The Summer of 1976 has remained a benchmark for long, hot summers – there may have been scorchers since, but none have seemed quite as relentless. Too hot to move, the country melted into a collective puddle. This album evokes the feel of that summer, the sweet heat and almost narcotic lethargy, the haze above melting tarmac.
The months without rain and airless days and nights might not have been something out of the ordinary in the Algarve or the South of France, but it was without precedent in Britain. There was a Minister for Drought. There were stand pipes. Reservoirs in Wales resembled parched African plains. The country melted into a collective puddle. This compilation probably wasn’t anyone’s soundtrack of the year – that could have included Bowie’s ‘Station To Station’, Peter Tosh’s ‘Legalize It’ and Abba, who dominated the singles and album charts. Instead, this is an attempt to sonically evoke the summer of 1976 itself, its sweet heat and almost narcotic lethargy.
The dream state of 10cc’s ‘I’m Mandy Fly Me’ was perfect for the sun-baked lethargy of 1976. ‘You Are My Love’ by Liverpool Express was drenched in echo and swathed in comatose sadness. There was a take-your-sweet-time sultriness to the supine sound of Lynsey De Paul’s ‘Sugar Shuffle’. Azimuth’s ‘Montreal City’ was a celebration of that summer’s Olympic Games which hardly suggested pace or speed. Fender Rhodes, electric vibes and early synths provided the dominant keyboard instrumentation. Long echoes and reverbs drenched production: check the sparkling sun-ray intro to Steve Miller’s ‘Wild Mountain Honey’. Disco wasn’t yet codified, allowing a window for light soulful dancers such as David Ruffin’s ‘Discover Me’ and the Emotions’ ‘Flowers’. Getting out of the sun, you might have sat inside with the curtains drawn and the telly on – just three channels and, in the daytime, very few programmes. So you would have ended up flopped out in front of the test card. The music libraries that provided the bulk of the test card’s soundtrack were also responsible for Simon Park’s ‘Stoned Out’ and John Cameron’s deeply immersive ‘Liquid Sunshine’.
The eagle-eyed will note that not all of the songs on this collection were released in 1976 – the sensual wooziness of Blue Mink’s ‘Stay With Me’ dates from as far back as 1972 – although all could have been heard that year. A handful were hits, a few weren’t even released to the public and might have just been heard in the background. All of them suggest bright yellow sunshine, hot plastic car seats, cats lolloping on the lawn. A few tracks (Smokey Robinson, Cliff Richard, Carmen McRae) act as necessary splashes of cooling water; most of them sound like it’s just too hot to move. Luckily, you don’t need to.
nb. Order from Rough Trade for colured vinyl edition.