Oddly, I kind of think the worst music of ‘76 is as in keeping with the year’s blockbuster quality as the best music is. This feels like one of the first years where the bad stuff is just as notorious and iconic as the good stuff, the first year where a casual reader might actually recognize the majority of the list entries, probably thinking to themselves “Oh yeah, that song! That song sucks!” Could just be wishful thinking on my part, who knows. Either way, with the disco craze kicking into full gear, we’re unfortunately taking our first real look at the genre in this series through some of its most shameful examples, the last and least talented acts to hop on a bandwagon that was already starting to careen off the road and into a ditch. I’ve never been part of the “disco sucks” crowd, which largely gave up the ghost years before I was even born, but looking at some of these songs, I can at least admit that their biases weren’t entirely baseless. Though in the interest of fairness (and balance! (and my honest opinion!)), I’ve also put one of their beloved rock songs at #1. Which one? Keep reading and find out- on with the show!
#10: Silver Convention- Get Up and Boogie
So, fun fact, in the big Google sheets documents I have for this project, I’ll occasionally mark down a little note for one song or another as I first listen through them, if I have a particularly striking thought about it or something I want to remember to use if it ends up on a best or worst list. I mention this here because Silver Convention’s “Get Up and Boogie” has what might be my favorite note that I’ve left myself for any song I’ve listened to for this project so far, two words that perfectly sum up the very essence of what this song offers: “mom disco”. “Get Up and Boogie” sounds like what all the lame, square parents back in the 70s thought disco sounded like, and I’m sure that’s at least partially due to the fact that it was composed by two thirtysomething German men who, from what I can tell based on a few cursory Google searches, weren’t really all that into pop music. Ultimately, though, the passable dance groove Sylvester Levay and Stephen Prager concoct for this song isn’t what cripples it, nor is it their infamously limited vocabulary (only six words per song!). That honor goes to the three vocalists’ embarrassingly weak delivery of “boogieeee” about 40 seconds in. It’s that moment that really solidifies the “How do you do, fellow kids?” vibe coming off this song. The worst thing you can be on a dance song is stiff, and the singers on “Get Up and Boogie” are the perfect example of why- They don’t sound like they’re having much fun, so why the hell should I?
#9: Donny and Marie Osmond- Deep Purple
At long last, Donny Osmond’s reign of terror over the pop charts of the 70s comes to a conclusion. Thank goodness. And, as I promised, I’ve covered each and every year-end hot 100 single bearing his name in a PGTY worst list entry (not counting his singles with the rest of the Osmond family, I actually thought most of those were decent). So at this point, it feels almost obligatory that I give his final smash single the same treatment. What are Donny Osmond songs for, if not being relentlessly shat upon? Well, turns out I buried the lede a bit there, because Donny is actually not the biggest problem with “Deep Purple”. No, that would be Miss “Little Bit Country” herself, Marie Osmond. The song starts off pretty inoffensively- very “Love Me Do”-lite, but overall not exactly the ear torture I’ve come to expect from the duo. Then Marie starts speaking, and the whole thing caves in on itself. It’s lucky for me that the whole “spoken verse in pop music” trend started to go the way of the dinosaurs once MTV took over, because at this point there’s nothing else I can say about it. It’s just a hokey, lame idea nine times out of ten, and it makes the singer sound like a crappy slam poet performing over a backing track. Add in Donny doing those stupid little sung echoes of every line she says, and it completely curdles a totally passable pop confection into something you probably should have tossed in the garbage weeks ago.
#8: C.W. McCall- Convoy
So apparently truckers were a big deal in the ‘70s? I don’t really understand why that was a thing, and frankly I don’t care to find out. It strikes me as a cultural fad too dumb to be looked back on fondly but not interesting enough to make fun of, and as a result it’s been mostly forgotten by younger generations. “Convoy” is a song every bit as confusing and poorly-conceived as the trucking craze that spawned it. I can’t say I’m wild about the verses, where lead vocalist William Fries babbles in a rough approximation of CB slang, but I guess I can still sort of see why people liked it. It’s impressively dumb and meaningless, sure, but Fries has a pleasantly deep baritone voice, the vocal filter plausibly approximates a CB radio, and the backing instrumental is inoffensive enough. The chorus, on the other hand, is a complete disaster, a chirpy, girlish choir that ought to be the poster children for tonal whiplash. They might be singing about a convoy, but sonically they couldn’t possibly be less evocative of trucking or truckers, and given that there’s so little to this song outside of its gimmick, the fact that it can’t even consistently conjure a trucker-y vibe across its four-minute runtime leaves it lacking appeal from any angle I can think of.
