(Pictured: the cast of Welcome Back Kotter.)
It won’t be long before I have written about all of the American Top 40 shows from the summer of 1976, but that time is not yet. Here’s what was notable about the show from June 12, 1976.
38. “Making Our Dreams Come True”/Cyndi Grecco
36. “Let Her In”/John Travolta
20. “Baretta’s Theme”/Rhythm Heritage
12. “Welcome Back”/John Sebastian
5. “Happy Days”/Pratt and McClain
That’s four TV themes and one song by a popular TV star. For the entire 1975-76 season, Laverne and Shirley ranked as the #3 show in television, Happy Days was #11, Welcome Back Kotter #18, and Baretta #22, and all would rank higher the next season. (Happy Days and Laverne and Shirley would be 1-2.) It couldn’t have hurt the viewership of any of them to have their theme songs on the radio every couple of hours during the summer rerun season.
32. “You’re My Best Friend”/Queen. The highest of seven debut songs on the show this week. Because my work ethic is pretty shoddy, I can’t tell you if seven is the most ever in the AT40 era—I kinda doubt it—but it seems like a lot.
Extra: “I Shot the Sheriff”/Eric Clapton. This long segment was snipped out of the show’s first hour, where it originally appeared, and it was offered as an extra with the recent nationwide repeat. Casey spends a couple of minutes discussing the history of reggae music, in which he says that “I Can See Clearly Now” by Johnny Nash was the first major reggae hit in the States, forgetting “Israelites” by Desmond Dekker and the Aces, a Top-10 hit in 1969. He mentions Bob Marley’s then-current American tour and plays a snippet of his version of “I Shot the Sheriff.” America was at peak Bob Marley this summer: the album Rastaman Vibration was #12 on the album chart during the week of June 12, and “Roots Rock Reggae” would make #51 on the Hot 100 in July.
28. “Rock and Roll Love Letter”/Bay City Rollers
27. “Right Back Where We Started From”/Maxine Nightingale
I quite enjoy the degree to which the Rollers commit to their performance of “Rock and Roll Love Letter,” and that shortly after they pledge to “Keep on rock-n-rollin’ til my jeans explode,” their jeans do exactly that. Similarly committed is whoever did the handclaps on “Right Back Where We Started From,” one on every beat from start to finish.
26. “The Boys Are Back in Town”/Thin Lizzy
25. “Afternoon Delight”/Starland Vocal Band
24. “Moonlight Feels Right”/Starbuck
This stretch is 1976 as it gets. With only a couple of exceptions, “The Boys Are Back in Town” was the hardest-rockin’ thing on the Top 40 during the whole summer of ’76. “Afternoon Delight” and “Moonlight Feels Right” are pretty much the opposite.
17. “Movin'”/Brass Construction. “Movin'” is the highest-ranking record on this countdown you probably can’t place. Brass Construction was in the mold of the Ohio Players, Con Funk Shun, KC and the Sunshine Band, and other R&B outfits with a large number of members, many of them horn players. “Movin'” was a couple of weeks away from its chart peak of #14. The band’s self-titled album was huge: it hit #1 on the Soul LPs chart and #10 on the Billboard 200.
13. “I’ll Be Good to You”/Brothers Johnson. This was #1 on the soul chart for the week of June 12, the biggest mover within the Top 40 (up 10 spots), and the favorite song of the moment for 16-year-old me.
10. “Fool to Cry”/Rolling Stones. Casey mentions that with their current #1 album Black and Blue, their sixth to top the chart, the Stones have moved into sole possession of second place on the list of acts with the most #1 albums, behind only the Beatles.
1. “Silly Love Songs”/Paul McCartney and Wings. This record spent the week of May 22 at #1, then gave way to “Love Hangover” by Diana Ross for two weeks before reclaiming the top spot, which it would hold for another four weeks, through the week of July 3. It was in the Top 10 for 11 weeks in all and didn’t depart the Hot 100 until the middle of August. At year’s end, Billboard would rank it the #1 single of 1976.
I gotta say that this show was not the full glorious faceplant into memories of my favorite summer that I hoped it might be. Maybe I’ve been listening to this stuff too hard for too long. Maybe 2019 is sufficiently horrific to color even the memories of 43 years before. I have no idea, and it doesn’t matter. Memory is funny that way. It doesn’t always play back the tapes we order.
(The choice of photo for this post came down to either the Mormon Tabernacle Choir or Stevie Nicks posing on the hood of a car in 1976. Mine eyes have seen the glory all right.)
