In the Philadelphia region, like elsewhere in the northeastern U.S., the winter of 1976-77 was cold. How cold? According to Jon Nese and Glenn “Hurricane” Schwartz, from December 1976 through February 1977, we experienced 54 days when temperatures dipped beneath 20 degrees; and, on 35 of them, temperatures never inched above the freezing mark. In fact, that January was the coldest month, ever, for the Delaware Valley.
For a kid a mere two years removed from a hot desert climate, it felt like a frigid hell. About the only saving grace: the lack of snow. We narrowly escaped the Blizzard of ’77, which slammed New England and, for the winter as a whole, amassed less than eight inches.
There were less pluses when it came to the economy. It wasn’t as awful as, say, 1974, but it wasn’t good. Unemployment was 7.8 percent and inflation was 5.2 percent. Yet, despite those stats and weather, optimism lingered in the air for a variety of reasons, including one of the greatest feel-good movies of all time, Rocky, which was released the month before; and Jimmy Carter, who was sworn into office as America’s 39th president on January 20th. It was a new day—and, ever so briefly, a new politics: at the start of his inaugural address, Carter thanked Gerald Ford, his predecessor, for all he had done to heal a land torn asunder by Watergate. The two shook hands.
Not that the speech lent itself to greatness; if anything, its prosaic language foreshadowed what would become a prosaic presidency.
In any event: Circus. It’s not a music magazine I read with regularity and, at this stage of my life, I wasn’t reading any, period. I was 11 /12, attending a public middle school (6th & 7th grades; there was a second middle school for 8th & 9th) that banned denim jeans, and was gung-ho for pro ‘rassling. On TV, in addition to the WWWF on weekends and Sunday football, I watched The Six Million Dollar Man, The Captain & Tennille, Happy Days, Laverne & Shirley, The Bionic Woman, Welcome Back, Kotter and Donny & Marie. I watched tons of reruns, too, including The Brady Bunch, The Monkees and The Partridge Family. (The addition of the second addiction/obsession, i.e. music, came later that year.)
Anyway, my main memory of Circus, which is from a few years later, is that it was (basically) a heavy-metal monthly, minus the cool art and stories that accented the real Heavy Metal magazine. So I was taken aback, last weekend, to discover this issue, dated January 31st, in a rather cool ephemera store about a 30-minute ride away from my home.
The tag beneath the title, as seen in the first picture, calls it “the leading rock & roll biweekly.” According to Wikipedia, “[i]n the late 1970s, the magazine started focusing on pop culture as a weekly in the vein of People Magazine, which caused a drop in sales.” This issue doesn’t read like People to me, but it does have several non-music articles – one on Raid to Entebbe, an NBC-TV movie starring Charles Bronson; another on Roots; and a profile of actress-writer Mary Kay Place, who was hot thanks to Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman, and her first (and only) album. There’s also a quick-hit section called Front Pages that features reports on David Soul, 40-band CB radio, NASA and TV odds-and-ends; and the quick-hit Back Pages, which focuses on music. This issue, that means mentions of Paul McCartney & Wings, Queen, Boston, the Runaways, Alice Cooper and Bob Seger.
Here’s today’s Top 5: January 31st, 1977 (via Circus):
1) Jackson Browne – “The Pretender.” Kit Rachlis begins the review of Jackson’s fourth album with an excellent paragraph: “Three people haunt almost every word and note of Jackson Browne’s The Pretender: his wife, Phyllis, who committed suicide last spring; his three-year-old son, Ethan; and his father Clyde, who left his family when Browne was a child. In one sense, The Pretender can be seen as Browne’s attempt to come to terms with his own family—a family shattered by death and separation, renewed by the birth of his son. ‘Daddy’s Tune’ and ‘The Only Child’ are for his father and son. ‘Here Comes Those Tears Again,’ written with his mother-in-law, and ‘Linda Paloma’ are clearly intended for Phyllis. But it would be a mistake to view the album as functioning solely as autobiography. That assumption can only lead to the worst kind of psychological speculation. (Is ‘Your Bright Baby Blues,’ most of which was written five years ago, about Phyllis?) Moreover, such perspective limits the album’s scope and undercuts its accomplishment. Instead of being about Phyllis and Ethan, The Pretender is about death and birth, about understanding the past and claiming the future—mostly, it’s about redefining romanticism in the face of disillusionment and tragedy.”
As a whole, the review is a thoughtful rave that calls The Pretender “Browne’s best album.” (He’s wrong there, of course; that honor goes to Late for the Sky.) Rachlis also says that it’s “not the culmination, but an extension of Browne’s previous work. Almost every song has a counterpart in the earlier albums. The title cut, the most important and ambitious song on the LP, belongs in the line of ‘Rock Me on the Water,’ ‘For Everyman,’ and ‘After the Deluge,’ all of which stake out Browne’s position in relation to society. Each declares his defiance of categorization and grand schemes. Rather, his is a search for solace within himself or with those around him—whether in ‘the kindness of my baby’s eye’ or ‘the light in your lover’s eyes.’ Perhaps for Browne, the search itself provides its own solace.”
