The Year in Rock: 1978
Although released in late 1977, the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack would be impossible to ignore for much of 1978, with the Bee Gees’ “Night Fever” and “Stayin’ Alive,” as well as Yvonne Elliman’s “If I Can’t Have You,” all reaching #1. At several points during the first half of ’78, the soundtrack album was selling over 1 million units a week.
On the country music side, Kenny Rogers released his career-defining album, The Gambler, which has gone on to sell over 35 million copies.
Cheap Trick release their third album, Heaven Tonight, which, while only managing a #48 chart showing, is notable for containing the studio version of “Surrender” (itself peaking at #62) and becoming the first album for the band to be certified Gold.
Gerry Rafferty releases the album City to City, which has the distinction of knocking Saturday Night Fever out of the #1 spot in July. The album is best remembered for containing Rafferty’s smash hit, “Baker Street,” which hit #2 in the U.S. and #3 in the UK.
Van Halen release their self-titled debut album and, in a matter of weeks, reshape the way a generation of guitarists approach their instrument. Tracks like “Running With The Devil,” “Jamie’s Cryin’,” and “ain’t Talkin’ Bout Love” received heavy AOR radio airplay, but the band’s cover of the Kinks’ “You Really Got Me,” would actually break the Top 40, peaking at #36. The album has sold approximately fifteen million copies to date.
Although released the previous year in the UK, Elvis Costello’s debut effort, My Aim Is True, is released in the U.S. to widespread critical acclaim and a peak chart position of #32. In hindsight, it reads like a virtual greatest hits, featuring some of Costello’s best work: “Welcome to the Working Week,” “Alison,” “(The Angels Wanna Wear My) Red Shoes,” “Less Than Zero,” and “Watching the Detectives” (which was not included on the UK version of the album).
The Patti Smith Group release Easter and enjoy top-20 success not only on the Top 200 Albums chart, but on the pop single charts as well with the Smith-Springsteen composition “Because the Night.”
The Buzzcocks release their debut album, Another Music in a Different Kitchen, featuring such notable post-punk anthems as “Orgasm Addict,” “What Do I Get?,” and “Oh Shit.”
Television release their second album, Adventure, which debuts at #7 on the UK charts, but fails to chart in the U.S. Tensions within the band would lead to their breakup by year’s end.
Carly Simon releases Boys in the Trees, her fifth consecutive top-ten album, which features the top-ten single “You Belong to Me” as well as “Devoted to You,” a duet with then-husband James Taylor that reaches #36.
Boston’s Cars release their self-titled debut album. “Just What I Needed” and “My Best Friend’s Girl” become Top 40 hits for the band, propelling the album into the top 20. The album has sold almost ten million copies in the U.S. to date.
Journey release their fourth studio album, Infinity. It is most notable for being new singer Steve Perry’s recorded debut with the group and for becoming their first commercially successful release. While neither of the three singles (“Anytime,” “Lights,” and “Wheel in the Sky”) would dent the Top 40, AOR radio play and solid touring would take the album to a peak position of #21.
Elvis Costello & the Attractions release This Year’s Model only two months after the U.S. release of My Aim Is True. The album would hit #30 on the U.S. albums chart, propelled by such underground favorites as “Radio Radio” and “Pump It Up.”
Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers release their second album, You’re Gonna Get It, and enjoy their first taste of Top 40 success. Despite no obvious hit single — although it did include standout tracks “I Need to Know” and “Listen to Her Heart” — the album peaks at #23 on the Top 200 albums chart.
Bruce Springsteen releases Darkness on the Edge of Town, his long-awaited follow-up to the multiplatinum Born to Run. Most notably, this album failed to generate a full-blown hit single, although “Prove It All Night” did manage a #40 position. Springsteen’s desire to maintain conceptual continuity throughout led him to scrap recordings of “Fire” (later a hit for the Pointer Sisters) and “Because the Night” (a top-20 hit for Patti Smith) during the sessions.