Me, listening to the AT40 show from May 1, 1976: “I’m not going to write about this show. People are probably tired of hearing me go on about 1976.”
(Pictured: David Bowie onstage in Detroit, February 29, 1976.)
I have several American Top 40 shows riding with me in the car these days. First up is the one from March 27, 1976. (Bad link fixed. –Ed.) I have written a lot about this season in the past, so I’ll do what I can to avoid repeating myself.
40. “Fopp”/Ohio Players
38. “He’s a Friend”/Eddie Kendricks
37. “Livin’ for the Weekend”/O’Jays
36. “I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do”/ABBA
35. “You’ll Lose a Good Thing”/Freddy Fender
34. “Looking for Space”/John Denver
33. “Love Fire”/Jigsaw
32. “Inseparable”/Natalie Cole
The first two segments of this repeat are fine if you’re a pop nerd, but an average listener might get a little impatient. ABBA and John Denver at least sound familiar, and “I Do” did make it to #15. “You’ll Lose a Good Thing” and “Inseparable” are pretty good, but neither “Fopp,” “He’s a Friend,” nor “Livin’ for the Weekend” is remotely close to its performer’s best work. And more people know “Love Fire” from being anthologized over the years than they do from hearing it on the radio in ’76. The best-remembered record of the bunch nowadays is probably “Lorelei,” although it wasn’t a particularly big hit back then, peaking at #27.
31. “Slow Ride”/Foghat
30. “Only Love Is Real”/Carole King
29. “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover”/Paul Simon
28. “Theme from SWAT“/Rhythm Heritage
27. “Love Hurts”/Nazareth
That’s how the first hour wraps up, and it’s much better. Thank the gods that “Inseparable” and “Slow Ride” were separated by a commercial break, both in 1976 and on the recent repeat. “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover” is weirdly holding at #29 for a second straight week; “SWAT” and “Love Hurts” also on their way off the chart.
23. “Action”/The Sweet
19. “Bohemian Rhapsody”/Queen
11. “Golden Years”/David Bowie
Each of these three was my favorite song of the moment in the spring of 1976, depending on the moment.
22. “Cupid”/Tony Orlando and Dawn
13. “Only Sixteen”/Dr. Hook
A Sam Cooke revival was on and we barely knew it. “Cupid” was the last Top 40 hit for Dawn; they’d scored 14 of ’em since “Candida” in the fall of 1970. Three went to #1, including “Tie a Yellow Ribbon ‘Round the Ole Oak Tree,” which was Billboard‘s #1 single for all of 1973.
9. “Right Back Where We Started From”/Maxine Nightingale
8. “Let Your Love Flow”/Bellamy Brothers
Casey says that “Right Back Where We Started From” has the chart action of a #1 record, having gone from #25 to #14 to #9 this week, although he doesn’t say that about “Let Your Love Flow,” which has gone 28-17-8 in the same period. But come May 1, it would be “Let Your Love Flow” at #1 and “Right Back Where We Started From” at #2. And although she would spend eight weeks in the Top 10, Maxine would never get above #2.
1. “December 1963 (Oh What a Night)”/Four Seasons. Casey notes that this record, in its third and final week at #1, is the Four Seasons’ biggest hit since 1963 (when “Walk Like a Man” spent three weeks at #1). Its fall out of the 40, which will begin next week, is weird: it goes from #1 to #8, then to #14 for three straight weeks, then to #16, then to #25, and finally to #44. It will linger below the Top 40 for seven weeks after that, including three straight weeks at #95 and a final week—June 26—at #98. It had debuted on December 27, 1975, and would spend 27 weeks on the Hot 100 in all.
There are some enduring hits on this chart (“Dream Weaver,” “Dream On,” “Take It to the Limit,” “Show Me the Way”), a couple of under-appreciated gems (“Sweet Thing,” “Sweet Love”), and some guilty pleasures (“Lonely Night,” “Money Honey,” “Fanny”), but in the interest of keeping this post from being 2,000 words long, I’m gonna leave ’em un-mentioned. And I could go on: among the indelible 1976 hits outside the Top 40 ready to debut within the next couple of weeks include “Fooled Around and Fell in Love,” “Sara Smile,” “Strange Magic,” “Rhiannon,” “Misty Blue,” and “Welcome Back.”
