During the Carter administration in 1979, Fleetwood Mac, Pink Floyd, Blondie, Cheap Trick and Styx all had albums in the Top 20 at the same time.
Back then, these bands were dominating pop radio with singles from key albums like “Tusk,” “The Wall,” “Eat to the Beat,” “Dream Police” and “Cornerstone.”
The music these musicians made in their 20s and 30s came to define their signature styles.
In the summer of 2017, these ’70s classic rockers range in age from 73 (Fleetwood Mac’s Christine McVie and Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters) to 61 (Blondie drummer Clem Burke).
All of them are all back on the charts with new group, duo or solo albums that, more than ever, studiously aim to recapture the sounds that once captivated the public’s imagination — on resurgent vinyl yet.
These artists are also on tour this summer — with all but Fleetwood Mac’s Lindsey Buckingham and Christine McVie booked in South Florida.
But how well do these acts manage to make like it’s the Spirit of ’79 and, more importantly, can any of them still write great hooky singles?
Lindsey Buckingham/Christine McVie, “Lindsey Buckingham Christine McVie.”
Spirit of ’79 sound rating: ☆☆☆1/2
Singles-worthy hooks: ☆☆☆☆
No Stevie Nicks? No problem. With the four musicians of Fleetwood Mac on all 10 songs (including the famed rhythm section of Mick Fleetwood, 70, and John McVie, 71) and recording in the same Los Angeles studio they used for “Tusk” this is a Fleetwood Mac album.
Ignore the clunky duo billing and the frumpy album cover in which a glum Buckingham, 67, looks like he just snatched a guitar away from a kid for playing too damned loud. Anti-rock image aside, the hooks and layered harmonies on standouts like McVie’s “Carnival Begin” and “Red Sun” and Buckingham’s “Lay Down for Free” and “In My World” are as infectious as Fleetwood Mac got at its most radio-ready in the 1980s. Ever wonder what a Fleetwood Mac song might have sounded like on the soundtrack to “Grease” in 1978? Play the new “Feel About You” one of these summer nights.
“On With the Show,” which gave the 2014-15 reunion tour its name, even includes a Buckingham guitar part that’s a direct homage to what he played on “You and I, Part II,” the closing track on “Tango in the Night,” the 1987 album this 39-minute set most recalls.
As such, we call “Buckingham McVie” the true follow up to “Tango,” which remains the last studio album to feature the classic lineup. Given that Nicks only spent about two weeks in the studio for “Tango” one could argue she’s little more a part of that album than she is for this one.
Play the tuneful new “Red Sun” and Buckingham’s production tricks make you swear you hear Nicks, 69, as much as you thought you did on McVie’s “Everywhere” 30 years ago.
Cheap Trick, “We’re All Alright!”
Spirit of ’79 sound rating: ☆☆☆☆
Singles-worthy hooks: ☆☆1/2
For the second consecutive album, released just a year after “Bang, Zoom, Crazy...Hello” (talk about how it was done in the ’70s) Cheap Trick plays with such a caffeinated jolt it makes its landmark “At Budokan” in 1978 sound lethargic by comparison.
More than any other classic rock act, Cheap Trick is playing like its members are 26 again. Doubly impressive given that the band has maintained almost the same lineup it had since its first album in 1976. Only drummer Bun E. Carlos has been replaced — by Daxx Nielsen, the 36-year-old son of founding guitarist Rick Nielsen, 68.
Pretty solid. But the near unrelenting pace, with guitars amplified like 747s and evergreen singer Robin Zander, 64, riding atop, makes for an exhausting listen. Only “Blackberry Way,” a Move cover on the 13-track deluxe version, has a memorable hook. Not encouraging given that’s the only song Cheap Trick didn’t write. Thrilled the soppy, pre-fab ’80s ballads are long gone but cue “Dream Police” if it’s singles hooks you’re after.
Cheap Trick opens Foreigner’s 40th anniversary tour, along with Jason Bonham’s Led Zeppelin Experience, at 7 p.m. Aug. 1 at Perfect Vodka Amphitheater, 601-7 Sansburys Way, West Palm Beach. Information at LiveNation.com.
