Even in 2023, the song “Afternoon Delight” may be on your guilty pleasures playlist, and the mid-70s hit has D.C. origins. A house in the Palisades section of Northwest, and a menu item at Clyde’s restaurant in Georgetown led to what’s been dubbed “the dirtiest song ever to top the Billboard Hot 100.”
At the age of 18, singer/songwriter Jon Carroll was a founding member of Starland Vocal Band, whose 1976 hit, “Afternoon Delight,” was known for its close harmonies, but mostly its suggestive wordplay.
The song came together at a house on Chain Bridge Road, at a time when more people listened to music on AM radio than FM. The house was owned by Bill Danoff and Taffy Nivert, who launched the vocal group with Carroll and Margot Chapman.
Years earlier, Danoff and Nivert wrote “Take Me Home, Country Roads,” which was a career-changing hit for John Denver. The couple befriended Carroll and his best friend, Mike Cotter, who played as a duo.
Carroll remembers the house well.
“It was just this enchanted little cottage that was down in what was like a bamboo forest, behind McArthur Boulevard,” Carroll said. “That was the house where we’d all hang out — and when it was prom night or homecoming in high school, we always went to Bill and Taffy’s.”
Visit to Clyde’s was inspiration for ‘Afternoon Delight’
In 1974, when Nivert was in a nearby hospital for a medical procedure, Danoff and Chapman stopped for a bite to eat at Clyde’s, the popular restaurant and saloon on M Street in Georgetown.
“They were at Clyde’s, and on the table was a little table tent promoting the happy hour menu that Clyde’s called ‘Afternoon Delights,'” Carroll recalled. “I think it included shrimp and brie.”
“Bill looked at Margot and said, ‘Hmm, afternoon delights, I guess that could be anything,'” which Carroll said led to Danoff’s lyrics known for their double entendres.
“Thinkin’ of you’s workin’ up my appetite//Looking forward to a little afternoon delight/Rubbin’ sticks and stones together makes the sparks ignite/And the thought of lovin’ you is getting so exciting,” sounded innocent enough, compared with other 1970s songs that were more obviously about sex, including “Pillow Talk,” by Sylvia, Donna Summer’s “Love to Love You Baby,” and “More, More, More,” by the Andrea True Connection.
As for the arrangement of “Afternoon Delight,” Danoff’s song took shape over time, Carroll said.
“The original idea for the song was kind of a like a Cajun fiddle tune,” Danoff said.
Danoff sings the first lines of the verse, followed by a duet between Nivert and Chapman.
“And then we all do the ‘skyrockets in flight,’ that’s the full four voices,” Carroll said.
Starland Vocal Band’s “Afternoon Delight” debuted May 8, 1976, reached #1 on Billboard’s Hot 100 on July 10, 1976, and stayed on the charts for 20 weeks.
After the song hit big, Danoff and Nivert moved out of the home on Chain Bridge Road, and rented it to two tenants they knew very well: Carroll and Chapman, who at the time were romantically involved.
“And that’s where Ben Carroll, Margot and my son, was born, when we were living in that house in 1979,” Carroll said.
Carroll’s post-Starland Vocal Band career has included having songs covered by artists, including Linda Ronstadt, who had a 1980s hit with Carroll’s “Get Closer.”
Carroll will be back in the old neighborhood this weekend. Sunday night, Feb. 26, in “An Evening of Conversation and Music with Jon Carroll,” in the Backstage @ the Sanctuary series, hosted by Mark Segraves of NBC4 and the After Dark Fund.