Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Grading the Top 100 singles (according to Billboard) of 1976

1. Silly Love Songs - Paul McCartney and Wings: A-
This song was a response to critics who thought McCartney's music was too lightweight. So Paulie decided to show them by doing something that goes beyond lightweight. There is so little to this song -- and I mean that as a compliment. The defining element of this song is McCartney's bass playing, which is R & B on the cusp of disco and is the most complex thing about the song. Everything else, like so much Macca does, seems effortless.

2. Don't Go Breaking My Heart - Elton John and Kiki Dee: B+
This is a song that I despised back in the day, but I've come around to it, despite the cheesiness of the whole thing. This was another one of Elton's R & B-laced songs, and it has a nice rhythm to it. Kiki Dee is a fine singer, and the two sound good together, and the song leads to refrain ("right from the start/I'll give you my heart") that's pretty effective. This gets a bonus boost for inspiring the episode of One Day at a Time where the Coopers put on a show at a nursing home, and Valerie Bertinelli and MacKenzie Phillips play Elton and Kiki and sing this song.

3. Disco Lady - Johnnie Taylor: A
Taylor was a pretty successful soul singer on Stax who had a surprising number of crossover hits. He moved over to a major label and hopped on board the disco train and had the biggest hit of his career, which can be found on his tastefully titled Eargasm LP. The song isn't hardcore disco, and is really just a slinky R & B number that allows Taylor to croon and leer and charm over a really good groove. In what seems to be a common tale, despite trying to join Team Disco, Taylor had no more pop hits.

4. December 1963 (Oh What a Night) - The Four Seasons: A
One of the more overplayed songs from the era, songwriter Bob Gaudio originally wrote the song about the Prohibition era, and the title of the song was December 1933, but Frankie Valli convinced him to make a little more recent. This was the biggest Four Seasons hit with someone else singing the lead, as that's drummer Gerry Polci doing the heavy lifting. The song has great energy, a definite dollop or two, at least, of disco, and simple, direct, memorable lyrics that fit perfectly with the rhythm of the song. And the song has at least three hooks.

5. Play That Funky Music - Wild Cherry: A
One of the truly great one-hit wonders of the '70s, as this Ohio band that paid its dues playing Pittsburgh clubs caught lightning in a bottle with a song that was roughly a thousand times better than anything of their other original material. Or for that matter, their covers, as their takes on Stax and Motown songs on their debut album are limpid and, well, white. Yes, so is this song, but it at least sounds like ersatz Ohio Players, and hits right out of the gate with a nice faux-James Brown rhythm, and then the bridge and chorus of this song are just bulletproof.

6. Kiss and Say Goodbye - The Manhattans: A
This was a big smash for this veteran vocal group, and this combines some '60s moves (like the spoken introduction), with the sweet soul that groups like The Stylistics and The Delfonics hit with such a couple of years earlier. The song is just so buttery sweet, with a great vocal, so the fact it was slightly behind the times was immaterial, because it was so good.

7. Love Machine, Pt. 1 - The Miracles: A
Smokey Robinson and the Miracles only had one #1 pop hit. The Miracles without Smokey Robinson had only two Top 40 hits, but this one went to number one. And why not, as it's propulsive, funky soul number, somewhat in the vein of The Temptations. Billy Griffin didn't quite sound like Smokey, but he had a somewhat similar vocal quality, and the group vocals are wonderful throughout, especially that "na, na na na, na na" part.

8. 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover - Paul Simon: B-
I really dig Paul Simon, but this is really a lesser effort that seemed like he lost a bet and had to write a song using a rhyming dictionary. I didn't always feel that way -- I loved the song as a kid and bought the 45. But as I bought more Paul Simon records, this song lowered in my estimation. The shuffle rhythm is nice and it's catchy, but the lyrics just don't do anything for me.

9. Love Is Alive - Gary Wright: A
I have done some poking around the solo career of Mr. Wright, the former member of Spooky Tooth, and I've come to the conclusion that, on the balance, he was just an okay songwriter. His albums are listenable, but not memorable. But when he wrote a great song, which did happen, it was released as a single and hit the Top 40. This was the second of those great songs. The song works off the interplay between Wright's keyboard and strong guitar riff, and then the seamless transfer into the super-melodic and memorable chorus. Great tune.

10. A Fifth of Beethoven - Walter Murphy and The Big Apple Band: C-
This is another one that I bought on 45, apparently indicative of my burgeoning highbrow tastes. Of course, this is a pretty great piece of music to work with, but really Murphy just copped part of a famous piece of music and then crafted a fairly average disco instrumental.

11. Sara Smile - Daryl Hall and John Oates: A
This was the breakthrough hit for what was to become the most successful duo of the rock era. This was written by the pair about Hall's girlfriend, Sarah Allen. Hall & Oates initially started in more of folk music direction, but the more they embraced R & B, the better things became for them. It certainly didn't hurt that Hall had an excellent blue-eyed soul voice. The duo co-produced with a fellow named Chris Bond, and they really nailed this song, with fairly spare instrumentation putting Hall's vocal front and center, and making the song more emotional.

12. Afternoon Delight - Starland Vocal Band: D
Man, I had lousy taste at 10 years old, as this is another song I owned on 45. There are two things I'm sure of: 1) I was captivated by the great harmony singing on the track, and, 2) I had not the slightest idea of what they were singing about. While I often give credit for craft, and this song is definitely well-crafted, ultimately, the song is just too trite.

13. I Write the Songs - Barry Manilow: C-
When fans of the Mike Love wing of The Beach Boys want to tout the accomplishments of his wingman Bruce Johnston, they point to the great song "Disney Girls". However, this piece of crap is an excellent rebuttal. On really good songs, Barry Manilow's production is a nuisance, but not a dealbreaker. But when a song is so syrupy to begin with, pumping it up really makes it worse. Oh, I owned this on 45 too.

