1976 – My Top Ten Albums Of The Year

Continuing my countdown backwards through the Seventies today, with my personal favourite ten album releases of 1976…

1. Billy Joel “Turnstiles”

Billy Joel - Turnstiles
Billy Joel – Turnstiles

The singer’s fourth album, Joel actually recorded “Turnstiles” twice. Firstly with producer William James Guercio, known for his work with Chicago, and session musicians. Unhappy with the results, Joel fired the producer, relocated to New York and produced the final version himself, using his regular touring band to back him on the record.

Although not nearly as commercially successful as his subsequent album “The Stranger”, there are nonetheless some fantastic songs present here including the singles “Say Goodbye To Hollywood” and “James”.

Also included are the classic “New York State Of Mind” and live favourite “Prelude / Angry Young Man” as well as a trio of songs that I first discovered on the singer’s live album “Songs From The Attic” – “Summer, Highland Falls”, “I’ve Loved These Days” and the epic “Miami 2017 (Seen The Lights Go Out On Broadway)”.

2. Eagles “Hotel California”

Eagles - Hotel California
Eagles – Hotel California

A slightly odd one, this. The band’s fifth record, it was to become their best-selling studio album is undoubtedly a very good one, but does feel arguably somewhat front-loaded. By that I mean that the best-known tracks all come first and surely anyone would find it hard to maintain the momentum after having the stone-cold classic “Hotel California” itself, with the famous guitar solos, as the very first track.

Then again, if you can follow that one up with the sublime “New Kid In Town” and then “Life In The Fast Lane” things can’t be that hard! Even the less well-known songs, though, such as “Victim Of Love”, “The Last Resort” and “Pretty Maids All In A Row” are top-quality Eagles songs.

As usual with Eagles, superb vocals and excellent instrumentation abound throughout this record. A fabulous album from start to finish.

3. Kansas “Leftoverture”

Kansas - Leftoverture
Kansas – Leftoverture

Another record best known for its first track, “Leftoverture” was the fourth album from American band Kansas. In this case that first track was the classic “Carry On Wayward Son”, a song that I first discovered in 1984 on a compilation album titled “American Heartbeat” that also contained tracks from the likes of Survivor, Toto and REO Speedwagon. From that moment the song has held a special place in my affections with its complex yet brilliantly catchy and music.

The inclusion of other superb tracks like “Miracles Out Of Nowhere”, second single “What’s On My Mind” and the six-part epic “Magnum Opus” makes this a fantastic hard / progressive rock album.

4. KISS “Destroyer” / “Rock And Roll Over”

KISS - Destroyer
KISS – Destroyer

As I Noted with 1977’s “Love Gun”, KISS music isn’t designed to be a cerebral experience – it’s all about having a good time, and for KISS it doesn’t get much better than “Destroyer”, their fourth studio album.

Kicking off with the timeless “Detroit Rock City”, one of four singles issued from the record. The others were “Flaming Youth”, the anthem “Shout It Out Loud” and the unexpected hit ballad “Beth” that featured a lead vocal from drummer Peter Criss.

Also on “Destroyer” can be found “God Of Thunder” and “Do You Love Me?” In fact, with the exception of “Great Expectations” which lets the side down somewhat, there isn’t a duff track to be heard. A great remixed version of the record was issued in 2012 as “Destroyer : Resurrected”, remixed by original producer Bob Ezrin and adding some previously missing vocal and guitar parts.

KISS - Rock And Roll Over
KISS – Rock And Roll Over

The group’s second album of the year was “Rock ‘N’ Roll Over”, just eight months later. Again the album kicks off with a classic, this time “I Want You” which has always been one of my favourite early KISS songs. Two singles were released from this record – “Hard Luck Woman” and “Calling Dr. Love” – both of which would also be up there on a list of my all-time favourite KISS tracks.

Although not as strong overall as “Destroyer”, there were other decent tracks on “Rock ‘N’ Roll Over” like “Ladies Room” and “Makin’ Love”.

5. Led Zeppelin “Presence”

Led Zeppelin - Presence
Led Zeppelin – Presence

“Presence” was Led Zeppelin’s seventh studio album and came into being during a difficult time for the band as singer Robert Plant recovered from serious injuries suffered during a car accident in the summer of 1975 on the island of Rhodes, meaning that the group had to cancel a world tour due to start a matter of weeks later.

Nonetheless, it was he who, together with guitarist Jimmy Page, was responsible for six out of the album’s seven tracks, with only “Royal Orleans” being credited to the whole band.

This is very much a guitar-driven album, pointing to the dominant influence that Page had over proceedings, with little or nothing of keyboards or acoustic guitars in evidence.

The ten-minute “Achilles Last Stand” starts off the record is fine fashion. “For Your Life”, the psychedelic-tinged “Nobody’s Fault But Mine” (adapted from a song recorded in 1927 by Blind Willie Johnson) and the bluesy “Tea For One” are the other standout tracks on this, as usual, excellent Led Zeppelin album.

6. Rainbow “Rising”

Rainbow - Rising
Rainbow – Rising

The second album from Ritchie Blackmore’s post-Deep Purple band Rainbow saw the first of many line-up changes as he jettisoned everyone that had appeared on the previous year’s debut record except singer Ronnie James Dio, the most notable new member – in my eyes – being drummer extraordinaire Cozy Powell.

