Sunday, March 6, 2011

Not exactly a food or travel post: Odes from 1976

UPDATE: The 20 WORST songs from 1975-76 -- see toward the end, just above the official top 20 pop songs from June, 1976.

 If you didn't grow up in it, the era of the high school class of 1975-76 might seem musically dreary. It was not.

One blogger refers to it as the "Worst Year for Pop Music Ever." With such awful songs as Disco Duck, Afternoon Delight, I Write the Songs and anything by those cute kids, the Bay City Rollers, one could be forgiven for thinking that 1975-76 was tone deaf. Those who experienced the time might think so, too, if they weren't listening to good FM album rock stations.

Toward the bottom of this post I'll provide a list of more than 50 really good songs to come out of the year, and I'd like input to add more. But more important than any single record, 1975-76 (I write this now because Provo High School's 35th reunion is this summer) was notable for a body of truly momentous music. At the very bottom is the Pop Top 20 for graduation week -- a weak selection, indeed.

Oh, before I go farther, here's my food contribution to this post: Jerry's Hamburgers (with chili sauce, probably responsible for taking 1-3 years off of my life expectancy) and the Italian Place (with its own brand of cheese steak -- take another 1-3 years away). Plus, I had such a crush on a girl at the Pizza Palace that I once went there 31 consecutive days. Nope, never got a date. That's all I need to say about that.

So, to the music. Start with "Rainbow Rising." Former Deep Purple founder Ritchie Blackmore recruited Ronnie James Dio and produced 33 and a half minutes of beautiful heavy metal, complete with goofy fantasy-based lyrics: "All eyes see the figure of the wizard/As he climbs to the top of the world/No sound as he falls instead of rising." Blackmore was all into fantasy and stuff, but he couldn't write clever lyrics to support his habit like Robert Plant could.

And speaking of Plant, Zeppelin came out with two albums: "Presence" and the live concert album, "The Song Remains the Same" (basically the sound track to a movie of the same name). The latter is memorable to me for Plant's ad lib, "Does anybody remember laughter?" Because of bassist John Paul Jones' superb production work, I've always thought that Zep was better in the studio than live. Still, in the space of about a year they put out substantial recordings of both. As always, the studio album needs to be listened to entirely, not as a series of single tracks.These two albums followed closely on the heels of "Physical Graffiti", released in early 1975 and played on FM radio for years thereafter. Made up almost entirely of music Zep recorded in 1970-74, it included this memorable vinyl side of music: Houses of the Holy, Trampled Under Foot and Kashmir (the latter being the "Bolero" of rock music, if you know what I mean). Physical Graffiti is Zep's second-greatest album, topped only by the nearly perfect ZOSO.

And then came Boston. They had been recording at Tom Scholz' high-tech home studio and playing around the Northeast for years. They put it all together in 1976 with great pop hooks, organ and guitar riffs and the unforgettable voice of Brad Delp. I still remember going into the record store on University Avenue, where all new vinyl LPs sold for $3.99. Don't know how many needles I burned up playing that record, but it became the soundtrack for my freshman year of college.

In those days in Provo, Utah, there wasn't much taste for subversive rock and roll (fast forward to 2011 -- some things never change), so there wasn't much local interest in the Sex Pistols, the Ramones, or Warren Zevon, but they all emerged in 1976 with singular works. For every Captain and Tennille there was a "Wind and Wuthering" by Genesis. Barry Manilow is countered by AC/DC; Boz Scaggs makes up for ABBA. There were really interesting albums by Supertramp, Dylan (though I never have been able totally get him) put out "Desire," with the terrific track, "Hurricane." Yes, disco was hitting the air, but so was punk. A wide variety of punk is still around, it should be noted, while disco -- well it died hard and fast, returning to its roots in funk, R&B and soul.