14. Fly Robin Fly - Silver Convention: B-
One of two gigantic hits for this German studio disco machine. There's no doubt that this is a catchy, solid piece of dance music, that happens to have eight words too many to be an instrumental. It sounds good once in a while, but it's sterile and doesn't hold its appeal.

15. Love Hangover - Diana Ross: A
Ross seemed to be in danger of fully becoming an adult contemporary star when this song shattered that. Producer Hal Davis wanted that disco feel, apparently inspired by Donna Summer's "Love to Love You Baby", and put a strobe light in the studio while Ross sang to the track and loosened up. What Davis got from Ross was one of her more sensual performances. The song also has that great shift to the faster part of the song which is so insinuating.

16. Get Closer - Seals and Crofts: B
Everyone's favorite pro-life, Ba'hai folk-pop duo had their last big hit with this catchy little ditty. Indeed, the duo start with the chorus right away, while the verses have a bit of Philly soul feel. The R & B aspects of the song are enhanced by a great vocal contribution by ex-Honey Cone singer Carolyn Willis, who Seals and Crofts not only gave a credit to, but put her on the 45's picture sleeve.

17. More, More, More - Andrea True Connection: A-
Another one I owned on 45, and I still like it. This was a big disco hit from a porn star who attended the same Catholic school that my mom went to. This is clearly a producer's song, as True's talents lied elsewhere. Indeed, writer-producer Gregg Diamond said that it was so hard to get a worthy vocal from True that he just took the best parts and repeated them throughout the song. It's a really good song, which is basically four hooks, with that piano/popping noise instrumental break that I still love.

18. Bohemian Rhapsody - Queen: A++
This song only made it up to number 9 on the Billboard charts, but it was number one for a number of weeks on WLS's Silver Dollar Survey here in Chicago. At one point, the station was playing the song at the top of the hour, every hour. While this song inspired many artists, no one but Queen could have come up with something like this, something so unconventional and so striking, that even though it has none of the qualities of a traditional pop single, it was a worldwide smash, not once, but twice, after the Wayne's World revival. Some interesting things about the song: 1) when Queen performed the song live, they'd walk off the stage for the middle operatic bit and play the record, and then come back to rock it out at the end, 2) Axl Rose really screwed this song up when he did it at the Freddie Mercury tribute concert, and, 3) man, the movie Bohemian Rhapsody sucked seven ways from Sunday, from terrible script to the historical inaccuracies to the horribly overrated performance by Rami Malek, who made Freddie seem like a bug-eyed meth addict.

19. Misty Blue - Dorothy Moore: A
This was a late-'60s country hit, with Eddy Arnold having the biggest success with it. Moore turned it into a Deep South soul classic, giving it a gospel grandeur with her warm, aching vocals. If you listen carefully to the chorus, you hear how the melody really fits country music, and where country and soul intersectd.

20. Boogie Fever - The Sylvers: A-
This was the breakthrough hit for one of the larger family acts ever to chart (they had as many as nine siblings in the group). Early Sylvers efforts were more funk-soul, and were interesting, but not super commercial. Moving to Capitol and teaming up with hot producer Freddie Perrin did the trick. This is an irresistible piece of pop-soul, kind of West coast version of what The Jackson 5 could have been doing.

21. I'd Really Love to See You Tonight - England Dan and John Ford Coley: C+
One of the opening salvos from this very successful M.O.R. duo. There is no doubt that this a well-crafted slice of music for adult contemporary stations, and compared to Air Supply, this is great.

22. You Sexy Thing - Hot Chocolate: A
Hot Chocolate was a very successful interracial pop-soul band that got its start on Apple Records, when John Lennon dug their reggae version of his "Give Piece a Chance" and put it out on a single. They eventually hooked up with producer Mickey Most, who honed their strengths. Lead singer Errol Brown wrote or co-wrote their best material, which ran from string-laden soul to bouncy dance numbers with some cool sounding guitar. This one, which he co-wrote with bandmate Tony Wilson, really established what they could do, with Brown's unique phrasing in "I believe in miracles" making the song instantly memorable.

23. Love Hurts - Nazareth: B
Nazareth is a hidden gem of a rock band. This was their sole U.S. Top 40 hit, but these Scotsmen did much better in the UK, with a combination of well-chosen covers and originals. They were a blues-based hard rock band that never felt the need to confine themselves to any formula. They could jam out boogie riffs for minutes on end and then cover a Beach Boys song. They had a fine frontman in Dan McCafferty, and his leather lungs and a smart arrangement led to this nice take on the song that was originally a hit for The Everly Brothers.

24. Get Up and Boogie (That's Right) - Silver Convention: B
I like this one slightly better than "Get Up and Boogie" because it's just a little bit stupider. The instrumental is a solid piece of mechanistic disco. When the robotic singers harmonize to the word "boogie" over an instrumental break it's so bad it's good.

25. Take It to the Limit - Eagles: B+
This was Randy Meisner's shining moment with the band, but, oddly enough, it lead to his departure. He had this tune laying around, and finally, with the help of Glenn Frey and Don Henley, the song was finished. The song is kind of a proto-power ballad, and the chorus is pretty darn terrific, with Meisner singing the hell out of it. However, Meisner didn't like singing it live, which caused tension in the band, so he ended up leaving.

26. (Shake, Shake, Shake) Shake Your Booty - K.C. and The Sunshine Band: B+
Musically, this is another darned good disco song from Harry Casey and company, with strong hooks and great horn parts. But even by the very low standards of this act's lyrics, these had to have been tossed off in about three minutes.

