Sunday, July 18, 2004

Count songwriter Bill Danoff among the millions laughing at the politically incorrect antics of Will Ferrell and company in “Anchorman,” especially at the harmonious send-up of his Grammy-winning song, “Afternoon Delight.”

“I love it,” says Mr. Danoff, 58, from his home in the District. “It’s my favorite new thing, one of those funny, dumb movies.”

Apparently lots of other people enjoyed the film, which stars Mr. Ferrell as a competitive TV newsman opposite Christina Applegate. The film earned $28.4 million in its first weekend (July 9-11), finishing second to “Spiderman 2.”

“‘Afternoon Delight’ has enjoyed its new rebirth,” says Mr. Danoff, who wrote the song for his group, Starland Vocal Band. It hit Billboard’s No. 1 slot July 10, 1976. Some 28 years later, a comic video of the song is in heavy rotation on VH-1.

This is not the way Mr. Danoff had it figured, although he points out that the original version of the song was playing under a brief scene involving Mr. Ferrell in the recent “Starsky & Hutch” film staring Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson.

“Apparently, he really likes this tune,” he says. And apparently, its use in “Anchorman” was practically an afterthought.

Mr. Danoff says actor Paul Rudd, who plays a TV newsman in the film, has reported that the comic news crew was killing time on the set between takes when one of the actors started singing the song as a joke. The four actors knew the words, so they started working up the harmony parts.

The rest, as they say, is comedy.

Back in the ‘70s, when “Afternoon Delight” was working back down the Billboard charts, Mr. Danoff says, “it was more of a pop hit, so when its time came and went, I thought that would be it.”

But the song resurfaced in the ‘90s during the first wave of nostalgia for the 1970s, “looking back on a time that didn’t really exist,” Mr. Danoff says.

It was featured in films such as “Good Will Hunting,” where it played over the credits, in “Boogie Nights,” and in a lesser-known 1994 film titled “PCU.” Mr. Danoff says it offers an alternative soundtrack to the disco music most people recall from the era.

“When people are looking for the ‘70s, it’s become a little icon of the whole thing,” he said. “It’s great for me.”

And even though “Afternoon Delight” has become sort of a ‘70s audio punchline, Mr. Danoff seems to appreciate the joke.

“A whole new generation of people who know this song, know it for the humor,” he says.

The song’s origin is Clyde’s Restaurant in Georgetown — under an atrium tent that offered snacks like smoked salmon and brie to patrons before happy hour. The tent was labeled “Afternoon Delights.” Mr. Danoff put the words together with a 12-string guitar lick he had been absently playing, and four months later, he had worked up a song about snacking of a different nature.

“So when it was a big hit, I made sure Clyde’s got a gold record,” he says. “We had them made for our mothers, too. Clyde’s put theirs on the wall, and I’ve noticed that they’ve kept it.”

Nowadays, Mr. Danoff still writes songs — “to me, it’s just what I do, I’m never not writing something” — and is co-owner with his wife, Joan, of Starland Cafe on MacArthur Boulevard. He performs several times a year and released a CD as recently as 2002.

Starland Vocal Band last performed at the Birchmere in Alexandria in 1998. Mr. Danoff says he took the stage with band mates Jon Carroll — a keyboard player currently touring in Mary Chapin Carpenter’s band — Margot Chapman and his former wife, Taffy Nivert. They sang to pay tribute to John Denver in a concert produced by the World Folk Music Association of Washington.

Mr. Denver, who had died in a plane crash the previous year, recorded about a dozen songs that Mr. Danoff wrote or co-wrote. One of them was the campfire standard, “Take Me Home Country Roads.” The 12 songs were rerecorded by Mr. Danoff in his 2002 CD.

As for his two biggest hits, Mr. Danoff says, “I wouldn’t have predicted either one of them.”

“Success is a bunch of happy accidents,” he says. “That’s how it happens. To have a hit song, you have to have so many little things go right. So it’s rare when it happens.”

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