The Year That Was (Part I)

(Before we begin: Posting will continue to be light here until next week. Next up after this: a fifth-anniversary post, on Saturday.)

The Mrs. and I were cleaning out the garage a while back when I found a daybook I kept during 1976. It’s not a diary; it’s a page-a-week calendar on which I noted various bits of trivia day by day: celebrity birthdays, odd holidays—and, most significant now, brief notes about things happening in my life. I had lost track of the daybook for about a decade, although I always knew it was around here somewhere, and I looked forward to reading it again. Perhaps, I thought, there’s something in it I could never see before, something that might help me better understand why 1976 has a hold on me that I’ll never shake.

Like all other years, 1976 had a lot of music in it. On Sunday January 11, the family made a trip to the mall in Madison, and I bought Kraftwerk’s Autobahn album. The next week, I noted that I had borrowed Emerson Lake and Palmer’s Brain Salad Surgery album from a friend. (I borrowed Frampton Comes Alive! from another friend that spring, although I didn’t write it in the daybook. I ended up buying him a replacement after somebody stole it out of my locker.) On February 29, I celebrated what would have been my fourth “real” birthday, and among the gifts I received was Station to Station, David Bowie’s latest album, which I got on an 8-track tape. I bought a couple more albums in March: Queen’s A Night at the Opera on the 12th and Tangerine Dream’s Rubycon on the 14th.

The juxtaposition of those two albums amuses me now: Queen defiantly asserted “no synthesizers” on A Night at the Opera‘s liner notes, while Tangerine Dream was entirely electronic, and that’s why I bought it, even though I’d never heard of Tangerine Dream. I got it in a cutout bin for a couple of bucks, imagining it would be full of the  proggy synthesizer pyrotechnics I was into at the moment. What it was, however, was ambient music, which was a fairly big leap for me. The album is still up here in the office somewhere, although I don’t think I’ve listened to it more than a couple of times. I decided to stick with prog rock. On July 16, I bought Rick Wakeman’s No Earthly Connection.

As the summer began, I started noting the names of the artists that were being featured every night on Madison’s WIBA-FM, starting with Monty Python on June 1. Other artists featured that month: Jethro Tull, the Charlie Daniels Band, the Beatles, Paul Butterfield, Brian Auger, Ace, Pablo Cruise (which I spelled “Cruz”), Little Feat, and Alice Cooper. I would keep it up all summer. When Paul McCartney and Wings (June 2) and Elton John (July 28 and 30) played concerts in Chicago, I wrote that down, too. At the top of each weekly page, I noted the Number-One songs and albums of the week, taken from the various countdown shows I followed religiously. On July 3, I listened as WMAQ, Chicago’s big country station, counted down the top 76 country records of all time—such was my chart geekery in that summer.

So what the daybook indicates first and foremost is that music was everything to me in 1976—but that wouldn’t have been news to anyone then, and it isn’t news to you now.

In the next installment, coming nest week: brief and maddeningly incomplete glimpses of teenage life.

From the WLS survey dated January 10, 1076:

5. “My Little Town”/Simon and Garfunkel (up from 7)
7. “That’s the Way (I Like It)”/KC & the Sunshine Band (down from 5)
12. “Fly Robin Fly”/Silver Convention (up from 19)
38. “They Just Can’t Stop It (Games People Play)”/Spinners (down from 34)
40. “December 1963 (Oh What a Night)”/Four Seasons (first week on)

6 thoughts on “The Year That Was (Part I)

  1. Shark

    “My Little Town” by Simon & Garfunkel…what a wonderful song! How Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel ever started fueding with each other back then is hard to believe when they made such great music as a duo.

  2. Oh, yeah. That was the winter of my internship, during which I made choices that reverberate to this day. And I recall hearing each one of those in my chilly apartment. What a memory trip!

  3. porky

    for what it’s worth, you and I are the same age so this is the music of my teen-aged years as well.

    I equate that WLS survey with a winter trip we took to Biloxi, Mississippi (Jaws was playing at a drive-in down there at the time).

    Also interesting to see that about 3 artists had duplicate entries in the survey; I don’t remember Fox on the Run and Ballroom Blitz being that “close” in chronicity

  4. jb

    Porky: Somebody remarked to me that “Games People Play” seemed to have been on the radio long before January, and that’s true–it charted late in August and peaked sometime in November 1975, if I’m recalling correctly. WLS was charting 45 records on its survey at this time, but I am guessing that many of them were what we’d call in the radio biz “recurrents,” older songs that get more play than “oldies” but less than the hottest current hits. It would not have been unusual for “Ballroom Blitz” to stay in recurrents for several weeks after its October chart peak, or for “Games People Play” to stick around the same way.

  5. Kinky Paprika

    This is great. I’ve always wished I kept a journal like that, however cryptic.
    (The closest I came was a running log for most of my eighth-grade cross-country season. That’s kinda funny to look at now but it only covers a couple of months.)

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