27. Sweet Love - Commodores: A
Commodores were a pretty good funk band. They played well and a number of the band members were able songwriters. Eventually, Lionel Richie began broadening his horizons, and this song was step one on the path to crossover stardom. This is a great mix of southern soul with maybe a spot of country and some pop smarts with excellent production from James Carmichael and the band. This song manages to fit in with the contemporary soul scene, but isn't particularly imitative of anyone. Richie was carving out a new path.

28. Right Back Where We Started From - Maxine Nightingale: A
The songwriting team behind this smash heard Nightengale doing background vocals at a session and decided they needed to write a song for her, coming up with the title first and then repurposing the music from an unrecorded song. This song was inspired by classic Motown, but definitely had a modern edge. The chorus is so hooky, and the verses are pretty cool too. And the song definitely brings out the best in Nightengale, who shows both nuance and power. She only had one other U.S. hit, so it must have been the material.

29. Theme From "S.W.A.T" - Rhythm Heritage: B
Rhythm Heritage was basically an assembly of studio musicians, and folks like Ray Parker, Jr. and James Jamerson contributed to some of their records. Why they were tapped to do TV show themes is unclear, but there's no doubt that this song sounded pretty good on the radio, and it was actually danceable, with a bit of a disco breakdown at one point.

30. Love Rollercoaster - Ohio Players: A+
This is, I believe, the only Billboard #1 song that it is rumored that you can hear someone being killed in the studio on the track. Have you heard the story? Just before the minute-and-a-half mark there's a high pitched scream. So the rumor spread that this was the sound of woman being murdered (or, alternatively, a woman dying from falling out of a rollercoaster). But it's just band member Billy Beck. Or so they want you to believe. Anyway, this song was murdered by the Red Hot Chili Peppers (and, no surprise, done much better by Royal Crescent Mob), and who wouldn't want to play this elastic piece of funk with a groove that is a hook unto itself. I presume these guys knew when they wrote it that it was a killer song.

31. You Should Be Dancing - The Bee Gees: A-
With this song, the Gibbs moved their R & B jones into the disco world and began plotting their path to world domination. Part of this transformation involved Barry Gibb taking his falsetto to new heights, and that became the signature sound of this era of the Bee Gees. And it shouldn't have worked -- Barry sounds much better in his normal range, and the disco transition pretty much relegated Robin to background vocals. That being said, the grooves these guys and their producers were coming up with aren't given enough credit. From here, it was a matter of perfecting the style.

32. You'll Never Find Another Love Like Mine - Lou Rawls: A
Lou Rawls was a star, but until 1976, he was never a pop star. Then he signed with Gamble and Huff's Philadelphia International. To their credit, the producer/writers didn't just plug Lou into the formula that worked for other acts. They wrote songs that sounded less contemporary to an extent, with more of a nightclub vibe, but with just the right amount of groove, and then let that wonderful deep voice work its magic.

33. Golden Years - David Bowie: A-
This song didn't get nearly as much airplay in Chicago as "Fame" did, but this confirmed that the Thin White Duke could credibly incorporate soul and funk into his music, even though the Station to Station album this appeared on found him moving in a new direction. The chorus is indelible and yet the verses may be even catchier. And to think, Elvis Presley could have done this song first, as Bowie apparently approached Colonel Tom Parker about having the King record the tune.

34. Moonlight Feels Right - Starbuck: A
One of the quintessential yacht rock songs, this actually was initially released in late 1975, but one program director told the band it was a "spring song." That PD wasn't kidding, as he playlisted the song that spring and slowly the buzz spread. This may be the most successful song for a band named after a Moby Dick character, and certainly the most successful one by a band named after a Moby Dick character with a beret-wearing frontman with a track that has a marimba solo. The production on this song is kind of mid-fi, and Bruce Blackman's relaxed vocals are just shy of salacious, which doesn't exactly give the song edge, but it's a slick, well-written pop song with a nifty hook that doesn't sound slick.

35. Only Sixteen - Dr. Hook: C
After their early successes, Dr. Hook turned to a more adult contemporary sound. They got back on the charts with this really bland cover of a Sam Cooke song. The fact that Dr. Hook's lead singer sounds much older than 16 gives this a high ick factor.

36. Let Your Love Flow - Bellamy Brothers: B+
While these brothers ended up more of a fixture on the country charts, the country was dialed down on this happy, shimmering pop song. The brothers got their foot in the door when David Bellamy wrote Jim Stafford's big hit "Spiders and Snakes". This song was written by a roadie for Neil Diamond, who was not the only singer to pass on the song. Country-pop singer Gene Cotton got his recording of the tune out first, and his version is done with a bit more of a New Orleans R & B-meets-country feel. It's good, but not as energetic as this version, which has the added bonus of brotherly harmonies.

37. Dream Weaver - Gary Wright: A
Wright was a keyboardist by trade, and his embrace of synthesizers paid off on his first big hit. The spaced out sounds might sound gimmicky to some, but I think Wright utilizes them to just the right degree, giving great support to his lyrics, and making this song really stand out on the radio, with the whooshes and such. And the chorus is hard to get out of one's head.

38. Turn The Beat Around - Vicki Sue Robinson: A
If ever there's a case for the notion it's not the singer, it's the song, here it is. That's not a knock on Robinson -- she is so dynamic on this song, which is one of the true disco classics. Indeed, this reeks of the sound of The Big Apple, penned by two members of the NYC group A Touch of Class, and full of Latin percussion accents that make the track even hotter. So I presume that Vicki Sue just never had any other great material to work with, because she sounds like a star on this single.

39. Lonely Night (Angel Face) - The Captain and Tennille: A+
This is a well-written tune that needed the right performer. Neil Sedaka's original version of his own tune is structured similarly, but he can quite pull it off vocally, so the song sounds cute. So enter Darryl Dragon, who brings all of his synthesizer/keyboard magic to create a great backing track, and then let Toni Tennille give a fantastic performance, sounding swoony early on and then assertive, and so longing in the chorus -- it's the next best thing to Linda Ronstadt. And the ending of the track is awesome.

