Top 40 of Summer '76: Misty Blue
And so here we are, the final installment of the 40 most memorable records from my favorite summer, 1976. (40-31 here, 30-21 here, 20-11 here.)
This is not a list of the 40 most-critically praised records of the summer, or the 40 biggest sellers--it's a list of the records best able, 29 years later, to bring back the way it felt to listen to the radio during that summer. And so we've got to acknowledge that some of those records were, taken strictly on aesthetic grounds, lame. Many of them are nowhere to be found on any respectable oldies-radio playlist today. That's fine with me, because this list is all about the time travel. Even a fairly stupid record can still take you back, if you really want to go.
10. "More, More, More"/Andrea True Connection. The story goes that True was an ex-porn star, and this tune makes you believe it. She can't sing all that well, but she does a terrific come-on. The sweatiest record of the summer. (Chart peak: #4, July 17)
9. "Shop Around"/The Captain and Tennille. It is a tribute to Smokey Robinson's talent as a songwriter that this song survived the C&T treatment. The best record they ever made, and second place isn't close. (#4, July 10)
8. "Shannon"/Henry Gross. Not quite a one-hit wonder, but close enough. A fake Beach Boys record about the death of the family dog--which you could still do without irony in the 1970s. (#6, June 5)
7. "Misty Blue"/Dorothy Moore. Proof of the old saying that there's a thin line between pain and pleasure. Compare the pain in Moore's voice as she sings "Oh I can't, oh I can't, oh I can't forget you/My whole world turns misty blue" with the pleasure it brings you to hear her sing it. Southern soul's last great gasp. (#3, June 12)
6. "Love Is Alive"/Gary Wright. One of the summer's best hot-night-driving-around records, with a great intro for radio guys to talk over. I picked up Wright's Dream Weaver album in a two-dollar CD bin a few weeks ago--and it's better than I thought it would be. (#2, July 31)
5. "Baby I Love Your Way"/Peter Frampton. The single most powerful time-travel moment from the summer of '76 comes when the electric piano player takes his solo, and fireflies light up the August night. I can see them even in the dead of winter. (#12, August 28)
4. "Fooled Around and Fell in Love"/Elvin Bishop. Mighty elegant stuff for a guy who claims an alter-ego named Pigboy Crabshaw. Get the long version for more of the intro, a longer guitar solo by Bishop, and more of that beautifully arranged vocal on the fade. (#3, May 22)
3. "Get Closer"/Seals and Crofts. One of the best love-me-or-leave-me records you'll ever hear. Gains extra points for spicing up S&C's near-terminal whiteness with a vocal line from Honey Cone's Carolyn Willis. It can only be a trick of memory, I guess, that this record, which didn't do much for me during its original chart run, has become one of that summer's most powerful time-travel triggers now. (#6, July 24)
2. "Afternoon Delight"/Starland Vocal Band. This record ranks where it does partly because it was inescapable during the summer of 1976--you would have to have been living in Antarctica to miss it. In addition, it entered the Top 40 the week after Memorial Day and fell out the week after Labor Day, so it became inseparable from every other experience of that summer. Especially if you had the Top 40 on for 16 or 18 hours a day. (#1, July 10)
1. "Moonlight Feels Right"/Starbuck. Never mind that the big instrumental solo is on a xylophone. (Play that funky music, white boy.) The lyrics were a cut above the typical moon-June stuff, however ("I'll play the radio on southern stations/cuz southern belles are hell at night"), so it's fun to sing along with. On this record, Starbuck sounded as suave and cool as I wished I could be. "Moonlight Feels Right" is all about the anything-can-happen romance of summertime, and it captured perfectly the weightless, escapist spirit of that summer's Top 40. In addition, it reached its peak of popularity during the same week the summer reached its height--and so it deserves to top this list. (#3, July 31)
In the end, maybe the appeal of "Moonlight Feels Right" (and other songs on this list) is indescribable, at least in the terms I'd like to be able to convey. I warned you when this blog began that sometimes, it was going to be so personal that only I would get it. Maybe this is one of those times. But if you happen to hear the quintessential song from your quintessential summer in the next few weeks, before summer turns to autumn, listen hard and try to remember how it felt to be you, then. You may find that your own time portal is coming within reach. I'll be looking for mine.