by Jeff Fiedler
Common Thread is a regular feature on thegreatalbums.com in which we offer up mini-reviews of a small (and often very diverse) assortment of albums that all have one specific shared trait; that "common thread" can vary from column to column.
Sons of the Beaches, Flash Cadillac and the Continental Kids (1975, Private Stock)
This ‘50s-styled band of revivalists fittingly got their first major exposure by appearing in the 1973 nostalgic big-screen comedy American Graffiti, but it wasn’t until years later that they had their lone Top 40 hit, with this disc’s “Did You Boogie (with Your Baby),” featuring a cameo from legendary disc jockey Wolfman Jack. But two of the band members had already been in a far more successful band: sax player Dwight “Spider” Bement and drummer Paul Wheatbread had visited the Top Ten five separate times in the late ’60s as members of Gary Puckett and the Union Gap of “Young Girl,” “Woman, Woman,” and “Over You” fame.
Dr. Buzzard’s Original Savannah Band, Dr. Buzzard’s Original Savannah Band (1976, RCA)
Few disco bands were quite as fun or as adventurous as this Bronx outfit, whose musical style was an equal-parts potpourri of disco, Latin music, big-band, and swing. Their lone pop hit was the medley “Whispering/Cherchez La Femme/Se Si Bon,” which climbed to #27 and would later be covered by Gloria Estefan on her album Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me but is perhaps most famous for its opening line, which name-checks the band’s manager: “Tommy Mottola lives on the road.” (Mottola, of course, would famously go on to become the head of Sony.) Neither the band nor any of its members would ever reach the Top 40 again, but Thomas “August Darnell” Browder and Andy “Coati Mundi” Hernandez would go on to form the beloved ‘80s dance-pop band Kid Creole and the Coconuts.
Sincerely, Dwight Twilley Band (1976, Shelter)
A first-rate power-pop duo whose career momentum was ultimately hampered by the ongoing distribution woes of its record label, the Dwight Twilley Band made their full-length debut with this lost gem of an album, which, due to legal battles between Shelter owners Leon Russell and Denny Cordell, ended up not getting released until a full year after its lead-off single, the muscular rock strut of “I’m on Fire,” made the Top Twenty. The frustrated duo would sadly split up in 1978, but each of its members would go on to have a Top Twenty-Five hit to call their own, Dwight Twilley with 1984’s “Girls” (featuring former Shelter label-mate Tom Petty on backing vocals) and Phil Seymour with the deliciously Beatlesque retro-rock of 1981’s “Precious to Me.”
Dean Friedman, Dean Friedman (1976, Lifesong)
This New Jersey singer-songwriter has sadly largely been forgotten to time, but he’s notable for several reasons. He was one of just a small handful of artists to be signed to the label Lifesong, founded and owned by Jim Croce’s former producers Terry Cashman (best known for writing and recording the unofficial theme song of MLB, “Talkin’ Baseball”) and Tommy West. [Lifesong was also home to former Sha Na Na member Henry Gross, who made a splash in 1976 as the artist behind the Top Ten hit ballad “Shannon.”] Friedman would also later go on to both write theme music and develop videogames for the cult-classic kids’ game show Nick Arcade. But Friedman all but assured that he’d at least forever remain a local hero by immortalizing his hometown (and its sadly-now-defunct local mall) in the lyrics of his one and only Top 40 hit, the charming and wildly catchy “Ariel,” and it’s a pretty safe bet that the song remains the only hit single to date to name-drop Paramus Park.
Beauties in the Night, Lady Flash (1976, RSO)
This female vocal trio has sung on far more hits than most one-hit-wonders: they were actually the full-time backing singers for Barry Manilow during the singer-songwriter’s massive string of hit albums from 1974 to 1979. For their first and only album under their own name, they’d recruit their famous boss to help out, and Manilow not only handles all the arrangements but also co-produces the album (alongside his own regular co-producer at the time, former Cuff Links and Archies vocalist Ron Dante) and pens five of the songs as well. The Manilow-penned “Street Singin’” would go to #27 and give the women a Top 40 hit to call their very own. Debra Byrd would go on to a very high-profile musical-television gig in the ‘00s as the vocal coach for the contestants on the reality show American Idol.
Stranger in the City, John Miles (1976, London)
John Miles may have only had one Top 40 hit in the U.S. under his own name – the clavinet-powered disco-rock of “Slow Down,” featured on this Rupert Holmes-produced disc alongside such other great cuts as the infectious “Manhattan Skyline,” the spacey piano ballad “Time,” the dramatic, conga-laced title track, the synthy “Glamour Boy,” and the R&B-infused “Stand Up (and Give Me a Reason)” – but, as one of the most frequently-utilized singers in the Alan Parsons Project’s ever-rotating cast of guest vocalists, he can also claim to have sung lead on that band’s first Top 40 hit, “(The System of) Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether.” Miles would also pop up in the late ‘80s as one of several guest vocalists on Jimmy Page’s solo album Outrider and as a guitarist/keyboardist in Tina Turner’s backing band.
You Are Everything I Need, Larry Santos (1976, Casablanca)
Santos’ time in the spotlight was short-lived – his lone hit was this disc’s “We Can’t Hide It Anymore,” a #36 hit in April of 1976 – but the 45 wasn’t his only claim to fame: from 1976 to 1980, he was the co-star of the nationally-syndicated children’s series Hot Fudge, and he also can claim to have written a Top Three smash: the enduring Four Seasons classic “Candy Girl.”