Flight ’76

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(Pictured: Elton John and Rod Stewart on the soccer pitch.)

Radio Rewinder is a fascinating Twitter feed that somehow has only a few more followers than I do. It posts old record charts, pictures of radio personalities, and other ephemera very appealing to a geek such as I. A post the other night was a scan of the Billboard Hot 100 chart for the week of November 13, 1976.

As I look at this chart, I get the same sensation I used to get from reading baseball box scores, standings, and the long lists of hitting and pitching leaders that ran in the Sunday paper. It represents a record of what mattered at that moment, and who, a repository of truths (and illusions), and the raw material from which an infinite number of stories could be told.

I won’t make you wade through an infinite number, but you can find a few on the flip.

—Rod Stewart’s “Tonight’s the Night” takes a monster leap from #8 to #1, a position it will hold for eight weeks, the longest stretch for any record atop the Hot 100 since “Hey Jude” in 1968. The previous week’s #1, “Rock’n Me” by the Steve Miller Band, falls all the way to #6. The biggest moves within the Top 20, however, are all down: Heart’s “Magic Man” drops 11 spots, and “She’s Gone” by Hall and Oates falls 10.

—“Disco Duck” by Rick Dees is in its fourth week at #2 after having spent the week of October 16 at #1. It will do 10 weeks in the Top 10 altogether, and it won’t fall out of the Top 40 until Christmas week.

—Only two songs are new in the Top 20: “Nights Are Forever Without You” by England Dan and John Ford Coley at #18 and “The Best Disco in Town” by the Ritchie Family at #19. Three songs debut within the Top 40: “Hello Old Friend” by Eric Clapton, “Hot Line” by the Sylvers, and “Livin’ Thing” by ELO.

—The oldest record on the chart is “A Fifth of Beethoven” by Walter Murphy, sitting at #21 in its 25th week on. It debuted on Memorial Day weekend at #80, reached #40 for the week of July 3, and took three more months of climbing to reach #1 during the week of October 9. It will last 28 weeks in all, the longest run of the year, a distinction it will share with the Miracles’ “Love Machine” and “Sara Smile” by Hall and Oates.

—During the week of November 13, Murphy’s followup release, a caffeinated version of “Flight of the Bumblebee” called “Flight ’76,” debuted at #82. It was no “Fifth,” however, peaking at #44 during the week of December 18.

—The highest debut within the Hot 100 belongs to “Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word” by Elton John, coming in at #54. Besides Elton and “Flight ’76,” four other records debut on the Hot 100 this week. Two of them will become substantial hits: “Enjoy Yourself” by the Jacksons and “It Keeps You Runnin'” by the Doobie Brothers. “Mademoiselle” by Styx will make only #36, but will find a niche in the library of album-rock stations for years to come. But despite sounding solidly in the pocket for 1976, “Sherry” by the Keane Brothers will bomb, peaking at #84 in a five-week run. Tom and John Keane, sons of a former record-label owner, were age 12 and 11 in the fall of 1976. They were a well-hyped bubblegum act, and even got their own limited-run TV variety show in 1977. Their band lasted until 1982, and toward the end included future Chicago member Jason Scheff (according to Wikipedia, so who the hell knows).

—Radio programmers often relied on the presence or absence of a “bullet” in Billboard to decide whether to add a record to their playlists or drop it, or to move it up or down in the rotation. As we would learn in succeeding years, bullets (which Billboard calls “stars)  could be given or withheld at the whim of the magazine’s chart editor. However, according to a note at the bottom of the 11/13/76 chart, bullets are given for specific levels of chart movement, except within the Top 10, where they’re given for “strong increase in sales.” In this particular week, at #75, “Car Wash” by Rose Royce has no bullet, having gone 86-82-79-75 in its four-week run to this point. But the next three weeks it would go 65-52-42, and on December 10, leap all the way to #22. “Car Wash” would crack the Top 10 during Christmas week and climb steadily in the new year, finally hitting #1 during the week of January 29, 1977.

This post mentions 18 of the week’s Hot 100 hits. That leaves potentially 82 stories left to tell, but not until some other day.

2 responses

  1. A shakedown of my LP archive (still boxed from the July move, awaiting shelf construction and security) might turn up a promo copy of the Keane Brothers’ debut. I saw every episode of their series and was heartbroken (context: I was 6) when its run came to a close. (The only song I remember from the show beyond “Sherry” was its flip, “God Loves Little Girls”, to be adopted as Alabama’s state song any minute now.)

    Per Discogs, that first album features the handiwork of David Foster and Bill Champlin, so Wikipedia might be on the money (for once) about the later involvement of Jason Scheff. Among the other noteworthy figures on board: Nigel Olsson, Dee Murray, two Porcaro brothers and the Tower of Power horns.

    Thanks to my Discogs research, I’ve learned that Tom and John rebranded themselves in 1981 as Keane (decades before the UK band that gave us “Somewhere Only We Know” et al) and released two further albums in Japan under that name. I’ve listened to two cuts from the ’81 record via YouTube, and it’s as in the pocket of ’81 as “Sherry” was ’76. Thus, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it to you, but I’ll be snapping up the next affordable copy I find.

    (The aforementioned six-year-old thanks you for ignoring the low-hanging #2 jokes.)

  2. 13-year-old me loved “A Fifth of Beethoven” so much that I think I ended up buying the “Flight ’76” 45 on spec, and it actually wasn’t half bad, and I can still hum it to myself even though I probably haven’t plunked the thing down on a turntable in 35+ years.

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