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The Most Influential Albums Of 1976

From dub to New Wave (and beyond), there’s something for everyone among these classic albums.

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Stevie Wonder, creator of the best 1976 album, Songs in the Key of Life
Photo: Richard E. Aaron/Redferns

Much like 1971, 1976 was an incredible year for albums. Stevie Wonder, of course, released Songs In The Key Of Life, but you also had Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell at the top of their game. Rush delivered a masterpiece, and the first stirrings of punk were finally let loose into the world. Country music welcomed outlaws with open arms, while Jean Michel-Jarre transformed electronic music forever. Dig into this list of the best albums from 1976. There truly is something for everyone.

Explore the best songs of the 70s.

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60: Al Stewart – Year of the Cat

Featuring production from Alan Parsons, Al Stewart’s Year of the Cat was the most successful album from the UK singer-songwriter, reaching No. 5 on the Billboard album charts.

59: Bad Company – Run With the Pack

The English hard rock group had basically perfected their sound by the time of this, their third album, in 1976. It features one of the best-loved songs, “Silver, Blue & Gold.”

58: Graham Parker – Heat Treatment

Released just three months after his debut album, Heat Treatment serves up the best of Parker’s impassioned and soulful takes on rock music.

57: Jackson Browne – The Pretender

Written in the wake of his wife’s suicide, Jackson Browne turned in an understandably dark and poignant album in The Pretender.

56: AC/DC – Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap

This sex-charged album from the Australian rockers is considered among many to be a highlight of the Bon Scott era.

55: Blue Oyster Cult – Agents of Fortune

Any record that contains a hit as big as “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper” deserves a spot on a list of the best albums of the year. Luckily, Agents of Fortune has plenty of other treasures to discover.

54: Bob Seger – Night Moves

Bob Seger’s first album with The Silver Bullet Band is chock full of rough-around-the-edges Detroit rock ‘n’ roll and is the record that finally catapulted Seger to superstar status.

53: Boz Scaggs – Silk Degrees

Silk Degrees is one of Boz Scagg’s most successful records, and also one of the funkiest albums of 1976.

52: The Doobie Brothers – Takin’ It to the Streets

The easy groove of The Doobie Brothers is easy to fall in love with, especially the raucous title track and “It Keeps You Runnin’.”

51: The Brothers Johnson – Look Out For #1

Produced by Quincy Jones, The Brothers Johnson’s debut album brought together the best of disco and funk to create a flawless record.

50: Heart – Dreamboat Annie

The Wilson sisters debut album is filled with charging and melodic songs that demonstrated the band’s ability to masterfully toe the line between rock and pop.

49: George Harrison – Thirty Three & 1/3

George Harrison’s seventh solo studio album is a charming collection of uplifting and introspective songs that showcases some of the best of his songwriting.

48: The Bee Gees – Children Of The World

With hits like “You Should Be Dancing,” the Bee Gees’ 1976 album is a captivating and irresistible record that also saw the brothers trying out new production techniques.

47: Penguin Cafe Orchestra – Music from the Penguin Cafe

The debut album of Simon Jeffes’ eclectic musical project is at times playful, serious, and always wildly original – there is nothing else that sounds like it.

46: Led Zeppelin – Presence

With Jimmy Page at the helm – following a bad car accident involving Robert Plant – Presence is an emotionally tense and full-bodied record that offers something new upon each listen.

45: Earth, Wind & Fire – Spirit

Dedicated to Charles Stepney, a producer of the group who died during the album’s recording, Spirit is a soaring testament to the group’s disco, jazz, and funk explorations.

44: Blondie – Blondie

Blondie’s idiosyncratic debut album, that pulled from a slew of influences including 60s pop rock and punk, came to represent the best of early new wave music.

43: Aerosmith – Rocks

Following up the hugely successful Toys in the Attic, with Rocks, Aerosmith fully transitioned from their blues foundation to unapologetically loud, brazen, and hardcore rockstars.

42: Electric Light Orchestra – A New World Record

A New World Record somehow saw the band getting bigger (with more strings and choral parts) and smaller (there was a pronounced emphasis on shorter songs). The result was one of their finest albums and one of the best of 1976.

41: James Brown – Get Up Offa That Thing

Although the 70s weren’t the most successful years for James Brown, he found his funky stride again with his 43rd studio album which features the outstanding title track.

