Whole World Misty Blue

Everybody’s got one magic season in their lives, and as I’ve noted here a million times before, the summer of 1976 is mine. It’s no surprise, then, that the summer of ’76 is well represented on my Desert Island list, with eight singles that rode the charts between the end of May and the end of August. One of them I mentioned in the previous installment, “Fool to Cry” by the Rolling Stones. Here are the others, in chronological order:

“Strange Magic”/Electric Light Orchestra. More than most of the songs on this list, “Strange Magic” is associated with a single strong image. It’s morning, one of those days that’s going to be hotter than hell, and you know it the moment you wake up in your house without air conditioning. It’s the kind of day on which you can see heat rising from the cornfields, and every time I hear that humid opening guitar lick of “Strange Magic,” I can see it again.

“Misty Blue”/Dorothy Moore. I grew up with a healthy respect for soul music, and although I wouldn’t have fully understood the genre’s historical arc in 1976, I knew enough to understand that this was old-school, and breathtaking besides.

“I’ll Be Good to You”/Brothers Johnson. A different kind of soul, smooth and funky. My local radio stations didn’t play this enough to suit me. No radio station could, so I bought the album, Look Out for #1, but it ain’t going to the island with me, as it was one of the most disappointing albums I ever bought. “I’ll Be Good to You,” however—can’t leave home without it.

“I’ll Get Over You”/Crystal Gayle. I probably heard this on my parents’ country station that summer, but it didn’t register until I got into country radio myself a few years later. It’s for anybody who ever thought, “Think I can’t do it? Just watch me”—and then, with everybody watching, failed to do it.

“Kiss and Say Goodbye”/Manhattans. From the same emotional place “Misty Blue” originated, and “Me and Mrs. Jones,” too. That spoken opening—“this has got to be the saddest day of my life”—still kills me. Dig the Manhattans’ choreography.

“Get Closer”/Seals and Crofts. Another strong image: Sometime in the 80s or early 90s, I am driving on a late-summer day when “Get Closer” comes on, and I’m suddenly struck with the certainty that the portal back to the summer of 1976 is very, very near—only I can’t tell where it is. The song was nothing special to me in 1976, but since that weird moment in the car has it become an essential—in case it opens the portal again.

“Moonlight Feels Right”/Starbuck. No record better sums up the sound of the summer of 1976 as I heard it back then.

I said when I started this series that I might write about some songs that could be added to the list, but I’m reluctant to start adding songs from the summer of 1976, because I might never stop. Although that would be more of a problem for you than it would be for me.

Top 5: It Only Takes a Minute

I’ve been a DJ for most of my life, whether it was the imaginary radio station in my bedroom when I was 11, college radio, the years I spent getting a full-time paycheck, or the more recent years I’ve done my four and hit the door. Even during the nine years I was out of radio entirely from the mid 90s to the mid 00s, I couldn’t help talking over records in the car like my Top-40 heroes of old. So why did it take me until yesterday, after five-plus years at this blog, to shut up and play the hits?

This first one is one of the best autumn songs I know. On this live version (the song was originally on the radio this week in 1974), some famous folks show up at the end to provide backing vocals and rock some 70s fashions.

Billy Preston’s original “Nothing From Nothing” is one of the most economical records in pop history, streaking out of the gate and taking less than 2:30 to get to the fade, and I’ve always wished it went on longer. On this live performance from the 1980s, it does—about 6 1/2 minutes altogether, as Billy introduces his band.

The fall of 1975 may have marked the peak of Top 40 misogyny—on the chart at the same time you had Elton John’s “Island Girl,” a song about a prostitute that tries to take an admiring tone but misses (and is racist to boot), and Elton’s collaboration with Neil Sedaka on “Bad Blood,” in which Neil sings that “woman was born to lie” and “the bitch is in the smile.” And that fills this video with all sorts of contradictions. His backup singers both appear positively thrilled to be part of this smackdown of their gender, and Sedaka comes off as such a dweeb that it’s clear either one of them could kick his ass.

An alternate viewpoint—quite nearly an answer song—was on the radio at precisely the same time. It’s here. Meanwhile, back here on the show, the Brothers Johnson get on down in a video that seems to have been partly shot through a lens smeared with chocolate pudding.

Veteran TV director Louis J. Horvitz would have gotten away with it if the clip below didn’t include a credit roll from its original source, an episode of Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert broadcast in October 1975. But now we know he’s responsible for giving us as many shots of the Tavares brothers from the back as from the front, and we know how much he loves the circular wipe. LOUIE FOR CHRISSAKES STAY ON A SINGLE SHOT FOR MORE THAN FIVE SECONDS DAMMIT

Mighty good song, though.