Paul Simon came out with "Still Crazy After All These Years," which won the Grammy for Album of the Year in 1976, still one of his best records. ZZ Top put out a live album and toured through Salt Lake, complete with live longhorn steers on the stage. This was back when they were still playing stripped-down blues guitar rock and hadn't discovered synthesizers yet. (If you think "Eliminator" is the real sound of ZZ Top, go back and listen to "LaGrange.")

Four years before he gave us the classic line, "They do respect her butt" in his song, "Her Strut," a slightly more restrained Bob Seger released "Night Moves" that includes these truly classic rock songs: "Night Moves," "The Fire Down Below" (I did say only slightly more restrained), "Main Street," "Come to Poppa," "Rock 'n' Roll Never Forgets." Steely Dan warmed up for two of the finest pop/rock albums ever (Aja, 1977, and Gaucho, 1980) with the only slightly weaker "Royal Scam." Blue Oyster Cult announced "This Ain't the Summer of Love" on its critically acclaimed album, "Agents of Fortune."

Meanwhile, when he wasn't producing Warren Zevon's work, Jackson Browne put out his finest album, "The Pretender." If you think you know Browne's work from radio, guess again. And, about the time the '75-'76 school year began, a relatively unknown guy from New Jersey released an album called "Born to Run." Bruce Springsteen had come to the masses.

One of the big events of 1975-76 was the release of the film, "Tommy," based on the rock opera of the same name from a few years earlier by The Who. Nice idea. Bad execution. It did give us a few memorable moments, including Elton John's version of "Pinball Wizard," lip-synced to perfection in a senior year assembly (or was it Homecoming that fall?) by Mark Wiest. The movie was awful, as were most of the musical performances, falling far short of The Who's original masterpiece. The only good news was that it wasn't as bad as the truly awful movie version of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band in 1978.

Dominating the FM airwaves in 1975-76 was the bombastic, brilliant, bizarre, Bohemian Rhapsody. Name one song released in the past 25 years that has had the cultural impact and universality of Bohemian Rhapsody. Just one. No?

Aaah, the Floyd. Dark Side of the Moon was still playing all over FM radio, and then came Wish You Were Here in September of 1975. Never meant to be played as single tracks, this was never more true of what is all-but-certainly Floyd's second-greatest album. Still, the title track somehow became an encore number, while the multi-track "Shine On You Crazy Diamond" turned into a concert opener. Brilliant, dark, musically sophisticated and a pinnacle the Floyd never approached again, even on "Another Brick..."

And, finally, what can one say about Aerosmith's two stop-the-world-and-listen albums of 1975 and 1976: "Toys in the Attic" and "Rocks?" Can you imagine a world without "Dream On," "Back in the Saddle," "Last Child," "Home Tonight," "Walk This Way," or "Sweet Emotion?" No, I think not.

Did I mention, "Hotel California" came out in late 1976? Yes, yes, yes, it got too much airplay and became a parody of itself. But just put all that aside for just a minute and give the music a listen. It's really, really good.

So, joke about "The Convoy" all you want -- 1975-76 made up for some truly awful music by giving us some of the greatest stuff ever recorded. (Note: I'm cheating a little, including some songs and albums that were released in early 1975. But you can't have a list of songs from the school year of 1975-76 without Kashmir.)

