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1977 Albums

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Happy The Man > Happy The Man

August, 1977
United States
Arista
5
Originating from Virginia, Happy the Man was one of America's premier progressive rock bands. Guitarist Stanley Whitaker and drummer Mike Beck founded the band, eventually adding keyboardist Kit Watkins, instrumentalist Frank Wyatt and bassist Rick Kennell. Moving to Washington D.C., the outfit attracted the interest of Peter Gabriel, who at the time was searching for a backing band. HTM, however, were committed to their music and settled for a contract with Arista Records instead. Their debut album was produced by Ken Scott and reveals highly complex music, rich in layers and superbly crafted. The cleverly-titled "Stumpy Meets the Firecracker in Stencil Forest" and "Knee Bitten Nymphs in Limbo" are lively numbers, with everyone getting into the fusiony fray. "Upon the Rainbow (Befrost)" and "On Time as a Helix of Precious Laughs" are the only vocal tracks. The darker melody of "Carousel" spirals to great effect, while the closing track "New York Dream's Suite" is suitably cinematic. As early as 1974, HTM had a string of singers in its ranks, including Dan Owen (who would later turn up with Anthony Phillips). However, the complexity of their music made the combination improbable; and they decided, for the most part, to continue as an instrumental band. Their second album, Crafty Hands, also produced by Scott, saw release in 1978. Unfortunately, Arista then dropped the band due to poor record sales. A final set of demos was recorded in 1979 with Frenchman Coco Roussel on drums, but that album would not see release until 1983. After a short stint with Camel, Watkins would embark on a solo career during the 80s with a series of instrumental albums that edged on new age music.

Between Heaven And Hell > Jane

August, 1977
Germany
Brain
0
The success of Jane's previous album would spark a renaissance for the band, yet not before another change in their ranks. Adding to the core of Peter Panka, Klaus Hess and Martin Hesse, Eloy's Manfred Wieczorke replaced Werner Nadolny on keyboards prior to the tour that rendered their next effort: the double-album Jane Live (later retitled Live At Home), released in early 1977. Massively successful, it earned Jane a gold record in Germany. In addition, the year saw a studio follow-up, Between Heaven And Hell. Another prog rock epic, the album's first side is encompassed by the title track. After a lengthy intro, the band lays into one of their signature grooves, with a similarly classic lyric ("I don't know, I go to heaven, I don't know, I go to hell"), and perfect Pink Floyd-esque vocals. The next section goes a little psychedelic, and then descends into a Gregorian chant! Wieczorke's keys fade back in, and the band then provides a nice exposition for Hess to showcase his talent on guitar. The second side begins with the triptych "Twilight;" the first section rides a doom riff, while the second switches gear to something more metal, before the track closes with a more elegant and stately finale. "Your Circle" is an anomaly, a basic rocker more suited for Ziggy-era Spiders from Mars than anything Jane. Engineered by Manfred Schunke at Delta Acustic in Berlin, the album is another Kunstkopf, or "artificial head," recording. In 1978, the band released Age Of Madness, which saw Wieczorke's keyboards dominate; however it was his last with the band. By 1980, the group had drifted away from their "Jane sound;" and after a series of rather dire albums, the band released their final record on Sky in 1986.

Rain Dances > Camel

September, 1977
United States
Janus Records
4.125
After the departure of Doug Ferguson, Camel entered the studio in 1977 with Andrew Latimer doubling on bass. However, Latimer vacated the role, as bassist Richard Sinclair finally took the call, providing a tenuous link to the Canterbury scene. Saxophonist Mel Collins, having first been a guest on the preceding tour, also joined the band as a full-fledged member. Rain Dances sports a polished production (courtesy Roxy Music's Rhett Davies), with "First Light" revealing two new aspects to the Camel sound: Pete Bardens has expanded his palette with a new range of keyboards, and the Ward/Sinclair rhythm section proves to be more precise than the previous team. Sinclair adds his distinctive voice to a couple of numbers, including the uncharacteristic (and excellent) "Metrognome." "Highways of the Sun" continues, displaying the combination of atypical rhythm and easygoing melody that had become Camel's signature. Curiously, Brian Eno makes a guest appearance on the (not so oddly) atmospheric "Elke." The band-composed "One of These Days I'll Get an Early Night" takes a shot at funk, but the jazzier "Skylines" fares better. Overall though, the album is rather soulless and nondescript; but nonetheless, it still managed to reach No. 20 in the UK. The band took to the road following the album's release; and A Live Record, released in early 1978, contained a few tracks from that tour, along with some older material. The second disc proved to be the more interesting of the two, as it contained the complete The Snow Goose, recorded at the Royal Albert Hall in 1975 with David Bedford conducting the London Symphony Orchestra.

