Yes, it’s not an Encore Performance. I listened to an American Top 40 countdown today that I hadn’t heard before. And here’s what I thought.
So here we are in the week ending Jan. 15, 1977. What’s shakin’?
- The Gerald Ford administration is entering its final days. Despite its brevity, it will be remembered as the time when some American performers shone at their brightest. (viz. Louise Lasser; the Starland Vocal Band; Bruce Jenner; Gabe Kaplan; and Aerosmith.)
- Baseball’s amateur free-agent draft takes place. Among those selected are future no-hit pitcher Dave Righetti (by Texas); Jesse Orosco, future holder of the MLB record for most games pitched (by St. Louis); and future Rochester Red Wings fan favorite John “T-Bone” Shelby (by Baltimore.)
- Actor Peter Finch, best known as the crazed TV anchor Howard Beale in “Network,” dies. Two months later, Finch becomes the first actor to posthumously win an Oscar.
- It’s a big week for football. The University of Pittsburgh team, featuring Tony Dorsett, claims the cover of Sports Illustrated, while the upcoming Super Bowl claims the cover of Time.
- Rolling Stone, meanwhile, puts a tarted-up Rod Stewart on its cover, while also prominently featuring an article called “New South Burn” credited to John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd. I’ve not heard of the article before, so I’m going to assume it was not a high point of their creative partnership.
And here’s what was on the charts already, with favourites in bold so you can see ‘em across a crowded room:
No. 40: A former Top 10 hit for the Bee Gees, “Love So Right” (and yes, the inevitable question about how it could go so wrong follows.)
This one just doesn’t have the spark to me … maybe it’s too slow.
No. 39, also a former Top 10 hit: England Dan and John Ford Coley, continuing the theme of heartbroken longing with “Nights Are Forever Without You.”
No. 38: Casey notes “an interesting chart occurrence” — only the third time an artist has hit the Forty with both studio and live versions of the same song. (Sorry, didn’t write down the first two, though I think one of ‘em was Barbra Streisand.)
Anywah, it’s Skynyrd with the live version of “Free Bird.”
The song kinda loses something in its single edit — it jumps straight from the slow verses into the three-guitar jam, which sounds even more like a hot mess as a result.
(What did Ronnie Van Zant do during the long instrumental jam section? Play tambourine? Go get some Gatorade? Fan Gary Rossington with his hat? Presumably there is footage somewhere that will tell me.)
No. 37: Barry Dvorzon and Perry Botkin Jr. with “Nadia’s Theme.” Did anyone besides Casey play this back-to-back with “Free Bird”?
And I wonder what Nadia Comaneci, heroine of the ’76 Montreal Summer Games, was doing in January 1977. Perhaps she was back in Romania, listening to a party official explain that surely she hadn’t expected to keep her preferential parking space forever.
No. 36: A debut appearance by a record whose creator hadn’t been on the Forty since 1969: Bob Seger, “Night Moves.”
The Carter administration would be significantly kinder to Detroit Bob than any previous time period.
For those keeping track, this marks three blasts of nostalgic romantic longing in the first five tunes. This is the best and most affecting of the three, even in its single edit.
No. 35: Casey lists all the awards Barbra Streisand has received — four Grammys, a Tony, an Oscar, a Georgie and an Emmy — and then plays her current hit, “Evergreen (Love Theme from ‘A Star Is Born.’)”
I might have that title backward but I don’t really give a damn.
No. 34: “Originally from England, now making their home in upstate New York,” Casey says, it’s Foghat with the incessant boogie of “Driving Wheel.”
Hey, Case: D’you mean upstate like Mount Kisco, or upstate like Tonawanda?
I had no idea Foghat had any connection to New York state, but maybe that explains why they seemed to play clubs in Rochester every time the seasons changed back in the late ’80s and early ’90s.
As for the song, I haven’t the first idea how it gathered enough commercial momentum to trouble Casey.
No. 33, debut: KISS with “Hard Luck Woman,” featuring the rheumy vox of George P.J. Criscuola of Canarsie, N.Y., which qualifies as upstate New York if you live in Rockaway Beach.
(“Sounds like Chris Norman,” my wife says of the song. “He’s stumblin’ in, you know.” She’s heard her fair share of these countdowns by now.)
