Popular

21
May 08

Popular ’76

FT + Popular551 comments

I give marks out of 10 to every song – based on whatever criteria you like, here’s your opportunity to say what you’d have given more than 6 to from 1976. Tick as many as you like.

Number One Hits Of 1976: Which Would You Have Given 6 Or More To?

View Results

Poll closes: No Expiry

Loading ... Loading ...

And use the comments to discuss the year as a whole, if you like.

JOHNNY MATHIS – “When A Child Is Born (Soleado)”

FT + Popular46 comments

#398, 25th December 1976

Thought of as a Christmas single, because of when it charted, this of course is actually a rare Number One hit that takes as its theme the Second Coming, which will be marked, according to Mathis, by everyone feeling quite nice for a little bit. Reducing the eschatalogical theology of the Christian faith to “Superbaby is coming to save us” lessens the record’s evangelical power but probably makes it more bearable: this is inoffensive schlock which glides by easily without ever threatening to win me over. That’s the fault of the material, not Mathis, who puts in a creamy, kindly performance: a bad record, but a good advert for its singer.

19
May 08

SHOWADDYWADDY – “Under The Moon Of Love”

FT + Popular139 comments

#397, 4th December 1976

A recurring theme on recent Popular comments threads has been the idea that one track or another represents “why punk had to happen”: a feeling – easy, perhaps too easy, to identify in hindsight – that pop and rock had stagnated or slipped into irrelevance. The phrase is slightly weaselly – it suggests that bad or dull records somehow caused punk, whereas more likely they provided the background conditions for it to be embraced. Anyway, here’s another candidate, at Number One when the Sex Pistols were first nosing into the charts and when John Peel was publically embracing the new music.

16
May 08

CHICAGO – “If You Leave Me Now”

FT + Popular61 comments

#396, 13th November 1976

As I gradually learned more about music history it became apparent that there were a bunch of American bands who had enjoyed long careers in the 70s but who were close to invisible here. It seems to me that Britain has never really had an equivalent to the rock radio formats on which Chicago, among others, built a fanbase: individual DJs were left to promote adult-oriented and classic rock, which didn’t give dues-paying rock bands the space they had to build large audiences back home. Of course, I didn’t listen to radio in the 70s, so I’m happy to be corrected on this.Anyway the upshot is that the career of Chicago seemed (and seems) bizarre to me: literally dozens of albums, most of them doubles (or more!), reduced as far as I was concerned to a single soppy hit which I knew better from karaoke than from ever actually hearing the band’s version. And apparently “If You Leave Me Now” is hardly typical of the band’s work (to the extent that its success caused serious rifts). In Popular terms, though, it’s the first of a bunch of limpidly sincere records we’ll be meeting as the British public went ballad crazy.

15
May 08

PUSSYCAT – “Mississippi”

FT + Popular118 comments

#395, 11th October 1976

A few years ago, Channel 4 did a rundown of the Top 100 Best Selling Singles. My friends and I settled down to watch, cheer, shout at Kate Thornton, &c. And there, first up at No.100, was “Mississippi”, bringing a mighty collective WTF?? from everyone in the room – none of whom, I should add, were older than me. None of us had heard, or heard of, this song, which turned out to be the biggest-selling (in Britain) single to have made no mark whatsoever on pop history – at least as understood by us callow youngsters. To be honest we thought it might be a put-on.

13
May 08

ABBA – “Dancing Queen”

FT + Popular231 comments

#394, 4th September 1976

In my teens I read a science fiction novel with a startlingly elegant twist. (I won’t mention the book’s name in case you come across it yourself.) It was about a brilliant scientist who vanishes: the book’s protagonist goes looking for clues to what happened, and becomes close to the scientist’s wife. And at a crucial juncture in the plot, the narration shifts, mid-paragraph, from third person to first: the scientist’s “vanishing” was literal, and with a thrill of horror you realise he’s been observing the action all along.

What on earth does this have to do with “Dancing Queen”?

12
May 08

ELTON JOHN AND KIKI DEE – “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart”

FT + Popular85 comments

#393, 24th July 1976

The intro to this is a masterclass: the strings and piano curling around the bass and drums in what amounts to a trailer for the song, teasing its hooks for you. It’s a suitably flirty intro for a duet, so it’s a shame the performers don’t really catch fire. Or the performer – Kiki Dee doesn’t do much wrong (though it’s annoying how her lines sometimes just trail off), it’s just unfortunate that she’s partnered with the fearful pop heffalump that is Elton John.

9
May 08

DEMIS ROUSSOS – The Roussos Phenomenon (EP)

FT + Popular115 comments

#392, 17th July 1976

(Special note: I have been unable to find a copy of all four tracks on the EP, so this review is written without having ever heard “So Dreamy”. So the mark out of ten is – unusually – subject to change. Though frankly I doubt it will.)

In a wayward year of odd Number Ones, this is one of the rummest. It isn’t the sort of thing I’d want to listen to very often, if at all, and if it was typical of the kind of records that top the charts, well, we wouldn’t be here. But there are enough intriguing touches on The Roussos Phenomenon to not dismiss it as wholly ridiculous. You are occasionally reminded that yes, this Demis Roussos is the same D.R. who released 666, a prog triple concept album about the Book of Revelation, the year before recording most of this…. slightly more accessible material.

8
May 08

THE REAL THING – “You To Me Are Everything”

FT + Popular45 comments

#391, 26th June 1976

The Real Thing do everything right – pleading soul vocals, springy piano line, big-impact chorus – without ever threatening the spectacular. They’re using a blueprint – tuneful underdog disco – which Hot Chocolate would have huge success with, but without the next-level abjection and paranoia Erol Brown sometimes brought to it. So the Real Thing deliver a solid good time rather than anything more striking (or commentable). Solidity can get you a long way, though – “You To Me Are Everything” has become a wedding dance staple, and for simple welcoming catchiness it deserves that ubiquity.

5
May 08

THE WURZELS – “Combine Harvester (Brand New Key)”

FT + Popular92 comments

#390, 12th June 1976

Much like “No Charge”, this wears an idea too thin: but at least it’s a good idea. Spotting the potential for Wurzelisation in the ramshackle whimsy of Melanie’s “Brand New Key” was a stroke of pop genius that deserved the reward of a No.1. “Combine Harvester” kicks off with surely the best (or maybe worst) innuendo to grace a chart-topping record and rides a wave of sheer goodwill until at least its third verse.

The Wurzels had only turned to this kind of pop adaptation because original Wurzel Adge Cutler had died – his original comic folk songs had made the band a West Country hit and with no songwriters to replace him, “Combine Harvester” was the beginning of a new and narrower remit for the band. Given a national stage, the bumbling yokel humour the group trade in as much reinforced stereotypes as mocked or indulged them, but that shouldn’t detract from the fact that “Combine Harvester” is one of the more thoroughly enjoyable comedy records we’ll be meeting.