The Missing Piece > Gentle Giant

September, 1977
United States
Capitol Records
2.75
With the live double-album behind them, Gentle Giant returned to the studio. The band had reached a kind of artistic critical mass by now, as had most progressive bands of the era; but in commercial terms, record sales had hit a plateau. Thus, change was in order, and the order was something shorter and certainly different: The Missing Piece. The album kicks off with the bright, cheerful and brief "Two Weeks in Spain," quite unlike anything Gentle Giant had ever recorded before. And that was only the start! "I'm Turning Around" is a love song, and one undoubtedly tailor-made for radio airplay. So herein lies the reality of this "new" era in popular music. It was 1977 and no one-not even Gentle Giant-was going to kid themselves that the ole prog rock would still cut the proverbial mustard. The old tricks were just that. The wryly autobiographical "Betcha Thought We Couldn't Do It" is simple rock ‘n' roll, as is "Mountain Time;" but who's impressed? From a progressive standpoint, the second side fares much better: Both "As Old as You're Young" and "For Nobody" contain the interplay and spark of the Giant of old, while "Memories of Old Days," clocking in at seven minutes, almost double anything else on the record. Idyllic and nostalgic, its twin guitars sound like a long-lost friend; the track would remain the perennial favorite from the album. Shortly after its release, the band played the BBC's Sight and Sound TV program, combining a curious set of older classics with new material. And, in another slight vindication for the new direction, the album did chart in the US, reaching No. 81; but as usual, it was largely ignored in the band's native England.

A Farewell To Kings > Rush

September, 1977
United States
Mercury
4.5
With their records now charting in the US and UK, what must have been a confident Rush flew to Wales and Rockfield Studios to record A Farewell To Kings, their fifth studio album. It represents a substantial leap in their development. The title track opens, and it's a typical Rush construct: Propelled by Neil Peart's masterful drumming, Alex Lifeson and Geddy Lee hammer away until Lifeson's lead guitar takes full-flight. The epically constructed "Xanadu" takes the concept of 2112 one step further; Lee also doubles on keyboards, providing a new augmentation to the band's sound. Clocking in at a near-perfect two minutes and 55 seconds, the straightforward "Closer to the Heart" earned considerable airplay in the US, and even charted as a single. "Cinderella Man" comes from the same mold, but "Madrigal" is a bit of a miscue. Still, by no means had Rush become a pushover: "Cygnus X-1" is the prog rock opus, complete with multiple sections, heavy metal plodding and a "to be continued" byline. Again, it's not that far off from their previous works; in that respect, it's a splendid illustration of the band's musical progression to date. If there is a formula to Rush's success, it's radio-friendliness; their virtuosity always manages to remain commercial even as it progressed. Rush would become the new face of prog rock; and somehow, this more than fit into the changing commercial landscape of rock music. In fact, while most prog rock bands dropped their "progressiveness" as they moved into the 80s, Rush relished in it. A Farewell To Kings was their first to chart simultaneously on both sides of the Atlantic, straddling each shore in the Top 30.

Motivation Radio > Hillage, Steve

September, 1977
United States
Atlantic
3
After the success of their previous album, Steve Hillage and Miquette Giraudy went off to Los Angeles to record Hillage's third solo album, Motivation Radio—this time under the production guidance of Malcolm Cecil. Cecil, along with Robert Margouleff, recorded as Tonto's Expanding Head Band; they released an album of electronic music in 1971, which ultimately led to a stint producing Stevie Wonder, among others. Joining as the rhythm section were session musicians Joe Blocker on drums and Reggie McBride on bass. The album surrenders a lot of Hillage's spacey-ness for a more direct song approach; an odd departure, considering that Cecil, with his TONTO (The Original New Timbre Orchestra) machine, was something of an electronic synthesizer pioneer. With the strumming of acoustic guitar, the simple song "Hello Dawn" briskly opens. The band then funk it up and rock with "Motivation;" while the heavy riff of "Light in the Sky" has a metal flavor (dig the chorus). Only "Radio" returns to the familiar glissando, yielding to Hillage's trademark guitar lines. The second side's "Wait One Moment" is another mellow track, imparting Hillage's spiritual message of the new age. "Saucer Surfing" has a lot more Gong-ness to it, including silly voices in the fade. "Searching for the Spark" sees the first real domination of synthesizers, though it's the hypnotics of "Octave Doctor" that are truly original; Blocker and McBride provide the foundation for the track, but the clock-like precision relies on the guitarist's Eventide delay for tempo. The album concludes with Buddy Holly's "Not Fade Away (Glid Forever)." Even with an awful record cover (a hippieish looking Hillage superimposed over a satellite dish), the album still charted in the UK, reaching No. 28.

