1976 in Music

My music reviews for music that came out in 1976.

1. Philip Glass: Einstein on the Beach (10/10)

I am a very big fan of John Adams’ Nixon in China from pretty much the moment I heard it. It seemed impossible to me that two seemingly diametrically opposed styles of music could be merged s seamlessly. It’s safe to say it changed my (musical) life.

That experience is always shocking (in a wonderful way) to me, especially as I get older. I have been going out of my way to find supposed major events and touchstones in music history for about 15 years now, and every so often – sometimes every few months, sometimes less than once a year – I find something that I cannot believe I didn’t hear until I was [insert age here]. My life prior to listening to the thing now seems incomplete. That’s how I felt with Nixon in China. And that’s how I feel  about Einstein on the Beach, another supposed minimalist opera.

Read the full review.

2. Ramones (10/10)

I wrote the following before I came around to fully acclaiming this record:

The Ramones’ debut album begs the question: can we determine greatness without looking at influence? If the Ramones released this album, and it didn’t influence half the rock musicians alive today (maybe a slight exaggeration) would we still consider it great?

Read the full review.

3. David Bowie: Station to Station (10/10)

From the very opening of that train sample, it’s obvious that things are going to be different than Young Americans. Whereas that album felt like a flirtation with something Bowie was only interested in passing (albeit good at), this feels like Bowie again.

Opening an album with your longest track ever sends a really interesting message, as does opening with a sample. With the exception of “Golden Years,” the soul and R&B here is filtered through Bowie’s artsy lens in a way that it wasn’t on Young Americans and, with hindsight, we can see the genesis of the Berlin Trilogy in this weird amalgam of American R&B and art rock (with just a hint of Krautrock – or is that hindsight speaking?).

Whether or not this record is the artistic achievement that is Ziggy, or Aladdin Sane, or any of The Berlin Trilogy, or Scary Monsters…well, I’m not sure. But it’s among his best, and it’s among my very favourite Bowie albums (probably #3).
A classic.

4. Bob Dylan: Desire (9/10)

This is an interesting record for numerous reasons – Dylan’s first work with a co-lyricist, it’s a return to “protest” song-writing (on two tracks, anyway), and various other reasons. It might also be the last “great” Dylan album. Not 100% sure.

It’s certainly a radical lyrical about-face from the extremely confessional (or extremely Chekhov-obsessed, depending on who you believe) Blood on the Tracks (with the notable exception of “Sara”).

Sure, Dylan’s lyrics are more accessible, but they’re still often among the best around. And a few of these songs are among his very best, including “Hurricane” (is this the first “true crime” song?) and “Sara” (which is devastating).

But there are some weaker tracks, like the seemingly endless, interminable mob apologia “Joey.”

I can’t quite decide whether it’s classic Dylan, despite its differences from his peak 10 years earlier. But it’s up there. It’s likely his second best album of the ’70s. And probably the last (nearly) essential record he ever made.

5. The Modern Lovers (9/10)

This sort of compilation of “demos” is an early punk classic that lets the rest of the world know what probably only a few people in Boston and the music industry knew. The mix of straight ahead rock music and the laconic delivery is not quite bratty enough for punk but way more in line with punk than most of the other rock music being made when it was recorded. Listening to it should prompt serious arguments among you and your friends about which punk band was the first punk band.

Also, the songs are good and some are classics.

6. Joni Mitchell: Hejira (9/10)

Though maybe not Mitchell’s very best album, this is possibly my favourite, as it contains my favourite song (“Coyote”).

The set of songs is among her very best, and it’s free of the experimentation of Hissing. Not that it was a bad thing, but this record is more consistent, with jazz more fully incorporated into her sound and, overall, just a stronger set.

7. Jaco Pastorius (9/10)

8. Rush: 2112 (9/10)

Sometime between 2005 and 2016 I wrote the following:

Though I’ve never heard any of their earlier records this is, by all accounts, the record that made Rush Rush. In the ’70s Rush was either the heaviest prog rock band or the most progressive hard rock/metal band. Either way, they basically invented progressive metal (at least the idea of it, if not the sound).

And this is the fundamental document.

Until they started trying new things with Permanent Waves, the subsequent Rush albums of this era were all made in the shadow of this record. They may have gotten better at songwriting, but they never really achieved something like this again.

