Wednesday, August 3, 2011

The Year That Was: Gas Tank Edition Part 2 - 1976

In 1976 punk was rearing its snarling head, but had yet to make an official release (well, the Damned did with New Rose later in the year), so the worn out heroes that movement was scoffing were still dominating the charts and the airwaves, and in several cases deservedly so. Here are a few...

Bob Dylan – Desire: You can reference my May 24 Dylan post for additional thoughts, but I will add that this is one of Dylan’s strongest and yet most aloof albums of the 70s, and certainly his last “masterpiece” for a good 10+ years. Again, it’s all about album cohesion, and Desire just doesn’t have it. But what it does have is a batch of good songs. Approach it as such and you’ll be fine.

David Bowie – Station to Station: Not so much the “return” as the introduction of the Thin White Duke motif, this is Bowie at his most chic and debonair as he transitions from the white funk and blue eyed soul of Young Americans and begins to incorporate the Kraut Rock influences that would dominate most of his next three albums. It’s smooth, it’s sultry, it’s seductive, it’s definitely one of the five Bowie albums you need.

David Bowie via The Thin White Duke

Heart – Dreamboat Annie: Heart’s debut is a strong one. A fine set of roots-heavy rockers and troubadour folk ballads, the latter generously shows off the acoustic guitar talents of Nancy Wilson, while the whole lot is a backdrop for Ann’s drop dead vocals. But there’s also a concept feel, with songs flowing in and out like little miniature suites and the recurring theme of the title track. And since 2/3 of the “classic rock” radio staples are found here (you’ll know ‘em), this is a good place to start for more of the same, with Sing Child about stealing the whole show.


Kiss – Destroyer: Most any Kiss album from the 70s is worth picking up, but Destroyer might be 1) the one to have (if you only have one*) and 2) the logical place to start for the curious beyond the hits. Why? Well, again, that’s all up to the listener, but song for song you’ve got the best of the singles (Shout It Out Loud, Detroit Rock City) and album tracks (King of the Night Time World, God of Thunder), showcasing everything that is right (and yet wrong) about Kiss, from womanizing to self-posturing, all encased in 3-4 minute fist-raising, sing-along arena anthems.

*Ace Frehley is actually my favorite “Kiss album,” but it’s in fact a solo album and so while it counts, it really doesn’t.

Judas Priest – Sad Wings of Destiny: I respect Priest more than like them, but I really do enjoy their sophomore effort. I think what does it for me is not only the beginnings of the classic Priest sound that gave us metal standards like Hell Bent for Leather and Breaking the Law, but a very prog rock approach with extended instrumental pieces and more theatrical lyrics. Oh, and it’s got The Ripper, JP’s best song ever. EV-ER!!!

Rush – 2112: For Rush as a band, this was the make or break effort after three albums that did little to bring them any success. So why not go out guns blazing with a side one consisting of a 20+ minute, multi-part saga about a futuristic, universal war where the prevailing parties dictate everything citizens do, and the one dreamy-eyed lonely heart who attempts to dissuade them? A real snoozer, right? Wrong. It rules. There’s a reason it’s one of the 1001 albums you must hear before you die, because not only is the title track a masterpiece of epic progressive rock, but side two boasts five tunes that further develop the “standard” rock they initially delivered, yet in a way that is decidedly, distinctively Rush. Basically, 2112 introduced the Rush that became huge, though obscurely so.

Rush (I know, yikes...)

Aerosmith – Rocks: The magic of Toys in the Attic is still potent here, with sleaze-cheese rockers and amped up boogie woogie blues, this is their heaviest album and the one that sticks to your guts. There are a couple of well known hits (Back in the Saddle, Last Child), but the cream of this harvest is the album tracks, most notably Rats in the Cellar, which is about as balls out as you can get, and Sick as a Dog, quite possibly my all time favorite A’smith track. For folks more familiar with their 90s 'wink, wink' posturing, this stuff will make you throw Pump in the trash by the solo for Combination.

AC/DC – Dirty Deeds: As with several of the artists here, picking up any album from the 70s will be a good move. The thing about AC/DC is that they’ve done very little to change their sound in the past 40 years, with each release offering more high energy, blues charged riff rock, full of catchy hooks, amazing solos and sordid lyrics that are more to wink at than to take seriously (sorta). If this is your bag, then you already know what I’m talking about. I waffle back and forth between this one and Highway to Hell (oh, and High Voltage) as a personal favorite (of the Bon Scott era anyway), and really it’s a matter of the collected songs. But aside from the iconic title track and the ever pleasing Big Balls, there are several “lesser known” cuts like Love at First Feel, Problem Child and the borderline apocalyptic Ride On to show that these guys can produce more than just a handful of classic radio anthems.

Tom Waits – Small Change: Waits’ fourth album is the first where he trades his already gravelly croon for the Captain Beefheart turned up to 11 howl/moan that has become one of his distinguishing musical trademarks, as well as one of the most expressive voices in modern music. Small Change is the logical follow up to Nighthawks at the Diner, continuing to incorporate free jazz and skat into his then-signature balladry, and acts as a blueprint for the rest of his 70s output. Darker and more cynical, with themes of isolation, alcoholism and seedy living prevalent, Waits can still be witty with wordplay and tender with matters of the heart, keeping things starkly real and intimate, even at a safe distance from your speakers. Aside from Closing Time, this is the one to have pre-Heartattack and Vine.

Tom Waits

Queen – A Day at the Races: The logical follow up and counterpoint to the wildly successful A Night at the Opera, ADatR proves that Queen still had plenty of campy, theatrical epics in their arsenal, capable of rocking with reckless abandon (Tie Your Mother Down) or tugging your heartstrings until they drip blood (You Take My Breath Away). Of course a good portion of that is Freddie’s voice, but it would only be pleasing and not majestic without some top notch songs to give it range and freedom. Somebody to Love certainly ties it all together, and while White Man and Teo Torriatte can get a bit trite (Brian May, I still love you), You and I and Good Old-Fashioned Lover Boy’s open spiritedness just make you feel…good.

Scorpions – Virgin Killer: Highly repulsive (original) album cover aside, this is a great record. Though not as commercially familiar or radio long lasting as later hits like Love Drive or Blackout, this is the solidification of the classic Scorpions sound, where the tongue in cheek is clever and not cheesed out and the riffs, hooks and solos sound fresh and inspired even if you hear them after their watered down 80s counterparts. A big part of this is due to lead guitarist Uli Jon Roth, who incorporates a virtuoso ingenuity that, while mimicked following his departure, was never quite the same after.

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