Archive for the ‘1977’ Category

On Monday September 5, 1977, NBC premiered James at 15, a TV movie about 15-year-old James Hunter (Lance Kerwin), whose life is upended when his family moves from Oregon to Boston in the middle of the school year. After a few days at his new high school, where fitting in proves difficult, he hits the road in hopes of reuniting with the girl he left behind, Lacey (Melissa Sue Anderson); and, along the way, he falls in with an art student (Kate Jackson) who teaches him the ways of the road (aka hitch hiking). It did well in the ratings – topped them, in fact – and, as a result, was turned into a TV series that debuted at the end of October.

For its era, both the TV movie and series were unusually frank. It was no Born Innocent, mind you, yet delved into the gradients of teenage life with as much honesty as the network censors would allow. (That interference caused the creator/showrunner, novelist Dan Wakefield, to resign midway through the season.) The series also broke stereotypes with James’ friends, who include aspiring anthropologist-psychologist Marlene (Susan Myers), whose dad is a working-class joe, and capitalist-in-the-making Sly (David Hubbard), a black kid whose straitlaced parents are into classical music. James and the supporting characters aren’t caricatures, in other words, but the kind of kids one might pass in the era’s high-school corridors. Likewise, James’ parents (Linden Chiles, Lynn Carlin) and sisters (Deirdre Berthrong, Kim Richards) come across as variants of the real thing.

That’s not to say the series is perfect. Some episodes veer into ABC Afterschool Special territory, teaching the (presumably) younger viewers life lessons from afar. One early episode, for example, finds James trying to woo a girl (Teri Nunn, who later found fame with the pop group Berlin) with a “bad” reputation only to discover she’s far from promiscuous. Another finds his best friend from Oregon visiting Boston in order to see cancer specialists; he dies, of course. Another possible love interest leads him to consider joining a cult. And, late in the season, he befriends a girl (Rosanna Arquette) who’s an alcoholic. Other stories venture into the “ick” territory, such as his older sister’s involvement with one of her college professors or his uncle “gifting” him with a prostitute for his 16th birthday (James declines, as he’s late for a date with a Swedish exchange student). Along the way, brief Walter Mitty-esque interludes punctuate the stories, but are far more annoying than humorous. 

Technically speaking, James – who celebrated his 16th birthday in February 1978, making his birth year 1962 – was a late addition to the Baby Boom generation. A “generation,” for those unsure of what one entails, is defined as people born during a specific stretch of years, though social scientists often quibble about when each begins and/or ends. Individual generations experience the same cultural and societal touchstones and/or upheavals; and those shared references, in turn, result in something akin to a hive-like mindset that plays out in pop culture, politics and societal shifts. In the case of the Baby Boomers, the years range from 1946 (some experts say ’43) to 1964; they experienced the JFK assassination, Civil Rights movement, Vietnam War and Woodstock, among other events. Generation X (1965-80), aka my generation, came next; I tend to think of us more as Generation Jan, however, as – like Jan Brady – we’re the middle child forever overshadowed by our older and younger siblings, the aforementioned Boomers and Millennials (1981-2000), most of whom came of age in the years following 9/11, when the Afghanistan and Iraq wars raged.  

Which is to say, teenage James has more in common with first-wave Gen Xers like myself than first- or second-wave boomers, as the defining events of the 1960s would have been beyond his ken. That’s where “micro-generations” come in – subsets that bridge two generations. The ill-named Generation Jones (1954-65) and Xennials (late 1970s to early ‘80s) are two examples. James may have seen news reports on the Civil Rights movement, Vietnam and Woodstock as a little kid, but the more mundane matters of childhood would have been foremost on his mind. Watergate, the Bicentennial and Bad News Bears would have all penetrated his consciousness, on the other hand, simply because he was older.

For any late-stage Boomer or first-wave Xer, James at 15/16 (it updated its title on his birthday) is worth watching, if only for nostalgia’s sake. It recalls, via its sensational yet soft-scrubbed stories, a time when kids dressed as we dressed, talked as we talked, and acted like we acted (though the lack of video-arcade scenes is a strike against it). That it’s yet to be officially released on DVD means second-hand recordings uploaded to YouTube or purchased via the bootleg market will have to do. So be it.

April 30, 1977: Even at my young age – a mere 11 years and 10 months – I knew enough to note the momentous event of the date in my rarely used desk diary: legendary Bruno Sammartino lost the WWWF championship to the colorful and flamboyant Superstar Billy Graham! 

