Oct. 22, 1976: Election fever swept the nation on this, the date of the third and final debate between President Gerald R. Ford and Jimmy Carter, a former governor of Georgia. It was a tight race in which both candidates showed grace and temerity, and respect for one another despite the (expected) attacks upon each other’s positions. Both were good men.
The first debate, in September, was accented by a technical glitch that caused the sound to be lost for 27 minutes.
The second debate was marked by a major blunder by Ford, who claimed that Eastern Europe was not under the domination of the Soviet Union.
The bemused reaction of panelist Max Frankel, a reporter for the New York Times, says it all. That may not have been what Ford meant to say, mind you, but words – then, now and forever – matter. At the third debate, Carter faced the fire for an ill-advised interview he gave Playboy magazine. In the Q&A, he said, “I’ve looked on a lot of women with lust. I’ve committed adultery in my heart many times.” Fairly tame stuff, perhaps, but…words matter.
Ford, it should be noted, held and still holds the distinction of being the lone American president to never be elected to a national office. (Three years prior, President Nixon’s chosen numbskull of a v.p., Spiro Agnew, was swept up in a bribery scandal that dated to his days as Maryland’s governor; he resigned, and Ford ascended from the House of Representatives to the vice president’s office with overwhelming votes in the Senate and House.) For his part, Carter also holds two unique distinctions: He’s the only U.S. president to have once lived in subsidized housing; and he’s also the only president to have been inside a post-meltdown nuclear plant, which he was in 1952.
On a broader scale: America, which celebrated its bicentennial on July 4th, was doing okay – not great, but not bad. Unemployment for the year clocked in at 7.7 percent, down a few ticks from 1975; and inflation for the month averaged 5.5 percent – less than half of what it was in October 1974.
The year began with a true moment of greatness: the Philadelphia Flyers squashed the Soviet Red Army hockey team in a 4-1 win that also saw the crybaby Russians leave the ice for a spell.
Other quick-hit highlights: the Pittsburgh Steelers defeated the Dallas Cowboys in Super Bowl X; the Viking 1 probe landed on Mars; Son of Sam began his killing spree in New York City; the Seattle Seahawks and Tampa Bay Buccaneers played their first football games; and the Cincinnati Reds won the World Series. Popular TV shows included Happy Days, Laverne & Shirley, M*A*S*H, Charlie’s Angels, The Six Million Dollar Man and One Day at a Time.
Films released that year include quite a few classics (or what I consider to be classics, at any rate): Rocky, Carrie, All the President’s Men, Taxi Driver, Network and The Bad News Bears. (Rocky and Carrie had yet to be released by the time of the debate, however.)
And for music? Well, I was 11 years old this autumn; music was not an all-consuming passion, though I enjoyed it. (See here for a timeline of that.) That said, in 1976, there were three strains of music: AM, FM and disco. AM was pop; FM was rock; and disco sucked. (Bad joke. And, yes, I’m leaning on stereotypes with the AM-FM breakdown.) No, the era of leisure suits was hitting on all cylinders by about this time – the No. 1 song of the week was…well, look below. That said, October 22nd marks the release of one of the truly classic albums of all time – Night Moves by Bob Seger & the Silver Bullet Band.
And, yes, that’s a hint of what’s to come with today’s Top 5.
1) Bob Seger & the Silver Bullet Band – “Night Moves.” Night Moves, the album, was initially rejected by Seger’s record label: that’s a factoid that, if I knew, I’d forgotten until Seger’s Facebook page posted this: “Capitol rejects the album. Bob and Punch decide to bring Night Moves back to Capitol’s radio team to rally support. Steve Meyer secretly taped the music as it was being played and took it to Paul Drew, who programmed all the RKO Top 40 radio stations in the country. If Paul liked one of your songs, it was guaranteed to become a hit. Two minutes in to listening to the title track, Paul declared the song as a ‘smash.’” How the LP could initially be rejected… one can only wonder how deaf the executives were.
2) Bob Seger & the Silver Bullet Band – “Mainstreet.” There’s a nostalgic pull on many of the songs on Night Moves. This one, for instance. It takes me back to a specific night in my college career, when the professor for my non-fiction writing class took us out for a field trip that ended at a watering hole called the Hotel Do De in Bellefonte, Pa., a neighboring town of State College. We walked in to hear a bar band called the Insiders cranking out a solid version of this song. (I’m not sure why it’s stuck with me, but it has.)
3) Heart – “Magic Man.” Another act that was making headway that fall: Heart. Ann and Nancy Wilson and band released Dreamboat Annie in Canada in August 1975 and the U.S. in February 1976. It took time to get off the ground, however, due to the city-by-city marketing plan of the record label. “Crazy on You,” the first single, cracked the charts in the spring and received a lot of FM airplay; and “Magic Man,” the second single, cemented their success. The week of October 16th, it was No. 14 and soon to peak at No. 9 (according to Weekly Top 40).
4) Al Stewart – “Year of the Cat.” Billboard, in its October 23rd edition, calls the Year of the Cat album “mellow,” “well arranged” and “progressive without being pretentious.” The title track is a classic.
5) Rick Dees and His Cast of Idiots – “Disco Duck (Part 1).” Whenever I hear someone my age or older lament the sad state of modern music, I think of songs such as this, which was a super-huge popular hit that topped the pop charts on the week of October 16th, 1976. No generation can stake the moral high ground when it comes to anything; we all have our highs, our lows and our in-betweens. And make no mistake: “Disco Duck” was a low. A real low.