Golden Rings and Other Things

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(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.

8 thoughts on “Golden Rings and Other Things

  1. mikehagerty

    As a kid who spent his teen years in a town of 3,500 people, I’ll echo Jim’s comments.

    Sonny Melendrez was a solid talent who was largely held back from stardom in L.A. by being on two weak stations (KIIS-AM and KMGG-FM).

    In between those, he spent five years (1974-79) at MOR giant KMPC, where you might have expected him to do exceptionally well, but Sonny ended up with a late night (10 p.m.-1 a.m.) shift, because almost nobody ever left a daytime slot at KMPC. Dick Whittinghill had been in mornings since 1949, Geoff Edwards in 9-noon since 1968, Wink Martindale in Noon-3 since 1971, Gary Owens in 3-6 since 1964 and Roger Carroll in 6:30-10 (there was a half-hour sports show at 6) since 1959.

  2. mackdaddyg

    “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.”

    My guess would be because the song has been overexposed on radio and in movies for the last 20 years or so. It’s a good song, but at this point I could go without hearing it for a few years and not miss it at all.

  3. Wesley

    Both “Kiss and Say Goodbye” and “Moonlight Feels Right” were held back from release months (or in the case of “Kiss and Say Goodbye,” more than a year) after their artists hoped to have the records out on the market. As it turned out, both would be smashes in the summer of 1976. Moral of the story: Some record executives are in tune with what their listeners want and when they want to hear them. At least back more than 40 years ago, that is.

  4. mikehagerty

    Even at the time, I thought “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart” was Elton and Kiki attempting to elevate Captain and Tenille material. He hadn’t had a hit since “Island Girl” and I figured this was one more indication of decline.

    Sucker went to number one.

  5. A lot of records from the summer of ’76 have lost some luster for me, but “I’m Easy” isn’t one of them. Whenever it pops up on any of my playlists, it pulls me back to the week I moved away from my folks’ house permanently. And beyond being a memory, it’s a great song and record.

  6. Guy K

    Gary Wright had two consecutive #2 hits in 1976. One of them, everyone remembers. The other one went right down the memory hole. But not for me. “Love Is Alive” is tremendous, as great as any song to come out in the great year of 1976. But why has it never received even a fraction of the love and recognition the legendary “Dream Weaver” has? Why has classic hits radio ignored “Love Is Alive” for the last several decades?
    I don’t know, but as an inveterate radio survey collector as a 12-year-old that summer, I can tell you that, in the New York market, only one of the city’s four Top 40 stations even played “Love Is Alive.” And that station, 770 Musicradio WABC, only charted it as high as #8, and then never played it as a recurrent once it dropped off the survey.

  7. It took Elton until 1976 to score a Number One in England? I find that befuddling.
    “Crocodile Rock” fit into a great big vein of Fifties nostalgia that was ongoing at the time … “Bennie and the Jets” does glam as well as anybody ever did … and all the other singles from that period are just wicked catchy.
    No accounting for taste.

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