When It’s Right, It’s Right

The very first post in the history of this blog mentioned the Starland Vocal Band. They’ve cropped up here frequently in the nearly seven years since, most recently Monday, when I said I was prepared to debate their merits if necessary. And apparently it is.

Bill Danoff and Taffy Nivert (later husband and wife) had written John Denver’s 1971 hit “Take Me Home Country Roads.” After performing as Fat City, the Danoffs teamed with another couple, Jon Carroll and Margot Chapman, as the Starland Vocal Band, and released their first record in 1976, “Afternoon Delight.” It was a monster, sufficient to earn them the Best New Artist Grammy for the year (which is not as absurd as the one “Afternoon Delight” got for Best Vocal Arrangement, which was deemed better than “Bohemian Rhapsody”).

On the strength of that Grammy, they landed a limited-run TV variety show on CBS in the summer of 1977. It was, against all odds, pitched at a hip young urban audience, with political commentary by Mark Russell and a young comic in the cast named David Letterman. But they were never built for the long run, not really, not professionally or personally. Bill and Taffy Danoff divorced after the group broke up; so did Jon Carroll and Margot Chapman. And with the rise of disco in the late 70s and danceable new wave acts in the 80s, their gentle acoustic sound was swept away in the same tide that swamped John Denver. In all, they managed four chart singles between 1976 and 1980, three of which you’ve probably never heard: “California Day” is the Platonic ideal of blandness and “Hail! Hail! Rock and Roll” is hideous, although “Loving You With My Eyes” is a beautiful song that deserved better than Number 71.

Thanks to the way we seize upon and recycle certain bits of pop-culture history, “Afternoon Delight” is now considered one of the most cheese-tastic moments of the 1970s. (The song was apparently performed on Glee last week, and it turns out that not only did the character who sang it not get its erotic subtext, neither did the actress who played her.) I, of course, neither agree with that nor care about it. Regular readers of this blog already suspect why: “Afternoon Delight” was in the Top 40 from around Memorial Day through Labor Day 1976, and it went to Number One in July, at the peak of my favorite year. So I guess I am not willing to “debate” its merits at all. Whatever there is to debate was settled for me a long time ago.

We love the songs that we love the most in part because of our associations with them. The Mrs.,  not yet old enough to drive in 1976, was being chauffeured with a friend one day by the friend’s older brother when “Afternoon Delight” came on. There in the car, the three of them started spontaneously harmonizing along with the radio. My favorite part of the story is not so much the two 15-year-old girls singing along, but the 19-year-old guy joining in. Lots of guys having to haul their little sister and her friend someplace on a summer’s day might have sat sullenly silent—and probably would have hated “Afternoon Delight” too. But not him, and not then.

The only specific association I have with “Afternoon Delight” is that I used to start my afternoon show with it every now and then when I was a little baby disc jockey at KDTH, but I have to think comparatively hard to remember that. The stronger association is more nebulous, but no less beloved. “Afternoon Delight” was one of the songs in my ear every three hours during the best summer I ever had.

They made a video for it, too.

Two observations: First, I can’t watch that thing without smiling. And second, Bill Danoff really outkicked his coverage.

12 responses

  1. I hate to admit it (because I don’t cherish the same associated memories you do of this song), but one song by SVB that never charted was “The Light Of My Life.” A shame…..gorgeous harmonies. No delightful video to accompany it, but someone used it to accompany a photo montage of their child–you can find it here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YemMr48f8co&feature=related

  2. For any number of reasons, a smile is inevitable. Though not my best, the summer of 1976 was pretty damned good.

  3. Jim, love the blog but was working in radio in 1976 and having to play this every 2 and a half hours..AAAHHHH! Every one has their memories of so many songs good and bad. My guilty pleasure that summer was Don’t Go Breaking My Heart, although Love Song should have been released as a single, I always thought it was a better duet with Leslie Duncan, but what do I know?

    1. Playing anything every 2 1/2 hours is hell for a radio jock. If you like the song, you know you’re going to end up hating it, and if you hate it to begin with, you know you’re going to want to kill yourself.

      But as I have noted before, when you’re a listener, the dynamic is different. If it’s a song you like, you can’t get enough of it–which is why people go out and buy songs, even the ones that are on the air every 2 1/2 hours, because as far as they’re concerned, radio isn’t playing them enough.

