Yesterday’s Heroes

(Pictured: In December 1975, Bob Dylan did a series of benefits for imprisoned boxer Rubin “Hurricane” Carter, during which he was joined onstage by Joan Baez, Roberta Flack, and Allen Ginsberg, among others. I think I see a couple of Eagles in there too.)

Coming home from the Twin Cities the other night, I reached into the CD bag and pulled out something labeled “January 1976.” Here’s some stuff about some of the songs on it.

“Saturday Night”/Bay City Rollers. On January 21, 1976, New York radio legend Dan Ingram treated his WABC listeners to what he called an outtake from a recent visit by the Rollers to the studio, on which the band has trouble spelling “S-A-T-U-R-D-A-Y.” Today, you could create such a production on your laptop; in 1976, it required you to cut and splice tiny bits of recording tape. So we salute, as Ingram does, Engineer Mike, “who has a bad case of spliceman’s thumb this morning.”

“Convoy”/C. W McCall and “Hurricane”/Bob Dylan. A few years back, I tried making a link between these two very opposite-seeming records. You’ll have to tell me if it worked.

“Over My Head”/Fleetwood Mac. In country radio right now there’s an absolute plague of records that fade in. I presume there’s an iPod- or Spotify-related reason for this, but if you still value the dying-if-not-dead art of good radio board work, these fades complicate your work immensely. For “Over My Head” to become an AM radio hit in 1976, it had to jump out, so it was remixed to create an introduction that replaced the fade-in heard on the album version. And jump it does—unlike the current batch of fade-in country records, which kill forward momentum only to have to try and start it up again.

“I Cheat the Hangman”/Doobie Brothers. I wonder why the Doobies’ label thought “I Cheat the Hangman” was a likely single. As good as it is, it’s just too much for AM radio, although it got to #60 on the Hot 100.

“Theme from Mahogany“/Diana Ross. Listening the other night I was struck by the similarities between this record and one that would top the charts almost exactly one year later: “Evergreen” by Barbra Streisand—big movie songs sung by multimedia superstars, and quiet little interludes during otherwise noisy seasons.

“I Love Music”/O’Jays. I don’t need all of “I Love Music” to get me back to the winter of 1976; the bongos that lead into its chugging Philly soul beat are more than enough.

“Rock and Roll All Nite”/KISS. I did not enlist in the KISS Army. They were too much of a cartoon for teenage me. Today, their ability to ride minimal chops and hideously bad taste straight to immortality looks like the quintessential American success story.

“Winners and Losers”/Hamilton Joe Frank and Reynolds. Another casualty of our Spotify/song-skipping way of listening to music is the instrumental intro. They’re getting shorter and shorter, as producers figure that people want to hear Ed Sheeran sing, so let ’em hear Ed Sheeran sing rather than having to wait through 14 seconds of Ed’s band playing before Ed starts up. (This is the same line of thinking that has killed the mid-song instrumental solo.) But the instrumental intro is the radio jock’s canvas; take it away from me and I can’t do my job. “Winners and Losers” starts with 13 seconds of glory that requires a jock to be awesome.

“Yesterday’s Hero”/John Paul Young. The Bay City Rollers recorded “Yesterday’s Hero” on their 1976 album Dedication, and some people probably have heard John Paul Young’s version thinking it was the Rollers. But Young did it first, and over two years before hitting with “Love Is in the Air.”

“Love Rollercoaster”/Ohio Players. My CD contains the long version of this, which runs 4:50, tightens the groove, and rocks like crazy.

“Paloma Blanca”/George Baker Selection. It was the 70s. We couldn’t help ourselves.

“Break Away”/Art Garfunkel. The album Breakaway (note that its title is one word while the title song, written by Benny Gallagher and Graham Lyle, is two) is gorgeously produced by Richard Perry. I’d like to live inside the sound of it.

“Back to the Island”/Leon Russell. The lazy seaside vibe of “Back to the Island” sounded pretty good on the radio in the depths of that bygone winter.

I have a whole series of CDs devoted to 1976 because of course I do. I have lots of car time in my future over the next few weeks, so maybe I’ll write about them after I’ve listened to them.

7 responses

  1. I am not sure what “I Cheat The Hangman” sounds like, but it sure doesn’t sound anything like either iteration of the Doobie Brothers we all know (the 1972-75 bar rockers or the 1976-80 urban jazz AC slicksters), and it SURE doesn’t sound like anything that would have ever gotten Top 40 airplay.

  2. IIRC, the Doobies’ label also thought “Black Water” should be the B-side to “Another Park, Another Sunday,” so somebody at Warner Brothers wasn’t earning their keep.

    If I had been 16 in ’76 I probably would have had a KISS Army membership card. I am powerless to explain their appeal, though I can promise that it’s not based on chops or taste (or personalities).

  3. “Mahogany” also cribs a bit of “Here, There and Everywhere.” Song’s author Micheal Masser was also accused of appropriating “If You Could Read My Mind” into “The Greatest Love of All.” If you gotta steal you could do worse than Lennon-McCartney and Lightfoot.

  4. oh, and to really take Michael Masser to task you could accuse him of the similarities between his “Last Time I Saw Him” and “Ride Captain Ride.” Hey, I guess there are only so many notes……

  5. The bigger question is why Warner Brothers never issued the most obviously commercial cut from the Doobies’ ‘Stampede’ album on *either* side of a 7-incher. Chuck Knapp programmed the hell out of “Neal’s Fandango” on 15/KSTP, to the point where any listener would have assumed it was the Bros’ newest smash.

    Not that the Brothers Warner didn’t try to give “I Cheat The Hangman” everything they could, providing AM radio with a 4:20 edit on the mono side of the promo 45. I attempted to replicate the short promo side in stereo from CD some months back and quickly discovered that it couldn’t be done. There’s a cross-fade involved on the mono edit that’s sourced directly from the multi-track session tapes, free of whatever overdubbed instrument (can’t remember…guitar, perhaps?) is playing at the same point on the 6:34 stereo mix.

    As long as I’m on a Doobies single rant, “Neal’s Fandango” wasn’t their first missed golden opportunity. Why Warners pushed the “Jesus Is Just Alright” retread in favor of the standout flip, “Rockin’ Down The Highway”, is anybody’s guess.

  6. I must have blocked George Baker out of my memory, because I was all over AM radio at that time.

  7. “Winners and Losers” is one of my favorite records from the mid-’70s. Unjustly overlooked. You mentioned the wonderful intro, but the outro is pretty damned great too. I like that it picks up speed as it fades out. As for “Breakaway,” it not only includes the three wonderful singles (including “I Only Have Eyes For You” and the S&G reunion “My Little Town”), but it has lovely covers of Stevie Wonder’s “I Believe (When I Fall in Love It Will Be Forever)” and Albert Hammond’s “99 Miles From L.A.”

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