Was 1978 the Most Diverse Year in Music History?

The Cars
The Cars Photo by Paul McAlpine
On Record – Vol. 1: 1978 – Images, Interviews, and Insights from the Year in Music
By G. Brown
340 pp.
Colorado Music Experience

Even the most causal music listener would find it hard to argue that 1978 was not one of – if not the – most diverse in terms of music releases. Punk, funk, R&B, disco, jazz, country, new wave, and rock of all stripes (classic, soft, hard, regular, Yacht) shared the album and Top 40 singles charts.

In this handsome tome, longtime Denver Post music journalist G. Brown is our guide through the year, covering scores of albums released in ’78 (or, occasionally, late ’77). Most feature an economically-written short artist bio with quotes, discussion of the album, and a large-size record company publicity photo of the period.

Colorado Music Experience book cover
It’s often that last aspect that’s the most compelling, with many of today’s now-veteran artists facing the reader in the bloom of youth in a series of posed, live, or “casual” shots. They come from Brown’s own archive of more than 15,000 such press kit PR photos, and for me, they are the book’s selling point.

And even though the No. 1 single of the year (according to Billboard) was Andy Gibb’s “Shadow Dancing,” it’s also the year that gave us album releases like Van Halen, the Cars, Don’t Look Back, Pieces of Eight, Double Vision, Out of the Blue, Who Are You, Slowhand, Hemispheres, Darkness on the Edge of Town, 52nd Street, Parallel Lines, More Songs About Buildings and Food, This Year’s Model, One Nation Under a Groove, Natural High, Back in the USA, and Road to Ruin.

It’s not clear which quotes are from Brown’s own work or other sources, but the they provide some interesting historical context given what’s happened to the performers more than four decades ago.

Here’s KISS’ Gene Simmons in the year they released a 2LP compilation record along with four bandmember solo releases…and whose “Farewell” performance is still more than a year down the line from now: “It’s fun to be hot stuff and know that we’ve single-handedly changed the face of Halloween. But I don’t really care how much long it lasts because I’ve surpassed everything I’ve ever dreamed of doing. There’s only so much you can expect out of life and success.”

Or Randy Newman on his then-controversial breakthrough chart hit “Short People.” “A lot of my characters are insensitive. They don’t know what they’re saying, how they indict themselves. I like the idea of an untrustworthy narrator. The people in my songs are generally exaggerations. What they say and think is colored by who they are.”

Comprehensive in coverage, Brown will continue to release similar books highlighting other years. And all proceeds will benefit the nonprofit Colorado Music Experience, dedicated to preserving the legacy of Colorado music.
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Bob Ruggiero has been writing about music, books, visual arts and entertainment for the Houston Press since 1997, with an emphasis on classic rock. He used to have an incredible and luxurious mullet in college as well. He is the author of the band biography Slippin’ Out of Darkness: The Story of WAR.
Contact: Bob Ruggiero