Spotify playlist : Top 40 Singles of 1976
YouTube playlist : Top 40 Singles of 1976
1976 was a kind of no-mans-land for the singles chart. I struggled to choose 40 best singles because although there were some crackers, the general overall quality was nowhere near as high as the previous three years. Things got turgid; ballads and country music dominated, and if you're into high energy uptempo pop singles, then you probably started ignoring the charts for a while. Not only that but 1976 was the year of the orgasm. Donna Summer put one in her hit 'Love to love you' and all the record producers who realised there was a market full of people with the sensibilities of a 13-year-old boy, started putting orgasms in other songs - often at completely inappropriate times. It was Major Harris in the classic soul tune 'Love won't let me wait' who started it all. I always turn that song off just before the end because it's just embarrassing for everyone.
Whoever was managing Donna Summer decided that the success of 'Love to love you' could be repeated by putting more embarrassing groaning in 'Could it be Magic'. Her version was vastly superior to Barry Manilow's and the future 'Take That' version. However, Radio One didn't playlist it because of the aforementioned groaning and it only got to number 40. Talk about being hoisted on your own petard! Diana Ross had one in 'Love Hangover', Rod Stewart paid Britt Eckland to have one in 'Tonight's the night' and Johnny Taylor had an album called 'Eargasm'. I'd say it was a different time but the lyrics and videos of some R&B singles these days would have caused people in the 70s to pass out.
Then there was the Phenomenon (his words, not mine) of Demis Roussos who sounded like he recorded all his vocals whilst sitting on a washing machine. Frankie Valli's 'Fallen Angel' which was a direct rip off of Barry Manilow's 'Mandy'. The terrible 'Dr.Kiss Kiss' which featured the fabulous vocals of Linda Kelly (it's worth listening to that song just for her vocal performance!). 'Falling apart at the seams' by Marmalade has the beginning of the Eastenders theme tune in it (which was written about ten years later with no plagiarism lawsuit) and Sweet's 'Lies in your eyes' which rips off 'I can't get no satisfaction'. There's a song that manages to sound like three other songs at the same time too; 'Breakaway' by Gallagher and Lyle sounds like 'Star' by Kiki Dee, 'Everlasting love' by Howard Jones and 'Scullery' by Clifford T. Ward. David Essex's fake crying in 'City Lights' made sure he didn't make my top 40 and neither did T.Rex with 'London Boys' because Marc Bolan sounds like a sheep recording it's vocals whilst sitting on a washing machine. There's an abomination in the 1976 chart too. It's called 'Reggae like it used to be' by Paul Nicholas. The song isn't a reggae song, it's a rip off of 'Feel the need in me' and if you take a look at the clip of him singing it on top of the pops, you'd probably have to buy a new television.
Then there's the outdated, never acceptable yet somehow accepted racism, homophobia, sexism and misogyny in some of the tracks that were even played on radio (a lot were banned but still got in the chart). A parody of 'Convoy' by CW McCall which was huge at the time called 'Convoy GB' by Laurie Lingo and the Dipsticks (which I believe was fronted by Radio 1 DJ Dave Lee Travis) was trying to be humorous but missed the mark spectacularly by being sexist, racist, homophobic and mentioning Jimmy Savile (albeit before we knew what we know now).
The worst aberration of the year was definitely 'The Winkle Man' by Judge Dread. The entire thing is like a carry-on film. Sexist, Misogynist, glamorises sexual assault, full of homophobic slurs and he even attacks a man for being homosexual. People bought this. It got in the chart. But then they also bought the Billy Paul single 'Let's make a baby' and 'Jeans on' by David Dundas. Taste in 1976 was at an all time low.
I've narrowed the 307 songs released in 1976 that reached the top 40, down to 127 that I like, a dozen or so which were re-releases after being hits in previous years (Sailing by Rod Stewart was a hit again in 1976 and The Beatles re-released six singles), 27 of which aren't on Spotify but that's understandable as they're mainly parodies, boring instrumentals and Gary Glitter. Also, Steve Harley's version of 'Here comes the sun' which almost made me never want to listen to music ever again!
Enough soap box, on with the best 40 singles of 1976...
(40) You Should Be Dancing - Bee Gees
The song that launched a thousand ships. Disco had kicked off in 1975 but this brought it to the attention of many who'd not previously heard it or had ignored it and dismissed it as trashy. If ever a group left a legacy it's the Bee Gees. Contrary to popular belief, this song wasn't written for the Saturday Night Fever Soundtrack. It was used on the soundtrack but first appeared on the 'Children Of The World ' album and got to number 5.
