Al_Stewart-Year_of_the_Cat_(album_cover)#7 – Al Stewart – “Year of the Cat” – (1976)

This quirky song starts of with nice piano before being joined with a kind of funky pop beat. One thing I really like about it is its references to Humphrey Bogart and Peter Lorre –  it really sets the tone of some faraway place and time. This was Scotland’s Al Stewart’s biggest hit. A great use of this song was in what is probably the best scene in the otherwise “meh” film Running With Scissors (I don’t have a link to it, sorry!).

Englanddan4#8 – England Dan & John Ford Coley – “I’d Really Love To See You Tonight” – (1976)

“Hello, yeah it’s been a while…” is the opening lyric and is actually a one-sided phone conversation. This is a soft rock classic and fun fact: England Dan was actually the younger brother of the Seals half of Seals & Crofts. This only made it to #2 on the Hot 100, but it’s easily one of the best songs of 1976.

220px-Songs_in_the_key_of_life#9 – Stevie Wonder – “Isn’t She Lovely” – (1976)

This is one of Stevie Wonder’s best songs. Undoubtedly a love song, this song is actually about his daughter and her birth. At one point, he says “isn”t she lovely, less than one minute old.” I like to think that Stevie wrote this song within the first minute of her birth and there was some chaotic scene playing out in the delivery room. Probably not. But it’s still great.

Maxine_Nightingale_Where_we_started_from#10 – Maxine Nightingale – “Right Back Where We Started From” – (1976)

Maxine Nightingale, who was actually from London, recorded this smash hit in 1976. The pulsating disco beat and superbly-delivered lyrics make this one of the best disco songs ever. It only was able to get to #2 on the Hot 100 – but that’s not too bad for a song that was reportedly written in only seven minutes.

Firefall-album#11 – Firefall– “You Are The Woman” – (1976)

This flute-infused track was the biggest hit for Colorado-based Firefall. It peaked at #9 on the Hot 100 and is a soft rock marvel. The song is quite lighter than the rest of Firefall’s catalog (according to them) but it’s such a fluffy piece that’s just… well, nice.

night moves#12 – Bob Seger & The Silver Bullet Band– “Night Moves” – (1976)

Theory: Bob Seger used to have poor self esteem. Why? Opening lyics here: “was a little too tall coulda used a few pounds.” There are other songs (like “Mainstreet”) where he tears himself down a little too. Anyway, this title track from Seger’s 1976 album – the best album he ever released, as it’s chock full of hits – is the best song on it. It ended up being a top five hit on the Hot 100. The music is perfect for the lyrics describing a high school love affair. It’s a great song.

bellamy#13 – The Bellamy Brothers – “Let Your Love Flow” – (1976)

Whoa, #13 on Friday the 13th. The Bellamy Brothers were a pop/country duo consisting of David and Homer Bellamy of Darby, Florida. This #1 hit was the biggest of their career by a good margin. Initially, Neil Diamond was offered the song (as it was written by one of his roadies) but he declined and the Bellamy Brothers took it all the way to the top. It’s a good song, but very 1976.

220px-Aerosmith_-_Rocks#14 – Aerosmith– “Back in the Saddle” – (1976)

“Back in the Saddle” was, with the exception of their cover of the Beatles “Come Together,” the last major hit for Aerosmith until they revived their career in the late 1980s with songs like “Dude (Looks Like a Lady).” The song cracked the top 40 (just barely) on the Hot 100 and is really the band’s heaviest major single.

flylike#15 – Steve Miller Band – “Rock’n Me” – (1976)

Here is one of Steve Miller’s best tracks. It was a Hot 100 #1 and a good example of that weird type of rock music that blends in some Americana, namely in the form of city mentioning here (sort of like the Eagles’ “Take it Easy”). It was released right in the middle of a stream of awesome hits from Miller.

220px-The_Royal_Scam_album_cover#16 – Steely Dan – “Don’t Take Me Alive” – (1976)

This Steely Dan song wasn’t even an official single. The lyrics have a Butch Cassidy-type story going on, but the way they are sung is what sells this track for me. It’s jazzy, it’s funky and it’s slick. The album this appears on, The Royal Scam, features backing vocals from Michael McDonald and Timothy B. Schmidt. So it’s no wonder the vocals are great.

220px-A_Day_at_the_Races_(Queen)#17 – Queen – “Somebody to Love” – (1976)

A Day at the Races was Queen’s second consecutive album to be named after a Marx Brothers film. This is easily the best song from the album and also it’s first single and biggest hit (reaching #13 on the Hot 100). It has that signature Queen vocal layering that builds momentum as the song progresses. That vocal layering gives it a gospel feeling, which is apt as this was written with strong influences of Aretha Franklin.

The_Doobie_Brothers_-_Takin'_It_to_the_Streets#18 – The Doobie Brothers – “It Keeps You Runnin’” – (1976)

This Doobie Brothers classic was written by lead singer Michael McDonald and features his silky smooth blue-eyed soul voice. The Doobie Brothers spot on this list came down between this and “Takin’ It To The Streets.” I picked this one for the great vocals and funky Steely Dan-esque groove it has.

220px-Album_Summertime_Dream#19 – Gordon Lightfoot – “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” – (1976)

This huge hit for Gordon Lightfoot has to have the weirdest inspiration for a hit song ever. The SS Edmund Fitzgerald sank in 1975 and Lightfoot, for some reason, decided to write a folk ballad about it. Stranger still, it was a #2 hit in the U.S. and a #1 in Canada. This song is basically a story, sung, about a giant boat sinking in a storm and killing its crew. It’s not really a happy tune and there have been so many disasters in the past 100 years, so to single out one ship that went down in the “Great Gitche Gumee” is so bizarre to me. I don’t know. But Lightfoot is one of Canada’s proudest sons and this is his best work.

