(Pictured: the Starland Vocal Band: Jon Carroll, Margot Chapman, Taffy Danoff, and Bill Danoff.)
We are back in the summer of 1976 for a second installment about the American Top 40 show from the week of August 7, guest-hosted by Los Angeles/San Antonio DJ Sonny Melendrez. Now on with the countdown:
18. “Baby I Love Your Way”/Peter Frampton
17. “I’m Easy”/Keith Carradine
There was a particular type of summer evening on the farm. You’d step out into it after supper and see the sun beginning to sink behind the barn, softening the light and lengthening the shadows. It may have been hot during the day, but it’s more pleasant now. (Later, in a house with no air conditioning, a box fan in a south window, pointing outward to draw the night air in through open bedroom windows on the north side of the house, will cool things off nicely.) Maybe you’ll be a part of this tableau only long enough to get into your car and drive into town seeking adventure. But maybe you’re going to finish mowing the lawn, or toss a ball around with your brothers, or pick raspberries, or play with the dog, or walk down to the creek to watch the water go under the bridge. Later, if the mosquitoes don’t chase everyone inside, maybe you’ll sit and watch the fireflies come out, blinking to life in the distance, near and far. As night falls, the first star you see is probably the planet Venus, but that’s a distinction without a difference. It won’t stop 16-year-old you from wishing you may and wishing you might have the wish you wish tonight.
Years from now, you won’t be able to remember the specifics of those nights as vividly as you remember how it felt to be in the place where you did them.
10. “Afternoon Delight”/Starland Vocal Band. Many people have heard the story that “Afternoon Delight” was inspired by a restaurant menu, but how, exactly? Sonny says it was at Clyde’s, a place in the Georgetown section of Washington, DC. Starland member Bill Danoff noticed a portion of the menu that was available only from 3:30 until 6, headed “the afternoon’s delight,” and one thing led to another. Sonny runs down the dishes: spiced shrimp with artichoke vinaigrette, fresh paté with French bread, and baked brie with slivered almonds. I can dig it. Sex is fine, but sometimes you’d rather have the brie.
8. “Kiss and Say Goodbye”/Manhattans
7. “Got to Get You Into My Life”/Beatles
6. “Rock and Roll Music”/Beach Boys
The Manhattans are down a long way from #1 last week. The Beatles are in their third straight week at #7. Sonny introduces the Beach Boys by saying, “This is what American Top 40 is all about.” And the vibe on this part of the show is what the summer of 1976 is all about.
3. “Moonlight Feels Right”/Starbuck
2. “Love Is Alive”/Gary Wright
Before playing Starbuck, Sonny recaps the tops of the other charts. Earth Wind and Fire’s “Getaway” is #1 soul. (It will debut on AT40 next week.) “Golden Ring” by George Jones and Tammy Wynette is at #1 country (and will become an absolute classic). Breezin’ by George Benson is #1 on the album chart. And if there were a Song of the Summer chart for 1976, either “Moonlight Feels Right” or “Love Is Alive” might top it.
1. “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart”/Elton John and Kiki Dee. Me, 2016: “Songs from 1976 almost always take me back there in my head. ‘Don’t Go Breaking My Heart,’ however, has never done that for me. Figuring out why would probably require me to undergo deep psychoanalysis—which is not a bad idea, actually.” This is Elton’s sixth #1 single in America, but his first in England.
As I mentioned in the first installment, AT40‘s modern-day syndicator doesn’t offer substitute-hosted shows because Casey himself is a prime attraction. During its heyday, however, AT40 wasn’t about Casey Kasem, but the music, the artists, and the listeners. (That’s why those rare occasions when he talks about himself, going to a show in Vegas or doing cartoon voiceover work, are almost jarring.) Casey’s fill-ins had to fit into the show the same way he did. Sonny Melendrez certainly did that.
After Sonny’s final sign-off, the “shuckatoom” theme plays for 90 seconds, to the cold ending nobody hears on the modern-day repeats, and then the show’s over. But 44 years hence, some of us who were listening that week will be listening still.