As February 1977 was ending, the coldest winter in some years in St. Cloud was also drawing to a close. That was a huge relief, as I was living in the occasionally mentioned house on the north side without central heating. My two cats and I shivered through the winter, spending evenings either close to the oil-burning stove in the living room or the space heater in my bedroom. I forget how many blankets I had piled on my bed, but I remember clearly waking up in the middle of many nights to find myself with a pair of living ear muffs, huddling close for extra warmth, on my pillow.
A look at the Billboard Top 10 released on February 26, 1977 – thirty-six years ago today – shows at least two singles that take me back to that cold house and season:
“New Kid in Town/Victim of Love” by the Eagles
“Love Theme from ‘A Star Is Born’” by Barbra Streisand
“Blinded By The Light” by Manfred Mann’s Earth Band
“Fly Like An Eagle” by the Steve Miller Band
“I Like Dreamin’” by Kenny Nolan
“Enjoy Yourself” by the Jacksons
“Torn Between Two Lovers” by Mary McGregor
“Night Moves” by Bob Seger
“Dancing Queen” by Abba
“Weekend in New England” by Barry Manilow
Though I don’t particularly like either of them, the Nolan and McGregor singles pull me back to the north side of St. Cloud. I know well seven of the other eight records in that list, and I like two of them – the Bob Seger and Abba singles – very well. But none of the others have the visceral time/place tug for me that the Nolan and McGregor singles hold.
I was listening most often, I recall, to WCCO-FM from Minneapolis, which was playing (and I have no idea what the format would be called) most but not all of the hits: I don’t think I’d ever heard the Jacksons’ single until this morning. Nor, looking further down that week’s chart, am I as familiar with Kiss’ “Hard Luck Woman” as I am with the rest of the Top 20. Those omissions from my data bank should give a clue to the station’s format, whatever it was called. (And I bet regular reader and pal Yah Shure knows what the format was without needing those clues.)
Anyway, I shivered and planned my return to college in the spring, and I listened to the radio a lot. But I don’t think I heard any of the six records that sat at the very bottom of the Billboard Hot 100 thirty-six years ago today.
I don’t know the work of Norman Connors very well at all, but one listen to his version of “Betcha By Golly Wow” tells me that I need to know more. The track, featuring an amazing vocal by Phyllis Hyman, was on Connors’ 1977 album You Are My Starship, and a single edit (or so I assume, based on the length of the album track and the running time listed on the 45 label) was bubbling under at No. 105 thirty-six years ago today. The fourth single by Connors to reach or bubble under the Hot 100, “Betcha By Golly Wow” would peak at No. 102 and get to No. 29 on the R&B chart. (“You Are My Starship,” featuring a vocal by Michael Henderson, had reached No 27 on the pop chart and No. 4 on the R&B chart in the autumn of 1976; the album would go to No. 39.) The lovely saxophone solo was evidently the work – based on the credits at All-Music Guide, which might be complete – of either Gary Bartz or Carter Jefferson
Speaking of saxophonists, Gato Barbieri is another name on my list of artists whose work I want to explore more fully. He came to my attention briefly in 1972 when I heard snippets of his work on the soundtrack for the steamy movie Last Tango in Paris, which went to No. 166 on the Billboard album chart and which I found on LP some years later. In 1976, his album Caliente! became his best-selling album to that point when it went to No. 75. (Ruby, Ruby would go to No. 66 in 1977.) Two singles from Caliente! bubbled under: “I Want You (Part 1)” – evidently an edit of the album track of the Marvin Gaye song – had gone to No. 110 in October 1976, and in the last week of February 1977, “Fiesta” entered the chart at No. 106 and would climb two spots further in an eight-week stay.
During the summer of 1976, a Philadelphia soul/disco group called Double Exposure got to No. 54 on the Billboard chart with “Ten Percent.” At the end of the next February, the follow-up single, “My Love Is Free” was bubbling under at No. 107. The catchy single would peak at No. 104. More than a year later, in late 1978, the group’s “Newsy Neighbors” would bubble under the chart for one week at No. 107, and in September 1979 the group’s chart presence came to a close when “I Got The Hots For Ya” went to No. 33 on the R&B chart. Here’s Double Exposure performing “My Love Is Free” on Soul Train in April 1977.
Without researching the matter in minute detail, it doesn’t seem like too much of a stretch to say that the Memphis Horns (which included Andrew Love, Wayne Jackson, James Mitchell, Lewis Collins, Jack Hale and Ed Logan) played on pretty much every important session for Stax and Volt in the 1960s and early 1970s. The group finally released its first album in 1970, but that self-titled album and a couple of follow-up albums didn’t chart on their own and generated no singles. The Horns released Get Up & Dance in 1977 and as February waned, the funky title track was bubbling under at No. 108 before falling out of the chart the next week. Later that year, “Just For Your Love” would bubble under at No. 101 (No. 17 R&B), and the album itself would bubble under the Billboard chart at No. 201. (In 1978, The Memphis Horns Band II would get to No. 163 on the album chart, and in 1990, Midnight Stroll, credited to “Robert Cray Featuring the Memphis Horns,” would get to No. 51 on the album chart.)
By the time February of 1977 rolled around, Al Green, once a constant in the Top 10, hadn’t been there for two-and-a-half years, since “Sha-La-La (Make Me Happy)” had gone to No. 7 during the autumn of 1974. “L-O-V-E (Love)” had gotten to No. 13 the next spring, and subsequent releases had stalled out short of the Top 20. During the last week of February 1977, Green’s “I Tried To Tell Myself” was bubbling under at No. 109. It would bubble up eight more places and stall at No. 101, though it went to No. 26 on the R&B chart. A few more singles would hang around the lower levels of the chart into 1978, and in 1988, Green hit No. 9 with his duet with Annie Lennox on “Put A Little Love In Your Heart” from the movie Scrooged.
Sporting a horn chart that reminds me very much of Chicago ca. 1970, “Wake Up & Be Somebody” by Brainstorm was bubbling and dancing at the very bottom of the chart at No. 110. The only chart appearance ever for the group from Detroit, “Wake Up & Be Somebody” would peak at No. 86. In June 1977, the group’s “Lovin’ Is Really My Game (Pt. 1)” would get to No. 14 on the R&B chart.