A haunting synthesizer intro ushers in opening track “Tarot Woman”, one of the highlights of the album. Also present is the single “Starstruck” which is a fine example of Blackmore’s fusion of classical influences with hard rock.  Without a doubt, however, the highpoint of this record is the majestic eight-minute “Stargazer” which begins with a perfect example of Powell’s formidable drumming skills and features the Munich Philharmonic Orchestra, one of Dio’s best ever vocal performances and some of Blackmore’s most inspired soloing.

The album cover, too, is a classic. A perfect visual representation of the music contained within, the painting by fantasy artist Ken Kelly (who also produced the cover for “Destroyer” by KISS) evokes the epic scale of the band’s music and is possible one of the best-loved hard rock album covers ever. I even have a framed copy hanging on the wall of my study.

7. Rush “2112”

Rush - 2112
Rush – 2112

“2112” was Canadian trio Rush’s fourth studio record and, in common with other albums on this list, begins with one of the group’s most celebrated compositions – in this case the twenty-minute seven-part title track. The track was a concept piece set in the year 2112 when the priests of the temples of Syrinx have complete control over everyday life. It was apparently influenced to some degree by the novella “Anthem” by Russian author Ayn Rand.

“2112” took up the entire first side of the original vinyl release, and side two presented a further five tracks, not connected to the concept found in the title track. The first two, “A Passage To Bangkok” (a light-hearted look at drug use in the Seventies) and “The Twilight Zone” (inspired by the TV show), were issued as singles. In truth the remainder of the album is less essential but those three tracks are worth the price of admission alone. Oh, and another classic album cover – courtesy of long-time Rush collaborator Hugh Syme.

8. Slade “Nobody’s Fools”

Slade - Nobody's Fools
Slade – Nobody’s Fools

The sixth album from UK band Slade, this one was not as well received as those released during their initial early Seventies heyday. This was in part because the band had spent the previous year in the USA trying to break through there, leading to some UK fans to feel that Slade had sold out, which was reinforced by the change of sound on this album which showed the influence of American music with female backing singers and touches of soul, funk and country music evident.

For what it’s worth I reckon this is actually a very good, strong Slade album with some very good songs and a better sound than on some of their other albums.

Singles-wise (which is what the band were known for to many) the album produced “In For A Penny”, “Let’s Call It Quits” and the (almost) title track. The first two both reached number eleven in the UK but “Nobody’s Fool” itself failed to chart.

Of the non-single tracks, the highlights for me are “Get On Up”, the reggae-influenced “Did Ya Mama Ever Tell Ya” and “I’m A Talker” – and the CD reissue added the 1975 standalone single “Thanks For The Memory (Wham Bam Thank You Mam)”.

9. Status Quo “Blue For You”

Status Quo - Blue For You
Status Quo – Blue For You

Status Quo’s ninth studio album (and third UK number one) “Blue For You” begins in thunderous fashion with the heavy boogie of “Is There A Better Way” but, as with most of the band’s albums and contrary to the general public perception of the group, there was an element of light and shade on display on the record, with the slow gentle blues of “Blue For You” and the country-influenced “Ease Your Mind” a contrast to the uptempo shuffle of “Rolling Home” and the groovy “That’s A Fact”, one of the album’s highpoints.

Best of all, however, are the two singles. “Rain”, written solely by guitarist Parfitt will forever be one of my favourite of the band’s tracks, whilst “Mystery Song” – especially in its full six-plus-minutes version – is also up there with their best.

10. Thin Lizzy “Jailbreak” / “Johnny The Fox”

Thin Lizzy - Jailbreak
Thin Lizzy – Jailbreak

As with the KISS records above, and as I sometimes do, I’m bending the criteria slightly by including two albums by one artist under one entry. Irish rockers Thin Lizzy issued two studio records during 1976 – “Jailbreak” in March and “Johnny The Fox” in October.

I would say that it is “Jailbreak” that is the best-known of the two by virtue of the material contained on it. Two of the band’s most famous songs (both released in the UK as singles) are present in “The Boys Are Back In Town” and “Jailbreak” but also here are “Warriors”, “Cowboy Song” and “Emerald” which would all become Thin Lizzy classics – and all five of those tracks would appear on 1978’s classic live record “Live And Dangerous”.

Thin Lizzy - Johnny The Fox
Thin Lizzy – Johnny The Fox

The line-up of Lynott, Gorham, Downey and Robertson remained stable for long enough to record the follow-up “Johnny The Fox”, though the latter would be replaced more than once by Gary Moore in subsequent years. This second album of the year only had one track issued as a single in the UK – the number twelve hit “Don’t Believe A Word”.

Another couple of tracks destined to appear on “Live And Dangerous” also featured – the funky “Johnny The Fox Meets Jimmy The Weed” and “Massacre” which echoes the earlier record’s “Emerald”. Further highlights here were “Fools Gold” and the drum-heavy “Boogie Woogie Dance”. One could argue that the two albums could have been distilled into one single killer record, but that would have meant losing some excellent, though lesser-known, material.

Elsewhere in 1976 Harold Wilson gave way to James Callaghan as British Prime Minister whilst over in the USA Gerald Ford held the office of President. In football Liverpool replaced Derby County as champions of the old first division into which Manchester United had been promoted following a season in the second division (1974-75). United lost to Southampton in the FA Cup final. The biggest film releases of the year included “Rocky”, “A Star Is Born” and the classic that is “The Omen”. Oh, and last but in no way least, 1976 was the year in which my lovely wife was born!

1975 coming up next in a week or two…

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