I stepped out of the radio station last Saturday night and into the autumnal cool that comes around some nights in August. A hint of wood smoke was on the breeze from somebody’s firepit. I could feel the seasons beginning to change. When I got into the car and turned on the American Top 40 show from August 21, 1976, I could hear it, too. That countdown marks the crossroads between my two favorite seasons, the summer and fall of 1976.
I didn’t expect to make it to midnight and the end of the countdown that night (and I didn’t), but I don’t really need to. Most songs from those two seasons are engraved on my DNA, and I can summon them up anytime I want, without a radio. In many ways, this whole blog is about them. However: a few songs in the first hour of that show haven’t survived the ravages of time, and this post is about them.
40. “One Love in My Lifetime”/Diana Ross. It had been a pretty good year for Miss Ross, as Casey noted in his introduction—she had two #1 songs in 1976, “Theme From Mahogany” and “Love Hangover.” It was pretty obvious “One Love in My Lifetime” wasn’t going to be another one. It features a brief duet vocal with somebody, and at one point either the duet singer or Diana herself launches into what sounds like a wolf howl. Ecch ptui. (Eventual chart peak: #25.)
38. “I Can’t Hear You No More”/Helen Reddy. I’ve known about “I Can’t Hear You No More” since 1976, of course, but I’d forgotten how different it is from Reddy’s other singles. She pulls off a convincing simulation of an R&B singer—no mean feat for someone whose biggest hits were quite remarkably white—although with that great thumpin’ Philly-soul backing track, I might have been able to channel a little Teddy Pendergrass myself. (Chart peak: #29.)
37. “Springtime Mama”/Henry Gross. “Springtime Mama” is the song you’d get if you tried to make the most generic 70s pop record imaginable, using randomly chosen phrases for the lyric. This gibberish makes “Shannon” sound like “Yesterday.” (Chart peak: #37.)
36. “Last Child”/Aerosmith. This is a ringer because it has endured beyond 1976 (and it’s my favorite Aerosmith song), but I’m noting it here because of the train wreck it caused on the August 21 AT40 show, following a feature on Bobby Helms’ old-fashioned country honker “Fraulein,” the 1957 hit that rode the country charts for a then-record 52 weeks. I doubt very many in the AT40 audience of 1976 were jonesing for Bobby Helms trivia to begin with; following it with the hardest-rockin’ record on the survey was a mistake even by the standards of 1976. (Chart peak: 21.)
35. “Street Singin’”/Lady Flash. This female trio worked as Barry Manilow’s backup singers throughout his 70s glory days. “Street Singin’” is allegedly a tribute to old R&B singers and songs, but it doesn’t sound like anything from the era it supposedly celebrates. It’s mostly an amorphous blob of soul-sister sass that goes nowhere as we all keep waiting for Manilow to show up. It’s as pointless as “Springtime Mama,” although in an entirely different way. (Chart peak: #27.)
So yeah, with the exception of Helen Reddy (and Queen’s downward sliding “You’re My Best Friend” at #39), the first 20 minutes of the August 21, 1976, show were pretty dire. But then came “Moonlight Feels Right” and “She’s Gone,” “Devil Woman” and “If You Leave Me Now,” and within a few minutes more, the dreck was long forgotten. Just as it has been for 36 years now.