(Pictured: Bicentennial fireworks explode over the tall ships in New York Harbor, July 4, 1976.)
Over the years I have written many, many One Day in Your Life posts about days in 1976. I have resisted repeating every one of them for The 1976 Project, but I’m making an exception for this one, which first appeared in 2011.
July 4, 1976, is a Sunday. It is the American Bicentennial, a celebration that has been in the making for several years. President Gerald Ford visits Valley Forge and Philadelphia for activities marking the date. In suburban Philadelphia, the NFL Eagles open training camp. New coach Dick Vermeil, annoyed by the fireworks he can hear bursting around the city, tells an aide, “I don’t care whose birthday it is, tell them to turn it off.” After Philadelphia, Ford heads to New York for Operation Sail, the flotilla of ships from around the world sailing in New York Harbor, before returning to the White House. Presumed Democratic presidential nominee Jimmy Carter spends the day in Westville, Georgia, dedicating a new courthouse. The United States Fish and Wildlife Service officially lists the bald eagle as an endangered species. In Uganda, Israeli forces rescue Jewish hostages held by terrorists at Entebbe Airport. The National Air and Space Museum opens at the Smithsonian. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall suffers a heart attack, leading to speculation that he might resign his seat. A power plant malfunction in Wyoming leaves about a million people in Wyoming, Nevada, and Utah without power for as much as six hours.
In the first game of a doubleheader in Pittsburgh, Philadelphia Phillies catcher Tim McCarver hits a grand-slam home run, but is called out for passing teammate Garry Maddox on the bases. The Phillies win the game anyway, but the Pirates take the nightcap. It’s one of four doubleheaders scheduled in the majors today. Cale Yarborough wins the NASCAR Firecracker 400 at Daytona.
At the Roundhouse in London, the Ramones play their first British gig, opening for the Flamin’ Groovies. The Sex Pistols play the Black Swan in Sheffield, England; opening for them is a newly formed band called the Clash. A musician named Tom Petty writes a song called “American Girl.” In future years, it will be rumored that the song is about a girl who committed suicide jumping from a dormitory tower at the University of Florida, but Petty won’t say, and researchers will find little confirming information. Elvis Presley’s tour continues in Tulsa. Elton John plays Schaefer Stadium in Foxboro, Massachusetts, and Fleetwood Mac plays Tampa. On a special edition of American Top 40 heard around the country this weekend, Casey Kasem plays each song that was Number One in America on July 4 from 1937 through 1976. Still topping the nation’s singles chart on this day: “Silly Love Songs” by Paul McCartney and Wings, for a fifth week. “Afternoon Delight” by the Starland Vocal Band is right behind. The only new song in the Billboard Top 10 is Gary Wright’s “Love Is Alive.” The biggest mover in the Top 40 is “Let Her In” by John Travolta, leaping from 26 to 13. New in the Top 40 are “I Need to Be in Love” by the Carpenters, “Silver Star” by the Four Seasons, and “A Fifth of Beethoven” by Walter Murphy.
In Wisconsin, a 16-year-old AT40 fan doesn’t listen to the radio much on this Bicentennial day, although last night, he was up late listening. WMAQ, a country station in Chicago, counted down its top songs of all time. Number One was “Behind Closed Doors” by Charlie Rich. Today, he spends most of the day at a family picnic, although is able to watch some of the TV coverage of bicentennial events. That night, he and his family will go to their traditional spot to watch the hometown fireworks. It seems to him as though life is going on as it always had. Years from now, however, he will understand that the summer of 1976 is not just different. It’s eternal.
(Pictured: a young man examines a display in the “Think Metric” exhibit at Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry in 1975.)
In December 1975, Congress passed the Metric Conversion Act, which set up the U.S. Metric Board to coordinate a voluntary transition to the metric system. (It was to be complete by the end of 1992.) Some industries—particularly those doing business worldwide—switched over; many more did not. You probably could have predicted that Americans would in general resist the metric system, but at the time, we weren’t quite as cynical as we are now. And so there was a concerted and completely serious public effort to get people on board with the metric system.
