(Pictured: Rufus, 1976.)
“Surely, Jim, you must have written about all of the American Top 40 shows from 1976 by now.” Oh, surely not. Not March 13, 1976. Not in detail, anyway.
37. “Show Me the Way”/Peter Frampton. Part of the appeal of old AT40 shows is witnessing history in real time. This is a debut; Frampton Comes Alive was about to become an inescapable phenomenon. As Mike Myers said in Wayne’s World II: “Everybody in the world has Frampton Comes Alive. If you lived in the suburbs you were issued it. It came in the mail with samples of Tide.”
34. “Inseparable”/Natalie Cole
27. “Just You and I”/Melissa Manchester
Both of these are fine, highly polished adult-contemporary presentations, although I can’t remember a thing about them, and it seems like there’s a nonzero chance they’re the same record.
32. “Good Hearted Woman”/Waylon and Willie
31. “Love Is the Drug”/Roxy Music
23. “Sweet Love”/Commodores
One of these is the best record on the show, although “Love Is the Drug” was edited to two minutes. (I wrote about the large number of edited songs on this show a few years back.) Listening to “Good Hearted Woman,” I was struck by the line “through teardrops and laughter they’ll pass through this world hand-in-hand.” It’s a simple thing. If, when the world ends, we have had someone, a spouse or a partner or a child or a sibling or a friend or a parent who was beside us for all of it, how could we ask for more?
28. “Let Your Love Flow”/Bellamy Brothers
25. “Right Back Where We Started From”/Maxine Nightingale
13. “Money Honey”/Bay City Rollers
12. “Disco Lady”/Johnnie Taylor
These are the hottest songs of the week. “Right Back Where We Started From” is a debut, zooming in from #45 the previous week. “Let Your Love Flow” and “Money Honey” are up 10. (Casey says “Money Honey” might make #1, but it will stall at #9.) “Disco Lady” is up 14 spots in its second week among the 40.
22. “Bohemian Rhapsody”/Queen. AT40 never edited “Bohemian Rhapsody,” to my knowledge. To play it for six minutes basically means finding room for an extra song, but the way this show plays out, that could have been done without editing so many others. The original 1976 broadcast included Bobbie Gentry’s “Ode to Billie Joe” as an extra, which was cut from the repeat. Casey’s modern-day producers kept an extended feature on Wayne Newton, including “Daddy Don’t You Walk So Fast.”
(Digression: In the late 80s, when I worked at the elevator-music station, we helped promote a Wayne Newton show in our town, and several of us attended. I was skeptical about whether I would enjoy it. I expected old-school showbiz on steroids, and at times, it was cheesy bordering on cringeworthy. But no entertainer ever worked harder to win over an audience, or succeeded so spectacularly. By the end, we were all eating out of the palm of his hand. Even me.)
11. “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover”/Paul Simon
10. “Junk Food Junkie”/Larry Groce
9. “Sweet Thing”/Rufus
8. “Love Hurts”/Nazareth”
7. “Theme From SWAT”/Rhythm Heritage
6. “Lonely Night (Angel Face)”/Captain and Tennille
5. “Dream Weaver”/Gary Wright
4. “Take It to the Limit”/Eagles
3. “Love Machine”/Miracles
2. “All By Myself”/Eric Carmen
1. “December 1963 (Oh What a Night)”/Four Seasons
I listened to the last hour of this show driving back to Madison from a funeral visitation in my hometown. I hadn’t seen Joel in years, and I went to his visitation mostly for the sake of his mother, who has now buried two sons and a husband in the past three years. When they were all young marrieds, she and her husband, my parents, and a handful of other couples attended the same church and frequently socialized together. All of them had multiple children at about the same time. Four of us would end up graduating in the same high-school class. I said to her, “We were babies together,” thinking not just of Joel, but of that entire flock of kids born around the turn of the 1960s.
American Top 40 not only gives us a chance to witness history as it unfolded in real time, it can remind us of how much history we have been through ourselves. As I listened, I thought about teardrops and laughter, and the journey from babies together to teenagers in 1976, and now to the place in adulthood where we are required to bury our friends.
That’s probably not the ending you were expecting when you started. Me neither.