August 25, 1976, is a Wednesday. In Monroe, Wisconsin, it’s the first day of school. In France, premier Jacques Chirac resigns in a dispute over political strategy with president Valery Giscard d’Estaing and is replaced by foreign minister Raymond Barre. President Ford is on vacation in Colorado. Among his activities today: attending a picnic hosted by prominent Vail restauranteur/hotelier Pepi Gramshammer. The Russian space mission Soyuz 21 returns to Earth early; a crew member has begun displaying psychotic behavior possibly linked to toxic gases in the ship’s cabin. The Lincoln Park Carousel, which has stood in an East Los Angeles park since 1914, is burned by vandals. In Allentown, Pennsylvania, Earl F. Hunsicker Bicentennial Park opens. Future actor Alexander Skarsgard, NBA journeyman Damon Jones, and New York Yankees pitcher Pedro Feliciano are born. The Yankees beat the Minnesota Twins 5-4 in a 19-inning game that takes five hours, 26 minutes to play. Yankee Dick Tidrow enters the game in the 7th inning and pitches through the 17th.
On daytime TV, Dinah Shore welcomes Chuck Berry and M*A*S*H star Mike Farrell. Merv Griffin’s guests on his daytime show include singers Mel Torme and Cyndi Grecco and the group Silver. In primetime, a pair of half-hour, four-week summer variety shows premiere back-to-back on CBS: Easy Does It, starring Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello, and The Late Summer Early Fall Bert Convy Show, which stars the erstwhile game show host. Also in the cast is comedian Lenny Schultz, who performs as Lenny the Bionic Chicken.
Jethro Tull’s Too Old to Rock and Roll tour continues in Calgary, Canada, while Lynryd Skynyrd’s tour moves on to Lewiston, Maine. Frank Sinatra plays Holmdel, New Jersey, Tom Waits plays Cleveland, and the Band plays Los Angeles. The Electric Light Orchestra plays St. Louis, with opening acts Mahogany Rush and Pure Prairie League. The self-titled debut album by a new group, Boston, is released. At WLS in Chicago, “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart” by Elton John and Kiki Dee is at the top for a second week. New in the Top Ten are “Let ‘Em In” by Paul McCartney and Wings, “I’d Really Love to See You Tonight” by England Dan and John Ford Coley, and “Say You Love Me” by Fleetwood Mac. The biggest movers on the chart are “Baby I Love Your Way” by Peter Frampton (up 10 to #27) and “With Your Love” by Jefferson Starship (up 14 to #29). The Beatles compilation Rock and Roll Music spends its fifth and final week at the top of the album chart. Next week, it will be knocked out by Heart’s Dreamboat Annie, currently at #2.
Back in Wisconsin, a newly minted high-school junior knows he is ready to return to school, because anything is better than driving a tractor in the heat. But the things he does not know are legion: He doesn’t know that he’s just passed the summer he will cherish the most as the years go by. Neither does he know that the coming fall will be a season he will never leave behind. He also doesn’t know that 35 years in the future, his 51-year-old self, on something called a blog in a place called the Internet, will try to recreate the summer of 1976 —and fail.
More about that in tomorrow’s post.
(The series continues. Other posts here.)
August 15, 1976, is a Sunday. The death toll in the outbreak of what is now being called “legionnaire’s disease” reaches 25. The Republican National Convention opens this week; the campaign of former California governor Ronald Reagan is seeking a rule that would force Gerald Ford to name his running mate before the balloting begins. Reagan has already chosen Senator Richard Schweiker of Pennsylvania. In Washington, Ford attends church, gets a haircut, and spends a leisurely afternoon before departing for the convention in Kansas City. In Wenatchee, Washington, the Wenatchee Valley Humane Society dedicates its new building. Future Playboy centerfold and actress Priscilla Taylor is born. With six weeks to go in the major-league baseball season, there are no hot pennant races. The Philadelphia Phillies and Cincinnati Reds lead their divisions in the National League by 11 1/2 and 12 1/2 games respectively; in the American League, the leaders are New York and Kansas City, by 9 1/2 and 7. The Green Bay Packers continue the NFL preseason at New England, beating the Patriots 16 to 14. In golf, Dave Stockton wins the PGA Championship.
