1979: The 5 Albums That Redefined Music’s Boundaries

today15 March 2024

1979, Music pushing boundaries - Doobie brothers, Supertramp, the blues brothers

1979: The 5 Albums That Redefined Music’s Boundaries

As the final notes of the 1970s played out, 1979 emerged as a year that would redefine the contours of popular music. It was a year where disco’s pulsating beats began to give way to the raw edge of new wave and the nascent rhythms of hip hop. Artists broke free from genre constraints, exploring lyrical depths and experimenting with synthesisers, which would come to define the sound of the coming decade. The top five albums of the year stood as bold declarations of this creative renaissance, each a cornerstone in the foundation of contemporary music. They were more than just collections of songs; they were cultural phenomena that captured the collective imagination, shaped fashion, and influenced political discourse. As we look back, these albums remain crucial chapters in music history, their echoes felt in the melodies that continue to shape our world.


“Minute by Minute – Doobie Brothers”

The Doobie Brothers’ journey to their 1978 album “Minute by Minute” involved a transformation from a boogie rock band to masters of a smoother, soulful sound. Since their formation in the early ’70s, the band had experienced a steady climb in popularity, punctuated by hit singles and successful albums that combined rock, country, and R&B influences. By the time “Minute by Minute” was in the works, they were ready to solidify their place in the pantheon of versatile rock bands with a more sophisticated, yet accessible sound.

“Minute by Minute” marked a period of evolution for the band, emphasizing polished musicianship and intricate vocal harmonies. With Michael McDonald’s influence growing stronger, the album moved away from the band’s earlier rock roots towards a more melodic, blue-eyed soul style. Sessions were marked by a collective focus on refined songwriting and experimentation with new sounds, bringing in influences from jazz and funk. Notably, the album’s direction was a result of the band’s willingness to embrace change and the diversity of musical backgrounds among its members.

The album’s sound is characterized by its seamless blend of soulful melodies and soft-rock grooves, with McDonald’s husky tenor voice taking the forefront. The title track, “Minute by Minute,” along with hits like “What a Fool Believes,” showcased the Doobie Brothers’ new direction. These songs combined catchy hooks with sophisticated arrangements, exploring themes of love, time, and introspection. The masterful interplay of keyboard-led melodies and intricate harmonies created a distinct sound that resonated with a wide audience.

Upon its release, “Minute by Minute” not only achieved commercial success but also garnered critical acclaim. The album spent five weeks at the top of the Billboard 200 chart and won several Grammy Awards, including Record of the Year for “What a Fool Believes.” Its success was a testament to the band’s ability to evolve and adapt to the changing musical landscape.

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Over time, “Minute by Minute” has left an indelible mark on the music industry, influencing artists across various genres with its blend of rock and soul. The album’s enduring appeal is evident in its continued radio play and the lasting popularity of its tracks. The Doobie Brothers’ work on “Minute by Minute” stands as a pivotal moment in their career, representing a daring yet successful shift in their musical narrative, and it continues to be celebrated for its artistry and timeless appeal.


“Breakfast in America – Supertramp”

Before the dawn of 1979, Supertramp had steadily climbed the ranks of art rock with a string of albums that showcased their blend of progressive rock with pop sensibilities. Formed in the late 1960s, the band underwent several lineup changes and evolved its sound from the heavily conceptual and intricate compositions of their earlier work to a more accessible, yet still richly textured style. Their album “Crime of the Century” had already won them critical acclaim and a dedicated fan base with its complex musical narratives and existential themes.

“Breakfast in America” represented a bold leap forward for Supertramp, taking them further into the realm of mainstream rock without sacrificing their unique artistry. The album’s development was marked by meticulous songcraft and sonic exploration. Roger Hodgson and Rick Davies, the group’s primary songwriters, drew upon personal experiences and social commentary to shape the album’s lyrical content. The production process, led by Peter Henderson, involved innovative studio techniques, layering sounds and harmonies to create an album that was complex in its simplicity.

