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The Top Ten Oldies of 1977

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This list of the Top 10 songs from 1977 was compiled by me, your Oldies Guide at About.com, taking into account a number of factors -- chart positions, sales figures from time of release to the present day, critical standing, and historical importance. Only 45 rpm singles that hit the pop Top 40 in 1977 are eligible; artists are only allowed one entry per year in order to give a more balanced view of the cultural landscape. (Click on "compare prices" to find the song on CD, hear a clip of the song, and buy it if you like!)

1. The Eagles, "Hotel California"

source: ebay.com

Asylum 45386 (February 26, 1977) b/w "Pretty Maids All In A Row"
recorded March 1976, Miami, FL

How did this gentle, reggae-inflected Mexicali folk song from the world's most laid-back country rockers become a classic rock staple? Well, its length didn't hurt. But then, "Lyin' Eyes" is only nine seconds shorter, and it's not an anthem. No, this song became a standard because of its clever duality: for people who think, it's a wicked jab at the Southern California lifestyle, particularly what happened when the hippies of the area all became millionaire coke fiends. For those who feel, it's a wicked little horror story. And for everyone else, it's an instantly epic chord sequence and an awesome, neverending harmonic guitar solo.

2. Queen, "We WIll Rock You / We Are The Champions"

source: ebay.com

Elektra 45441 (October 7, 1977)
recorded August 1977, London, England

Queen had already invented arena-rock with "Tie Your Mother Down" and helped perfect the power ballad with "Somebody To Love," but here, as on "Bohemian Rhapsody," they combined the two approaches, a crushing, comquering stomp that leads to an emotional victory lap of sorts. "Bohemian Rhapsody" remains their greatest moment, but it doesn't let you rub your enemy's face in the dirt and then get all flamboyant about the price you paid in order to do it. Some critics back in the day thought this proved rock had gotten fascist. But who doesn't have rivals?

3. KC and the Sunshine Band, "I'm Your Boogie Man / Keep It Comin' Love"

source: ebay.com

TK 1022 (January 24, 1977)
recorded August 1976, Miami, FL

The year's other great AM medley -- two separate singles that were only linked on the album -- is rarely heard as such these days, and that's a real shame, because KC and company's expert Latin funk -- only sometimes masquerading as disco -- captures both sides of the experience in one shot. First, they encourage you to get hot and dirty on the dance floor, shake your whatever, and all that, with all the winking sexuality that implies. Then, the song opens up like a flower to reveal the romantic, ballroom tendencies of the style, all while using the same instrumentation. If you've ever had an amorous enocunter that turned into something more, you know what they mean.

4. The Bee Gees, "How Deep Is Your Love"

source: ebay.com

RSO 882 (October 1977) b/w "Can't Keep A Good Man Down"
recorded April 1977,
Hérouville, France

Disco's best-ever ballad, a trip through the ether that comes across, much like 10cc's "I'm Not In Love," as one long sigh. (Minus any irony.) The Brothers Gibb had been working up to this their whole career, beginning as tender chamber-music romantics and keeping that ethic even as they went R&B; what's remarkable is how only this particular BG ballad builds to a falsetto climax, suggesting that all those years of fidelity were finally paying off. And it ends on a vocal loop that, like romance, feels as if it should last forever. "'Cause we're living in a world of fools..."

5. Electric Light Orchestra, "Livin' Thing"

source: ebay.com

United Artists/Jet UA XW888-Y (October 29, 1976) b/w "Ma-Ma-Ma Belle"
recorded July 1976,
Munich, Germany

Even in the prog-rock Seventies, ELO had to be the only band that had to write in spaces for the violin player to have a solo. And yet, even though Jeff Lynne's pastiche of adpoted styles contanstly threatens to turn into pure cheese -- as usual -- this gypsy flamenco not only gets over on its own fat hooks, the weird sincerity of Lynne's performance makes it positively and ridiculously moving. Also as usual. EVerything you nned to know about ELO is summed up here and in "Mr. Blue Sky."  

6. The Brothers Johnson, "Strawberry Letter 23"

source: ebay.com

A&M 1949-S (May 1977) b/w "Dancin' and Prancin'"
recorded January 1977,
Los Angeles, CA

Shuggie Otis (son of Johnny) was on the verge of becoming a breakout soul star in the early Seventies; he had Sly's vision and chops enough to sit in with Zappa. But he turned down the offer to have Quincy Jones make him a star. Instead, Q got together with the Brothers Johnson a few years later to give listeners a taste of what that might have sounded like: this later-period psych-soul classic was smoothed out and given heavy inflections of funk and jazz (courtesy of Lee Ritenour's solo). And if the smooth groove sounds familiar, it should: most of the folks involved here went on to help craft Michael Jackson's Thriller album.

7. Stevie Wonder, "Sir Duke"

source: ebay.com

Tamla 54281 (March 1977) b/w "He's Misstra Know-It-All"
recorded December 1975,
Hollywood, CA

Having begun Songs In The Key Of Life's rule of the airwaves the year previous with "I Wish," Stevie turned his focus from his childhood to his musical inspirations with this, the legendary album's other AM ambassador. It doesn't sound much like the swing-era icons Wonder goes on about, but with an instant earworm of a chorus (this is the "you can feel it all over" song) and a breakdown featuring a stunningly complex fusion of bass and brass, it doesn't have to. Makes you forgive some of Wonder's usual syntactical oddities, like this doozy: "Music knows it is and always will be one of the things that life just won't quit."

8. Daryl Hall and John Oates, "Rich Girl"

source: ebay.com

RCA PB-10860 (January 22, 1977) b/w "London, Luck, and Love"
recorded April 1976,
Los Angeles, CA

Deftly treading the line between lite guitar rock and full-blown Philly Soul heaven, Hall and Oates' '77 smash is definitely sexist in its depiction of a love interest who can't see past daddy's (or her sugar daddy's) money -- fact is, Hall wrote it about a male friend of his, but he knew radio wouldn't want a song about that. Still, that opening can't help but suck you in, and like any good Philly soulster, Daryl makes sure to get at the spirtiual side of the equation: She'll "never be strong" until she becomes self-sufficient.

9. ABBA, "Dancing Queen"

source: ebay.com

Atlantic 45-3372 (November 12, 1976) b/w "That's Me"
recorded August 1975, Stockholm, Sweden

Odd, isn't it, how one of America's favorite disco songs was made by Europeans and isn't really disco at all. But it struck the cultural note, if not the musical one, dead on anyway, offering faceless women the same chance to be a star for a night that Tony Manero offered faceless men everywhere in Saturday Night Fever. The Europop frothiness of the production, complete with Liberace-style piano glissandos and anonymous falsetto chorales, only drives the point home. And it does have a beat. Just not exactly the right one.

10. The Steve Miller Band, "Jet Airliner"

source: ebay.com

Capitol 4424 (April 1977) b/w "Babes In The Wood"
recorded August 1976, San Francisco, CA

Paul Pena's original version of this classic-rock perennial was a blues, which becomes obvious when you actually sit down and take a good hard look at the lyrics. But Miller's blues were always about "ridin' high," metaphorically, spirtiually, musically, or pharmacuetically, which is why he and Peter Frampton were the feel-good kings of late-Seventies FM radio. Picking up the pace and turning a stinging lead into a pop hook, Steve recasts the lament as an expression of freedom -- he may be going through hell to get to heaven, but he sounds like he knows it's worth it. 

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