On TV tonight, CBS airs The Sonny and Cher Show, Kojak, and the private-eye drama Cannon starring William Conrad. On NBC, it’s The Wonderful World of Disney and McMillan and Wife. ABC counters with The Six Million Dollar Man and the theatrical movie Paint Your Wagon. In addition, all three networks air primetime previews of the Republican convention. In Los Angeles, Jethro Tull plays the Coliseum, Boz Scaggs plays the Greek Theater, and Barry Manilow plays the Universal Amphitheater. In Minot, North Dakota, it’s the second night of the Rush All the World’s a Stage tour, with opening act Blue Oyster Cult. Eric Clapton plays Blackpool, England. KISS plays El Paso, Texas, and Elton John plays Madison Square Garden in New York. Lynryd Skynryd plays Chicago
with opening acts the Outlaws and Montrose (see below).
At WLS in Chicago, “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart” by Elton John and Kiki Dee makes a mighty leap from 11 to 1 on the station’s latest survey, knocking “Afternoon Delight” to #2. “Get Closer” by Seals and Crofts moves to #3. “I’m Easy” by Keith Carradine and “Crazy on You” by Heart round out the top five. Other strong movers on the survey include “You Should Be Dancing” by the Bee Gees, up to 17 from 27, and “Summer” by War, up to 21 from 31. “Play That Funky Music” by Wild Cherry makes the biggest move of the week, up 12 from 42 to 30. The Beatles compilation Rock and Roll Music holds the top spot on the WLS album chart for a fourth week. On a farm some 120 highway miles from Chicago, a family relaxes after its busiest week of the summer.
Perspective From the Present: We went to Chicago for a day and to the State Fair in Milwaukee for a day during the middle of August 1976, and we may have stayed overnight somewhere as a family in between. Picture us packed into the bright yellow 1973 Mercury Montego my brother and I christened “the banana boat,” three boys aged 16, 14, and 9 crammed into the back seat, and five to a motel room. That’s getting closer, although it was often closer than we boys liked it.
Certain songs have a magical power that captures the distilled essence of a moment. To me, the whole summer of 1976 lives in “Moonlight Feels Right” by Starbuck. Watch the video below, and pay attention to the keyboard player, whose rings are more easily (and frequently) seen than his face.
The keyboard player is David Shaver. He and I spent some time on a Facebook chat the other night talking about “Moonlight Feels Right” and his experience in Starbuck. “I was not a member when the record was [made],” David told me. “There were so many Mini-Moog overdubs on the album that when ‘Moonlight’ started up the charts, they realized they needed to hire another keyboard player in order to reproduce the sounds live. I also played an ARP String Ensemble to reproduce all the string parts.”
“Moonlight Feels Right” had been released to in the fall of 1975 to a resounding chorus of who-cares. Early in 1976, a DJ in Birmingham, Alabama, started playing it, and it caught fire, eventually rising to Number 3 on the Hot 100, where it spent the weeks of July 31 and August 7, 1976.
Once the record hit the charts (in April 1976), things began to move fast for Shaver and Starbuck. “Opening for Hall and Oates in Macon, Georgia, was the first show I played. They were huge at the time.” Other shows followed. “The biggest show we did was opening for Boston at the Hollywood Sportatorium in Florida. I heard the sound of 16,000 screaming vocal cords and at that moment I knew what Beatlemania felt like. We played with Styx at the Atlanta Omni for Toys for Tots.” (Based on information at a Styx fansite, that show was on December 5, 1976, and also featured Boston, the Manhattans, and Dr. Hook, which is a pretty damn good concert bill in any decade.)
David says, “It was certainly one of the most exciting times of my life. We were being treated like rock stars, where two months prior we were playing night clubs! I met Mike Douglas, Merv Griffin, Don Kirshner, Dinah Shore, Dick Clark, Peter Marshall. Once on American Bandstand, some girls in the audience made a big fuss over me and the cameras zoomed in on me in my blue Hawaiian shirt. My one and only closeup. My big 15 minutes. I’d give anything for a copy of that video!”
Although “Moonlight Feels Right” is the only Starbuck song most people can name, the band actually charted five times in all: “I Got to Know” and “Lucky Man” from the Moonlight Feels Right album missed the Top 40 in the fall of 1976; “Everybody Be Dancin'” from the group’s second album, Rock and Roll Rocket, squeaked into the Top 40 in the spring of 1977. And in the fall of 1978, the title track from Searchin’ for a Thrill—a balls-out rocker far removed in style and spirit from “Moonlight”—spent six weeks in the lower reaches of the Hot 100. The 70s edition of the band split in 1979, although co-founders Bo Wagner and Bruce Blackmon continued to release records under the Starbuck name for a few years thereafter. Somewhere in my archives I have a single they made in the early 80s called “The Full Cleveland.”
