Category Archives: The 1976 Project

And Do It All Over Again

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(Pictured: Wolfman Jack, howlin’.)

I would not have guessed, back in the fall of 1976, that one of the songs most evocative of that time, many years later, would be a good-time rock ‘n’ roll throwback featuring a famous DJ.

Flash Cadillac and the Continental Kids started out as a bargain-basement Sha Na Na, formed at the University of Colorado in 1969. Relocating to Los Angeles in 1971, they ended up catching the 50s nostalgia updraft at precisely the right moment. A series of free shows at the Troubadour got them noticed, and they became a tireless touring outfit. They appeared on American Bandstand in 1972, one of the rare acts to get the gig without a record to promote. The next year, they got a deal with Epic Records. They considered asking Phil Spector to produce their album but ended up working with starmaker Kim Fowley. That same year, they were invited by George Lucas and Francis Ford Coppola to appear as Herby and the Heartbeats in American Graffiti. Their version of “At the Hop” from the movie was released as a single, but given that they were playing a decent-but-not-great high-school dance band, it’s probably not surprising that the record didn’t hit.

A second album, There’s No Face Like Chrome, was to have been produced by Jerry Leiber, but he ended up handling only four songs. The members of the band did not consider themselves a nostalgia act anymore, and some of their mid-70s material was closer to glam rock, including the single “Dancin’ (On a Saturday Night),” which squeaked into the Hot 100 at #93 in 1974. The band went on a package tour with other Epic acts including Rick Springfield, the Meters, and Johnny Nash, but There’s No Place Like Chrome didn’t do any better than their debut album; neither one of them charted, and they ended up leaving Epic.

In 1975, the band made a guest appearance as Johnny Fish and the Fins in an episode of Happy Days. The same year, their first single on the Private Stock label, a 50s rock tribute called “Good Times, Rock and Roll”—on which they sang but did not play—rode the charts for weeks in Denver, was a Top-10 hit in Tucson, and was made available in versions customized for different radio stations. All that was enough to push it to #41 on the Hot 100. But the album Sons of the Beaches got short-circuited when Epic reissued the first two Flash Cadillac albums in a double set under the title Rock and Roll Forever. (If you’ve ever seen a Flash Cadillac album in a used bin, it’s probably that one.)

After Sons of the Beaches crashed, Private Stock brought the band a song called “Did You Boogie (With Your Baby).” Because they didn’t want to be only a nostalgia act, “Did You Boogie” wasn’t the kind of thing they wanted to do, but they did it, even bringing in Wolfman Jack to provide some nostalgic atmosphere. It hit as August turned to September, and made the Top 10 in Kansas City, Denver, Columbus, and Tucson. It hit #12 in my town, Madison, Wisconsin, and was ranked #10 for all of 1976 at WCIL in Carbondale, Illinois. It spent six weeks in the Billboard Top 40, 14 weeks on the Hot 100, and peaked at #29 during the week of October 23, 1976.

Flash Cadillac spent the 70s on the road almost continuously, largely as an opening act for someone or other. After another gig for Francis Ford Coppola, appearing in Apocalypse Now, they spent much of the 80s recording jingles and songs for the syndicated radio show Super Gold, and in the 90s they self-released some music. An edition of the band still exists today, although a couple of the original members have died. (This extended essay tells the whole story I have only sketched here.)

Against the odds, “Did You Boogie” is one of the hits from the fall of 1976 that most vividly takes me back to that time. It hit the radio in two versions—the original with Wolfman Jack and a non-Wolfman version. I used to prefer the non-Wolfman, but it occurs to me now, 42 years later, that his contributions are probably essential. And truthful, too: “Sometimes I get to thinkin’ there’s not enough love and romance in our lives today. And that’s why I like to reminisce, and relive that first feeling of love . . . and do it all over again.”

The Top of the Other Charts

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(Pictured: the original caption on this pic claims it’s the Enchanted Garden Disco in New York and not a church basement somewhere.)

(Note about pictures: If you see a caption but no picture, reload the page. Since I switched to the domain, pics don’t always load properly the first time.)

