Friday, July 22, 2005

Top 40 of Summer '76: Strange Magic

On with the countdown of the 40 most memorable records from the summer of 1976. (Numbers 40 through 31 are here; 30 through 21 here.) Now, where were we?

20. "Strange Magic"/Electric Light Orchestra. Those first few notes are the sound of heat rising and haze shimmering over the fields I could see no matter which window of the house I looked out of, on those humid days and nights full of all the possibility that comes with being 16, no matter who you are. (Chart peak: #14, May 22)

19. "Young Hearts Run Free"/Candi Staton. 1976 was the summer when Southern soul gasped out its last breaths before being drowned in disco, and this record is a link between one form and the other. One of the great DJ-talkover introductions of all time, too. (#20, August 21)

18. "Love Hangover"/Diana Ross. The Fifth Dimension actually released this first, but Diana's version blew theirs away. Ross spends most of this record improvising a sweaty vamp over a salacious disco arrangement--quite an achievement for one of the least spontaneous performers of all time. (#1, May 29)

17. "Kiss and Say Goodbye"/Manhattans.
Released in two versions: long, with the spoken opening ("This has got to be the saddest day of my life") for R&B stations, and short, without the spoken opening, for white pop stations. When you hear people say "They don't make 'em like that any more," this is what they mean. (#1, July 24)

16. "Silly Love Songs"/Paul McCartney and Wings.
In which Paul owns up to his taste for cotton candy, long after everybody already knew he had it. He wasn't the only one who liked 'em silly, as five weeks at Number One in two separate runs indicates. (#1, May 22)

15. "I'll Be Good to You"/Brothers Johnson.
I rooted for this record to make it to Number One like you root for your favorite team to win the championship, and was crushed when it stalled short of the top. Those synthesizer noises were once state of the art, and those backup singers deserve a prize for doing a lot with very little. The best groove of the summer. (#3, July 10)

14. "You'll Never Find Another Love Like Mine"/Lou Rawls. A declaration of romantic certainty, the kind of thing I always hoped I would be cool enough to say sometime. I never was. Still aren't. (#2, September 4)

13. "Fool to Cry"/Rolling Stones.
Lots of Stones records grab you from the first microsecond--think "Start Me Up," "Brown Sugar," "Satisfaction." This, too, but with a somber electric piano. Keith must have been at the bar. (#10, June 5)

12. "Rock and Roll Music"/Beach Boys.
History will note that the summer of '76 was the first time since 1967 that the Beach Boys and Beatles both put a record into the top 10 at the same time. This was retro, yes--but then again, it was exactly how we felt every time we turned the radio on that summer. (#5, August 14)

11. "Happy Days"/Pratt and McClain. All about being a teenager in the 1950s--and the 1970s, too. (#5, June 5)

Next Friday: We close out the countdown and the month of July with the top ten. When you see who's on it, I will have some 'splaining to do.


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