person in any shot, even when surrounded by other noteworthy celebrities. There are downsides to being the center of attention, of course, and “One Way Or Another,” written from a stalker’s point of view, is proof. This ranks with the best creepy rock songs ever written (right up there with the Police’s “Every Breath You Take” and Death Cab’s “I Will Possess Your Heart” et al). It’s a tribute to Debbie that she took a bad situation and turned in one of her most nuanced vocal performances ever from within a crunching rock song with a killer guitar riff. Listen closely to her “One Way” vocal track and you’ll hear her slip in all sorts of subtle inflections throughout. It’s a master class, really, especially coming directly after her purring #1 single “Heart of Glass.” It’s a dramatic switch in tone and it proved she was capable of almost anything. Just like your average stalker, unfortunately.
11 “Surrender” | Cheap Trick
We should all thank heaven, tonight if possible, that we have Rick Nielsen’s nerdy genius in this world. Otherwise, we wouldn’t have the classic rock outlier “Surrender” in our lives. You’ve taken this giant rock song with a massive chorus for granted, haven’t you? A song that could’ve only been hatched by the mind of an unabashedly dweebish songwriter with nobody to impress. After all, what real rock and roll star would write a song admitting how cool his parents actually are? “Surrender” is in many ways the most unlikely of classic rock songs. Let's break it down:
- The song begins with a concerned mom warning her son about STDs and the type of girls who spread them (pardon the pun)
- This typical worried-mom claim is actually confirmed by a rumor about some “Indonesian junk” going around that allegedly cost a soldier his penis during the war.
- It continues with further confirmation of mom’s credibility by none other than his own father
- Later, we find the same parents rolling joints and fucking like teenagers on the couch
- Not only are they still sexually active and smoking pot, but they’re also listening to Rick’s Kiss records while they do it!
A cursory review of these “weird” lyrics written by a bow-tied, backwards-ballcap-wearing guitarist makes you appreciate them all the more. Sure the content is atypical, but on top of that almost none of the lyrics rhyme at all either. How did he do it? Yes, a great chorus helps, but I’d argue that the verses are just as indelible as the giant chorus itself. Nothing about “Surrender” makes complete sense until you check his math and see that he shows his work. Then, miraculously, you come to the realization that it all adds up to way more than the sum of its parts.
10 “Know Your Product” | The Saints
The Australian punk version of the Stones' "(I Cant Get No) Satisfaction" with a more nasal singer and copious amounts of horns.
09 “Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love” | Van Halen
How anyone can listen to the first Van Halen album and still prefer the Sammy Hagar version of this band is beyond comprehension. Credibility lost, people, credibility lost. For the rest of us, we know what's what. There's just no lapse on the VH's debut, so go ahead and choose "Running With the Devil" or "Jamie's Cryin'" or "You Really Got Me." That's fine with me. Maybe you even like the lighter side of the album and want "Little Dreamer" or "Feel Your Live Tonight" on your mixtape. I'm still OK with it. "Ice Cream Man"? If you must. Sure it's fun, but is it really what the album is all about? "Eruption" is a go, of course, have at it. "I'm the One" and "On Fire" is pushing it, but still acceptable. "Atomic Punk"? You're damn fucking right it works. But for my money, "Ain't Talkin' 'bout Love" is Van Halen-fucking-One. The absolute zenith of David Lee's contributions to the record, just loaded with quotable lines delivered with just the right amount of cocksure swagger: I heard the news baby / All about your disease; You know you're semi-good lookin' / And on the streets again; I been to the edge / And there I stood and looked down / You know I lost a lot of friends there baby / I got no time to mess around. Everything on the whole song supports its central theme that his "love is rotten to the core." So what's he talkin' 'bout then? I think you know.
08 “Bye Bye Love” | The Cars
I love to sing along with this song in the car. Ric Ocasek's somewhat abstract lyrical approach makes every line a delight as it rolls off your tongue. Electric angel rock and roller, I hear what you're playin' or You think you're so illustrious, you call yourself intense or, of course, Substitution, mass confusion, clouds inside your head. These are all things nobody would say otherwise and certainly not with the perfectly syncopated cadence found here. Add in a great chorus that downshifts the mood for a moment right before the big payoff and I cannot get enough of it. It's been my favorite Cars song since 1978 with no wavering. Augment with killer guitar from Elliott Easton and a perfect Benjamin Orr vocal and we have a pop masterpiece on our hands.
