State of the art
By Robert Goldberg
The Daily Princetonian — Wednesday, January 24, 1979
It’s January of 1979, which makes it five years until 1984, twenty-one years until 2000, and just about time to do a wrap-up of last year. Actually, this column has little to do with art — it’s mostly about rock and roll. If you’re more interested in the arts at Princeton, you can skip down to the end. If you’re not interested in the arts at all, you’re reading the wrong page.
1978 was the year that saw the crowning of two trends that had been on the rise for at least three or four years previously — punk rock and disco. As my friends are fond of saying, the former is words without music, and the latter is music without words. Those are decent definitions, except I’m not sure that some guy screaming “I wanna be a dead boy” or “you make me cream in my jeans” qualify as lyrics, and I’m not sure that ten minutes of incessant bomp-bomp-bomp qualifies as music. So there we are: the songs of our era have no music, and no lyrics. I think we’re in trouble.
This year will be no different. Punk is just starting to get big. Major record companies only began getting in on the act in thee past two years, and now they’re going to start pushing their new punk acts hard. Disco is already a proven seller, and the old music industry adage is “whatever works once, keep on doing it until it does.” With Saturday Night Fever selling beyond everybody’s wildest dreams, it looks like disco is here to stay. Moreover, even Broadway is going disco, acccording to the New York Times. That paper reported plans for three new disco musicals for the upcoming season, including a disco-bibical number, where God plays the DJ, who “delivers the truth from the booth.”
But for all the bad news, 1978 had its share of bright spots. Several major groups and artists scored big successes. Among these were the Rolling Stones, with Some Girls, the Who, with Who Are You?, Billy Joel, with 52nd Street, and Bruce Springsteen, with Darkness on the Edge of Town.
Even more encouraging was the rise of several new acts, for these are the hope of the future. I have chosen seven groups, by no means an exhaustive list, but one that is representive of the best and the freshest sounds of last year. What most of these musicians seem to share is a sparseness of arrangement and a power of sound that borrows from punk, combined with an interest in melody that looks back to sixties pop, and a lyric that holds an interesting, and often twisted, seventies sensibility. Some, or maybe all, of these performers may be unfamiliar to you, but they all deserve close attention during the upcoming year.
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers came out with their second album last year, You’re Gonna Get It. Petty’s music is lean and bony, like the artist himself, but it has more than a little influence of the Byrds in it. Petty’s unnamed debut album is a classic of this nocturnal, tough rock. Petty sings with a snarl of muffled rage on “Fooled Again,” and with self-assured cockiness on “Breakdown.” For straight-ahead rock lovers, this album is a must.