The Quiet Zone - The Pleasure Dome > Van Der Graaf Generator

September, 1977
United States
Charisma
4.75
After Hugh Banton's departure at the end of 1976, David Jackson also reconsidered his place in the band, and opted instead for the stability of a teaching career. With the pair gone, so went the "Generator" from the band's name. Peter Hammill and Guy Evans quickly rebuilt the band as a four piece, rehiring bassist Nic Potter and recruiting Graham Smith on violin, the latter having previously played with Charisma labelmate String Driven Thing and guested on Hammill's previous solo album. Obviously, the new lineup presented a different sonority from the band, driven home by Hammill's new role as full-time guitarist. Yet the album is indeed a refreshing change. "Lizard Play" immediately illustrates the band's new textures. Anchored by Potter's monster bass and Evans's deft meter, Smith's violin provides an eerie accompaniment. "The Habit of the Broken Heart" is more typical, driven by Hammill's acoustic guitar; and it even sports an organ, albeit buried low in the mix. The album's classic is "Last Frame." Another relatively straightforward rocker, it's emblematic of Hammill's songwriting; though the addition of the Potter/Evans rhythm section brings it up to a new level. Whereas the mellow "Wave" demonstrates Hammill's keen sense of melody, "Cat's Eye/Yellow Fever (Running)" is pure electricity. Screeching from start to finish, it's Smith's showcase, but not easy listening. "The Sphinx in the Face" contains some Rikki Nadir, conveyed as only Hammill can deliver. The album stands as the most conventional yet from the band, but who am I kidding: It is by no means commercial rock. It failed to chart, which shouldn't come as a shock; but it also failed to secure a US release, their first album not to do so. Pressure was beginning to mount from Charisma as the band suited up for another tour.

Seconds Out > Genesis

October, 1977
United States
Atlantic
4.333335
The double bank of Boeing 747 landing lights provides the cover image for Genesis' second live album, while the four sides of vinyl supply the sound. And whereas Genesis with Peter Gabriel had the frontman of all frontmen, Genesis without Gabriel had lights, smoke, mirrors and two drummers! Yet whatever was happening on stage, the music was still the foremost attraction; and that, of course, was the band's key to success. In concert, Genesis was nothing but impressive, and the double-album Seconds Out certainly attests. Tracks such as "Cinema Show," "Firth of Fifth" and "Squonk" truly become larger than life with the band's widescreen presentation; after all, this is what progressive rock was all about. Critics may charge the performances as overly orchestrated or too sterile, but that's Genesis live: an exceptional performance every time. Even "Supper's Ready," a veritable classic from a bygone era, gets new life here; freed from its original quirky studio production, the precise execution of the live version now becomes the definitive edition. Drummer Chester Thompson, previously with Frank Zappa's Mothers and most recently a member of Weather Report, had taken the call to replace the always-temporary Bill Bruford. Although confined to the live band, Thompson would spend decades in this role. Guitarist Steve Hackett, however, would depart the band during the album's mixing. His frustrations that first surfaced during the Wind & Wuthering sessions would find resolve with his successful transition to a solo career. This, of course, left Genesis as a trio. As most live albums in 1976-77 marked a transition point in many bands' careers, Genesis too would move on to new horizons.

