(Pictured: Donna Summer onstage in February 1976.)
I have written many times before about the warm and secure family feeling I get when I think back on the end of 1975 (always keeping in mind that it may have been different than I remember it). Regular readers of this pondwater know how I am about 1976; it’s my favorite year, and I’m pretty much irrational about all it represents to me. But there’s something about the winter of 1976 that’s different. As I listen to the hits from that season, one after another, there’s something dark there, something lurking at the edges. On the threshold of my 16th birthday, something had changed within the previous couple of months—and it would change again within the next couple of months. What it was I cannot remember, nor can I hazard an intelligent guess.
Here are some notes about the American Top 40 show from February 21, 1976, in which I will try not to repeat myself any more than one might when one gets back on one’s usual BS.
40. “Hold Back the Night”/Trammps. “Hold Back the Night” is really good, and it deserved better than to peak at #35.
39. “Renegade”/Michael Murphey. Casey mentions some of the stars appearing with Murphey on “Renegade”: Charlie Daniels, John McEuen and Jeff Hanna of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Willie Nelson, and John Denver. Kind of makes you wonder why the record isn’t better.
35. “Tangerine”/Salsoul Orchestra
29. “Convoy”/C. W. McCall
24. “The White Knight”/Cledus Maggard
23. “Junk Food Junkie”/Larry Groce
17. “Baby Face”/Wing and a Prayer Fife and Drum Corps
That’s a lot of novelty records on one show. “Tangerine” and “Baby Face” qualify, as they were disco remakes of then-familiar songs from the big-band era, and they seem qualitatively different from the other covers on the show. And once again, I marvel at how profoundly awful “The White Knight” is. Its southern/rural/trucker/CB stereotyping is so meatheaded, and its attempts at humor so lame, that it holds its presumed audience in contempt.
EXTRA: “Mr. Tambourine Man”/Byrds
Snipped from the show and offered as an extra during the recent repeat, this allows Casey to tell the story of how producer Terry Melcher didn’t believe the Byrds’ musicianship was strong enough for them to play on their debut single, so he brought in the Wrecking Crew. Casey says Hal Blaine, Larry Knechtel, Leon Russell, and Glen Campbell played on the record, although the song’s ringing, iconic guitar riff was performed by Roger McGuinn.
31. “Bohemian Rhapsody”/Queen. Casey says that “This was #1 for nine weeks in England. It must have something going for it.” It’s up two spots here in its eighth week on the Hot 100.
19. “Somewhere in the Night”/Helen Reddy. If this song is at all familiar to you, it’s probably in a 1978 version by Barry Manilow. Reddy’s version is not good; it’s sung in a stiff, whitebread manner that makes Manilow’s version swing.
15. “I Feel Like a Bullet (In the Gun of Robert Ford)”/Elton John. I like Elton’s Rock of the Westies album more than a lot of people do, but this song works better in the context of the album than it does standing alone.
7. “All By Myself”/Eric Carmen. Carmen famously plundered Rachmaninoff for this record, but Casey explains that he came by it legitimately. When other kids his age were playing baseball, he was studying classical music, although his tastes changed after he heard the Beatles.
5. “Love Machine”/Miracles. I appreciate 70s cheese more than most people do, but by the time I got to this point in the show, I’d had enough.
4. “Love to Love You Baby”/Donna Summer
3. “You Sexy Thing”/Hot Chocolate
Hearing Hot Chocolate’s playful, sexy groove alongside “Love to Love You Baby” made the latter sound exploitative and deeply wrong. I’m pretty sure that I hated it more in that moment than at any other time since I was 16.
Maybe the darkness is coming from inside the house.
Before playing #3, Casey reviews the tops of the other charts. They include “Sweet Thing” by Rufus on the soul chart, “Good Hearted Woman” by Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson on the country chart, and Desire by Bob Dylan on the album chart. There were giants walking the earth in those days.
2. “Theme From S.W.A.T“/Rhythm Heritage
1. “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover”/Paul Simon
These two songs will trade places the next week after Simon spent three weeks at #1. By the time its theme song hit #1, S.W.A.T. had already been cancelled, and its last first-run episode would air in early April.