40. All By Myself - Eric Carmen: B-
When he fronted The Raspberries, Eric Carmen penned his share of sweet ballads, but here he goes all out maudlin and treacly. Yet the piano part is haunting and Carmen really engages in the words and shows off his pipes, so it could have been much worse.

41. Love to Love You Baby - Donna Summer: C+
What made this song famous was the 17-minute album version, with Summer simulating orgasms. The song is decent disco and Summer's talent was evident. But the significance of this song isn't so much the song itself, but that it established the hitmaking team of Giorgio Moroder and Donna Summer, who would go on to make the best disco music ever.

42. Deep Purple - Donny and Marie Osmond: D
This song was first an instrumental from 1933. In 1938, Mitchell Parish added lyrics, for which he should be damned for an eternity. The song resurfaced over and over again. Nino Tempo & April Stevens had a big hit with it in 1963, and 13 years later, the Osmond siblings put their saccharine stamp on it. Presumably, they sold this at church services in Utah.

43. Theme from "Mahogany" (Do You Know Where You're Going To) - Diana Ross: B+
This was the theme from a Diana Ross movie that no one remembers...but for this song. It's definitely an M.O.R. pop song, but it's a really good one, with lyrics by Gerry Goffin. The song has some really cool melodic ideas and they all are really well suited to Ms. Ross's singing. She sounds gorgeous throughout.

44. Sweet Thing - Rufus featuring Chaka Khan: A-
Having shown that she could sing funk like no other, Chaka Khan stretched out with this song she co-wrote with one of the band's guitarists. This is lovely smooth soul song with some jazz undertones that brought a new audience to Khan's considerable talents. Again -- why isn't there an extensive reissue campaign for this band's music?

45. That's the Way I Like It - K.C. and The Sunshine Band: A
I saw K.C. and the Sunshine Band once, at Wrigley Field. No, it wasn't one of the mega-concerts that they've started having at The Friendly Confines. I was at the ballpark for '70s Night. Barry Williams (a/k/a Greg Brady of The Brady Bunch) sang the National Anthem, and quite credibly, might I add, and K.C. was the pre-game entertainment, and they had the full group out, with the horn section, and did five songs, including this disco classic. They sounded great. Their songs have turned out to be pretty timeless. Part of it is the great grooves. And Casey knew how to throw in a little melody. Indeed, the verses serve as pleasant breathers (while the groove keeps going) setting up the big choruses.

46. A Little Bit More - Dr. Hook: B-
The chorus of this song is hard to shake, so I understand why it was a hit. But this is an overtly sexual song that manages not to be sexy. Which is absolutely no surprise, since this is Dr. Hook, but not even Chaka Khan or Marvin Gaye could make this sound sexy.

47. Shannon - Henry Gross: A
The '70s were big on lost animal songs. The year before, there was "Wildfire", and then this former member of Sha Na Na hit the top with this lament for a dead dog. And not just any dead dog, but the late Irish setter of Beach Boy Carl Wilson. And holy cow, this song does a great job of channeling The Beach Boys without exactly sounding like a Beach Boys song. The pithy verses do a great job of setting up the gigantic chorus, where Gross really shows off his great voice. He only managed one other Top 40 hit, but it wasn't for a lack of talent. Many years later, I got an album of his for review at, and it was pretty good.

48. If You Leave Me Now - Chicago: B
The Cetera-ization of Chicago was in full force by this point, with his increasingly nasal voice and predilection for mushy ballads really taking control of the band. As a long term trend, this was not good for their artistic quality. But it was great for making hits. And to be fair, as mushy as it is, it's a pretty sweet melody.

49. Lowdown - Boz Scaggs: A+
I never heard the whole Silk Degrees album which featured this breakthrough single until it was reissued many years down the road. This defines one of the great blue-eyed soul albums ever released. Scaggs transformed from blues rocker to cool, soul singer, and this number is so classy and urbane. Listening to it now, there's a bit of Van Morrison influence, it seems to me, in some of the vocalizations, but run through Texas pipes. With most of the future Toto backing him, this song grooves so seductively, and when Scaggs finally lets loose vocally and the guitar solo kicks in, perfection has been achieved.

50. Show Me the Way - Peter Frampton: B
I don't think Frampton Comes Alive was the first album I bought with my own money, but it was probably second or third. Back when record companies were patient and would let promising artists develop, the live album was a great way to package greatest hits that weren't yet hits. Frampton's studio recordings were nice, but the extra energy and his affable personality struck a chord, and this song led the way for him. It's not my favorite on the live set, but it's still enjoyable.

51. Dream On - Aerosmith: A+
This is a powerful ballad but not a power ballad, which was a bit over a decade down the road for this Boston juggernaut. But this was the song that really put them on the map. The stately arrangement was a departure from the band's usually mix of Stones/Zeppelin/Yardbirds (although it does owe something to the quieter moments of Zep), and it builds the drama up so well before Steven Tyler is allowed to let loose on the chorus. And then each chorus gets progressively bigger.

52. I Love Music - The O'Jays: A-
More positivity from Philly. Apparently, Gamble and Huff had run out of ideas for lyrics, as there is very little here in the words of this song. But the groove is good and the three singers sound great as always.

53. Say You Love Me - Fleetwood Mac: B+
I'm pretty sure the first time I heard this song, I thought it was Joni Mitchell. The resemblance was fleeting, but that was the best reference point I had. And I also thought "Over My Head" sounded like Joni too. What I didn't know at the time was that I was hearing a band that had been around for quite a while, and they were on the verge of exploding. The injection of Lindsay Buckingham and Stevie Nicks did amazing things for Fleetwood Mac, but the hidden story was Christine McVie upping her songwriting game to new heights. This British blues singer adapted to Laurel Canyon-style pop remarkably well, and Buckingham's guitar complimented the song so well.

