Follow TV Tropes


Music / The 77s

Go To
Bruce Spencer, Mike Roe, Mark Harmon
"Singer and guitarist Mike Roe, at the time, was arguably one of the greatest rock frontmen working, a twitching live wire of charisma and gusto and swagger. Where so much of the bad end of Christian rock feels like it was parbaked in a germ-free environment, Roe had absorbed decades worth of actual rock history – mostly from the ‘50s and ‘60s – and understood instinctively that fronting a rock band was not the same thing as leading eyes-closed acoustic worship at the weekly teen service. . . . Almost as important, Roe looked like a rock frontman – a wild shock of Robert Smith hair perched atop his pale, bony face, Roe at the time was enigmatic without even trying to be. There was something renegade about his whole demeanor, the sense that he was some sort of Jim Jarmusch Rock Singer Character, a ghost without a past who appeared out of nowhere and could just as easily return to the same."
J. Edward Keyes, An Atheist's Guide to Christian Rock

The 77s (occasionally the Seventy Sevens) are a Christian Rock band from Sacramento, California. Their one consistent member throughout their four-decade history has been the singer and guitarist Mike Roe, whose range and abilities as a vocalist and a musician are sizeable. Christian rock pioneer Larry Norman described the 77s as being "Too Christian for the radio, and too radio for the church," as the band's lyrics featured explicitly Christian themes while their music remained accessible to secular audiences.

They released their first album, Ping Pong Over the Abyss, in 1982 and, by 1987, seemed to be on the cusp of a mainstream breakthrough, with a self-titled album set to release on Island Records in April. Unfortunately for them, a few weeks before their album was to come out, Island released its biggest hit of the decade: U2’s The Joshua Tree, and, depending on whom you ask, the 77s were left without much label support. This iteration of the band didn't last much longer. Roe put out some unreleased tracks under a variety of names in the late '80s and early '90s, and then reformed the band in the 1990s, first as a quartet and then as a power trio, its membership staying stable since 1995.

The band has played a wide variety of music over the years, as most long-running acts do: They began as a New Wave act, but by the time the '90s had rolled around, had become much more influenced by Blues Rock and Hard Rock. In the Christian rock community, they were known for walking an uncomfortable line between Christian and secular, with many of their lyrics dealing frankly with topics like abortion and premarital sex that were generally considered off limits for Christian bands.

Current Members

  • Mike Roe: Lead Vocals, Guitar, Harmonica
  • Mark Harmon: Bass, Keyboards, Backing Vocals
  • Bruce Spencer: Percussion, Keyboards, Backing Vocals

Former Members

  • Mark Proctor: Drums, Vocals (1982-1984)
  • Aaron Smith: Drums (always credited as some variation of "pounding and thrashing") (1984-1994)
  • Mark Tootle: Guitar, Keyboards, Vocals (1982-1987)
  • Jan Eric Volz: Bass, Vocals (1982-1987)

The 77s
  • Ping Pong Over the Abyss (1982)
  • All Fall Down (1984)
  • The 77s (1987)
  • Sticks and Stones (1990) (a collection of demos and outtakes from The 77s)
  • Eighty Eight (1991) (a live album recorded in, you guessed it, 1988)
  • Pray Naked (1992)
  • Drowning with Land in Sight (1994)
  • tom tom Blues (1995)
  • Echoes o' Faith (1996) (an acoustic live album)
  • EP (1999)
  • A Golden Field of Radioactive Crows (2001)
  • Ninety Nine (2007) (another live album)
  • Holy Ghost Building (2008)
  • Seeds and Stems (2012) (more outtakes from the sessions that produced *Sticks and Stones*)
  • Cornerstone Is Dead...Long Live Cornerstone (2012) (a series of live recordings from the Cornerstone Festival)
  • Naked and Unashamed (2017) (outtakes from the Pray Naked Sessions)

7&7iS / Michael Roe and Mark Harmon

  • More Miserable Than You'll Ever Be (1990)
  • Daydream (1999)
  • Orbis (2002)
  • Fun with Sound (2004)
  • Misery Loves Company (2014)