No. 32, down 11: Another former Top 10 hit, “Muskrat Love” by Captain and Tennille.
I made it to the first chorus before skipping ahead to …
… No. 31: “19-year-old Donny and 17-year-old Marie,” Casey says, duetting on “Ain’t Nothing Like The Real Thing,” and actually maybe not doing it entirely horribly at that.
Andy Williams used to call the family “the one-take Osmonds” for their polish and professionalism … and as I listened, I imagined Donny and Marie rattling off a thousand other popular cover songs, all as reliable and professional and eager as a new McDonald’s franchisee building Big Macs.
(“I Second That Emotion”? I bet they coulda done that one pretty well.)
No. 30: For the folks listening to KJAS in Jackson, Missouri, it’s Dr. Buzzard’s Original Savannah Band with a tune Casey introduces as “Whispering,” but is better known as “Cherchez La Femme.”
Yeah, I went for the bold on this one; I’ll buy into the sassy, campy fun. I dunno how this song was received in Jackson, Missouri, but I imagine it went down a treat at New York City’s dance clubs.
No. 29: Another former Top 10 hit, Boston (go, Pats) with “More Than A Feeling.” What were we saying about nostalgic romantic longing a couple of records ago?
I still love the fact that most of the first Boston record was recorded in a basement in the Boston suburbs, and that this home-recording genius conjured up a sound that sounded like no one else.
No. 28, up seven in its second week on the chart: Steve Miller Band, “Fly Like An Eagle.” Icy cool, and by far the best of Miller’s big Seventies hits.
Though I wonder who else in 1977 was still going on about “the revolution” … ah, Steve, you lovable mush-head, you.
No. 27, down 15: Alice Cooper with “I Never Cry,” with its close-to-the-bone admission of alcoholism. (The Carter and Reagan administrations would not be kind to Alice on that account; within five years he would be recording albums he claims not to remember.)
For the record, this is a better ballad than “Love So Right.”
No. 26: Barry Manilow, “Weekend in New England” (go, Pats.) America’s top male singles artist of 1976, as per Casey, starts the new year on a high note.
Once again we do the nostalgic romantic longing thing, albeit reasonably successfully.
(“When will our eyes meet?” is a particularly great line … sometimes it’s the subtle moments that last forever.)
No. 25: “This Song,” George Harrison. Gotta love how Harrison could toss off a song about his plagiarism court case and still hit the Forty. Musta been nice to be ex-lead guitarist for the Beatles.
Is Eric Idle the only member of Monty Python to appear on a U.S. Top Forty record?
No. 24: For the cats and kitties digging WATT in Cadillac, Michigan, it’s Earth, Wind & Fire with “Saturday Night.”
Finally, some funk!
There’s something joyful about EWF’s best — maybe it’s the vocals — and while this isn’t their best tune, I still thought about bolding it for a good few minutes.
No. 23: The Bar-Kays, “Shake Your Rump To The Funk.” We went 25 songs without really grooving, and all of a sudden, our cup runneth over.
I found this kinda paint-by-numbers, for reasons I cannot explain … it is an exceedingly thin line between great Seventies funk and mass-produced, average, uninteresting Seventies funk.
No. 22: A song that originated in a U.K. advertising campaign, “Jeans On” by David Dundas.
Remarkably, in the promo video for this song, it is impossible to tell whether Mr. Dundas is wearing jeans … or any pants at all, for that matter.
No. 21, up five: Kenny Nolan, “I Like Dreamin’.” Gee, I wish I had that funk back, even the paint-by-numbers stuff.
No. 20: Mary McGregor, “Torn Between Two Lovers.” I could not help but imagine KISS performing this, with Mr. Criscuola keeping the four-to-the-bar beat on his bass drum.
I also could not help but imagine America’s less trustworthy young women using this song in 1977 to justify their slutty behavior.
(“Uh, yeah … just ’cause I slept with him doesn’t mean I don’t care about you … it’s just like in that song, and if it’s on the radio, it must be real.”)
No. 19, up nine: Manfred Mann’s Earth Band, “Blinded By The Light.” It’s OK; you know how it goes.
