(Pictured: Potsie, Ralph, Richie, and the Fonz discuss vital issues of the day.)
Forty years ago this week, I was finishing up my sophomore year in high school by locking down my class schedule for the fall. For the first time, we were permitted to schedule classes ourselves instead of taking what they told us to take when they told us to take it. The baseball team, of which I was equipment manager, won one game and lost two. John Sebastian’s “Welcome Back” was the new #1 song on the Billboard Hot 100 dated May 8th, while the previous week’s #1, “Let Your Love Flow” by the Bellamy Brothers, plunged to #9. “Silly Love Songs” by Wings and Silver Convention’s “Get Up and Boogie” were new in the Top 10. The hottest record in the Top 40 was the Rolling Stones’ double-sided hit, “Fool to Cry” and “Hot Stuff,” which leaped from #46 to #20.
What’s at the top of that May 8th chart is the soundtrack of my life, and it plays in my head without the need for any other hardware. Down at the bottom, however, the going gets weird. That stuff is on the flip.
92. “The Fonz Song”/The Heyettes. The Happy Days theme song by Pratt and McClain hit the Top 20 during the week of May 8th. The show had just finished the 1975-1976 TV season at #11 in the ratings. (For the coming 1976-1977 season, it would be #1.) And nobody in America—not even Democratic presidential candidate Jimmy Carter—was more popular than Arthur Fonzarelli. A cash-in album called Fonzie’s Favorites was in stores, featuring a few reissued oldies, a disco number with impersonated voices of characters from Laverne and Shirley and Welcome Back Kotter, and “The Fonz Song,” grating girl group garbage featuring a Fonzie impersonator. Although he’s not heard on the record itself, Henry Winkler is shown on the cover wearing a button with his catchphrase, “sit on it.” (I presume he got paid for the use of his face, but I wonder.)
97. “Moonlight Serenade”/Bobby Vinton. This is a vocal version of the big-band standard made famous by the Glenn Miller Orchestra, done as a light disco number with a splash of the polka vibe Vinton took to the bank in the middle of the 1970s. It was a #15 hit on the adult contemporary chart, and you should just listen to it because my powers of description are not sufficient.
101. “I Gotta Get Drunk”/Willie Nelson. Outlaw country was having a very good year in 1976. Willie and Waylon Jennings had scored big earlier in the year with “Good Hearted Woman,” and the album Wanted! The Outlaws, featuring Willie, Waylon, Waylon’s wife Jessi Colter, and Tompall Glaser reached #10 on the Billboard 200. “I Gotta Get Drunk” is from a completely different album, however: Willie Nelson Live, recorded at a 1966 show in Texas but not released until a decade later.
104. “Baretta’s Theme”/Sammy Davis Jr. Baretta, starring Robert Blake as a plainclothes cop with a pet cockatoo named Fred, had just finished its second season in May 1976. A mostly instrumental version of “Baretta’s Theme” by Rhythm Heritage moved into the Top 40 during the week of May 8. Sammy’s version failed to make the Hot 100, even though it played over Baretta’s opening credits. (During the upcoming summer, Fred the Cockatoo would go on a nationwide tour of shopping malls; from July 21st through the 25th, he would appear at West Towne in Madison, Wisconsin.)
102. “Night Walk”/Van McCoy
105. “You’re Just the Right Size”/Salsoul Orchestra
109. “Midnight Groove”/Love Unlimited Orchestra
We were in the midst of a good year for big instrumental groups doing disco records. Van McCoy (“The Hustle”) would squeak into the Hot 100 with the vaguely mysterious “Night Walk.” The Love Unlimited Orchestra also tried bringing the late-night vibe on “Midnight Groove,” but failed to make the Hot 100 at all. Salsoul, made up of Philadelphia session players, hit the Top 40 twice in 1976, but “You’re Just the Right Size,” although it placed in the Hot 100, didn’t go the distance to the 40.
Before the month of May could end, the baseball team would go on an out-of-town trip during which team members, including the manager, stayed overnight with members of the opposing team. The guy who hosted me was not pleased at being stuck with a mere manager and treated me accordingly, so the weekend was miserable. But it was only a couple of days. After it was over, so was May, almost. And the most memorable summer of my life was about to begin.