(Pictured: Paul Anka strikes a whimsical pose.)
Each year over the holidays, Premiere Radio Networks makes year-end American Top 40 shows available to its affiliates. For the 2019 holiday season one of them was the Top 100 of 1976. This is music that plays in my head without a radio, and music I’ve written about over and over again during the life of this site, so I’ll do my best to think of new things to say about the first installment of the show, from #100 (“Country Boy” by Glen Campbell) to #51, which aired on Christmas weekend 1976.
97. “Disco Duck”/Rick Dees
65. “Island Girl”/Elton John
Casey says that Billboard‘s chart year runs from November to November, although other sources indicate it is sometimes mid-November to mid-November. Either way led to certain anomalies now and then. “Disco Duck” did a week at #1 and 11 weeks in the Top 10 from September to the end of November in 1976, and you’d think that was more than enough to place it higher than several songs that barely scraped into the Top 20 earlier in 1976, but it wasn’t. “Island Girl,” meanwhile, was the fastest-rising #1 hit of 1975, spending three weeks at the top in November. It didn’t make Billboard‘s 1975 list, but according to Joel Whitburn’s ranking system, which goes by Billboard chart peak and weeks charted on the Hot 100 and in Top 40 and Top 10, only two songs were bigger in 1975: the Captain and Tennille’s “Love Will Keep Us Together” and “Fly Robin Fly” by Silver Convention. Putting “Island Girl” in 1976 and short-changing “Disco Duck” are instances of the letter of the law distorting the spirit of the law—although there would have been little for AT40 to do about it at the time. Our friend Scott, who was on the AT40 staff during the late 70s, says records whose runs were divided by the cutoff were “the bane of our existence.”
AT40 faced a similar bane in 1977, when “Tonight’s the Night” by Rod Stewart did eight weeks at #1 between mid-November 1976 and early January 1977 and “You Light Up My Life” by Debby Boone did 10 weeks at #1 between mid-October and Christmas week. And that’s not all the show’s production staff had to deal with that year. There’s a whole post in it, and I hope to get around to writing it in the relatively near future.
91. “Breaking Up Is Hard to Do”/Neil Sedaka. I believed in 1976 and I still believe today that this MOR version of Sedaka’s 1962 hit is the better one of the two. Hearing it again recently, I’m surprised it’s not considered a standard. Where Sedaka’s cheery 1962 version was his alone, it’s easy to imagine many great singers doing the 1976 arrangement even better than Sedaka did.
88. “Walk Away From Love”/David Ruffin
81. “She’s Gone”/Hall and Oates
73. “Wake Up Everybody”/Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes
Casey’s year-end countdowns are always lean and streamlined: no long-distance dedications or other music features, no lengthy stories, just quick intros and outros and on to the next song. But he needed to fill a little bit of time on this show, so the producers used the extra-long album versions of these three songs, and slightly longer album versions of some others. The long “She’s Gone” is the best “She’s Gone,” but I don’t think I’d ever heard the longer “Walk Away From Love” before. Teddy Pendergrass was a master of ad-lib testifying—what he does on the long versions of “The Love I Lost” and “Bad Luck” is epic—but at its full length, “Wake Up Everybody” goes on way too long.
54. “Times of Your Life”/Paul Anka. The Great American Songbook was no longer accepting new submissions by 1976, or else “Times of Your Life” would have made it. I was surprised to hear it all the way up at #54, and to note that it got to #7 on the Hot 100 in February 1976, because I didn’t hear it on the radio much back then, except in Kodak commercials. My main station, WCFL in Chicago, charted it for only three weeks in February before it stopped publishing a survey and changed format in March.
The original first installment of the 1976 countdown ended after #51 (“Dream On” by Aerosmith) with a montage of all the #1 hits of 1976—including “Tonight’s the Night.” The feature was snipped out of the repeat heard on local stations during the 2019 holiday season and offered as an extra. Thanks to the Soft Rock Kid, you can hear it right here.
Watch for a post on the second half of the 1976 year-end survey, eventually.