My Top 17 Hard Rock Albums Celebrating Their 40th Anniversaries in 2017
If 1976 was a solid year for hard rock, as I discussed in my When It Was Cool article “Top 10 Hard Rock Albums of 1976” (http://www.whenitwascool.com/hard-rock-1976), then 1977 was an absolute wealth of treasures for fans of power chords. My original intent for this article was another top 10 list, but I decided that there was just too much incredible stuff released that year to stick to that traditional number. Here, then, are 17 gems that will celebrate their 40th anniversaries this year.
Don’t get too wrapped up in the rankings because they could change on any given day, depending on my mood! Have fun reminiscing about some old favorites and perhaps some discovering some new-to-you classics that you might have missed up to this point.
1. UFO, Lights Out
Though British outfit UFO had buzz with their earlier albums, thanks in part to the guitar wizardry of young Michael Schenker, Lights Out placed the group firmly in the international spotlight. With thoughtful lyrics, excellent musicianship, unique arrangements, and Phil Mogg’s fantastic lead vocals, this album is cream of the crop late-seventies hard rock. (For more about UFO, check out my When It Was Cool two-part series about the group at http://www.whenitwascool.com/ufo-the-band and http://www.whenitwascool.com/ufo-the-band-2.)
UFO, “Love to Love”
2. Starz, Violation
This New Jersey-based band’s second longplayer is filled with song styles ranging from infectious power pop (“Cherry Baby”) to full-tilt rock (“Rock Six Times”), and lyrical matter from the humorous (“Cool One,” about the amorous adventures of a young couple at the cinema) to the dystopic (“Violation,” which I have long thought of as a cousin to Rush’s “2112” with a bit of “A Clockwork Orange” influence). Starz should have been huge but instead found a rabid cult following. Michael Lee Smith’s vocals and Richie Ranno’s guitar work are just two of the myriad reasons that Starz was an influence on many bands.
Starz, “Sing It Shout It”
3. Cheap Trick, Cheap Trick
I discovered Rockford, Illinois’ most famous band when they were announced as the opening act for Kiss on the “Love Gun” tour at San Francisco’s Cow Palace. I was a huge Kiss fan and because I was going to the concert, I decided to check out Cheap Trick’s debut. I was floored from the opening notes of “Hot Love,” with guitar genius Rick Nielsen laying down a smoking opening riff --- and then Robin “The Man of a Thousand Voices” Zander’s vocals kicked in! I have been a huge fan ever since. Thankfully the band is still going strong today!
Cheap Trick, “ELO Kiddies”
4. Blue Oyster Cult, Spectres
Blue Oyster Cult broke through with their fourth album, “Agents of Fortune,” thanks in large part to the hit single “Don’t Fear the Reaper.” This follow-up tops its predecessor, in my opinion. From the heavy riffage that kicks off album-opener “Godzilla” to the eerily atmospheric closer “Nosferatu,” this record finds this immensely talented group at a creative high point.
Blue Oyster Cult, “Golden Age of Leather”
5. Nazareth, Expect No Mercy
This Scottish outfit had reached number 8 on the U.S. Billboard charts the previous year with its cover version of “Love Hurts” and already had an FM staple with the title song of its “Hair of the Dog” album. This album didn’t produce any hit singles Stateside, but it is one of the band’s best longplayers from start to finish, filled with driving rockers, gritty blues riffs, and even a radio-ready pop-rock number.
Nazareth "Kentucy Fried Blues"
6. Sweet, Off the Record
From the album installment from my two-part series for That’s Not Current about British rock band Sweet’s discography (http://www.thatsnotcurrent.com/a-beginners-guide-to-sweet-part-2-the-albums/): “April 1977 saw the release of Off the Record, which despite being a commercial flop in the United Kingdom and the United States (it did reach the top 20 in some European markets, though), remains one of my personal favorite Sweet albums. Many listeners and critics found the album’s offering of different styles to be rather schizophrenic and felt that the band was floundering, but I have always enjoyed the mix of some of the band’s hardest rock with poppier songs that had catchy, sing-along strength to equal earlier hits. The disco tinged ‘Funk It Up’ is perhaps one of the band’s biggest head scratchers, but just two years later, rock icons Kiss would find commercial success with their own disco-flavored tune, ‘I Was Made for Lovin’ You.’ Perhaps Sweet had the right idea but was just a little too ahead of the curve with that one. The biting, scornful ‘Windy City’ is one of Sweet’s toughest rockers, with an amazingly fat and nasty riff.’”
