Thursday, March 9, 2017

Billboard Top Ten March 13, 1976

It’s been way too long since I’ve done a top ten list. I choose this week pretty much at random, and liked what I saw. I tend to see 1976 as a big turning point in popular music, one where disco and punk were coming in and upending everything. The wildly different songs on this list are evidence of how unsettled things were getting. And now, on with the countdown!

10. Larry Groce, “Junk Food Junkie”

In 1976 silly novelty songs could still find their way into the top ten. This is a jokey folk song about a hippie who professes to love health food, but who secretly eats junk food like a drug addict. In a lot of ways it's a sign of the times, the earnest counterculture losing sight of its values and personal freedom devolving into the pure pleasure principle.

9. Rufus featuring Chaka Khan, “Sweet Thing”

This right here is some smoooooooooth music. 1976 was the opening year of the Yacht Rock genre, and I think this song definitely qualifies to come on the boat. Chaka Khan’s vocal work in the 1970s is highly underrated, and really helps sail this melodic ship out to sea.

8. Nazareth, “Love Hurts”

This is one of those songs for me that’s defined by a movie, namely the scene in Dazed and Confused when the eighth graders are slow-dancing at their last junior high dance. One of the characters is about to have a romantic moment, but his buddies drag him away, the girl looking hurt. It echoes the song, and also how its over-emoting is more fit for the Sturm und Drang of middle school rather than the more controlled, cool adolescence demanded by high school, which the characters in the film are anxious to participate in.

7. Rhythm Heritage, “Theme From SWAT”

In case you didn’t believe me already, now you’ve got proof that 1976 was the year that disco truly broke. And nothing is more disco than a discoed up version of a 70s cop show theme song. Those wonderful disco strings just swing away like nothing else. Disco in fact may have been the last genre of popular music to really utilize strings in an interesting way, before synthesizers replaced everything.

6. Captain and Tennille, “Lonely Night (angel face)”

A guy in a captain's hat playing piano for a toothy-smiled singer with a Dorothy Hamill haircut wearing disco dresses might be the most seventies thing ever. This song hit the top ten, but you never hear it nowadays. It's actually pretty musically complex, as if Darryl Dragon was trying to write a song for Steely Dan or imitate a deep cut on a 10cc record. There's twists and turns and weird doo-wop flourishes. It sounds very odd for a pop song, but when a group gets this popular, I guess they are able to get their stranger stuff on the charts.

5. Gary Wright, “Dream Weaver”

This is probably the only soft rock hit of the 70s that routinely finds its way onto classic rock radio playlists. Very catchy on the chorus, but the over the top studio effects are almost a parody of 1970s production techniques. The bass is pretty funky, though.

4. Eagles, “Take It To The Limit”

The Eagles suck.

Just wanted to get that out of the way, so you don’t take what I am about to say the wrong way. They were a band with several talented members, including original bassist Randy Meisner. I have a special affection for him, since he, like me, hails from the great state of Nebraska. This is a pretty little wistful song, so much less overwrought than the decadent tales like “Hotel California” and “Life in the Fast Lane” that came from the same album. They’re supposed to be edgy takes on life in 70s LA, but I find them to be hilariously silly.

3. The Miracles, “Love Machine”

Some great acts from the sixties managed to find a way back onto the charts this late in the seventies (more on that in the number one slot.) Known as the backing band for the great Smokey Robinson, the Miracles managed to put out this wonderful slab of discofied funk on their very own. It’s catchy, fun, and danceable, but the voices a little more weathered than the average disco tune, which gives it an air of authority.

2. Eric Carmen, “All By Myself”

The seventies was the golden age of mopey pop ballads. On this song Eric Carmen gives even Gilbert O'Sullivan a run for his money in the sad sack sweepstakes. In an era when the divorce rate was skyrocketing, I think this song must've really struck a nerve.

1. The 4 Seasons, “December 1963 (Oh, What a Night)”

The Miracles weren’t the only 60s act to ride the disco train in the spring of 1976. The 4 Seasons’ trademark harmonies of their heyday were very old fashioned already by the Bicentennial, so they smartly put them to the side on this track. It’s groovy and enjoyable, the nostalgia for the time right before the sixties exploded mixing uneasily with the very modern disco sounds underneath. Somehow the combination works, and this song never fails to get me moving.

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