In 1976, as the United States of America celebrated it's 200th Birthday all year long, I celebrated my 10th birthday with a small party on a sunny Saturday afternoon in April. Though I have been under the impression that my parents bought me my first stereo system shortly after we moved to Rantoul in 1975 because I missed my old friends back in Texas and was depressed, I am now more than 88% certain we went to Bergner's department store in Market Place Mall the Saturday after my tenth birthday and came home with a Soundesign all in one record player, eight track AM/FM combo unit. (Combing the Internet forty years later, I'm 56% positive my stereo was a model 4721 or something very close to it. The layout, the design of the knobs and the coloring of the radio dial are all very familiar to me.) The parental units also let me pick out a 45 and I picked out my favorite song at the time, which also turned out to be my favorite song of 1976. I've mentioned it before, in other posts and comments, so it should come as no surprise when we finally get to it a little later this week. Let's get things started with the lower fifth of the countdown.
Though it doesn't leave the station until more than a minute after the song starts, "Locomotive Breath" brings some wicked chugging guitar and maniacal vocals from Ian Anderson, who breaks from his scree only long enough to blow a heavy metal flute solo. My research tells me that this one was originally released in 1971 though I never heard it until at least 1976. I'm not much for Jethro Tull's overall sound and aesthetic though I love me some "Bungle In The Jungle" and even enjoy the creepy "Aqualung."
As Michael McDonald emerged as the major creative force of The Doobie Brothers with the album Takin' It To The Streets, the band's sound began to evolve from guitar oriented riff rockers to soulful keyboard driven and harmony happy tracks. My favorite song with the band's new sound is "It Keeps You Runnin'," a song I played repeatedly off my vinyl copy of Best of The Doobies, an Easter basket gift from 1977. I actually played ALL the songs on that album repeatedly. Watch the Doobies perform "It Keeps You Runnin' " live on Soundstage.
Chaka Khan tickled my young ears with her sweet, emotive vocals on "Sweet Thing." Her previous efforts with Rufus missed my ears completely though according to their weekly music surveys, my station WLS played them a lot. Nowadays, I prefer Chaka's funky, uptempo sexy vocal performances but there will always be a place in my life for "Sweet Thing." Watch the Chaka Khan and Rufus perform "Sweet Thing" on Soul Train.
Did someone say FUNKY? Louis "Thunder Thumbs" Johnson and his brother George "Lightnin' Licks" Johnson are THE Brothers Johnson and their debut album Look Out For #1 spent time at the top or near the top on both the R&B and jazz charts in 1976. I discovered "Get The Funk Out Ma Face" at a junior high basement party three or four years after its initial release, right about the time that "Stomp!" was dominating the local airwaves, jukeboxes and skating rink. After lamenting the less than three minute running time of the song for several years, I came across the six minute Special Disco Version that was released as a promo only twelve inch in 1976 on the Brothers Johnson installment (Volume 11) of A&M Classics in 1987. Witness the Brothers Johnson bring the funk in this concert clip.
I love Love LOVE "Go All The Way" by the Raspberries just bursts out of the speakers though I didn't get into the rest of their wonderful back catalog until the late Eighties. When leader Eric Carmen went solo, he released "All By Myself" as the first single and I absolutely hated it. So sad and depressing, the song is one of the very few that made me turn off the radio or at least turn down the volume because as a ten year old, I only listened to the one station. I moved on to the sticky pop of "She Did It" and covers of Carmen's songs by teen dream Shaun Cassidy, my little sister's favorite artist of 1976-1978. Only after getting my heart decimated did the self-pity of "All By Myself" spark a connection. I've grown to enjoy Carmen's voice more than the music which is most likely why "All By Myself" ranks this high. Watch Eric Carmen do the entire seven minute plus full-length album version of "All By Myself" on The Midnight Special if you dare.
Like a sunny clear day, George Benson's "Breezin' " just brightens my outlook on life when it comes on - much like a pretty woman, a fast car or some tasty BBQ would. Heard this one on the radio for years before actually knowing what it was called and who was playing the guitar but am so glad to have "found" the Breezin' album and the exquisite guitar of George Benson. Turns out the man can sing, too. Watch the once in a lifetime pairing of George Benson and Carlos Santana as they trade licks on "Breezin' " on The Midnight Special.
My Dad rode the nostalgia wave of the early to mid Seventies and Mom, me and baby sister rode along right beside him. Part of the ride extended to the TV we watched as a family, back when there was but one TV in the house though at the time, Dad was actually building another television set from a Heathkit for the converted basement gameroom, complete with garish casino themed carpet, a pool table and his stereo along with vnyl and eight track tape collections. The anchor of our Tuesday night TV lineup was Happy Days and in 1976, the show's theme song was released as a single and I picked it up the first weekend I saw it on display. Proud to say this is first 45 on the list I owned in 1976 and still own today.