      Completely with you on “Love Song,” by the way–the Lesley Duncan duet version from “Here and There” is superb.

  4. If I didn’t know any better, I’d have thought that “Afternoon Delight” was back on the charts. Just before turning to your Monday post, I’d done the L.A. Times crossword, where 41D was “‘Afternoon ___’: suggestive #1 hit of 1976.” No doubt some of the easy listening stations found it *too* suggestive at the time, keeping the record from going no higher than number five on Billboard’s Easy Listening chart.

    Like Mark, I also thought “The Light Of My Life” was a real keeper, and was always disappointed that it never rose higher than #17 on the same Easy Listening chart. We played a number of Bill & Taffy / Fat City releases at my college station. “Do You Believe” (on RCA) and “Morning Go Away” (Paramount) both come to mind.

    MCA did issue “Love Song” as a single, albeit promo-only. The Hot 100’s must-be-commercially-available stipulation did not apply to Billboard’s Easy Listening chart, where the single peaked at #18.

  5. Then, there is the aspect of AM radio. For some reason, a song like “Afternoon Delight” just sounded good on WLS (or any of the other AM Top 40 radio stations in our area). I don’t really care for “Afternoon Delight,” but Top 40 radio (especially AM radio) in 1976 was outstanding. Maybe it had something to do with being being 17 years old and able to drive. That AM radio in that ’67 Buick LeSabre my parents owned back then had WLS on an awful lot duriing the summer of 1976.

  6. I was eight that summer and mostly ambivilant about music, but me and all my friends loooooooved “Afternoon Delight” – it was just so damn catchy – and I can’t hear the song and not feel warm as it was so part of that summer.

    It still makes me smile.

    Quite true regarding Bill Danoff, but I was quite smitten with Margot Chapman.

  7. When I first got my show moved to afternoons (after six years of overnights and two months of pleading with our new PD), I kicked off my first daytime edition in celebratory fashion with “Afternoon Delight”. Our also-new GM and a few callers asked me (with trepidation) if I was planning on doing that every week. I might be the only jock in Houston to ever play it voluntarily. (As my show was also moved to Tuesday, I considered the Moody Blues, but I hate being obvious.)

  8. I was luckily born after Afternoon Delight‘s success. My first exposrue to it was the 90s Animal House wannabe movie, PCU. Jeremy Piven turned the stereo up really loud, popped in Afternoon Delight at a black tie college mixer with wealthy alums, set it for repeat, then closed and locked the stereo cabinet, quickly exit the room and used “The Club” to barricade the doors so the people inside could not escape. It was one of the funnier scenes in the movie.

    Fast Forward to the mid-‘aughts… The TV sitcom, Arrested Development used the song to brilliant effect in one episode. There’s a scene where Michael Bluth (Jason Bateman) in an effort to bond with his niece, Maebee (Alia Shawkat) does a karaoke duet of Afternoon Delight— initially missing the subtext of the song they realize the subtext as their singing… They stop singing and the awkward glances they share are comedic gold… At the end of the same episode, Michael’s sister, jealous of her brother’s efforts to bond with her daughter, decides to one-up him by doing a karaoke duet of Afternoon Delight with her nephew, Michael’s son, George Michael. Michael tries to stop it but walks in just as his sister and son come to the same realization of the song’s subtext that he and his niece had come to earlier in the same episode. There’s a reason the show kept winning Emmys… it’s unfortunate that it didn’t have a wider audience.

    Both uses I thought were brilliantly done.

  9. I actually liked Hail Hail Rock and Roll. I remember hearing it and now heard it for the first time since it was on the radio. I never owned and never knew who sung it. It brought memorys. Thanks JB. I am sure you are puking right now.

  10. […] JB over at The Hits Just Keep On Comin’ wrote at length about the song earlier this year. It’s a good read and it’s also why now (and forevermore), when I hear the song I will also think of his quite accurate assessment that Starland Vocal Band’s Bill Danoff outkicked his coverage. […]

  11. […] Top 5: If You Believe in ForeverWhen It's Right, It's RightOne Day in Your Life: July 27, 1986One Day in Your Life: July 31, 1976One Day in Your Life: October […]

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