07 “Werewolves of London” | Warren Zevon
Warren Zevon's near-perfect second presents a major song choice dilemma. When faced with picking a representative song, the tendency for some is to steer away from the obvious choice. "Werewolves of London," Zevon's most known song by a mile, doesn't need more support from me or anyone. Terrestrial radio has long since made up its mind that this is what we are allowed to hear from Excitable Boy. So choosing "Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner" or "Lawyers, Guns, and Money," two classic adventure tales, makes logical sense. Nobody wrote songs like these; it takes an abby-normal mind to come up with concepts so utterly original. The brilliant title track also qualifies, but wasn't chosen because in it a girl is raped, killed, dug up from her grave, and made into a bone cage by her deranged (aka excitable) assailant. We're picky that way. And, if it weren't so damn heartbreaking, we could've gone with "Accidentally Like a Martyr," one of the best, most conventional, and undeniably beautiful songs in the whole Zevon canon. But, with all this said, you will still find the ubiquitous "Werevolves" as my choice. Unimaginative, I know. Could it be as simple as the piano hook and my love of singing along with pitter-patter lyrics like "Little old lady got mutilated late last night'? Yup.
06 “Who Are You” | The Who
As mentioned in the Bob Seger entry earlier, the Who were one of two bands responsible for changing my musical trajectory for the better and for all time. Who's Next was my altar when I was younger. The title was said with reverence among my friends. It simply has no comparison. Who Are You didn't hold as lofty a status, but it was close. It was apparent at an early age that nobody was writing songs like Pete Townshend. Not before, not during, not after. Re-listen to "Who Are You" and marvel at its complexity, the level of innovation, the instrumental prowess, the lyrics, the vocal, the audacity, the power, the glory, forever and ever, amen. Could someone write a new song like this nowadays? I seriously doubt it.
Sidebar: It is duly noted that the previous two songs both reference "Soho" in their lyrics. The Who with the UK version, Zevon with the NY version. Who knew?
05 “Some Girls” | The Rolling Stones
It's no coincidence the release of Some Girls in 1978 happened simultaneously with the disbanding of the Rolling Stones HR department. There was really no purpose to keeping up any illusion of corporate decorum and propriety after Mick checked in with "Black girls just want to get fucked all night / I just don't have that much jam" on the album's infamous title track. And Keith didn't help matters when he basically said, "Well, that's been our experience." All this didn't go over well in some circles to say the least. Even worse, the lyric before that one was, "White girls they're pretty funny / Sometimes they drive me mad." Is that really the best trait Mick could come up with for white girls? It's a valid question: Why do black girls get such a targeted line and nobody else gets anything close? Bottom line: You couldn't get these lyrics past even the most incompetent HR rep these days. It just wouldn't be tolerated. Especially considering the band has a track record that includes feminist favorite "Under My Thumb" and racial lightning rod "Brown Sugar." Jeez Louise!
So we're left with a conundrum. What do we do with a great rock song, and this is without a doubt a great rock song, that also contains some highly dubious moments? Do we just chalk it up to rock stars being rock stars? Do we rationalize it by defending Mick as having a proven history of appreciation for black culture and black women? Or do we cancel the song in its entirety for violations of common decency and racial stereotyping? Both arguments have some validity in our modern world. While I tagree that a reasonable person should've known better, even in the 70s, and edited the line from the song, I also believe in artistic freedom. If we strike this from the historical record, where do we stop? I find I can be aware of its issues and still love the song for what it is: rock and roll decadence defined, warts and all.