On American Top 40, Casey Kasem would frequently say, “Before we hear the #1 song, let’s take a look at the top of the other charts.” From the edition of Billboard dated July 31, 1976 (in which “Kiss and Say Goodbye” by the Manhattans is in its second week atop the Hot 100), here are the tops of some of the other charts.

The Top Box Office chart does not refer to movies, but concerts. Billboard puts them in three categories and ranks by grosses. “Stadiums and Festivals” are shows in venues that seat 20,000 or more; the list is topped by a bill starring Yes, Peter Frampton, Gary Wright, and Gentle Giant, which grossed $550,000 at Anaheim Stadium in California on July 17. (The same show in San Diego the next day is #2 on the list.) “Arenas” are venues that seat from 6,000 to 20,000; Elton John’s show in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, on July 19 was the top grosser at just under $149,000. Two Wisconsin appearances by Fleetwood Mac and Starcastle are on this list, in Green Bay on July 16 and Madison on July 17. “Auditoriums” are venues that seat less than 6,000. A six-night stand in San Francisco by the Grateful Dead tops this list. Tickets for most shows regardless of venue size ranged primarily from $5.50 to $8; the festival shows in Anaheim and San Diego cost $10 to get in. None of that seems like very much now, but it seemed pricey then: a movie ticket was generally around $2 in 1976; when I bought my first “real” concert ticket in 1977 for $7.50, it seemed like a fortune.

The Disco Action chart ranks by sales figures from various retailers and “top audience response” from discos in various cities. Top sellers are the eponymous album Dr. Buzzard’s Original Savannah Band and the singles “You Should Be Dancing” by the Bee Gees and “The Best Disco in Town” by the Ritchie Family. “You Should Be Dancing” leads the audience response charts in New York and in the combined Los Angeles/San Diego area; in Washington, it’s “Heaven Must Be Missing an Angel” by Tavares. The charts appear on the same page with an article headlined “Is the Disco Scene in a Rut?” The answer is, of course, yes and no. One radio insider says, “Disco hits aren’t crossing over [from clubs to radio] the way they used to.” But even if the music becomes less popular, he says, discos themselves will remain popular places to go because they represent “an adult record hop.”

(The lead single from the Dr. Buzzard album, “Cherchez la Femme,” hasn’t charted yet, but it will. If you can get past the misogynistic lyric—which is hard to do, I grant you—it sounds great, and this performance from the Tony Orlando and Dawn TV show is fun to watch.)

The top four songs on the Hot Country Singles chart are in the same positions as last week: Red Sovine’s novelty “Teddy Bear” is #1 for a third week, followed by George Jones and Tammy Wynette on “Golden Ring,” “Say It Again” by Don Williams, and “The Letter” by Loretta Lynn and Conway Twitty. (“Golden Ring” will go to #1 the next week and “Say It Again” the week after that.) There’s not much action on Hot Country LPs. From Elvis Presley Boulevard, Memphis, Tennessee by Elvis is #1 again this week. United Talent by Loretta and Conway moves up to #2 with a bullet. The only other album getting a bullet in the Top 10 is Are You Ready for the Country by Waylon Jennings at #4.

Billboard‘s Hits of the World chart covers several countries. The #1 song in Britain is “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart” by Elton John and Kiki Dee, which will reach #1 on the Hot 100 next week; the top album in Britain is 20 Golden Greats by the Beach Boys. “Let Your Love Flow” by the Bellamy Brothers is the #1 single in West Germany and Switzerland. In Sweden, the #1 hit is “Barretta’s Theme” by Sammy Davis Jr.

Starting on page 43, a feature in the Tape/Audio/Video section spotlights WISM-FM in Madison and its successful, automated MOR/gold/easy rock format, which is also running on the company’s stations in Oshkosh and LaCrosse. The station creates its own automation tapes, a process which the article describes in great detail. In 1976, I listened to that station occasionally. Forty-two years later, I work at that station’s direct descendant. Occasionally.

Sentimental Journey

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(Pictured: Bill Haley and Elvis, 1955.)

