(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.