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1978 A VINTAGE YEAR

It was a time of plenty, and of unbridled creativity, in the pop world. Ben Wardle revs up the DeLorean to revisit an amazing year that was pivotal in the development of music as we know it

I know what you’re thinking. I’m joking, right? Compared to the triumvirate of 1956, 1967 and 1977, 1978 was a freakshow. There’s no pelvisthrusting Elvis; no Sgt. Pepper-era Fabs and no sneering Rotten. No, it’s John Travolta in Grease, Brian and Michael’s Matchstalk Men And Matchstalk Cats And Dogs, Terry Wogan’s The Floral Dance, Boney M., Brotherhood Of Man… I won’t go on, I’m depressing myself just writing down the names.

Go to any charity shop, have a rifle through the records and you’ll still find The Sound Of Bread, Blondes Have More Fun and Nightflight To Venus.

That’s because 1978 was the final year in a decade-long run of staggering UK record sales before a slow decline set in. 1978 managed to more than double 1970’s 50 million sales, with over 107.3 million, according to the BPI. And that was during an oil crisis, which limited supplies of vinyl. Recorded-music sales would not reach these heights again until 1985, when Brothers In Arms and the scramble for CD repackaging supercharged the figures.

Sales levels are no indication of quality. Some might even argue they’re inversely proportionate. But think about it: when a business is swimming in cash, those working in it feel freer to take risks; they are more indulgent with creativity and more experimental.

In 1978, change was in the air: disco and roots reggae were both reaching maturity, punk had kickstarted a wave of new talent, the old guard were making an effort and an underground buzz of experimentation and newness was palpable. Singles were so popular that the Top 50 was extended to become the Top 75. Smash Hits was launched, marking the beginning of the savvy, ironic relationship with pop music that is still the adopted tone of so many music writers. And for all these reasons and more, it turns out that 1978 gave us pop’s greatest year.

But before we start, I have a confession: in November 1978, I turned 13 and went to my first gig: Buzzcocks at Hammersmith Odeon. Afterwards, while I waited for my mum to pick me up, watching Austin Princesses and Ford Capris chugging out towards the Westway, I tore the poster down from the wall outside. Back at home, I Blu Tacked it, still damp, to my bedroom wall. I never let it out of my sight. Now framed, it still has pride of place in the family home.

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