Over the past two weeks, we've been counting down My Favorite Songs from 1976 which brings us up to today - The Top 20! My friends Martin and Mark should be counting down their own lists of songs from 1976 very soon and I for one can't wait to see our expected similarities and most especially our differences. If for any reason you have missed one or more of the previous five parts of this series, you can catch up by clicking HERE. It probably has become all too apparent that in 1976, my primary source for music was legendary Chicago radio station WLS which was located a little more than a hundred miles from our home on Chanute Air Force Base in Rantoul. In 1976, WLS was the third most listened to radio station in the entire nation, according to Arbitron audience surveys compiled by James Duncan Jr in his report American Radio 76, trailing only WABC and WOR out of New York City. Though it should be noted that the top station formats listed in the report are somewhat of a revelation in hindsight.
|Pop Contemporary Hit Radio (CHR)
|Adult Contemporary (AC)
|Hot Adult Contemporary (AC)
|Urban Adult Contemporary (AC)
Back then, I thought there was just one kind of music - the kind played on the radio though I now know that WLS was Contemporary aka TOP 40. Part of WLS's success is attributed to its high-powered broadcast transmitter, reaching much of the continental United States and Canada on clear nights. I had no idea at the time how huge it was - to me it was just my favorite and my only radio station. Discovering the WLS weekly music surveys in stores where records were sold (which included department and drug stores back then) only strengthened the relationship between this listener and that station. Over half the songs listed on the well-worn WLS Forty-fives list below, dated July 17, 1976, made the list of My Favorite Songs from 1976.
One of the many high points of my life was witnessing Stevie Wonder live in concert on June 30, 1986, on the In Square Circle tour. Prior to that night, I was merely a Stevie Wonder fan but after that show, I became a disciple of the man and his body of music. It all started with two singles I heard on WLS in 1976 and 1977: "Sir Duke" and "I Wish." I bought both records within six months of one another and played them often. It's funny to think back that "I Wish" is basically about Stevie Wonder looking back to the carefree days of his own childhood which is when I was enjoying the song. Dad was a Motown fan but tended to like the vocal groups rather the solo artists so he had no Stevie Wonder albums. My first Stevie Wonder album was Original Musiquarium, Vol.1 in 1982 which I got from one of the record clubs.
The Seventies were scary times. I remember the persistent cooties epidemic all through elementary school and into junior high as well as a few, isolated lice infestations. One of the more enjoyable ailments of the day was "Boogie Fever" which was characterized by the need to boogie down. The Sylvers, an eight sibling group apparently on the cutting edge of medical research, broke the news to us via their infectious single co-written and produced by Freddie Perren. Watching the family perform was an experience in itself, with all eight members going through choreography, occupying every inch of the performing stage. And they appeared seemingly EVERYWHERE: The Midnight Special, Soul Train, Soul Train again, American Bandstand, The Sonny & Cher Show, Disco and Donny & Marie.
I'm on record about my love for "Summer," both the song and the season, in previous posts here on The Hideaway. For me, War's song brings back memories of everything that was great about the Bicentennial Summer of 1976. It's not the specific lyrics, just the laid back vibe though the last line of the third verse sum it up pretty well before going back to the hazy, lazy chorus one last time. The single, as heard on WLS and purchased soon thereafter was great, but I had heard the full-length album version before courtesy of my Uncle Sam and it didn't dawn on me that it was nearly three minutes longer than the 45 until I got my own copy of War's Greatest Hits. About 10 years ago, I was actually on a short one hour flight to LA with members of WAR - they were wearing T-shirts and leather vests emblazoned with their distinctive logo - all I could think about was a spontaneous outbreak of "Summer" that lasted the duration of the flight, with the entire plane singing along. It happened - but only in my head.
For many, "(Don't Fear) The Reaper" is an overplayed classic rock radio song, unworthy of its accolades. I've always dug the tune - it sounded great on AM radio - and the lyrics have just enough of a vague spookiness to keep my interest. And that loopy guitar riff that whirls and twirls throughout the song is glorious rock and roll. But that breakdown at about halfway through the album length song (and completely edited out of the 45) always distracts me in the best possible way.
Seger paints a hi-def picture of his teenage years with the nostalgic lyrics in "Night Moves" and like the best pop psychics, he includes enough generalities that others can relate and read them as their own memories. Stuff like "little too tall/could have used a few pounds", "out past the cornfields/where the woods got heavy" and "young, restless and bored" found common ground in the collective memories of the Baby Boomers who grew up with rock and roll as the soundtrack of their lives as well as the next generation, my generation, down the line. Dad loved Seger's music and I almost instantly learned to like it through osmosis. While I vaguely recall hearing the song a few times on WLS, I mostly heard "Night Moves" when Dad played the album at home or on a dubbed eight-track in the car. It was one of two albums that Seger released in 1976 - the other being the magnificent Live Bullet - that catapulted him into the national spotlight. For me, "Night Moves" is best heard beneath the cover of the night where it brings to mind many memories of Dad as well as my own awkward teenage existence and several romantic Summer nights of the past.