One of the most interesting artifacts I’ve ever seen from this era is on a radio station survey from WLAC in Nashville, dated June 21, 1976. It’s headed “Metro Music Metric Survey” and “Hits That Measured Up,” and that’s only the beginning. On the front cover, on either side of the obligatory DJ photo, are a pair of rulers, one showing inches and one showing centimeters. Across the page from the hit list, there’s a chart showing how to convert length, area, mass, volume, and temperature—although the table shows how to convert from metric to English units and not vice versa, which might have been more useful for teaching purposes. WLAC apparently did this for a while in 1976—a survey from April has the same metric extras. But by sometime in late ’76 or 1977, WLAC would drop the metric stuff from their surveys.
I have written a million times about the songs at the top of this survey, so let’s listen to some of the obscurities further down:
18. “The Hungry Years”/Wayne Newton (up from 19). This was the title song of the album that brought Neil Sedaka back to prominence in 1975, and I can remember hearing his version of the title song on the radio back then. Newton’s version was his first chart hit in over three years and made it to #82 on the Hot 100.
19. “Good Vibrations”/Todd Rundgren (up from 23). In 1976, Rundgren released Faithful, which included a side of songs from 1966, not merely covers but recreations of the originals as closely as possible. (Also included were songs by the Yardbirds, Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix, and two by the Beatles, “Rain” and “Strawberry Fields Forever.”) Critics liked the originals on side 2 much better, but you can judge for yourself: listen to the whole album right here.
20. “Lonely Teardrops”/Narvel Felts (up from 22). Besides possessing one of the countriest names in country, Narvel Felts did pretty well for himself in the middle of the 1970s by covering familiar hits: Dobie Gray’s “Drift Away,” the blues standard “Reconsider Me,” and “Lonely Teardrops,” originally made famous by Jackie Wilson, were all Top-10 hits on the country chart. “Lonely Teardrops” made #62 on the Hot 100.
22. “Framed”/Cheech and Chong (up from 25). From the album Sleeping Beauty, “Framed” is better remembered for its appearance in the duo’s first movie, Up in Smoke.
29. “Yes, Yes, Yes”/Bill Cosby (down from 10). Apart from his long string of very successful and very funny comedy albums, Cosby hit the Hot 100 with five singles, including the 1967 Top-10 hit “Little Ole Man,” a parody of Stevie Wonder’s “Uptight.” “Yes Yes Yes” is a Barry White/Isaac Hayes parody; it made #46 on the Hot 100 and was Cosby’s last Hot 100 single. The album from which it came, Bill Cosby Is Not Himself These Days, was his first in three years, and is made up entirely of musical parodies.
The Metric Conversion Act was modified by later acts of Congress and executive orders, and the Metric Board went out of business sometime in the 80s. However, it’s still the official position of the U.S. government that we’re going to switch to the metric system eventually, even though it’s clear to the rest of us that absent an invasion and takeover by some metric power, we never will.
(Partially rebooted from a 2008 post, but mostly new. Imagine that.)
(Pictured: Johnny Cash as Grand Marshall of the Grand Bicentennial Parade in Washington, July 4, 1976.)
(Before we begin: watch this space on Memorial Day Monday for a special programming announcement.)
I have often written here how forgotten records of various genres populate the first hour of many American Top 40 repeats, and that they sometimes clash weirdly when played back to back. Those clashes are part of the fun of hearing the reruns today, although I’m sure they make program directors squirm a little bit—and to be fair, they may have made program directors squirm a little back in the day, too.
I’ve been listening to the May 22, 1976, show over the last few days, and there’s a stretch of that broadcast that makes you wonder just what format you’re listening to. It starts innocuously at #36 with Olivia Newton-John’s “Come on Over,” a song by Barry and Robin Gibb that was also a Top-10 hit on the country charts. Up next at #35 is the highest-debuting song of the week, “I.O.U.” by Jimmy Dean. At the time, Dean was known to most as the star of commercials for his sausage company, although he had been a TV star for years before that, and he scored a number of sizable spoken-word hits in the 1960s, including “Big Bad John” and “P.T. 109.”
