Songs from the Summer of 1976 bring lots of memories to mind.
The pet rocks we painted red, white and blue…
The Fourth of July parade my brother, sister and I watched from the front porch of my grandparents’ house in McSherrystown, Pennsylvania.
With TastyKakes in hand, I’m sure…
And: A once-in-a-lifetime concert.
Not one I attended, but one that I (and several relatives) performed.
Unlike V-dog, mt, and other esteemed colleagues on this site, I have zero musical talent.
But at age 12 going on 13, that didn’t stop me from rounding up my sister (a good singer) and several of my cousins for a group we called:
At the risk of sounding like my grandparents did in 1976, being a preteen at that time was lightyears from what middle schoolers experience today. No phones, computers or Internet.
Often, I would go upstairs to my brother’s and my guest bedroom and turn on my Sears radio-cassette player, queued in to York-Hanover’s WYCR-FM
Television meant the local area ABC, CBS, NBC or PBS stations. We were encouraged to keep TV watching to a minimum. Mamaw, my grandmother, didn’t like us watching All My Children (too “grown-up,” she said – although we watched it on our own in Chicago when school was out).
She and Pappy, my grandfather, let us watch The Price Is Right, Rhyme and Reason (with Nipsey Russell) or Match Game with them in the afternoon.
Match Game got “PG” occasionally.
But as long as we just giggled – and didn’t repeat what was said when a celebrity referred to a woman’s chest – Mamaw would pretend she didn’t notice.)
Invariably, Mamaw and Pappy would say something to the effect of “It’s too nice outside for the three of you to spend all of your time inside.”
And that’s when my brother, sister and I would head for our cousins’ houses.
We loved spending time with our sixteen first cousins. Our Lawrence cousins were older and had part-time jobs already, so we didn’t see them as often. Only a couple of our Smith cousins were close to us in age, so we were there less often as well.
The cousins closest in age were the Kuhns – seven girls and a boy. Half were our age or younger. My Aunt Betty, the youngest of my dad’s siblings, was a little less strict than Mamaw.
As long as you didn’t make a show of it, she’d let you sneak in a few minutes of to catch up on Erica’s latest misadventure.
And she wasn’t above humming along with a song on WYCR.
Uncle Ed was a member of an area barbershop quartet, so music was a given.
And the Kuhns’ house had an awesome wrap-around front porch, perfect for practicing when everyone insisted on our being outside.
So, while some cousins played basketball in the backyard, I was figuring out how to pull together our family’s version of the Osmonds. (I wouldn’t have thought of them then because “Donny and Marie” was too cheesy, even for me. But today, it seems more obvious.)
My 9-year-old sister and our 11-, 10- and 7-year-old cousins joined me as The Dreamers. For one song, a neighbor, Michelle, would replace me, making the group The Female Five.
My cousin Sue, turning 13 like me that year, and my brother going on 12, were group managers. They ordered us around on the front porch and ran across the street to Uncle Ed’s glass shop when my sister got mad at my brother and stomped through a board. (Fortunately, she wasn’t hurt, just stuck.)
We practiced for several days before hosting the concert for Mamaw, Pappy, Uncle Ed, Aunt Betty and their best friends, Michelle’s parents. The concert took place downstairs in the TV room, with a bedsheet curtain clothes-pinned from the drop ceiling. My cousin Angie’s music stand became our “microphone stand.” My brother and Sue set up the tape player so we’d have the tracks to accompany.
I remember being so nervous as I stood up, my sister and cousins to my left and right, our family and friends in front of us.
For a while, my voice had its share of Peter Brady moments, and I prayed this wouldn’t happen tonight.
We heard the steam-engine whistle that opened the album version of Wings’ Silly Love Songs. I remembered my brother’s admonition to count “1-2-3” at the instrumental pause before singing, “You’d think that people would have had enough of silly love songs…” The five of us nailed it and kept going, joyfully. If not necessarily tunefully.
The trickiest part was up ahead, and The Dreamers had spent most of our time figuring it out. As the only male voice in the group, I was singing the “I love you” part for a good minute.
My sister and one of my cousins would do Linda’s “Ah, I can’t explain …,” although we didn’t own the Wings album and guessed as to what she was singing. And then the other two cousins came in with, “How can I tell you about my loved one?”
In practice, it was hard to get straight. (That might have been what made my sister stomp through the front porch.)
But that night, we pulled it off.
We were so tickled with ourselves that we almost missed the instrumental cue at the end to reprise, “You’d think that people would have had enough …” The applause from our family and friends sounded deafening.
I bowed out as Michelle came in to take my place. Five girls, 12 and younger, did Andrea True Connection’s “More, More, More. The only way they could have gotten away with it was that, a few years before “Saturday Night Fever” none of us kids knew what they were singing.
“How do you like it? More, more, more” could’ve just as easily referred to the ice cream cones we got from the area dairy.
As The Female Five finished their number, I steadied myself for the finale, America’s Today’s the Day.
This one made me even more nervous because it was more plaintive, less exuberant than Silly Love Songs. We had to sing with subtlety, a word I didn’t know but a concept I recognized. I just didn’t know whether I could pull it off.
As we began to croon to America, one of my cousins started adjusting “the mic.” The stand began to drop, and drop again, finally falling over. Our audience thought it was part of the act, and Mamaw and Aunt Betty began to laugh until they cried. (I wasn’t amused. Uncle Ed noticed.) My cousins, meanwhile, started fighting with each other about whose fault it was that the mic stand fell.
As Today’s the Day ended, The Dreamers took our final bow.
I remember feeling deflated.
Then Uncle Ed came up and pulled us aside.
He told us that when you sing in public, you have to be prepared for anything. And when something funny happens – especially when you didn’t plan it – laugh along and roll with it. He told his kids and us how proud he was of all of us and gave us all a hug.
With just a few notes of Silly Love Songs or Today’s the Day:
The front porch, the mic stand, the summer of ’76 all come back.
The hug and the laughter are what stay.
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