220px-TomPettyDebutCover#20 – Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers – “Breakdown” – (1976)

“Breakdown” was Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers’ first single. Ever. It came from their self-titled debut album that was released near the end of 1976. It just barely became a top 40 hit in the U.S. and Canada –  good enough that radio stations continued to give Petty airtime for many years to come.

letemin#21 – Wings – “Let ‘Em In” – (1976)

Okay, so we’re on to 1978. Originally, I had “Live and Let Die” at #2 on this year’s rundown, but I already featured that song as part of our James Bond countdown. So I bumped everything up a spot and Wings again became eligible for the list, turns out “Let ‘Em In” is good enough to make the cut, but not good enough to make the top two. It’s a good song, and it made it into the top three on the Hot 100 and was an Adult Contemporary #1.

Music_Box_Mariah_CareyMariah Carey – “Anytime You Need a Friend” – (1993)

Music Box was one of Mariah Carey’s biggest albums and while this wasn’t even among the album’s three biggest songs, it still managed to hit #12 on the Hot 100 (it was the album’s fourth and final single). Remember, in the early 1990s, Mariah still had the full range of that amazing voice (it changed as the decade progressed to where she tried to stay as high as possible in that range by ’99). But what’s great here is the gospel feel the song has with those backing vocals.

INXS_kickINXS – “Need  You Tonight” – (1987)

This is INXS’s best song. I am befuddled as to why this didn’t appear on our Top 100 Songs of the 80s countdown, because it should’ve been in the top 25. Strange. It’s that guitar riff that sets this song apart and gets it stuck in your head for hours. That’s part of the reason it became INXS’s signature tune. It was also a Billboard Hot 100 #1.

Acdc_Highway_to_HellAC/DC – “Shot Down in Flames” – (1979)

Highway to Hell was AC/DC’s final album with Bon Scott on lead vocals and it was packed with good hard rock songs. “Shot Down in Flames” is the second-best track on the album, behind the title track, of course. It wasn’t one of the album’s three singles, but I still hear it on classic rock radio from time to time.

rumours#1 – Fleetwood Mac – “The Chain” – (1977)

Honestly, if I didn’t abide by the rule of “only one song per artist per year” on this whole “Top 21 by Year” thing, then Fleetwood Mac would’ve covered half of 1977. Rumours is the greatest album of all time – every single song is fantastic. It’s one of the biggest-selling albums of all time and “The Chain” is the only song on the album that is credited to every member of the band. Really, it’s incredible that this album was ever finished considering that the band was basically exploding from within – and that’s where the genius of a lot of the songs come from. I could’ve picked almost any song from this album to be #1 (I had to whittle it down from five), but this, to me, stands out among the others.

jbrownrun#2 – Jackson Browne – “The Load Out/Stay” – (1977)

This is actually two songs. But they’re so commonly played as one that I’m including them as one. “Stay” is sometimes heard on it’s own, but no one ever plays “The Load Out” alone. The first part is a tribute to Browne’s fans and roadies. It’s basically about tearing the stage down after a show and the piano is hauntingly beautiful. It was recorded live in Maryland in ’77 but wasn’t released as a single with “Stay” – a cover of the Maurice Williams & the Zodiacs song from 1960. This is a long track, with the tempo not really picking up until well after the three minute mark. And the “Stay” part – no that’s not actually an aging Maurice Williams hitting those high notes, its Browne band member David Lindley (and Rosemary Butler is the female voice).

ericslow#3 – Eric Clapton – “Wonderful Tonight” – (1977)

This is a wonderful slow dance song from Slowhand himself. This charted into the top 20 on the Hot 100 when released and has remained a staple at weddings either as the first dance (for older couples, primarily) or as just a slow dance song. It’s beautiful.

mglive#4 – Marvin Gaye – “Got To Give It Up (Pt. 1)” – (1977)

Marvin Gaye was an incredible artist and one we lost far too soon. Because if you can pen a song like this, you probably have a lot more to give. But he was killed less than 10 years after this live album’s release. There are elements of disco, funk, and soul here and it topped the Hot 100 in the summer of ’77. More recently, this song is known as the one Robin Thicke sampled without permission in the still-catchy “Blurred Lines.”

bjstrange#5 – Billy Joel – “Movin’ Out (Anthony’s Song)” – (1977)

Man, listen to those opening bits of music. It has a fantastic, underrated groove to it. “Movin’ Out” was also the name of the Broadway play based around the songs of Billy Joel. And it’s one of his best songs. It’s rare to hear songs nowadays that actually tell a story, and Billy Joel was a master at it. This song is very New York, too – and if you don’t know what I mean, I’m afraid I can’t explain it any more than that.

gbweekend#6 – George Benson – “On Broadway” – (1978)

“On Broadway” is a soul classic, originally recorded by The Drifters in 1963. But in 1977, George Benson recorded a live album in L.A. And recorded an awesome jazzy, R&B version of the song. Sure, Weekend in L.A. was released in 1978, but the recording was in ’77, thus it’s  inclusion here (yeah, right, as if I didn’t goof my years when I made my list). The original version really isn’t comparable to this – the arrangements are completely different. And this one is amazing.

emotions#7 – The Emotions – “Best of My Love” – (1977)

This might be the best disco song ever released. It’s a fantastic blend of soul and disco and R&B. It was a Hot 100 #1 hit and if you’ve never seen the opening sequence of the film Boogie Nights, do yourself a favor and watch it as it uses this song in a fantastic way. This song was written by two members of Earth, Wind & Fire, which is perhaps why it is so awesome. It is completely unrelated to The Eagles “Best of My Love” that came three years earlier.

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