(39) You're My Everything - Lee Garret
This entered the chart the same week that Real Thing's "You To Me Are Everything" entered. It might have been bought in error by people thinking they were buying the other one. Remember going into record shops and going, 'Have you got the one that goes dod od o odo odo do'. I had a mate who worked in HMV in the early 2000s and she said even though she totally knew what song a customer wanted, she'd make them sing it before going 'ah, you mean this one?', just to help pass the day. This was a great single though and got to number 15.
(38) When A Child Is Born - Johnny Mathis
Is it a Christmas song? It's wheeled out every year at Christmas and I suppose it's about Jesus. I just love Johnny's voice and the bit where he tells us there could be peace and harmony everywhere then smashes the illusion by going 'It's just a dream!'. It was the Christmas number one in 1976. He does ask whether the child being born will be black, white or yellow. Just another sprinkling of ignorance from this weird year for public attitudes.
(37) Money Money Money - Abba
Lyrics aside, this is a very well crafted pop song. The bass in particular is great and the harmonies are brilliant which ABBA always did so well. This didn't manage to reach the top of the chart but it was probably their popularity alone that pushed this up to number 3. If this had gone to number 1 they would have managed seven in a row! (the Beatles hold the record with 10). I remember Madness doing a cover of this on one of those TV shows they used to do in tribute to ABBA where loads of contemporary groups and singers each did their own version of an ABBA song. It was brilliant.
(36) Love Me - Yvonne Elliman
This starts off sounding like one of those sleazy Barry White tunes but then Yvonne starts singing and you're dragged in to a soulful world of loveliness. It wouldn't surprise you to know it was written by the Bee Gees and also featured on their 'Children Of The World' album. Yvonne peaked at number six, but bettered that position with another Bee Gees song 'If I Can't Have You' in 1978.
(35) Heaven Must Be Missing An Angel - Tavares
Just a week after Jonathan King's 'One Hundred Ton And A Feather' debuted with their cover of Tavares' "It Only Takes A Minute", the Tavares themselves entered the top 40 for the first time ever. This was also their biggest ever hit. This is still a staple at wedding receptions up and down the land. They got to number 4 with this.
(34) Let The Music Play - Barry White
I loved Barry White's hair when it looked like a Judge's wig. This really showcases his voice and isn't his usual tepid fare. This was his fourth top ten hit in under 18 months. It got to number nine.
(33) Daddy Cool - Boney M
This sums up the word 'Groovy'. This was Boney M's first hit. This got to number six and spent 12 weeks in the top 40. The music press called them 'More plastic than the records themselves', which meant they were being a proper pop chart act with great singles and entertaining videos. The bloke in Boney M wasn't actually the singer - the voice on the records was the producer. Much like Milli Vanilli!
(32) Under The Moon Of Love - Showaddywaddy
Who thought the 50s would be popular in the 70s? Showaddywaddy did and they built their entire career around writing original 50s sounding songs and covering Rock and Roll songs dressed like the 50s. They also used Timpanis in this song which I loved. They always reminded me of Butlins entertainers; must have been the jackets.
(31) You Are My Love - Liverpool Express
Because the singles chart was such a huge part of the fabric of how society operated in the 70s and 80s, having a number 11 hit single was massive! Especially when it's your first single as it was for this band. Current hit singles were everywhere back then; TV, radio, over the tannoys in shops. We didn't have entertainment beyond the TV and radio apart from the cinema, and as you'll see in the following few years, a lot of songs entered the singles chart because of their association with films. In fact, the theme from Jaws was in the chart in 1976. That would never happen these days. Being in a band which had been in the charts was a huge deal back then. How society has changed! Anyway, this is a beautiful single - it's got summer written all over it.
(30) Play That Funky Music - Wild Cherry
Wow! All these instruments are played by people! I won't keep banging on about the lack of humans in the charts these days but just stick this on, lie back and let it tickle your ear drums.
(29) Young Hearts Run Free - Candi Staton
Probably one of my favourite vocalists with one of the best singles of the 70s. The start always reminds me of 'Play your Cards Right'. How it only got to number 2 is a mystery. 'You got the love' is also great even though when it was released in 1986 she couldn't remember having recorded it!
(28) Fooled Around And Fell In Love - Elvin Bishop
Elvin Bishop reached number 34 with this. He was a guitarist and passed vocal duties to Mickey Thomas who later sang with Starship '(Nothings gonna stop us now' et al.) This is classic easy listening at its best.
(27) I'll Go Where Your Music Takes Me - Jimmy James
Jimmy James And The Vagabonds were having their first hit, since their debut with "Red Red Wine" in 1968. They would only reach number 23 this time, but better times were coming for the band. I almost got to see them at a theatre in Skegness whilst there on a family holiday but I think we went to see Duncan Norvelle instead. Good times.