54. Times of Your Life - Paul Anka: D-
Anka continued his mission to befoul the airwaves with horrible crap, this time by taking a commercial jingle for Kodak that he had sung, and recording a full-length version. What was tolerable for 30 seconds became interminable.

55. Devil Woman - Cliff Richard: A-
This was the British superstar's third U.S. Top 40 hit, and first in 13 years. This is a story song somewhat in line with the melodramatic numbers Cher had been hitting with in prior years. Richard gives the song a very dramatic feel, channeling his inner Colin Blunstone on the verses, saving his energy for the big choruses. This is a bit cheesy, but I love a good story song. I recall he made the rounds lip syncing this on chat shows, and he pretty much mimed the lyrics, which was uncool, but charming. It would not be nearly as long before he revisited the Top 40 again.

56. Fooled Around and Fell in Love - Elvin Bishop: A
Elvin Bishop got his start here in Chicago, playing blues with guys like Michael Bloomfield. He eventually got his own career going, and penned this wonderful soulful pop number. Now, if you haven't heard Elvin Bishop sing, well, he kind of sings like he looks. And if you haven't seen how he looks, let's just say he's pretty rough around the edges. He knew well enough to have someone else take the lead on this tune, so he tapped his backup singer, and future cheesemeister with Starship, Mickey Thomas. And everything came to together, with Thomas's soaring voice, a classic lyric, and Bishop showing off his guitar skills.

57. Convoy - C.W. McCall: A
Another song that inspired a movie and really accelerated the CB radio craze. Bill Fries was a jingle writer who turned one of his ditties for Kern's Bread into a country hit under the name C.W. McCall, working with partner Chip Davis, the guy who later formed Manheim Steamroller. Fries/McCall's deep, drawling voice was great for his witty narrative songs. Although it's not humorous, this is essentially a novelty record, and perhaps the greatest one ever made. The tune is pretty basic, but the lyrics are so specific and evocative. And the production is perfect. The CB radio calls that punctuate the song. The cheesy back up singers selling the chorus. And the way the song builds up to its dramatic climax is compelling.

58. Welcome Back - John Sebastian: B
Can you be a one-hit wonder as a solo artist, even though you fronted a band with many hits? Because this was the only Top 40 single for the former lead singer of The Lovin' Spoonful. It just so happened that the producer of a sitcom starring stand up comedian Gabe Kaplan was John Sebastian's manager. The title of the show? Kotter. So he asked John to give a shot at doing the theme song. Sebastian struggled with the tune initially, because he was having a hard time incorporating the show's title in the lyrics. So he gave up, and instead wrote lyrics based on the premise. The producer loved the song, and so the title of the show was changed to Welcome Back Kotter. The song itself is laid back and warm, and definitely sounded like something the Spoonful would have come with in the mid-'70s. I don't know what ABC's expectations were for the show, but it became a hit, and if you had asked 11-year-old me what the best TV show ever was, it would have been Welcome Back Kotter. The exposure got Sebastian on the charts, but he couldn't capitalize.

59. Sing a Song - Earth, Wind and Fire: B+
This was the third hit off of the band's Gratitude album, and it shows off Maurice White's knack for combining soulful rhythms with really poppy melodies. This is funk free, but has a nice bounce, and great singing from Philip Bailey.

60. Heaven Must Be Missing An Angel - Tavares: B+
Hooking up with producer Freddie Perrin was what Tavares needed, as Perren knew how to respect the classic soul harmony vocal sound of the brothers, while keeping up with R & B trends, which in this case, meant disco. The album version of this song is two parts, all the better for the clubs (where it was a #1 club hit), while it still has pop appeal with strings complimenting the angelic singing, and a mix of percussion and tinkling bells giving the track a real sonic stamp.

61. I'll Be Good to You - The Brothers Johnson: A
This was the first hit for George and Louis Johnson, who earned their spurs playing for Quincy Jones. So Quincy was the logical person to produce the early efforts of the duo, who co-wrote most of the material and were backed by stellar musicians from the rock and jazz world. George wrote this song when he finally found a woman he liked so much, he wanted to date only her. How gallant. The song is a great piece of pop-soul, with just a little bit of funk mixed in. The layers of instruments never get cluttered, and George was no powerhouse vocalist, but he really connected with the lyrics (with which he got help on from a family friend), and the song leads to that well-constructed chorus that is so easy to sing along with.

62. Shop Around - The Captain and Tennille: B+
A really nice, energetic cover of the Smokey Robinson & The Miracles' hit. Again, Darryl Dragon's use of synthesizers is really interesting, and gives the song a different feel than most M.O.R. acts of the day. Toni Tennille should have done more Motown songs.

63. Saturday Night - Bay City Rollers: A-
I suppose you could call this bubbleglam. The tartan clad teen idols were about 75% bouncy pop and 25% rock, and this song added a bit more rock to the formula. Written and produced by the successful team of Bill Martin and Phil Coulter, the spelled-out Saturday chant was infectious, and the song then bubbles along the affable singing of Les McKeown, as extra hooks keep getting thrown in for good measure.

64. Island Girl - Elton John: A
There's a lot to unpack here. First off, the off-beat hook of the song is a slide guitar part from Davey Johnstone. Meanwhile, the song is about a Jamaican prostitute in New York, and a Jamaican man who is trying to convince her to come back to the island. You know, typical Top 40 fare. The song rides an unconventional rhythm, and the chorus is typical of Elton -- really damn good. Meanwhile, it was finally getting out that Elton John was gay. I remember hearing this song on the radio one time, and the DJ said, "That was El Gayo!" in a snide tone. Apparently, that was reason to insult Elton, but not bad enough to keep from playing his current hit.

