I have lots of memories of things related to 1976 but I’m fairly sure the memories are not from that year. After all I was only 4. So the odds that I remember seeing a commercial for the movie “Rocky” is probably inaccurate. More likely it was a commercial from a re-release of the film sometime later.
That said, it’s was a sweet year for the things I’ve come to love since. It was the bicentennial (I love US history); Taxi Driver, Network, and All The President’s Men came out (I love 70s cinema); and “What’s Happening!”, “Laverne & Shirley”, and “Charlie’s Angels” all premiered on TV (all were big for me in syndicated repeats). One of my favorite movies ever–Richard Linklater’s Dazed and Confused (1993)–takes place on May 28, 1976!
It’s a big year for the music I love, too. One of my all-time favorite songs came out in 1976. And, as disco continued to sneak into the charts, songs related to my future obsession with hard rock had a monumental year.
Here’s five worth listening to from 1976:
5. “Sir Duke” (Stevie Wonder)
From about 1969 to 1980, Stevie Wonder’s productivity and creativity set a new standard in popular music. His best work is probably a subset of those years, for me, 1970 to 1976. Beginning with the release of Signed, Sealed & Delivered album and ending with the release of Songs in the Key of Life he is just about untouchable. “Sir Duke” was one of the singles released from that last album. It remains one of my favorite Stevie songs–a list whose length rivals the full catalogs of other performers. I have memories of listening to this album in the 80s. For that matter, I have memeories of listening to it last week.
4. “Crazy on You” (Heart)
I have a deep and abiding love for 70s rock in all its diversity. Heart has a special place in that for me. The sound of their debut album fits with a collection of works that feel like they’re more stripped down and raw than some of the other stuff of the decade. In a way, Heart feels closer to what I love in Black Sabbath than what I love in early Journey or Led Zeppelin. They’re the real deal, without all the production tricks. Nothing says that more than their debut album Dreamboat Annie and the single that made them stars, “Crazy on You.” I still get chills from Nancy Wilson’s guitar and Ann’s voice. They’re style and power. Here’s a live performance from 1977 that I’ve grown fond of watching…
3. “The Boys Are Back in Town” (Thin Lizzy)
I’m a fan of Thin Lizzy and especially Phil Lynott, their lead singer. As you can probably tell, I like to analyze most things–hell, it’s what I do for a living. Musically speaking, I’ve thought about Thin Lizzy a lot. I acknowledge there’s little special about them on the surface. Each of their parts–lyrics, guitar, bass, or voice–are individually good but maybe not great. But the combination of what they were and what they sounded like… I often think about what it must have been like to see them live in some smokey dank basement club in Ireland in the 70s. This song has become a radio standard. There’s an un-self-conscious simplicity to it, maybe even kind of dumbness. But I do love it so.
For a little change, and for a better taste of how you can mock the song and still show deep love, here is Reggie Watts performing it when Conan O’Brien returned to New York for a week of shows.
2. “T.N.T. (AC/DC)
Again with the masculinist, stripped down, hard rock. AC/DC wasn’t pretending to be anything other than a testosterone-filled, abrasive rock army. Their first US-release, 1976’s High Voltage, is a fantastic sample of what they were before lead singer Bon Scott and the boys became the mega stars they would become. There is a hard to beat guitar in almost every song. There is humor and overt sexuality. There is rock. Bon Scott has a way of both terrifying and charming you. Sometimes he even makes you feel a little icky. There is an overt masculinity to their music that is so front and center and yet so seemingly unintentional it can’t be anything other than problematic. They present themselves like a bunch of drunk boys who want to beat you up with music. This live performance of the song captures it all, I think. Just check out the audience.
1. “Takin’ it to the Streets” (Doobie Brothers)
Phase two of the Doobie Brothers career–the post Tom Johnston, Michael McDonald, pre-Tom Johnston coming back years–is a mixed bag for me. There are a lot of tracks on their albums that are just so-so, but the ones that hit for me are some of my favorite songs ever, songs I can turn to almost anytime. McDonald’s voice and piano are always appealing to me, but I’m just not a big fan of most of his music. “Minute By Minute,” “What a Fool Believes,” and this song are three of the great exceptions. They’re three of my favorite Doobie Brother’s songs, with “Streets” in my eternal playlist. I’ve seen the Doobie Brothers in concert three times (all in the 1990s and early 2000s) and Michael McDonald once. Hearing him play this song made that as good a show as any of the other three. Here’s the album cut of the song, though there are multiple live versions online that I like. (The song grows with McDonald over the years as his voice matures and his bands evolve.)
In a pairing of two things I loved, The Doobie Brothers guest starred on a two-part episode of “What’s Happening!” where Rerun was paid to make an illegal recording of their concert. You can watch part one here and watch part two here. Sorry for the annoying banner.