I turned fours years old in May 1976. That’s not much, but I have memories that are from those times. Small stuff. Our home. Family. My birthday party. Nothing of consequence to anybody but me.
I wonder what I would have thought about the trends in popular culture had I been old enough to have an opinion? I’d like to think if I were a teenager then that I would have been listening to albums like Thin Lizzy’s Jailbreak or High Voltage by AC/DC. I loved both almost two decades later.
It’s far more likely that I would have been listening to the odd mix of sounds coming from top 40 radio. Here’s five from the top 5 from back then.
5. “Right Back Where We Started From” by Maxine Nightingale
It peaked at #2 on the Hot 100 in early May. It’s a catchy tune that’s both disco and R&B retro at the same time. Sung by Maxine Nightingale——a mixed-race Brit who was a professional stage performer in the European productions of shows like Hair and Jesus Christ Superstar——it was a massive international hit. Look at this cutting edge “video” of it.
4. “Young Hearts Run Free” by Candi Staton
What can I say? It’s disco in all it’s mid-70s magic but it’s also a solid R&B dance song by a really talented singer. It peaked at #2 on the R&B charts in May 1976 but didn’t make it beyond #20 on the Hot 100. It was her only real hit in the US but her voice carried her to greater success in the UK. (A memorable remake updated with a 90’s techno sound played a part in Baz Lurhmann’s 1996 hit movie Romeo + Juliet.)
3. “Boogie Fever” by The Sylvers
From Watts, The Sylvers were a musical group of brothers and sisters who had a collection of hits in the late seventies. This was probably their biggest hit; it was the #1 song in the country on my birthday. If you listen, it’s easy to hear how they’re kind of lifting some of the mojo of The Jacksons. Even today, it’s still a catchy song.
2. “Welcome Back” by John Sebastian
Former Lovin’ Spoonful frontman John Sebastian wrote this as the theme song to the ABC sitcom Welcome Back, Kotter. Starring comedian Gabe Kaplan (he started each episode with a corny joke, which I loved when I finally became a fan of the show in syndication in the 80s), the show premiered in fall 1975 and became a ratings sensation, catapulting the young John Travolta to fame. It also did good by Sebastian’s theme song. When somebody realized they could make some money off the tune, Sebastian wrote it out from a theme to a single, adding a second verse that didn’t exist at first. The single went to #1 the week before “Boogie Fever.”
1. “Fooled Around and Fell in Love” by Elvin Bishop
I’m not sure this song has ever left classic rock radio play. I knew it by the 80s but it wasn’t until the 90s that I came to admire it for the vocal performance. It doesn’t avoid vocal challenges and it hits every one of them that it takes. It makes for a memorable song. I came to own the single when I bought both volumes of the soundtrack to Paul Thomas Anderson’s Boogie Nights (1997). Since then, I’ve known it well and often sing along to it when it comes on the radio. (I don’t ever succeed at those vocal challenges, but I still try.) Well, it wasn’t until right now that I discovered Elvin Bishop was a blues guitarist who didn’t even sing on this, his biggest hit (it peaked at #3 on the Hot 100 in May 1976). The vocal brilliance I’ve always loved was none other than a young Mickey Thomas, who would go on to more fame as the lead singer of Starship in the 1980s. I did not like Starship in the 1980s. But I still like this. And so do a lot of younger people. It was rediscovered after its use in Guardians of the Galaxy.