Styx, “The Mission”
Spirit of ’79 sound rating: ☆☆☆1/2
Singles-worthy hooks: ☆☆
Styx has made its first concept album since “Kilroy Was Here” in 1983 — the very thing that led the older members to cut original singer Dennis DeYoung lose in the first place.
But before you say no domo arigato, unlike the goofy “Kilroy,” infamous for its hit single, “Mr. Roboto,” “The Mission,” Styx’s first studio album in 14 years, isn’t soft or silly. If Styx once set an open course for the virgin sea, 40 years later they set sail on the maiden voyage of Khedive, a nuclear-powered spacecraft on a mission to Mars. Your enjoyment isn’t dependent on following the plot.
Guitarist Tommy Shaw, 63, has called this set “the most emblematic Styx album since ‘Pieces of Eight.’” The hype’s not a lie. Like that 1978 album, and its preceding “The Grand Illusion,” the group’s seventh LP released on 7-7-77, the lean, 42-minute “Mission” sounds like the kind of LP a youthful Styx might have sandwiched in between those two records. Styxophiles will catch the reference in the “Mission” plot as the founding date of the Global Space Exploration Program, the organization that sends Shaw and old cohorts James Young and Chuck Panozzo to Mars, is 07.07.17.
But, like Cheap Trick, while Styx’s new songs are fine, none have the kind of indelible chorus hooks that could ever have stamped them as singles. Back in the Carter years, Styx could prog rock on LP cuts and still sport seemingly effortless pop singles like “Renegade,” “Come Sail Away” and “Blue Collar Man (Long Nights).”
Styx, with REO Speedwagon and Don Felder, perform the United We Rock Tour at 7 p.m. July 19 at Perfect Vodka Amphitheater.
Roger Waters, “Is This the Life We Really Want?”
Spirit of ’79 sound rating: ☆☆☆
Singles-worthy hooks: ☆☆☆
“We cannot turn back the clock,” Pink Floyd’s prime sonic architect in the 1970s commands on “Broken Bones,” a track from his first solo album in 25 years.
With its pensive and rich melodies, sound effects and soundbites, and angry, political commentary, “Is This the Life We Really Want?” is of-a-piece with Pink Floyd’s 1977 LP, “Animals.”
Britain and Margaret Thatcher was the source of Waters’ ire back then. Here, Donald Trump is the target of Waters’ rants, which gives the album the feel of a Facebook News Feed posting since the election.
Also like Floyd, Waters’ new music can take several listens for the hooks to bleed through — and they do. Waters and even Styx retrace the feel of 1975’s “Have a Cigar.” Vocally, the raspy Waters is as weathered as Fleetwood Mac’s Buckingham but he hasn’t lost his knack for the kind of cinematic songwriting old fans once gravitated towards.
Roger Waters’ Us + Them Tour plays at 7 p.m. July 13 at AmericanAirlines Arena, Miami.
Spirit of ’79 sound rating: ☆☆☆
Singles-worth hooks: ☆☆☆
Blondie recaptures its “Heart of Glass” sound so cannily on the new song, “Long Time,” you could start singing “Once I had a love…” before Deborah Harry, 71, sings the opening line to “Long Time” and you’d be in the same meter.
A bonus dance mix of the first single, the disco bauble, “Fun,” from the album’s import version, is even called “Spirit of ’79 Mix.” Truth in advertising. The tune purposely lifts the bell sound producer Giorgio Moroder used for Blondie’s smash “Call Me” from the 1980 “American Gigolo” movie.
Despite guest spots from Sia, John Roberts and Joan Jett, a handful of songs from Blondie’s eleventh studio album, such as “Long Time,” “Monster,” “Doom or Destiny” and “Fun,” boast hooks so immediate they would fit as tasty treats on 1979’s “Eat to the Beat.”
Pity that producers mucked up the rest of “Pollinator” by swaddling Harry’s voice in unnecessary studio gimmickry that distort and Auto-Tune her singing. When you can still cut it, as Harry can, why dumb it down?
Blondie and Garbage on the Rage and Rapture Tour at 7 p.m. Aug. 8 at Hard Rock Live, near Hollywood.
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