Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Starland Vocal Band Deliver A Cheeky Euphemism

Firstly, I’ll preface this post by putting my hands up and admitting I’m not a huge fan of the song ‘Afternoon Delight’ by Starland Vocal Band. I don’t dislike, but I suppose you could say I’m indifferent to its apparent charms. But I do recall the song being played relentlessly on commercial radio back in the mid 70s, and the song, as well as the group behind it, have an interesting story, which is worth taking a closer look at.

The Starland Vocal Band were a quartet, based out of Washington D.C., and comprising two couples, Bill and Kathy ‘Taffy’ Danoff, and Jon Carroll with (future wife) Margot Chapman. The group were presented as a clean cut, all-American line-up, with good old fashioned clean cut, respectable pop music (well almost).

During the late 60s, struggling folk singer Bill Danoff was working nights as the light and sound man at the Cellar Door Club in Washington D.C. It was there that he met singer John Denver, who was nearing the end of his tenure fronting the Chad Mitchell Trio. Denver and Danoff struck up a friendship, and before long Denver recorded the Danoff penned ‘I Guess I’d Rather Be In Colorado’. They continued to write together over the next few years, and eventually came up with the folk-country classic ‘Take Me Home Country Roads’. Denver took the song to #2 on the U.S. Hot 100 during 1971, and his version featured backing vocals from Bill Danoff, and Danoff’s wife Taffy. The Danoff’s had been performing together on the folk circuit, originally fronting a quintet called Fat City (who recorded a couple of albums ‘Reincarnation’-1969, and ‘Welcome To Fat City’-1971) . Fat City lost some weight and the newer, slimmer version featured just the Danoffs. The couple became known as ‘Bill and Taffy’, on record as well as to their friends, and they recorded two albums for RCA in the first half of the 70s, titled ‘Pass It On’ and ‘Aces’ (1974). The albums flopped, and it prompted Bill Danoff to rethink their approach to music.

One of the options Danoff considered was to expand the vocal sound to more of a group dynamic. Both he and Taffy had worked with singer/pianist Jon Carroll, who had contributed to their ‘Aces’ LP, and singer Margot Chapman, who had featured in one of several incarnations of Fat City. He felt the vocal mix, particularly the harmonising, might just work with a quartet of singers. They decided on the name Starland Vocal Band, and set about refining their harmonies to a pitch perfect mix. Danoff already had a swag of songs in his musical kitbag, and his friendship with Denver was about to open a door for the fledgling vocal quartet. Denver had just established his own recording label, called Windsong, no doubt built in part on the enormous sales for ‘Take Me Home Country Roads’. Denver didn’t hesitate to make his old friend, and co-writer, Bill Danoff and the Starland Vocal Band, the first artist signed to a recording contract with Windsong.

The quartet set about recording their debut album in late 1975, interrupted only by the fact that Taffy Danoff took a bit of time off to have a child. The album was recorded and mixed by early ‘76, and the lead out single ‘Afternoon Delight’ was released soon after. The song debuted on the U.S. charts in May ‘76, and like a skyrocket in flight, soared to #1 just nine weeks later. It spent two weeks atop the U.S. charts during July ‘76, and the song’s angelic harmonies weaved their magic elsewhere, sending ‘Afternoon Delight’ zooming to #6 in Australia and #18 in Britain.

Songwriter Bill Danoff later explained to Rolling Stone the meaning behind the title ‘Afternoon Delight’, Apparently he penned the song after having lunch at a restaurant called Clyde’s in Washington, D.C. The menu item he’d ordered was called ‘Afternoon Delight’, which contained spiced shrimp and hot Brie with almonds. Well it was intimated that the lunch assisted in improving one’s libido, hence ‘Afternoon Delight’. Danoff later said that he just wanted to write something that hinted at the idea of sex, without being explicit in its lyrics. The subject matter became clearer over time, if not by interpreting the lyrics directly, then certainly through word of mouth. But that didn’t have any impact on the song gaining access all areas status for radio and television play, in fact the subtle sexual innuendo was even too subtle for the BBC to ban it.

