(Pictured: one incarnation of the Beach Boys. L to R: Bruce Johnston, Carl Wilson, Al Jardine, and Mike Love, circa 1971.)
In July 1971, the Beach Boys, Ike and Tina Turner, and several new young stars headlined a two-night stand in New York City’s Central Park, part of a regular concert series sponsored for many summers by Schaefer Brewing Company. Both nights were filmed and then edited into a concert special called Good Vibrations From Central Park. (The TV crew shot from different vantage points each night, so when the producers put the show together, it looked like they had twice the camera coverage.) An hour of concert highlights was broadcast on ABC 45 years ago tonight, on August 19, 1971.
The TV show opened with the Beach Boys doing “Good Vibrations,” although I am pretty sure that at Central Park itself, Boz Scaggs went on first. Good Vibrations From Central Park was the first national TV appearance for Boz and his band, doing their lone hit to date, “We Were Always Sweethearts.” It had reached #61 on the Hot 100 in May, and was the opening track on Moments, Boz’s second album. Boz may have played other songs that night, but only one got on TV, befitting an opening act.
Kate Taylor went on next. James Taylor’s sister, who billed herself as “Sister Kate,” had released her debut album in January, featuring many of the same musicians who appeared on Carole King’s Tapestry, including King herself. Her song choices were impeccable: two by King from Tapestry (“Where You Lead” and “Home Again”), two from Elton John’s Tumbleweed Connection (“Ballad of a Well-Known Gun” and “Country Comfort”), plus her brother James’ “You Can Close Your Eyes,” and “Handbags and Gladrags,” which was made famous by Rod Stewart. Any of those would have been better than the performance the producers opted to show, the R&B song “Barefootin'” which was not on Taylor’s album. Although she was enthusiastic as hell, she yelled more than she sang, and I wonder if she was having trouble with the stage monitors.
Next on the bill was Carly Simon, also making her first national TV appearance. Carly turned 26 in the summer of 1971, and she was already a showbiz veteran, having recorded two albums with her sister Lucy as the Simon Sisters, in 1964 and 1969. She came onstage in Central Park with the confidence of someone who knows she’s a star already and is going to be a bigger one, and she’s smokin’ hot besides. The broadcast featured “Anticipation,” which wouldn’t be a hit for six months, and “That’s the Way I Always Heard It Should Be,” which was on the radio at the time. (If you watch the video, you’ll easily spot a couple of famous spectators at the show.)
Ike and Tina Turner took the stage next, although they followed the Beach Boys on the concert broadcast. They were shown doing “Good Lovin’,” their recent hit “Proud Mary,” and a version of “Higher and Higher.” Then it was time for the headliners. The Beach Boys’ part of the program opened with “Heroes and Villains.” Next, either because it was on the set list or the producers edited the show that way, came a decent-but-ultimately pointless version of Merle Haggard’s “Okie From Muskogee,” sung by Mike Love. They had jammed on the song with the Grateful Dead earlier in the year, but it’s doubtful that people would have turned on a Beach Boys TV show at the height of summer to hear it. In fact, if you tuned in for the sun-splashed classics from the 60s, you didn’t hear many, just “Good Vibrations” and “I Get Around.”
Good Vibrations in Central Park was one of the forerunners of the concert shows that proliferated on TV within the next couple of years, including Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert and The Midnight Special. It has never had a DVD release, as far as I can tell.
I am reading John Irving’s latest novel Avenue of Mysteries this week. At one point, two of the characters disagree over the meaning of a line from Graham Greene’s The Power and the Glory: “There is always one moment in childhood when the door opens and lets the future in.”
“Well, of course the future begins in childhood—where else would it begin?” Juan Diego asked the Iowan. “But I think it’s bullshit to say there is one moment when the door to the future opens. Why can’t there be many moments? And is Greene saying there’s only one door? He says the door, like there’s only one.”
I am on Team Juan Diego in this, although I’d offer the following twist: if you believe the passage of time should equal the growth of wisdom, all the time we have lived through on the way to this day is a kind of childhood, leading to the adult we can claim to be on this day. And if that’s true, that “childhood” can have many moments and doors.
One of my doors opened in the summer of 1986, and the future came in. In that summer I made a decision, and I have been living with the consequences of it ever since. It may have been inevitable, but whether it was or it wasn’t, my future was affected by it, from that summer to this one.
During the first eight years of my career, from 1978 to 1986, radio was it for me. There was simply nothing else, no Plan B. I wanted to be on the air (and later, to be a program director) more than I would ever want anything else, ever. I clocked my time at the station every day, but I when I wasn’t there, I thought about it constantly. After I became a program director in 1984, I listened all the time. I was on 24-hour call for emergencies, and that was exactly what I had always wanted to be.