In 2017, I wrote about American Top 40‘s summer specials. Every year around the Fourth of July, AT40 would run a show that could be recorded in advance to give Casey and his staff some time off. The most unusual of these specials aired on the weekend of the Bicentennial, featuring the #1 song in America on the July 4th holiday, from 1937 through 1976.

The show does not exactly get off to a flying start. Neither “It Looks Like Rain in Cherry Blossom Lane” by Guy Lombardo (1937) nor “Says My Heart” by the Ozzie Nelson Orchestra (1938) is a timeless classic. Neither is “Wishing” by Glenn Miller (1939), although some classics are forthcoming: “I’ll Never Smile Again” by the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra fronted by Frank Sinatra (1940), Bing Crosby’s “I’ll Be Seeing You” (1944), and “Sentimental Journey” by Les Brown with Doris Day on vocals (1945). If you want to add the Ink Spots and “The Gypsy” (1946) to the list, I’m good with that.

(Digression #1: You probably didn’t know Ozzie Nelson was a successful bandleader before he became America’s favorite sitcom dad. According to Joel Whitburn, he charted 38 times between 1930 and 1940, but they’re all pretty obscure. One of the singers in his band was his wife, Harriet, whom he married in 1935. She’s the singer on “Says My Heart.”)

(Digression #2: Imagine hearing “I’ll Be Seeing You” in the summer of 1944, the summer of D-Day, if you had a loved one fighting on some distant shore. I suspect it would have been either a comfort or impossible to bear, with no in-between.)

Some of this stuff is pretty cheesy, including Sammy Kaye’s “Daddy” (1941), “Chi-Baba Chi-Baba” by Perry Como (1947), and “Woody Woodpecker” by Kay Kyser (1948). Vaughn Monroe’s upright and studly baritone on “Ghost Riders in the Sky” (1949) sounds like a novelty nearly 70 years later, but Monroe was quite a big deal in his day, charting 67 times between 1940 and 1954, hitting #1 nine times in all.

There’s a nice little stretch of songs to usher in the 1950s: Nat King Cole’s “Too Young” (1951), “Auf Wiederseh’n Sweetheart” by Vera Lynn (1952), “Song From Moulin Rouge” by Percy Faith (1953), and Kitty Kallen’s “Little Things Mean a Lot” (1954). In that company, rock ‘n’ roll makes a hell of a splash in 1955 with “Rock Around the Clock.” In 1956, it appears that the pre-rock order is restored with Gogi Grant’s “The Wayward Wind,” but one year later, Elvis emphatically signals a new era that’s here to stay with his two-sided #1 hit, “Teddy Bear” and “Loving You.”

After more novelty cheese (Sheb Wooley’s “Flying Purple People Eater” from 1958) we commence Casey Kasem’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Oldies Party, starring the Coasters and Gary U. S. Bonds and the Beach Boys and Connie Francis and the Four Tops and the Association and others. However: the #1 songs of the 1960s are a worthy reminder that Elvis and the pop stars in his wake didn’t burn the old order entirely to the ground. “Satisfaction” is followed by Frank Sinatra’s “Strangers in the Night,” then two songs later it’s “This Guy’s in Love With You” by Herb Alpert and Henry Mancini’s “Love Theme From Romeo and Juliet” before “I Want You Back” ushers in the 70s.

Casey has padded the third hour a little, with two hits from 1965, “Satisfaction” and “I Can’t Help Myself,” and two from 1966, “Strangers in the Night” and the Beatles’ “Paperback Writer.” The latter is the only Beatles song on the show. The last half-hour of the show sounds like any other edition of AT40, with #1 hits from the 70s by Carole King, Bill Withers, Billy Preston, the Hues Corporation, the Captain and Tennille, and the then-current #1 hit, “Silly Love Songs” by Paul McCartney and Wings.

The 1976 summer special is one the AT40 Facebook group/message board crowd longs to hear repeated on terrestrial radio, but I don’t expect it to happen. Practically none of the adult-contemporary or oldies stations caryring the repeats today want anything to do with the music in the first two hours of the program, and few people beyond hardcore Casey fanatics would be willing to sit through it. (I suspect there were program directors in 1976 who didn’t want the big-band and pre-rock stuff either.) It’s a show that better belongs on iHeart’s dedicated AT40 streaming channel, but don’t hold your breath for that, either.