Over the prior two years – less, actually – I’d become a big fan of the “sport.” When we returned from Saudi Arabia in the summer of ’75, after a near 5-year spell, I was a few months shy of 10. I was totally out of the loop on current American everything. I didn’t know anything about baseball, basketball, football or hockey, color TV, TV shows, popular music, or anything else. Oh, I knew about Mighty Mouse – the only Saudi TV station played those cartoons, along with a variety of other American and British shows, most of which were older than I was. Returning to the States was a bit like getting tossed into the deep end of the culture pool – all I could do was flail around and pray not to drown. One thing that I grabbed hold of: pro wrestling. The colorful characters, the drama and violence grabbed hold of my young imagination. I watched the syndicated shows that aired every weekend, bought and read the wrestling magazines, and slowly, ever-so-slowly, came to realize that “sport” wasn’t totally on the up-and-up.

I thought of that earlier this month when it was announced that Bruno had passed away at the age of 82. He was a good man, a great champion – but not my favorite wrestler. That was…yep, you guessed it: the Superstar! The excitement of learning he had won the coveted championship belt is evident in my scrawl, I think.

Beyond pro ‘rassling, as I now call it, I was often glued to the TV…though pop music was gradually infiltrating my world. The previous week, I picked up the Monkees’ Greatest Hits; and, by year’s end, I’d also own The Osmonds’ Greatest Hits, the soundtrack to The Spy Who Loved Me, and a few Elvis Presley LPs. But, back to TV: I watched almost everything ABC, including the Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries on Sunday, The Captain & Tennille Show every Monday night, and the Brady Bunch Variety Hour when it aired in the same slot; Happy Days, Laverne & Shirley and Eight Is Enough on Tuesdays; Welcome Back, Kotter on Thursdays; and Donny & Marie every Friday.

I’ve written a fair bit about this year before, so won’t dredge up the same stats here. (And now that I’ve looked them over, there is some overlap in the chart hits…but rest assured that the renditions featured here are different than the ones there, wherever there may be.) To revisit those past entries, along with everything else 1977-related I’ve written, go here. 

And, with that out of the way, onward to today’s Top 5: April 30th, 1977 (via Weekly Top 40).

1) Glen Campbell – “Southern Nights.” The No. 1 single in the land this week was this joyous tune from the Rhinestone Cowboy. Written by the legendary Allen Toussaint, it conjures the magic of childhood memories, star-lit nights and family. 

2) Eagles – “Hotel California.” From Glen’s moony optimism to the Eagles’ bitter cynicism in one slot…how’s that for summing up the ‘70s? “You can check out anytime you like/but you can never leave.”

3) Thelma Houston – “Don’t Leave Me This Way.” Say what you will about disco, but know this: There were plenty of great – and I do mean great – singles that came out of the genre. This is one of them. Written by Kenny Gamble, Leon Huff and Cary Gilbert, the song was originally recorded by Harold Melvin & the Bluenotes in 1975, and hit No. 3 on the disco charts. This version? It went to No. 1 on the disco and pop charts – though, this week, it dropped from that top spot to No. 3.

4) Leo Sayer – “When I Need You.” Rising to No. 4 from No. 9 is this song from bushy-haired Leo Sayer, of whom I know little. In fact, I’ve never knowingly heard any Sayer recording until this very moment, while writing this sentence. (And now that I have, I don’t feel compelled to seek out his other hits.) Anyway, this song was written by Albert Hammond and Carole Bayer Sager, and was first released by Hammond in 1976; and was later covered by Rod Stewart, Celine Dion and Luther Vandross, among others. 

5) Natalie Cole – “I’ve Got Love on My Mind.” Rising to No. 5 from No. 6 is this treatise on love (or should I say L-O-V-E?), which was written and produced by Chuck Jackson and Marvin Yancy. True story: in 1990 or early ’91, prior to her Unforgettable comeback, Diane and I, and some friends, bought tickets to see Ray Charles with Natalie Cole at the now-defunct Valley Forge Music Fair. Ray was supposed to be the headliner, but due to a hiccup in her travel plans, he went on first…which meant the friends, who purposely arrived late to miss Ms. Cole’s set, wound up missing Ray! (Worse: She screeched most of the night, and the venue slowly emptied out as she sang. It was sad.)

And two bonuses…

6) Yvonne Elliman – “Hello Stranger.” Rising to No. 24 from 33 is Yvonne’s smoky rendition of the classic Barbara Lewis hit.

7) Henry Mancini & His Orchestra – “(Theme From) Charlie’s Angels.” Jumping from No. 51 to 45 is this, one of the week’s “power plays,” as kitsch a hit as I’ve ever heard – without the opening montage of Angels, it just doesn’t pack much of a punch. (And, no, I didn’t miss Charlie’s Angels on the list of ABC shows I watched above – I didn’t start watching until Season 2.)

(As noted in my first Essentials entry, this is an occasional series in which I spotlight albums that, in my estimation, everyone should experience at least once.)