David Shaver is still playing today, 30-plus years after his rock-star adventures. “I am very happy to be performing in a show band called Glow. We’re based out of Atlanta and have some of the best vocalists in the Southeast. We play every weekend! Concerts, weddings, corporate parties, and a few select dance clubs. We just opened for the Little River Band a few months back.” Because Glow is a show band, David says, “Our song choices are focused 100 percent on the dance floor,” so “Moonlight Feels Right” is not part of their regular repertoire. But he also says, “Back in 2004/2005 I played in a wedding band and we did a great version of “Moonlight.” I did my best at imitating the marimba solo on the keyboard. Not an easy task!”
In 1976, I was an adolescent boy in Wisconsin, waiting for my life to begin. David Shaver was a slightly older guy whose life had not only begun, but was taking off like it was strapped to a rocket. (I am still waiting for my rocket.) Thirty-five years later, what we share is this: no matter how far 1976 recedes into the rearview mirror, “Moonlight Feels Right” will always bring it back.
June 20, 1976, is a Sunday. An Associated Press story appearing in papers around the country discusses the potential development of an electronic mail system by the Postal Service. The system could involve either computer printouts delivered by the mailman or electronic messages delivered directly to a user’s computer, possibly for about as much as a current first-class stamp, which is 15 cents. President Ford, National Security Advisor Scowcroft, and other top officials meet in the Oval Office from about 2AM until dawn to monitor the situation in the Middle East. American ambassador to Lebanon Francis Meloy, another diplomat, and their driver were assassinated in Beirut just days before; later today, Ford orders the evacuation of Americans from Lebanon, goes to church, and plays a round of golf. It is Father’s Day, but Ford’s daughter is not at home; Susan Ford is in Florida for the opening of Disney’s River Country, the world’s first water-centric theme park. Caril Fugate, accomplice of serial killer Charles Starkweather, is paroled from prison in Nebraska after serving 17 years. Future major-league baseball player Carlos Lee is born.
For the light-hitting outfielder and team statistician of the Monroe United Methodist softball team, the weekend did not get off to a very good start; after winning their first two games, the team lost to Juda 11-5 in the Friday-night church league. The outfielder spends part of his Sunday watching his beloved Chicago Cubs lose to the Atlanta Braves 5-0. Elsewhere, the Detroit Tigers beat the Minnesota Twins 7-3. Rookie pitching sensation Mark Fidrych gets the win to extend his record to 6-and-1.
In Pennsylvania, Warren Zevon plays Bryn Mawr and the New Riders of the Purple Sage play Reading. Fleetwood Mac plays the Iowa State Fair in Des Moines, and the Electric Light Orchestra plays London. AC/DC, Bob Marley, and ZZ Top continue their ongoing tours. Jerry Samuels, better known as Napoleon XIV, is the guest on this weekend’s edition of The Dr. Demento Show, where Abbott and Costello’s “Who’s on First” routine tops the weekly Funny Five countdown. “Silly Love Songs” is still Number One on the latest survey at WLS, for the fourth week in a row. New in the Top 10 is “Love in the Shadows” by Neil Sedaka. The biggest mover on the WLS survey is the Beach Boys’ “Rock and Roll Music,” up to 16 from 31; oddly enough, their great 60s rivals, the Beatles, are also hot, as “Got to Get You Into My Life,” their first single to chart since 1970, moves from 39 to 29. The highest-debuting song on the survey this week (at Number 40) is by an unknown group, the Starland Vocal Band. It’s called “Afternoon Delight.”
Perspective From the Present: I have my doubts about whether Fleetwood Mac really played the Iowa State Fair on this date, mostly because another source mentions that the Eagles headlined the 1976 fair. Fleetwood Mac and the Eagles played at least one show together that summer, so perhaps both of them played the fair. But if they did, why doesn’t my second source mention the Mac?
And finally: “Love in the Shadows” remains surprisingly evocative of the early summer of 1976. Every time I hear it, I’m transported to one of those first warm, humid evenings in June. As the sun sinks in the west, sounds from the barn are audible across the driveway and the dooryard. I will not be sticking around to listen to them long, however. I slide behind the wheel of the Hornet, start her up, turn on the radio, and fly off to seek adventure, somewhere. Probably not on Sunday, June 20th, but surely within a day or two of it.
(This summer, we’re trying to recreate the summer of 1976, one day at a time, one post a week. Find other posts in the series here.)
