Armagideon Time

This week we’re taking another trip back to the heart of the Me Decade as chronicled by overstuffed mid-list music compilations of dubious production quality.

The album is K-Tel’s Hit Machine, covering the mellow pop thrills which graced the chart in late 1975 and early 1976.

Here’s the track list:

A1 K.C. & The Sunshine Band – (Shake, Shake, Shake) Shake Your Booty
A2 Maxine Nightingale – Right Back Where We Started From
A3 Starbuck – Moonlight Feels Right
A4 War – Summer
A5 Linda Ronstadt – When Will I Be Loved
A6 Pratt & McClain – Happy Days
A7 Frankie Valli – Our Day Will Come
A8 Paul Anka – (You’re) Having My Baby
A9 Billy Ocean – Love Really Hurts Without You
A10 Rick Dees & His Cast Of Idiots – Disco Duck (Part 1)

B1 Elton John – Island Girl
B2 Walter Murphy & The Big Apple Band – A Fifth Of Beethoven
B3 Bellamy Brothers – Let Your Love Flow
B4 John Sebastian – Welcome Back
B5 Electric Light Orchestra – Evil Woman
B6 Rick Springfield – Take A Hand
B7 Kiss - Rock And Roll All Nite
B8 Jessi Colter – I’m Not Lisa
B9 Four Seasons – Who Loves You
B10 Johnnie Taylor – Disco Lady

They really don’t come more Seventies than this. The record’s twenty trimmed tacks cover orchestral soft rock, pop-country crossovers, the decadent phase of pre-Saturday Night Fever disco, a Kiss anthem, Elton John, and two — count ‘em — two TV themes turned Top 40 hits.

I pulled the trigger on this one because of the Maxine Nightingale and Linda Ronstadt selections, two of the more persistent earworms that have plagued me over the decades. “Evil Woman” provided a bit of value added, though it isn’t one of my favorite ELO tracks by a long ways (but I will still sing along to it in a horrible falsetto to irritate Maura). I bought it assuming that I’d give it a couple of spins and consign it to the bottom-of-the-pile purgatory the similar Right On now inhabits.

In an unexpected twist of fate, Hit Machine ended up becoming one of the most played records in my K-Tel collection, ranking just behind Radio Active and Rock 80.

The odd pull it exerts on me is a combination of content and timing. The album is extremely light on the rock content, containing only two tracks — three, if you count Rick Springfield’s pre-Noah Drake attempt to sound like a bubbleglam Doobie Brother — that fall under the AOR rubric. The rest of the tracks are, by and large, the type of stuff my parents would’ve listened to in that era, and that’s where the timing angle comes in.

1976 was the year of the Bicentennial, a momentous marriage between patriotism and marketing. That was especially true up around these parts, where landmarks and reminders of the Revolutionary War are woven into our regional identity. The non-stop schedule of parades, re-enactments, and festivals made for cheap and easy family day trips. My memories of the Summer of ’76 are a long blur of marching bands and doughy guys wearing frock coats and tricorn hats trying not to pass out from the heat. Every weekend there was something to venture out to, and Hit Machine‘s list of tracks matches the playlist which blared from the radio of my dad’s cherry red Cutlass convertible.

I was too young and easily distracted to remember it in any detail, but enough of it lodged in the crevasses of my subconscious to make listening to Hit Machine feel like meeting a ghost — a polyester-clad, cologne-scented phantom who is thrilled you’re having his baby after some oily sex on his yacht moored in Chesapeake Bay.

Thank God for the obliviousness of youth.

The standout track on the compilation turned out to be one I had no recollection of hearing prior to buying the LP. When I saw Billy Ocean’s name on the sleeve, I assumed the associated cut would be an early prototype for the synthetic soul jams he rode to prominence a few years later. I was not expecting to hear a bouncy throwback to the classic Motown sound.

It makes a nice companion piece to “Right Back Where We Started From,” and is equally infectious.

Related posts:

  1. Do K-Tel #7: Right On! (1976)
  2. Do K-Tel #11: Hit Explosion (1983)
  3. Do K-Tel #15: Hit Express (1982)

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