By 1986, in addition to being the PD, I was doing mornings, which seemed like necessary career evolution. I didn’t have a plan for my career beyond that, however. I didn’t have the goal of being in Market A by the age of 28 and larger Market B by the age of 31 or anything like that. I naively assumed that in the fullness of time, my talent would take me up the market ladder. And although I didn’t know it, that lack of a plan was building a door for me.
But the decision that made the door open involved something else. Some morning DJs are in bed every night by 7:30, but I didn’t want to live like that. So I went to bed at 9:30 or so, got up at 4:15, and started napping for an hour in the afternoon, sometime around 3:00. That way, I could be functional and pleasant when The Mrs. got home from work, and we could have our evenings together. But I had trained my staff to call me if they had questions or problems, any time of the day or night, and several times in those first months of 1986, my nap was annihilated by the telephone. So in the summer, I started taking the phone off the hook. My desire to live a halfway-normal home life had become more important to me than dealing with radio emergencies.
We don’t always see the doors as they open, and it can take us a while before we understand the future that’s been let in. Only much later did I realize how important that phone-off-the-hook decision was, because it marked the end of my youthful obsession with radio.
There’s nothing wrong with that. We age, we change. You can’t stay 26 years old forever. But once I lost that youthful obsession, my career was never the same. I would spend seven more years working full-time in radio stations, but the drive I needed to propel me toward new opportunities diminished. I settled for jobs I could get instead of going after the ones I should have had. And eventually, disappointed by the course my career had taken, I decided I didn’t want to do radio anymore—something that would have completely flummoxed the guy with no Plan B.
In the years since, I have been a writer, mostly, also a teacher, and a radio guy as a sideline. That future was let in through a door I didn’t know I was opening, 30 years ago this summer.
(Pictured: Paul, Ringo, John, and George want you to read this post.)
You are an executive at EMI Records in early 1976. You have seen the resurgence of interest in the Beach Boys thanks to the Endless Summer and Spirit of America compilations during the previous two years; you notice the general mood of nostalgia, at least in America, thanks to the TV success of Happy Days and Laverne and Shirley; you recognize that Paul McCartney is at the peak of his solo stardom. So a new Beatles compilation seems like a good idea to you, perhaps one focused on rock ‘n’ roll covers from their earliest days. Rock ‘n’ Roll Music will feature “Twist and Shout,” “Kansas City,” “Money,” “Dizzy Miss Lizzy,” and “Roll Over Beethoven” among others. You will plaster the jacket with images that are more 50s than 60s, even though the Beatles themselves will be critical of the cover. So you won’t do anything to counter the urban legend that the album was released to commemorate the 20th anniversary of John and Paul’s first meeting . . . except that happened in 1957, not 1956.
Rock ‘n’ Roll Music is, then, mostly a celebration of the Beatles before the drugs took hold, although it doesn’t ignore that part of their career. The result is that the album ends by straying from the happy rockin’ vibe to darker places: “Helter Skelter,” with its Manson Family connections, “Taxman,” with its bitter indictment of Britain’s Inland Revenue, and “Revolution,” in which the lyrics say “no-no” but there’s “yes-yes” in the music, are a little too serious given what’s come before, but they’re well-cushioned by “Birthday,” “Get Back,” and “Got to Get You Into My Life.” Whatever its flaws (and when the music is this good, any flaws are minor), Rock ‘n’ Roll Music was a smash, reaching #2 on the Billboard 200 in mid-July, kept out of the top spot by Wings at the Speed of Sound.
“Got to Get You Into My Life” was the single from Rock n’ Roll Music, backed with “Helter Skelter.” It first appeared on a survey at ARSA dated May 28, 1976. It hit the Hot 100 on June 12 at #54, and reached the Top 10 on July 3. It would hit #1 at WLS in Chicago on July 10 and spend three weeks at the top; it would reach its Hot 100 peak at #7 on July 24 and remain there for the weeks of July 31 and August 7, 1976.
In the spring of 1966, Brian Epstein had traveled to Memphis to investigate the possibility of the Beatles recording at Stax, which was at a creative peak. Revolver might have been made there, but when word of the possibility leaked out, it quickly became an impossibility. “Got to Get You Into My Life” is as close as we ever got. After trying the song with fuzztone guitar, Paul rounded up three trumpeters and two tenor saxophone players. Microphones were placed in the bells of the horns and recorded so that they’d hit hard without distortion. The horns were overdubbed at one point to reinforce them still further, and the result is a sound that positively jumped off the radio and remains unlike anything else in the Beatles’ catalog.
According to Wikipedia (so who the hell knows), “Helter Skelter” was originally scheduled to be the A-side. It’s doubtful that it would have had the same impact that “Got to Get You Into My Life” did, in a summer when many things old seemed new again. Especially considering how that nostalgic vibe was reinforced by another “Rock ‘n’ Roll Music,” the Beach Boys’ recording of the same Chuck Berry song that gave the Beatles’ compilation its name. During the three weeks that “Got to Get You Into My Life” sat at #7 in Billboard, “Rock ‘n’ Roll Music” moved from #9 to #8 to #6, meaning that 40 years ago this week, the Beach Boys and the Beatles were back-to-back in the Top 10, together there for the first time since 1966.
