October 1977: Boogie Nights
(Eighth in a series. Navigate to the others from here.)
During the fall of 1977, when I was a senior in high school, I was approached by a group of cheerleaders (the only time such a thing ever happened, for damn sure) and asked if I'd DJ a postgame dance they were having. "I'd love to," I said. Only afterward did I remember that I didn't have a sound system that could do it. Fortunately, a few of my stereo-geek friends were eager to strut their stuff. One had a set of powerful JBL speakers; another had an amp with sufficient wattage to fill the cafeteria where the dance would be held. We scrounged a couple of turntables and rigged up a microphone after a series of trial-and-error experiments, and that was that. We did several dances throughout the school year.
At one point, somebody even wired up some disco-style lights so we could add a bit of disco-style ambience--although disco music was not especially popular, at least not in the fall. We had a rock-and-roll crowd--in fact, the single most popular record we played, the one guaranteed to clear the chairs and get everybody out on the floor, was "Peace of Mind" by Boston. It wouldn't be until the spring dances that we started getting disco requests.
Being the high school's ace DJ appealed to me. A lot. And there was a moment during one of the dances that the die was cast for my future. As we were setting up, I told my friends that I was going to play "I Think I Love You" by the Partridge Family at some point that night. They were aghast. I was adamant. About midway through the evening, I dropped the needle on it, and I will never forget the reaction. The first few notes of the introduction stopped every conversation in the room. A few people looked up at the balcony where we were set up. Then people started looking at each other.
I learned at that moment the power of the perfect song at the perfect moment, as well as the power of old songs to transport people back in time. I've never forgotten the lessons.
October 1977 wasn't one of the Top 40's golden seasons. Debby Boone's "You Light Up My Life" hit Number One on the 15th and wouldn't give it up until December, and it was emblematic of the generally bland nature of a lot of the most popular songs that month. Still, there were a few exceptions, and here are five of 'em. Well, six, actually:
"Star Wars-Cantina Band"/Meco and "Star Wars (Main Title)"/John Williams. The theme song from the hottest movie of our lives up to that time, in your choice of flavors, disco or symphony orchestra.
"Keep It Comin' Love"/KC and the Sunshine Band. As I've written here before, I love me some KC. Those who hated the repetition on KC's records surely hated this, which was the most repetitive of them all. But there's something to be said for getting into a groove and staying there for as long as it feels good, which this record does. Turn off your brain and shake your booty.
"Black Betty"/Ram Jam. In the context of 1977, this sounded like Ram Jam was fighting a one-band holding action against the encroaching blandness. A record so seriously loud and raunchy that it could probably kill Debby Boone.
"Boogie Nights"/Heatwave. This must have found its way onto our turntables during one of those dances, and in October 1977, it was one of the fastest rising records on the chart. Heatwave would score hits with better songs in 1978 ("Always and Forever" and "The Groove Line"), but this was their biggest.
"Strawberry Letter 23"/Brothers Johnson. I wrote about this song in January and posted it as part of a Forgotten 45s podcast (no longer available) in February. I'm putting it up again because it's one of the really great records of the 1970s. It frequently turns up on various oldies tapes of mine and on the computer, and it's inevitably the perfect song at the perfect moment.
(Buy "Strawberry Letter 23," as well as the Brothers' superb 1976 hit "I'll Be Good to You," here.)
Coming next: Lost in the new world.