(26) Silver Star - Four Seasons
This was the Four Seasons' last big hit. It had an odd chart performance; entered at 27, up to 16 then 6, dropped to 9, climbed to 3, dropped to 21, went back up to 16, dropped to 31, 39 then out. I try to ignore the fact it's about a sheriff in the wild west.
(25) Can't Get By Without You - Real Thing
This got to number 2. The 1986 remix got to number 6 and I remember David 'Kid' Jensen introducing the song on his chart run down asking the question, 'Will Argentina beat England tonight?' and then played the song which went 'No way, no way, no way'. England lost. Cheers Dave.
(24) You See The Trouble With Me - Barry White
I think I've said this before but there's a phenomenon where you believe a song is a great song because somewhere deep down, you have an emotional connection with it. It reminds you of something good or of a great summer etc. There's another where you like a bit of a song - not the entire thing, just one bit. Like when Faithless' Insomnia kicks in around the middle bit. This Barry White tune is one of those. I absolutely love the time signature change just after he goes 'craz-eehhhh'. Brilliant. Maybe the song isn't that great but I love that part so it's here number 24.
Barry's second biggest hit this. Hit number 2 and was his last top ten hit.
(23) Evil Woman - E.L.O.
SIgnature E.L.O. sound here. One they used on the Xanadu soundtrack. This was their first hit for two years and it got to number 10. Their other hits this year 'Livin' thing' and 'Strange Magic' were great too.
(22) You Make Me Feel Like Dancing - Leo Sayer
Leo had disappeared since hitting number two with "Moonlighting" a year earlier. This became his third number 2 single in five releases however. I'm always a little disappointed when the brilliant 'I'm in a spin you know' comes in and it's followed by the gentle chorus. After that bridge, it had the potential for a huge chorus, Queen style. Still, it works after a few listens and you get used to it. I heard Leo a few weeks ago in an interview saying that all his old master tapes were taken and burnt by his ex-manager after a fall out.
(21) I Love To Love - Tina Charles
Catchy. Danceable. This was Tina Charles first hit, at least the first with her name on the record; she'd sung lead vocal on the 5000 Volts number four hit "I'm On Fire" the previous year. This as at number 1 for three weeks. There's a great use of delay on the 'stop-op-op-op' part. Well played to the engineers.
(20) If You Leave Me Now - Chicago
Chicago's entry to the 'most recognisable intro of all time' competition. What a song to comeback from five years in the chart wilderness. Three weeks at number one. The key change is the thing that lifts this from being a lovely song to an achingly brilliant song. The bit where the strings kick in and he sings 'A love like ours ... how could we let it slip away'.
(19) Life Is Too Short Girl - Sheer Elegance
This starts like it's going to be one of those novelty songs by a French singer like Charles Aznavour. They reached number nine, but was the last hit for the band who found fame via the 'New Faces' talent show. It's got a sense of Phil Spector about this, in my opinion anyway.
(18) Anarchy In The UK - Sex Pistols
This was the kick the charts needed in late 76. The amount of great bands that followed and were influenced by the anger, the sentiment, the sound and the sheer entertainment value of John Lydon was amazing. The Police, The Jam, The Stranglers, The Clash... the list goes on. This only got to number 38 but there was a huge buzz around the band itself because of the controversy, the way it was put together and then them swearing on TV and the overdose of one of it's members which was made into a film. It's a bit of a paradox really, them singing about anarchy yet conforming to the methods of ensuring the single was chart eligible and then paying tax on the royalties.
(17) Don't Take Away The Music - Tavares
This hit number 4, as did Heaven Must Be Missing An Angel. Simple, effective, lovely.
(16) Wake Up Everybody - Harold Melvin & The Bluenotes
I've become a secret Harold Melvin fan since doing these best single countdowns. This is superb. It was also the last single before Teddy Pendergrass went solo. I've also since discovered that it was these what wrote 'Don't leave me this way'.
(15) Arms Of Mary - Sutherland Brothers And Quiver
See, all you needed back then was skill with an instrument, a good voice or the ability to pen a nice tune. It didn't matter that you looked like a Science Technician in a Comprehensive School wearing a pleather jacket. This got to number five. They wrote Rod Stewart's 'Sailing' of course but couldn't reach the chart with their own version.
(14) Never Gonna Fall In Love Again - Dana
This was a cover of an Eric Carmen song which was a 'homage' to Rachmaninoff. However, the original single had all the sensibilities of the type of song you'd see on an early evening Saturday night entertainment show back then. Lovely melody, albeit by Rach-man (as I call him). There isn't a version of this on Spotify but Dana re-recorded it in 1996 (which is the version on my playlist above) and I'm positive it would have been a hit in this form for Whitney or Mariah or Celine. She might have had a hit with it herself if it had been released as a single.