I mostly agree with this though it’s the title track that is the reason one listens to this record. The rest of the album is very much “early Rush” and sounds more like very competent hard rock (with ballads!) than prog.

9. Bunny Wailer: Blackheart Man (9/10)

One of the best reggae albums of the ’70s. Read the review of Blackheart Man.

10. Henry Gorecki: Sympony No. 3 (8/10)

I think this is the ‘Adagio for Strings’ of the Polish avant garde / Holy minimalist schools, which is both a good thing and a bad thing. It’s obvious why its popular (well, if you put aside its length) and its also obvious why so many music nerds hate its popularity or even hate it: it’s too easy to love for something written by a guy who’s supposed to be “avant”.

I really like it, but I understand why it isn’t exactly forward-thinking. As someone else commented, ‘sometimes beauty transcends reason.’ Couldn’t say it better myself.

11. Peter Tosh: Legalize It (8/10)

Reggae’s best songwriter. Read the review of Legalize It.

12. Bob Marley and the Wailers: Rastaman Vibration (8/10)

The best set of Bob Marley songs? Read the review of Rastaman Vibration.

13. Van Der Graaf Generator: Still Life (8/10)

Sometime between 2007 and 2014, I wrote the following:

This is the cleanest produced VDGG album I’ve heard so far (it’s the fourth I’ve heard), and that’s both a good thing and a bad thing.

On the positive, Hammill’s voice has never been so front and centre, and you can really hear how incredible a singer he is – if an album like this doesn’t convince you he was one of the best male rock singers of the ’70s, there’s no saving you.

On the other hand, the appealing murk of earlier albums – ‘is that an organ, a guitar or an electric saxophone I am hearing right now?’ – is missing and so therefore some of their sense of mystery. I’m not actually sure that’s a bad thing, it just takes some getting used to. Hammill also barely plays guitar, which takes getting used to as well.

But now that I’ve adjusted to the ‘improved’ sound I can’t help but love it. There were few performers like Hammill at his peak, even if the music behind him sometimes sounds too…I don’t know: easy? Is that fair? (It doesn’t help that I’ve heard “Still Life” live first, where it is significantly rawer.

This is probably my least favourite VDGG album, but that isn’t really a criticism, as the band is still one of the rare prog bands that still sounds great despite the passage of years. That’s a really rare feat, actually, and its something that should be celebrated.

Do I agree? Not really. It’s a pretty great record. I don’t know that it’s that less complex. Maybe a bit, but this is still quite proggy. Not my least favourite of theirs any more.

14. Tom Waits: Small Change (8/10)

It’s hard to know what I would think of this album (or any of his earlier albums) if Waits hadn’t gone off on his emphasis stylistic departure. I was born only a couple of years before it happened so it’s very unlikely that I wouldn’t have been exposed to at least the idea of Waits’ second act before I heard this. And this one ended up being one of the first albums of his I heard, though at the same time as at least one of his early ’80s masterpieces.

Before essentially creating his own sound, Waits was a literate, vaguely jazzy songwriter. Had he never changed his sound, he would likely still be remembered fondly for his distinct persona.

He leans very heavily into that persona on most of small change – he’s a drunk, he’s doing it for the money to keep drinking, oh and he just happens to be incredibly talented lyrically. There are numerous memorable lines in these songs. Certainly more than you would expect for Waits’ shtick.

There is some deviation from the shtick, of course, both in terms of some of the lyrics but also in terms of the arrangements. A guitarless record was fairly brave in the mid ’70s but going one further and recording, for example, a song with just his voice and drums shows that the great musical inventions of the ’80s and ’90s didn’t come out of nowhere. The strings are overdone but Waits’ voice is mostly a cure for whenever they’re used. (It’s impossible to make him sound syrupy no matter how hard they try.)

I think the album holds up pretty well and it would hold up even better if we didn’t know what he did later in his career. It’s certainly among the best he made before the transformation, maybe it’s the best. (I haven’t listened to all of the pre-transformation records and the ones I’ve listened to, I haven’t heard recently.) But it’s still a bit of an acquired taste if you’re not into the idea of a drunken but hyper-literate piano player.

