The first-ever One Day in Your Life post appeared at this blog on October 7, 2004, just short of three months after we went “on the air.” It took awhile for the style to evolve, but it quickly became my favorite thing to write. Over the years, I’ve written maybe 130 of them between this blog and Popdose, where the feature appeared monthly in late 2008 and 2009. Five years ago today, I wrote about July 31, 1976. Since we’re trying to recreate that summer here in 2011, it makes sense to repost the post in its entirety rather than simply linking to it. I’ve added a few hyperlinks and some perspective from the present, too.
July 31, 1976, is a Saturday. Elvis Presley, on his last tour, plays Hampton Roads, Virginia. Eric Clapton plays London. Jethro Tull plays Tampa, Florida. Barry Manilow plays Philadelphia, where health officials are struggling to figure out what mysterious disease sickened over 200 people and killed 34 during an American Legion bicentennial gathering a few days earlier. It’s been nicknamed “legionnaire’s disease.” The Montreal Olympics are coming to an end, as an East German marathoner wins the gold in the final event of the games, and six athletes, five Romanians and a Russian, defect to Canada. The Green Bay Packers play the earliest preseason game in their history, losing to the Cincinnati Bengals, 23-16. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers play the first game in their history, losing to the Los Angeles Rams, 26-3. Future pro football player Marty Booker is born. In Colorado, a foot of rain falls in the mountains, causing a flood in Big Thompson Canyon that kills 150 people. NBC airs the first-season finale of its new weekend late-night show, NBC’s Saturday Night, hosted by Kris Kristofferson. (His wife, Rita Coolidge, is the musical guest.) Sketches include “Samurai General Practitioner” and “Gynecologist Blind Date,” with Kristofferson and Jane Curtin. Other TV programs on the air that night include the syndicated soap Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman and The Invasion of Johnson County, a western starring Bill Bixby. NASA releases a photo taken by the Viking Mars probe before it landed on July 20. It seems to show a face on the Martian surface, but NASA says it’s merely a rock formation and nothing mysterious. A UFO is sighted in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin. Louisiana adopts petrified palm wood as its official state fossil.
On the Billboard singles chart dated July 31, “Kiss and Say Goodbye” by the Manhattans is spending its second week at Number One; “Love Is Alive” by Gary Wright is Number Two; Starbuck’s “Moonlight Feels Right” is at Number Three; Number Four is “Afternoon Delight” by the Starland Vocal Band. The Beatles and the Beach Boys are back-to-back at Numbers 7 and 8, with “Got to Get You Into My Life” and “Rock and Roll Music,” the first time both bands have been in the Top 10 at the same time since . New in the Top 40 are “Say You Love Me” by Fleetwood Mac, “Play That Funky Music” by Wild Cherry, “Who’d She Coo” by the Ohio Players, “Shake Your Booty” by KC and the Sunshine Band, and War’s “Summer.” Two versions of Bobbie Gentry’s “Ode to Billie Joe” are bubbling under the Top 40—one is the 1967 original, the other is a new recording from the hit movie of the same name. New on the Hot 100 that week: “Still the One” by Orleans and “Don’t Fear the Reaper” by Blue Oyster Cult. George Benson’s Breezin’ tops the album chart.
And I probably drove my 1974 AMC Hornet somewhere that night, with the radio on, of course. It was a Saturday, after all.
There’s more on the flip, including a bit of American Top 40.
Perspective From the Present: In the years since 1976, I have imagined July 31 as the hinge on which my favorite year turns. It’s when the summer turns imperceptibly toward the fall of 1976, which is the season in which I would live forever if I could. I may have perceived a turning point at the time, but only inasmuch as the county fair ended on Sunday, August 1. The fair always drew a line across the summer, and left us with only a little more than three weeks until school started again.
Where I went in the Hornet that night 35 years ago was almost certainly to the fair. And I was probably in a pretty good mood to begin with. On Friday night, our Church League softball team had enjoyed a rare laugher, a 16-to-1 victory over Washington Township. Could that have been the night I went two-for-three including a solid double over the shortstop’s head? I can still the ball sailing into the gap, and I still remember how surprised I was to have hit it that hard. It was the second-greatest moment of my sorry athletic career.
I found time to listen to American Top 40 on that weekend, probably on Sunday night, probably on WROK from Rockford, Illinois—and would probably have had to try and pick out the last few songs through the static after the station cut its power at sundown. I had been rooting for “I’ll Be Good to You” by the Brothers Johnson, a favorite song of the moment, to reach Number One, but it had spent two weeks at Number Three. Maybe you had to be a 16-year-old Top 40 geek to feel the clanging sense of disappointment when it dropped to nine, destined never to make the top. Here’s that segment of the show, which is being rebroadcast around the country this weekend. It also includes a couple of other songs, and another remarkably lame trivia question sent in by a listener who already knows the answer.
American Top 40 segment, 7/31/76 (it’s never necessary to download these; you can go to the link and just listen)