65. Let's Do It Again - The Staple Singers: A-
It took the movies to bring together two forces of Chicago soul, The Staples and Curtis Mayfield. The song is a laid back funk-pop song that lays down a groove, with a melodic hook that is made much, much better by Mavis Staples' passionate (is there any other way for her) singing. Mayfield properly sensed that he could keep things basic and let the talent of the performers do the rest.

66. Let 'Em In - Paul McCartney and Wings: A+
And speaking of simple...there is so little to this song, which has Paulie just playing a simple piano part while the drummer plays in sympathy, and McCartney carries the melody. Then there are a few other simple sonic elements with drums and flutes, a similarly rhythmic middle eight, lather, rinse, repeat. The words are at nursery rhyme level, but something more complex would have cut against the nature of the music. The melody develops a resonance that creates real feeling, feeling that is expressed by the playing and singing without any connection to the lyrical content. I find it utterly fascinating.

67. Baby Face - Wing and A Prayer Fife and Drum Corps: C-
This was a cover of the #1 song that Jan Garber sang all the way back in 1976. It is amazing how quickly disco became a commercial force, such that throwing together a decent rhythm track and finding any old tune to go over it could lead to a hit. This is just an aggregation of studio musicians who give this polish, with a classic throw it against the wall and see what sticks attitude.

68. This Masquerade - George Benson: A-
Benson was a talented jazz guitarist who made smooth, romantic music. But he would only sing once in a while. And one of those times was on this cover of a Leon Russell song. The hit potential in the song was seen by others -- both Helen Reddy and the Carpenters had recorded the tune previously. But lightning struck for Benson, as he imbued the song with a passion and showed that maybe he should be singing a lot more. The song itself is smoky and mysterious, and Benson heightens the mood. This was a real unlikely hit and changed his career forever.

69. Evil Woman - Electric Light Orchestra: A-
It's nice to see ELO getting more respect nowadays. Jeff Lynne is simply a brilliant songwriter. For years, critics would dismiss him as some sort of Beatles rip-off artist. And while he certainly took some inspiration from the Fabs, from the day he first got a sliver of fame with The Idle Race, Lynne had his own melodic sensibility and as the '70s wore on, he added an R & B influence that added something special to his melodic pop. Here, there are some soul and disco vibes, and loads of nifty production tricks on this Birmingham-meet-Philly type of tune.

70. Wham Bam Shang-a-Lang - Silver: B-
This was an early hit on the then-fledgling Arista Records label. Silver featured the brother of a member of the Eagles, a former member of Tom Petty's old band Mudcrutch, and future member of the Grateful Dead. The band's basic sound was breezy country rock, with a bit of Loggins and Messina, and the guy who wrote this tune wrote for country acts. Somehow, they ended up with this slice of yacht rock that they just had to feel silly singing. But it's decent.

71. I'm Easy - Keith Carradine: A
The first time I saw Robert Altman's Nashville, it was the ABC Movie of the Week. I couldn't have been more than 13 or 14 years old, and I was looking forward to seeing this movie about my hometown. Well, let's just say it was way over my head, and I got bored quickly and quit watching. Now, I knew this song and liked it. It was only years later that I watched the film again. By then I knew that Altman was using Nashville as a metaphor for the U.S. I had also read that he had all of the actors write their own songs for their characters. And this worked out well, as both Carradine (David's brother) and Ronee Blakely got record deals out of it. The song itself is a really good slice of '70s folk-pop. And I'm probably grading a notch or two higher, because in the context of the film, where Carradine sings it in a club and multiple women he's seeing think it's about them is brilliant.

72. Wake Up Everybody, Pt. 1 - Harold Melvin and The Bluenotes: B
This is a socially aware ballad that starts out spotlighting Teddy Pendergrass's crooning, then the song hits a groove that is two parts Philly, with a little bit of disco, although this is in no way a dance song. It was a showcase for the singer, and bandleader Melvin had to know it wasn't long before Teddy was going to strike out on his own. This song is much more about the performance than the solid but unexceptional tune.

73. Summer - War: A
This song rides a light reggae groove as the group sings about the small pleasures of life during the summer. The song oozes sincerity while Lee Oskar adds some soothing harmonica. By this point, I wasn't about slower songs, but even at this time, something about this song really grabbed me and it's been a favorite ever since then.

74. Let Her In - John Travolta: C
Travolta had been noticed for his work in some commercials before getting cast in Welcome Back Kotter, where he rocketed to stardom. As we learned two years later in Grease, he was a pretty good singer, but that's hard to tell on this sappy tune, which was teen idol product of no distinction.

75. Fox On the Run - Sweet: A+
In some respects, Sweet's path was somewhat akin to The Monkees, without the television show, in that they didn't write their songs and only after a couple of years were they allowed to play on them. This was despite the fact that the three instrumentalists in the band were very talented. They learned to write songs from composing b-sides and album tracks, eventually finding an identity separate from their pop persona as a hard rock band. But many rock fans and critics would never take them seriously. At least the band could get some self respect, by writing one of their own hits. And that opportunity arose in 1975 in the UK, when RCA Records asked for a new single while the Mike Chapman-Nicky Chinn songwriting team were unavailable. So the band retooled this song, which was originally appeared on the British Desolation Boulevard album. It was a good album track. But the band made it sleeker, adding synthesizers and keyboards, amping up the chorus, and making the guitar parts more stylized. And they broke out their best harmonies. The result was a deserved smash.