40: Genesis – A Trick of the Tail

Despite the loss of Peter Gabriel, Genesis sounded just fine on A Trick of the Tail, with Phil Collins taking to the microphone.

39: Funkadelic – Hardcore Jollies

Hardcore Jollies sees George Clinton and his formidable band continuing to push the boundaries of funk music, this time incorporating the free-flowing nature of a jazz jam session – the result is an unforgettable classic.

38: Frank Zappa – Zoot Allures

Rock music provocateur Frank Zappa’s 22nd studio album shows off his biting sense of humor with touches of metal, funk, and ambient music.

37: ABBA – Arrival

Arrival includes one of ABBA’s greatest and most beloved songs “Dancing Queen,” making it a standout record in not only the group’s discography but of the decade.

36: Roy Ayers – Everybody Loves the Sunshine

Featuring the iconic title track, Roy Ayers’ sun-soaked 1976 album secured his crossover from the jazz world to that of R&B and soul.

35: Steely Dan – The Royal Scam

Steely Dan’s fifth album centers around stories of unsavory characters and while its dark storytelling was a turn-off for some upon release, these days it’s regarded as some of their best work.

34: Rose Royce – Car Wash

The soundtrack to a 1976 comedy of the same name also doubled as the debut album of Los Angeles R&B group Rose Royce – it’s a delightful, catchy, and super groovy record that rightfully stands on its own.

33: The Fania All Stars – Salsa

Featuring Latin music superstars like Celia Cruz, Hector Lavoe, and Johnny Pacheco, there’s no greater place to start to hear the best salsa music of the 1970s.

32: Van der Graaf Generator – Still Life

On Still Life, the English prog rock band ponder immortality, desire, and loss in an ambitious and wonderfully executed record.

31: Rory Gallagher – Calling Card

Calling Card marked the first time Rory Gallagher worked with an outside producer and it certainly paid off. The record beautifully traverses different genres while never skimping on his trademark blues rock style.

30: The Upsetters – Super Ape

Dub pioneer Lee Scratch Perry’s tenth studio album with The Upsetters is a perfect primer into the revolutionary sounds emerging from Jamaica in the 1970s.

29: Judas Priest – Sad Wings of Destiny

Judas Priest’s 1976 album not only saw the group truly come into their own, but it’s also been hailed as one of the most influential heavy metal albums ever.

28: Ry Cooder – Chicken Skin Music

Ry Cooder’s nomadic approach to music is fully realized on this album where he wonderfully braids together various folk styles from across North and Central America.

27: Marvin Gaye – I Want You

Accentuated by its iconic album cover, I Want You is a sultry exploration of the pleasures of late-night functions and intimate relationships which later became a major influence in 90s R&B and neo-soul.

26: Elton John – Blue Moves

A personal favorite of Elton John himself, Blue Moves leans heavier on jazz and pop influences than his previous work and is marked by beautifully complex orchestrations.

25: The Modern Lovers – The Modern Lovers

An incredible debut from one of rock music’s freshest voices, The Modern Lovers heralded the arrival of Jonathan Richman.

24: Kiss – Destroyer

The New York band’s fifth studio album is a record that transformed the group from simply great musicians to rock gods.

23: J.J. Cale – Troubadour

J.J Cale’s sensual masterpiece shows off the best of the “Tulsa Sound” – a hybrid of blues, rock, and country – and produced the song “Cocaine,” which later became a hit for Eric Clapton.

22: Steve Miller Band – Fly Like An Eagle

Steve Miller’s far-out blues rock is superbly on display on this album, particularly the instantly recognizable title track.

22: Queen – A Day at the Races

On this album, Queen extended the magic of their previous album – which included blockbuster “Bohemian Rhapsody” – trying their hand at gospel, ragtime, and hard rock to stunning effect.

21: George Benson – Breezin’

With Grammy-award-winning hits like “Breezin’” and “This Masquerade,” Benson’s seminal release paved the way for the smooth jazz genre.

20: Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers – Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers

The debut album from Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers shows early glimpses of the rockin’ pop sound they would come to define in later years, including the hit song “American Girl.”

19: The Rolling Stones – Black And Blue

Taking cues from rock, Latin music, and reggae, The Rolling Stones’ 1976 album proved that even with personnel changes (Ronnie Wood replacing Mick Taylor) they could still make a classic album.

