This is a double-entendre song named after the late-afternoon appetizer menu at the restaurant Clyde's Of Georgetown in Washington, DC, where they have a gold record from this song hanging in the bar. That's the official explanation at least: the other meaning is daytime sex. The inspirational menu heading read: "Afternoon Delights."
The Starland vocal band delivered four-part harmonies with the married couple Bill and Taffy Danoff (Taffy Nivert after they split up), and another couple: Margot Chapman and Jon Carroll (the baby of the bunch, he was just 19 when the song was released). Taffy spiced up the stage banter when they performed this song, explaining that the title came from the menu, but adding some version of "...then Bill came home and we had our own Afternoon Delight. We wrote the song instead of having a cigarette."
Bill says the songwriting was far from sexy: he wrote it over the course of six months, often on Sundays when he was watching Redskins football. "All that energy coming out of the tube gets my creative juices flowing," he told People magazine.
This was the only hit for the Starland Vocal Band, who won the Grammy for Best New Artist of 1976, beating out the band Boston. In a VH1 special on one-hit wonders, Bill Danoff of Starland Vocal Band said: "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."
Starland Vocal Band was a newcomer, but the Danoffs had already released four albums, two under the name Fat City and two as Billy and Taffy. The Starland Vocal Band split up after their fourth album.
Despite having only this one hit, the Starland Vocal Band were given their own summer replacement TV series on CBS called The Starland Vocal Band in 1977. An unknown comic named David Letterman appeared on the show.
Under the name Fat City, the group sang backup on John Denver's "Take Me Home Country Roads
," which was written by Bill and Taffy. Denver helped get the Starland Vocal Band a record deal with RCA, where he had his own vanity label, Windsong Records.
A key element in this song is the pedal steel guitar lick that comes after the line, "skyrockets in flight." The band knew they needed something there to simulate the fireworks, and considered using a sound effect. Danny Pendleton, who was playing pedal steel at the session, came up with the solution by turning on every pedal and letting it rip. Once the band heard it, they knew it was right for the song.
In Anchorman, they sing, "pe-ewww" in this section, making it hard for anyone to hear the song without making their own skyrocket sounds.
The harmony vocals are the star of this song, but arrangement had to be just right in order to support them. Bill Danoff played 12-string guitar, while Starland member Jon Carroll added acoustic 6-string. They were supported by a selection of session pros: Russell George on bass, Jimmy Young on drums, and Danny Pendleton on pedal steel guitar. Milt Okun was the producer and Phil Ramone was the engineer. In 1977, Billy Joel released The Stranger, which was his first album produced by Ramone, who stayed on as his producer until his 1989 album Storm Front.
In US, this topped the chart the week ending July 10, 1976, making it the #1 song during America's bicentennial: July 4, 1976. Skyrockets (fireworks) were a huge part of that celebration.
The country singer Johnny Carver released his own version of this song in 1976 that rose to #9 on the Country chart.
This was used in two 2004 movies that were set in the '70s: Anchorman
and Starsky and Hutch
. The Anchorman
DVD contains a video of the cast performing the song, with an intro by Will Ferrell, who in his Ron Burgundy character says: "If you don't think this song is the greatest song ever, I will fight you."
Billy - Pittsburgh, PA
From 1997-2007, Bill Danoff had his own restaurant in Washington DC called The Starland Cafe.
The follow-up single, "California Day," stalled at #66 and the next single, "Hail! Hail! Rock and Roll!" stopped at #71. After releasing their second album, they did their TV series instead of going on a promotional tour. That series lasted only six episodes, putting the brakes on any momentum they had left. The group called it quits in 1980 after their fourth album, which contained one last chart entry, "Loving You with My Eyes," at #71.
Starland Vocal Band was the opening act for their labelmate John Denver when this song rose up the charts. Their sets were punctuated by an a capella performance of Paul Simon's "American Tune" where they stood on the round stage with each band member facing a different direction.
John Stamos performed this with the cast of Glee on the 2011 episode of the series, "Sexy." The song becomes a topic of discussion when it is sung by the "celibacy club." When Gwyneth Paltrow's character questions the selection, celibacy club leader Emma (Jayma Mays), says, "It's so wholesome. It was written during the bicentennial to celebrate America and fireworks."
"No, it's about sneaking out for a nooner," Paltow replies.
"Yes, exactly. A nooner is when you have dessert in the middle of the day, right?"
Released as a single, this version went to #108 - the only cover version to chart.
This song has been used in a number of movies and TV series to evoke carefree, campy fun from an era when sex wasn't so scary. A sampling:
Boogie Nights (1997)
Good Will Hunting (1997)
Mindhunter ("Episode #1.4" - 2017)
Emily's Reasons Why Not ("Why Not to Hire a Cute Male Assistant" - 2008)
My Name Is Earl ("Our 'Cops' Is On!" - 2007)
Family Guy ("Stewie Kills Lois" - 2007)
30 Rock ("Fireworks" - 2007)
South Park ("Miss Teacher Bangs a Boy" - 2006)
Arrested Development ("Afternoon Delight" - 2004)
The Simpsons ("The Fat and the Furriest" - 2003)
ER ("Blood, Sugar, Sex, Magic" - 2001)
Malcolm in the Middle ("Home Alone 4" - 2000)
Sports Night ("The Apology" - 1998)
Jon Carroll has come to appreciate this song and is quite proud of it, but he wasn't happy about it when it was first released. "'Afternoon Delight' is not the kind of record for someone who wants to be perceived as a bad-ass rock and roller," he said in a Songfacts interview
. "It's not cool to like that record, right? I was 18 when we recorded it, and it came out and I couldn't believe that they chose it as a single. Of course, I'm an idiot, because I was 18."
He added: "It's always contextualized in some ridiculous way, which always pisses me off a little bit, but it also makes me aware that there's something endearing about it. Of all the usages of it, my favorite was Malcolm In The Middle
when they're finally getting out of the house and the boys are finally sorted out and Mom and Dad are going out on their own. She's got her leg up on the dashboard of the Dodge Caravan, and she's shaving it.. She's all lathered up and the radio is on playing 'Afternoon Delight.'"