We asked Stornoway multi-instrumentalist Jon Ouin to pick his favorite year in music.
UK folk outfit Stornoway have released three critically-acclaimed albums (including this year’s Bonxie), recorded Folkadelphia and World Cafe sessions and toured the country with Field Report and The Head and The Heart. Read Jon Ouin’s case for 1979 below and vote for your favorite year here.
For whatever reason, over the course of 2015 I seem to have ‘discovered’ more oldie music from 1979 than any other year, so it’s currently the year that excites me the most. In musicworld, 1979 was the year of new beginnings and new waves: we had the first real stirrings of synth-robo-pop in the form of Gary Numan’s vanguard singles “Cars” and “Are ‘Friends’ Electric?”; meanwhile “Rapper’s Delight,” when it reached us in the UK, was supposedly the first rap single over this side of the pond; this was also the year Kate Bush gave her first major performances in the form of the legendary “Tour of Life” (but would then promptly disappear from the public’s gaze until 2014); and it was also the moment when Blondie ‘sold out’ to go disco with the massive single “Heart of Glass.”
It was, it seems, a good year for walls: Michael Jackson’s Off the Wall – which personally drives me up the wall – contains many a wedding staple to this day, and Pink Floyd’s The Wall album contains a mope-rock colossus in the form of “Comfortably Numb.” Whilst I must confess that the pleasures of Joy Division’s Unknown Pleasures are kind of lost on me, for many that is the seismic record of the decade, not just 1979. Meanwhile, over in Long Island with Brian Eno and Robert Fripp, Talking Heads were cooking up tracks like “I Zimbra” from their still-fresh Fear of Music. And who can really argue with The Clash’s finest hour London Calling?
For me, though, this year’s most recent – and most clunkingly obvious – revelation has actually been Fleetwood Mac’s Tusk album, which I somehow only heard for the very first time a few months ago. I have so much more time for this than for its gargantuan-selling, oh-so-sleek predecessor Rumours. Being the work of three quite remote yet entangled creative personalities, Tusk is admittedly quite erratic, in a sprawling, White Album kind of way, but for me there’s something especially compelling in Lyndsey Buckingham’s songwriting (“I Know I’m Not Wrong” and “Walk a Thin Line”), and the eccentric (quixotic, even) production methods he was using seem to have been about striving for a rawer artistic edge.
Equally I’d somehow failed to really notice Elvis Costello until about a year ago, but he seems to have been a busy man in 1979 – his new-wave classic Armed Forces album released that year is now a real favourite of mine. The songs have this quick-fire lyrical acuity which takes a few listens to seep into the consciousness, and the music, besides carrying strong melodies, is always so smartly structured. Although most of the songs have a lean energy to them, the production is also quite deft and textured on things like “Oliver’s Army” and “Green Shirt” which I love. He also found time to produce another of my favourite albums from that same year – the Specials’ brilliant debut.
I’m sure a lot of these references will be all too hackneyed for most people who were alive, sentient and listening at the time, and I’m also aware that there are so many more things for me to unearth. It’s just that for me 1979 feels like fresh ground, in a music fan manner of speaking. At any rate it must have been pretty good year for Smashing Pumpkin man Billy Corgan to write a whole song about it.