2. Songs in the Key of Life, Stevie Wonder. The hard-to-fathom winning streak that Wonder carried through the early and mid-1970s hit a cresendo with this ambitious double-LP magnum opus. The arrangements are wide-ranging (even for the versatile Stevie), from the pretty, subdued "Have a Talk With God" to the political "All Day Sucker." If you want hits, they show up in spades: "Sir Duke," "I Wish," "Pastime Paradise," "As," and "Isn't She Lovely" were all radio staples. Nothing that Wonder has released since Key of Life has come close to matching the magic of this album or the rest of his '70s output, but it's not like he had anything left to prove.
3. Boston, Boston. Did Tom Scholz save FM radio? Not by himself, no, but the Toledo-by-way-of-Massachusetts studio whiz definitely played his part. Recorded in his basement on a state-of-the-art 12-track recording device, Scholz, partner in crime Brad Delp, and three other local musicians more or less invented arena rock. If the magic of the best-selling debut album of its time could be culled down to two tracks, they would be the soaring "More Than a Feeling" and the epic "Foreplay/Long Time." With disco and punk demonstrating opposite ends of the pop music spectrum in 1976-77, Boston was the middle-of-the-road band of choice, unlikely saviors and unexpected superstars.
4. Hotel California, The Eagles
5. The Modern Lovers, The Modern Lovers
7. Desire, Bob Dylan
8. Rocks, Aerosmith
9. A Day at the Races, Queen
10. A New World Record, Electric Light Orchestra. Many acts in the '70s wore their Beatles influence on their sleaves (Big Star, Badfinger, Todd Rundgren) and went off into their own little tangents, but nobody took their admiration of the Fab Four to new dimensions quite like Jeff Lynne and ELO. Imagine Sgt. Peppers' reconstructed by lovelorn alien robots and that describes A New World Record in a nutshell. In fairness, however "Telephone Line" is like the greatest Lennon-McCartney ballad never written, and the clever "Rockaria!" bridges the missing link between Chuck Berry and Richard Wagner nobody knew existed.
12. Destroyer, KISS
13. Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, AC/DC
14. Black Market, Weather Report
15. Warren Zevon, Warren Zevon. Zevon's major label debut --his 1969 bow on the Imperial label is a muddled, deadly serious mess-- was a watershed moment for the veteran songwriter and session musician. Where his comtemporaries on the mid-70s L.A. scene (the so-called "Mellow Mafia") were writing brainy pop songs, Zevon took the motif one step further and added violence, bile, and cynicism. When he didn't wear his black heart on his sleeve, Zevon also wrote beautiful, understand ballads like "Mohammed's Radio" and "Desperados Under the Eaves."
17. Black and Blue, The Rolling Stones
18. Night Moves, Bob Seger & The Silver Bullet Band
19. Takin' It To The Streets, The Doobie Brothers
20. Arrival, ABBA. One further debut of importance in '76 came from a Swedish pop act with three albums already under their belt. A curio of sorts when their singles "S.O.S." and "Waterloo" found radio play in the US in late 1975, ABBA proved their mettle on their fittingly-titled breakthrough Arrival. "Dancing Queen" is far and away the best-known track, an international #1 hit and the earwig that almost single-handedly built their American fan club, but the other nine tracks are equally delicious ear-candy.
"Rubberband Man," The Spinners
"You'll Never Find Another Love Like Mine," Lou Rawls
"All By Myself," Eric Carmen
"She's Gone," Hall & Oates
"Fooled Around and Fell In Love," Elvin Bishop
"Dream Weaver," Gary Wright
"Right Back Where We Started From," Maxine Nightingale
"Turn The Beat Around," Vicki Sue Robinson
"Year of the Cat," Al Stewart
"It's a Long Way to the Top (If You Wanna Rock n' Roll)," AC/DC
"Jailbreak," Thin Lizzy
"Crazy on You," Heart
"Space Intro/Fly Like an Eagle," Steve Miller Band
"The Pretender," Jackson Browne
"Strangered in the Night," Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers
"Don't Fear the Reaper," Blue Oyster Cult
"Younger Point of View," Dogs
"Cherry Bomb," The Runaways