May 22, 1976, was a Saturday; the previous Sunday would have been Mother’s Day, which explains why “I.O.U,” in which Dean describes how grateful he is for all the services his mother provided him over a lifetime by reciting them over a weepy string track, would have zoomed into the 40 from #83.
After “I.O.U,” which runs 5:57 (and which seems twice as long), Casey teases that he’s going to answer a question from a listener about the highest-charting answer record in pop history. Then he kicks into Gary Wright’s latest, “Love Is Alive,” at #34, and normalcy seems to return. After the record’s over, he answers the question: the top answer song of all time is Jeanne Black’s “He’ll Have to Stay,” a response to Jim Reeves’ 1960 classic “He’ll Have to Go.” Two more country songs, although both went Top 5 on the pop chart as well. (Hear ’em both here.) And after this bit of trivia, Casey moves on to #33: “One Piece at a Time” by Johnny Cash.
By this point, a Top-40 listener could scarcely be blamed for thinking he’d tuned in the wrong station, at least until the Doobie Brothers (“Takin’ It to the Streets”) and Rhythm Heritage (“Baretta’s Theme”) set things aright, although Elvis and the Bellamy Brothers will be heard shortly with songs that were also big country hits.
Up at #24, Casey plays “Union Man” by the Cate Brothers, not a country song but one with the working-man sensibility country audiences would recognize. As I listen, I remember that in 2006, National Review published a widely mocked list of the Top 50 Conservative Rock Songs, and I wonder why “Union Man” didn’t make the list. It’s highly ambivalent on the subject of labor unions, and the song’s protagonist would probably have ended up a Reagan Democrat.
Well I know I need to help get that raise
There’s one thing I don’t like
Tell me how can I feed my hungry family
When you say I’m going on strike
Hey hey Mr. union man
How’m I gonna pay my dues
Owe more money than I can pay
Looks like I’m bound to lose
YouTube DJ Music Mike has more on the Cate Brothers and “Union Man” here.
Both “I.O.U” and “Union Man” were at their chart peaks on May 22, 1976. “I.O.U.” would bring AT40 to a dead stop again the next week at #35 and “Union Man” would hold at #24. “I.O.U.” would be gone from the countdown (and the Hot 100) the week after that, while “Union Man” would spend one last week on the 40 during the week of June 5 before plunging to #96 and out. And 40 years after they ran the charts together, “I.O.U.” and “Union Man” stand as dusty, forgotten monuments to the unparalleled diversity of 70s radio pop.
(Rebooted from a post originally appearing in 2010.)
(Pictured: a streaker intruded on the closing ceremonies of the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal, because of course he did.)
Here’s more about my 1976 daybook, rebooted from a series of posts that originally appeared in 2009.
The majority of the notes in the book are the birthdays of famous people and weird holidays, which must have seemed important to me back then, although I can fathom no reason for them now except chronic geekitude. I occasionally took a break from the trivia to note the scores of games I was interested in, or involved in. I occasionally noted news items, the weather, days off from school for snow, or the word “HOT” in all caps (as on July 10, when it was 104 degrees in Madison). On July 17, I noted the start of the Summer Olympics in Montreal, and Nadia Comaneci’s perfect 10s in gymnastics on the 19th and the 21st. On the 20th, I noted the Viking I landing on Mars.
But details of my day-to-day life are maddeningly sketchy. On Thursday February 5, I wrote “Make yourself do it!,” which undoubtedly involved asking somebody for a date. (This I did not do. Suffering in unrequited silence was how I rolled back then.) On Sunday the 8th, we celebrated my paternal grandparents’ 50th wedding anniversary with an open house in the church basement. Somewhere I have a photo of myself manning the guest book that afternoon, 70s resplendent in a loud plaid sport coat and bright red polyester pants. On March 1, the day after my 16th birthday, I stayed home from school with a cold.