18: David Bowie – Station to Station

Recorded during one of the lowest points in David Bowie’s personal life, Station to Station introduced his last alter ego, the Thin White Duke, to his musical projects and became an instant classic.

17: Pat Metheny – Bright Size Life

Pat Metheny, Jaco Pastorius, and Bob Moses created jazz magic on this debut album, signaling their respective futures as among the genre’s greatest.

16: Hector Lavoe ‎– De Ti Depende

The Puerto-Rican salsa star’s first foray on his own as a bandleader proved a remarkable success and is hailed as a classic of the genre.

15: Boston – Boston

Initially derided as “corporate rock,” the Massachusetts natives’ debut album, which includes the timeless hit “More Than A Feeling” has since been recognized as one of the best examples of pop rock ever made.

14: Joan Armatrading – Joan Armatrading

The British singer-songwriter’s intimate and genre-blending album established her as one of the most skillful folk artists of the decade.

13: Peter Frampton – Frampton Comes Alive

One of the greatest live rock albums ever put to tape, Frampton Comes Alive introduced many to the joys of the talkbox in 1976.

12: Bob Marley – Rastaman Vibration

The Jamaican giant’s first album to reach the US Top 10 is a perfect blend of fun pop tunes and consciousness-raising anthems.

11: Jean-Michel Jarre – Oxygene

Widely recognized as one of the most influential electronic music albums ever, Oxygene’s marriage of pop and avant-garde styles showed that instrumental electronic music could go mainstream.

10: The Wild Tchoupitoulas – The Wild Tchoupitoulas

The only release by the Mardi Gras Indian group is such a formidable record of a distinctly New Orleans sound that it was inducted into the Library of Congress National Recording Registry.

09: Various Artists – Wanted! The Outlaws

The compilation album by Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, Jessi Colter, and Tompall Glaser was the first country album to be certified platinum and became a defining document of the outlaw country movement.

08: Thin Lizzy – Jailbreak

Home of the radio staple, “The Boys Are Back In Town,” Thin Lizzy’s 1976 album is a goldmine of ’70s hard rock and precise storytelling.

07: Diana Ross – Diana Ross

Diana Ross’ second self-titled album (the other being her debut) features two of her biggest hits – powerful ballad “Theme from Mahogany (Do You Know Where You’re Going To)” and dancefloor anthem “Love Hangover.”

06: The Eagles – Hotel California

The Eagles’ jump from country to more straight-ahead rock on this album opened them up to new audiences without having to sacrifice their heady lyricism – the result is one of the most successful rock albums in history.

05: Rush – 2112

Set in a dystopian future, Rush’s fourth studio album is some of the band’s most experimental work and established them as singular artists.

04: Joni Mitchell – Hejira

Inspired by Mitchell’s solo travels on the road, Hejira sees the seasoned musician more introspective, stripped down, and jazzy. It’s among her best work.

03: Bob Dylan – Desire

Despite the pressure of having to match the critical acclaim of 1975’s Blood on the Tracks, Dylan delivered a punch on Desire, an ambitious and collaborative record that showcases some of Bob Dylan’s sharpest songwriting, including the epic “Hurricane.”

02: The Ramones – The Ramones

The debut album of the punk music icons altered the direction of rock music from grandeur and excess to simple and raw bursts of energy.

01: Stevie Wonder – Songs In The Key Of Life

Stevie Wonder’s magnum opus is a stunning achievement from top to bottom that changed the face of pop, R&B, and soul music.

Explore the best songs of the 70s.

“George
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3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. ApC

    July 18, 2021 at 7:18 pm

    Not a bad list, but you missed Alucinação by the brazilian singer Belchior and absolute masterpiece

  2. Jim

    July 19, 2021 at 2:44 am

    Good list but Boston’s self titled is by far number one as far as influence. The sound that Tom Schulz developed gave rock the sound which would fill up a headphone or a stadium. It changed music! Mutt Lange took this technology and ran with it and about a billion records sold later it set the template for pop rock which dominated the next 15 years of pop music!

  3. Eli

    July 21, 2021 at 8:43 pm

    In 1976 Boney M released their debut album “Take The Heat Off Me”, a major seller in Europe. Somehow it missed this list though. Why?

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