(13) It Should Have Been Me - Yvonne Fair
Good grief Yvonne! Hold something back! This cover of Gladys Knight's 1968 hit is far superior to the original. If only Tina Turner had done a version of this. Yvonne sent this to number 5 and my most enduring memory of this song is when it was used in an episode of 'Vicar of Dibley' with Dawn French lip-syncing.
(12) Couldn't Get It Right - Climax Blues Band
A number 10 hit for this one hit wonder. Brilliant production on this and a great voice captured on vinyl perfectly. This is an absolute cracking single. I'd have bought this with my pocket money if I was old enough to start getting pocket money. (I was a year old in 1976)
(11) Devil Woman - Cliff Richard
A bit of a turning point for Cliffy - and I liked quite a lot of his records from the early 80s onwards. This is his own favourite of his songs - which reached number 9 and was referenced endlessly by Rik Mayall in the Young Ones. Saying the Devil woman is going to get you from behind is a little out of character for Cliff, don't you think?
(10) Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word - Elton John
One of Elton's best. Not a fan of most of his 70s stuff I have to admit, but this is timeless. It only got to number 11 which tells you a story about how many other good songs were around at the time. This was Elton's last hit for two years.
(9) Harvest For The World - Isley Brothers
I don't know why the Isley Brothers aren't held in higher esteem. Their singles always stood out - all infectious in their own way. This was brilliant too - with a poignant message more valid today than ever I think. It got to number 10 and then number 8 when it was covered by The Christians in 1988.
(8) Fernando - Abba
1976 was probably ABBAs biggest year. Fernando spent four weeks at number one. What was unique about ABBA at the time was that all their singles sounded so different to each other. This was the second of three number 1 singles in 76 and was totally different sounding to Dancing Queen or Mamma Mia. I love the intro to this, with the flutes and guitars and snare drum giving it an ethereal military feel. Loads of atmosphere.
(7) Ships In The Night - Be-Bop Deluxe
This takes some getting used to - maybe it was a bit ahead of its time - it only reached 23. It's kind of a pseudo-reggae-ska record. It definitely follows the lead set the previous year by Sparks, with the panning flanging keyboard and weird rhythmic syncopation. Its ska root maybe partially influenced a future member of Madness, The Specials or one of the other two-tone bands who were only a few years away...
(6) December '63 (Oh What A Night) - Four Seasons
Best piano intro ever? Frankie Valli takes a back seat with drummer Gerry Polci taking main vocals and Frankie singing the bridges. There's a great keyboard solo in this which was a mark of sounds to come from the singles chart in 1977. The Four Seasons had been totally hitless for eight years before Valli had a solo hit with 'My eyes adored you'. Tamla Motown re-released 'The Night' and it became a top ten hit prompting a comback with 'Who loves you'. This track was their first number 1 in 13 years as a group. They only had one more hit before disappearing from the face of the planet.
(5) I Wanna Stay With You - Gallagher & Lyle
Gallagher And Lyle hit the chart for the first time with this song. It got to number six. It's at 5 in my personal countdown because of the chorus. Catchy and respectful.
(4) Let Your Love Flow - Bellamy Brothers
Wow, wow, wow. Yes, yes, yes. Wow. Yes. etc. Bit of a country crossover this, which got to number seven. It's everything a perfect single should be. If you don't tap your toe when this is on, you've got no toes.
(3) Love Really Hurts Without You - Billy Ocean
Sugar pie, honey bunch. Eh? This was Billy Ocean's first hit and got to number two. Artists didn't seem to be that litigious in 76. There are so many songs that are blatantly other songs. Never mind, this is great. He had three more hits during the next 12 months, before vanishing forever. That was until he leapt out of a cupboard with 'When the going gets tough' and became a huge star all over again.
(2) Don't Go Breaking My Heart - Elton John & Kiki Dee
Quite simply a brilliant single. A karaoke favourite too. Stayed at number 1 for six weeks and you can hear why. I always got the sense that Kiki Dee wasn't Elton's biggest fan in the video. She looks at him suspiciously at times. It was Elton's first number 1. It was Kiki's first top ten hit, which is weird as she'd had some great songs out.
(1) Dancing Queen - Abba
This song would top any list I ever did of any 'best singles' count down in any year, era, decade - anything. It's flawless from start to finish. Every single box is ticked on the 'how to make a good single' questionairre. This peice of pop perfection will never ever be bettered by anyone anywhere ever.
Unsurprisingly, this was ABBAs biggest ever hit. 6 weeks at number 1. It was called Dancing Queen but it baffles me when people call it a 'disco' record. It's definitely not a disco record - save the fact it was played in discos. Voulez Vous was a disco record. This wasn't though.
Tell me that there's a better single ever released.