Queen were No.1 in both UK charts with ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ and A Night at the Opera on this day in 1976, the latter for two weeks and the former for four (go on, read that back and now try after a few alcoholic beverages).
Over in the US, Bob Dylan was at No.1 with his Desire album and ‘Theme from Mahogany (Do You Know Where You’re Going To?)’ by Diana Ross duly occupied the singles chart’s premier position.
That’s all pretty good, I trust you are thinking at this point. But it’s not. Look closer and you will find that 1976 was a truly awful year, littered with middle-of-the-road pap and far, far too many songs about dancing (‘Dancing Queen’, ‘You Make Me Feel Like Dancing’, ‘You Should Be Dancing’, but not ‘Maybe If We Spent More Time Practicing Song Writing and Less Time Dancing, This Tune Wouldn’t Be So Revolting’). Granted, the emergence of disco, funk, punk rock and New Wave injected some life, with varying degrees of interest and commercial success, although the latter two particularly would feature more strongly in 1977. That doesn’t help counter the claim that 1976 was, to that point, by far the worst year for music. Ever. Without question. No argument. Right?
Pink Floyd, of course, spent much of the year recording Animals and so are exempt from my criticism. Which is a relief, as David pays my wages.
Don’t get me wrong, there were some classic albums released this year: Hotel California (Eagles) and Songs in the Key of Life (Stevie Wonder) being the obvious two. Yet tellingly, of the UK’s ten biggest-selling long-play releases, six were compilations (ABBA, Beach Boys, Neil Sedaka, Eagles, Glen Campbell, Slim Whitman). Indeed, Perry Como’s offering of 40 Greatest Hits preceded Queen’s A Night at the Opera, and The Best of Roy Orbison swiftly replaced it, at the top of the album charts.
As for singles, here are the top ten in terms of UK sales. Lord no, I don’t expect you to play them; I may have asked you to embark on often impossible and rather unnecessary tasks resulting in the presentation of a short, ordered list of favourites extracted from a much longer lists of favourites, but I’m not sick in the head.
01. Brotherhood of Man, ‘Save Your Kisses for Me’
02. Elton John & Kiki Dee, ‘Don’t Go Breaking My Heart’
03. Pussycat, ‘Mississippi’
04. ABBA, ‘Dancing Queen’
05. Dr Hook, ‘A Little Bit More’
06. Chicago, ‘If You Leave Me Now’
07. ABBA, ‘Fernando’
08. Tina Charles, ‘I Love to Love (But My Baby Loves to Dance)’
09. Demis Roussos, ‘The Roussos Phenomenon EP’
10. The Four Seasons, ‘December 1963 (Oh, What a Night)’
Little wonder, then, that EMI decided that the expiration of contractual obligations was a good opportunity to reissue all 22 previously released Beatles singles, as well as ‘Yesterday’, and that all 23 impacted upon the charts – six years after the band had split. How we all longed for yesterday and a time when the charts and the radio airplay which reflected record-buying trends did not comprise in the main of bland, contented, lovey-dovey drivel.
Thank your holy deity of choice for the following tunes. If you can recall any other good ones from 1976, please share them as a matter of urgency. If the provisional list which I have drawn up here includes the very best the year produced and cannot be extended further (I could just about double it at a push, but then you’d struggle to add to it, I’m sure), I have no choice but to declare 1976 ‘Embarrassment to an Otherwise Sound Decade’. Even the aforementioned classic albums can’t save it, I’m afraid.
But then I did say that, on the whole, in my opinion, the Sixties were superior to the Seventies. I smugly stand by that unpopular assertion. I wonder if the 77 per cent loyal to the Seventies remain as confident about their vote when looking specifically at 1976. I imagine not?
– Blue Oyster Cult, ‘(Don’t Fear) the Reaper’
– Boston, ‘More Than a Feeling’
– Bryan Ferry, ‘Let’s Stick Together’
– Patti Smith Group, Pissing in a River’
– Thin Lizzy, ‘The Boys Are Back in Town’
– Wild Cherry, ‘Play That Funky Music’
I’d offer a link to lists of the year’s tracks to assist you, but as it will contain and therefore likely prompt songs such as ‘Heaven Must Be Missing an Angel (Part One)’ by Tavares (who were perhaps trying to be funny with their follow-up single ‘Don’t Take Away the Music’, if they hadn’t already made us laugh hard enough by splitting ‘Heaven…’ into parts) and Real Thing’s ‘You to Me are Everything’ to play inside your head for what could possibly be prolonged periods, I just can’t bring myself to; I respect you too much. You’ll have to venture into potentially aurally- and mentally-hazardous territories of your own volition if you really want to stand up for 1976. I think it’s a hopeless cause, personally, but I’m open to suggestion.
Featuring the harmonies of Eagles Henley and Frey, here’s one of the year’s high spots: ‘The French Inhaler’ by Warren Zevon, taken from his eponymous second album, released in May 1976. He would have turned 64 yesterday.
This week’s chat, by the way, is tomorrow – that’s Wednesday. Doors open at 1pm (UK). I challenge all expectant chatters to come prepared, at least partially, with a 1976 playlist lasting two hours. And may your holy deity of choice have mercy on your ears as you listen to it.