Though he wasn't a fan of The Who, my father loved "Squeeze Box" with its combination of country-ish sounding music and sexual double entendres. He loved dirty jokes. As we've previously established, I usually liked whatever Dad liked by genetic disposition and simple osmosis - just being around him as often as I could be. In my list of fifteen or twenty-five favorite Who songs, "Squeeze Box" probably ranks at or near the bottom but in 1976 it was the only Who song getting airtime on the mighty WLS.
Styx used to be a Chicago band (and I guess they still are) and thus a hometown favorite on WLS. "Lorelei" rocks harder than "Lady" did and set the stage for the epic "Come Sail Away" a couple of years later. While I don't have a specific memory of "Lorelei", I recall as clear as day junior high shop class (aka industrial arts) a few years later when we all had to pick our projects and all but one of us chose to make something utilizing the stylized (and now classic) Styx logo. The holdout explained that he did not listen to music (what?!?) and was going to make a lamp based on our school's mascot, a bulldog. By the time the school year ended, there was a variety of Styx-shaped lamps, bookends and even a shelf sitting in various stages of completion at the back of the classroom. My project started out as a lamp but I got behind and it ended up just a wooden representation of the unmistakable logo. Got a B+ on it as it was sanded really well and the wood I chose had a really nice grain. (it got thrown away in our last move in 2000.) That kid's bulldog got an A though the class bully, who failed to complete his own project, smashed the poor little bulldog to bits with the largest hammer in the shop. Hear all about "Lorelei" in this concert clip.
Silver's "Wham Bam Shang-A-Lang" reminds me of Starbuck's "Moonlight Feels Right" and Orleans with "Still The One" which are both favorite songs of mine. This was a Top 10 monster on WLS and I'm honestly surprised at myself for not rating it higher. Vicki liked it enough to write her name on it. Many of my 45s from 1976-1980 have my name, grade and home room number on them which is why I don't use my own scans. The info was required if you wanted to a) have your records played at after-school dances or b) be a DJ for 15 minutes or more at the after-school dances. The info was supposed to prevent people from stealing your records yet a certain thief (Russell!) still attempted to rip me off by blatantly erasing my name and writing his own in the white space created by the eraser even though his handwriting did not match the grade and homeroom I had written.
With my own nickel and permission from my folks, one of the first albums I ordered from RCA Music Service in late 1976 or early 1977 was Neil Sedaka Sings His Greatest Hits. Dad was a fan, so I became a fan. Shortly before that however, Dad received a two-fer selection of the month in the mail from the very same RCA. Inside were two Neil Sedaka albums: Sedaka's Back and Sedaka Live In Australia. While I have no recollection of the latter title, the former album was a lot of fun, a compilation of songs from his three previous UK only albums, and it sits next to the live album on the Vinyl Wall. "Breaking Up Is Hard To Do" was originally a hit for Neil back in 1962 and though he uses the original beginning from that record to start his slower 1975 version of the same song, I much prefer the newer version. Sing along with Neil as he explains why "Breaking Up Is Hard To Do" in this live concert clip.
Apparently I have a predilection for flute solos in my pop music. First, there was Focus with "Hocus Pocus," then the Marshall Tucker Band with "Can't You See" followed by Jethro Tull's "Locomotive Breath" and now the super-sweet powdered sugar pop of Firefall's "You Are the Woman." This one has a bit of country-rock vibe though it registers closer to country-soft rock which didn't keep it from getting a bunch of spins on WLS.
The story of how three amazingly diverse albums came into my life one day in July 1981 as I was riding my orange JC Penny ten speed bike across an abandoned flightline has been told a few times but here's the latest and the greatest: As I rode my bike along the huge expanse of the runway that separated Base housing from the rest of the Base, being careful to stay on the trail that had been outlined in reflective paint on the concrete, I saw a pile of what looked like cardboard up ahead and stopped to pick it up and throw it off the trail so the next person didn't have to deal with it (Good Samaritan 1, Environment 0), it turns out the pile consisted of three albums laying face down. I picked them up, dusted them off and carried them home precariously balanced on my handlebars. The wonder and joy of found music. The three albums were Squeeze's East Side Story, Ultravox's self-titled debut and Kraftwerk's Radio-Activity. All three album covers were brighter and shinier (except for gravel marks) than I was used to with albums in my own growing collection and the sleeves were made of noticeably thinner cardboard as all three albums appeared to be British imports. The first one I plopped on my Soundesign stereo system was Kraftwerk and the opening track "Geiger Counter" was simply mesmerizing - a pulse (drumbeat?) that played over and over getting quicker and quicker each time as other sounds of distortion and static appeared in the mix before the next track, the album's title track began with what sounded like a choir of angels getting slapped (listen for yourself) and then a basic keyboard riff followed by the sounds of an air pump until at about the minute mark, the simple vocal began alternating between English and German, the Morse code kicked in and it all went on for about seven glorious minutes; eight minutes if you count "Geiger Counter." I have been a fan of Kraftwerk's music ever since. (Also Squeeze and Ultravox.) Witness the robotic precision of Kraftwerk as they go through the motions of "Radio-Activity" on this clip from a French television show.
