July 31, 1976: A Laugher

(Pictured: a streaker interrupts the closing ceremonies of the Summer Olympics in Montreal on July 31, 1976, because of course he did.)

July 31, 1976, was a Saturday. In Colorado, a foot of rain falls in the mountains, causing a flood in Big Thompson Canyon that kills 150 people. Barry Manilow plays Philadelphia, where health officials are struggling to figure out what mysterious disease sickened over 200 people and killed 34 during an American Legion bicentennial gathering a few days earlier. It’s been nicknamed “legionnaire’s disease.” NASA releases a photo taken by the Viking Mars probe before it landed on July 20. It seems to show a face on the Martian surface, but NASA says it’s merely a rock formation and nothing mysterious. A UFO is sighted in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin. Louisiana adopts petrified palm wood as its official state fossil. The Montreal Olympics are coming to an end, as an East German marathoner wins the gold in the final event of the games, and six athletes, five Romanians and a Russian, defect to Canada. The Green Bay Packers play the earliest preseason game in their history, losing to the Cincinnati Bengals, 23-16. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers play the first game in their history, losing to the Los Angeles Rams, 26-3. Future pro football player Marty Booker is born.  NBC airs the first-season finale of its new weekend late-night show, NBC’s Saturday Night, hosted by Kris Kristofferson. (His wife, Rita Coolidge, is the musical guest.) Sketches include “Samurai General Practitioner” and “Gynecologist Blind Date,” with Kristofferson and Jane Curtin. Other TV programs on the air that night include the syndicated soap Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman and The Invasion of Johnson County, a western starring Bill Bixby.

Elvis Presley, on his last tour, plays Hampton Roads, Virginia. Eric Clapton plays London. Jethro Tull plays Tampa, Florida. On the Billboard singles chart dated July 31, “Kiss and Say Goodbye” by the Manhattans is spending its second week at #1; “Love Is Alive” by Gary Wright is #2; Starbuck’s “Moonlight Feels Right” is at #3; At #4 it’s “Afternoon Delight” by the Starland Vocal Band. The Beatles and the Beach Boys are back-to-back at #7 and #8, with “Got to Get You Into My Life” and “Rock and Roll Music,” the first time both bands have been in the Top 10 at the same time since 1966. New in the Top 40 are “Say You Love Me” by Fleetwood Mac, “Play That Funky Music” by Wild Cherry, “Who’d She Coo” by the Ohio Players, “Shake Your Booty” by KC and the Sunshine Band, and War’s “Summer.” Two versions of Bobbie Gentry’s “Ode to Billie Joe” are bubbling under the Top 40—one is the 1967 original, the other is a new recording from the hit movie of the same name. New on the Hot 100 that week: “Still the One” by Orleans and “Don’t Fear the Reaper” by Blue Oyster Cult. George Benson’s Breezin’ tops the album chart.

Perspective From the Present: The Green County Fair was going on in my hometown that week, and on Saturday night I would certainly have been there. And I was probably in a pretty good mood. The previous night, our Church League softball team had enjoyed a rare laugher, a 16-to-1 victory over Washington Township. I found time to listen to American Top 40 on that weekend, probably on Sunday night, probably on WROK from Rockford, Illinois—and I would probably have had to try and pick out the last few songs through the static after the station cut its power at sundown. I had been rooting for “I’ll Be Good to You” by the Brothers Johnson, a favorite song of the moment, to reach #1. Maybe you had to be a 16-year-old Top 40 geek to feel the clanging sense of disappointment when it dropped to #9 this week after being stuck at #3 for two weeks, destined never to make the top.

June 25, 1976: Last Stand

(Pictured: Muhammad Ali takes a shot from Antonio Inoki.)

June 25, 1976, was a Friday. It is the 100th anniversary of Custer’s Last Stand at the Little Big Horn in Montana. In Wisconsin, it’s a cool day, although warmer than yesterday, when the temperature didn’t get out of the 60s. Looking ahead to the fall, Wisconsin Governor Patrick Lucey signs a bill appropriating $800,000 for a swine flu vaccination program. The United States Supreme Court rules that private schools may not discriminate against students by race, and that whites as well as blacks are protected against racial discrimination in private employment. Songwriter Johnny Mercer, who collaborated on such American standards as “Hooray for Hollywood,” “You Must Have Been a Beautiful Baby,” and “That Old Black Magic,” dies at age 66.

