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The 20 best rock albums of 1976

he 20 best albums of 1976
(Image credit: Future)

In 1976 the Apple Computer Company was launched by Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, and the CN Tower launched in Toronto. It was the tallest free-standing structure in the world.

Elsewhere, Concorde made its first commercial flight, the first Rocky movie was released, and Jimmy  Carter won the US Presidential Election. 

In music, singer Bette Midler bailed seven members of her entourage out of jail after they were arrested for cocaine and marijuana possession, promoter Bill Sargent offered The Beatles $30 million to reform for a concert tour, The Who's drummer Keith Moon collapsed onstage and was replaced by a member of the audience, Bruce Springsteen was escorted off the grounds at Gracelands after jumping over a wall in a attempt to see Elvis, and 120,000 fans gathered at Knebworth to see The Rolling Stones, Todd Rudgren and Lynyrd Skynyrd

These are the 20 best albums of 1976.

AC/DC - High Voltage (opens in new tab) 

Bang! Just like that, AC/DC (opens in new tab)burst on to an unsuspecting audience with their aptly-entitled High Voltage international debut (opens in new tab). Angus Young’s trademark simple but monster riffs are all here, while Bon Scott (opens in new tab)’s suggestive lyricism makes its first mark on the world. 

Highlights include The Jack and It’s A Long Way To The Top (If You Wanna Rock‘N’Roll). This was the record that put Australian rock music (opens in new tab) on the rock map.

Aerosmith - Rocks (opens in new tab) 

Following the previous year’s triumphant Toys In The Attic (opens in new tab) set, Aerosmith (opens in new tab) blasted back with the album that gave us Back In The Saddle and Last Child

The double whammy of Joe Perry’s squally guitar and Steven Tyler’s OTT wordplay made for a perfect match. So, Aerosmith Rocks? Hell yeah!

Blondie - Blondie (opens in new tab)

Clearly a year for storming debut releases, 1976 saw Debbie Harry (opens in new tab) enter the fray with Blondie. 

Bringing a touch of glamour and a female side to the early New York punk scene, Blondie’s first album combined the raw energy of guitar rock with the disco sensibilities of the day. Opening track X-Offender remains one of the band’s finest moments.

Boston - Boston (opens in new tab) 

Although Boston (opens in new tab)’s ubiquitous More Than A Feeling always crops up on those ‘best driving anthems’ compilations, this was the debut album from which it spawned. 

The partnership of vocalist Brad Delp and guitarist/songwriter Tom Scholz was particularly strong as they delivered eight bona fide classic rock tracks laden with glorious harmonies (Hitch A Ride) and melodic hooks (Smokin’) to die for.

Bob Dylan - Desire (opens in new tab) 

Somewhat unusually for a Bob Dylan (opens in new tab) album, Desire saw the voice of a generation teaming up with a cowriter to aid with the lyrics in the shape of Jacques Levy (who also helped Dylan put together his Rolling Thunder Revue). 

Following his deeply personal Blood On The Tracks album, Desire sees Dylan reverting back to his storytelling ways – particularly notable are the epic Hurricane and thought-provoking Isis.

Eagles - Hotel California (opens in new tab) 

Adding guitarist Joe Walsh into their mix proved a turning point for the Eagles. Already successful, and with four albums under their belts, Hotel California (opens in new tab) saw the band stretching out musically and opting for a more straight-ahead rock sound. 

The amazing opening triumverate of the epic, lyrically dark title track (opens in new tab), New Kid In Town and Life In The Fast Lane have remained staples of the Eagles’ live set ever since.

Peter Frampton - Frampton Comes Alive (opens in new tab) 

The 70s was the decade when the live album truly came of age. A perfect example of this is Frampton Comes Alive (opens in new tab), illustrating how an artist who had never made much of an impression on the record-buying public with his studio work caught the imagination in the live arena. 

Show Me The Way, with its funky, talkbox-driven guitar riff remains a standard to this day.

Genesis - A Trick Of The Tail (opens in new tab) 

It was always going to be tricky for Genesis (opens in new tab) to cope with the loss of their visionary frontman Peter Gabriel (opens in new tab). Or so the listening public thought. 

We were wrong. Phil Collins stepped up to the mic, and along with keyboard player Tony Banks, and guitarists Steve Hackett and Mike Rutherford, the band delivered a brilliant followup to their The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway (opens in new tab) epic.

Judas Priest - Sad Wings Of Destiny (opens in new tab) 

This is the album that gave birth to The Ripper, and saw Judas Priest (opens in new tab) stretch out beyond their two-and-a-half minute pop metal songs. 

With its tour de force performance from singer Rob Halford and the twin-guitar assault of Downing and Tipton, opener Victim Of Changes set the template for all progressive metal that followed

Kansas - Leftoverture (opens in new tab) 

This album is the original home of Kansas (opens in new tab)’s best-known song, Carry On Wayward Son (opens in new tab)

Equal parts pomp, progressive and melodic rock, Leftoverture also houses the subtly-named Magnum Opus – a five-part epic. Exhilarating stuff.