Michael Roe solo albums

  • Safe as Milk (1995)
  • The Boat Ashore (1996)
  • Safe as Milk - Live at Cornerstone 1997 (1999)
  • It's for You (2000) (a double-disc acoustic live album)
  • Say Your Prayers (2002)
  • All Day Sing and Dinner on the Ground (2003) (with Terry Scott Taylor)
  • Roesbuds (2003)
  • We All Gonna Face the Rising Sun (2009)
  • Michael Roe: Solo and Alternate Versions (2010)
  • Guadalupe (2014) (acoustic re-recordings of Roe and 77s songs)
  • Live in Torrence (2014)
  • Gothic (2016) (live)

Provides examples of:

  • Accent Upon The Wrong Syllable: "You Don't Scare Me": "I could ride on a plan / Losing all its enGINES."
  • Album Title Drop: "Caught in an Unguarded Moment":
    All fall down like dominoes
  • Alone in a Crowd: "You Walked in the Room":
    Even when the bodies are everywhere
    Even when they talk so loud you have to shout
    Loneliness is staring me in the face
  • Audience Participation Song: When Roe plays "Nowhere Else" at solo shows, the audience is often asked to sing the Nurk Sisters' "Hey na na" backing vocals.
  • Bawdy Song: Given the band's Christian rock milieu, "Pearls Before Swine" probably qualifies:
    Well, she put it out
    He put the heat on, she got too hot
    So she put it out
    Gives in a little, she's giving him a lot
    She lays it out
    She's showing all her prized possessions to him
    And she's puttin' out
    Swappin' everything for what he's puttin' in
    • Subverted, however, in that it's a song criticizing extramarital sex, not celebrating it.
    • “Sneakers” is a more straightforward example.
  • Beneath the Mask: When the addressee of "You Walked in the Room" shows up, everyone wishes they had "prepared a disguise."
  • Break Up Song: Much of Drowning with Land in Sight was inspired by the breakdown of Roe's marriage and the subsequent breakdown of his rebound relationship with a much younger woman.
  • Breather Episode: Most of tom tom Blues is noisy, bluesy psychedelic rock—except for the quiet, jazzy "Flowers in the Sand," positioned at the end of the first side.
  • Broken Record: “I Can’t Get Over It”: “Erase it! Erase it! Erase it! Erase it!”
    • The outro to "There Forever": "I know something, now you know."
  • Butt-Monkey: "Dave's Blues," inspired by guitarist David Leonhardt's cancer diagnosis:
    No ifs, ands, or buts
    This old world has kicked my ass
  • Cover Album: Holy Ghost Building and Gimme a Kickstart...and a Phrase or Two.
  • Cover Version: Washington Phillips's "Denomination Blues"; Dee Clark's "Hey Little Girl"; Hank Williams's "I Saw the Light"; Velvet Underground's "Jesus"; a cover of Led Zeppelin's cover of Blind Willie Johnson's "Nobody's Fault but Mine"; Daniel Amos's "Shotgun Angel"; Blind Willie Johnson's "I'm Gonna Run to the City of Refuge"; Tommy Bolin's "Long Way to Go."
    • Live covers: The Yardbirds' "Over Under Sideways Down"; Robert Wilkins's "Prodigal Son"; The Smithereens' "Blood and Roses"; The Doors' "Riders on the Storm"; Barrett Strong's "Money (That's What I Want)."
  • Crapsack World: "Perfect Blues" suggests something like it:
    Aw, give it up, give it up
    Forget it, baby, it won't work
    You're looking for a perfect boy or girl?
    Well, forget it, baby, we're all jerks
  • Darker and Edgier: The 77s were one of the early Christian rock bands to tackle darker and edgier topics.
  • Early-Installment Weirdness: Fans who came along later are sometimes surprised to find out that Mark Tootle and Mark Proctor sing several songs on the first two albums.
  • Epic Instrumental Opener: "Don't, This Way" and "God Sends Quails."
  • Epic Rocking: Quite a few!