Don't Fear The Reaper, Blue Oyster Cult
Breakdown, Tom Petty
More Than A Feeling, Boston
Free Bird (live version), Lynyrd Skynrd
Born to Run, Bruce Springsteen
Wish You Were Here, Pink Floyd
I'll Be Good To You, The Brothers Johnson
2112 Medley: Overture /The Temples Of Syrinx / Discovery / Presentation / Oracle: The Dream / Soliloquy / Grand Finale, Rush
The Boys Are Back In Town, Thin Lizzy
Tonight, Elton John
Love is the Drug, Roxy Music
Sara Smile, Hall and Oates
50 Ways To Leave Your Lover, Paul Simon
Give Up The Funk (Tear The Roof Off The Sucker), Parliament
Kid Charlemagne, Steely Dan
Here Come Those Tears Again, Jackson Browne
Crazy On You, Heart
Stargazer, Rainbow
New York State Of Mind, Billy Joel
Harbor Lights, Boz Scaggs
Anarchy In The U.K., The Sex Pistols
Get Closer, Seals and Croft
Dream On, Aerosmith
If You Leave Me Now, Chicago
Jailbreak, Thin Lizzy
Win, Lose or Draw, Allman Brothers
Lowdown, Boz Scaggs
New Rose, The Damned
Haitian Divorce, Steely Dan
Kashmir, Led Zepplin
Feel Like Makin' Love, Bad Company
Dream Weaver, Gary Wright
The Pretender, Jackson Browne
It's Over, Boz Scaggs
Couldn't Get It Right, Climax Blues Band
Rhiannon, Fleetwood Mac
Pinball Wizard, Elton John
Trampled Under Foot, Led Zeppelin
Walk this Way, Aerosmith
Carry On Wayward Son, Kansas
Victim Of Changes, Judas Priest
Slow Ride, Foghat
Too Old To Rock And Roll, Jethro Tull
Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word, Elton John
The Fez, Steely Dan
Long May You Run, Neil Young
Hotel California,The Eagles
Sweet Emotion, Aerosmith
Takin' It To The Streets, The Doobie Brothers
Tush, ZZ Top
Achilles Last Stand, Led Zeppelin
What Can I Say, Boz Scaggs
Year Of The Cat, Al Stewart
Play That Funky Music, Wild Cherry
Houses of the Holy, Led Zeppelin
Getaway, Earth, Wind and Fire
You'll Never Find Another Love Like Mine, Lou Rawls
Do You Feel Like We Do, Peter Frampton
Lido Shuffle, Boz Scaggs
This Masquerade, George Benson
Bohemian Rhapsody, Queen
Smokin', Boston
Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, AC/DC
Let's Stick Together, Bryan Ferry
Blitzkreig Bop, The Ramones
Somebody To Love, Queen
Rich Girl, Hall and Oates
Blinded By The Light, Manfred Mann
Say You Love Me, Fleetwood Mac
And … any five songs from Night Moves by Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band

Plus ... Warren Zevon's entire eponymous album.

Added: On the recommendation of classmate David Duke: Never Been Any Reason by Head East, Long May You Run by Neil Young and Freeway Jam by Jeff Beck.

UPDATE: Here, I add the worst 20 songs from 1975-76. It's trickier than it sounds. One shouldn't include obvious tracks like "Disco Duck," which were never meant to be taken seriously. For this list, only ostensibly sincere attempts to make good music will be considered for inclusion in the worst list. And so, in reverse order (saving the very worst for last):