‘Afternoon Delight’ helped the Starland Vocal Band win two 1976 Grammy Awards for ‘Best New Artist’ and ‘Best Vocal Arrangement’, and pushed sales of their eponymous debut album to #20 on the U.S. charts, but the album yielded just two more minor hits in ‘California Day’ (US#66) and ‘Hail! Hail! Rock And Roll!’ (US#71). The sunny and playful disposition of ‘Afternoon Delight’ wasn’t really indicative of the remainder of the album, which featured a selection of pleasant little folk-rock numbers, with crystalline vocal harmonies a feature. Such was the popularity though of the song ‘Afternoon Delight’, that the Starland Vocal Band scored their own (short lived) TV music-variety show on CBS, called funnily enough, ‘The Starland Vocal Band Show’, and featuring an up and coming comedian called David Letterman.

Starland Vocal Band returned to the studio in 1977 to record their sophomore album ‘Rear View Mirror’ (US#104), but it was a huge disa- ppointment, both in terms of sales and the fact that it didn’t spawn any charting singles. Over the next two years Starland Vocal Band released two more albums, ‘Late Night Radio’ (1978) and ‘4X4’ (1979), but neither broke into the U.S. album charts. The last chart entry for Starland Vocal Band came via a minor hit single in early 1980 titled ‘Loving You With My Eyes’ (US#71). In the wash up of poor album sales, and flagging concert attendances, Starland Vocal Band’s skyrocket fizzled out, and the group split in 1981. The two couples within the group experienced a bit of ABBA syndrome soon after, the Danoff’s divorcing shortly after Starland Vocal Band broke up, and Carroll and Chapman later split as well. All four members of Starland Vocal Band went on to try their hand at solo careers, but none achieved anything like the success Starland Vocal Band had enjoyed during 1976/7. Over the last couple of decades Starland Vocal Band have reunited on a handful of occasions, most recently in 2007, when they performed ‘Afternoon Delight’ on a 70s nostalgia special on a local New Jersey broadcast. The song ‘Afternoon Delight’ has taken on a life of its own in popular culture, regularly cropping up in TV and films, usually in a comical context.

6 comments:

Mieke said...

Hi there! I have been searching for Starland Vocal Band albums Late Nite Radio and 4x4, I purchased all the others. Can you help me find the missing 2 albums? That would make me the happiest little girl in The Netherlands... :)

A. FlockOfSeagulls said...

Hi Mieke,
it doesn't look like either 'Late Night Radio' or '4X4' were officially released on CD. There are a few second hand copies on vinyl and cassette through the usual channels like Amazon - but they appear quite expensive (Approx. $35 for a cassette copy of 'Late Night Radio'), but I'm assuming you've looked at those options. Only other suggestion I have is maybe it's worthwhile contacting the Bill Danoff website to enquire.
http://www.billdanoff.com/index.html
Sorry I couldn't be of more help.
Best of luck in your search :)

~Barb said...

Nice article! One correction, it is Jon (not John) Carroll. Mieke, please check ebay. Both Late Nite Radio and 4X4 are currently available. Neither are available in CD form at this time. A few videos are on YouTube for viewing. Also check out their myspace page at www.myspace.com/starlandvocalband
Fat City/Bill and Taffy's myspace page is at www.myspace.com/fatcitybilltaffy
Jon Carroll's myspace page is www.myspace.com/joncarrollmusic
His website is www.joncarroll.org
Jon and Margot's son, Ben, is at www.myspace.com/bencarrollmusic and his website is www.bencarroll.com
Hope this helps. Enjoy the music!
SVB and Fat City/Bill and Taffy's webmaster, ~Barb

~Barb said...

Bill Danoff's myspace page is at www.myspace.com/billdanoff
His webmaster is Nina.

~Barb said...

Mieke, you might also want to request updates from ebay on Starland Vocal Band in hopes of finding a "Christmas At Home" album. They are very rare. It was recorded as a fundraiser for a local charity. During the holidays, you can also go to SVB's MySpace page to hear some of the selections from that album.

A. FlockOfSeagulls said...

Thanks Barb for the correction re. Jon Carroll and extra website info.
Cheers :)