Cable changed my life forever when my folks got the hook-up in 1977. I was able to sneak downstairs and watch movies on Home Box Office after everyone else had gone to bed. It's funny now to think that was what we called it but that was how it advertised and so that's what we said - HBO would come later. One of the movies I remember watching alone in the dark in the basement hoping I would not get caught (and I never did) was Car Wash. To the eleven-year-old me, the film was funny (in most parts) and of course I was already in love with the two singles - title track and "I Wanna Get Next To You" from the film I had heard on the radio so it was interesting to see them in the context of the film. The scene in the diner across the street from the car wash where A.J. is trying to get back together with his girlfriend Mona, the waitress, as "I Wanna Get Next To You" plays on the radio is a classic, one that even a youngun like me at the time could somewhat relate to. You would like these girls but you wouldn't know why and when you tried to make your feelings known, they made you feel like you were doing it all wrong which only made you want to try harder to get their attention. Back then, there were two girls who made me act like a fool - Diana and Janet. Eventually, A.J. does win Mona back but the restrained passion and romantic love expressed in "I Wanna Get Next To You" has made it my favorite slow jam song of all time and one I have enjoyed many times with my wife of 29 years. It's our Anniversary on this very day!
When you're ten, your favorite songs are the ones you can sing along with and "The Rubberband Man" was my jam, one of my most-played jukebox joints. Sure I owned the 45 and played it a lot, but I was perfectly happy to spend my hard-earned change to hear it again and again while I was at the youth center or eating pizza. Was there a rubber band dance craze that escaped my attention? I saw The Spinners perform the song on Soul Train and they had giant rubber bands around their neck which were integral parts of their choreography, as they stretched them out with their hands. After years of listening to the three and half minute single, I was overjoyed to hear the full-length almost seven and half minute album version on one of my record club purchases, The Best Of The Spinners. Watch The Spinners perform "The Rubberband Man" live on The Midnight Special or see them go through the motions with those giant rubber bands again on American Bandstand.
After a couple of months with a little Cobra CB radio strapped to his under dash eight track player, Dad upgraded to an eight-track player with a built-in CB radio so there was only one thing strapped under his dash. He only ever used the CB when we were traveling, to keep track of the smokies and county mounties so he had a magnetic mount antenna that he took off and stowed on the rear deck so it bounced when the speakers were at maximum output. While I don't remember his handle (Bohunk?) I do recall my Texas Grandma's - she was "Red Snapper" and spent most of her time unabashedly flirting with the truckers and other CB users. She was very popular across much of Texas and many times there would be guys asking for her as soon as we got in the Delta 88 and the radio came on. She even had one guy recognize her voice when we were in a Stuckey's once. My voice was recognized by a teacher once when I was reciting C.W. McCall's "Convoy" in the hallway between classes. She asked me to repeat what I had just said so I did and got to spend some quality time with my nose on the locker which is not nearly as fun as it may sound. Why all the hubbub? Where it says "truckin' convoy" I said a word that rhymed with "truckin'." In hindsight, my mistake was repeating the word when asked when all I had to do was say it like it was written and she would have chalked it all up to a misunderstanding. So yeah, it's true, I was a potty mouth all the way from fourth grade to sixth grade. Got in trouble for it a few times and then decided I wasn't going to talk like that anymore and I haven't. Regardless, it was my favorite song for a spell and I ordered the Black Bear Road album from one of the record clubs and loved it to death. Found this handy dandy CB lingo cheat sheet below in an old issue of Rolling Stone next to an article on C.W. McCall and "Convoy."
There are two kinds of people in this world and those who can count. Wait, there are two kinds of people in this world: fans of the music of the Eagles and haters. I've always been in the former group. My man jb recently wrote about radio station format changes and the stunting that goes on, playing songs repeatedly for hours or days on end. My own personal experience with stunting is when our local 104.1 began playing "Hotel California" repeatedly one Monday morning about ten years back. Over and over for about 48 hours and then "Stairway To Heaven" was added to the mix for another 48 hour period and then finally "Free Bird" was added to the mix and those three songs played non-stop, one after the other in that order (hotel/heaven/bird) until Monday morning when the station break came on 104.1-The Hog and they played a wide variety of classic rock. I did not listen the whole time and there might have been other Federally required hourly station IDs but I don't recall hearing one as I checked in with the station every couple of hours during the week. There are three songs right there I know some people never need hear again. The flamenco-tinged live version on the reunion Hell Freezes Over rekindled my interest in the song as did the exquisite Gipsy Kings version. "Hotel California" evokes a lot of the same mental images and listening rituals as the B.O.C. and Seger tracks above and I consider it a certified classic.