20. I Write the Songs, Barry Manilow. Surely, Barry must cringe when this comes up on the Muzak at the grocery store (and, don't call him "Surely"). And, no, he didn't write it.
19-16. And now, we enter the Olivia Newton-John zone. Loves me some Olivia N-J, she of the breathy voice and big eyes -- not hard to look at, particularly if she's jumping around in Spandex, etc. But she put out some cringe-inducing, "did I just hear what I think I heard" tunes. And, so:
19: Please, Mr. Please, ONJ
18. Have You Never Been Mellow, ONJ
17. I Honestly Love You, ONJ
16. Come on Over, ONJ
15. Shannon, Henry Gross (I dare you, DARE YOU, to listen to this thing all the way through). This song is about a dog "drifting out to sea." I'm not kidding.
14-12. Captain and Tenille. I think I just threw up a little. They had their own TV SHOW! Their contributions to truly bad pop music of 1976 include:
14. Lonely Night (Angel Face), written by Neil Sedaka and performed by C and T.
13. Shop Around (an old Smokey Robinson tune that could have been listenable in other, more capable, hands), C and T
12. Muskrat Love (Oh, the horror, the horror). It was bad enough when America performed it. In C and T's hands it became epic.
13. Rather than giving Barry Manilow his own block, I'm sprinkling him throughout the list, as his contribution unbearably bad pop music is on a scale all by itself. At No. 13: This One's For You. (Manilow's secret -- production values that take us from pianissimo to an enormous crescendo in 3:45, backed by full orchestra, aided by a lot of echo for the voice.
12. Oh, what the heck, here's another: Looks Like We Made it, Barry Manilow.
11.Tonight's the Night, Rod Stewart. He actually sang these words, ostensibly to his "virgin child": "Spread your wings and let me come inside." Dude. That's sick.
10. Afternoon Delight, Starland Vocal Band. Don't think so? Listen to this version.
9. Confession time: I LOVE Ambrosia (the band, not the delectable dessert). I think "Holding Onto Yesterday" is one of the great pop songs ever. However, in all fairness, there is significant disagreement out there among those less cultured than I, so I include it on this list, from 1975. Just remember that if you agree, you're wrong. Listen to this version, done in the blues.
8-6. For the next three, I give you: The Carpenters. Oh, stop. She had a lovely voice and he had a nice touch for production and arrangement. But, please, could you really just listen to that stuff without keeping yourself busy doing something else, out of fear that some part of some tune would worm its way into your head and never leave? Ever? So, here they are, the worst of the worst, the Carpenters' three worst songs from 1975-76:
8. Only Yesterday.
7. Please Mr. Postman.
6. There's a Kind of Hush.
5. Kiki Dee, for whatever reason, became a protege of Elton John, to the point that he put out an unlistenable duet with her called "Don't Go Breaking My Heart." Elton, ya done broke mine with this abomination
4. You must respect a man who's been in the business for decades, but when Neil Sedaka released "Bad Blood," I had to listen to it in my pizza delivery truck for months. This, in turn, led to therapy as an adult and I still hold a grudge. So, Neil, you get No. 4 for Bad Blood.
3. I close with three terrible songs that made it to No. 1 on the pop charts in 1976. First, "Saturday Night," Bay City Rollers. No explanation required.
2. Theme from SWAT, Rhythm Heritage. (It was a bad TV show made worse when its theme song went to No. 1).
1. And, finally: A Fifth of Beethoven, Walter Murphy and the Big Apple Band. First, you don't mess with Beethoven, period. But turn the most famous four notes in the history of Western music into a disco tune? Just go away. Don't ever talk to me again. Ever. Not even to say you're sorry.

I close by paying homage to the top 20 singles during the week of our graduation, dreck and all:

1. Silly Love Songs, Wings.
2. Tryin' to Get the Feeling Again, Barry Manilow
3. Fooled Around and Fell in Love, Elvin Bishop
4. Shannon, Henry Gross (nominated for one of five worst songs of the year by me)
5. Love Hangover, Diana Ross
6. Get Up and Boogie, Silver Convention
7. Strange Magic, Electric Light Orchestra
8.Rhiannon, Fleetwood Mac
9. Happy Days, Pratt and McClain
10. One Piece at a Time, Johnny Cash and the Tennessee Three ("Boy Named Sue" was his only worse song)
11. Boogie Fever, The Sylvers (Wait for it, here comes disco)
12. Welcome Back, John Sebastian
13. Sara Smile, Hall and Oates
14. Show Me the Way, Peter Frampton
15. Misty Blue, Dorothy Moore
16. Sweet Love, Commodores
17. Young Blood, Bad Company
18. It's Over, Boz Scaggs
19. Fool to Cry, Rolling Stones
20. Love in the Shadows, Neil Sedaka


  1. first, what's your with Afternoon Delight?!?!

    secondly, you'd be surprised at the underground music seen in Utah County. very, very good ol' rock n roll stuff coming out of here.

  2. that's supposed to say "what's wrong with A.D.

    I was a little tired....

  3. Maybe one of the worst five songs ever recorded.