(Pictured: the Mahavishnu Orchestra, with John McLaughlin on guitar, second from left, Billy Cobham on drums and Jan Hammer on keyboards.)
If you are sick and tired of my obsession with 1976, this post isn’t going to help any. In my defense, it comes from a different angle than the usual—it’s the survey from KCR, the college station at San Diego State University, dated March 1, 1976. It’s got a handful of the major hits of the moment: Frampton Comes Alive, A Night at the Opera, Bad Company’s Run With the Pack, David Bowie’s Station to Station, and Desire by Bob Dylan. Here are other interesting entries from a list that’s divided between “daytime” and “nighttime,” although there’s plenty of overlap between ’em:
1. (daytime)/8. (nighttime) How Dare You/10cc. This album comes between The Original Soundtrack (with “I’m Not in Love”) and Deceptive Bends (with “The Things We Do For Love”) without a big single, although “I’m Mandy Fly Me” and “Art for Art’s Sake” made the lower reaches of the Hot 100. The band’s sense of humor undercut any pretensions they had to being a serious prog rock band—not that there’s anything wrong with that.
5. (nighttime) Maxophone/Maxophone. Chances are good that if you are able to name one Italian prog rock band, it’s PFM (Premiata Forneria Marconi). Now you can name two. Maxophone was a six-piece band made up of avant-garde classical musicians and rockers. They released their debut album in both Italian and English; the Italian version has been re-released in the CD era. You can listen to the whole dang thing here.
6. (daytime)/9. (nighttime) Paris/Paris. This is how Bob Welch spent his time between leaving Fleetwood Mac and launching his solo career, in a power trio with former Jethro Tull bassist Glenn
Cornish Cornick and Nazz drummer Thom Mooney. Welch made two albums under the Paris name (the second with a different drummer, Hunt Sales, son of Soupy and future collaborator with David Bowie in Tin Machine), but the band would be defunct by the end of ’76.
6. (nighttime)/Inner Worlds/Mahavishnu Orchestra. No self-respecting album-rock radio station of the late 1970s would fail to play a bit of jazz fusion, although Allmusic.com notes in its biography of the Mahavishnu Orchestra that the band was considered a rock band in its prime. Inner Worlds was the last album John McLaughlin would make under the Mahavishnu Orchestra name until 1984. Stoners of 1976 would probably have dug “Miles Out,” on which McLaughlin creates various otherworldly noises with his guitar.
7. (nighttime) When an Old Cricketer Leaves the Crease/Roy Harper. You have heard Roy Harper sing, even if you don’t realize it—that’s him on Pink Floyd’s “Have a Cigar.” He’s also the inspiration for Led Zeppelin’s “Hats Off to Harper,” and he is in general a lot better known and more influential in the UK than over here. When an Old Cricketer Leaves the Crease (one of the great album titles of the 1970s) was released in the UK, it was known as HQ. The somber, stately title song is here.
15. (nighttime) King Brilliant/Howard Werth and the Moonbeams. During the early 70s, Werth had been in the British band Audience; according to Wikipedia (so who the hell knows), the surviving Doors asked him if he’d be interested in replacing Jim Morrison. (Spoiler: he didn’t.) King Brilliant was produced by Elton John’s longtime producer Gus Dudgeon, and it’s not hard to imagine its lead single, “Midnight Flyer,” as an Elton hit.
It seems pretty clear that like many college radio stations then and now, KCR was Very Serious About the Music, and in a way you can only be when you’re of college age.
One Other Thing: Radio geeks are mourning the demise of the Loop, the Chicago album-rock station purchased by a non-commercial group that will put a syndicated Christian format on it, perhaps by the time you read this. The Loop was owned by a group that was in over its head and thereby ripe for the kind of picking it got. But in its heyday, it was a station that mattered to people. There aren’t too many stations like that; in every market in the country, half the stations could go dark and in 48 hours, it would be like they never existed. But the Loop was a tastemaker, as Professor O’Kelly put it. It was a special place to work, as Rick Kaempfer noted. And in Chicago, it will be missed.
(The main part of this post was rebooted from one that first appeared in March 2013.)
