Looking Through Time: 1976 Albums
The CommRadio Arts & Entertainment Staff revisits some of the most influential records from 1976.
Eagles – “Hotel California”
Keeping up an impressive stride of hit releases, the Eagles’ fifth studio album “Hotel California” would go on to become their most successful record.
Exploring dramatic themes such as the dark side of the American dream and the faltering of idealism, the Eagles provided some of their strongest lyrical commentary to date.
Opening with the album’s iconic title track, the band released what would come to be known as their most recognized song.
Delving into gripping subjects such as drug abuse and Hollywood corruption all within the suspenseful veil of a hotel metaphor, the Eagles display one of their best instances of songwriting. The extended guitar solo at the end of the track is also widely considered to be one of the band’s finest instrumental moments.
The following track “New Kid in Town” showcases the band’s affinity for swelling relaxed tracks. The blending of the group’s vocals and instrumentation align flawlessly as the track bounces between light choruses and bold strikes at the guitar.
Perfectly presenting the range of the group’s sound, the record then goes full throttle with the blistering “Life in the Fast Lane.” Allowing the group to provide a necessary burst of energy on the record, this classic rock track helped to express the universal appeal that the Eagles’ sound possessed.
Other highlights on the record include the impassioned “Wasted Time” and the captivating closing track “The Last Resort,” which admirably tells the heartfelt, often-unheard story of the Native Americans who lost their land.
“Hotel California” was an immediate success for the band. The album has been certified platinum several times and has gone down in history as one of the best albums of all time. Although the Eagles had already established an impeccable reputation, this record helped to solidify their legacy as one of rock’s most legendary acts. —Scott Perdue
Earth, Wind & Fire – “Spirit”
In honor of the 21st night of September recently passing, it is only right to discuss Earth, Wind & Fire’s funkadelic-filled project “Spirit.”
While tracks like the aforementioned “September” have allowed EWF to stay in the graces of modern music, it is “Spirit” that helped pave the way for the future sounds of disco and funk.
Along with Kool & The Gang, EWF were game changers for the genre as black-led groups incorporating rock and bass into their styles. Their influence would permeate far beyond disco, as the future sounds of the new jack swing and R&B from the late 1980s and early 1990s were, in a way, molded by their predecessors. Bel Biv DeVoe and Boyz II Men send their regards.
“Spirit” at its core is the epitome of the disco scene. The opening track “Getaway” shows the group harmonizing over triumphant horns, making one want to unleash their inner Travolta in “Saturday Night Fever.”
EWF is able to switch from their dance styles to a more somber, soulful approach. See the album’s title track, which incorporates a melancholic piano with a much darker horns section. The song was written to honor long-time producer Charles Stepney, adding even more layers to an already dreary track.
“Spirit” may not be the first album people jump to when discussing modern music, but its influence remains heavy on pop culture. “Superbad,” a 2007 comedy, is a film that gives off nostalgic vibes of the 1970s, thanks in part to the implementation of the disco-funk soundtrack. Watching Jonah Hill and Michael Cera traverse the city in search of booze with a sound strikingly similar to that of “Spirit” playing in the background is what makes the Greg Mottola film a classic.
As beloved as tracks like “September” and “Let’s Groove” are, “Spirit” sees Earth, Wind & Fire operating within their wheelhouse, showcasing their creative genius at its highest level. Consistent from opening to close, this project shows why EWF are considered to be one of the best bands to ever grace the funk genre. —Joe Eckstein
Aerosmith – “Rocks”
When Aerosmith released “Rocks” in 1976, few would have predicted how influential the album would be. But with its raw powerful sound, “Rocks” stands as the best of the early Aerosmith albums, and it would inspire artists from Kurt Cobain to Guns N’ Roses to Metallica.
Kicking off the album is “Back in the Saddle,” an insanely powerful opener featuring guitarist Joe Perry trading in his guitar for a six-string bass to match Steven Tyler’s powerful screams. By doubling up on basses, the song gets a real thump, and the blood gets pumping.
Songs like “Last Child,” “Rats in the Cellar” and “Sick as a Dog” showcase not only the blues that inspired Aerosmith but the funk that they would later use more of to make their own unique sound. These songs laid the groundwork for the band’s massively successful 1980s and 1990s comeback.
On the other hand, there are songs like “Combustion,” “Nobody’s Fault” and “Get the Lead Out” that feature the heavy sound Aerosmith perfected in the 1970s. These songs are very Led Zeppelin-like with their heavy instrumental focus, backed by Tyler’s screaming.
“Lick and a Promise” is a unique little song that sees Aerosmith taking on surf rock. It plays like an edgier version of a song that would be played in a 1950s diner with teenagers breaking out in a spontaneous dance. The fun feel and high energy match that scene perfectly.
Ending the album is the soulful ballad “Home Tonight.” Tyler’s vocals take center stage with some piano to give the song its soul. Another example of where Aerosmith would take their sound in the coming decades, the song wears its heart on its sleeve to a very powerful effect.
“Rocks” is the best of both worlds for Aerosmith, featuring some of their best “heavy” stuff that made the band ‘70s legends while also marking the beginning of the band’s evolution that brought them so much success in the ‘80s and ‘90s. —David Fortunato
Boston – “Boston”
American rock band Boston broke onto the scene in 1976 with their self-titled debut album. The group got the inspiration for their name from their hometown of Boston, Massachusetts.
Epic Records signed the group in 1975, then released their debut album on August 25, 1976. The year of its release, “Boston” was the best-selling debut album in the United States.
