Looking Through Time: 1978

Story posted April 13, 2018 in

With the anniversaries of culturally important albums sprouting up each and every year, the CommRadio Arts department will be diving into albums from select years and breaking down their impact. Here are the albums from 1978.

Billy Joel - 52nd Street

It’s nearly impossible to pick just one album from Billy Joel that left an impact on his career in powerful ways. The singer-songwriter has been considered a classic for decades. However, 52nd Street did play a significant role in furthering the artist’s musical involvement in his early years of creating music. With top hits like “My Life,” “Honesty” and “Big Shot,” it is hard to know about Billy Joel without being aware of this album and its significance.

Although 52nd Street did not fully live up to Joel’s legendary record, The Stranger, there is not a bad song on this album. Many critics have even considered this a classier and more mature record than his last. The jazz elements and soulful sound that were incorporated make each track just as enjoyable as the next. 52nd Street captures all of the features of music in the 1970s. His variations on vocals depending on song style earned him the Grammy Award for Best Pop Vocal Performance at the 1979 awards show. Along with that award, it even won Album Of The Year. The importance of this record inspired musicians of all genres and will continue to influence their instrumental talents for decades to follow.- Jenna Minnig

Elvis Costello & The Attractions – This Year’s Model

Perhaps no artist has ever melded punk and alternative rock better than Elvis Costello. By mixing the punk trends of brevity and power with the emerging new wave sound, British singer-songwriter Elvis Costello was able to put his own unique spin on rock and roll. In the late 1970s Costello released three monumental albums, chock-full of his cutting and clever lyrics, memorable melodies and signature nasally, yet deep, vocals. Of these records, the best is 1978’s This Year’s Model.

Throughout its thirteen tracks, This Year’s Model maintains the key musical components that made Costello one of the era’s greatest songwriters. The most notable example is the album’s closing track, “Radio, Radio,” a scathing satirical jab at radio censorship in the United Kingdom. “Pump It Up” may be the album’s most memorable tune, thanks to its bouncing drums, catchy keyboards and slurred vocals. Costello’s very best effort could be “(I Don’t Want to Go to) Chelsea,” driven by its groovy bass line and signature guitar riff. For those looking for an edgier side, there’s “Lipstick Vogue,” a blazing masterwork that’s about as close to a real rocker as he ever got.

Costello was at the top of his game in 1978, and it shows on This Year’s Model. His work here would be an inspiration for future alternative acts to come, as well as a milestone in his excellent musical career, which continues to this day. - DJ Bauer

Steve Reich - Music for 18 Musicians

The phrase “less is more” describes no piece of music better than Steve Reich’s minimalism-magnum opus Music for 18 Musicians. Few composers understood how to beautifully meld texture and rhythm quite like Reich, and Music for 18 Musicians is exhibit A. Reich comes through with an album that’s dense, yet accessible; abstract, yet immediate; bold, yet beautiful. In a sense, Music for 18 Musicians is ethereal, but the instrumentation is so straightforward that it is done through a familiar language for the listener.

The heart of Music for 18 Musicians lies in its utilization of polyphonic rhythms. The attentive ear will realize that just by carefully mixing and matching a few key instrumental parts, Reich has composed a complete and fulfilling 56-minute work. Small instrumental parts disappear and pop up throughout the piece in new contexts that definitively change the nature of the song. While those who haven’t heard the piece yet may find that description to be a bit daunting of a listening experience, the brightness and expressiveness of each part ensures the emotions of the piece always take precedence over the musical theory at work.

For listeners who have never listened to minimalist music or classical music, there really is no better place to start than Music for 18 Musicians. This album sounds as boundary pushing in 2018 as it did forty years ago, and it’s still inspiring artists in new ways to this day. - Chandler Copenheaver

Talking Heads- More Songs About Buildings and Food

The up and coming, paranoid-infused Talking Heads had just come off the success of their debut album, Talking Heads: 77, and were now faced with releasing a successor. Often the point where bands weaken, More Songs About Buildings and Food, with help from co-producer Brian Eno, broke the cycle and elevated the Talking Heads to new heights. A well-crafted follow-up in every way, More Songs About Buildings and Food, not only offered an excellent selection of innovative tracks, but also included two huge hit singles.