04 “Because the Night” | Patti Smith
03 “Candy’s Room” | Bruce Springsteen
Springsteen gets two spots on this list, first with Patti Smith's version of his epic "Because the Night," then with "Candy's Room," one of many riveting moments from Darkness on the Edge of Town (now 45 years old!) that could've made this mixtape. One song passionately believes the night belongs to lovers in the purest sense (Bruce's original lyrics were revised by Patti as she waited for future husband Fred "Sonic" Smith to come back home), the other presents a different kind of night, one with a rotating cast of "lovers," each believing they are more than just a transaction to the titular Candy. Like many great songs, there is room in the blank spaces to create your own version of the narratives. Depending on your take, you could even argue that both songs are saying basically the same thing in different ways. Springsteen called "Because the Night" "another love song" so he clearly knew his intention for it and Patti followed suit. But "Candy's Room" is a love song in its own unique way, too. At least the narrator thinks so. There's a common bond at play here, and it's that the night belongs to lovers, but it also belongs to lust.
02 “Time for Me to Fly” | REO Speedwagon
In what world, you ask, does REO Speedwagon jump the line ahead of thirteen different Rock and Roll Hall of Famers? I make no apologies for my love of REO Speedwagon's declaration of relationship independence, the soaring, liberating, lung-busting, eye-opening, bad-love-leaving "Time for Me to Fly." The second the acoustic opening starts, I gear myself up for immediate transcendence, that moment where I get to hitch my voice to a shooting star and ride its gigantic, rousing, soul-freeing chorus (the 1:56 mark to be specific) into the stratosphere. Visceral reactions like that just can't be explained with words—they just happen organically. I love the song despite the fact I've never actually been in the exact same situation. But one thing I think we can all relate to is leaving a bad situation of any kind. So maybe for you it's a one-sided relationship; for others, a crummy job, maybe, or possibly a stressful situation of unknown origin. At the very least, even if the lyrics don't apply to you directly (yet), you can still sing "Time for my to fly! / Oh, I've got to set myself free!" and feel good about yourself for a few short minutes. I guarantee you need this feeling more than you know. You'll feel better afterwards. I always do.
01 “Thunder Island” | Jay Ferguson
Summer fling don't mean a thing
But, uh oh, those summer nights
- Danny and Sandy, "Summer Nights" (from Grease)
In my book, this may be the all-time greatest "song of summer." We didn't officially award that title in the 70s, but if we did Jay Ferguson's ultimate one-hit wonder, "Thunder Island," would've been a no-brainer choice in 1978. This song was written and produced to sound fabulous on even the worst car stereos, the cheapest hand-held AM radios, and on those corroded loud speakers at the municipal swimming pool. And does it ever sound amazing in those settings. It sounds epic on a full home stereo system, too. Give it a try—it's glorious. Prepare to be elevated and energized by the song's infectious, wordless chorus. Who needs words in the summertime anyway? You just need something simple to sing along with on the way to the beach. It's an added bonus that this is a good old-fashioned summer fling song. A June to August romance set on the fictional Thunder Island, where love is in the air and so is a summer storm, the perfect moment to double-down on your romantic overtures. Of course, like all summer flings, it ends almost as soon as it began, a lingering memory that you'll never forget.
Postscript: There's been some speculation as to where Thunder Island is, or if fictional, what it was inspired by, but so far all I've found is that it appears to be a made up name perhaps based on the film Thunder Island from 1963. If Springsteen could name his greatest song after the movie Thunder Road from 1958, why not Jay Ferguson? Actually, Jay is a little more accomplished than I've let on. While he had a solo one-hit wonder with "Thunder Island" he was also the lead singer and one of the main songwriters for the band Spirit in the late-60s/early-70s, including singing lead on "I Got a Line On You," their biggest song. He also had his own band for a while called Jo Jo Gunne and also played and sang on a lot of other artist's records along the way, including some of Joe Walsh's solo albums. Walsh returned the favor by playing guitar on "Thunder Island." A nice piece of music nerd trivia, but not as good as the fact that later in life Jay began to compose for TV and movies as well, including the main theme for the US version of The Office. But, let's face it, nothing will ever beat "Thunder Island," at least here at the Pickled Priest office!
Holy shit, we almost teared up there. We've gotta stop doing this. But we won't. Until we land in another year...