Sweet, “Windy City”:
7. Kiss, Love Gun
Kiss ruled the world at this point and capitalized on it, releasing both this studio album and their second live double-album Alive II in 1977. Love Gun is one of the best Kiss albums featuring the original line-up, chock full of fun riffs and catchy choruses.
Kiss, “I Stole Your Love”
8. Rush, A Farewell to Kings
This is my favorite Rush studio album, their most complex and best produced longplayer up to that point. It began their transitional effort from their earlier power trio rock sound to their more elaborately arranged records still to come, and it captures the best of both worlds.
Rush, “A Farewell to Kings”
9. Angel, On Earth As It Is in Heaven
Like Starz, Angel seemed to have everything it took to break into stadium rock stardom, with talent galore and a bevy of great songs. Angel also had a unique stage presence and look, and were pushed as a sort of “good guys in white” opposite of Kiss. In my When It Was Cool reviews for two Angel albums (http://www.whenitwascool.com/hard-rock-review-angel/), I said, “Overall, On Earth as It Is in Heaven is a fine set of melodic hard rock tunes and an example of the kind of records that were sought out by ardent fans of the genre who were looking for something along the lines of contemporaries Rainbow, Rush, Kiss, and so forth. ”
Angel, “That Magic Touch”
10. Queen, News of the World
This legendary British quartet followed up its masterpiece A Night at the Opera and its successor A Day at the Races with this solid outing, their most successful in terms of sales. Queen is at the top of its rock and roll game here; it’s hard to believe that they would soon abandon their patented approach to hard rock to become a pop band, but it worked.
Queen, “Spread Your Wings”
11. The Runaways, Queens of Noise
The sophomore effort from this all-girl group is a bit more slickly produced than their debut but it still crackles with infectious energy. Punk attitude with hard-rock riffs make for a winning combination here.
The Runaways, “Queens of Noise”
12. AC/DC, Let There Be Rock
The production leaves a bit to be desired but the spirited performances and rough ‘n’ tumble lyrics more than make up for it. Bon Scott and the boys had yet to break out big time in the States but this longplayer paved the way for that.
AC/DC, “Let There Be Rock”
13. Thin Lizzy, Bad Reputation
Behind-the-scenes problems led to the band being mostly pared down to a trio rather than the usual quartet, but the album boasts both Thin Lizzy classics and some jaw-dropping deep cuts. For those only familiar with radio staple “The Boys Are Back in Town,” this longplayer is a great place to start discovering what the band truly has to offer.
Thin Lizzy, “Dancing in the Moonlight”
14. Foghat, Live
I never really got into Foghat’s studio output very much, but I loved this live effort from the first time I heard it. It’s good-time blues-based hard rock that is infectious and full of energy.
Foghat, “Home in My Hand”
15. Aerosmith, Draw the Line
The group was infamously having hard times dealing with both drugs and each other during the recording of this album, but they still somehow managed to put out one heck of a rock and roll record. It’s no Rocks or Toys in the Attic, but it does contain a lot of incredibly good stuff.
Aerosmith, “Kings and Queens”
16. Alice Cooper, Lace and Whiskey
For this outing, Alice set aside the darker persona he had been using onstage and on vinyl and experimented with a satirical version of a film noir detective, focusing the material on his real-life love for classic Hollywood motion pictures. This was the first Alice Cooper album that I truly loved all the way through, and it is one of his most overlooked efforts.
Alice Cooper, “You and Me”
17. Styx, The Grand Illusion
This is Styx at their peak, before they went ultra-commercial and while they were still rocking hard and well. Those who are only familiar with “Babe” and “The Best of Times” from their pop phase should really check out the band’s more artful, progressive, and driving albums such as this one, Equinox, and Crystal Ball.
Styx, “Miss America”
Besides contributing to When It Was Cool, Joseph Perry also writes for the retro pop culture website That’s Not Current (thatsnotcurrent.com), the Gruesome Magazinehorror movie website (gruesomemagazine.com), and several other print and online film critique magazines.
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