#7: The Beach Boys- Rock & Roll Music
Around 1968 or so, the story of the Beach Boys starts getting pretty depressing. Brian Wilson was turning into a shut-in crippled by mental illness, Dennis was being sent death threats by the Manson Family, and the other guys, I assume, were scrambling their brains with transcendental meditation or some such nonsense. History has declared the Beach Boys’ classic period as Brian’s brainchild, and regardless of how accurate that really is, it can only have been reinforced by the fact that after Brian went creatively M.I.A., the Beach Boys got really, really bad. Their cover of Chuck Berry’s classic “Rock and Roll Music” marks their reemergence into the pop world as one of the most plastic, soulless retro-rock outfits of all time. Sure, they may have Weekend at Bernie’s-ed Brian out and about to gin up excitement for their new album (“Brian’s back, everyone!”), but one listen to this song shows that the perfectionistic pop auteur who made “God Only Knows” and “Surf’s Up” is nowhere to be found here. It sounds like any two-bit studio manager could have slapped this together. They slow the song down to a pokey lope, sapping it of the zest that made it worthwhile in the first place, and push all the instruments all the way to the back of the mix to make room for Mike Love to wander about aimlessly, never finding any kind of enthusiasm or vigor. Back in 1963, covering Chuck Berry would have been the surest bet in the world for the Beach Boys (hell, they practically did cover him on “Surfin’ U.S.A.”). in ‘76, all it could do was highlight how washed-up and spent they really were.
#6: Rick Dees & His Cast of Idiots- Disco Duck
Usually the really easy picks all come on the best list, but I couldn’t rightly call this a worst of ‘76 list without mentioning the eternally reviled “Disco Duck”. There may not be a single song more closely associated with disco’s late-70s overexposure than this one, and while critics and casual listeners alike have largely left behind their anti-disco sloganeering, “Disco Duck” has only managed to grow from a symbol of everything wrong with modern pop into a laughably bad relic of a bygone era. This song is to baby boomers what LMFAO’s “Sexy and I Know It” is to millenials- an unholy mixture of shameless trend-hopping and lazy hack comedy that most people would rather just forget ever existed. Let me ask you: Do you find Donald Duck’s voice pleasant to listen to? Would you enjoy listening to DONALD THE DUCK sing about trying to pick up women at a dance club? If your answer to both of those questions was “no”, then it’s pretty safe to say we’re in agreement as to “Disco Duck”’s badness. I mean come on, they rhyme “Disco duck” with “don’t be a cluck”. What am I supposed to do, not hate it?
#5: Hot Chocolate- You Sexy Thing
Sometimes, It’s just the one line. For many songs, their quality is determined by the interaction between multiple musical components, by the way they unfold over their runtime, by the compositional prowess on display. But sometimes, there’s just that one line that makes or breaks a song. One single moment that either vaults it into the highest echelon of enjoyability or spoils the whole thing like a turd in a punch bowl. In Hot Chocolate’s “You Sexy Thing”, the moment when lead vocalist Errol Brown first wails “I believe in MIRACLES!!!!!” is just such a moment. That single, awful instant is pretty much the sum total of why this song is such a complete failure in my eyes. Brown’s voice rubs me the wrong way pretty much constantly across this entire track, but something about the way he contorts and mangles it around “MIRACLES” just sends shivers of disgust up my spine. And he does it a lot across this song, too. I don’t hate the instrumentation here (the guitar sound is actually pretty nifty, someone should really sample that if no one has already), the lyrics are inoffensive, but “I believe in MIRACLES!!!!!”? Sorry, but I can’t do it.
#4: Barry Manilow- I Write The Songs
The very obvious bad thing about “I Write the Songs” is that the narrator is attempting to speak on behalf of the entire concept of music, which is a pretty egotistical conceit, especially since I don’t think even most of Barry Manilow’s defenders would crown him as the avatar of All Things Musical. Maaaaybe a David Bowie or a Bob Dylan could get away with claiming to represent all music ever made, but this guy? I don’t hate him nearly as much as some, but nah, he just doesn’t have the starpower to pull it off. But the real reason I hate this song is a little deeper, and it comes right at the beginning: “I am music / and I write the songs”. Excuse me? Music writes songs? The last time I checked, musicians wrote songs, and as a *violent gagging noises* musician myself, I’m honestly pretty incensed that this jagoff is trying to give credit for everything I and every other musician has ever accomplished to some generic metaphysical force! Music doesn’t do a damn thing, just like architecture doesn’t build houses and English didn’t write the works of Shakespeare. Screw you, Bruce Johnston, writer and composer of this song! If you’re writing a song where the narrator is MUSIC ITSELF, couldn’t you at least have come up with something a little less… I dunno, boring? For a song written in such an omniscient, all-encompassing perspective, it covers a pretty damn narrow slice of actual musical expression. I’m not asking for there to be atonal jazz-metal thrown in here, but goodness, couldn’t they have added anything at all to sonically differentiate this from every other middle-of-the-road piano ballad coming out this year, give it a little stylistic diversity to tie in with the lyrics? What a waste of a potentially interesting concept, and what an insult to hard-working songwriters the world over.