2) Bob Seger & the Silver Bullet Band – “Rock and Roll Never Forgets.” John Swenson writes that Night Moves “is already one of my favorite albums of the year, and I haven’t even been listening to it for more than a week. This comes as a big surprise to me because I’ve always taken Seger for granted. Certainly it’s been easy to say I’ve liked him, but it’s always been that casual kind of approval usually accorded to marginal figures who please without impressing.”
Swenson explains: “Not that Night Moves hits me with the emotional impact of The Who Sell Out or Beggar’s Banquet or Gasoline Alley—my reaction to those records was definitely a function of how I saw myself at the time, and very little can match their impact these days. Night Moves doesn’t affect me like that—it’s too derivative (but not in the sense that it shows its influences, because all great rock & roll has been influenced by something). This LP is emotionally derivative, which leads me to suspect that someone who didn’t grow up listening to The Who Sell Out, Beggar’s Banquet, or Gasoline Alley would find it as much of a revelation now as I found those records then.”
He then compares Seger to Rod Stewart (a bit of a stretch, I think), and says “[y]ou could bring Stewart in to sing ‘Rock and Roll Never Forgets,’ and it would be a perfect Faces classic, with all the unpretentious abandon that characterized that band’s best performances.”
(There’s also an excellent article about Seger in the Up Starts section; click on the above pic to read it.)
3) The Bee Gees – “You Should Be Dancing.” Saturday Night Fever was 11 months away and, yet, the Brothers Gibb were already on a roll. According to writer Stephen Demorest, “After half a decade in the phantom zone of worn-out pop groups, the Bee Gees have rebounded mightily in the last two years with a stunning string of five hit singles and two platinum albums strong on disco flavoring. And now 1977 promises to be the hottest year in their entire 20 year career.”
On their agenda: the soundtrack to the Sgt. Pepper’s film; and their followup to Children of the World (which would be bastardized for Saturday Night Fever). This song, which features on that soundtrack, hails from Children; and was a No. 1 hit in September 1976. One piece of trivia related to it: Stephen Stills (yes, that Stephen Stills) plays percussion on it.
This video is from Soul Train, where the song was used for a line dance…
4) Lou Reed – “I Believe in Love.” In an “as heard by Scott Cohen” article titled “Pitter Patter: Lou Reed’s Rock and Roll Heart…,” Lou says “[b]eing sentimental is my weakness. I’ve got a drawer full of old love letters to prove it.” He also says, “I believe in good times, good-time music, good-night kisses, crosses, fresh starts and most of all—like I say in ‘I Believe in Love’—I believe in love.” And, of the song itself, he talks about how “[t]he words…came to me while singing in the shower. I wanted to say ‘I’m on the outside looking in/on the inside of you looking out/at me’ but couldn’t work it in.”
And, of his past, he explains that “[b]efore the Velvet Underground, I had a band in England called the Beachnuts and sang ‘Sally Can’t Surf.’ Before that I sang with Garland Jeffreys at Syracuse University.”
5) The Runaways – “Queens of Noise.” The Runaways promote their second album, Queens of Noise, in the Back Pages section. “It’s a weird kinda song,” Joan Jett says of the title song of the Runaways’ second album. “It’s heavy, but it could be a Top 20 hit; it’s got a happy-type melody.”
The un-bylined article also details the band’s shift to an improved recording technique. “It’s certain that the ‘noise’ won’t be refined out, however. ‘It has to have that raw edge,’ said Jett, ‘but sound better. I liked The Runaways for what it was. If we’d come out sounding like a Queen production, it wouldn’t have let us go anyplace.’ Refusing to disparage their debut album, she added, ‘Even though a lot of critics said it wasn’t produced well, we’ve gotten a lot of fan mail saying it’s the best album they’ve ever heard. And as long as the people buying albums like it, I think we did it right.”
Circus was always the magazine that the older brothers of my elementary school friends read. I would sneak peeks at issues on the newsstand. I didn’t start buying them with some frequency until 1980 but yeah it evolved into a metal mag and I eventually left it behind.
The great first six issues of Revolver were among the finest of any music mag ever – I subscribed shortly after picking up the Jim Morrison adorned premiere issue – and then the Metal issue showed up in my mailbox announcing they were no longer trying to be all things to everyone and instead were focusing on a genre I had all but left beind a decade before. I cancelled my sub and received a check for the remainder of my subscription.