❉ A kaleidoscopic collection of tunes evoking the long hot summer of 1976.
“here be Philly soul and sugary disco, yacht rock, pastel funk and easy pop. It seems like a more innocent time in a lot of ways. We know it wasn’t, but on the whole you could say this is the soundtrack of young people either going out on a joyous sun-baked booze-up or trying to get a little shade.”
Long time readers of We Are Cult might recognise that every now and again I pop up on here to praise the work of Saint Etienne man, Super Pop Brain and compiler extraordinaire Bob Stanley. Here I am doing it again with his latest, 76 In The Shade – a kaleidoscopic collection of tunes based around the long hot summer of 1976. Coming as I do from the era of hosepipe bans, this compilation seems to particularly chime with me. As my parents never tire of saying, I was born right at the end of that roasting summer, apparently I first announced I was en route during the 2/9/76 episode of Top Of The Pops – necessitating a dash to Frimley Park Hospital. So in many ways, that watershed summer is where I’m from.
As a result the sounds of Peter Frampton, The Real Thing, Frankie Valli and Blue Oyster Cult (no they didn’t team up, but they should have) are forever linked to early childhood for me, leading to an odd Proustian rush that I’ll always associate with family get-togethers and the passing car stereos you’d hear on the main road. Receiving a review copy in the airless middle of what was apparently a comparable heat wave, it was a potent reminder of something I was too young to be reminded of but could feel. Even as the weather takes a shift towards the autumnal, you can feel the heat haze of Summer ’76 by listening to 76 In the Shade in the same way you might hear the sea when you hold a shell to the ear.
Stanley’s canny compilation covers a lot of ground. There’s a lot of beautifully-wrought, aspirational pop music to be found in these parts, it feels in places like a travel agent ad for trips to an endless summer. Indeed John Cameron’s Liquid Sunshine wouldn’t feel out of place on a travelogue. Perhaps not the mopey likes of Gilbert O’Sullivan and Barclay James Harvest, but they too play a potent role here.
You won’t find David Ruffin sandwiched between Cliff Richard and Shuggie Otis anywhere else (although the inclusion of ’74’s Inspiration Information is a little bit of artistic licence, but to be fair, so are some of the other tracks), but here be Philly soul and sugary disco, yacht rock, pastel funk and easy pop. It seems like a more innocent time in a lot of ways. We know it wasn’t, but on the whole you could say this is the soundtrack of young people either going out on a joyous sun-baked booze-up or trying to get a little shade. The yearning, echo-drenched Walking So Free by Spike Janson. The poolside cool of Lynsey De Paul’s sedate Sugar Shuffle. The most abrasive thing on offer is the trippy pop art mood swings of 10cc’s perfectly arch I’m Mandy, Fly Me – which evokes sunstroke and sleep-deprivation in equal measures.
Our own summer might be on the way out, but this one is well worth immersing yourself in. Trust me, I was late to the party, but I was there.
❉ ‘Bob Stanley presents 76 In The Shade’ (CDCHD 1580) is released 28 August 2020, by Ace Records. RRP £11.50. Pre-order from Ace, free delivery in the UK
❉ Martin Ruddock has written for ‘Doctor Who Magazine’, ‘Shindig! Magazine’, the ‘You And Who’ series, and is a regular contributor to We Are Cult.