As someone who came of radio-listening age just after the heyday of both groups, it was my only taste of how that heyday must have sounded in real time.
So the 50th anniversary of Revolver is the 40th anniversary of the return of the Beatles to the top of the charts, and the return to the radio of one of Revolver‘s tracks. Even though it was born 10 summers before, “Got to Get You Into My Life” ended up one of the most memorable songs of summer 1976.
(Pictured: eye candy, from an episode of Charlie’s Angels broadcast on 12/8/76.)
When I found my 1976 daybook in 2009, I hoped it would be the Rosetta Stone that unlocked the mysteries of 1976, including the Big Why: why a part of me continues to live in that year despite all the other years that have passed since then. The fact that it was no such thing was a great disappointment to me.
The daybook, 40 years on, feels like a piece of performance art for an audience of one. Back then, I fancied myself a master of trivia and a student of the arcane, and so I kept a daybook full of the sort of arcana that would impress someone like myself. I couldn’t repress entirely the more useful impulses I had, which accounts for the news headlines and family milestones, but I buried them under the trappings of the character I was trying to be. As a result, the far-older me, who would like to see his former self clearly, is mighty frustrated with his former self.
But I’ve got to forgive him, too, because there’s a lot in him that’s admirable, and some in him that I wish I still had. I used to say that I admired his confidence, but I don’t think you could rightly call what he had confidence. Rather, it was a willingness to accept who and what he was. He didn’t shop around for a personality like some 16-year-olds do. He wasn’t entirely satisfied with who he was—he hated being paralyzed in the presence of girls, and he wished he were a better athlete—but he knew there wasn’t much to be done about it, so he tried to proudly embrace his geekitude. He didn’t doubt that he had found his calling in life—radio—and he pursued it as best he could. His obsessions ran deep, but his interests were broad; he tried reading Milton and Proust, and he watched the news every night because he felt it was important to know what the world was about.
None of this is in the daybook. Traces of it are there amidst the fog, but I can barely see them. So I’m left to guess about 1976, like I’ve always done before. And here’s what I think I think:
When I got my driver’s license in the spring, I achieved freedom of mobility. Once you get that, you’ve crossed a bright line into fuller participation (and greater responsibility) in the wider world. But at the same time, I had yet to cut the cord that bound me to the childhood security that was the only life I could remember. So although I was out in the world more fully than before, that independence was measured in baby steps, and it came with a safety net. Also, what I remember of the ed psych I took tells me that adolescents often see themselves as players on a stage, and they believe the whole world is watching. They tend to dramatize themselves and their actions, and I was more self-dramatizing than most—everything seemed important because it was happening to me. And at the end of the year, I experienced the thrill of being chosen by a member of the opposite sex. Your family has to love you, or so you believe. But when another person chooses you? Mindblowing. So: I experienced 1976 as if the world were a giant stage I’d just stepped onto, with new roles to play. The audience was familiar—often it was only that perpetual audience of one—but the role-playing was exciting nevertheless.
As for the music of 1976, I can’t judge it apart from the experiences of the year. It’s not especially vivid because it’s empirically better than the music of any other year. It’s vivid because it’s the music I lived with 1976, and that makes all the difference.
I knew all of this before I found the daybook again. But absence of written evidence regarding the deeper meaning of 1976 might be evidence of something else. As my friend whiteray has said, “Some years are just magical.” So maybe I’ve been looking for something that’s not there—and doesn’t need to be.
(Rebooted from a series of 2009 posts.)
Forty years ago this week, “Moonlight Feels Right” by Starbuck reached #3 on the Hot 100, where it would stay for two weeks. It had been inescapable on the radio long before that, however, having cracked the Top 10 in some markets around the country as early as mid-May. The record is as 70s as it gets, all Mini-Moog and marimba, with a singalong lyric about listening to the radio in the car by the water with a beautiful girl (who wears a “class of 7-4 gold ring,” meaning she would be around 60 years old now). While your mileage may vary, it has always sounded to me like the distilled essence of my favorite summer.
Five years ago, I struck up a Facebook chat with David Shaver, Starbuck’s keyboard player. (You can see him in the video above, a live performance on The Midnight Special; he’s the second keyboard player, not the lead singer.) What follows is taken from a post I wrote about our chat.
“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.” . . .
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!” . . .
David Shaver is still playing today, 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!”
David recently posted pictures on Facebook of rehearsals for a Starbuck reunion that’s happening in August. Forty years since “Moonlight Feels Right,” what he and I share is this: no matter how far 1976 recedes into the rearview mirror, that song will always bring it back.