(Pictured: Foreigner in 1977.)
We all recognize that certain seasons of certain years retain a hold on the imagination forever after. There are certain weeks like that, too. The single greatest piece of music writing I’ve ever read was Eric Boehlert’s Salon article about Christmas week of 1969, and the epic variety of music on both major charts that week, legendary songs, albums, and stars that both epitomize and shape the history of rock. In this blog’s first autumn, I wrote about a week in November 1976 loaded with what would become classic-rock radio standards. Recently I have been listening to the American Top 40 show from May 28, 1977, and that particular week was even better. Dig it:
4. “Dreams”/Fleetwood Mac
7. “Couldn’t Get It Right”/Climax Blues Band
10. “Feels Like the First Time”/Foreigner
11. “Hotel California”/Eagles
17. “Heard It in a Love Song”/Marshall Tucker Band
18. “Lido Shuffle”/Boz Scaggs
20. “Jet Airliner”/Steve Miller Band
21. “So In to You”/Atlanta Rhythm Section
24. “Margaritaville”/Jimmy Buffett
25. “Mainstreet”/Bob Seger
28. “Life in the Fast Lane”/Eagles
You might debate which of those are Image cuts and which are mere Gold (to use some jargon from deep in my program-director past), but either way they’d be among the first into the library if you were building a classic-rock format from scratch. And there are more further down the Hot 100:
42. “On the Border”/Al Stewart
43. “Spirit in the Night”/Manfred Mann’s Earth Band
52. “Peace of Mind”/Boston
56. “You and Me”/Alice Cooper
68. “I’m in You”/Peter Frampton
71. “The Pretender”/Jackson Browne
73. “Back in the Saddle”/Aerosmith
74. “Solsbury Hill”/Peter Gabriel
83. “Burnin’ Sky”/Bad Company
86. “Just a Song Before I Go”/Crosby Stills and Nash
96. “Ridin’ the Storm Out”/REO Speedwagon
A pretty good mixtape, yes?
Elsewhere, a pop smash of remarkable proportions was in its first week on AT40 that Memorial Day weekend: “I Just Want to Be Your Everything” by Andy Gibb. It had been on the Hot 100 for five weeks already, debuting in April. It would hit the Top 10 in July and stay there for three solid months, including four weeks at #1. It would not depart the Top 40 until the end of October, and it finally vanished from the Hot 100 as Thanksgiving was coming on.
Because it was the 70s, you would have heard many ephemeral oddballs alongside these future radio warhorses, like “Everybody Be Dancin'” by Starbuck and “Slowdown” by John Miles, with synthesizer noises squirted over them like Cheez Whiz, dating them to the middle of the 1970s like nothing else could. Just as dated to their time: Dean Friedman’s “Ariel” and “Slow Dancin’ Don’t Turn Me On” by the Addrisi Brothers. Also odd: Shalamar’s ““Uptown Festival”. Casey calls producer Simon Soussan “the world’s foremost authority on disco music,” claiming he owns hundreds of thousands of dance records and is familiar with every one of them. “Uptown Festival” is a medley of Motown hits that has a dance beat, although it’s a fairly limp one. (It makes me think two things: first, that it should have been re-released during the early 80s medley craze, and second, I want to hear some real Motown records.)
The Sylvers’ “High School Dance,” “Whodunit” by Tavares, and “Hello Stranger” by Yvonne Elliman were, as Casey noted on the show, all produced by Freddie Perren, who had been the top producer on the singles chart the year before. He’d been part of the Corporation, the Motown team who wrote and produced the early Jackson Five hits, and he would go on to produce tracks for Saturday Night Fever, as well as Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive,” and to write the score for a really bad movie.
The week of 5/28/77 was the first time since early 1974 that two versions of the same song charted at the same time—the Bill Conti and Maynard Ferguson versions of the Rocky theme. Four versions made the Hot 100 in all: a Cheez Whiz version by Current ran the charts along with Conti and Ferguson for a couple of weeks as April turned to May; a version by Rhythm Heritage was actually the first “Gonna Fly Now” to chart, back in February.
Of all the songs on this chart, however, the two most evocative of that time for me are at #1 and #2: “Sir Duke” by Stevie Wonder and “When I Need You” by Leo Sayer. We all have songs that strike us squarely in the heart, songs that will always mean more to us than we have words to say. “When I Need You” is one of mine. As for “Sir Duke”: school’s out, summer’s here, life is great, and it’s on the radio every 90 minutes to help you shout out your joy. Perfect.