(Pictured: In December 1975, Bob Dylan did a series of benefits for imprisoned boxer Rubin “Hurricane” Carter, during which he was joined onstage by Joan Baez, Roberta Flack, and Allen Ginsberg, among others. I think I see a couple of Eagles in there too.)
Coming home from the Twin Cities the other night, I reached into the CD bag and pulled out something labeled “January 1976.” Here’s some stuff about some of the songs on it.
“Saturday Night”/Bay City Rollers. On January 21, 1976, New York radio legend Dan Ingram treated his WABC listeners to what he called an outtake from a recent visit by the Rollers to the studio, on which the band has trouble spelling “S-A-T-U-R-D-A-Y.” Today, you could create such a production on your laptop; in 1976, it required you to cut and splice tiny bits of recording tape. So we salute, as Ingram does, Engineer Mike, “who has a bad case of spliceman’s thumb this morning.”
“Convoy”/C. W McCall and “Hurricane”/Bob Dylan. A few years back, I tried making a link between these two very opposite-seeming records. You’ll have to tell me if it worked.
“Over My Head”/Fleetwood Mac. In country radio right now there’s an absolute plague of records that fade in. I presume there’s an iPod- or Spotify-related reason for this, but if you still value the dying-if-not-dead art of good radio board work, these fades complicate your work immensely. For “Over My Head” to become an AM radio hit in 1976, it had to jump out, so it was remixed to create an introduction that replaced the fade-in heard on the album version. And jump it does—unlike the current batch of fade-in country records, which kill forward momentum only to have to try and start it up again.
“I Cheat the Hangman”/Doobie Brothers. I wonder why the Doobies’ label thought “I Cheat the Hangman” was a likely single. As good as it is, it’s just too much for AM radio, although it got to #60 on the Hot 100.
“Theme from Mahogany“/Diana Ross. Listening the other night I was struck by the similarities between this record and one that would top the charts almost exactly one year later: “Evergreen” by Barbra Streisand—big movie songs sung by multimedia superstars, and quiet little interludes during otherwise noisy seasons.
“I Love Music”/O’Jays. I don’t need all of “I Love Music” to get me back to the winter of 1976; the bongos that lead into its chugging Philly soul beat are more than enough.
“Rock and Roll All Nite”/KISS. I did not enlist in the KISS Army. They were too much of a cartoon for teenage me. Today, their ability to ride minimal chops and hideously bad taste straight to immortality looks like the quintessential American success story.
“Winners and Losers”/Hamilton Joe Frank and Reynolds. Another casualty of our Spotify/song-skipping way of listening to music is the instrumental intro. They’re getting shorter and shorter, as producers figure that people want to hear Ed Sheeran sing, so let ’em hear Ed Sheeran sing rather than having to wait through 14 seconds of Ed’s band playing before Ed starts up. (This is the same line of thinking that has killed the mid-song instrumental solo.) But the instrumental intro is the radio jock’s canvas; take it away from me and I can’t do my job. “Winners and Losers” starts with 13 seconds of glory that requires a jock to be awesome.
“Yesterday’s Hero”/John Paul Young. The Bay City Rollers recorded “Yesterday’s Hero” on their 1976 album Dedication, and some people probably have heard John Paul Young’s version thinking it was the Rollers. But Young did it first, and over two years before hitting with “Love Is in the Air.”
“Love Rollercoaster”/Ohio Players. My CD contains the long version of this, which runs 4:50, tightens the groove, and rocks like crazy.
“Paloma Blanca”/George Baker Selection. It was the 70s. We couldn’t help ourselves.
“Break Away”/Art Garfunkel. The album Breakaway (note that its title is one word while the title song, written by Benny Gallagher and Graham Lyle, is two) is gorgeously produced by Richard Perry. I’d like to live inside the sound of it.
“Back to the Island”/Leon Russell. The lazy seaside vibe of “Back to the Island” sounded pretty good on the radio in the depths of that bygone winter.
I have a whole series of CDs devoted to 1976 because of course I do. I have lots of car time in my future over the next few weeks, so maybe I’ll write about them after I’ve listened to them.
(Pictured: Elton John and Rod Stewart on the soccer pitch.)
Radio Rewinder is a fascinating Twitter feed that somehow has only a few more followers than I do. It posts old record charts, pictures of radio personalities, and other ephemera very appealing to a geek such as I. A post the other night was a scan of the Billboard Hot 100 chart for the week of November 13, 1976.
