(After this post, this blog is going on hiatus for a while. Back next week sometime. Go play outside.)
It was May 1977. A soft Wisconsin spring was in bloom, our junior year in high school was drawing to a close, and we were positively stupid in love. And on this weekend in that year, we went to the prom. She was resplendent in a gorgeous, frilly dress she’d made herself; I looked like a waiter in my white tuxedo jacket and ruffled shirt—ruffles dyed to match her dress. The high-school gym had been transformed (as much as any such place can be transformed) into something from a different world, with music provided by a big band. Even after accounting for the burnished glow of nostalgia, it remains as romantic a scene as I’ve ever experienced.
Not everybody got into it, however. In fact, most of our classmates seemed eager to shed their fancy clothes in favor of t-shirts and jeans, get to the post-prom party, and listen to some rock and roll instead of this big-band shit. But we, along with three or four other couples, didn’t want the evening to turn back into just another Saturday night. So we attended our own little post-prom party hosted by a friend. Afterward, at some point in the wee hours of Sunday morning, the two of us lingered over our goodbyes. And then I popped the radio on and drove home.
On the radio and on the charts that May was an extraordinary constellation of albums, some of which would still be significant two lifetimes in the future, some of which would disappear before 1977 was over, but all of which help display the strange and wonderful variety of popular music at the height of the 1970s. The list is from Ten-Q in Los Angeles, dated May 5, 1977, and I’ll cover ’em all, Twitter-style:
1. Hotel California/Eagles. Did we know in 1977 that we’d never stop listening to this album?
2. A Star Is Born/Soundtrack. “Evergreen”—Oscar winner, Grammy winner, yet still underrated, and among the best couple of things Barbra Streisand ever did.
3. Rumors/Fleetwood Mac. Would this have been as popular and enduring if it had been released with its originally proposed title Yesterday’s Dreams? (More about the album here.)
4. Songs in the Key of Life/Stevie Wonder. She and I loved loved loved “Sir Duke” that spring.
5. Leftoverture/Kansas. When I worked at the classic-rock station in the mid 90s, our single highest-testing record with our audience was “Carry On Wayward Son.” (Much period awesomeness below.)
6. Rocky/Soundtrack. Lots of people bought it then, but who listens to it now?
7. Boston/Boston. How many other records are so utterly unique, essentially uncopied by anybody else?
8. Any Way You Like It/Thelma Houston. The one with “Don’t Leave Me This Way” on it.
9. In Flight/George Benson. Breezin, Volume 2. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
10. A Rock and Roll Alternative/Atlanta Rhythm Section. The one with “So In to You” on it.
11. Works Volume 1/Emerson Lake and Palmer. About which I have written before.
12. This One’s for You/Barry Manilow. Had already produced two hit singles, the title song and “Weekend in New England”; would produce one more, “Looks Like We Made It.”
13. Live at the London Palladium/Marvin Gaye. Not many radio stations within earshot of me played “Got to Give It Up,” even after it topped the pop charts in June. Here’s the man hisownself lip-synching it on Soul Train:
14. Even in the Quietest Moments/Supertramp. Later in 1977, “Give a Little Bit” would acquire a particular sort of autumn light I can recall if I choose to, but I don’t often choose to.
15. Animals/Pink Floyd. No singles from this, but a major tour; the giant pig flew over Milwaukee County Stadium in June.
16. Endless Flight/Leo Sayer. Contains the luminous “When I Need You,” which can zap me back to that spring with a force that’s still shocking even when I know it’s coming.
17. Love at the Greek/Neil Diamond. Another live album, in which Diamond’s metamorphosis from rocker to MOR balladeer continues: cf. Hot August Night.
18. Year of the Cat/Al Stewart. “You know sometime you’re bound to leave her/But for now you’re gonna stay”
19. A New World Record/ELO. An album I would take to the desert island. (That’s a tease, folks. Stay tuned.)
20. Songs From the Wood/Jethro Tull. From this point forward, Tull albums would never again chart quite so high.
Singles on the radio that week included “Rich Girl,” “Southern Nights,” “Don’t Give Up on Us,” “Undercover Angel,” “The Things We Do for Love,” and plenty of others. Whether I was hearing them on the radio or replaying them while stuck in school, they were in my head all day, every day. And they’re still there.