In September 1977, Linda Ronstadt released her eighth album, Simple Dreams. Although not her best work (Heart Like a Wheel is that), it’s a sublime masterpiece. It captures her at the peak of her creative powers, melding yesteryear classics and contemporary offerings into a delectable whole. In a sense, it follows the formula she and producer Peter Asher established with Heart Like a Wheel – but it strays from it, too, by expanding the palette several hues. There’s pop, rock and country, in other words, but also two songs from the dawn of true Americana music – the Carter Family’s “I Never Will Marry” (1933) and “Old Paint,” which dates back even further, to the late 1800s.

In some ways, the set epitomizes what I like to call Southern California soul – it’s tasteful and tuneful, emotive, and never slick. Linda is a singer in service to the songs. Oh sure, her voice is on full display – but every note she sings is aimed at putting the songs over; she doesn’t show off. Her rendition of Roy Orbison’s “Blue Bayou,” which topped out at No. 3 on the singles chart, is one example…

… and her cover of Buddy Holly’s “It’s So Easy,” which topped out at No. 5, is another.

Because of my age and ignorance, I was unaware of Linda Ronstadt until the following autumn and Living in the USA, and didn’t become a fan in earnest until 1980, when I bought Mad Love.  And as a kid on a tight budget, I didn’t pick up Simple Dreams until March 1st, 1983 – not because I didn’t want it, but because four of its songs were featured on her Greatest Hits Vol. II, which I got in October or November of 1980. These two, for instance:

But I quickly wished I’d bought it sooner. Its strength comes not just from the hits and those two radio staples, but such exemplary tunes as the aforementioned “I Never Will Marry” and “Old Paint,” not to mention the Eric Kaz-penned “Sorrow Lives Here.”

Here’s the track list of the album:

Side One:

  1. It’s So Easy
  2. Carmelita
  3. Simple Man, Simple Dream
  4. Sorrow Lives Here
  5. I Never Will Marry

Side Two:

  1. Blue Bayou
  2. Poor Poor Pitiful Me
  3. Maybe I’m Right
  4. Tumbling Dice
  5. Old Paint

Aside from its contents, the LP is notable for selling 3 1/2 million copies within its first year of release; knocking Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours from the top spot of Billboard’s album chart, a position that album had held for 29 weeks; and being home to two singles (“Blue Bayou” and “It’s So Easy”) that were in the Top 5 at the same time – a feat that hadn’t been achieved since the Beatles in the ‘60s.

So why spotlight Simple Dreams now? The Rhino label has reissued the album in honor of its 40th anniversary, that’s why. The set features remastered sound and three bonus tracks from Linda’s 1980 HBO concert – “It’s So Easy,” “Blue Bayou” and “Poor Poor Pitiful Me.” I can’t speak for the CD, but the LP sounds great; and the bonus material is a delight – if you purchase the LP, they come on a separate 45-sized single (though it plays at 33 1/3 RPMs).

Forty years ago today, I was three months shy of 12 years old. I won’t go too in-depth about the wider world or even mine, as I covered both just a few weeks back, but know this: I was not music savvy. I liked The Sound of Music, enjoyed Donny & Marie and The Brady Bunch Variety Hour, and even had a few Brady Kids LPs. That was it.

Of the Bradys: Like many of my generation, thanks to its endless loop of reruns, The Brady Bunch became a series that I knew (and still know) like the back of my hand – better, in fact, because I never stared at my hand the way that I stared at the TV in those days. It didn’t matter that I never saw the show on Friday nights (we moved to Saudi in 1970, after all, so it was never an option); it was on every day, just like The Partridge Family… and The Monkees.

The Monkees made me laugh. And, too, I liked the songs – quite a bit. So, after school at 5pm, I tuned in (I think) Philadelphia’s now-defunct Channel 48, WKBS, which aired back-to-back episodes of it. And, as I noted in my desk diary this day in 1977, picked up their Greatest Hits, which had been released the previous year. (I’m actually surprised that I forgot about this LP when writing about my first tentative steps into music fandom, but so it goes.)

In the years since, I should mention, I’ve picked up more of their albums and the Listen to the Band box set, and even enjoyed their Head feature film both in an actual movie theater (the TLA on South Street, back when the TLA showed movies) and on video. But this collection, for me, is their best collection…

And, with that: Today’s Top 5: April 23, 1977 (via my Desk Diary) – The Monkees!!!

1) “Last Train to Clarksville.”

2) “Listen to the Band.”

3) “I’m a Believer.”

4) “Pleasant Valley Sunday.”

5) “(I’m Not Your) Stepping Stone.”

And one bonus…

“Shades of Gray.”