There is a large archive of Billboard magazine issues to read at Google Books, but the February 14, 1976 issue isn't among them. So, I'll once again plug my other music-related blog, 80s Music Mayhem. Over there, the "trip" through the decade has completed its fifth go-around and will start anew with 1980 next week.
Carole King - "Only Love Is Real"
(Debuted #77, Peaked #28, 11 Weeks on chart)
After recording a soundtrack album for the children's TV special Really Rosie in 1975, Carole King once again focused her attention on making pop music and enlisted the help of her ex-husband Gerry Goffin to help write some of the songs for her next LP Thouroughbred. She also reached out to fellow stars David Crosby, Graham Nash and James Taylor to help with the backing vocals.
Despite being more soulful than any of the records she'd issued since her breakthough Tapestry, "Only Love is Real" was the album's only Top 40 single. It was one of the songs she wrote herself, typically introspective but in keeping with the times (that is, after the time had passed to simply say "Love is all you need"). The song featured saxophone by Tom Scott and guitar by Danny Kortchmar that stand out above the other studio aces on the record.
It would stall at #28 on the pop chart, but became King's fourth and final #1 on the adult contemporary survey. By the way, King turned 70 just this past week. Hopefully, that doesn't make you feel old when you realize she was still in her twenties when she recorded Tapestry.
Sweet - "Action"
(Debuted #80, Peaked #20, 14 Weeks on chart)
After a period where the band made a their mark as one of the premier Glitter Rock bands, Sweet wanted to explore their harder-edged rock and pop sides and broke away from the writer/producer team of Mike Chapman and Nicky Chinn. In 1976, they relesaed the LP Give Us a Wink, which was entirely written and produced by the band.
"Action" was recorded separately from and issued as a single before the album came out. A straightforward rock song, it fared a little worse on the charts in the U.S. (#20 pop) and the band's native U.K. (#15 pop) than expected. That said, it would reach the Top 10 in a number of other countries across Europe and in Australia. It's a shot of adrenaline that really could have been given a better shot than the one it received, but the band's turn away from the Glam sound may have affected that.
Eddie Kendricks - "He's A Friend"
(Debuted #81, Peaked #36, 9 Weeks on chart)
After leaving The Temptations for a solo career, Eddie Kendricks went through a trejectory of sorts. He had a two-year period where it was hard to get anything going, followed by a period where his star burned very brightly and his hits "Keep On Truckin'" and "Boogie Down" were huge. By the time of "He's a Friend," the flame had died down again. It would be his last solo Top 40 pop single of the 1970s before his career cooled off considerably.
That said, "He's a Friend" is a very overlooked song that may have been a much bigger hit if it had been released just two years before. A positive-sounding song with a bright accompaniment that straddles the line between soul and disco, and touches on gospel as well. Kendricks makes clear in the last verse that the "He" in the title is Jesus. It would be a #2 R&B hit, the last time he reached the Top 10 there. It was also the last Top 40 pop until he reunited with former Temptation David Ruffin in 1985 and sang a revue of that group's hits with Daryl Hall & John Oates.
Larry Santos - "We Can't Hide It Anymore" (Not Available on iTunes)
(Debuted #83, Peaked #36, 10 Weeks on chart)
Once again, I'll let Music Mike handle the intro for Larry Santos in the video shown above. In short, he was a musician born in Upstate New York (not far from my own childhood hometown) who was a songwriter and studio performer who lent his voice to a number of commercials over the years.
Despite being a songwriter in his own right, his only hit single recorded under his own name was written by Barry Murphy. It's a song about infidelity, and is essentially the flip side of the romance mentioned in Billy Paul's "Me and Mrs. Jones." The relationship has now progressed beyond the stage where they're content to simply meet in an out-of-the way place. Now, the affair is starting to take its toll on the other parties and they're starting to ask questions.
Today, it's obvious why Santos failed to garner many hits after "We Can't Hide it Anymore." He was pushed into a blue-eyed soul format when he probably could have done well by working in Nashville. His voice stands out, enough that the syrupy string arrangement behind him and effects fail to help him. At the same time, his record label (Casablanca) wasn't targeting the country scene. He was definitely a fish out of water.
The Sylvers - "Boogie Fever"
(Debuted #84, Peaked #1, 24 Weeks on chart)
By 1976, it was becoming evident that the Disco movement was in full swing. With that in mind, the Sylvers recorded a song written for them by producer Freddie Perren about having a sweetheart who just can't stop moving to the beat and admitting that he's catching it too. The band was made up of siblings, a conglomeration of brothers and sisters that fluctuated through the years between seven and ten members; at the time they recorded "Boogie Fever," there were nine members in the act.
"Boogie Fever" would become a million-seller and the biggest hit of the group's career. It went to #1 on both the pop and R&B charts, making it their only chart-topper on either chart. It is a song that exemplifies the group's sound, which was very well-suited for the era they were active.
Freddy Fender - "You'll Lose A Good Thing"
(Debuted #85, Peaked #32, 10 Weeks on chart)
If "You'll Lose a Good Thing" sounds like it's a song that would have been a hit a decade earlier, there's good reason. It was a remake of a 1962 hit by Barbara Lynn, who also hailed from Freddy Fender's home state of Texas. Since Fender was essentially blowing the dust of what the radio people call a "moldie oldie," the song was infused with a retro touch that kept it fairly true to the original.