The Omen opens in theaters around the country. On TV tonight, CBS airs Macho Callahan, a 1970 theatrical western starring David Janssen; ABC has two made-for-TV films back-to-back: The Desperate Miles and Panic on the 5:22. At midnight in Madison, Wisconsin, the long-running horror showcase Lenny’s Inferno features Vincent Price in four tales by Edgar Allan Poe.

Former heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali faces wrestler Antonio Inoki tonight (US time) in Tokyo in a hybrid boxing/wrestling match that is being billed as the World Martial Arts Championship. Their bout, televised in the States on closed circuit in theaters, will end in a draw and leave fans feeling shafted. Female players at Wimbledon threaten to boycott the tournament next year if the women’s prize money isn’t increased to equal the amount male players receive. In the majors, shortstop Mike Phillips of the New York Mets hits for the cycle in a 7-4 win over the Chicago Cubs. In church league softball, the Monroe United Methodist team loses (again), 8-6 to the Assembly of God.

Leonard Cohen plays Montreal, the Grateful Dead plays Chicago, and Elvis Presley plays Buffalo. Fleetwood Mac played in Milwaukee last night and is in Peoria, Illinois, tonight. ZZ Top takes the Worldwide Texas Tour to Cape Cod, and Aerosmith plays San Antonio. After four weeks at the top in Chicago, “Silly Love Songs” by Wings will be knocked out of the #1 spot on the new WLS survey that comes out tomorrow, replaced by the Captain and Tennille’s “Shop Around.” The hottest record on WLS is “The Boys Are Back in Town” by Thin Lizzy, which explodes from #13 to #5. “Sara Smile” by Hall and Oates is also new in the Top 10. “Got to Get You Into My Life,” the single released from the Beatles’ Rock and Roll Music compilation album, vaults from #29 to #19, chased closely by “Let Her In,” the first single by TV heartthrob John Travolta, which moves from #32 to #20. The single biggest move on the chart belongs to Heart, whose debut single, “Crazy on You,” jumps from #36 to #22. On the album chart, Wings at the Speed of Sound continues to hold the top spot, while Aerosmith’s Rocks, Fleetwood Mac, Frampton Comes Alive!, and Presence by Led Zeppelin continue to slug it out in the top five.

Perspective From the Present: The Ali-Inoki fight was considered farcical before it happened and a joke afterward. It was later revealed that Ali thought the bout would be an exhibition but Inoki thought it was to be a real fight; when it was over, Ali had a serious leg injury and Inoki a broken foot. After the fight, two athletes maintained a lifelong friendship.

June 14, 1976: Frog Legs for Dinner

(Pictured: the surface of Mars as seen from the Viking 1 spacecraft, 1976.)

June 14, 1976, was a Monday. It’s Flag Day, and Liberty State Park opens across from the Statue of Liberty in New Jersey. Presidential candidates Morris Udall and Frank Church release their delegates and throw their support to Jimmy Carter, which should put him over the top for the Democratic nomination. The Supreme Court refuses to intervene in the Boston school busing controversy. Among the events on President Ford’s schedule today is a speech by telephone to the Bicentennial Exposition on Science and Technology, being held at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. He also receives the first volume of his public papers in a brief ceremony. The Viking I spacecraft, closing in on Mars, begins sending pictures back to Earth. Later in the week it will enter Martian orbit, and it will land on July 20th. Federal judge Oliver J. Carter, who presided over Patty Hearst’s bank robbery trial earlier this year, dies at age 65, and future pro hockey player Ryan Johnson is born. The Wayne Hays/Elizabeth Ray sex scandal continues to gather news headlines. High jumper Dwight Stones is on the cover of Sports Illustrated. Newsweek runs a brief feature story about singer Tom Waits. California governor and Democratic presidential candidate Jerry Brown is on the cover of People.

