Friday, August 06, 2004

Friday Top 5: At the Speed of Sound

No season of the '70s had better music than the summer of 1976, and no music is more evocative to me of its time than the hits of that summer. But instead of counting down the Top 5 singles, as we normally do on this feature, today I've got the Top 5 albums on the Billboard chart from this week in 1976.

Number 5: Spitfire by Jefferson Starship. The newly refitted Starship was coming off its biggest hit ever, the 1975 album Red Octopus, which was Number One for a month. So another album pegged to Marty Balin's love songs seemed like a good move, although it measured up neither commercially nor critically. Spitfire did spawn one excellent single, though--the Marty Balin love song "With Your Love," which was climbing the charts itself on this date in '76.

Number 4: Chicago X. The whole numbering-of-albums thing seemed like a good idea at the time, although now it makes them hard to differentiate. (Some people--not me--will say that since all of their albums sounded alike, it doesn't matter if they get confused.) Chicago X was the one with the band's first Number One single, "If You Leave Me Now," and the largely forgotten but equally fine "Another Rainy Day in New York City," which was actually the album's lead single.

Number 3: Wings at the Speed of Sound by Paul McCartney and Wings. In 1976, Wings toured the United States (a tour documented on Wings Over America, which would come out at the end of the year). The band recorded Wings at the Speed of Sound pretty quickly before going out, so it's a little thin, although four of its songs were featured on the Wings Over America tour. One of them, "Silly Love Songs," was McCartney's biggest solo hit up to that time.

Number 2: Frampton Comes Alive by Peter Frampton. I heard somebody joking that a copy of this album was issued to every teenager in America in 1976, and because that's not far from the truth, there's not much left to say about it, except to note that in early August, the single "Baby I Love Your Way" was climbing the charts. Talk about records evocative of their times: Even in the dead of winter, "Baby I Love Your Way" takes me to hot August nights, fading AM radio waves, and fireflies out my window.

Number 1: Breezin' by George Benson. Of all the longshots to make Number One in the 1970s, this might have been the longest. Although the mid 70s was the height of the jazz-rock fusion era, Benson's album is closer to straight jazz than fusion. His vocal on "This Masquerade" launched Benson's second career as a soft R&B heartthrob through the late 70s and early 80s. "Breezin'" was the last jazz album to make it to Number One. (Sorry, Kenny G doesn't count, although some people think Norah Jones does.)

Other major hit albums that summer were by Marvin Gaye, Led Zeppelin, the Rolling Stones, Queen, the Eagles, and Fleetwood Mac. It was good to have a record player back then. Or did you have 8-tracks?


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