The musical arrangement of “Breakfast in America” is distinguished by its melodic hooks, harmonic richness, and the prominent use of Wurlitzer electric piano and saxophone, which became defining features of the band’s sound during this era. Tracks such as “The Logical Song” and “Take the Long Way Home” stand out for their introspective lyrics and catchy instrumentation, reflecting a perfect balance between pop appeal and the depth of progressive rock. The album’s themes range from whimsical musings to sharp societal observations, showcasing Supertramp’s ability to weave meaningful stories through their music.

“Breakfast in America” was a commercial juggernaut, topping the charts worldwide and becoming Supertramp’s best-selling album. It spawned several hit singles, and the album’s success was reflected in its longevity on the charts, extensive radio play, and multiple industry awards, including two Grammy nominations. Its reception by critics was overwhelmingly positive, with many considering it a highlight of late-70s rock.

The influence of “Breakfast in America” has echoed through the decades, shaping the direction of both pop and rock music. Its combination of whimsical lyricism and accessible rock arrangements paved the way for future bands and singer-songwriters, signaling a shift towards a more melodic and narrative-driven form of rock music. The album’s enduring popularity is a testament to its timeless quality, and its songs remain staples in the repertoires of both fans and musicians alike. “Breakfast in America” stands as a monument to Supertramp’s artistic vision and as a beacon of the power of rock music to transcend its own time.


“Get the Knack – The Knack”  

Before their meteoric rise in 1979, The Knack was a burgeoning band in the Los Angeles rock scene, swiftly gaining popularity for their energetic live performances. The power-pop outfit, fronted by Doug Fieger and bolstered by the talents of Berton Averre, Prescott Niles, and Bruce Gary, was a fresh arrival to a music scene ripe for a new sensation. Though newcomers on the recording front, their tight, dynamic shows earned them a fervent local following and buzz within the industry, setting the stage for their debut album.

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“Get The Knack,” released in 1979, was created with a raw, unpolished approach that aimed to capture the urgency and energy of their live sets. The band recorded the album quickly, eager to encapsulate the vibrant spirit of their concerts. Producer Mike Chapman helped harness their live sound in the studio, maintaining a sense of immediacy and directness in the recordings, which contributed to the album’s fresh and vibrant feel.

“Get The Knack” is characterized by its razor-sharp guitar riffs, catchy melodies, and Fieger’s charismatic vocal delivery. The album opens with the punchy “Let Me Out,” setting the tone for a collection of tightly constructed songs that blend power chords with melodic sensibilities. The standout track, “My Sharona,” exemplifies this with its iconic riff and singalong chorus, while “Good Girls Don’t” continues the theme with playful lyrics and upbeat rhythms. The album’s lyrical content often touches on themes of youthful romance and desire, delivered with a cheeky bravado that became a hallmark of their style.

The album catapulted The Knack to stardom, with “My Sharona” topping the Billboard Hot 100 chart for six weeks. “Get The Knack” received multi-platinum status and was a global success, making it one of the fastest-selling debut albums at the time. Critics were divided, with some hailing it as the inception of new wave power-pop and others dismissing it as derivative. Nonetheless, it marked a significant moment in late ’70s rock.

The legacy of “Get The Knack” has endured, influencing the direction of power-pop and new wave for years to come. “My Sharona” remains a staple on classic rock playlists, and its opening riff is instantly recognizable. The Knack’s debut captured a moment in time, its impact echoing in the energetic performances of subsequent power-pop bands and maintaining its place in the hearts of those who yearn for the vibrant rock of yesteryear.


“Bad Girls – Donna Summer”

Leading up to 1979, Donna Summer had become the undisputed queen of disco, with a string of hits that defined the dance floors of the 70s. With her mezzo-soprano voice and innovative collaborations, particularly with producer Giorgio Moroder, Summer pushed the boundaries of the genre, weaving complex arrangements and a futuristic sound that earned her both critical and commercial acclaim.

