For a long time, the upstairs of the house I grew up in was a shadowy and mysterious place, the bedrooms and closets used mostly for storage, the half-bath unused by anybody. It wasn’t until my brother and I were 12 and 10 that we took over the bedrooms. As the older brother, I got the more desirable one, on the south side of the house, with a porch outside. (The porch seemed like a good thing, but the floor of it was tin painted black, and even weak sunlight made it uninhabitable.) We were allowed to choose the paint colors we wanted; my brother went for something distinctive, bright red and dark blue, while I chose gray and a peculiar shade of green that was distinctive in its own bilious way. Each room was carpeted with something generic and indestructible, except for the hallway between the two rooms, which got the same orange-and-yellow shag that was on the stairs coming up.
I spent eight years in that room before I moved away from home for good, so it’s the place where more of the 70s happened to me than anywhere else. If the songs of our past take us to the places where we first heard them, then many of my songs take me into that room. Here are five of them on the radio 35 years ago this week, from the WLS survey dated April 9, 1977.
1. “Dancing Queen”/ABBA (up from 2). Fifteen years ago, I was student teaching in Iowa. My last official duty was to chaperone a spring formal, and when the DJ played “Dancing Queen,” which had been recorded before any of the students had been born, the place went crazy. Standing there that night with my own memories of “Dancing Queen” playing in my head from 20 years before, the collision of past and present—and future—made me woozy.
18. “When I Need You”/Leo Sayer (up from 27). I am not sure how the exquisitely beautiful and intensely romantic “When I Need You” failed to become a standard, although I understand Celine Dion has recorded it, which is not the same thing.
2o. “Say You’ll Stay Until Tomorrow”/Tom Jones (up from 22). It always amuses me to see this alongside “Fly Like an Eagle” and “Night Moves” and “Hotel California” and other songs of that spring that haven’t been off the radio since. “Say You’ll Stay Until Tomorrow” had gone to #1 on the country chart in February. It was Jones’ first top-20 hit since “She’s a Lady” six years before, and his last to date.
35. “Tryin’ to Love Two”/William Bell (up from 36). In 1977, I knew nothing about William Bell and his contributions to soul music at Stax, cutting “You Don’t Miss Your Water” and writing “Born Under a Bad Sign,” to name two. All I knew was that I liked “Tryin’ to Love Two,” which is an effective hybrid of southern soul, then breathing its last, and disco. It also features one of the most pleasing key changes I’ve ever heard, at the 2:00 mark of the video linked above.
41. “Disco Lucy”/Wilton Place Street Band (up from 43). It was the 1970s, and we couldn’t help ourselves: this is a disco version of the theme from I Love Lucy, a show that was still widely seen in 1977 despite having been off the air for 20 years. (For what it’s worth, The Onion‘s AV Club took up the question of why I Love Lucy has endured for 60 years earlier this week. As we often ponder the disappearance of one-time icons, you might find it interesting.)
After I moved out of the house, my youngest brother took over my room, repainted it, and redecorated it, so it ceased to be my room a long time ago. Today, when we’re home, I rarely go up there, and neither does anyone else. Whatever shades of the past might inhabit it must share space with cardboard boxes and old furniture. As it was 40 years ago, it’s a storage room again.
Programming Note: After a two-year hiatus, I have returned to the ranks of the writers at Popdose, which is providing a congenial home for World’s Worst Songs and The #1 Albums, two features I was doing for WNEW.com before it went tits-up last month. The first World’s Worst, about Sting’s 1986 hit “Russians,” appeared earlier this week. Your patronage now and in the future will be appreciated.