As I look at this chart, I get the same sensation I used to get from reading baseball box scores, standings, and the long lists of hitting and pitching leaders that ran in the Sunday paper. It represents a record of what mattered at that moment, and who, a repository of truths (and illusions), and the raw material from which an infinite number of stories could be told.
I won’t make you wade through an infinite number, but you can find a few on the flip.
(Pictured: while Tennille mugs for the camera, the Captain writes down an idea before it can get away.)
We here conclude an annotated list of the Top 56 hits of 1976 from WIND in Chicago.
12. “Shop Around”/Captain and Tennille. When the Miracles recorded “Shop Around” in 1960, Smokey Robinson sang it as a young man getting dating advice from his mother, who tells him to play the field instead of setting down with one girl too soon, which is advice no red-blooded American boy really needs. The Captain and Tennille’s version drops the mama references and switches gender, and that simple flip turns the song into timely advice from an older woman to a younger one that self-worth doesn’t have to be tied to whether you belong to a man.
11. “Welcome Back”/John Sebastian. I have been on a 70s TV kick this year, rewatching several dramas and sitcoms of the time. What I enjoy about them, apart from the durable style of storytelling and their well-drawn characters, is their un-selfconsciousness. Many current network TV shows seem to labor at trying to show how clever and/or edgy they are. TV shows of the 70s were what they purported to be. Welcome Back Kotter promised big broad laffs from goofy characters, with occasional moments of hugging and learning. It’s not a show I feel like I need to rewatch along the others, but I’m glad it existed.
10. “If You Leave Me Now”/Chicago. Chicago had scored big with soft-rock love songs before (“Wishing You Were Here” and “Call on Me” both hit #1 on the Easy Listening chart), but “If You Leave Me Now” seemed a little fluffier than the others. That’s not a bad thing, just an observation.
9. “Lonely Night (Angel Face)”/Captain and Tennille. While Tennille takes care of business out front, the real fun is in the back, with all sorts of interesting musical noises going on behind her. The Captain played everything except drums, which were provided by the towering Hal Blaine.
8. “Convoy”/C. W. McCall. Songwriters don’t really care to tell stories anymore. Not even in country music, where only Carrie Underwood does it regularly, but tells the same story—woman gets revenge on the guy who wronged her—in nearly every song. What made “Convoy” a hit, as much as its timeliness at the height of the CB craze, was the fact that it’s a well-constructed story, with rising action, a stirring climax (“we crashed the gate doing 98”), falling action, and strong characterizations. Just like the ones you studied in English class.
7. “Afternoon Delight”/Starland Vocal Band. If I ever think of anything new to say about this song, you’ll be the first to know.
6. “December 1963 (Oh What a Night)”/Four Seasons. The story is told that “December 1963” was written as “December 1933,” and was originally about the repeal of Prohibition. But since love just as well as liquor can give you a rush like a rolling bolt of thunder, spinning your head around and taking your body under, it couldn’t have been that hard to update.
5. “Disco Duck”/Rick Dees. I can tolerate this, should it pop up on shuffle, but only once a year.
4. “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart”/Elton John and Kiki Dee. Songs from 1976 almost always take me back there in my head. “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart,” however, has never done that for me. Figuring out why would probably require me to undergo deep psychoanalysis—which is not a bad idea, actually.
3. “Bohemian Rhapsody”/Queen. Only a handful of stations ranked “Bohemian Rhapsody” among their Top 10 hits of the year, as WIND did. WKBW in Buffalo and WDRC in Hartford had it at #1. Billboard ranked it at #18. The verdict of history is that it will be on the list of songs, and Queen will be on the list of bands, that every new generation discovers, and that will always be cool.
2. “Silly Love Songs”/Wings. Love it or hate it, you can’t deny the gift of McCartney’s songcraft—to take something as lightweight as this and turn it into such a powerful earworm.
1. “Tonight’s the Night”/Rod Stewart. Billboard‘s chart year ran from November to November, so the eight weeks “Tonight’s the Night” spent at #1, from November 13, 1976, to January 8, 1977, counts entirely in the 1977 chart year. So Billboard‘s declaration that it’s the #1 single of 1977 is an accounting anomaly. “Tonight’s the Night” clearly belongs precisely where WIND ranked it—as the most successful single of 1976.
