Sunday, February 12, 2012

1976 - A Musical Lowpoint and Turning Point

When I made my best songs of the 70s list, the mid-70s ('74 to '76) contributed the fewest tracks, so I was especially interested in Scott Miller's picks for those years in his book Music: What Happened.  Here's his countdown for 1976.

The Damned - Neat Neat Neat
Flamin' Groovies - You Tore Me Down
Bob Dylan - Sara
The Rolling Stones - Hand of Fate
David Bowie - Station to Station (edit)
Abba - Knowing Me, Knowing You
Electric Light Orchestra - Tightrope
Todd Rundgren - Cliche
Sex Pistols - Anarchy in the UK
Joni Mitchell - Song for Sharon
The Modern Lovers - Roadrunner
Ramones - Blitzkrieg Bop
Sneakers - Condition Red
Pere Ubu - Final Solution
Blue Oyster Cult - Don't Fear the Reaper
Murray Head - Say It Ain't So, Joe
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers - American Girl

You need to buy the book yourself to read his insightful comments about these tracks, and I do recommend that.  For now, though, you'll have to settle for my free commentary.

1) He lists about 20 tracks for most years.  I don't know how much I can read into the fact that 1976 only has 17 tracks listed, but I don't think it was accidental.

2) What makes this a turning point year is that it's the first year with real punk songs (I say real punk songs to distinguish from the proto-punk of The New York Dolls, The Stooges, etc).  As the year that punk hit the US and UK with the Ramones and Sex Pistols respectively, it's a turning point, but it's also easy to detect the bloated excess that rock and roll had become making punk rock necessary as a response.

3) I'm pleased to see Final Solution near the top of the list.  Pere Ubu appeared on vinyl before 1976 and I think their 70s incarnation could be called real punk rock in spite of their avant-garde proclivities, but they didn't generate the press or sales of The Ramones or Sex Pistols, so that's why I say 1976 was the first year of real punk rock.

4) The Ramones and Sex Pistols don't make the top 5 in spite of their obvious importance.  Important is different from good.  The first Ramones record was really good, particularly for 1976, but for regular listening I prefer later punk rock.  Same goes for the Sex Pistols who haven't aged as well as the Ramones in my opinion.  Good for you if you got to see one of their shows - I'm talking about their recorded music here.

5) Murray Head, huh?  I guess I'll need to track down that song and hear it.  This is one of those little oddities Scott Miller throws in that make the book more interesting to me.

6) Yes Abba!  More importantly, yes Knowing Me Knowing You!  Rolling Stone Magazine includes "Dancing Queen" from the same record in their top 500 songs of all time, but it really wasn't the best song on that album.

7) No Eagles, no Thin Lizzy, and no Peter Frampton.  I think if you're going to let Blue Oyster Cult join the party at #3 and if you're going to let in any mid-70s Stones whatsoever, you have to consider giving a nod to the rest of what the arena brought us in 1976.  I won't try to make the case for Kansas's "Carry On My Wayward Son".  Parts of that song hold up great, but other parts not as much.

8) Soul and R&B was similarly in transition in 1976 and that doesn't show up on this list at all.  I can see how the Ohio Players "Love Rollercoaster", Heatwave's "Boogie Nights", and Lou Rawls "Love Rollercoaster" wouldn't make any sense of Scott Miller's list, but they made sense to me on mine.

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