Today’s the Day

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(Pictured: a giant Bicentennial birthday card on the grounds of the White House.)

The other night I found myself browsing the edition of Billboard magazine dated July 4, 1976, as one does.

A front-page story notes that the period around the Sunday the Fourth is going to be the biggest week of the year for concerts. Elton John is doing a string of “Happy Birthday America” shows in Washington, Boston, and Philadelphia, including Schaefer Stadium in suburban Boston on the Fourth. The Eagles will play four shows in four nights—Charlotte, Greensboro, Atlanta, and Tampa—sharing the Tampa Stadium bill on the Fourth with Fleetwood Mac and Loggins and Messina. (As it turned out, the Eagles did a fifth night, in Hollywood, Florida, on July 5.) Also set for July 4th: Peter Frampton and Gary Wright at Fulton County Stadium in Atlanta; KISS and Bob Seger in Richmond; the Ohio Players, Labelle, Rufus, and War at the Pontiac Silverdome in suburban Detroit; and ZZ Top, Lynyrd Skynyrd, the Outlaws, and Blue Oyster Cult in Memphis.

I wonder how BOC went down with the Southern rock crowd.

Elton’s D.C.-area shows are set for the Capital Center in suburban Landover, Maryland, but two shows scheduled for RFK Stadium in Washington, the Beach Boys and Chicago on the Fourth and Earth Wind and Fire on the 5th, have been canceled by promoters. It’s because the government entity overseeing the facility has issued a new set of rules that include no walkup ticket sales on show days, a 6PM end time for all shows, and increased security requirements.

Washington’s official Fourth of July show will be on the National Mall with Johnny Cash and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Also on the Fourth, a People’s Bicentennial event will be staged at the Capitol. Among the speakers will be boxer Rubin “Hurricane” Carter and Jane Fonda; musical performers will include Don McLean, Peter Yarrow, Gil Scott-Heron, and the Star Spangled Washboard Band.

In other industry news:

—Patriotic records are booming in all genres due to the Bicentennial. The most successful one is “Here Comes the Freedom Train” by Merle Haggard, which is at #10 on the current country chart. The 10-car Freedom Train, which began its national tour in April 1975, will visit 150 cities and be seen by 10 million people by the end of 1976; among its historical displays is a car full of recording-industry memorabilia, including Bing Crosby’s gold record for “White Christmas” and Jack Benny’s violin.

—Efforts are continuing to improve the poor sound on television broadcasts. PBS has reportedly developed a system that could broadcast high-fidelity sound on a subcarrier wave alongside the video signal. However, the nation’s two biggest makers of TV sets, Zenith and RCA, claim that consumers wouldn’t want to pay what it would cost for better TV speakers.

—Stax Records has filed for bankruptcy. civil rights leader Jesse Jackson has started a fundraising campaign to help the label, and to defray legal expenses run up by Stax president Al Bell, who is currently involved with suits in four different courts.

The bulk of the July 4, 1976, edition of Billboard is a 150-page special section on the history of recorded music and recording technology. Much of the section is taken up with full-page ads, but one article discusses the evolution of Billboard‘s record charts. Lists of popular songs and/or recordings were compiled as early as 1913, although they didn’t become a regular feature until the 1930s. A listing of radio play first appeared in 1937. What we would recognize as a modern chart first appeared in 1940.

On the Hot 100, “Silly Love Songs” by Paul McCartney and Wings is in its fifth and final non-consecutive week at the top. “Afternoon Delight” by the Starland Vocal Band makes a strong move from #7 to #2, staking its claim on the #1 position it will hit next week. There’s not much movement elsewhere in the Top 40; John Travolta’s “Let Her In” makes the biggest move, from #26 to #13. On the album chart, the top four are unchanged from the previous week: Wings at the Speed of Sound, Frampton Comes Alive!, Aerosmith’s Rocks, and Breezin’ by George Benson. The #1 song on the soul chart is “Something He Can Feel” by Aretha Franklin. Joe Stampley’s “All These Things” is #1 country. The #1 song on the Easy Listening chart is “Today’s the Day” by America.

