How “Afternoon Delight” Became The Summer Hit Of '76
“Afternoon Delight,” the 1976 #1 hit about a late-afternoon appetizer menu or sex while the sun’s up, splits along generational lines. To the more seasoned crowd, it’s the one-hit wonder of Starland Vocal Band, which became the song of the summer in July of ‘76. To a younger generation, it will forever remain a quintessential moment in Will Ferrel’s “Anchorman,” “Beooooooooowwwwwww!” As Ron Burgundy famously said, "If you don't think this song is the greatest song ever, I will fight you.” Here’s the history of “Afternoon Delight.”
The husband-wife duo of Bill Danoff and Taffy Nivert gained traction first as songwriters, penning another classic for John Denver in “Take Me Home, Country Roads.” That allowed them to sign on with RCA records while performing in D.C under the name Bill and Taffy along with “Fat City.” While living in the nation’s capital, an unexpected mix of football and food, Rod Stewart’s “Maggie May'' gave birth to “Afternoon Delight”.
As Danoff remembered:
“At Clyde’s (a D.C restaurant) in ’74. It was after lunch, and from 3 to 6 they had these table tents out that said “afternoon delights.” It was a little menu of like four items. I thought it would be a neat title for a song.
It took me a couple of months to get the song right. I was watching a Redskins game on TV and I came up with the lick on my 12-string. A song I really liked at the time was Rod Stewart’s “Maggie May,” the long acoustic version. That triggered it. Then I started putting the lyrics together: “Gonna find my baby/Gonna hold her tight/Gonna grab some afternoon delight.” Not a bad idea!”
His then-wife, Nivert saw the hit coming a mile away. “You could always find Bill with his guitar. There were a thousand things going through his head. He used the guitar like some people doodle with a pencil and paper. I would hear parts of “Afternoon Delight,” and I thought it was really good.” Rather savvily, Taffy told audiences, “Bill came home and we had our own Afternoon Delight. We wrote the song instead of having a cigarette." As inspirations go, afternoon sex only slightly outrates watching TV and a food menu.
Although the song sounds like a carefree ditty, putting it together was anything but simple. As producer Milt Okun put it, “They were very, very good singers. But this song was a particularly hard one to do. It was more complex and musically difficult than most folk arrangements. It was the closest thing to Bach that I’d ever done.” To call in reinforcements, Bill called on another couple, Jon Carroll and Margot Chapman.
The precocious college student, Carroll, had no idea how deep the “Afternoon Delight” rabbit hole would go. As Carroll said, “I was 18. I knew what the song was, and I liked singing the song. But I wasn’t a seasoned enough adult to be able to appreciate the more contextualized, glib aspects of it — as far as what it meant to have this very sweet-sounding pop group play a really playful song that, in essence, is about a nooner. Which is great.
The song went #1 on July 4th weekend and people across the country reveled in fireworks to the soundtrack of daytime sensuality. Popular radio host “Cousin Brucie” called it “sort of a fluke No. 1. It was a fun, positive song we could whistle along to — and it had sexual overtones that made everybody giggle. We needed that. Gerald Ford was president and Jimmy Carter was running; how much more boring can it get than a peanut farmer and a guy who hits his head coming into the White House?”
Long Shelf Life
“Afternoon Delight” continued to please classic rock stations for years until Will Ferrell and director Adam McKay lit a cultural powder keg with their “Anchorman” rendition. As McKay said:
“It’s titillating, it’s sweet — and at the same time, it’s a little bit creepy. I remember hearing that song when I was 8 years old in the back seat of the car, riding around with my parents. It wasn’t until five years later when I was like: Heyyyy, wait a minute!
The song represents the ’70s perfectly because it’s delightful, innocent, and sexually free. It definitely plays as an anachronism. It’s almost downright strange in today’s post-AIDS, post-sexual politics world. It represents the free love of the ’60s going mainstream in the ’70s. It plays in a very big moment in the movie, no doubt about it. It’s one of my favorite things in the movie.”
Unfortunately, for Starland Vocal Band the hit represented their singular peak. The band and both wedded couples all ended in divorce. Nevertheless, they’ll always have their “Afternoon Delight.” As its author happily relates, “It was never meant to be “Satisfaction.” But it sold several million records, and people still know it. I make no bones about the fact that I always wanted to be a pop songwriter. When people say, “What’s your favorite song ever written?” I tell them “Afternoon Delight” because it was the biggest hit. It was a magical record.”