Hard Rock Music Time Machine – 9/29/16 – The Year – 1976
Each Thursday, Hard Rock Music Time Machine takes a journey back in time to feature a variety of songs that date back as far as the ’70s, the ’80s (the glory days of hard rock), hidden gems of the ’90s and hard rock/metal songs of the new millennium (as recent as a few years ago).
Whenever possible, it will also contain interviews from featured artists discussing the inspiration and meaning behind their songs. On the last Thursday of each month, we will be doing special themes that feature songs based on specific categories or years.
Today’s theme is The Year – 1976.
In addition to appearing on the embedded YouTube playlist below, all songs featured on Hard Rock Music Time Machine can be listened to individually by clicking on the hyper-linked song titles above each review.
ADAM WALDMAN – (Publisher, Hard Rock Daddy)
STYX – “Crystal Ball” (1976)
It’s hard to say what the evolution of Styx would have looked like if not for the key addition of Tommy Shaw in 1976. While the band had enjoyed success before Shaw joined the band, its pinnacle inarguably came in the years following his arrival. Shaw replaced original guitarist John Curulewski, who decided to leave the band to spend more time with his family, rather than embark upon a major tour. (In 1988, Curulewski tragically died of a brain aneurysm at the age of 37).
I was in grade school in 1976, just starting to form my rock roots. Styx would eventually become a big part of my life, but not until 1977 when I was mesmerized by the band’s classic album, The Grand Illusion. It wasn’t until several years later that I discovered the title track from the band’s 1976 release, Crystal Ball.
Although Crystal Ball was Shaw’s first album with Styx, you can tell that he instantly put his stamp on the band with this title track. The song is a perfect blend of Shaw’s melodic signature style and Styx’s arena rock sound, complete with huge hooks and vocal harmonies. It was an outstanding introduction to a duo (with Dennis DeYoung) that would reach incredible heights.
Knowing now that DeYoung was steadfast in his desire to be the leader of the band, it’s somewhat surprising (in retrospect) to see that he allowed a newcomer to write and sing the title track. “Crystal Ball” still stands the test of time (nearly 40 years to the day of its release).
RAINBOW – “Tarot Woman” (1976)
Rainbow instantly became my favorite band when I was introduced to them by a friend in the summer of 1981. However, by the time that I discovered them, they were already on their third singer (Joe Lynn Turner), something that I found out when I purchased the entire back catalog on vinyl. Only then did I discover the brilliance of Ronnie James Dio, who would instantly become one of my favorite singers (and is to this day).
Unlike the more mainstream hard rock sound that is featured on 1981’s Difficult To Cure, 1976’s Rising is much more mystical. Aside from the album cover (which remains my all-time favorite), there is something about Rising that is different than any other album that I’ve ever heard. With only six songs, it’s surprising that it wasn’t classified as an EP. I guess the fact that two of the songs were over eight minutes long pushed it over the top.
Setting the stage for the experience that is Rainbow Rising, is “Tarot Woman.” The song opens with a haunting (almost psychedelic) keyboard intro, the kind that instantly identifies a song as ‘70s rock. Bolstered by the powerful rhythm section of Cozy Powell (drums) and Jimmy Bain (bass), the nuanced keyboards of Toney Carey and Ritchie Blackmore’s unique guitar sound, RJD takes you on a journey of mystique and intrigue.
ANDY CHEUNG – HRD Music Scout
JUDAS PRIEST – “Victim of Changes” (1976)
I discovered the album Sad Wings of Destiny one fateful afternoon at the back of a school bus in 5th grade. An older kid was blasting “Victim of Changes” through his boombox as I sat there mesmerized by the screams of Rob Halford, and the guitar work of KK Downing and Glenn Tipton chugging their heavy riffs. I Immediately went home, smashed my piggy bank and begged my father to drive me to the record store to buy this cassette tape. Sad Wings of Destiny is easily one of my favorite Judas Priest albums of all-time. Although I was only four-years old in 1976, and didn’t discover this album until 10 years later, this song and album made me a Judas Priest fan for life!
BLACK SABBATH – “Rock and Roll Doctor” (1976)
One of the most underrated Black Sabbath albums is 1976’s Technical Ecstasy. It was not the typical gloom and doom written in previous albums. It sounded a lot more like hard rock in the vein of Deep Purple and AC/DC, but this album provided many great songs like “Rock and Roll Doctor.” In fact, there are songs on this album that clearly showed the band’s influence by the Beatles and other hard rock bands around at the time. It wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, but a lot of fans didn’t care for this “newer” Sabbath sound. It wasn’t until years later that fans appreciated the musical direction the band took with Technical Ecstasy. It is now a part of the Black Sabbath history. If you were lucky enough to see them live on their last tour, you got to see them play “Dirty Women” (another great song from the album).
ROB DELL’AQUILA – HRD Music Scout
BLUE OYSTER CULT – “Don’t Fear The Reaper” (1976)
Singer Buck Dharma wrote this classic tune for the Long Island rock band Blue Oyster Cult while imagining the possibility of an early death for himself. It generated a good deal of controversy when early listeners misinterpreted the lyrics as a sort of murder/suicide pact, instead of a love song that doesn’t long for, but rather accepts, the inevitability of death. From the opening, recurring guitar riff to the now infamous (thanks to a 2000 SNL sketch) overdubbed cowbell, the song captures a brilliant and unique sound.
URIAH HEEP – “Weep In Silence” (1976)
From Uriah Heep’s ninth studio album, High And Mighty, comes this compelling song of failure and lament. This would be the final album with singer David Byron and bassist John Wetton (Asia), but the band, with just a few lapses, would continue to release great music and continue touring right up to present day.
CHRIS HERZEGOVITCH – HRD Music Scout
LED ZEPPELIN – “Achilles Last Stand” (1976)
Epic as an ancient ode chronicling battles from days of yore, “Achilles Last Stand” is a masterpiece from Led Zeppelin (off their 7th studio album, Presence – released in ’76). Jimmy Page described the album as their most important work. It came at a tumultuous time for the band following Robert Plant’s serious injuries from a car accident in Greece the year before. It has been suggested that the title of this song is a direct reference to Plant’s recuperation from a broken ankle that he feared would never allow him to walk again. “Achilles Last Stand” is fantastic in every aspect, and one of Zeppelin’s best songs ever.
SCORPIONS – “Pictured Life” (1976)
“Pictured Life” is the lead track from the Scorpion’s 1976 release, Virgin Killer. Much maligned for it’s controversial nude cover art, it forced a re-issue in with an alternate cover in some countries. Interviews with the band assign the responsibility to their record company, RCA. Perhaps due to this, it was the first album that garnered attention for the band outside of Europe. Uli Jon Roth handled the lead guitar work back then. It is one of the highlights of this retrospective tune, along with Klaus Meine’s excellent vocals.