On Thursday, March 4, I wrote, “lights out 11:30AM.” This was the beginning of the fabled ice storm of 1976, one of the most powerful winter storms ever to bash my part of Wisconsin. The electricity would stay out until Sunday March 7, when I wrote “lights on after 76:19 with none.” A note on the Saturday of that weekend says, “Appointment at WEKZ 8-830AM.” I presume I got there despite the weather—it was the first in the series of Saturday morning hang-outs at the station which I hoped would result in a job. On April 14 I would write, headline fashion, “WEKZ Wants Me During the Summer,” but it turned out that they didn’t. They never officially offered me a job, and when I stopped hanging out at the station for free, they decided I wasn’t interested anymore, which is crazy, because I was obsessed with radio. That’s why Monday, March 15, had been a noteworthy day: “CFL Switches to Easy Listening: Where Can We Go to Rock and Roll?” I was listening that afternoon during one of the most extraordinary radio format changes in history.
Later in March, my closest friend got his driver’s license, and we went “cruising” (our word) that night. On Tuesday April 6, I wrote: “Got class ring & report card (eesh),” which refers to a C+ in plane geometry and a D+ in chemistry. Bad grades didn’t get me grounded, however. That weekend, there was a basketball marathon at our high school—teams signed up to play for an hour at a time, and games ran from noon Friday through midnight Sunday. A bunch of us went to the local drive-in theater on Friday night and then played games at midnight and 5AM. I had never stayed up all night before.
The next week, on April 13th, 1976, I got my driver’s license. Then April rolled on and turned to May: Getting a copy of Monty Python’s Matching Tie and Handkerchief (April 17), my cousin’s confirmation (April 25), going to see The Exorcist at the drive-in (May 2). I was equipment manager of my high-school baseball team that spring; the season ended on Tuesday May 25, the same day I bought a compilation album called Silver Bullets. On May 29, the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend, I wrote, “Bought ’72 Hornet.” I didn’t actually buy it—my parents did—but it was going to be mine. I have always remembered the car as a ’74. Did I get it wrong there, or have I had it wrong ever since?
In the next installment: The height of summer comes—and goes, without actually achieving any height.
(Pictured: Emerson Lake & Palmer.)
In the summer of 2009, I wrote a four-part series based on a daybook I kept during 1976. It wasn’t a diary; it was a page-a-week calendar on which I noted various bits of trivia day by day: celebrity birthdays, odd holidays—and, most significant now, brief notes about things happening in my life. It had been boxed away for a very long time, and when I rediscovered it, I hoped that it might help me better understand why 1976 has a hold on me that I’ll never shake. The first part follows, slightly edited.
Like all other years, 1976 had a lot of music in it. On Sunday January 11, the family made a trip to the mall in Madison, and I bought Kraftwerk’s Autobahn album. The next week, I noted that I had borrowed Emerson Lake and Palmer’s Brain Salad Surgery album from a friend. (I borrowed Frampton Comes Alive! from another friend that spring, although I didn’t write it in the daybook. I ended up buying him a replacement after somebody stole it out of my locker.) On February 29, I celebrated what would have been my fourth “real” birthday, and among the gifts I received was Station to Station, David Bowie’s latest album, which I got on an 8-track tape. I bought a couple more albums in March: Queen’s A Night at the Opera on the 12th and Tangerine Dream’s Rubycon on the 14th.
The juxtaposition of those two albums amuses me now: Queen defiantly asserted “no synthesizers” on A Night at the Opera‘s liner notes, while Tangerine Dream was entirely electronic, and that’s why I bought it, even though I’d never heard of Tangerine Dream. I got it in a cutout bin for a couple of bucks, imagining it would be full of the proggy synthesizer pyrotechnics I was into at the moment. What it was, however, was ambient music, which was a fairly big leap for me (Autobahn notwithstanding). The album is still up here in the office somewhere, although I don’t think I’ve listened to it more than a couple of times. I decided to stick with prog rock. On July 16, I bought Rick Wakeman’s No Earthly Connection.
As the summer began, I started noting the names of the artists that were being featured every night on Madison’s WIBA-FM, starting with Monty Python on June 1. Other artists featured that month: Jethro Tull, the Charlie Daniels Band, the Beatles, Paul Butterfield, Brian Auger, Ace, Pablo Cruise, Little Feat, and Alice Cooper. I would keep it up all summer. When Paul McCartney and Wings (June 2) and Elton John (July 28 and 30) played concerts in Chicago, I wrote that down, too. At the top of each weekly page, I noted the Number-One songs and albums of the week, taken from the various countdown shows I followed religiously. On July 3, I listened as WMAQ, Chicago’s big country station, counted down the top 76 country records of all time—such was my chart geekery in that summer.