    • "Self-Made Trap," "Earache," "Lifeline," "Perfect Blues," "Cold Cold Night," "Nobody's Fault but Mine," "There Forever," "Say So Long to Your Sad Old Love Song," "Honesty," "Alone Together," "Related," "God Sends Quails," "Gone in a Moment," and "The Battle of Evermore" are all more than six minutes.
    • "Don't, This Way," "I Could Laugh," and "Pray Naked" are all more than seven minutes.
    • "Pearls Before Swine" and "Deliverance" are more than eight minutes.
    • Even more true on the live albums, where Roe can stretch out as a soloist.
      • Live versions of "This Is the Way Love Is" frequently hit ten minutes.
      • At Cornerstone 1990, the band extended "I Can't Get Over It" to six minutes with an extended guitar solo.
      • More than half the songs on Eighty Eight are more than six minutes long; "You Don't Scare Me" is more than eleven minutes, and "Mercy Mercy" and "I Could Laugh" both top twelve minutes.
      • The Cornerstone '94 version of "Nuts for You" is more than six minutes long.
      • The Ninety Nine version of "The Stellazine Prophecy" is longer than six minutes; and its medley of "Blood and Roses" and "Pearls Before Swine" is longer than seven minutes.
      • Cornerstone 2002 and 2008 both have medleys that top ten minutes.
      • The version of "Unbalanced" at Cornerstone 2003 is more than eight minutes long; its version of "Outskirts" is more than ten minutes.
      • The live version of "Make a Difference Tonight" on Seeds and Stems is more than seven minutes long.
      • The live version of "Kites Without Strings" included on the Pray Naked re-issue is nearly seven minutes long.
  • Fade Out: A lot of them in the ‘80s, when Christian rock as a whole was still largely beholden to the Nashville Fade.
  • Fading into the Next Song: "Don't Leave Me Long" into "Gravy Train."
  • Grief Song: “Don’t, This Way," "Guadalupe."
  • Incredibly Long Note: Roe holds the final note of "The Days to Come" for eight full measures.
  • Instrumentals: "The Loop," “Mezzo,” and “Sounds o’ Autumn.” The latter is a drum solo.
  • Intercourse with You: "Sneakers," in a series of increasingly absurd automotive analogies.
  • List Song: "You Don't Scare Me" is a list of things that could kill the narrator (but don't scare him).
    • "MT" is a list of things the addressee is "more than" to the singer.
  • Live Album: A number of them (see above), but Eighty Eight deserves special credit. It's not going too far to say that its versions of "Mercy Mercy" and "You Don't Scare Me" are the definitive ones, and it also features a number of songs that never had studio versions. It's proof positive of what an amazing live band the 77s were, and are.
  • Long-Runner Line-up: Type 2. The band has been Mike Roe, Mark Harmon, and Bruce Spencer since 1995.
  • Long Title: “The Lust, the Flesh, the Eyes, and the Pride of Life.”
  • Lyrical Cold Open: "What Was in That Letter," "U U U U," "The Boat Ashore," "U R Trippin'," "Mr. Magoo," "Guadalupe," "What Would You Give in Exchange for Your Soul," "When My Blue Moon Turns to Gold Again."
  • Misogyny Song: Decades later, two of the band’s anti-premarital sex songs ("Something's Holding On" and "Pearls Before Swine") can feel a bit like slut-shaming.
    • "Save It" and "The Collector," two Larry Tagg compositions from the late '80s that were later released on the reissue of More Miserable, are even more straightforward examples.
      When I first met her, she collected butterflies
      She'd catch them in a net and stretch them, stretch them out to die
      She'd take some poor little thing and mount it on a pin
      She did the same with little boys, and later on, with men
  • Non-Appearing Title: "Ping Pong Over the Abyss," "Pearls Before Swine," "Mary and the Baby Elvis," "Woody," "Happy Roy," "Dave's Blues," "The Jig Is Up," "Sneakers," "Earache," "Unbalanced."