American Top 40 listeners don’t hear about the week’s chart action, though. The holiday weekend broadcast is a summer special featuring the #1 songs on the Fourth of July from 1937 through 1976. I’ll tell you about that later in the week.

A Slightly Drunk Guy Listens to American Top 40

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Slightly Drunk Guy joins the program from June 26, 1976, somewhere in the second hour.

24.  “If You Know What I Mean”/Neil Diamond. 
Here’s to the songs we used to sing
Here’s to the times we used to know
It’s hard to hold them in our arms again but
Hard to let them go


23.  “Get Closer”/Seals and Crofts. Slightly Drunk Guy (hereinafter SDG) remembers hearing this song a few years back on some perfect summer day and feeling like the portal that could take him back to 1976 was very close, but he couldn’t find it. Would he have walked through it without a moment’s thought or a second’s regret? Was Lincoln a car?

22.  “You’re My Best Friend”/Queen. SDG finds himself compelled to admit that there are only like six Queen songs that leave any impression on him, and they’re almost all on A Night at the Opera.

21.  “Shannon”/Henry Gross. DAMN this is cheesy, but SDG is from Wisconsin, and his father fed, clothed, and educated him as a youth with a herd of dairy cows whose milk went for cheese. 10/10 can handle.

20.  “The Boys Are Back in Town”/Thin Lizzy.

19.  ”Rock and Roll Music”/Beach Boys. Casey says this is the biggest mover of the week, up from #40 last week, but then he says it’s up 19 from last week. It seems to SDG that 40 to 19 is 21 spots, but he won’t vouch for his math skills sober, either.

18.  “Got to Get You Into My Life”/Beatles. The Beach Boys and Beatles back to back, how the 60s sounded on Top 40 radio in real time, and SDG is HERE FOR IT.

17.  “Take the Money and Run”/Steve Miller Band. SDG tips his hat to a long-ago colleague at a classic rock station who once teased the story of Billy Joe and Bobbie Sue thusly: “Coming up next, two kids with four names and plenty of cash for their road trip.” Has stolen for use on his radio show before, will steal again.

16.  “Moonlight Feels Right”/Starbuck. SDG has a big stupid smile on his face because this record makes him happy, although there’s another feeling behind it also, a thing he’s written about before, the way certain songs let you see your life whole, everything that was, everything that is, and everything that is going to be. We never know what songs are going to do it.

Slightly Drunk Guy goes to the bathroom and then to the kitchen and gets distracted on the way back.

10.  “Kiss and Say Goodbye”/Manhattans. SDG’s falsetto cannot break glass, but it scares the cat.

9.  “I’ll Be Good to You”/Brothers Johnson. SDG loves this song but hates the 45 edit with the fire of a thousand suns. Album version or GTFO.

8.  “Love Hangover”/Diana Ross
7.  “Afternoon Delight”/Starland Vocal Band
6.  “More More More”/Andrea True Connection
SDG notices that in this stretch of the countdown, lots of people are having sex, and he further notices that he is not one of them.

The cat that fled the room five songs ago can now be heard throwing up somewhere in the house. Slightly Drunk Guy goes to investigate.

3.  “Misty Blue”/Dorothy Moore. SDG is sober enough to be knocked sideways by the emotion Dorothy Moore puts into the first line: “Oh, it’s . . . been such a long long time.” There’s a flash of pain in that “oh,” and that pause says a lot without saying anything at all.

2.  “Get Up and Boogie”/Silver Convention. SDG refers you to his comment on “Shannon.”

1.  “Silly Love Songs”/Paul McCartney and Wings. Those who know him well will tell you that of the many types of drunks in this world (belligerent, weepy, etc.), SDG is a happy drunk. And so he merrily bops along to this, as he has done many times over these many years since 1976. He has several friends who think it’s a bad song, but he resolves to keep liking them nevertheless, in spite of their wrongness.

