Welcome to The 50, a Rhapsody scheme in which we attempt to compile the biggest, best, most historically remarkable songs of every year. Our list of 50 tracks -- presented here in no particular order, ideally flowing like a time-traveling DJ set -- has been argued over and (grudgingly) agreed upon by our full editorial staff. Please enjoy.
You'd be forgiven if, when you think about music in 1977, you only think about two kinds: disco and rock. The two genres not only dominated every possible forum (the charts! radio! television!) in the late 1970s, they were already starting to be pitted against each other as complete opposites (and mortal enemies). Rock of all varieties certainly still had a steady stranglehold on American pop culture: Chart-toppers in '77 include boogie rockers like Ram Jam, hard rockers like Heart, metal-tinged power rockers like Queen, country-tinged rockers like the Eagles, angsty hipster rockers like Elvis Costello, a mountain of AOR (from Kansas to Fleetwood Mac to Styx) and Jimmy Buffett -- and that's without even getting into the art/punk end of the spectrum (which we'll return to in a minute).
But disco was certainly on the rise -- enough to feel like a threat to rock. After all, this was the year that ended with the theatrical release of Saturday Night Fever. Along the way, the likes of Donna Summer, Chic, Thelma Houston, ABBA, The Emotions and Heatwave were regularly setting the dancefloor on fire. They were joined in that endeavor by both funkier colleagues (Parliament, The Brothers Johnson, Stevie Wonder) and soulful smooth-talkers (The Isley Brothers, Marvin Gaye).
Often drawing together the two seemingly disparate worlds (which were, of course, never all that disparate) were the art rockers: weirdos like David Bowie and Grace Jones who had a stiletto in both rock and dance music, and punks like Television and Talking Heads who weren't afraid of a beat you could dance to. Of course, straight-up punk itself was still throbbing in the hands of seminal bands like The Clash, Buzzcocks and even The Police (whose punk-leaning debut single, "Fallout," dropped in '77). But even punk was often only a hop, skip and a clothespin away from pop, thanks to bands like The Ramones and The Sex Pistols, who served up anarchy with a good beat.
And of course, there was a lot more happening beyond disco and rock (of all varieties). Country splintered into a spectrum of distinctive styles and was repped by artists ranging from honky-tonking outlaws like Waylon to pop queens like Dolly, twangy duetters like Conway & Loretta and The Kendalls to crossover acts like Loretta's sister Crystal Gayle, Linda Rondstadt and Jimmy Buffett. Jazz was having its own crossover moment with Keith Jarrett's "Bop-Be," while Bob Marley was hopping all kinds of cultural boundaries with the wide-ranging appeal of reggae. Salsa was still going strong (often crossing over into disco terrain), while world pop scenes like Brazil's often overlapped with funk. And, of course, there was more than enough pop cheese to go around, whether it was coming from grandma-friendly chanteuses like Debby Boone, teen dreams like Shaun Cassidy or thoughtful folk-poppers like Rita Coolidge. Enjoy the hits from the year this writer was born!