15. Jim Hall: Live! (8/10)

Jim Hall is an excellent guitarist. I had never heard him before, but he’s fantastic. And, on this date, he’s backed by a great band, again made up of two guys I don’t know. And they are excellent as well. And the whole thing is fantastic.

But I can’t shake one feeling, and that is that this record was made in 1975 and this is absolutely, totally bop. (Well, if I’m being honest, I guess it’s post bop, but you get my meaning.) And it’s the mid seventies. And he’s doing his thing, and his thing is great, but it’s kind of dated. I mean, grow a little man.

Listening to this record makes me want to seek out his earlier stuff, as he’s undoubtedly one of the great bop guitarists and I can’t believe it’s taken me so long to hear him. But I can’t quite go gaga about it.

16. Wild Tchoupitoulas (8/10)

A great combination of funk and traditional New Orleans sounds. The real deal, I suspect (though I have never been here). I can’t really imagine anyone recording this with the aim of selling records outside of New Orleans.

17. Jeff Beck: Wired (8/10)

18. AC/DC: High Voltage [International Version] (8/10)

AC/DC’s first international release is actually a compilation of music from their first two records, released only in Australia. (Oh, the days when music was that regionalized…)

I haven’t heard either of those records, so I don’t know if they did a good job of compiling this, but my guess is they did. This record establishes exactly what has been AC/DC since: big, simple, sleazy rock music.

And, for some reason, I don’t mind the misogyny as much from Bon Scott, perhaps because I think he didn’t know any better, perhaps because this is very much the template for all future AC/DC, and I need to respect that regardless. I don’t know.

Anyway, there are better AC/DC records in terms of songs, for sure, but this is the band, for better or worse, and they’ve never sounded any different.

19. Aerosmith: Rocks (8/10)

The first time through this, I didn’t like it as much as Toys in the Attic. Aside from the opening track, there are fewer hits and the songs sounded weaker on the whole.

But this is a dirty, perhaps deliberately poorly sounding record. (Listen to the piano on the last track – that piano sounds terrible). At a time when most rock bands were still trying to sound as perfect as possible in studio, and over-rehearsing the shit out of everything, here is a band that sounds messy, unpolished and raw, despite the commercial success of the last record. It’s as if they had taken at least some of the spirit of punk to heart. (I doubt that’s what really happened. I heard it was the drugs that caused this record to sound like shit.)

It’s really appealing and the songs grow on you perhaps because of the grimy sound. I still don’t think it’s as strong a set of songs as the previous record, but it’s a cool record made in defiance of trends at the time.

20. Henri Dutilleux: Ainsi la nuit (8/10)

The Dutilleux quartet should make no sense pared with the other two quartets it was pared with on the disc I first heard it on. But for some reason it really does sound to me like it “came from” Debussy’s string quartet – I can’t really articulate why except to say that it feels natural. The first time I listened I had to double check the track because I thought I was still listening to Claude and it made no sense. (Because you know, atonality wouldn’t make sense in 1893.)

There’s just something about Dutilleux’s quartet, something traditional despite its avant-gardeness, that makes me think of it as part of a tradition. And makes it fit in with the other two quartets, which are contemporaneous with each other.

21. Mauricio Kagel: MM51 [piano version] (7/10)

The piano version of MM51 is for piano and metronome. That’s something new for me. The metronome appears to speed up and slow down slightly (though I guess that could be some kind of aural illusion based on the piano part…). It’s an interesting piece; I can’t say that I’ve ever heard anything like it before.

22. Led Zeppelin: Presence (7/10)

The anniversary came up again and yet again I just couldn’t justify talking about it on the podcast. It’s their simplest record (minus “Achilles’ Last Stand”) and it shows they can just that one thing as well as anyone. But it’s also their most boring album.

23. Commodores: Hot on the Tracks (7/10)

Too poppy for me but I still think it mostly succeeds. Read the review of Hot on the Tracks.

24. Rainbow: Rising (7/10)

For some reason, when I first listened to this record, I felt like the keyboards completely dominated it and Blackmore was reduced to a sideman. That’s not true at all, and I have no idea why I had just a hard time hearing Blackmore’s solos when I was casually listening, as they are as great as ever.

The music is actually pretty good for this kind of metal too, and maybe Dio’s lyrics are better this time out.