8 thoughts on “Hold Back the Night”
There are radio seasons that bring back darkness for me, too, some explainable and some not. I know why the sounds of 1988 depress me; I do not understand why the same thing happens with 1980, but even to read the titles on the Billboard charts from that year brings an undercurrent of sorrow. I can recall no single sad event, so perhaps that time was not as good as I like to think it was, and I’ve been lying to myself for forty years.
I honestly did not recall the Helen Reddy or the Elton John sides getting that high on the chart. Which only bolsters my belief that #15 was the hit/stiff line, and some weeks it was #11.
Are you talking about the national or local charts? I say that because some songs did better in some markets than they did in others and that was reflected in their national rankings. Maybe that was the case with the Elton John song. Speaking of which, I’m going to have to find and listen to “I Feel Like a Bullet” on YouTube or Spotify because I have no memory of hearing this song in 1975. I also have not heard it played either on oldies or classic rock radio stations (even ones that play deep cuts).
Chris: Both, really. In February of ’76, I was in my last month of living under the influence of Southern California radio before moving to Ukiah (north of San Francisco) in March.
With relatively few exceptions, if a song was Top 20 nationally, it’d get significant airplay in Los Angeles (the story of L.A. is actually about the songs that were huge there but not nationally).
I was listening at that time to KNX-FM (a soft-rock album format), KMET (album rock), KLOS (also album rock), KIIS-FM (Top 40) and KRTH (oldies). At night, I’d be able to pull in KFI (adult contemporary) and KHJ (Top 40) from Los Angeles as well as KFRC (Top 40), San Francisco.
I heard the Elton song a few times, but not enough to suggest that it was a Top 15 record. In fact, the flip side of “I Feel Like A Bullet”, “Grow Some Funk of Your Own”, seemed to be the side that was getting the action.
I don’t recall EVER hearing the Helen Reddy track on the air. And a month later, when I was programming KUKI as an AC, it wasn’t on the playlist or in the recurrents.
I omitted one other nighttime station, KFMB, San Diego, which was also adult contemporary. I listened to them quite a bit, in fact, and again, don’t ever recall hearing the Helen Reddy.
I make mental notes, sometimes written notes, while listening to AT 40 and thought, “I’ve never heard the Helen Reddy version of Somewhere in the Night.” And I quite like it.
Yes and amen that “Hold Back the Night” should’ve been bigger. Wonderful intro, great harmonies, perfect beat. I adore it.
“I Feel Like a Bullet (in the Gun of Robert Ford)” was the B-side of “Grow Some Funk of Your Own.” Or was it the other way around? In either case, this effort to create a double-sided hit was so strained that Rick Sklar mocked its marketing efforts in his book Rocking America. Its #14 peak was the lowest of any Elton John since “Tiny Dancer” made only #41 in 1972, but plenty of oldies stations play that now while you’d be hard pressed to hear “I Feel Like a Bullet (in the Gun of Robert Ford)” or “Grow Some Funk of Your Own.”
Finally, I bet if you asked people to name the two instrumental hit versions of classic TV theme songs that went to number one, most would probably guess Hawaii Five-O, Star Trek, The Twilight Zone, Peter Gunn, I Love Lucy, The Munsters or The Addams Family before picking S.W.A.T. and Miami Vice. In fact, I’d put good money that S.W.A.T. receives the fewest downloads or airplay or however you measure it among all #1 instrumental hits of the 1970s. I’d make the same claim about Miami Vice were it not for the fact that there was only one other #1 instrumental hit of the 1980s, Chariots of Fire. Incredibly, Miami Vice topping the chart in 1985 would be the last instrumental to do so until “Harlem Shake” in 2013.
“Grow Some Funk” and “I Feel Like a Bullet” were double-A sides, at least they were marketed that way and listed on Billboard that way. The songs are diametric opposites (think “The Bitch is Back” B/W “Sorry Seems to Be The Hardest Word”), and the low peak of the single was even more noteworthy inasmuch as everything else Elton had touched for the three years prior turned to gold.