“Bad Girls,” released in 1979, delved into themes beyond the hedonistic beats of disco. The inspiration for the album came from Summer’s reflections on women’s issues and social commentary, resulting in a multi-layered disco masterpiece. Collaborating once again with Moroder and Pete Bellotte, Summer crafted an album that combined her powerful vocals with pulsating beats and rich production. The studio sessions for “Bad Girls” were a blend of creative experimentation and precise engineering, creating sounds that were both ahead of their time and deeply resonant with the era’s nightclub culture.

The musical styles on “Bad Girls” span the spectrum from disco anthems to soulful ballads. The title track, “Bad Girls,” and the infectious “Hot Stuff” stand out as defining moments of the album, with their driving beats and Summer’s assertive delivery creating an empowering soundscape. The album weaves through narratives of love, life, and independence, underscored by Summer’s commitment to storytelling through music. The use of synthesizers, varied tempos, and Summer’s dynamic vocal range all contribute to an album that is complex in its production and profound in its storytelling.

Upon its release, “Bad Girls” was a resounding success, dominating the charts and becoming one of the best-selling albums of the year. The album and its singles earned Summer multiple Grammy nominations and wins, solidifying her status as a music icon. Critics lauded “Bad Girls” for its production quality and Summer’s vocal prowess, recognizing the album as a pinnacle of the disco era.

The legacy of “Bad Girls” extends far beyond its initial impact. The album’s embrace of dance rhythms, combined with rich melodies and reflective lyrics, has influenced generations of artists across various music genres. Its continued popularity in modern culture, from samples in hip-hop to covers by contemporary artists, testifies to its lasting appeal. “Bad Girls” remains a seminal album in Summer’s catalog and in the history of disco, celebrating the genre’s exuberance while showcasing the depth and versatility of its most iconic artist.


“Briefcase Full of Blues – The Blue Brothers”

Before the Blues Brothers became a cultural phenomenon with the release of “Briefcase Full of Blues” in 1978, the roots of the band were planted firmly in comedy and television rather than the music industry. The characters Jake and Elwood Blues, portrayed by John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd, originated on “Saturday Night Live,” where their musical sketches captured the imaginations of viewers with their authentic blues and soul performances.

“Briefcase Full of Blues” was born from the theatrical concept developed for SNL, capturing the essence of the Blues Brothers’ live act. The album was recorded live at the Universal Amphitheatre during a show that originally served as the warm-up for comedian Steve Martin. The creative vision was to produce a genuine blues album, paying homage to the greats of the genre. With a band composed of seasoned musicians, Belushi and Aykroyd’s Blues Brothers delivered an album with authenticity and respect for the blues tradition they loved.

The album featured classic blues and soul covers, each infused with the electric energy of Belushi’s powerful voice and Aykroyd’s harmonica skills. Standout tracks like “Soul Man” and “Hey Bartender” exemplify the album’s raw live sound and the celebratory spirit of the blues. “Briefcase Full of Blues” didn’t just mimic the classics; it revitalized them for a new audience, with the Blues Brothers’ interpretations injected with humor and the charisma of their SNL personas.


Upon its release, “Briefcase Full of Blues” received commercial success unexpected for a live album of blues covers, reaching number one on the Billboard 200 and going double platinum. The album’s success helped to rekindle mainstream interest in the blues genre, earning critical praise for its energy and musicality.

The Blues Brothers’ “Briefcase Full of Blues” left a lasting imprint on the music scene. The album’s success demonstrated the enduring appeal of blues and soul music, reminding audiences of the rich emotional tapestry of these genres. Its cultural impact was significant, laying the groundwork for the subsequent Blues Brothers film and the continued popularity of the characters. The album stands as a testament to the power of music to transcend its origins, bridging the gap between entertainment and authentic musical tribute.


A Year That Echoed Through the Ages in Melody

The top songs of 1979 encapsulated a moment in musical history where rhythm met revolution, and melodies became anthems for change. Artists from diverse genres converged on the year’s soundtrack, each track resonating with the pulse of a world in transition. These songs transcended the airwaves, becoming timeless treasures that continue to inspire and move listeners. With beats that danced through the decades and lyrics that still strike at the heart, the top songs of 1979 remain not just memories, but milestones in the journey of music and its profound impact on our collective experience.

Written by: Brandon Lawson