But, for whatever reason, I still prefer the debut.

25. The Residents Present the Third Reich ‘n Roll (7/10)

There are a couple of truly great things about this record, despite its rather impenetrable “music.”

The first is the cover, which is one of my favourite album covers of all time. I am firmly on board with the idea that Dick Clark was not helpful in his role in promoting shitty music throughout his career.

The second thing is that, as someone who grew up with a lot of these songs (not because I was alive, but because I listened to “oldies” radio), some of these are so hilarious and they highlight the inanity of so much of the music we listen to and love.

And I think we can see the origins of things like plunderphonics in music like this. After listening to a record like this, your idea of what music is and what it isn’t is considerably expanded.

But this is impenetrable stuff for anyone who is not on board with the joke. And, I should note, it’s a one-note joke (albeit a hilarious one-note joke). And they don’t fully commit to their “pop music is fascism” idea and I think a truly great record like this would have gone all-in on that idea, especially with that cover.

But still, an eye-opening record when I first heard it, and one of my favourite music-as-practical-joke records.

26. Gentle Giant: Interview (7/10)

The idea that this is the first weak Gentle Giant album just doesn’t match what I’m hearing. Yes, I’m not sure the concept holds up all that well – this is a musical “interview” or something – but the band is still quite capable of making their nutty, extremely inaccessible prog. The songs feel like maybe their lacking strong enough melodies. And it sure is short. But I can’t say I dislike it anyway, as it’s still very much GG doing their thing, something I think I’ll always appreciate.

27. Thin Lizzy: Jailbreak (7/10)

Not a masterpiece by any means, but reasonably literate for hard rock. Read the review of Jailbreak.

28. The Runaways (7/10)

I understand why this is an important record to a lot of people: it’s an all-woman rock band, with a bit of a punky attitude and very much behaving like men (or, at least, not like women were supposed to behave). And I’m sure it’s been hugely influential.

But the music isn’t all that great: it’s pretty generic hard rock for its day, with a bit of a punky attitude but which isn’t really matched by the music, and a little too much camp, of the not self-aware variety, for me – particularly in the final track, which basically turns into a “women in prison” film. It just isn’t that musically interesting – it really isn’t at all, if I’m honest – and so, while I get it’s an influential record, I’m not sure how good it is. It’s one of those that is influential despite being not great, hence the rating that doesn’t necessarily fit the review.

I will say that cover of “Rock and Roll” is at least different, though.

29. Blue Öyster Cult: Agents of Fortune (7/10)

In 2016, I wrote the following:

This is my first exposure to BOC. They’re a weird band. They try to walk a line between almost an Alice Cooper Light kind of ghoulish arena rock and a more serious hard rock band. They’re impressive musicians – I like the lead guitarist particularly, who sometimes sounds like he should be another band. But honestly I cannot tell whether they are a purposively dumb hard rock band, a serious hard rock band, or something else – certainly some of their songs are light and poppy enough that it sounds like they had dreams more of radio play. I think there’s a reason they’re not remembered as well as some other hard rock bands of the era.

I definitely like it more than I did back then. And I’ve listened to more of their records and I might have underrated this one. It is still hard to tell how serious they are.

30. Led Zeppelin: The Song Remains the Same (7?/10)

This seems like a ridiculously positive rating and it should be downgraded but I, um, don’t want to listen to it again. (So what does that tell you?)

31. Earth, Wind & Fire: Spirit (6/10)

For some reason I wasn’t quite feeling this one as much as their other albums from around this time. Read the review of Spirit.

32. Warren Zevon (6/10)

So, sometime between 2005 and 2016, I wrote the following:

Try as I might, I just can’t get into Warren Zevon. I don’t find him nearly half as clever as he was made out to be by some fawning appraisal I read of him years ago – which has, unfortunately, coloured everything I’ve heard of his since. Some of his lines are indeed incisive and/or funny, but not that many. And a lot of time he just seems to be to be deliberately contrarian, such as with the song that opens this album.

I don’t love his music – though I’d rather listen to this record than some of the records he made in the ’80s, which feature worse production. And I don’t really connect with enough of the lyrics.