76. Rhiannon - Fleetwood Mac: A+
And so the legend of Stevie Nicks starts here. Over the years, Nicks has shown that no matter how many songs she puts out every few years, at least two or three of them will be killer. Nicks was inspired by a novel she read, and that novel was based on a legendary Welsh character named Rhiannon. The song is full of mystery and allure, with parts where the melody suddenly rises (which was a device she used well on subsequent songs). The atmosphere is just right on this song, not too melodramatic, and Nicks sings it perfectly.

77. Got to Get You Into My Life - The Beatles: A
In 1976, Capitol repackaged a couple of LPs worth of Beatles tunes with a retro album cover, filling it mostly with album tracks (though many of these tracks got some radio love at one time or another). They decided to release this Revolver track as a single, and it shot up the charts. This song showed Paul McCartney under the influence of Motown and, as it was later learned, under the influence of mary jane, as Macca said the song was about his love for marijuana. The song is a classic and was also a song that sounded pretty contemporary in 1976, ten years after its original release.

78. Fanny (Be Tender With My Love) - The Bee Gees: A+
It wasn't all disco for the Bee Gees in 1976. The Gibbs had always killed big ballads dating back to their early albums. This is a wonderful, soulful song, with Barry Gibb singing in his normal register in the verses and moving up in range during the chorus, and eventually breaking out the falsetto. This song just keeps building and building and the final choruses are sublime.

79. Getaway - Earth, Wind and Fire: A-
These guys were on such a roll at this point, with their mix of funk and spiritual soul, making for music that was totally uplifting and so great for dancing. The balance between the heavy and light they achieved was so hard to pull off, and they did it so well.

80. She's Gone - Daryl Hall and John Oates: A+
This song really didn't do anything for Hall & Oates when they first released it, and they eventually left Atlantic Records for RCA. Tavares picked up on the song and had a big R & B hit with their terrific cover of the tune. Then "Sara Smile" hit big on RCA, and Atlantic decided to give this song another shot. Well, this was well timed and the public was ready for this great single. Daryl Hall has called it the best song the duo ever wrote. Arif Mardin was the perfect producer for the song, which sets a sad mood (because, duh, she's left the guy singing), and that steady sadness gives away to desperate longing in the chorus, where you hear how well the pair sing together.

81. Rock and Roll Music - The Beach Boys: B+
This comes from the 15 Big Ones album that I got for my 11th birthday. This was the album where Brian Wilson returned to the helm, and there was some creative tension with his brothers Carl and Dennis, who each had established their artistic chops as songwriters. They didn't want to do an album of covers, and thought the ones they were recording were warm ups. What ended up happening was a mish-mash of covers and so-so originals. Meanwhile, Brian was experimenting with more modern keyboard sounds, mixing in synths and what not, and that certainly led to the odd feel to this hit cover of a Chuck Berry song. The rhythm always fees off-kilter and the harmonies seem like they were recorded in the studio next door. And I still really dig it, because of this, not despite it.

82. Still the One - Orleans: B
This gets a bonus notch for the craftsmanship behind the hook. It's a lot tougher to write a non-sappy positive love song than a break up song, so credit where credit is due here, as this is happy as heck. And ABC used this for a while as the theme song for the great show on tap for whatever fall season they were promoting>

83. You're My Best Friend - Queen: A
Not to pigeonhole Mr. Deacon, but he certainly had an R & B jones, which is reflected in some of his songwriting contributions to Queen. This was the second one of his tunes that the band recorded, and it's an ode to his wife to be. Roger Taylor isn't the ideal drummer to lay down a groove, but Deacon's bass and Freddie Mercury's piano due the trick, and the harmonies are warm, and Freddie sings this with such passion. This was a key song in Queen's development, as it added a pure pop side that freed them to pretty much try anything.

84. With Your Love - Jefferson Starship: B+
Had Marty Balin not joined Jefferson Starship, they probably would have flamed out after a few more crappy concept albums. Now, Balin, who had transformed into a blue-eyed soul singer, diminished any rock cred the band had, but he made them commercially viable with sophisticated ballads like this one. To the band's credit, they play this just right, and Grace Slick's backing vocals are fantastic.

85. Slow Ride - Foghat: A+
From a performance standpoint, Foghat was a terrific blues-based rock band. Give them a Chuck Berry or Willie Dixon tune, and they'd nail it. Their own songwriting was more hit-and-miss, due to the tendency to fall back on basic boogie. But they really hit it here, and they created one of the most enduring classic rock tunes ever. It's not just the riff or the singing of the chorus lyrics, it's how they work together in combination. The verse go off in a surprisingly jaunty direction, and then the bridge to the chorus is pretty brilliant. I still turn this song up when it comes on the radio.

86. Who'd She Coo? - The Ohio Players: B
This is an impressive showing for a song that never got past #18 on the Top 40 (although it was a #1 R & B hit). This is more in line with early Ohio Players, in that it's pretty much an instrumental, and one with some interesting stuff going on with the rhythm section, augmented by a cool horn chart. An above average funk number, but not exceptional.

87. Walk Away from Love - David Ruffin: B+
I don't recall this Top 10 hit for the former Temptation. This feels like a Philly soul number, with a bit of New York (maybe that's the contribution of producer Van McCoy). While not a dance song per se, this definitely has disco touches. And Ruffin's voice exudes soul.

88. Baby I Love Your Way - Peter Frampton: B
Frampton Comes Alive is a classic example of what mass appeal is all about. I don't know if there are any flat out great songs on it, but pretty much everything is good. Frampton's guitar is appealing as our his vocals, and the hooks work their magic. I'm sure a number of folks would have cited Frampton at that moment as their favorite rocker, and then by the time I'm in You came out, forgotten all about it.