That vague creepiness I mentioned in connection with "(Don't Fear) The Reaper" loses all vagueness in Gordon Lightfoot's epic disaster movie of a song "The Wreck Of The Edmund Fitzgerald" a WLS favorite. There are recollections from other fans that the station used to play an edited version of the song but I haven't been able to confirm that and I don't see how it was possible as that would necessitate butchering the story wouldn't it? There is evidence that WLS edited even the already edited promo singles they received so it may very well be true. I always remember hearing the song in its full-length gloomy glory but we all know how fractured my memories are. One of those songs that takes me back to my childhood bedroom, listening to WLS, every time I hear it.
The thing about these Top 20 songs is that on any given day any one of them could be my Number One. And just yesterday, this song by the Bay City Rollers was my Favorite Song from 1976 but now "Rock And Roll Love Letter" comes in down at number 10 for no particular reason. I love this song and it just so happens I love this period (1975-1977) with the classic lineup of the Bay City Rollers as well. I bought three Rollers albums during that time; two from the music clubs (Bay City Rollers and Greatest Hits) and one (Rock N' Roll Love Letter) from the store. When I found the Tim Moore original many years later, I was ecstatic. Then I found The Dirty Angels take which I also enjoyed and apparently it preceded the Rollers. Have only found one post Rollers recording of the song, by The Records and it is probably no coincidence it shares much in common with the Rollers arrangement. Unfortunately, neither of these two video clips feature that classic lineup I referred to: Disco and Top Pop. But this one, filmed a few years later, does feature the classic lineup of Les, Woody, Eric, Alan, and Derek: uncredited Japanese TV show.
First, Rollers and now Ramones - who da thunk? No, I was not down with the Ramones from the git-go; I mean I was a ten-year-old punk but I wasn't a ten-year-old punk, ya know? Nope I didn't get into the music of the group, never even heard of them, until I saw the film Rock 'N' Roll High School on the Star Channel at my Texas Grandma's house the same Summer I saw Animal House more than 100 times as well as movies like Americathon, Harold & Maude, The Ruling Class, Being There and even Flesh Gordon in a heavily edited version. (My best-educated guess is that is was the Summer of 1980.) Just as Animal House had shown me exactly what college was going to be like, Rock 'N' Roll High School was a guided tour to what high school was gonna be like and it was gonna be AWESOME. About an hour into the film, the Ramones take the stage and tear directly into "Blitzkrieg Bop." Love the simple riffs, the high energy and the chant-along lyrics.
Probably my second favorite slow jam of 1976, Elvin Bishop's "Fooled Around And Fell In Love" features the restrained blues rock licks of Bishop on guitar and the lover man confessions of former backup singer Mickey Thomas. As wonderful as the song sounded on AM radio, it truly shines in stereo. The organ moans and wails, the bass thumps and there is a depth and definition to the drums that was hidden in the flat, muddy sound mix of Seventies AM radio. Back then it was all we knew and ignorance was bliss. I don't remember a lot of my classmates digging this tune but I've always championed it.
The country rock block continues with the hot harmonies of the Brothers Bellamy and their song "Let Your Love Flow" a rare country crossover on WLS. When I bought the 45, I noticed that the label felt a little different than some of my other Warner Brothers 45s - it has a little texture to it. This song can be found on many
mixtapes mix discs playlists of mine: day driving, afternoon pool party, Summer, cool country rock and the unofficial soundtrack of Texas Roadhouse are the first five that came to mind but there are others. I was disappointed the Brothers never followed this one up with similar-sounding hits but they didn't write it so it makes sense. They went further down the country road, scoring a ton of hits throughout the Eighties.
Love this song. Elton John was at the peak of his creative powers in 1976 and reached out to share the wealth with the delightfully named Kiki Dee. I shared my personal story regarding this record in one of my earliest postings here on the web titled Seven Slabs Of Seven Inch Vinyl That Ruined My Life and later broke it out on its own as one in a series of one hundred consecutive daily posts I called Summer In Stereo. The story is about my neighbor, Samantha, who has been mentioned a couple of times in this list. Elton and Kiki filmed a music video for their duet.