I think this is a little harsh. Before I realized I had reviewed it already, I was actually leaning towards a 7/10 despite the presence of a host ton of the Mellow Mafia and the general slickness.

But he is a little impressed with himself and I’m not sure enough of the songs are good enough to really up the ranking. Familiarity breeds enjoyment though so I can see myself coming around to upping the rating after a few more listens.

33. Steely Dan: The Royal Scam (6/10)

My first Steely Dan record doesn’t really endear me to them. (Nor does reading that Aja is mellower…) I love jazz, but I can’t say I love R and B with a jazz influence, which is what this sounds like to me. Too much R and B, not enough jazz, for my tastes.

I like some of Fagen’s lyrics – a lot of them – and I think I would like this band if they were a little more into jazz rather than “jazzy.” But this is just not my thing. It’s well done, it has surprisingly decent lyrics, but the music just doesn’t connect with me.

34. Eagles: Hotel California (6/10)

Read the grudging review of how Hotel California not awful.

35. Parliament: The Clones of Dr. Funkenstein (6/10)

I think I missed my chance with Funkadelic. I generally like the music but I generally hate the lyrics. Had I discovered Funkadelic between the ages of 17 and 23 I would have absolutely loved that band.

Unfortunately, many of the musical things I like about Funkadelic’s music are present significantly more in Funkadelic than in Parliament’s, but there are still these inane, goofy lyrics that do not ingratiate themselves. I get that this is dance music, but listening to it the way I am is not conducive to ignoring the lyrics.

This is all very well done, but it is not for me. I like my funk much more psychedelic. And I would like different lyrics.

36. Dr. Buzzard’s Original Savannah Band (6/10)

Big band jazz with a touch of disco. What? Read the review of Dr. Buzzard’s Original Savannah Band’s self-titled debut album.

37. Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band: Night Moves (6/10)

Not my thing but at least he’s passionate. Read the review.

38. Genesis: Wind and Wuthering (6/10)

38. Genesis: A Trick of the Tail (6/10)

The beginning of the end.

40. Rod Stewart: A Night on the Town (6/10)

Basically Atlantic Crossing 2. Read the review of A Night on the Town.

41. The Doobie Brothers: Takin’ It to the Streets (6/10)

Perhaps one of the foundational documents of Yacht Rock along with Silk Degrees (see below). Read the review of Takin’ It to the Streets.

42. Arlo Guthrie: Amigo (5/10)

All over the place in terms of sound quality and overall sound. But also, wow does Guthrie sometimes sound like Bob Dylan. Read the review of Amigo.

43. Electric Light Orchestra: A New World Record (5/10)

Despite deciding I was going to get into ELO when I was 16 or 17, I never actually did. So I have no idea how this to compares to any of their other records.I believe this is supposed to be their best, or at least their most popular. Anyway…

Read the rest of the review of A New World Record.

44. Billy Joel: Turnstiles (5/10)

I hate Billy Joel and I have no idea why the world loves him. Read the review of Turnstiles.

45. AC/DC: Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap (5/10)

I have grown out of AC/DC but the extent to which I’d grown out of them wasn’t apparent until I listened to this record. I still respect what they do, generally, and think that, as far as big dumb misogynist rock goes, there are few better bands.

But this record lacks the quality songs that the previous album has – there are literally two I can remember, even after 3 listens. The first is the title track, which is famous for various reasons. The other is “Ride On,” the single best AC/DC song ever, which is basically the only reason to listen to this album (if it isn’t on a greatest hits/best of record).

Honestly, what I might have found amusing and fine at 19 I find boring and kind of obnoxious at 35. I won’t be listening to it again.

46. Steve Miller Band: Fly Like an Eagle (5/10)

Read the review of Fly Like an Eagle.

47. Colosseum II: Strange New Flesh (5/10)

Editor’s Note: When I wrote this I had yet to listen to the original Colosseum.

“Dark Side of the Moog” gets things off to a great start, despite its title, with some typically bonkers – “mathy” is probably the word we would use now – European jazz rock. I used to eat this stuff up when I was younger, and still have a deep appreciation for people who can play like this.

But things take a turn – quite a turn – when that damn vocalist starts singing. I mean…where did they find this guy? It’s like the band decided that this crazy jazz rock stuff was just too much intensity for one album, so they had to mellow out things with an MOR singer and some cliché jazz rock and pop. I can’t tell you how much I dislike the vocal sections of this record.

