A look at Billboard’s Year-End Hot 100 Singles of 1976 reveals that, if disco hadn’t yet conquered the world, the sound was on the ascendent: “Silly Love Songs,” “Disco Lady,” “Play That Funky Music,” “A Fifth of Beethoven.” For my part, never having had to live through its dominance of the charts, I actually rather like disco – and certainly the nouveau-disco that’s come to undergird much of modern EDM (SUCH DAFT, MUCH PUNK). But unless you consider ELO “disco” (and they weren’t until at least Out of the Blue , although certainly by Discovery ), it won’t be making much of a dent in MY Hot 100 (well, Hot 5 anyway) for the U.S.’s Bicentennial year.
5. A TRICK OF THE TAIL (Genesis)
Many wondered whether Genesis would be able to survive Peter Gabriel’s departure in the wake of The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway. As it turns out, they not only survived but thrived. This isn’t terribly surprising in retrospect – throughout Genesis’s existence, Tony Banks has been the band’s cornerstone. And it’s his keyboards and compositions, wedded to Steve Hackett’s nimble guitar lines and Phil Collins’ double duty on vocals and drums, that make A Trick of the Tail the match of anything from the Gabriel years – and, thus, the match of any progressive rock album out there.
4. MOONMADNESS (Camel)
Few bands were as expert at making albums that create their own magical little worlds as Camel (see: Mirage, The Snow Goose). Moonmadness continues in the vein established by those masterworks, exploring a dreamlike soundscape (moonscape?) that often takes off into high-octane instrumental showcases but never loses its melodic purity or lush sense of atmosphere. Some of the band’s most touching passages are to be found in these seven gorgeous tracks.
3. THE ROYAL SCAM (Steely Dan)
In these tales of drug busts, hostage situations, and sci-fi mobsters, Becker/Fagen’s always-cryptic lyrics cross the line from sarcastic into downright caustic, making for perhaps their darkest album. Musically, although 1977’s Aja would mark a turning point in Walter Becker & Donald Fagen’s artistic development, where instead of writing jazzed-up rock they were writing rocked-up jazz, The Royal Scam is still rock & roll, however complex and unconventional. And it’s great.
2. SONGS IN THE KEY OF LIFE (Stevie Wonder)
Possessed not only of one of the greatest voices of his generation (no small praise), incredible keyboard chops, and positively visionary songwriting skills, Stevie Wonder is one of those artists who seems too talented to be true. Songs in the Key of Life is his magnum opus, a tour-de-force in which Stevie embraces all of then-contemporary African American music and masters it all. But these aren’t just genre exercises; these are truly songs in the key of life, overflowing not only with musical invention but also with humanity and joy.
1. A NEW WORLD RECORD (Electric Light Orchestra)
Is there a greater melodist in all rock than Jeff Lynne? Paul McCartney or Brian Wilson, perhaps; but otherwise, the field is uncontested. Their classical-rock ambitions weren’t what made ELO brilliant, although they did make them distinctive; it was Jeff’s incredible pop/rock melodicism, which reaches its zenith on A New World Record and its 1977 follow-up, Out of the Blue. Forced to choose just one, the more compact ANWR makes the stronger impression: 35 minutes of the tightest, most gloriously tuneful music to come out of the 1970s.
- Genesis A Trick of the Tail (1976) (classicrockreview.wordpress.com)
- Classic Album Review: Camel – Moonmadness (therepublika.com)
- Pharrell, Daft Punk & Stevie Wonder Perform @ The 2014 Grammys (westentertainmentrecords.com)
- Steely Dan – Kid Charlemagne (melodology.wordpress.com)
- Jeff Lynne & His Magical Beard (jhubner73.com)