#3: Captain and Tennille- Shop Around
Captain and Tennille’s second worst-list entry is quite an interesting one, in that it sounds nearly indistinguishable from their previous big hit “Love Will Keep Us Together”, while somehow also being worse by an order of magnitudes. In a literal sense there are differences- the melodies don’t sound much alike, the words have a different cadence to them, etc etc etc- but everything that made “Love Will Keep Us Together” such an ordeal to sit through remains intact and totally unchanged. The keyboards are farty, garish and just generally unpleasant, and Tennille sounds like she’s constantly singing through the most vacuous, manicured smile humanly possible. Of course, because creativity was not this duo’s strong suit, this song was also a cover, and while I can’t say I adore The Miracles’ 1960 original, it does make this version look particularly bad in comparison. It wouldn’t be honest to say I’d have liked a Captain and Tennille cover of some less-impressive 60 pop tune- I almost certainly wouldn’t have. But these jokers thinking they were fit to take a swing at covering Smokey Robinson in his prime? That right there is the textbook definition of not knowing your own limitations. As we’ll soon see, this act had worse to offer, but thankfully, blessedly, they at least managed to stay in their own lane while doing so.
#2: Starland Vocal Band- Afternoon Delight
Like “Disco Duck”, “Afternoon Delight” is a song that’s practically become synonymous with bad 70s music- hell, for a lot of people it’s synonymous with bad pop music, period. It’s as obligatory an inclusion for this worst list as “Like A Rolling Stone” or “What’s Going On” were for their respective best lists. Still, at the end of the day this is a list about my own personal takes on these songs, so even if “Afternoon Delight” wasn’t one of the songs every music writer most loves to hate, I would still think it’s a cruddy, irritating, shoddily-made excuse for a song. I don’t even really care that, y’know, “gasp, it’s a sex song but it doesn’t sound sexy”, though I do agree with that point. I just hate this song’s horrid, shit-eating smugness most of all. If your sex song isn’t sexy, it has to be something else, because if it isn’t scary or weird or saddening or anything, it just sounds like you’re high-fiving yourself for getting some. So these guys had a quickie in the middle of the day. The hell do they want, a medal or something? They really go out of their way to make it seem like screwing while the sun is up is some mind-blowing concept no one has ever heard of before, and like… it isn’t, right? Love being made outside of typical lovemaking hours isn’t taboo or scandalous, it’s barely even noteworthy! Nothing about this works- the melody is lame and obvious, the instrumentation has nothing of note to offer, “afternoon delight” is a revoltingly cutesy way to describe sex, and I don’t even know what I’m supposed to make of “skyrockets in flight”. Just a barely-coherent fever dream all-around, weird enough to persist but nowhere near good enough for that persistence to be welcome.
#1: Foghat: Slow Ride
Yep. It’s worse than “Disco Duck”. It’s worse than “Afternoon Delight”. “Slow Ride” is one of the most punishingly terrible songs of the entire 1970s, and the fact that that is any kind of controversial statement makes me feel like I’m living in a goddamn simulation. There is nothing I like about this song. I hate the generic-ass “rock guy” vocals that do absolutely nothing to distinguish themselves from the five hundred other bands doing this exact shtick. I hate the thudding guitar chords plastered all over it in the least creative way possible. I hate how it’s just barely too slow to actually be good driving music, but not chill enough to be good cruising music. I hate the braying, repetitive chorus. I hate the lyrics- if it were more intelligently written I suspect there would be some noticeable sexist undertones, but this song is far too dumb for even that. The slap bass in the verses honestly sounds like the death of music to me. There is no universe in which a song like this should have had slap bass in it. It’s somehow stultifyingly bland and almost painfully annoying at the same time.
Worst of all, this is a song that shatters every illusion I’ve ever had as a fan of rock music. When I was a teenager, I genuinely thought rock was about sticking up for the little guy, I thought it was about lyrics with something to say about the world and fusing a rebellious spirit with a drive to explore the possibilities of musical expression and create new, exciting sounds no one’s ever heard before. But listening to this song, seeing rock fans clap like seals for something so brain-dead and derivative, I can’t bring myself to keep believing that.
If you like this song, more power to you. I can’t take that away from you and I certainly wish a song as popular as this didn’t so unfailingly ruin my mood. But to me, “Slow Ride” can only ever sound like the moment rock’s fate was sealed, the moment the soul of the genre stopped being The Beatles and Pink Floyd and became crap like Jet and Greta Van Fleet.