Coming tomorrow, in the last post of 2016: a programming announcement.
(Pictured: Les McKeown of the Bay City Rollers signs an autograph for the distilled essence of Rollergirl fanhood, 1976.)
Here’s the next part of our countdown of the top 56 hits of 1976, as listed by WIND in Chicago, 560 on your AM dial, then and now.
36. “Love Hangover”/Diana Ross. Although Diana was Oscar-nominated for Lady Sings the Blues, her performance on this—woozy, erotic, and on the edge of losing control without ever going over—is her best acting job.
35. “Saturday Night”/Bay City Rollers. Thunderous.
34. “More Than a Feeling”/Boston. For a long time, I could take this or leave it. As the years go by, however, I find myself not only wanting to take it, but to hold onto it.
33. “Love Rollercoaster”/Ohio Players. The single version of this starts with 16 seconds of introductory goodness that practically dares a radio jock to be awesome.
32. “I’d Really Love to See You Tonight”/England Dan & John Ford Coley. That line about a warm wind blowing the stars around is a nice bit of writing.
31. “Let ‘Em In”/Wings. Paul McCartney tossed off Wings at the Speed of Sound in a hurry so he’d have something new to play on Wings’ 1976 tour of America. The best song on the album is neither “Let ‘Em In” nor “Silly Love Songs,” however. It’s the flip side of the “Let ‘Em In” single, “Beware My Love.”
30. “You Are the Woman”/Firefall. Another great radio record; it runs 2:35, which is all it needs.
29. “Get Up and Boogie”/Silver Convention. “Get Up and Boogie” was a #2 hit because of the first two seconds, and the way those two seconds sound on the radio next to whatever they’re next do. All the rest of the song is extra.
28. “A Fifth of Beethoven”/Walter Murphy. I’m probably wrong about this, but it strikes me that “A Fifth of Beethoven” marked the end of pop music’s wholesale plundering of classical music for themes and melodies, which had been commonplace since the Jazz Age.
27. “Rock and Roll Music”/Beach Boys. Many retrospectives written this year about the music of 1976 share one thing in common: strong dislike for this record. It was the 70s, it was the summer, it was the Beach Boys. Don’t think too hard about it, kids.
26. “Get Closer”/Seals and Crofts. Another iteration of the age-old axiom: you gotta give a little to get a little. Although in a more sexist age than ours, the singer was actually saying that he hadda get a little to give a little.
25. “Dream On”/Aerosmith. Unlike KISS on “Beth,” Aerosmith doesn’t seem to be faking it here.
24. “Theme From ‘SWAT'”/Rhythm Heritage. And not just SWAT, but the theme from nearly every cop show in the 70s.
23. “Muskrat Love”/Captain and Tennille. I have told this story before, but it’s worth repeating: credit (or blame) for this goes in part to Madison radio legend Jonathan Little, who played the Captain and Tennille’s version on WISM before everybody else and encouraged its release as a single.
22. “Right Back Where We Started From”/Maxine Nightingale. “We’re gonna get right back to where we started from.” Sounds like a blog with which you might be familiar.
21. “Got to Get You Into My Life”/Beatles. A comeback like no other.
20. “Devil Woman”/Cliff Richard. Perfect timing for Richard’s first significant American hit, as Halloween closed in.
19. “Disco Lady”/Johnnie Taylor. Your mileage may vary, but I find this to be one of the few songs with the word disco in the title that doesn’t sound embarrassing now. One thing is certain, though: it’s another intro that makes radio jocks want to show off.
18. “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover”/Paul Simon. In which the universe makes a subtle joke at humankind’s expense by sending this to #1 on Valentine’s Day.
17. “Shannon”/Henry Gross. It took 40 years, but I finally hear the cheese in this record that some people heard in 1976.
16. “I Only Want to Be With You”/Bay City Rollers. Every teenage rage aspires to be considered respectable. Covering a classic is one way to do it, as long as you do it well, which the Rollers did.
15. “Play That Funky Music”/Wild Cherry. Certain records are woven into the fabric of their times.
14. “Boogie Fever”/Sylvers. And some are not.
