The Hits of 1978: Disco's Heights, and Fluff Rock

But some great albums too!

In 1978 for the first time in history cars imported from Japan sold more than US made cars, as the energy and gasoline crunch continued. The first cell phone system was initiated by Illinois Bell - but you wouldn't want to put one in your pocket. The debut of Space Invaders launched an arcade video game craze that would continue for several years. Saturation of the American market with television is almost complete - 98% of homes have at least one. The first bulletin board system for personal computers was launched, another early trend. Aerosol sprays that damage the ozone are banned in Sweden. On the tropical island of Guyana, Jim Jones, the charismatic evangelist, persuaded 400 of his followers to drink poison-laced kool-aid, and they died together.
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What happened in 1978's music?
For the rock and roll lover and historian, it was a very lackluster year. For the disco and soft-pop lover, it was a banner year. The Bee Gees and their younger brother Andy dominated the top 10, while everyone from the Rolling Stones to Rod Stewart jumped on the dance music bandwagon. It was a sad year for rock as well, with the death of Keith Moon, the popular and iconic drummer for the Who, and Nancy Spungen, the heroin-addicted girlfriend of Sex Pistol Sid Vicious. It was the last straw for the Pistols who did their last gig in January, and the final Who album with Moon playing drums, Who Are You.
Soft Rock Rules
A perusal of the top 100 songs for the entire year from beginning to end results in a frightening conclusion - real rock seems to have disappeared. At number 16 is the first entry that could be considered anywhere close to rock and roll, and that's a stretch - Miss You by the Rolling Stones is an attempt at disco but it carries a rock punch, at least. Then it's all the way down to number 24 (It's a Heartache, by Bonnie Tyler) and 25 (We Are the Champions, by Queen) until anything else with a backbeat shows up. It's simply amazing that in one year we had the heights of disco, the soft pop of Barry Manilow, Billy Joel, and even Wings, and the best stab at rock besides Queen was Foreigner.
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Disco Gets Greasy
Saturday Night Fever carried over from last year of course, and all of the music stayed in the hits list all year long. Andy Gibb, younger Bee Gee brother, had hits as well, along with all the other disco stars like Donna Summer, Chic, and the Ohio Players. The surprise hits from the movie Grease duplicated the success of Saturday Night, taking the dance music trend back to the 50s in a weird time warp. The smash hit title song was a return to the charts by Frankie Valli, and then there was the strange specter of John Travolta singing out through every radio in the land.
More Big Ones
While the soft pop and disco hits ruled the charts, there were signs of life bubbling down under in the subcultures of New Wave, punk, and pub rock. Classic albums were released in 1978 that have become legends and in the best-of lists everywhere. Bruce Springsteen finally got out from under his former manager's thumb and put out the masterpiece Darkness on the Edge of Town. The Rolling Stones hit the rock and roll nail on the head again after a series of disappointing releases with Some Girls, the dance-hall hit of Miss You notwithstanding. Excitable Boy was Warren Zevon's high point, and only his second record. Bob Dylan released Streetlegal, and toured with a big group while rearranging his hits in an almost deliberate attempt at reinvention, while dressing a lot like Neil Diamond. The Clash's Give 'Em Enough Rope, Elvis Costello's This Year's Model, and Devo's debut all were solid works of musical art. Rock and roll is a survivor, but it was a tough year to live through.


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