One More Thing: My hometown, Monroe, Wisconsin, briefly had a record label. During the 1920s, a local businessman founded Helvetia Records, which released traditional Swiss, German, and Austrian music. University of Wisconsin folklorist Jim Leary and Archeophone Records searched quite literally the entire world to find 36 Helvetia sides recorded between 1920 and 1924, which Archeophone has released in a collection called Alpine Dreaming. I went home last night to attend a talk about the album given by Leary, whose liner notes were nominated for a Grammy. The talk was held in the same hall where The Mrs. and I had our wedding reception 36 years ago . . . to the day.
I have written before of my borderline-irrational love for “Moonlight Feels Right,” the 1976 hit by Starbuck, the distilled essence of my favorite year.
Founding Starbuck member Bo Wagner started in showbiz as a child. He was a tap dancer and singer with various big bands in the early 50s, and frequently appeared on The Mickey Mouse Club as a musician, although he was never a Mouseketeer. He was in the cast of The Lawrence Welk Show for three seasons and acted in TV commercials. In the 60s, he played with future Starbuck bandmate Bruce Blackmon in a couple of bands including Eternity’s Children. (I wrote about them earlier this year.) After Eternity’s Children broke up, Wagner went on the road as a percussionist, including a stretch backing Liberace. Blackmon worked as a studio and touring musician and as a songwriter. Wagner eventually formed a band called Extravaganza, which Blackmon eventually joined, and which morphed into Starbuck.
“Moonlight Feels Right” was part of a four-song demo of Blackmon’s songs that Starbuck cut in November 1974. A dozen record companies rejected them before Private Stock took a flyer, releasing the demo of “Moonlight Feels Right” as a single in the fall of ’75. The record, which had been made for a total cost of $300 and laid down on used recording tape, flatlined almost immediately. (It shows up on a single survey at ARSA, from WANS in Anderson, South Carolina, dated November 24, 1975.) But Blackmon and Wagner believed in it, and in early 1976, they put 8,000 miles on a car hand-delivering it to radio stations across the country. The only one to bite was in Birmingham, Alabama, and in Blackmon’s telling, it took exactly one day for “Moonlight Feels Right” to become a local hit. It started charting around the country in April, eventually reaching #3 on the Hot 100 and #1 in Record World, and the Moonlight Feels Right album followed. From that album, the ultra-smooth “I Got to Know” made #43 in October of 1976; a third single, “Lucky Man,” stalled at #73 during Christmas week.
Critic Stephen Thomas Erlewine, writing at Allmusic.com, describes “Moonlight Feels Right” as “a slick slice of soft rock that captures the mid-’70s in all its feathered, polyester glory” and the rest of the Moonlight Feels Right album as “gauchely bewitching soft pop.” Starbuck’s second album, Rock ‘n’ Roll Rocket, released in early 1977, is a similar kind of thing, updated for the burgeoning disco era. It makes me think of mustachioed nightclub dudes trailing clouds of Hai Karate, Qiana shirts open to the waist and zodiac sign medallions around their necks, who try to charm halter-dressed hotties up to look at their etchings. If you like that kind of thing (and I do), Rock ‘n’ Roll Rocket isn’t bad, although its cheese factor is also pretty high. “Everybody Be Dancin'” was the album’s lone hit single, sneaking into the Top 40 for two weeks as May turned to June 1977, peaking at #38.
Although Moonlight Feels Right had been a modest success on the Billboard 200 album chart (#78 in a 14-week run), Rock ‘n’ Roll Rocket was not (#182 in a two-week run). After that, Starbuck moved on from Private Stock to the United Artists label, releasing the album Searching for a Thrill in 1978. A lot of the songs are in the slick, poppy style of the band’s two previous albums, but several expand the group’s sonic palette, none more than title song and lead single. “Searching for a Thrill” starts out like a prog-rock record and ends up sounding like a completely different band. It’s pretty great, actually, and it made #58 on the Hot 100 40 years ago this month.
The Starbuck story continues after that, but I’m short of space and can’t tell it here. The group played some reunion shows between 2013 and 2016, and made the news briefly in 2017 when Bo Wagner died at the age of 72. “Moonlight Feels Right” is cheesy pop glory, but nothing about it is more glorious than the decision to put a marimba solo where lots of bands would have put a guitar. That marimba solo is Bo Wagner’s monument.
One Other Thing: On Friday. I posted part of a post I once tried to write about the way radio music changed between 1973 and 1974,. A couple of readers, Mike and Wesley, wrote that very post in the comments section, and you should read it. Thanks to the both of you, gents.