89. Young Hearts Run Free - Candi Staton: A
Staton was kind of a poor woman's Aretha Franklin, which isn't as insulting as that sounds - Aretha is so great, and Candi is no slouch - with some minor Southern soul hits. And like most other soul singers, she had to deal with disco. Luckily, she was working with writer-producer David Crawford, who whipped up this wonderful soul tune that fit well with a disco backing. Candi should have had more hits than she ended up with, but at least this one has held up very well over time.

90. Breaking Up Is Hard to Do - Neil Sedaka: B-
Sedaka achieved a rarity, hitting the Top 10 twice with different renditions of the same song. The original version of the song was done in an upbeat early-'60s style, which made sense, being that it was the early '60s. And Sedaka began this version with a bit of that old version, before transforming it into the ballad it probably should have been in the first place. A bit to M.O.R. for me, but the song is pretty solid.

91. Money Honey - Bay City Rollers: B+
This was a band co-write, and showed that the Rollers could rock a little, serving up a little glam-boogie rock. The song sports a strong guitar riff, some solid harmony vocals, and good performances all around. Someone should cover this tune.

92. Give Up the Funk (Tear the Roof Off the Sucker) - Parliament: A
This was the first Top 40 hit for Parliament, who had some success on the R & B charts up to this point, and this song really got them on soul stations more consistently. While so many Parliament songs are catchy, and most have great grooves, this was certainly the best chorus that George Clinton and company had cooked up to this point. Funk never got as much space on Top 40 radio as I would have liked, but it's nice that this great slab of funk had such a good chart run.

93. Junk Food Junkie - Larry Groce: C+
At some point between 1976 and 1977, my dad steered me to a bin at our local KMart. It had singles, with a plastic bag over their sleeves, that only cost 44 cents (as opposed to 99 cents for a brand new 45). I eventually figured out that these were either overstock or songs from jukeboxes, as sometimes the jukebox tag would be stuck in the sleeve, and sometimes the wrong sleeve would be with the single (a Columbia sleeve for a Capitol single, for example). I really was able to start adding to my collection upon this discovery. I picked up this novelty tune for 44 cents, and I suppose I got my money's worth. For an 11-year-old, this funny folk song cracked me up. And I'm sure Larry Groce was surprised as anyone that this tune cracked the Top 10. It fit the moment.

94. Tryin' to Get the Feeling Again - Barry Manilow: B
The Carpenters were the first act to record this David Pomeranz song. They pursued the same path as Manilow did, with the song starting quiet and then building up instruments to increase the drama. For some reason, it doesn't quite click -- Karen doesn't seem to want to up her energy. Of course, this is no problem for Manilow, as the horns and strings increase the temperature (relatively) he throws himself into the song like the trooper he is and always will be.

95. Rock and Roll All Nite - KISS: A
Casablanca Records was on shaky ground. Label head Neil Bogart said KISS needed a hit, and he suggested some sort of rock anthem. Paul Stanley apparently thought, "What would Slade do?" and he came up with the chorus. He brought it to Gene Simmons, who repurposed a old song of his and Voila! Well, not quite. The studio version stalled out on the Hot 100 (and was the b-side of this 45). Luckily for KISS and Casablanca, it was time to do the career sum up live album, and Alive! did the trick for KISS, fueled by this heavier version of the song. KISS gets a lot of crap, and some of it is deserved, I suppose. But they were capable songwriters, and this song was a well-deserved hit, with some great riffing, and a catchy chorus.

96. Disco Duck - Rick Dees: F
Of course I liked this song back in the day. I was a prime target for novelty songs. But the fact that this song went to #1 means that grown ups bought this record too, and I'm trying to figure out what their excuse was.

97. The Boys Are Back In Town - Thin Lizzy: A+
In a parallel universe, Thin Lizzy didn't just have this sole Top 40 hit to their name, and instead became worldwide superstars, and Phil Lynott didn't do heroin, and he's still alive today, making the occasional solo record. Alas, in this universe, this Irish band scored only one U.S. hit, but at least it's an enduring classic. Lynott certainly was influenced by Van Morrison and Bruce Springsteen, and the former really shows up here. This is certainly no imitation, however, as Lynott uses his soulful vocals to create conversational verses that go down well with the feel good melody. And the chorus just comes out of nowhere, yet somehow fits. The dual guitar soloing was, if you were a fan, to be expected, but not something the average Top 40 listener heard.

98. Take the Money and Run - The Steve Miller Band: B+
The road from Steve Miller, laid back psychedelic blues rocker to Steve Miller, bubblegum blues pop star was a steady one, obviously accelerated by the success of "The Joker" in 1973. Rather than strike while the iron was hot, Miller woodshedded for a spell and recorded his two biggest albums in one fell swoop, penning some great tunes, and adding a proclivity for synthesizers, which aren't prominent here. This is just a catchy rock tune that was the narrative of a lot of cheap exploitation films in the '70s. Crime never sounded so fun.

99. Squeeze Box - The Who: B-
A little risque whimsy from The Who, and a bit of comic relief on the fairly heavy Who By Numbers album. The song was intended for a television special, per Wikipedia, where the band was intended to play the song while 100 topless woman played accordions. The song has a country feel that's not on any other Who record. Apparently, Pete Townshend was a little bit embarrassed that the song became a big hit. It's certainly not a high point for one of the all-time great bands. It did provide fodder for a funny scene in Freaks and Geeks when Lindsay's parents listen to the song as they are debating whether to let her go see The Who in concert.

100. Country Boy (You Got Your Feet in L.A.) - Glen Campbell: B
This was the other hit single from Glen Campbell's Rhinestone Cowboy album, and it's basically the reverse of the title cut. Instead of being about a cowboy becoming big in Hollywood, this is about wanting to get away from Hollywood to get back to Tennessee. I don't remember much about the song other than the chorus, which means the heart of the song still holds up pretty well.

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