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NOVEMBER 20, 1976: SKUNKS, RODENTS, WATERFOWL AND ZAPPA!

Posted by powerpopclassics on November 20, 2014 at 7:35 PM

The American Top 40 of November 20, 1976 counted down a chart comprised of roughly a dozen decent singles, many by album artists.  Familiar names like Clapton, Frampton, ELO and Ringo comforted listeners.  Kiss, fresh off a loud and successful live album, surprised everyone, including themselves, with "Beth" at #9.  Boston's debut single, "More Than A Feeling" was climbing.  Long before Saturday Night Live forever re-branded it, Blue Oyster Cult's "Don't Fear The Reaper" cowbelled its way to #17.  Elton's brand new "Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word" was just entering the charts, and the three-year-old "She's Gone" by Hall & Oates was being given a new chart life thanks to the popularity of  "Sara Smile" a few months earlier.  Even the Little River Band, often a source of cringe-worthy material, turned in a nice record with "It's A Long Way There" at #36.  So far, so good.


Then the chart starts to sour.  "The Best Disco In Town" by the Ritchie Family is the first of several foul balls. Foul SMELLING, that is.  As offensive as this record is, things quickly get much worse.  How much worse?  Well, the #1 song that week was "Tonight's The Night" by Rod Stewart.  YIKES!  Of course, nobody at the time would have believed it, but Rod was to sink even lower than this stinker before he started to recover (with Jeff Beck's help) in the late '80's.  Several more skunks invaded Casey's Hollywood studio that week, including "Nice 'n Naasty" by the Salsoul Orchestra, "You Make Me Feel Like Dancing" by Leo Sayer, and "After the Lovin'" by Engelbert Humperdinck.  YEEK!


 

The chart even included one song that was voted on VH1 as one of the worst songs of all time.  What song is that?  None other than "Disco Duck" by Rick Dees.  Now, are you ready for something really shocking?  Because we are only allowed to remove one song from this chart, "Disco Duck" actually gets to stay.


I repeat, "Disco Duck" is NOT the one song that gets shot off of this chart.


 

How is this possible?  Well, analyzed properly within its context, "Disco Duck" reveals itself to simply be a "Weird Al-esque" novelty record.  A novelty record in the form of an up-tempo Memphis soul workout that scores direct zaps on Disco AND Disney in two verses and three choruses.  While I will not go so far as to call it a good, respectable, or credible record, "Disco Duck" isn't terrible. The horn lines sound very much like Stax and Hi blasts. While the bass line does hit a disco lick or two, it is, throughout the song, a heavier soul bass than most disco bass parts.  And the lyrics?  What better topic to parody in 1976 than disco dancing? Especially the disco dancing of male disco patrons with quacky egos who loved to dance just a little too much.


Why the pass for Rick Dees?  As a child, I was a loyal listener to Rick Dees and his Cast of Idiots on WMPS in Memphis.  A little edgier than John "Records" Landecker at WLS, Dees was quick-witted, irreverent, and ready to pounce on anything that became too popular too quickly.  He took swings at everything, including a living King.  Right there in Memphis, Dees mercilessly parodied Elvis before anyone else did, with the "Don't Be Cruel" sound-alike song, "He Ate Too Many Jelly Donuts."  He even continued to jab at Elvis in the fade of "Disco Duck."  Impressive.


You know what else is impressive? "Disco Duck" was recorded in Memphis, mastered by the legendary Larry Nix, and pressed on the Estelle Axton-owned Fretone Records. (Estelle Axton was the "AX" part of Stax, while her brother, Jim Stewart was the "ST.")  While Stax was being crushed by what some have called unethical activity at a bank in Memphis that shall remain unnamed, Estelle kept herself focused on the music side of the music business with Fretone.  With that pedigree, the odds were stacked (or "Stax-ed") against this record ever becoming any sort of hit.  However, Al Coury of RSO Records liked the song, and so did his kids. Thus, a master from Fretone was leased by RSO and the "Disco Duck" phenomenon took place.

 


That's that.  "Disco Duck" stays.  So what song gets the boot?


 

For a moment, let's talk about the Captain & Tennille.  Very cute female singer with a great voice, and her incredibly talented, keyboard-playing husband with an ear for arrangement.  Daryl Dragon, (the Captain) is the son of legendary Hollywood Bowl Orchestra conductor Carmen Dragon. Daryl and Toni (Tennille) definitely maintained a music-infused household.  Both of them had connections with Neil Sedaka.  Both of them had connections with Elton John.  Both of them also had connections with the Beach Boys.  Speaking of the Beach Boys, God Only Knows why the Captain & Tennille chose to cover a truly terrible song previously recorded by America, "Muskrat Love."


 

This song has terrible lyrics. This song has an annoying chirpy synthesizer solo which makes me want to break any component playing said solo. And while I definitely thought Toni Tennille was cute, and while I still love her voice, her diction is absolutely disturbing when she sings "and they whirl and they twirl and they tango."  (You  know what?  It is supremely disturbing that I know those lyrics without having to look them up.)


 

Easy-to-memorize lyrics or not, though, who on earth thought "Muskrat Love" was a good idea?


 

For Heaven's sake, the Captain & Tennille were signed to A&M Records!   Did not Herb Alpert hear this master before it was released?  How on earth did the almighty Herb let this happen?  To be fair, we should probably blame the entire record buying public. This disgraceful record actually made it up to #4, making it the fifth consecutive top five smash for the Captain & Tennille.   However, once this record's run was over, the duo never had another top five hit on A&M Records.   They did have a one–off #1 hit on Casablanca right before Neil Bogart passed away, but once Bogart died, they never hit the top 40 again on Casablanca or any other label.


 

Sorry Toni.  I loved your haircut when I was 12.  I noticed your name in the credits on a couple of Elton John albums as a preteen.  Your smile was fantastic, and your voice was, for the most part, every bit as attractive as your angel face.  But I never wanted, I never wanted to smash a record, the way that I wanted to smash this one.  "Muskrat Love" is now gone.


So, with "Muskrat Love" out, what takes its place?  Well, as previously mentioned, most of the decent acts on this chart were album artists.  In the 70's, there was one American band that definitely moved a ton of albums before they even dented the singles chart.  Grand Funk Railroad.  And even though they had very little time left, Grand Funk Railroad recorded the Frank Zappa-produced album GOOD SINGIN' GOOD PLAYIN' in 1976.  Quite frankly, it was ignored because the band broke up between the mixing of the album and its release date.  Regardless of that minor detail, we can't ignore the good singing and good playing on the song "Pass It Around."  Zappa stayed up all night trying to talk Grand Funk out of splitting up simply because, as the producer of this album, he saw exactly what this combination of talents could come up with.  In our alternative universe, of course, we can right the wrongs of this week in history, and save several careers in the process. 


Certainly, Frank Zappa would agree,


OUT:  "MUSKRAT LOVE" - THE CAPTAIN & TENNILLE

IN:  "PASS IT AROUND" - GRAND FUNK RAILROAD

 

 

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1 Comment

Reply Terry McVey
12:26 AM on November 21, 2014 
I actually saw Willis Alan Ramsey, the composer of Muscrat Love, in the basement of Memorial Union, in the fall of 1976. Vey forgetable.