June 14, 1976, is a Monday. It’s Flag Day, and Liberty State Park opens across from the Statue of Liberty in New Jersey. Presidential candidates Morris Udall and Frank Church release their delegates and throw their support to Jimmy Carter, which should put him over the top for the Democratic nomination. The Supreme Court refuses to intervene in the Boston school busing controversy. Among the events on President Ford’s schedule today is a speech by telephone to the Bicentennial Exposition on Science and Technology, being held at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. He also receives the first volume of his public papers in a brief ceremony. The Viking I spacecraft, closing in on Mars, begins sending pictures back to Earth. Later in the week it will enter Martian orbit, and it will land on July 20th. Federal judge Oliver J. Carter, who presided over Patty Hearst’s bank robbery trial earlier this year, dies at age 65, and future pro hockey player Ryan Johnson is born. High jumper Dwight Stones is on the cover of Sports Illustrated; Time reports on the continuing Wayne Hays/Elizabeth Ray sex scandal. Newsweek runs a brief feature story about singer Tom Waits. California governor and Democratic presidential candidate Jerry Brown is on the cover of People.
The Monday specials at Conrad’s Supper Club in McFarland, Wisconsin, give diners a choice between a tenderloin and deep-fried frog legs, either one for $3.50. The Grateful Dead plays the Beacon Theater in New York; elsewhere in the city, Diana Ross plays the Palace Theater. Concert tours continue for AC/DC (Sheffield, England), Paul McCartney and Wings (San Francisco) and Bob Marley (Paris, France). On The Mike Douglas Show this week, the co-host is Barney Miller star Hal Linden. The Gong Show premieres on NBC. Only two big-league baseball games are broadcast nationally each week; tonight on ABC’s Monday Night Baseball, it’s the Chicago Cubs at Cincinnati. The Reds win in the bottom of the ninth when Ken Griffey singles home Dave Concepcion. A young Cubs fan in southern Wisconsin will watch the game, passing up the CBS reruns of Rhoda, Phyllis, All in the Family, Maude, and Medical Center.
The Cubs fan will not have to work on the farm today. After a hot and stormy weekend, the weather remains iffy, so he will spend much of the day with the radio on. At WLS, “Silly Love Songs” by Wings holds the top spot for a third week; new in the Top 10 are “Get Up and Boogie” by Silver Convention and “Misty Blue” by Dorothy Moore. The biggest move within the station’s top 45 belongs to Thin Lizzy again this week—“The Boys Are Back in Town” is up 11, from 33 to 22. Among the new songs on the chart this week are “You’re My Best Friend” by Queen and “Crazy on You” by a new band, Heart.
Perspective From the Present: By mid-June, my life has settled into a summer pattern, although my 1976 daybook offers little insight into exactly what the pattern was that week, apart from a dentist appointment on Thursday and a softball game on Friday. I can’t even be sure I watched the Cubs/Reds game on Monday night, although I doubt I would have skipped it. But from all the available evidence, Monday, June 14, 1976, was one of those days that disappears.
In Thornton Wilder’s Our Town, Emily, who died young, is given the chance to relive any single day of her life. “Pick an ordinary day,” she is warned. But she doesn’t; she picks her 12th birthday. And she finds that it’s just too painful to watch herself and her loved ones, not so much because it’s her birthday, but because her family fails to notice everything around them—everything that seems so much more precious to Emily now that it’s irrevocably lost to her. She asks, “Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it—every, every minute?”
“No,” the Stage Manager tells her. “The saints and poets maybe . . . maybe some.”
From Grover’s Corners to wherever we are, people remember the days on which the big stuff happened: when we graduated from high school, when a loved one died, when we got married or when our kids were born, when we got fired, when the Challenger exploded or when the World Trade Center fell. But even for those days, we forget many of the minute details, the texture of the canvas on which the day’s big events are projected. And on days when nothing big happens, we eventually forget everything.
My favorite thing to write at this blog is One Day in Your Life. It’s where the little things—songs on the radio, shows on TV, news items that merited a single mention by Walter Cronkite or an inch or two on page 3—collide with big events we are more likely to remember, creating a simulation of the day that’s the best we can do with the tools at hand. We may never find the secret to time travel, but perhaps the meticulous recreation of ordinary days can generate something like virtual reality.
If you read this blog regularly, you probably can guess where this is going.
I am neither saint nor poet, just a guy with a blog, but I’m going to try something anyhow, now that Memorial Day is upon us: recreating the summer of 1976 with One Day in Your Life posts—one a week at the start and we’ll see how it goes, see whether we can paint each week of the summer in sufficiently interesting detail. Because I’d like to believe that done right, such a project might hit the magical combination of keystrokes and toonage that opens up the wormhole. First one tomorrow.