The song would become a crossover hit, reaching the pop Top 40 and hitting #1 on the country chart.
#1 country hit. It didn't need the gimmick Fender often employed in his music, where he'd insert a Spanish verse in the middle of the song that wasn't there originally. The song was just fine as it was, and Fender gives an excellent reading.
ABBA - "I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do"
(Debuted #86, Peaked #15, 15 Weeks on chart)
My wife has a friend who's a really dedicated fan of ABBA. Over the years, she has picked up just about everything she has been able to find on the group: books, magazines, posters, sheet music, videos...oh yeah, the records, too, including imports and bootlegs. However, there's one song of theirs she really doesn't care for. This one. She never really explained to me her reasons for disliking it, though.
Looking at it from the perspective as a historian, I think a song called "I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do" is perfect from a quartet that would eventually become two married couples. Kicking off with a retro saxophone intro, the song has a muddier production than the group employed in their later pieces of sonic ear confection that made them internationally famous. It was a #15 hit in the U.S. and a minor hit in the U.K, but hit the Top 10 in many countries across Europe, making it their second big hit and placing them well on the way to the phenomenon they were by the end of the year.
Jethro Tull - "Locomotive Breath"
(Debuted #88, Peaked #62, 8 Weeks on chart)
I'll go ahead and bring up here that I've never been much of a Jethro Tull fan. I really can't explain why, though. I guess I just didn't hear enough when I was younger to make me check them out when I was still able to sit around for hours and hear album-length statements from groups like 10cc and Steely Dan. For some reason, Ian Anderson and company just didn't register on my radar.
I was somewhat familiar with "Locomotive Breath," though, as it would pop up on the rock-oriented stations I listened to then. I'm just not going to be able to give much insight about the song that isn't already available online in a bunch of places. Originally issued on the 1971 Aqualung LP, it was included as a B-side to their first Hot 100 single "Hymn 43" and given an opportunity to stand on its own in 1976 to support the greatest hits compilation M.U.: The Best of Jethro Tull. Though it only made it as far as #62, it has been part of enough rock-oriented radio playlists to ensure that it has become fairly well-known through the years.
Styx - "Lorelei"
(Debuted #90, Peaked #27, 14 Weeks on chart)
Several years ago, I used to listen to the syndicated Bob & Tom radio show as I went to work before the station it was on changed format and dropped them. At several points during that time, there was a running gag where one of the show's staff -- sports reader Chick McGee -- would suddenly break out a recording of "Lorelei" and play the opening keyboard riff.
"Lorelei" is a name that figures large in German mythology, as well as a precursor to the approach that Styx would be taking for the rest of the 1970s. Having recently changed record companies, the progressive core of the group is there, but the pop conventions would remain (especially when Tommy Shaw joined the band later that year) as the hits piled up and the group gained popularity. The song was written by group members James Young and Dennis DeYoung, who also sang lead.
Maxine Nightingale - "Right Back Where We Started From"
(Debuted #95, Peaked #2, 20 Weeks on chart)
Maxine Nightingale was a singer from the U.K. who was a member of the London production of Hair along with another actor/singer named Vincent Edwards. Later, when Edwards co-wrote a song with Pierre Tubbs, he remembered his former castmate and offered to have her sing it as a duet. The song was a reflection of their respect for the Holland/Dozier/Holland songs from Motown and had a bouncy beat that recalled those hits. In the end, it was recorded as a solo single for Nightingale and became an international smash.
It was stopped at #2 on the Billboard chart for two weeks, held out of the top spot by The Bellamy Brothers' "Let Your Love Flow" and John Sebastian's "Welcome Back." It did manage to top the other U.S. charts (Cashbox and Record World) and has appeared in a number of movie -- beginning with 1977's Slap Shot -- that it has become much more of a song that represents the era than many of its contemporary singles are.
John Miles - "Highfly" (Not Available on iTunes)
(Debuted #99, Peaked #68, 7 Weeks on chart)
John Miles' first American chart single was also the first of two separate trips for the same song. This run saw the song rise as high as #68 in seven weeks before falling out of the Hot 100. However, after another single called "Music" reached #88 in the Spring of '76, "Highfly" (sometimes spelled out as "High Fly") returned to the pop chart for three more weeks and peaked at #69 in the summer.
"Highfly" might have deserved a better chance. It is an upbeat tune that is filled with hooks. However, with two chances at a higher position, maybe it was just a case of poor timing.
Dobie Gray - "If Love Must Go" (Not Available on iTunes)
(Debuted #100, Peaked #78, 7 Weeks on chart)
"If Love Must Go" is a gentle ballad, which fits in very nicely with the sound of Dobie Gray's best-known hit "Drift Away." It is a mature song, where the protagonist is forced to go back into the world and face the world again after the end of a relationship.
The song was an early tune from songwriter Will Jennings, who has written a long string of hits over the years including "Looks Like We Made It," "Somewhere in the Night," "I Know I'll Never Love This Way Again" and "Street Life," as well as a long string of hits with Steve Winwood, "Tears in Heaven" and "My Heart Will Go On." As you can tell by many of those tunes, picking up the pieces and getting on with life is a big subject in his songs.
"If Love Must Go" was also done over the years by Frank Ifield and Lisa Hartman, but Gray's version was the only one that charted.