Posts Tagged ‘1977’

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.

(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, as I write, the first full month of the Carter presidency was almost over; and, all things considered, it had been rather boring. The big news of the day was the revelation that Jordan’s King Hussein had been on the CIA payroll for at least a decade; and, because Jimmy Carter vowed during his presidential campaign to be the first to shed light on such shenanigans, some saw his administration’s newly announced policy of not commenting on covert affairs as being somewhat hypocritical.

Beyond that, the scourge known as inflation had jumped half a percent point to 5.9 percent this month; and the unemployment rate was 7.6 percent, about the same as it had been the year before. Weather-wise, at least in the Philadelphia region, it was freakishly mild – in just a few days (the 23rd), we’d hit 70 degrees.

Probably the biggest news in my world, however, was that the Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries had premiered on ABC on the last day of January.

There was plenty of good TV shows in those days – well, what I, at all of 11 years old, considered to be good, including Happy Days and Laverne & Shirley on Tuesdays; and The Donny & Marie Show on Fridays. For anyone who has never had the pleasure of that specific variety show, here’s the Feb. 11th, 1977 episode in its entirety:

Anyway, enough of the preamble. Here’s today’s Top 5: February 19, 1977 (via Weekly Top 40) – and they are, in fact, the Top 5 songs of the week.

1) Manfred Mann’s Earth Band – “Blinded by the Light.” Written and recorded by Bruce Springsteen on his 1973 debut, Greetings From Asbury Park, NJ, and released as his first single, this classic song was destined for general obscurity until Manfred Mann’s Earth Band released their cover version as a single. Not only did it chart, but it went to No. 1!

2) Eagles – “New Kid in Town.” Glenn Frey, Don Henley & Co. released their classic Hotel California LP in December 1976; and this, the first single from it, worked its way to the top of the charts for the week of Feb. 26th. This week, however, it was holding steady at No. 2.

3) Mary MacGregor – “Torn Between Two Lovers.” Falling from No. 1 to. 3 this week is this soft-rock ode to infidelity, which was co-written and co-produced by Peter Yarrow of Peter, Paul & Mary.

4) Barbra Streisand – “Evergreen (Love Theme From A Star Is Born).” Clocking in at No. 4 is this theme from A Star Is Born, which was co-written by Streisand and Paul Williams. It would top of the charts in two weeks’ time.

5) Kenny Nolan – “I Like Dreamin’.” Until just now, I’d never heard or heard of this song before. Nolan, it turns out, co-wrote such hits as “My Eyes Adored You” and “Lady Marmalade” before launching his solo career.

And a few bonuses:

6) Thelma Houston – “Don’t Leave Me This Way.” The Number 19 song this week is this fun disco-lite tune.

7) Wings – “Maybe I’m Amazed.” Released as a single on Feb. 4th, this live version of the classic Paul McCartney song checks in at No. 37 (on its way to No. 10). It was a single from the Wings Over America, a live set that, according to Wikipedia, set history by becoming the first triple-LP release by a group to hit No. 1 on the album charts.

8) Olivia Newton-John – “Sam.”

IMG_1200I visited the Archive Books and Paper in Montgomeryville, Pa., a few weeks back. It’s a giant warehouse overflowing with old books, magazines, maps, LPs and…I’d say “junk,” and I guess I just did, but it houses something of interest to almost everyone. It certainly does for me, at any rate. Years ago, prior to our old apartment becoming stuffed from our packrat ways, I would have walked out with dozens upon dozens of magazines and books. This day, however, though we’re now in a house with much more room, I left with just two magazines: Circus, dated January 31st, 1977, which I used for the last Top 5, and this Creem, which is dated February 1977.

Circus, of course, billed itself as “the leading rock & roll biweekly.” Cream obviously disagreed with that claim, though, as it calls itself “America’s only rock ’n’ roll magazine.”

Kinda funny.