This decision would make me never want to listen to Colosseum II again, but I read somewhere that this is the only record this guy ruins, so hopefully that’s true. (Though the taste of the rest of the band has to be questioned too.)

So what the hell do we do with something that mixes such great music with such awful music?

48. Boston (5/10)

It is incredible to me the amount of time and energy that has been devoted to the foundational myth of this very boring, very average American arena rock band. To read Wikipedia, or to listen to any classic rock radio station in the ’90s, you’d think this record was some kind of miracle of musical creativity or genius the way people feel they need to repeat the story of Scholz and these songs. (And, of course, the supposedly really great guitar sound.) It’s bizarre. And, after you’ve heard it more than once, the story is as boring and generic as their music.

This is a band that has clearly listened to better music but has decided that they don’t want to piss anyone off, so they’re going to try to take that interesting music and make it as accessible and bland as possible (for the 70s). They even throw in a pseudo prog intro to one of their songs (as well as the vaguely proggy bridges on a few others) but they don’t commit to it for some reason.

Just unbelievably average in every way.

Oh, and I don’t like their harmony vocals and don’t know why they sing that way.

49. Lou Rawls: All Things in Time (5/10)

Philly Soul. Not a fan. Read the review of All Things in Time.

50. Frampton Comes Alive! (5/10)

I was raised on this being some kind of sacred text. And it’s ridiculous that something like this achieved this kind of status.

When I first got into classic rock in my teens, both three tracks from this record were in regular rotation on my local classic rock station. And I came to like them, especially “Do You Feel Like We Do.” Maybe it was the talk box (my first) or maybe it was something else. And I read about the mythology: how this made him a (brief) star (in the US) and how it was one of the most popular live albums of all time, and yada yada yada. And I watched Classic Albums or Behind the Music (or both). And I sympathized with Frampton’s story. And I generally believed everything I read and heard about his career and this record.

But this isn’t any good.

Is it the cheering that caused people to lose their minds and think this is a great album? Did all the applause and hooting just convince listeners that Frampton had to be an incredible performer and they just had to find out?

Yes, Frampton is a pretty damn good guitar player. And on a couple of tracks he shows that off. But he’s not a great songwriter and a number of these songs are not good. (Though his Stones cover is decent enough.)
But my bigger problem is the sheer amount of time devoted to the crow reacting to things Frampton must be doing on stage, that we, the listening audience, cannot see. Nowhere is this worse than on “Do You Feel Like We Do”, where he seems to be running around extorting the audience or whatever. But it happens in song after song. And the rest of the time these people are losing their minds over very middle-of-the-road ’70s rock music.

At this point in my life I have listened to rather a lot of music, including many live albums. (I should note I’ve also come to kind of dislike most live albums.) And this is not a good record. It’s nice it made him a star in the States, I guess. But it’s a real curiosity of history that this is the best selling album of 1976 (in the US) and the best selling live album in US history (not ever, it’s worth pointing out).

51. Santana: Amigos (4/10)

I declined to include it in the podcast when the anniversary popped up. It’s pretty poppy for them.

52. Boz Scaggs: Silk Degrees (4/10)

I don’t know which album invented yacht rock, but it might have been this one. (I really don’t care to know.) Read the review of Silk Degrees.

53. KISS: Destroyer (3/10)

Read the disparaging review of Destroyer.

Not Ranked:

The Philadelphia Orchestra, The Mendelssohn Club of Philadelphia conducted by Eugene Ormandy: The Planets by Gustav Holst (8/10)

Read the review of The Planets performed by The Philadelphia Orchestra.


Ray Charles: “America the Beautiful” (6/10)

It would have been interesting to listen to this song in 1976, 5 years before I was born, instead of listening to it after having to put up with it for a decade and a half as some kind of badge of American patriotism and exceptionalism, which is what it is now. This song is so obnoxious in its current form and us Canadians who are exposed to it regularly while we are exposed to the all the things that make the US a country with problems like every other country in history.

But Charles’ version is listenable in a way I never would have imagined. I still hate the song, but his performance makes me not want to burn copies of the lyrics, which is something.

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