An exceptional cover of Al Green’s “Take Me to the River” carried More Songs About Buildings and Food up the charts to 29 on the U.S. Billboards and, on the Pop Singles Chart, was able to reach No. 26. The last song on the album, “The Big Country,” showed Byrne’s songwriting at an even higher level, describing a bird’s eye view of the United States from a person who is sick of the life that dwells below. More Songs About Buildings and Food proved the Talking Heads were not a fading cult band, but rather a mainstream, yet sophisticated, new wave powerhouse. - Scott Perdue 

Van Halen – Van Halen

Rarely does a band hit their peak on their debut record. Some of rock’s most influential and enduring acts, such as the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and Pink Floyd, took years to mature their sound into the timeless classics that we know and love.

But Van Halen is an exception to the rule. Consisting of brothers Eddie and Alex Van Halen, bassist Michael Anthony and lead singer David Lee Roth, Van Halen found success immediately with their self-titled debut album, which peaked at No. 19 in the U.S. It’s no mystery why, as the album is filled to the brim with shredding guitars, pounding drums and wailing vocals that made Van Halen one of rock’s most popular bands during the late 1970s and early 1980s. Unforgettable hits like “Runnin’ with the Devil,” “Ain’t Talkin’ ‘bout Love,” “Jamie’s Cryin’” and a cover version of the Kinks’ timeless “You Really Got Me” helped to make Van Halen a household name. To this day, these songs are staples of classic rock radio.

Van Halen proves to be a cornerstone in rock and roll history, as it helped guide the way for the decade of hard rock and glam metal that followed. Later efforts by the band would be adored as well, but they never were able to top the original. - DJ Bauer


Jenna Minnig is a freshman majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact her, email at jkm5756@psu.edu.

DJ Bauer is a freshman majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email metakoopa99@gmail.com.

Chandler Copenheaver is a senior majoring in public relations. To contact him, email chandlercopenheaver@gmail.com.

Scott Perdue is a freshman majoring in film/video. To contact him, email rsp5246@psu.edu.


About the Contributors

ChandlerCopenheaver's photo


Senior / Public Relations

Chandler Copenheaver is a Production Director and Arts Director of CommRadio who has been a member of CommRadio since the spring of 2015. Chandler’s responsibilities entail managing the production department, managing the arts department, creating audio commercials for CommRadio and external organizations, scheduling commercial blocks, and writing editorial content related to the arts. Chandler Copenheaver has worked most recently at Arlington Thrive in Arlington, VA as a Development & Program Intern, WellSpan Health in South Central PA as a Public Relations & Marketing Intern and served as a teaching assistant for the Penn State course BiSci 3 Environmental Science. Chandler aims to work in the fields of Public Relations, Communications Strategy or Communications Management. Follow him on Twitter @C_Copenheaver or email him at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

DJ Bauer's photo

DJ Bauer

Senior / Broadcast Journalism

David “DJ” M. Bauer Jr. is a senior from Valencia, Pennsylvania majoring in broadcast journalism at Penn State. He is an editor, writer, producer, and play-by-play announcer for the CommRadio sports department. His writings include the Weekly NFL Game Picks series, Bauertology, and the NCAA Bubble Watch series. He is the co-host of the CommRadio talk show 4th & Long alongside Jeremy Ganes. Alongside Andrew Destin, Andrew Field and Zach Donaldson, he is one of CommRadio’s Penn State football insiders, a group of elite writers who cover Penn State football in depth during the 2020 season. He was also a production intern for the Frontier League’s Washington Wild Things baseball club. If you’d like to contact him, email him at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) or .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

Jenna Minnig's photo

Jenna Minnig

Senior / Broadcast Journalism

Jenna is a General Manager of CommRadio where she manages the student radio station.