Hong Kong Tatler - - Contents -

Ja­son Mag­nus re­flects on the mu­sic of 1977—the year David Bowie re­leased He­roes, punk rock be­came main­stream and dance mu­sic joined the fray

Ifirst heard Sheena Is A Punk Rocker by the Ra­mones in 1992. I was in Pa­cific Place, in my fi­nal year at Chi­nese In­ter­na­tional School, then off to Eton Col­lege that sum­mer. In short, the tra­jec­tory of a tra­di­tional “safety first” Hong Kong ado­les­cence: mall roam­ing coun­ter­vail­ing de­pend­able school­ing. The Ra­mones re­buffed all of this be­cause their “punk” was a wholly re­bel­lious con­cept. Sheena, for ex­am­ple, was no longer the comic book Jun­gle Queen; she was re­born a sonic rene­gade and cut through my safety net.

In 1977, pop mu­sic lost its safety net. The Ra­mones re­leased Sheena while, across the At­lantic, the de­buts of the Clash and the Sex Pis­tols marked the ex­plo­sion of mu­sic’s most bel­liger­ent genre: punk. Then, Elvis Pres­ley died. All bets were off. Punk’s pro­to­type nerd, Elvis Costello, stole his hero’s name and punk bands in­fil­trated the main­stream, showing lit­tle re­gard for the mu­sic that pre­ceded them.

The decade’s punk move­ment in­flu­enced many, in­clud­ing U2, who loved the Clash, and Kurt Cobain in­sisted that Nir­vana was a punk rock band first and fore­most. It’s also im­pos­si­ble to lis­ten to REM or Lon­don Call­ing with­out ref­er­enc­ing Wire’s Pink Flag.

The spirit of this rau­cous sound, garage bands play­ing with reck­less aban­don, in­spired new sub gen­res. In 1977, three New York bands came to the fore with ground­break­ing de­buts. Tele­vi­sion re­leased an alt-punk mas­ter­piece, Mar­quee Moon, with Tom Ver­laine’s as­cend­ing gui­tar solo in the ti­tle track a par­tic­u­larly daz­zling mo­ment. Talk­ing Heads was art rock, its blend of Mo­town, Caribbean rhythms and off-kil­ter pop sil­hou­et­ting new wave. Sui­cide was a ca­cophonous mix of punk and syn­th­pop that shifted seam­lessly across bleak and grace­ful land­scapes. If you want to make your blood run cold, lis­ten to Frankie Teardrop for a jour­ney into hell’s op­u­lence, while Keep Your Dreams will lift you to the heav­ens on the wings

of angels. Sui­cide failed com­mer­cially, no doubt the pub­lic re­pelled by the band’s un­invit­ing name.

Dance mu­sic—al­most the op­po­site of punk, which has to be smooth jazz—also had its year zero in 1977. Donna Sum­mer and Gior­gio Moroder’s synth-driven I Feel Love brought disco to the main­stream. And by the end of the year, Satur­day Night Fever filled up ev­ery dance­floor and be­came the best-sell­ing sound­track of its time.

The year’s big­gest al­bum, how­ever, show­cased nei­ther punk nor disco. In­stead, Fleet­wood Mac’s Ru­mours was a pop-rock record that shel­tered a tor­mented soul. “I know I could have loved you, but you would not let me”—its most heart­break­ing track, Sil­ver Springs, didn’t even make the fi­nal cut. Ru­mours was a phe­nom­e­non that pro­duced hit af­ter hit and is proof that, ul­ti­mately, the devil is in the melodies.

Icons that cor­us­cated dur­ing this stel­lar year in­cluded David Bowie, who com­pleted his Ber­lin tril­ogy, and Neil Young, with his blis­ter­ingly beau­ti­ful re­flec­tions on love at first sight in Like A Hur­ri­cane. Leonard Co­hen took an artis­tic mis­step work­ing with Phil Spec­tor, though his Death Of A Ladies Man con­tains some of his best ma­te­rial if you can get past the over­dub­bing. Reg­gae hit a high point with Bob Mar­ley’s Ex­o­dus, and Steely Dan re­leased their jaz­zrock clas­sic Aja, my favourite al­bum of the year, which in­cludes Dea­con Blues, prob­a­bly the coolest song ever writ­ten about a mid-life cri­sis.

The mu­sic of 1977 has a stay­ing power that pre­cludes it from ever ex­pe­ri­enc­ing ir­rel­e­vance. To­day, disco’s syn­the­siz­ers reign over elec­tronic mu­sic’s huge land­scape, al­though I hope EDM dies a quick and in­con­se­quen­tial death. Punk is preva­lent in any mod­ern-day gui­tar rock and, 40 years af­ter its re­lease, Ru­mours is still a sta­ple on ra­dio sta­tions across the world.

In 2007, my dream came true when Marky Ra­mone played Sheena Is A Punk Rocker at my mu­sic fes­ti­val in Bei­jing. It was the Ra­mones song I wanted to hear more than any other. Live in China and in front of 20,000 peo­ple, it was the big­gest punk rock con­cert the coun­try had ever seen. Marky later asked me why I called the event Bei­jing Pop Fes­ti­val. Re­bel­lious con­cepts aside, I ex­plained that “safety first” meant no overt dis­sem­i­na­tion of “punk,” and that “pop” did not mean giv­ing in to main­land cen­sors. I told him my goal was laid out in the open­ing lines of Ste­vie Won­der’s 1977 hit Sir Duke: “Mu­sic is a world within it­self / With a lan­guage we all un­der­stand.” Marky Ra­mone, ever the punk rocker, told me he didn’t lis­ten to Ste­vie Won­der.

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