It's a tale as old as time: Boy goes to the record store to buy 45 but 45 is sold out. After checking behind every other 45 on the shelf for a few weeks in a row, the store clerk suggests buying the album with said sold out 45 and boy then buys his first album with his own money. So yeah, Disco-Fied was my first album purchase and it was all because I could never find the 45 for "Theme From S.W.A.T." which was my favorite song at the time. Didn't care for the show one lick but studio supergroup Rhythm Heritage sure did a mean version of the show's original theme song which lacked the groove - it was all brassy no sassy. WLS played the song quite a bit but they played the shorter version found on some early singles rather than the four-minute album version found on the later singles. The main difference was the breakdown that occurs around the 1:40 mark is edited out.
Much has been written about how this song is often mistaken as being by Bruce Springsteen and I'm like "Whuh?" Show of hands - who had heard of Bruce Springsteen by 1976? I know I hadn't though I did know of a song he had written - "Blinded By The Light" which appeared earlier on this list but he wasn't well-known at all outside of his home turf. But here at number 4 is Thin Lizzy with "The Boys Are Back In Town" which just erupted from speakers back in 1976. It gets points for lyrics that are both specific and general enough ("What boys?" "What town?" "Why were they gone?" and "What brought them back?") that people can relate and apply it to their own memories and experiences. Bonus points for mentioning Summer in the lyrics as well. The single is one for the ages and my dream jukebox with the title track from the album Jailbreak on the flip side and it doesn't take much imagination to connect the two songs as part of a longer narrative. Blog buddy Martin was kind enough to let me do a guest post of Jailbreak over at Martin's View on the album's 40th anniversary, March 26, 2016.
Man oh man, this is a great song, another in a long line from the pen of Sir Paul. The two things that stand out for me are the bouncing bassline and the hook-laden melody but I have a memory attached to this song as well, one from all the way back in 1976 when I got word via the playground grapevine that a pretty little girl named Janet liked me. We played the look away game for a day and then through our intermediaries arranged for a monkey bars confab from which came the unspoken agreement that we were now "girlfriend" and "boyfriend" so we met on the playground at recess to walk and talk cause that's what couples did. Once I found out her favorite song was "Silly Love Songs" I begged my Mom to take me by the BX when she picked me up from the youth center that night and I bought my girl Janet the 45 of her favorite song. Gave it to her on Friday and by Monday we were broken up somehow and she returned all the stuff I had gotten her, including the record, in a tiny box. I was sad more because that was how you were supposed to feel than how I actually felt which was confused and when I finally felt well enough to play "Silly Love Songs", there was an annoying click through the entire song, just under six minutes worth of click-click-click-click. Looking closer at the record, there was a straight scratch from one edge of the record to the middle. I flipped it over to the b-side "Cook Of The House" and saw a similar scratch. Broke my heart and scratched my record. Damn, girl. Paul & Co. did shoot a music video for "Silly Love Songs."
Like Billy Ocean's "Love Really Hurts Without You", Maxine Nightingale's "Right Back Where We Started From" sounds instantly familiar, like a long lost classic Motown song from the Sixties. The honkin' sax and the jaunty, hand-clapped rhythm are both straight out of the classic soul book but Maxine's sultry voice (which reminds me of Marilyn McCoo's in tone and timbre) is the standout ingredient though I truly enjoy the entire song from start to finish. For several years, this was a song I'd use to screen to potential girlfriends - not a deal-breaker per se but certainly a sign of potential deeper compatibility. Only one girl had never heard of it but she said she liked it so it was all good. See Maxine work her magic in this uncredited clip.
If you've never read any of my other posts here on The Hideaway, my Number One Favorite Song from 1976 might come as a surprise but for anyone familiar with my musical tastes, it was truly a no-brainer, no contest, no doubt. I loved "December, 1963 (Oh, What A Night)" from the moment I first heard it just after New Year's Day 1976. More than four months later it was still my favorite song (or my favorite song again I guess as I have always been very fluid) and when my parents gave me a choice of a 45 to go along with the Soundesign stereo system they were buying for my birthday at Bergner's department store, I chose The Four Seasons and "December, 1963 (Oh What A Night)" and it has been a top favorite for more than 40 years now despite that crappy remix in the Nineties. The pounding drums, the rollicking piano, the funky bass, the noodling guitar and the swooshy synthesizer - even the short little horn stabs - all come together to create a magical backing track and by splitting the vocals between the two different singers - with Frankie chiming in with the hook - the energy level is kept high. While there was a time I could hit those notes, those days passed once puberty hit though I still sing loudly along to the song when it shuffles up in the car and I'm alone and only sing it a little less loud if I have company. Definitely one of my most favorite songs ever! See it on The Midnight Special, on a street corner in Reno or in the studio.