Well, it’s Independence Day, a day I used to get all excited for. As a kid, most of the families on our cul-de-sac in the neighborhood would get together to pool our fireworks while one father, with a martini and cigarette in one hand and a small blowtorch in the other, would like them for us. As we all grew up, that gave way to a tradition of my mom, brother and me joining my uncle and aunt at their house for some fireworks, capped off with my uncle, ever the history nut and teacher and Civil War expert, would pack his small cannon with gun powder and packing. He’d then point “Old Hummer” in the direction of one of his neighbors that was bugging him that particular summer, light the fuse on that little cannon, and, “BOOM!” That little thing would wake up the neighborhood, and Uncle Dick would simply cackle with delight. If the man weren’t Lutheran, I’d swear he would have thought he was a reincarnated Civil War veteran (Lutherans don’t believe in reincarnation, though I might find some scientific validity to the idea in matter can neither be created nor destroyed, it just changes form.).
During my college years, I’d go up to the frat house and watch my brothers have a bottle rocket fight in the house. Finally, as a father, I would try to teach my boys some of the science behind the colors being made, but they, like any boy, would just want to blow up firecrackers and fire off bottle rockets. As a matter of fact, they would have me buy some many of those things with their money that they would be periodically firing that stuff off for years, be it New Year’s Day at midnight, birthdays, special occasions or whenever the mood struck them.
But, Independence Day in 1976 was hyped so much that it never did leave up to it. But that should not have surprised me, as 1976 was the year my dad left my mom. So, it was full of disappointment. Except for a couple areas of refuge in my life at the time, I was excelling in sports and the music I was listening to was fantastic.
Let’s check out a portion of my favorites from 1976.
ABBA – Arrival (1976). Don’t laugh! I love ABBA! They were the quintessential pop band of the Seventies, and this album is their first classic of their career. “Dancing Queen” is the big one on the album.
Aerosmith – Rocks (1976). Toys in the Attic put the Boston band on the map, but Rocks is the band’s greatest album. They grew by leaps and bounds, as this album became one of my go-to LPs of that summer. How can you go wrong with “Last Child,” “Back in the Saddle,” “Rats in the Cellar” AND “Sick as a Dog.”
Bob Dylan – Desire (1976). If Blood on the Tracks was Dylan at his most personal, Desire finds Bob trying to pull back a bit while still having his marriage crumble around him. While not as focused as the previous album, Desire still finds Dylan in the middle of his mid-Seventies renaissance.
Bob Seger & the Silver Bullet Band – Live Bullet (1976). Live albums were kind to many of the great journeymen rockers of the day in the mid-Seventies. Kiss, Cheap Trick, Thin Lizzy, Peter Frampton and Seger all had live albums save their careers. And, Seger may have taken the best advantage that Live Bullet gave him. This album showed the world the brilliance of the man, music and his band’s live performance on a night when they might have been the greatest show on earth. After all these years, I still love “Turn the Page.”
Bob Seger & the Silver Bullet Band – Night Moves (1976). As I said, Seger took advantage of his new found fame, wrote was terrific songs and let the world come to him with this album. This album was perfect for teens in the themes covered, although we never realized that those themes would resonate more as adults.
Boston – Boston (1976). This album changed the course of rock history. Before this album, hard rock was based in blues-based thing called boogie, typified by Bachman-Turner Overdrive and Humble Pie. Then, Boston brought to the world this clean-sounding arena rock sound on this album. Unfortunately, many of the bands that followed in Boston’s wake lacked Tom Scholz’ soulful production values and his guitar-stacking sounds, while no other band has a the soaring vocals of Brad Delph. This is very close to a perfect album, almost like a greatest hits album. No wonder the band only releases an album every decade or so.
Boz Scaggs – Silk Degrees (1976). Originally, Scaggs began as a blues rock singer with Steve Miller’s original band. Eventually, Boz, much like the Bee Gees did the year before, stumbled upon a new sound that was steeped in R&B with light touches of disco thrown. In Scaggs’ case, he stumbled into a sound we now call Yacht Rock. For a teenager, this was perfect background music for reading, talking on the phone with your girlfriend or most any gathering of people your age. Plus, “Lowdown” is just plain sexy, while “Lido Shuffle” is simply fun.
David Bowie – Station to Station (1976). Ever the chameleon, Bowie now transitions from glitter rock god to Philly soul man to, now, The Thin White Duke, whatever that meant. To me? I think it represented that Bowie was keeping some of the soul in his music from Young Americans, but also beginning to integrate new sounds coming from Kraftwerk and the burgeoning punk scene. That man was the ultimate rock alchemist. The proof is all in his hit “Golden Years.”
Eagles – Hotel California (1976). The Eagles were a great pop/rock band with some country leanings. But, Hotel California was on a whole other level. They elevated their game so much that it became nearly impossible to follow it up. This album was the perfect metaphor for an American culture that was being bogged down by its past. Ironically, it is the perfect album for today, as we face a similar crisis in confidence.
Electric Light Orchestra – A New World Record (1976). Originally, ELO was formed with the intention of taking The Beatles’ Magical Mystery Tour, melding it with some symphonic flourishes, all the while bringing it up-to-date. This is the album in which the band finally reaches this goal, all the while creating their own voice. Credit has got to go to Jeff Lynne for willing the band to greatness.
Flamin’ Groovies – Shake Some Action (1976). Back in 1983 when I was working in Wisconsin, one of my buddies came up to me, holding a cassette tape telling me, “This is the greatest rock & roll album of all time!” Well, we went back to his dorm room and listened to it. This album was the perfect mix of punk attitude and power pop fun that I fell in love with it immediately. Today, many critics consider it a classic, as do I. This was a veteran San Francisco band that had been playing this type of music for nearly a decade when the world finally caught up to them. There are many similarities between the Groovies and Big Star as far as their career trajectories are concerned. But, that’s were they end, as this band has more in common with the Dave Clark Five than The Beatles. This one is fun from beginning to end.
Jackson Browne – The Pretender (1976). Browne was a known quantity and well-established artist by the time he released this album. Unfortunately, the tragedy of losing his young wife to a suicide led the man to channel all of his pain into making this outstanding album. If you aren’t moved by “Here Comes Those Tears Again,” then you are heartless.
Kansas – Leftoverture (1976). Seriously, who would have ever expected an prog rock band with lyrics that borrowed from Christianity, hailing from the great state of Kansas, to create one of the classic albums of the Seventies? And, they even had a Top 10 hit with “Carry on Wayward Son.” My dad, proving to be ever-behind-the-curve when music was concerned, once asked me if I had ever heard this rock band who played with a violin called Kansas? I just smirked and smiled, knowing that he had unwittingly bought that album for me a year earlier than when he asked me. Parents!
Kiss – Destroyer (1976). Let me set the record straight right now! After I bought this album at the beginning of the summer of ’76, I played it every day until I got Queen’s A Day at the Races at the end of the year. Oh, sure, I played the others on this list, but I ALWAYS came back to this album religiously. This was the perfect mix of Alice Cooper-type anthems and simple Kiss monstrous playing that was so appealing to my teenage self. And, truth be told, I’m still not tired of it, though hearing “Beth” on the radio every couple of hours for months on end did push me to skip the song for a few months. Look, I still recognize the fact that “Beth” would perfect make-out music for my age group.
I will finish up the albums from the year of America’s Bicentennial next time. Peace!