So what the daybook indicates first and foremost is that music was everything to me in 1976—but that wouldn’t have been news to anyone then, and it isn’t news to you now.
In the next installment: brief and maddeningly incomplete glimpses of teenage life.
(Pictured: Helen Reddy, circa 1976.)
(This is a repost from 2014. Perspective at the end is from 2016.)
April 9, 1976, is a Friday. Frisch’s Big Boy Restaurants in the greater Cincinnati area invite you in for fish fillets tonight with fries, salad, and a roll for $1.60. It’s the second day of the major-league baseball season, but only two games were played yesterday; 16 teams open their seasons today, including the Chicago Cubs, who lose to the Cardinals 5-0 in St. Louis. On a trip to Texas, President Ford visits the Alamo in San Antonio during the morning and then goes to Dallas. He throws out the first pitch at the Texas Rangers’ season opener, staying only for the first inning. In the first pro sports event at the new Seattle Kingdome, Pele scores two goals as the New York Cosmos defeat the Seattle Sounders in pro soccer, 2-1. Folksinger Phil Ochs, most famous for “I Ain’t Marching Anymore,” hangs himself; he was 35. A strong earthquake kills eight people in Ecuador. In Nagoya, Japan, a 13-year-old boy takes a series of photos that seem to show a UFO. In Syracuse, New York, the Onondaga County Public Library unveils its new logo. In Madison, Wisconsin, the first edition of a new weekly newspaper, Isthmus, is laid out in the living room of one of its co-founders.
New movies in theaters include All the President’s Men starring Dustin Hoffman and Robert Redford and Alfred Hitchcock’s Family Plot. On daytime TV, Foster Brooks ends a week co-hosting The Mike Douglas Show; guests today include Gloria Swanson, Frankie Valli, and Geraldo Rivera. The Merv Griffin Show welcomes Kaye Ballard, Jack Jones, comedian Charlie Callas and impressionist Marilyn Michaels. In prime time, the animated special The First Easter Rabbit, featuring the voices of Burl Ives and Robert Morse, airs on NBC, and so does The Rockford Files. CBS airs an episode of Sara, starring Brenda Vaccaro as a schoolteacher in an 1870 Colorado town. She will be nominated for an Emmy, but the show will end after 13 episodes.
Rush plays the Indianapolis Coliseum with special guests Ted Nugent and the Sutherland Brothers and Quiver. On separate bills, Genesis and Donovan play New York City. The Electric Light Orchestra and Journey play Huntsville, Alabama. Bruce Springsteen plays Colgate University in Hamilton, New York.
The Midnight Special airs on NBC following Johnny Carson. Host Helen Reddy welcomes Fleetwood Mac, who perform a blazing version of their new hit “Rhiannon.” Also on the show, Gary Wright, Barry Manilow, Queen, and Hamilton Joe Frank & Reynolds, who perform “Fallin’ in Love” with Reddy and their recent hit “Winners and Losers,” and then come back for a second spot doing “Every Day Without You.”
Perspective From the Present: I was equipment manager of the high school baseball team, and we had a scrimmage on that Friday after school. That night, a couple of friends and I went to the local drive-in theater for what I recall as some terrible movies (although I don’t remember what they were), killing time until midnight. The Key Club at my high school was putting on a marathon basketball game that weekend, in which teams signed up to play for an hour at a time from Friday afternoon through Sunday night. I was on a team scheduled to play at midnight and again at 5AM, so the night of April 9 and 10, 1976, marked the first time I ever stayed up all night. Spring break (known to us then as Easter vacation) started on Monday the 12th. On the Tuesday the 13th, I passed my behind-the-wheel test and got my driver’s license; on Wednesday the 14th, the local radio station said they’d hire me for the summer—although they didn’t follow through on that.
An eventful few days, for sure. And now 40 years behind us.