Part of being a music obsessive is being ever vigilant for music, whether you are dining, shopping or watching TV, which is where "Alone Too Long" came back into my life. I never heard the song on the radio but I enjoyed hearing it a few times when I worked my way through Hall & Oates back catalog in the Eighties before forgetting about it. Jump to the Fall of 2013 and I settle in to watch HBO's new comedy Hello Ladies and "Alone Too Long" is the shows theme song. So, for those of you keeping score at home, I don't think I ever heard this song in 1976 though I did listen to it a few times in the Eighties and have had it in my daily random playlist since 2013 making it my 87th Favorite Song from 1976. It's a complicated system.
Though I've always been drawn to catchy upbeat songs, the downbeat (in every sense of the word) "Shannon" was another must-buy 45 for me back in 1976. Unfortunately, one of my classmates was not named Shannon so I didn't get to serenade anyone though I later worked with a beautiful young girl named Shannon who hated it when I sang this song to her - so I did it often. This song also garnered many plays on WLS back in the Spring and Summer of 1976. And it is the second single on this list that still resides in my collection of 45s. Watch Henry Gross and his band perform "Shannon" on The Midnight Special.
Yvonne Elliman is a great singer, having sung on Broadway and in Eric Clapton's band but her little-known, secret in to pop stardom was her husband, the president of RSO Records, Bill Oakes. He's the one that secured access to a pair of Bee Gees songs for her to record. The first Yvonne Elliman cover of a Bee Gees song was "Love Me" in 1976 and the second was scheduled to be "How Deep Is Your Love" for the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack in 1977 before the RS in RSO, Robert Stigwood, "suggested" that the Bee Gees keep the song for themselves and give Elliman another tune, "If I Can't Have You," which turned out fine for all involved parties. See the beautiful, talented and once well-connected Yvonne Elliman sing "Love Me" on Top Pop.
According to Ron Smith's compilation of WLS's weekly music surveys, "Getaway" received airplay on the station though I only recall ever hearing it on American Top 40, which we listened to every weekend back then on WLRW, the FM station out of Champaign, Illinois, home of both REO Speedwagon and the group, Champaign. Earth Wind & Fire sounded positively huge on the clean sounding stereo transmission of WLRW, with every vocalist, every instrument, every beat clearly and cleanly audible. Slowly but surely, WRLW became my back-up to my much beloved WLS even though they offered no music survey sheets in the local record stores. The main difference between the two stations, besides the noticeable quality in sound and their geographical distance, was the on-air personalities. I can name nearly a dozen jocks from WLS and none from WLRW though initial research tells me that WLRW was an automated station and had no disc jockeys on air for large portions of the broadcast day. Speaking of DJ-free stations, KRDX (98.5 The Fox) is the only radio station I listen to when I'm in the car these days. It is also jockless, commercial-free(!) and solar-powered(!!!), playing only station IDs in the 60s-80s music mix as required by law from just past dawn to just past sunset. Unfortunately, it is not streaming anywhere and if I drive more than 10 miles west, I lose the signal which is broadcast from a mountain top exactly 39 miles southeast from my front door.
You've read my preferences on short single edits versus full-length album version time and time again therefore you know that nine point nine times out of ten, I prefer the longer song to the shorter song. The O'Jays self-explanatory "I Love Music" is just another in a long line of those songs where I just gots to have the most music offered which in this case means I opt for the Tom Moulton Mix which clocks in just under ten minutes. Watch The O'Jays perform "I Love Music" on Soul Train.
Another Sunday Morning Mellow Southern Soul classic is Dorothy Moore's "Misty Blue" though it sounds more like a Sixties song than a Seventies song don't you think? It was originally written and recorded as a country ballad a month before I was born and then was recorded a second time by another artist the week before I was born. After several more recordings that met with varying degrees of sales and chart success, Moore cut her version in one amazing take in 1973 though her production company could not convince a label to distribute the song. Finally, the owner of the production company went all in, pressing it up and distributing the single locally itself a couple years later. Southern stations picked up on it immediately and then Henry Stone's T.K. label picked up national distribution, conquering the North and eventually turned the whole world "Misty Blue." See Moore perform the song in this clip from Top of The Pops.
Parliament, Funkadelic and the entire George Clinton musical universe have appealed to me from the moment I first heard one of their delightfully loopy and undeniably funky songs. I don't remember which song it was but I was knee deep in the funk with my flashlight and bop gun celebrating this one nation under a groove before too long. The deep voice that opens "Tear The Roof Off The Sucker (Give Up The Funk)" gives way to what sounds like a small town singing the verses and catchy as all get out chorus. And then this P-Funk mob state their intended purpose to "Turn This Mutha Out." The fact that Parliament were on the same label as Kiss, Donna Summer and The Village People (among others) just shows what golden ears Neil Bogart and his team at Casablanca had. Behold the choreographed chaos that was a classic P-Funk show back in the day with this concert clip.