The Monday specials at Conrad’s Supper Club in McFarland, Wisconsin, give diners a choice between a tenderloin and deep-fried frog legs, either one for $3.50. The Grateful Dead plays the Beacon Theater in New York; elsewhere in the city, Diana Ross plays the Palace Theater. Concert tours continue for AC/DC (Sheffield, England), Paul McCartney and Wings (San Francisco) and Bob Marley (Paris, France). On The Mike Douglas Show this week, the co-host is Barney Miller star Hal Linden. The Gong Show premieres on NBC. Only two big-league baseball games are broadcast nationally each week; tonight on ABC’s Monday Night Baseball, it’s the Chicago Cubs at Cincinnati. The Reds win in the bottom of the ninth when Ken Griffey singles home Dave Concepcion. A young Cubs fan in southern Wisconsin will watch the game, passing up the CBS reruns of Rhoda, Phyllis, All in the Family, Maude, and Medical Center.

The Cubs fan will not have to work on the farm today. After a hot and stormy weekend, the weather remains iffy, so he will spend much of the day with the radio on. At WLS, “Silly Love Songs” by Wings holds the top spot for a third week; new in the Top 10 are “Get Up and Boogie” by Silver Convention and “Misty Blue” by Dorothy Moore. The biggest move within the station’s top 45 belongs to Thin Lizzy again this week—“The Boys Are Back in Town” is up 11, from #33 to #22. Among the new songs on the chart this week are “You’re My Best Friend” by Queen and “Crazy on You” by a new band, Heart.

Perspective From the Present: This was a quiet summer week for 16-year-old me. I had a dentist appointment on Thursday and a softball game on Friday. I can’t be entirely sure I watched the Cubs/Reds game on Monday night, although I doubt I would have skipped it.

June 2, 1976: Love Letter

(Pictured: the Bay City Rollers on The Midnight Special, 1976.)

June 2, 1976, is a Wednesday. In yesterday’s presidential primaries, Jimmy Carter won South Dakota and placed second in Rhode Island to add to his lead in the Democratic delegate totals. In Rhode Island, the winner was “uncommitted,” which is widely interpreted as a win for California governor Jerry Brown, who was not on the ballot there. Idaho Senator Frank Church won big in Montana. On the Republican side, President Gerald Ford won in Rhode Island, but lost to challenger Ronald Reagan in South Dakota and Montana. Today, Ford welcomes King Juan Carlos of Spain to the White House. He is making a state visit in honor of the Bicentennial. Arizona Republic reporter Don Bolles is the victim of a car bombing in Phoenix. He will die of his injuries later in the month; two men will be convicted of the bombing, reportedly ordered because Bolles had uncovered wrongdoing by a prominent businessman. According to the Associated Press, a French journalist has confirmed that the Khmer Rouge have massacred over a million people in Cambodia since taking power in 1975. Another AP story quotes Senator Church as confirming that both the FBI and CIA withheld information from the Warren Commission during its investigation of the assassination of President Kennedy.

At Eagle supermarkets in Wisconsin, bone-in beef round steak is $1.17 a pound, and ground beef is 75 cents a pound. A 23-ounce can of Funny Face drink mix in strawberry, grape, lemonade, or cherry is $1.09, and a box of Fiddle Faddle is 52 cents. On TV tonight, some viewers will find their regular programming pre-empted by a broadcast of evangelist Billy Graham’s crusade in Taiwan. On ABC tonight, it’s The Bionic Woman, Baretta, and Starsky and Hutch. CBS airs Game 4 of the NBA Finals, in which Phoenix evens the series at two games each by beating Boston in overtime, 109-107. At a wrestling match in Philadelphia, Muhammad Ali jumps into the ring and begins taunting Gorilla Monsoon, who responds by body-slamming Ali to the mat. It’s unknown whether the event was staged or real.

The Rolling Stones play Cologne, Germany, and KISS plays Zurich, Switzerland. Elvis Presley plays El Paso, Texas, and ZZ Top’s Worldwide Texas Tour plays Norfolk, Virginia. At WLS in Chicago,“Silly Love Songs” by Wings has taken over the #1 spot on the singles chart. “Shop Around” by the Captain and Tennille continues to blast up the chart, moving from #20 to #10. “Rock and Roll Love Letter” by the Bay City Rollers is also flying fast, moving from #24 to #12, as is the Rolling Stones’ “Fool to Cry,” moving from #33 to #20. The top album at WLS is Wings at the Speed of Sound, knocking Led Zeppelin’s Presence to #2.

