Liner Notes

The Year That Was: 1976

by Benjamin Ray

One would think that 1976 was a pretty bad year for music, given the punk rebellion that happened this and the following three years, but that wasn't exactly the case. It's more a case of landed artists passing the time, offering music that was radio-friendly, corporate-sponsored, big label and a far cry from the change the world attitude that had been so prevalent a decade prior.

That's not to say rock was bad. Indeed, Boston remains a darn fine album and one heck of a debut, Steve Miller Band's Fly Like An Eagle is dumb fun, Heart's debut Dreamboat Annie showcased a new voice in rock, Aerosmith's Rocks was jagged, drunk blues rock and their last great album for 10 years, and the Eagles' Hotel California, despite being grossly overplayed, kicked up the band's sound and attitude with the addition of Joe Walsh to the group.

But others did not fare so well. Led Zeppelin, due to personal injuries, drugs and a creative dry spell, put out the disappointing (mostly) Presence and the even duller The Song Remains The Same soundtrack. The Doobie Brothers added Michael McDonald and took a step back in credibility with Takin' It To The Streets. Styx offered the dull Crystal Ball, Paul McCartney the dreadful Wings At The Speed Of Sound, the Rolling Stones put out Black And Blue and Rod Stewart, who used to be cool, offered "Tonight's The Night."


And then there was pop music. If disco wasn't bad enough, a number of wussy singles (Super Hits of the ‘70s!) continued to clog the radio. Check out what listeners put up with this year: "Disco Duck," Chicago's "If You Leave Me Now," Eric Carmen's "All By Myself," Elvin Bishop's "Fooled Around And Fell In Love," Abba's "Fernando," the Bee Gees' "You Should Be Dancing," the Captain And Tenille's  "Muskrat Love," Hot Chocolate's "You Sexy Thing," Orleans' "Still The One," Leo Sayer's "You Make Me Feel Like Dancing," John Sebastian's "Welcome Back," Starland Vocal Band's "Afternoon Delight" and Elton John/Kiki Dee's "Don't Go Breaking My Heart." Hall & Oates also offered "She's Gone" and "Sara Smile," Gordon Lightfoot assumed the role of storyteller with "The Wreck Of the Edmund Fitzgerald," Paul Simon offered "50 Ways To Leave Your Lover" and Joan Armatrading debuted with her self-titled album. 

So it was no wonder punk took over. Among the best albums of the year were Blondie's debut, Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers' debut (with the funny "Pablo Picasso"), The Runaways' debut, Patti Smith's Radio Ethiopia and, especially, the brief, joyous blast of pure rock from The Ramones, which was a shot in the arm to established music. Also noteworthy was David Bowie's Station To Station, a chilly, almost post-punk and very good record that foretold the direction of both his career and the alternative scene in general.

Punk was, in part, a response to both the attitude and musicianship of established rock, especially progressive rock, which was generally falling out of favor. Among the efforts in that vein include Rush's monumental 2112, Electric Light Orchestra's A New World Record, the Alan Parsons Project debut Tales Of Mystery & Imagination and two platters from the new Peter Gabriel-less Genesis, the prog-pop of A Trick Of The Tail and Wind & Wuthering.   


Other rock highlights included Blue Oyster Cult's "Don't Fear The Reaper," a pair of albums from AC/DC, Mannfred Mann's cover of "Blinded By The Light," Steely Dan's solid The Royal Scam, Lou Reed's Coney Island Baby, Warren Zevon, Thin Lizzy's Jailbreak, Bob Dylan's Desire, Tom Waits' Small Change,  the debut from Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, Gary Wright's "Dream Weaver" and the continued success of Peter Frampton's Frampton Comes Alive, which was released in 1975 but had three hit singles in 1976 (Kiss' Destroyer was another arena rock hit this year as well).

Stevie Wonder released his magnum opus, the double album Songs In The Key Of Life, which represented the pinnacle of his career. Marvin Gaye offered I Want You, Parliament had Mothership Connection (and bassist Bootsy Collins the solo Stretchin' Out In Bootsy's Rubberband) and the Miracles released "Love Machine." Disco hits of the year included Donna Summer's heavy-breathing "Love To Love You Baby," Vicki Sue Robinson's "Turn The Beat Around," Rose Royce's "Car Wash," Wild Cherry's "Play That Funky Music," Brick's excellent "Dazz" and, of course, KC & The Sunshine Band's "Shake Shake Shake (Shake Your Booty)."

And that, friends, is the Year That Was in music.

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