The Rolling Stones release Some Girls, an album that would hit #1 and become their best-selling album in the U.S. to that point. It features the notable singles “Miss You” (which marked a quite intentional foray into disco territory and would go to #1), “Beast of Burden” (#8), and “Shattered” (#31).
Devo release their Brian Eno-produced debut effort, Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo. While far from a commercial success, the album is critically adored and highly influential. It is perhaps best-known for including the band’s idiosyncratic reworking of the Rolling Stones’ “Satisfaction.”
Talking Heads release their second album, More Songs About Buildings and Food, which is also produced by Brian Eno (who, by now, was at work on the debut album by the B-52’s). Unlike their debut album, this hits the Top 40, as does the single “Take Me to the River.”
Boston release their second album, Don’t Look Back. Whereas their debut had reached #3 and sold over ten million copies, the follow-up would peak at #4 and, though it would sell over four million copies in its first month of release, go on to sell only half as many copies as the band’s debut effort.
Steve Martin releases A Wild and Crazy Guy, which reaches #2 on the Billboard Top 200 — the last comedy album to accomplish such a feat for decades — and spawns the top-20 single “King Tut.”
The Who release Who Are You, an album that originally met with critical disdain, all of which would quickly take a backseat to Keith Moon’s death the following month. The album would chart at #2 and the title track would become a top-20 hit in both the UK and U.S. before taking its rightful place as the theme song to the popular CBS drama, CSI: Crime Scene Investigation.
All four members of Kiss release solo albums. While Ace Frehley’s album peaks at #26, driven by the success of the top-20 pop single “New York Groove,” Gene Simmons’s album is the highest-charting of the four, rising to #22 despite a cringe-inducing version of “When You Wish Upon a Star.” Paul Stanley’s album would reach a peak position of #40, while Peter Criss would see his effort plateau at #43.
The Who’s drummer, Keith Moon, dies of an overdose of the medication Clomethiazole, which he’d been taking to combat the effects of alcohol withdrawal.
10cc release “Bloody Tourists” and score a #1 pop single in the UK with “Dreadlock Holiday.” Neither the album or single would hit the Top 40 in the U.S.
Blondie release their third album (and first with producer Mike Chapman), Parallel Lines, and score their first top-ten album. “Heart of Glass,” in addition to becoming a huge dancefloor hit, becomes the band’s first #1 pop single in the U.S. “One Way or Another” charts at #24.
Al Stewart releases Time Passages, the follow-up to the immensely popular Year of the Cat album from 1976. Like its predecessor, it was produced by Alan Parsons and enjoyed widespread critical and commercial success. Both it and the title track would break the top ten. Follow-up single “Song on the Radio” would reach #29.
The Police release their debut album, Outlandos d’Amour. “Roxanne” would become the band’s first U.S. Top 40 single and the album would rise to #26. In the UK, “Roxanne” would break the top 20 and “Can’t Stand Losing You” would reach #2 on the singles chart.
Siouxsie & the Banshees release their debut album, The Scream, on Polydor Records. While not part of the UK version of the album, the band’s UK top-ten single “Hong Kong Garden” was added to U.S. pressings. When the band signed to Geffen years later, the album was re-released in the U.S. with the original UK track listing.
The Jam release their third full-length album, All Mod Cons, which features the top-20 UK single “Down in the Tube Station at Midnight.”
The Clash release their second album, Give ‘Em Enough Rope, which actually precedes the release of their debut album in the U.S. The album, produced by Sandy Pearlman (best known for producing early Blue Oyster Cult releases), managed a peak U.S. chart position of #128 while reaching #2 in the UK. “Tommy Gun” would also become a top-20 UK pop single.
Queen release their seventh album, Jazz, featuring such notable anthems as “Fat Bottomed Girls” and “Bicycle Race.” The double A-side single that contains both songs reaches #24 in the U.S.
Inspired by a lengthy stay in a New York sanitarium for treatment of alcohol abuse, Alice Cooper releases From the Inside, which is comprised of songs co-written by Elton John lyricist Bernie Taupin and produced by David Foster. While the album would fizzle out at #60 on the charts, the single “How You Gonna See Me Now” would reach #12.