Kiss - Destroyer (opens in new tab) 

With Bob Ezrin on board as producer, Destroyer saw Kiss (opens in new tab) really find their feet in the studio. 

This was the album that gave us Detroit Rock City (later to become the inspiration for a movie) and the breakthrough smash-hit ballad Beth. Sung by drummer Peter Criss, the latter song would be the one that really put Kiss on the map, even though its lush orchestration and piano-led nature bore very little resemblance to their usual bombastic style.

Led Zeppelin - Presence (opens in new tab) 

According to popular wisdom, Presence (opens in new tab) is Led Zeppelin (opens in new tab) guitarist Jimmy Page’s favourite Zep album. It’s easy to see why. 

Despite being only seven songs long, it contains the ten-minute epic Achilles’ Last Stand – complete with its galloping guitar motif – while Mr Page gets to show off his considerable skills on the extended bluesy excursion through Blind Willie Johnson’s Nobody’s Fault But Mine.

Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers - Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers (opens in new tab)

With big crunchy guitars and a gravelly voice, Tom Petty (opens in new tab) and his backing band The Heartbreakers exploded on to the scene with a rootsy blast of rock. 

It was in direct contrast to much of the disco and pop that was saturating the airwaves, as Tom Petty skilfully combined infectious Stones riffery with a canny knack for a melody. American Girl still sounds brilliant today.

Queen - A Day At The Races (opens in new tab) 

Following up the behemoth that was the A Night At The Opera album was never going to be an easy task. However, Queen (opens in new tab) rose to the task admirably. 

Kicking off proceedings with the full-on rocker Tie Your Mother Down, the album moves through swelling power balladry (Somebody To Love) to perfect pop (Good Old-Fashioned Lover Boy). Consummate stuff.

Rainbow - Rising (opens in new tab) 

After having grown bored with Deep Purple (opens in new tab), the undisputed master of the guitar riff Ritchie Blackmore (opens in new tab) wasted no time in hooking himself up with vocalist Ronnie James Dio (opens in new tab)

Rainbow’s second album Rising lived up to and surpassed the potential their debut showed. Stargazer is the highlight on an album of highlights.

Ramones - Ramones (opens in new tab) 

’Hey ho, let’s go! Hey ho, let’s go!’ And thus the Ramones (opens in new tab) announced their be-denimed and leather jacketed arrival in the world. 

Heralding the onset of the New York punk scene, the Ramones’ debut – with its infectious three-chord opening bombast of Blitzkreig Bop – bludgeoned us over the head with more than a dozen two-minute songs. The relentless 53rd & 3rd and Beat On The Brat manage to evoke life in New York city in a far grimier time.

Rush - 2112 (opens in new tab) 

Much has been made about the fact that the long-running Queen musical had basically the same storyline as Rush (opens in new tab)’s brilliant conceptual piece. Forsaking the myths and legends of their earlier output, Messrs Peart, Lifeson and Lee managed to encapsulate a bleak vision of the future. 

Neil Peart (opens in new tab)’s striking (Ayn Rand-influenced) lyrics are relayed over a musical backdrop of such technical proficiency that it’s nothing short of staggering.

Bob Seger & The Silver Bullet Band - Night Moves (opens in new tab) 

It’s easy to overlook Bob Seger and his Silver Bullet Band (opens in new tab) when compiling album lists, but Night Moves highlights exactly why he shouldn’t be forgotten. 

Combining the ferocity of Bruce Springsteen (opens in new tab)’s E Street Band and the lyrical sensibilities of Tom Petty, BS&TSBB deliver solid, full-throttle rock’n’roll. The Fire Down Below, Rock And Roll Never Forgets and Sunspot Baby are perfect driving anthems, while the balladry of Mainstreet and Ship Of Fools shows off Mr Seger’s sensitive side.

Rod Stewart - A Night On The Town (opens in new tab) 

Still riding high on the success of the previous year’s commercially successful Atlantic Crossing album, Rod Stewart’s A Night On The Town consolidates upon that template. 

Stewart impresses on a heartfelt cover version of Cat Stevens’ First Cut Is The Deepest, while his self-written epic The Killing Of Georgie (inspired by the senseless murder of one of Rod’s gay friends) shows a different side to the lothario who sings Tonight’s The Night. An eclectic, impressive album.

Thin Lizzy - Jailbreak (opens in new tab) 

Put together the twin ‘geetars’ of Scott Gorham and Brian Robertson, Phil Lynott (opens in new tab)’s thundering bass and inimitable storytelling lyricism and you’re on to a winner. Jailbreak has ’em all. 

And it also has the classy tracks The Boys Are Back In Town, Jailbreak and Emerald. Sublime stuff.

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