  • The Not-Remix: Many of them are included on the deluxe reissues of the band’s albums.
  • Pep-Talk Song: "Do It for Love."
    • "God Sends Quails." Ironically, the song was so difficult to write and arrange that it almost broke up the band.
  • Rejected Apology: "I Can't Get Over It," though the narrator wants to forgive the person.
  • Rock Trio: Since 1995, although guitarist/keyboardist Scott Reams sometimes makes the band a quartet onstage.
  • Self-Backing Vocalist: Beginning with the 1987 self-titled album, Roe frequently performed his own backing vocals, though other band members have typically joined him.
  • Self-Titled Album: From 1987, though thanks to Executive Meddling, Pray Naked can be mistaken for this.
  • Shout-Out: "Woody" is so named because its main riff sounds like Woody Woodpecker's laugh. (What did you think it meant, you pervert?)
    • "Smiley Smile" (and its longer solo version, "Smile") are both homages to Brian Wilson and take their names from Beach Boys albums.
    • “Happy Roy,” to Roy Orbison, who had recently died. (“The Rain Kept Falling in Love” was originally titled “Sad Roy.”)
    • "Five in the Nave" ends with Jimmy Durante's catchphrase: "Goodnight, America, and all the ships that sail the sea!"
    • Roe’s solo track “Billy Paul Said” is a tribute not just to the titular soul singer but to Van Morrison’s “Jackie Wilson Said.”
    • "Mr. Magoo" is about another of the band's favorite cartoon characters.
  • Siamese Twin Songs: The first three songs on tom tom Blues—"Rocks in Your Head," "Honesty," and "You Still Love Me"—are Siamese triplets.
  • Singer-Songwriter: Largely averted. While Mike Roe has written songs on all of the band's albums, most of his credits are co-writes.
  • Single Stanza Song: "Smiley Smile."
  • Smoking Is Not Cool: "Smokescreen," although Roe insists that it's not about smoking, and both he and Mark Harmon were smokers at one point.
  • Solo Side Project: Michael Roe has a very active solo career, though other members of the band play on his solo albums.
    • Lampshaded at the 1997 Cornerstone appearance of his “Safe as Milk Band”: “This is not the 77s. But we’re all here.”
  • Something Blues: “Perfect Blues.”
  • Spoken Word in Music: "The Stellazine Prophecy," "Earache."
  • Stealth Pun: The band loves them.
    • "I Could Laugh" is basically wall-to-wall naked confessions and stealth puns.
    • From "Kites Without Strings": "I was taught/taut but never learned a thing."
    • Michael Roe's first solo album is called The Boat Ashore.
    • From "Sevens": "A paradise/pair o' dice is what you throw away."
    • Nearly every line in "Unbalanced" is a stealth pun.
    • The apparently misspelled "Roesbud."
  • Step Up to the Microphone: Drummer Bruce Spencer sings the second verse of “Leaving.” Mark Tootle sings two songs on All Fall Down, and both he and Mark Proctor get songs on Ping Pong Over the Abyss.
  • Supergroup: Roe is in the Lost Dogs, along with the frontmen of Daniel Amos, The Choir, and Adam Again.
  • Take That!: "Ba-Ba-Ba-Ba" is an attack on the Mormon church (and was originally called "Utah").
  • Title-Only Chorus: "Make a Difference Tonight," "Do It for Love."
  • Title Track: Averted, except for "Ping Pong Over the Abyss" and "Pray Naked."
  • 12-Bar Blues: "U U U U," "Perfect Blues," "Mary and the Baby Elvis," "Closer,” “Where It’s At, "Outskirts."
  • Uncommon Time: Two right in a row on EP.
    • "Sevens" uses a seven-measure structure instead of the more common eight.
    • "Unbalanced" features a repeating figure of a six-beat measure followed by a five-beat measure.
  • Unplugged Version: Echoes o' Faith, It's for You, and Played Naked.