IMG_1202Anyway, I didn’t realize the closeness in dates between the two issues until after I arrived home. I found them buried beneath an assortment of teen-oriented magazines in the music section, and purchased them because they’re from the ‘70s. Even if I had noticed, though, I would’ve bought them. It’s interesting to see the overlap (and lack thereof) between the two, which likely would’ve shared newsstand space for a few weeks given that magazines are generally dated ahead. As a result, today’s Top 5 will feature a few of the same artists (though not the same songs).

In the history books, this month is memorable for a few reasons: Radio Shack committed to production of the TRS-80 computer on the 2nd (it would hit the stores in August); Fleetwood Mac released Rumours on the 4th; and President Jimmy Carter announced on the 24th that the U.S. would begin taking human rights into consideration when doling out foreign aid. Oh, and at a mere 11 years and seven months, I received my detective badge (from the Johnson Smith catalog) at month’s start. But unlike the Hardy Boys or Nancy Drew, who were new to Sunday nights, I never stumbled onto any mysteries. That was, suffice it to say, a disappointment.

Weather-wise, the cold from the previous months let up and, by month’s end, the Philadelphia region experienced a string of days in the 50s and 60s. In sports, the Philadelphia Flyers were on a roll: 9-3 for the month. I’d yet to take much of an interest in them, however.

IMG_1204The first thing that grabbed my eye in this Creem: a letter in the Mail section from one Pete Townshend of Twickenham, England, who’s fed up with Creem readers haranguing him about when the Who’s 10-LP set based on the Bible will be released. (A previous issue had included a parody of Pete’s penchant for rock operas.) It’s an echo of the mythical Masked Marauders, of course, and goes to show that, no matter the era, some folks want to be fooled.

This issue’s cover story, as seen above, is on journeyman Peter Frampton, whose domination of the record charts in 1976 (and transformation from rocker into a teen idol) would be equaled within a few years by his descent into near-anonymity. There are also articles, as the Contents page shows, on Eric Clapton, Nils Lofgren, Kiki Dee, Lou Reed and the Runaways, among others.

And, with that, here’s today’s Top 5: February 1977 (via Creem)…

IMG_12061) Linda Ronstadt – “Lose Again.” Robert Christgau tackles Linda’s seventh solo album, Hasten Down the Wind, which was released in August of the preceding year: “Linda’s always wanted to be a Real Country Singer, but RCS put out two or three LPs like this every year. You know—find some good tunes, round up the gang, and apply formula. Like the great RCS she can be, she comes up with some inspired interpretations; the flair of ‘That’ll Be the Day’ and ‘Crazy’ do justice to the originals, and her version of the title song alIMG_1207most makes you forget its unfortunate title. But you cover Tracy Nelson’s ‘Down So Low’ at your own peril even if you believe not one in 10 of your fans remembers it, and the two Karla Bonoff lyrics make her (I mean Karla, but Linda too) sound like such a born loser that I never want to hear anyone sing them again.” He graded it a B-.

That’s a rather mean-spirited take on Karla’s contributions (of which there are three, not two). We saw her in concert a few years back and she was beyond good – a magical set. She talked about the first time she heard Linda cover one of her songs, “Lose Again” (which opens Hasten), at a 1976 concert in L.A. and knowing her life had just changed.

IMG_12102) The Runaways – “Born to Be Bad.” Patrick Goldstein provides a warts-and-all slant on the Runaways, detailing a bit of dissension within the ranks due to sleaze-ball manager Kim Fowley: “How’s the record going? Terrible, [Joan Jett] mutters. Apparently, the Runaways’ marriage with Fowley has followed the contours of the archetypical Liz and Dick affair. Young Mr. F may have discovered the girls (in a Denny’s parking lot or at Rodney Bingenheimer’s or a Ronald Reagan fundraiser—I hear a different story every time I ask, so I don’t vouch for their veracity) but their fondness for the mad studio scientist varies at every mood.” And no wonder. “What AM radio wants is garbage,” Fowley says, “and the Runaways are gonna give them garbage. They heard the applause and got the encores and thought they didn’t need em anymore. Now that it’s time for a make or break record, they’re back in my arms again. The girls know what’s good for them. They sold 70,000 records this time around. If Queens of Noise doesn’t double that figure, Mercury will drop them like that! I wonder how they’ll like working as waitresses on the Strip.”