As of 2020, Boston has sold over 75 million records worldwide and are still actively working on music, although several original members have been replaced over the years. As a standalone album, “Boston” has sold 25 million records, making up a third of the group’s all-time sales.
One of Boston’s most famous tunes, “More Than a Feeling,” is the first track on the album as well as the first single. The song peaked at No. 5 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 charts in 1976. Tom Scholz, the band’s founder and only original member who is still performing today, spent years trying to perfect the meaning behind this song before the group had even been formed.
In “More Than a Feeling,” former lead vocalist Brad Delp sings about lost love, nostalgia and the power of music. The lyrics “it’s more than a feeling/when I hear that old song we used to play,” describe how hearing a familiar song can remind you of memories with a former partner.
The cultural significance of “More Than a Feeling” has not faded over the years, as it remains a relevant and inspiring rock ballad today. The song has been featured in dozens of films and television shows, such as “The Heat,” “Burlesque,” “The Middle,” “The Walking Dead” and several others.
Aside from the smash hit, there were two more singles, “Long Time” and “Peace of Mind,” released in 1977. Other standout songs from “Boston” include “Foreplay,” the instrumental opening to “Long Time,” “Smokin’” and “Rock & Roll Band.”
Boston’s legacy as a classic rock and roll group has lasted through several generations. Although they may never see the same success again as they did in 1976, the band’s impact on the music industry won’t be forgotten anytime soon. —Sarah Simpson
Electric Light Orchestra – “A New World Record”
After the success of the albums, “Eldorado” and “Face the Music,” Electric Light Orchestra released their sixth studio album “A New World Record,” which ultimately proved that if a band were to merge rock music with classical music, it was going to be Electric Light Orchestra.
With its unique sound, “A New World Record” would become the group’s first platinum-selling album. Electric Light Orchestra proved they could put themselves on the charts not only in their native U.K. but also in the U.S., with the album’s complex sounds of strings, electric guitars and choirs.
The album kicks off with the track “Tightrope,” which once again proves just how complex the group could get with their music. “Tightrope” features heavy, dark synthesizers backed by a choir and strings, then smoothly transitions into upbeat rock, just as Electric Light Orchestra does best. The songs “Telephone Line” and “Rockaria!” follow the same trend with the electronic-sounding intros gliding into uplifting rock.
“Mission (A World Record)” shows off the group’s funk rock abilities with Kelly Groucutt on bass, as well as band leader Jeff Lynne on lead vocals, showcasing his singing abilities throughout the entire album.
Next are the tracks “So Fine” and “Livin’ Thing,” which keep in line with the flow of bright rock merged with classical music. “Livin’ Thing” would go on to be one of Electric Light Orchestra’s best and well-known songs.
The second half of the record kicks off with “Above the Clouds,” as the group showcases their soft side with mellow instrumentation and light lyrics. After this, Electric Light Orchestra brings back its signature sound with “Do Ya,” a rocking number that would top the charts in 1977.
The final track of “A New World Record,” “Shangri-La,” brings the album to a close with a soft and gentle vibe, only to be interrupted by ELO’s timeless style of heavy classical music.
“A New World Record” continues to be one the best albums ever produced by Electric Light Orchestra, and it will be listened to for generations to come. —Georgia Peters
Genesis – “A Trick of the Tail”
To say that Genesis was under pressure to succeed in 1976 would be an understatement. Following the shocking departure of singer and creative leader Peter Gabriel, the burden was on the remaining quartet of Tony Banks, Mike Rutherford, Phil Collins and Steve Hackett to keep one of progressive rock’s most interesting and innovative bands alive. With “A Trick of the Tail,” they more than survived. They thrived.
With Collins proving a natural fit on vocal duties, Genesis quickly proved that it hadn’t lost a step with Gabriel gone. This is immediately evident on the thundering opener “Dance on a Volcano,” a musically complex number that lyrically parallels Genesis' pressure to survive as a four-piece band.
Deeper, more human themes are evident throughout “A Trick of the Tail,” in contrast with the often-whimsical lyrics of the Gabriel era. The gorgeous ballad “Ripples” details the tragedy of fading beauty, the hypnotizing “Entangled” explores the complexities of the human mind, and both the sweeping “Mad Man Moon” and the catchy title track recount the “grass is always greener” trope in vastly different ways. Even the cryptic “Squonk,” named after a mythical creature that cries constantly, works as an allegory for maintaining confidence and self-worth.
Elsewhere, tracks like the clever rocker “Robbery, Assault and Battery” and the blazing instrumental finale “Los Endos” became of frequent use in the live scene, a place that Genesis had long made a name for itself.
Simply put, “A Trick of the Tail” delivers. Featuring the same brilliant instrumentation and captivating storytelling that made Genesis prog royalty in the first place, “A Trick of the Tail” is arguably Genesis’ most complete album from top and bottom. Considering it came mere months after Gabriel’s exit, “A Trick of the Tail” is nothing short of an astonishing accomplishment. Indeed, Genesis was here to stay for a long, long time. —DJ Bauer
DJ Bauer is a senior majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Scott Perdue is a senior majoring in secondary education. To contact him, email email@example.com.
Joe Eckstein is a junior majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
David Fortunato is a senior majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email email@example.com.
Sarah Simpson is a junior majoring in film-video. To contact her, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Georgia Peters is a freshman majoring in telecommunications. To contact her, email email@example.com.
About the Contributors
Senior / Broadcast Journalism
Senior / Secondary Education
Scott Perdue is a student studying secondary education at Penn State University. He is passionate about voice and conversation mediums. He believes that music and film are an important form of communication and enjoys constructively criticizing an artist’s work.