I think its author was still in court in January 1977, trying to break loose from his manager.
No. 18, down four: Yvonne Elliman, in the 40 for the first time since 1971, with “Love Me.”
OK, kinda watery. And apparently I’ve become a student of song construction, because when a bridge just sort of appears — as this one does, at about 1:45 — it always hits my ear funny.
No. 17, up two: The Jacksons with “Enjoy Yourself.” Nice buoyant swinging groove.
No. 16: Bread, “Lost Without Your Love.” As bland as, well, bread, and not their best.
No. 15: Casey tells the story of Queen’s Brian May building his guitar out of salvaged trash bits, then plays “Somebody To Love.” It’s OK but not my favorite of theirs.
(Casey also mentions that “a high-quality electric guitar runs about $500″ — that’s almost $1,900 today. I should like to think a decent axe could be had for less than that in 1977.)
No. 14, up six: The bad boys from Boston (go, Pats), Aerosmith with “Walk This Way.”
Wonder if Casey ever understood the reference to “you ain’t seen nothin’ ’til you’re down on the muffin” or whether it slipped past him.
This is the first thing resembling hard rock in a good 20 spots.
No. 13: One of 11 British acts on the countdown, ELO with “Livin’ Thing.”
Effortless, unforced verses and a big catchy chorus make a pop pleasure, even if the gypsy violin is a little goofy.
No. 12: Eagles, “New Kid In Town,” a shrink-wrapped slice of processed “country” from the nation’s new Number One album, Hotel California. You might have heard of it.
No. 11: Spinners with “Rubberband Man.” Absurd, funky and wonderful.
(I wonder what Bootsy Collins, then fronting the Rubber Band, thought of this song. Did he think they were biting on his style?)
No. 10: Burton Cummings, “Stand Tall.” Muy blando.
No. 9: Casey tells a story about how Engelbert Humperdinck’s management commissioned the breeding of a special Engelbert Humperdinck red rose, which cost $200,000 ($757,700 in today’s money.)
Then he plays Humperdinck’s big hit “After The Lovin’,” in which the Hump details what happens after he’s down on the muffin.
No. 8: Sylvers, “Hot Line.” One of those songs that exists solely for its chorus, and that does quite well based on that.
Casey says this is one of 10 disco records on the countdown, which surprises me … maybe we haven’t heard some of them yet.
No. 7: The last blast of Elton John’s great period, “Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word,” blue-moving down from No. 6.
It might be maudlin but I find it convincing.
No. 6: A former Number One hit, Rod Stewart with “Tonight’s The Night.”
How did Rod — formerly an amiable, ambling drunk — succeed in making himself over as a disco-era loverboy?
No. 5, up two: Brick, “Dazz.” It’s no “Dusic.”
No. 4: Last week’s Number One, Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis Jr. with “You Don’t Have To Be a Star To Be In My Show.”
I didn’t like it a lot but I liked it enough, I guess.Is that noncommittal enough?
(Which reminds me: There hasn’t been any Gladys Knight in this countdown; and with three records left, there probably won’t be. Shame, that.)
No. 3: For the folks digging KTOE in Mankato, Minnesota, it’s Rose Royce up two with “Car Wash.”
We’ve now had songs about muskrats, blue jeans and car washes on this countdown — Top 40 makes strange bedfellows.
Dumb funky fun with stupid lyrics.
No. 2, up two: Stevie Wonder’s “I Wish,” blowing everything else on the Top 10 (and, for that matter, the Top 40) out of the water.
“You grow up and learn that kinda thing ain’t right / But when you were doing it, it sure felt outta sight” pretty much sums it up in two lines.
(Did Casey count this as one of his 10 disco records? I sure hope not.)
And now, the nation’s new Number One single: Leo Sayer, “You Make Me Feel Like Dancing.”No, that’s not a typo; I like this song juuuuuuuuuust enough to bold it, even if it has no business being ahead of “I Wish.”
(“I Wish” would ascend to Number One the following week, so Leo didn’t take anything away from it.)
Men who shamelessly sing in falsetto own (viz. Brian and Carl Wilson) … and there’s a certain snap to the beat that makes it hard to forget.
I’m gonna hit Publish before I take back that last bold.