There are many years that can qualify as the greatest years in music ever. I like 1978 for a lot of reasons. It was 2 years from the official start of punk and many of the original UK and West Coast bands were on their second studio albums. Punk was no longer exclusive to the streets, it was becoming polished. Saturday Night Fever was in theaters announcing the mainstream acceptance of disco. Studio 54 was in the middle of its 70s bacchanalian heydey. In 1978, David Bowie was on his Isolar II World Tour and was no longer The Thin White Duke. TV shows like Dallas, The Incredible Hulk, Battlestar Galactica, and Taxi were just getting started. The world was changing big time and the 80s were just around the corner. MTV was still three years in the future. In a matter of two years, punk had changed the world, but by 1978, the Sex Pistols were dead. It was now time for something else.
What you see a lot of in 1978 were several camps: The status quo and the trailblazers. You also had the punk bands that chose the safe route. Johnny Thunders was doing his version of Johnny Rotten. As for the Sex Pistols, their demise came in January of that year, live on stage at the Winterland Ballroom in San Fransisco. Johnny Rotten (now John Lydon) was determined to show the world he had real merit. The first Public Image Limited album is experimental, weird, and blasts through the old punk establishment with gusto. And there’s a lot of gusto happening in 1978. From Throbbing Gristle’s D.o.A: The Third and Final Report – you need to be in a special mood to listen to this – to Blondie’s chart-topping Parallel Lines. We had new music from Lou Reed – who sounded as though he was definitely (probably) on something – as well as new material from David Johannson of New York Dolls fame. Both guys didn’t feel the need to revolutionize. Their times had already come and gone and it’s not their best work. But then you had Kraftwerk and Devo and Wire using new electronic tools, making noise, making music out of noise – paving the way for New Wave which would officially launch just about a year later. 1978 is also (what I like to call) California Punk Year One. Around this time, bands like The Misfits, Black Flag, X, Germs, Agent Orange, Social Distortion, The Dead Kennedys, and The Go-Gos, were playing gigs and laying down demos. Most of these bands wouldn’t have official releases until between 1979 and 1982, but they were out there.
1978 is a fascinating year alright. Alternative as we know it really takes off, but it was still uncharted territory. It has this Wild West feeling to it. Bands were out there making shit up as they went along. They took the lessons punk laid out, followed the rules, broke them, and put them back together making something entirely new. 1978 was the “what now?” year. Punk was dead, but there was still good music ahead.
In the spirit of 1978’s massive contribution to music, I’ve created a cultivated playlist of the best of Alternative and Punk music from that year. I have hand selected the best songs from the best albums. Enjoy.