How the Starland Vocal Band killed my innocence
by Paul Falconer
"I didn't want to write an all-out sex song... I just wanted to write something that was fun and hinted at sex"- Bill Danoff, writer of "Afternoon Delight."
Hinted? Give me a break. "Rubbin' sticks and stones together makes the sparks ignite" is not a camping tip from a Boy Scout Manual, nor some metaphorical allusion to a bit of a cuddle; neither even to a casual wristy nor a post-lunch knee-tremble. This, people, is a blatant reference to bumping uglies. "Skyrockets in flight"? Hurr hurr snerk snerk!
The band, which formed in 1976, was married couple Bill and Taffy Danoff (who co-wrote "Take Me Home, Country Roads" with John Denver) and another couple: Margot Chapman and Jon Carroll. Taffy spiced up the stage banter when they performed the song, explaining that the title came from the menu of a Washington DC restaurant, but adding "...then Bill came home and we had our own Afternoon Delight. We wrote the song instead of having a cigarette."1
In 2010 Billboard named "Afternoon Delight" the 20th sexiest song of all time. Want to know what are the sexiest? Of course you do. Go here -> The 50 Sexiest Songs Of All Time. AOL Radio ranked the song at #26 on the list of the 100 Worst Songs Ever while stating, "If [Danoff] can sing this cheesy song, and still somehow get some in the middle of the workday, we bow to him."
At the time of its '76 release, I was legally and anatomically an adult (barely), but with a less than rampant libido and a naive and limited appreciation of the leg-over, its variety and its far-reaching popularity. A rigid todger to me was primarily an inconvenience, particularly when i needed to pee (these were in the days when youthful bladder pressure meant I could reach the ceiling, rather than these days when i welcome the very occasional half-mongrel so i don't wet my slippers). In my eyes, young women were chaste creatures, the fairer and more virtuous of the genders - a consequence no doubt of me having the best mother in the world and no sisters. The most ribald of women in my cosseted world were the centrefolds in my cousin's old, dog-eared Playboy magazines who mostly just got their tits out, with perhaps a hint of camel toe.
My almost smut-free world came to a crashing end when "Afternoon Delight" got its first airplay. Even me, the gormless innocent, got it. First time. Here were the angelic voices of some apple-pie lovelies not just singing about rumpy-pumpy but celebrating it, rejoicing in the anticipation of a round of hide-the-sausage. I could never see women the same way again. Could they be rampaging lust-buckets, brazen floozies, wanton sexual beings? This was a transformational moment - and, be certain, I am not in the least complaining. It was a bit of a shock - but in a good way.
You may perhaps be thinking here that I will go on a riff about taking advantage of such a revelation for carnal advantage but you'd be wrong. This is about equality. Women didn't belong on pedestals, they were just us, albeit with some origamied genitalia and lumpy chests. I had discovered I could be mates with wimmin; the available gene pool of potential pals, drinking buddies, pranksters, colleagues, confidantes and chums had just doubled. We could even down two or three pints too many while belting out a rendition of "Afternoon Delight" and laugh uproariously and platonically at the unsubtle innuendo. While we could perform "Afternoon Delight" there was no expectation of performing any 'afternoon delight,' if you follow me.
In these days of pussy-grabbing presidents and Harvey Weinsteins we have a long way to go in overcoming the objectification of women. I'm no prude. I enjoy dirty jokes, double entendres have a place ("a man walks into a bar and asks the barmaid for a double entendre, so she gave him one"). And women will laugh at those jokes too, but that is not an invitation to flash your frightener fellas. Keep your hands to yourselves unless otherwise invited.
Starland Vocal Band was a one hit wonder, milking their success into a brief TV show before disbanding in 1981. They did beat out Boston for the 1976 Grammy for Best New Artist with "Afternoon Delight." The award is considered a curse by many, including Band member Taffy Danoff who asserted in a 2002 interview: "We got two of the five Grammys – one was Best New Artist. So that was basically the kiss of death and I feel sorry for everyone who's gotten it since."2 That said, the 1976 Grammy for Song Of The Year was awarded to Barry Manilow's "I Write The Songs." The curse applied to the wrong category apparently.
But "Afternoon Delight" or its lyrics have been featured in many works from Boogie Nights, through to South Park ("Miss Teacher Bangs a Boy") and The Simpsons (source of an embarrassing tattoo on Homer). If your reaction to such placements is a wink and a lecherous grin, then you're not ready for manhood. Not only don't you get the nuance of those shows, you miss the value of the song as a celebration of equality rather than it being just a dirty ditty.
2 TV.com, VH1's 100 Greatest One Hit Wonders
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