In Monroe, Wisconsin, it’s going to be a pleasant day, with a high temperature in the low 70s. Tomorrow is the last day of school. It will also be the night the baseball team hands out its awards. A sophomore who has been team manager expects to earn a letter, which he does. The letter will be proudly affixed to a letterman’s jacket, which he will wear for the next several years. Many years hence, it will continue to hang in his closet, and every once in a while, he’ll take it out and look at it. And many years hence, he will unashamedly admit he digs “Rock and Roll Love Letter,” for its combination of relentless drive, boy-band bubblegum, and the way the singer promises to “keep on rock and rollin’ til my jeans explode.” And how, at the end of the instrumental break, they do.

May 21, 1976: Some Kind of Test

(Pictured: the United States Pavilion at Expo 67 in Montreal, designed by R. Buckminster Fuller.)

(This is, believe it or not, the first 1976 post in the nearly five-month history of this blog.)

May 21, 1976, was a Friday. Near San Francisco, 27 people associated with a high school choir, mostly teenagers, are killed when their bus crashes through a guardrail and overturns. A huge fire destroys two blocks of downtown McKeesport, Pennsylvania. The United States Pavilion built in Montreal for Expo 67, which once contained the world’s longest escalator, burns to the ground. Democratic presidential candidate Jimmy Carter announces that if he’s elected, he will support and sign a federal civil rights bill outlawing discrimination against gays and lesbians. Future talk-show host Ellen DeGeneres graduates from high school in Atlanta, Texas. Typhoon Pamela strikes Guam. A bridge over US 75 near Calvin, Oklahoma, collapses. Construction on Interstate 225, a 12-mile stretch between Denver and Aurora, Colorado, is completed after 12 years of work. Rosemany Ginn is appointed U.S. ambassador to Luxembourg. Of the 12 games on tonight’s major league baseball schedule, three are completed in less than two hours; only one runs over three, a 6-5 Yankees win over the Boston Red Sox. (The previous night, the two teams had engaged in a bench-clearing brawl.) John Gottlieb Karst dies at age 82; in 1915, he played one game for the National League’s Brooklyn Robins without getting an at-bat.

Paul Anka hosts The Midnight Special; guests include the Bee Gees, Chuck Berry, Jim Croce, Peter Frampton, and the Carpenters. Elton John plays Edinburgh, Scotland. Paul McCartney’s Wings Over America tour plays the Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, New York, and the Jerry Garcia Band plays San Francisco. Lynryd Skynryd plays Greenville, South Carolina, and Weather Report plays Kansas City, Kansas. AC/DC plays London.

On the Billboard chart that Casey Kasem will count down on the coming weekend, “Silly Love Songs” by Wings hits #1, dropping last week’s chart-topper, “Boogie Fever” by the Sylvers, to #4. Two new songs move into the Top 10: “Misty Blue” by Dorothy Moore at #8 and “Tryin’ to Get the Feeling” by Barry Manilow at #10. The biggest mover within the Top 40 is “Shop Around” by the Captain and Tennille, which leaps to #17 from #31. The first four songs on this weekend’s Casey show are all new: “Never Gonna Fall in Love Again” by Eric Carmen, “It’s Over” by Boz Scaggs, “I’ll Be Good to You” by the Brothers Johnson, and “Rock and Roll Love Letter” by the Bay City Rollers. The highest-debuting song of the week, however, is Jimmy Dean’s Mother’s Day-themed spoken-word hit “I.O.U” at #35.

Tomorrow morning, as he has done for the last several Saturdays, a Wisconsin teenager will spend the morning hanging out at his local radio station, at the general manager’s invitation, in hopes of getting hired for the summer. But he only gets to watch, and never to do anything. It’s apparently some kind of test, which the teenager fails, because a job offer never comes, and he ends up working on the farm for one last summer. It occurs to him years later that his first experience with a radio job thereby ended in disappointment. If you’d told him at the time that it should make him wary of the business, he wouldn’t have listened.