‘Cars’ by Gary Numan (see vid box to the right)
Gary Numan represented an interesting cultural shift. Gone were the guitars and the laddish, gurning energy of punk. Instead, this was the dawn of futurism, heralding an era of pudgy blokes in makeup and eyeliner, trying to look serious, with the volume on their synths turned to 11.
‘What A Fool Believes’ by The Doobie Brothers
This song seemed to be on the radio every couple of minutes and after the hundredth hearing became a little bit annoying. They weren’t really called Doobie and I don’t think they were brothers. Nice keyboards, though.
‘Mull of Kintyre’ by Wings
You can just imagine Paul putting this forward as a possible song on Abbey Road and John screaming and threatening to burn the studio down. This song kind of explains why everyone thought, post-Beatles, that John was the clever arty one and Paul was the shallow commercial one (a view that would be shaken when John’s ‘Starting Over’ came out in 1980). ‘Mull of Kintyre’ was only bad because it was number 1 for so long. As a minor album track it would have been a lovely little ballad, though they should have ditched the bagpipes. And this video is nice and artless – look, Linda has just come out of the house and gone “I wonder what Paul is up to” then she’s started singing, not realising that they are being filmed.
‘Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick’ by Ian Drury and the Blockheads
This is one of the truly quintessential 1979 tracks on this list. For a short while in the middle of the year the Blockheads were huge. The song was great as a geography primer for third years.
‘Lucky Number’ by Lene Lovich
I used to think that Lene Lovich was taking the mickey out of Bryan Ferry with her funny vocals. The song remains memorable for that “Err oohh eee ooh” bit. And she was a definite sartorial influence on millions of female university undergraduates.
‘When You’re In Love With A Beautiful Woman’ by Dr Hook
These chaps really do seem like a crowd of drunken woodwork teachers messing about at a Christmas party but they spent several lifetimes at number one with this.
‘He’s the Greatest Dancer’ – Sister Sledge
Like a lot of acts at this time, Sister Sledge were sexy in a very ordinary looking girl at the supermarket sort of way, but the lead singer had a really good husky whiskey-drinkers voice. This was a big favourite with the girls at discos and would usually come on early in the evening to get things jumping. The simple dance routine here would be copied by most of them. The odd lass even wore those spray-on trousers – this usually caused a semi riot. Me and my mates would sometimes dance to ‘He’s the Greatest Dancer’, but only in an ironic way. What I mean is, we pretended to dance badly even though we only ever danced badly. Or something like that.
‘Just What I Needed’ by The Cars
The Cars’ songs were good because they were simple enough for cack-handed beginners to play on a guitar. Another good thing about this band was that they brought their singles out on bonkersly detailed picture discs. This was the highpoint of their creativity, when they overlapped a bit with new wave sounds and people like me felt able to buy their records without angering the punk spirits.
‘Heart of Glass’ by Blondie
The winds of change were gusting out there somewhere and were manifest in this disco song. That Blondie had gone from slightly punky power pop to brittle glam dancefloor grooves was slightly worrying but the song was pretty good, at least in the verses when she sings the high notes. The clip has been disabled on this site because its the official video – however, it’s worth seeing it on Youtube as a flavour of the time.
‘Milk and Alcohol’ by Dr Feelgood
I got this when it came out on a white vinyl 7 inch. Although I was by now trying to operate a new wave only policy, and could guess from the vocals that these lads were like the old geezers who’d scowl at you in the pub if you went in with your mum and dad for a coke, this was worth the money just for the opening few bars of guitar then the drum off-rhythm roll before the vocals came in. So many guitar pop tunes of the time were like that. They put most of their energy into the intros.
‘Gangsters’ by The Specials AKA
I first heard this while on holiday in the Lake District, late at night, listening to John Peel on my little radio. It was as if the song was being beamed over from a decade or so earlier. And Terry Hall’s voice was an alien sound. This ‘new’ music was a little scary. Where were the fuzz guitars? But in no time at all I was doing a strange jerky dance around the bedroom.
‘Is She Really Going Out With Him’ by Joe Jackson
To some people, 1979 means balding blokes with punk/mullett hairstyles doing new wavish impersonations of Steve Harley with songs that for decades to come will become part of the repertoire of buskers everywhere.
‘Since You’ve Been Gone’ by Rainbow
A strange one, this. On the plus side it had the bloke who created the ‘Smoke on the Water riff’. Going against was the fact that the singer hadn’t got long hair and therefore didn’t fit neatly into the genre stereotype. With the opening power chords, you could tell that Richie Blackmore was trying to create another seminal rock riff that the world would remember forever, but he tried to cram too many chords into a short space and it just wasn’t rocky enough. Even ‘Rainbow’ wasn’t quite right. It wasn’t a very hard rock name. Rainbow was a kids’ TV programme with talking puppets called Zippy, Bungle and George.
‘Mirrors’ by Sally Oldfield
“She’s Mike Oldfield’s sister you know,” said a very knowledgeable mate of mine after we’d seen Sally Oldfield on Top of the Pops. We are mirrors in the sun. And we brightly shine. We are singing. And dancing. In. Perfect. Time. … etc etc… And the fire of a newborn moment is shining round you Kiele aloha. Didn’t Kiele Aloha play in midfield for Everton in the 1990s?
‘Hold the Line’ by Toto
More snappy keyboard intros followed by a by-numbers AOR track. Not evil in itself – it’s sort of earwormy – but to the 14 year-old me it was representative of much of the American pot-bellied big moustache big hair big drums big guitar big keyboards anthemic 30 something twaddle that seemed inexplicably popular in this country at the dawn of Thatcherism. This wasn’t even Toto’s worst song – ‘Africa’ beating it by some distance.