Rare Birds > Hoelderlin

October, 1977
Germany
Spiegelei
4
At the beginning of the year, Christian von Grumbkow put down his guitar to become the band's manager (although he would continue to provide lyrics for their music). Spaniard Pablo Weeber, on a recommendation by Guru Guru, took his place, adding a significant mark to the band's sound. Rare Birds was recorded with Cedric Beatty and Manfred Schunke, the latter of the Kunstkopf or "artificial head" fame. "Häktik Intergaläctic" and "Sky Lift" open, revealing a more song-based approach, though one no less progressive. The latter features a fantastic break, complete with a Nops Noppeney viola solo. Michael Bruchmann and Hans Bäär are in prime form for "Before You Lay Down Rough and Thorny," especially for its instrumental second half. On the second side, "Rare Bird" is simply gorgeous; while "Necronomicon," written by Weeber, is a fiery instrumental track. The closing "Sun Rays" is another vocal number, with the slight downtempo adding to its lusciousness. Throughout their career, Hoelderlin toured their native Germany more than any other band of the era, save for the Scorpions. Fittingly, a live double-album was recorded in their hometown of Wuppertal at the end of this album's promotional tour. Released in 1978, Traumstadt captured the band's electrifying stage performance, and would become their bestselling release. Yet before recording their next album, the band went through significant personnel changes, including the departure of Noppeney and Bruchmann, and the arrival of Eduard Schicke (from SFF) and others. Hoelderlin then released the appropriately-titled New Faces in 1979. It marked a change in musical direction as well, as the band's penchant for lush instrumental beauty was now replaced with shorter, more contemporaneous songs. Switching to the German language, the band released one final album, Fata Morgana, in 1980. Although skirting the Neue Deutsche Welle, it was an original enough venture, though light years from the original lineup's "Traum" a decade before.

Point Of Know Return > Kansas

October, 1977
United States
Kirshner
3
Poised with the difficult prospect of repeating the success of the previous year's Leftoverture, Kansas continued the trend of shorter, but no less electric, songs. Their follow-up album, Point Of Know Return, again produced by Jeff Glixman, fortunately charted a similar course, reaching the US No. 4 and again earning multi-platinum sales status. The album spawned a few hit singles (which certainly helped), including the title track and the Top 10-charting "Dust in the Wind" b/w "Paradox." Steve Walsh regained his songwriting mojo, co-authoring most of the songs on the album with Kerry Livgren, and offering the very proggy instrumental "The Spider." Character studies of Albert Einstein and Howard Hughes, respectively, both "Portrait (He Knew)" and "Closet Chronicles" offer the same type of melodic and hard-rocking music that featured on the band's previous album; while "Nobody's Home" emphasized Robby Steinhardt's violin and "Hopelessly Human" highlighted Walsh's vocals. The ensuing tour saw the band play their first concerts in Europe. More touring of the US followed, resulting in a live double-album in 1978, Two For The Show, which also went platinum. The band's self-produced Monolith (released in 1979, and again a Top 10 album) and Audiovision (released in 1980, and adorned with possibly the worst album art ever) produced some minor hits still included in their repertoire today; but as the band entered the 1980s, personnel changes would put their best days behind them. Kansas' legacy is arguably as America's greatest prog rock band, and their oeuvre would become the blueprint for a new breed of prog-metal bands that emerged in the late 80s and early 90s.

Wings Of Love > Nova

November, 1977
United States
Arista
3
Joining Nova for their final two records were bassist Barry "SunJon" Johnson and drummer Ric Parnell, the latter previously in Atomic Rooster and Ibis (and son of the famous big bandleader Jack Parnell). The band had moved to the US, relocating first to Colorado and then on to Southern California; according to Elio D'Anna, "In England, all there were were a lot of punk bands!" Narada Michael Walden was still around, but in a different role; here, he produced Wings Of Love, which again was recorded at Trident Studios in London. "You Are Light" leads off, and talk about a change! Sung by Johnson, the track has more in common with Earth, Wind & Fire than any of the band's previous works-though I'm not complaining. Corrado Rustici still offers his blistering, fast guitar work, and the band's instrumentality retains all of its razor-sharp precision. The new slant carries on to the following track, "Marshall Dillion," with Elio D'Anna now providing some sonic icing under the funky bass and tight groove of the Johnson/Parnell rhythm section. With Rustici handling vocals, "Blue Lake" is similar to the more ethereal numbers that featured prominently on their last album. Both "Golden Sky Boat" and "Inner Star" again offer the commercial tilt, but with the band's exceptional performance underneath, who are they trying to kid? This is still world-class fusion! Just check out the electricity of "Loveliness about You." The album's compositions present a paradigm shift; but fortunately, Nova keeps the quality control high and delivers another consistent slice of vocal fusion. However, their final release, 1978's Sun City, would take the focus on vocals to an extreme and eschew instrumental tracks; and as a result, the compositions (and lyrics) slid toward funky mainstream rock. Without any chart success, the band would split, with Renato Rosset and D'Anna returning to Italy. Rustici remained in the US, earning a solid reputation as a session musician before turning to an even more rewarding career in production.