13. “I Write the Songs”/Barry Manilow. In which music speaks to us and says “When I look out through your eyes / I’m young again even though I’m very old.” Those of us who listen hope for a similar blessing.
Coming in a future installment: WIND’s top 12 hits of 1976.
(Pictured: KC and the Sunshine Band, 1976.)
Traditionally, the last couple of posts of each year at this blog have been reviews of one or more year-end radio surveys. Here we go with this year’s entirely predictable feature.
One of the presets on my car radio in 1976 was WIND from Chicago at 560 on the AM dial. Today, it’s a right-wing talk station. Forty years ago, it was a hybrid that permitted it to survive in a market where a more famous station did not. The great Top 40 war between WLS and WCFL had ended in March with WCFL’s fabled format change, but 5,000-watt WIND soldiered on, playing a lot of the same music as its 50,000-watt competitors. WIND’s wrinkle was heavy doses of talk, especially at night. Clark Weber, who had spent the 60s on the morning show at WLS and did time at other major Chicago stations after that, hosted a talk show called Contact from 10 til midnight; overnights were occupied by talker Eddie Schwartz, who spent nearly a decade at WIND before moving to WGN, where he spent another 10 years. In 1976, former Contact host Dave Baum had moved to mornings on WIND; he was known mainly as a talk host.
But from 10AM through 10PM, WIND played a lot of music. Midday jock Chuck Benson had come to WIND in 1968 to replace veteran Chicago morning star Howard Miller; evening host Connie Szerszen was the first female rock jock on Chicago radio; afternoon guy Stu Collins is still doing radio today, on a station in my hometown, using his real name, which is not Stu Collins.
And at the end of 1976, WIND published its list of the year’s top 56 hits, briefly annotated below.
56.-55. “Never Gonna Fall in Love Again” and “All By Myself”/Eric Carmen. Although neither of these has worn very well with me these last 40 years, it was clear from the first note in the winter of ’76 that “All By Myself” was going to be a monster.
54. “Fox on the Run”/The Sweet. Might sound better on the radio than “Ballroom Blitz,” which is really sayin’ something.
53. “Rubberband Man”/Spinners. Joyous.
52. “Nadia’s Theme”/Barry DeVorzon & Perry Botkin Jr. Radio craftsman geek alert: this sounded great coming out of a jingle, with solo piano notes falling like single snowflakes out of a gray sky.
51. “You Should Be Dancing”/Bee Gees. Receives special citation for excellent cowbell deployment.
50. “You Make Me Feel Like Dancing”/Leo Sayer. Wouldn’t hit #1 in Billboard until January 1977, but big enough in ’76 to rank here.
49. “Beth”/KISS. I like this much less now than I did then. All I hear today is a band straining to be the opposite of everything they really are.
48. “Let Your Love Flow”/Bellamy Brothers. Never made the good times/great oldies pantheon despite hitting #1 in Billboard.
47. “The Boys Are Back in Town”/Thin Lizzy. A perfect summertime rock ‘n’ roll record, and the best guitar riff of the year, Peter Frampton notwithstanding.
46. “You’ll Never Find Another Love Like Mine”/Lou Rawls. Lou Rawls was a damn national treasure, and not enough people believed that.
45. “Let Her In”/John Travolta. No, up your nose with a rubber hose.
44. “Love to Love You Baby”/Donna Summer. Jeez, lady, tone it down a little, can ya?
43. “Rock’n Me”/Steve Miller Band. The best music is often the simplest.
42 “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald”/Gordon Lightfoot. The best stories are often the true ones.
41. “Dream Weaver”/Gary Wright. Flying away to the bright side of the moon seems like a pretty good idea most days.
40. “Breaking Up Is Hard to Do”/Neil Sedaka. I have said before that this song should have been a ballad in the first place, instead of a cheesy dance-rocker.
39. “Shake Your Booty”/KC and the Sunshine Band. Can you remember hearing the word booty as a synonym for backside before this record hit?
38. “More More More”/Andrea True Connection. Whenever I hear this, it’s summer in my head.
37. “Happy Days”/Pratt & McClain. “Rock ‘n’ roll with all my friends / Hopin’ the music never ends.” Thank goodness it hasn’t ended yet.
That seems like a good place to pause in the countdown. Look for more in a future installment.