The Wind Blew Some Luck in My Direction

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.

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.