Inner Worlds

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(Pictured: the Mahavishnu Orchestra, with John McLaughlin on guitar, second from left, Billy Cobham on drums and Jan Hammer on keyboards.)

If you are sick and tired of my obsession with 1976, this post isn’t going to help any. In my defense, it comes from a different angle than the usual—it’s the survey from KCR, the college station at San Diego State University, dated March 1, 1976. It’s got a handful of the major hits of the moment: Frampton Comes Alive, A Night at the Opera, Bad Company’s Run With the Pack, David Bowie’s Station to Station, and Desire by Bob Dylan. Here are other interesting entries from a list that’s divided between “daytime” and “nighttime,” although there’s plenty of overlap between ’em:

1. (daytime)/8. (nighttime) How Dare You/10cc. This album comes between The Original Soundtrack (with “I’m Not in Love”) and Deceptive Bends (with “The Things We Do For Love”) without a big single, although “I’m Mandy Fly Me” and “Art for Art’s Sake” made the lower reaches of the Hot 100. The band’s sense of humor undercut any pretensions they had to being a serious prog rock band—not that there’s anything wrong with that.

5. (nighttime) Maxophone/Maxophone. Chances are good that if you are able to name one Italian prog rock band, it’s PFM (Premiata Forneria Marconi). Now you can name two. Maxophone was a six-piece band made up of avant-garde classical musicians and rockers. They released their debut album in both Italian and English; the Italian version has been re-released in the CD era. You can listen to the whole dang thing here.

6. (daytime)/9. (nighttime) Paris/Paris. This is how Bob Welch spent his time between leaving Fleetwood Mac and launching his solo career, in a power trio with former Jethro Tull bassist Glenn Cornish Cornick and Nazz drummer Thom Mooney. Welch made two albums under the Paris name (the second with a different drummer, Hunt Sales, son of Soupy and future collaborator with David Bowie in Tin Machine), but the band would be defunct by the end of ’76.

6. (nighttime)/Inner Worlds/Mahavishnu Orchestra. No self-respecting album-rock radio station of the late 1970s would fail to play a bit of jazz fusion, although notes in its biography of the Mahavishnu Orchestra that the band was considered a rock band in its prime. Inner Worlds was the last album John McLaughlin would make under the Mahavishnu Orchestra name until 1984. Stoners of 1976 would probably have dug “Miles Out,” on which McLaughlin creates various otherworldly noises with his guitar.

7. (nighttime) When an Old Cricketer Leaves the Crease/Roy Harper. You have heard Roy Harper sing, even if you don’t realize it—that’s him on Pink Floyd’s “Have a Cigar.” He’s also the inspiration for Led Zeppelin’s “Hats Off to Harper,” and he is in general a lot better known and more influential in the UK than over here. When an Old Cricketer Leaves the Crease (one of the great album titles of the 1970s) was released in the UK, it was known as HQ. The somber, stately title song is here.

15. (nighttime) King Brilliant/Howard Werth and the Moonbeams. During the early 70s, Werth had been in the British band Audience; according to Wikipedia (so who the hell knows), the surviving Doors asked him if he’d be interested in replacing Jim Morrison. (Spoiler: he didn’t.) King Brilliant was produced by Elton John’s longtime producer Gus Dudgeon, and it’s not hard to imagine its lead single, “Midnight Flyer,” as an Elton hit.

It seems pretty clear that like many college radio stations then and now, KCR was Very Serious About the Music, and in a way you can only be when you’re of college age.

One Other Thing: Radio geeks are mourning the demise of the Loop, the Chicago album-rock station purchased by a non-commercial group that will put a syndicated Christian format on it, perhaps by the time you read this. The Loop was owned by a group that was in over its head and thereby ripe for the kind of picking it got. But in its heyday, it was a station that mattered to people. There aren’t too many stations like that; in every market in the country, half the stations could go dark and in 48 hours, it would be like they never existed. But the Loop was a tastemaker, as Professor O’Kelly put it. It was a special place to work, as Rick Kaempfer noted. And in Chicago, it will be missed.

(The main part of this post was rebooted from one that first appeared in March 2013.)

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