1976: My "First" Year of Music
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Do you remember how old you were when you started remembering pop and rock songs? I ask because I distinctly remember that many of my "first" songs I remember hearing and retaining were from the year 1976. I was four years old, and it was the first time I was discovering a music world beyond what they played on Sesame Street, namely because of the songs my older siblings were playing at the time both at home and on their car radios when I accompanied them.
Another pivotal year for me in music fandom was 1984 -- as that was when one of my sisters gave me a personal radio with headphones for my birthday -- but for this post I'm going to focus on 1976, a whopping four decades ago (ouch!) and the list of songs I remember hearing the most from that year. I guess it shouldn't surprise anyone that I'm still a fan of most of these singers/bands and they helped start me on the lifelong path of being a retro music lover. And much like the '60s, the '70s decade seemed to offer something for everyone -- from soft rock to more traditional rock 'n' rock to disco.
"If You Leave Me Now" by Chicago
I have always loved Chicago, but only up until Peter Cetera left the band to pursue his own solo career in the '80s; after he and his distinctive voice left the group's sound was never the same again. At the age of four I didn't know anything about romantic love, but I did know that the singer was heartbroken over the thought of his girlfriend leaving him and sometimes, 40 years later, the song brings a tear to my eye. Fortunately, Chicago knew how to swing the songwriting pendulum to compose happy love songs, and they balanced this one out with a big hit the following year, "Baby What A Big Surprise", which is one of my favorite love songs of all time.
"Don't Go Breaking My Heart" by Elton John and Kiki Dee
In the summer of 1976, this hit was all over the radio waves and somehow I knew even at that young age that it would become one of my favorite love songs of all time. Little did we know at the time that the song would be considered a bit of a curse (the "Kiki Jinx") for Elton John; he wouldn't have another number one single of him singing solo until 1997's "Candle In The Wind."
"Got To Get You Into My Life" by the Beatles
This was the first Beatles song I ever remember hearing -- not "Yellow Submarine", "She Loves You", or any of their other hits -- and yet oddly enough, I wouldn't become a huge Beatles fan until some 15 years later. Part of that may have had to do with the fact that my sister had Magical Mystery Tour on vinyl and I was scared half to death of that album cover! I mean, they were dressed like animals with creepy masks and I quite honestly thought they seemed a little freaky at the time. But I digress..."Got To Get Your Into My Life" is one of the only Beatles songs that became a hit some time after the band broke up. It was originally recorded (and released) in 1966 and ten years later was reissued as a single in conjunction with the Rock 'n' Roll Music album, which contained mostly the Fabs' covers of 1950s songs by Chuck Berry and his cohorts that fans were already quite familiar with.
One thing I learned about this song fairly recently is that, while it is a love song, it's an ode not to a woman but to another love in Paul McCartney's life at the time, marijuana! John Lennon told Playboy magazine in 1980 that it was one of McCartney's best songs.
"Evil Woman" by Electric Light Orchestra
I have no shame in admitting that ELO is one of my favorite 1970s bands. A lot of it may have to do with the fact that their sound was inspired by the Beatles, but I also love how they incorporated string instruments and how that helped them stand out from so many traditional rock groups at the time. "Evil Woman" was released late in 1975, but received a lot of radio play into 1976 after it became a hit on both sides of the Atlantic. The line, "There's a hole in my head where the rain comes in" was a little nod to the Beatles' "Fixing A Hole."
"A Fifth of Beethoven" by Walter Murphy
Remember when Walter Murphy took Beethoven's signature Fifth Symphony and turned it into a one-hit disco wonder? This and Barry Manilow's "Could It Be Magic?" were my first introductions to "classical" music. I can't say I'm a fan today of the classical genre but I do have an appreciation for Mozart and...PBS' Andre Rieu. (OK, I'm a fan of Andre Rieu.)
"Love Will Keep Us Together" by Captain & Tennille
So yes, I know this song was released in 1975, but my first vivid memory of it was watching Toni Tennille perform it as a duet on her variety show, The Captain & Tennille, in 1976 with...wait for it...Big Bird. This song also has the distinction of being the first (and so far, only) one I've ever performed on karaoke. Sadly, love didn't keep Daryl Dragon (the "Captain") and Toni Tennille together -- in 2014 they announced their divorce after nearly 40 years of marriage.
"Right Back Where We Started From" by Maxine Nightingale
Another feel good fave of mine; it was used in the 1977 film Slap Shot but also showed up during a comical moment on last night's Blacklist.
"Dream Weaver" by Gary Wright
This was another one released in late 1975 (ignore the fact that the video above says 1972), so to me it still counts since it charted the following year. When it came on the radio one day I remember one of my sisters remarking that the opening synthesizer sounded like noises a spaceship would make. To be honest, I've never been a big fan of this song (sorry, Wayne Campbell and Garth Algar) because even at my young age it felt so sad to me. Who wants to live a life where the only time peace and good things come to you is in your dreams? Nonetheless, Wright's hit is a standout of the year for me.
"Life In the Fast Lane" by The Eagles
And in light of the sad, untimely passing of Glenn Frey last week, it seems fitting to end my list of most memorable songs of 1976 with The Eagles' hit from that year, inspired greatly by Frey's friendship with a drug dealer at the time. Thankfully I was blissfully unaware about drug addiction at age four, and simply thought it was a song about driving too fast.
Ah, the '70s. Such a great time for music and to be a kid. What were some of the first songs you remember?
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