Thursday, June 24, 2004

Skyrockets in Flight
A reader, looking over the Useless Web Poll regarding whose comeback should be next, wonders who the Starland Vocal Band was. Only one of the quintessential acts of the 1970s, quintessential thanks to the way they turned a single hit record into Grammy Award glory, a TV variety show, and ultimately, a return to the obscurity from whence they sprung.

The Starland Vocal Band (possibly the most uncool group name ever) were proteges of John Denver, back in the days when being a protege of John Denver meant something in the music biz. Their record, "Afternoon Delight," was distinctly Denveresque without a whiff of rock feeling at all, and close vocal harmony that was pretty retro even back then. But it also featured subject matter and lyrics that were surprisingly explicit for 1976. The subject: a nooner. The lyrics that got noticed included:
Started out this morning feeling so polite
I always thought a fish could not be caught who didn't bite
But you've got some bait a-waitin' and I think I might
Like nibblin' a little afternoon delight
And also:
Thinkin' of you's working up my appetite
Looking forward to a little afternoon delight
Rubbin' sticks and stones together makes the sparks ignite
And the thought of rubbin' you is getting so exciting
Tame now, fairly hot then--and enough to get the record to number one on July 10, 1976, and Grammy nominations for Record of the Year, Song of the Year, and Best Vocal Arrangement. (They won only the latter, beating out, among others, Queen's operatic "Bohemian Rhapsody.") The group also won for Best New Artist, beating out Boston, Wild Cherry, the Brothers Johnson, and Dr. Buzzard's Original Savannah Band, making that year's slate of nominees a veritable who's-who of "Where are they now?" acts. And in the summer of 1977, they got their own limited-run variety show on CBS, best remembered for the fact that David Letterman was one of its writers and frequently appeared in sketches. What was missing were more hit records. They never returned to the Top 40, although a few more singles made the lower reaches of the pop chart through 1980, when the group broke up.

But here's the thing: "Afternoon Delight" lives on not so much as art--you won't hear it on oldies stations a lot--but as an artifact of that summer. The Mrs. has never forgotten the day she and a friend were being driven somewhere by the friend's reluctant older brother when the song came on the radio and the three of them ended up trying to harmonize to it. As for me, I can't hear it without remembering the whole summer of 1976, the year I was 16, and everything that goes with the summer of your 16th year, cars and jobs and girls and softball, almost every minute of it bathed in a Top 40 soundtrack unmatched by any other summer of the 1970s.

If you want to sample a little "Afternoon Delight" for yourself (the song, I mean--you're on your own for the kind they're singing about) and explore the Starland Vocal Band's oeurvre in startling depth, click here.

Status of mojo: Improved.

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