IMG_1211Later, Goldstein goes deep into Fowley’s effort to cast the band as rock ’n’ roll Lolitas, and quotes Cherie Curie as saying, ’This isn’t a tits-and-ass show. When you’re 16, you can’t stand up there and be a sex object. It’s just not part of being 16. I’m not old enough to play Brigitte Bardot or Raquel Welch. Hell, I’m 16.”

That said, they also have some issues with…Patti Smith, whom they met but didn’t like. “She’s such a snob,” says Curie. And Joan Jett observes that, “I was wearing a leather jacket and she still didn’t talk to me.”

“Born to Be Bad” hails from Queens of Noise. It’s atmospheric, melodramatic and a tad (okay, a lot) silly… and, yet, I love it.

IMG_12123) Nils Logfren – “Happy.” The Runaways aren’t the only ones who had issues with Patti. Nils Lofgren, in a piece promoting his new LP, I Came to Dance, says: “Patti Smith? I thought she was a great entertainer. But when I played with her, her sound people totally screwed me around. Their sound man went out and got drunk and came back before my set and fucked up everything. My monitors were fucked all night. Then she took a sound check and took so long to get it together with her sound people that I didn’t get a sound check at all. I didn’t care—we went out and played fine and the kids really got off, but she’s totally unprofessional—she’s professional as an entertainer, but on a strictly musician level, she’s unprofessional. It’s partly the people around her, but you have to be responsible for that.”

IMG_12134) Jackson Browne – “Daddy’s Tune.” Joe Goldberg reviews The Pretender and, like Kit Rachlis in Circus, likes it: “Most of the songs sound like each other, and like songs on Browne’s previous three albums. Somehow, that doesn’t bother me. A lot of very serious people only have one song to sing, one thing to say. Most of us don’t even have that, which is why we depend on Jackson Browne to do it for us. Jackson Browne’s song is mystical and apocalyptic, about the deluge, lost love, changing personalities, friends becoming strangers, the self becomes a stranger, and the healing powers of Mother Water. He has next to nothing to do with Good Time California; he has everything to do with the rootless terror and hopes of redemption that the endless summer sun shines down on. A hundred years ago, he would have made a fine hellfire-and-damnation preacher.”

Of this song, Goldberg writes: “There are any number of memorable lines. I especially like one in ‘Daddy’s Tune,’ about the singer’s attempt to reconcile his difference with his father: ‘Make room for my forty-fives/Along beside your seventy-eights.’ Several places in the record, Browne has the happy facility of being completely specific and totally universal at the same time.”

IMG_12155) Elton John – “Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word.” Richard Riegel reviews Elton John’s Blue Moves, a double-LP set released in October 1976, calling it Elton’s “White Album, similarly color-coded and four-sided, not to mention just as anticlimactic.” He points out that there’s filler, including “Cage the Songbird” and “One Horse Town,” and offers up this snarky observation: “[T]hat atmospheric instrumental, ‘Out of the Blue,’ is not jazz, but it’s not bad, as Mr. Haggard once almost said. This song just may exemplify the ‘blue moves’ of the title, and if Elton continues this trend, soon he can take the late Vince Guaraldi’s place as the chief scorer of those Peanuts TV specials. (Bernie’s already completed a thorough self-analysis through his rigorous study of the complete works of Charles M. Schulz, so he’s all set.)”

… and one bonus:

IMG_12166) Bob Seger & the Silver Bullet Band – “Night Moves.” Robert Christgau grades Night Moves an A- in his roundup, calling it a “journeyman’s apotheosis. The riffs that identify each of these nine songs comprises a working lexicon of the Berry-Stones tradition, and you’ve heard them many times before; in fact, that may be the point, because Seger and his musicians reanimate every one by their persistence and conviction. Both virtues also come across in lyrics as hard-hitting as the melodies, every one of which asserts the continuing functionality of rock ‘n’ roll for ‘sweet sixteens turned thirty-one.”

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