basementsongs.jpg

Last year my friend John Burland questioned my sanity when I told him of my devotion to Wings’ smash hit “Silly Love Songs.” I’ll admit that it may not be Paul McCartney’s deepest composition, but it is a finely crafted tune with different layers of pop sheen displaying the former Beatle’s knack for arranging and producing radio-friendly material that makes you feel good. Yes, the lyrics are simple and, well, silly, but McCartney wasn’t setting out to write “Yesterday.” His passion to remain a touring act meant he needed material other than Beatles songs for his audience to respond to in concert. “Silly Love Songs,” a response to his critics who assailed him for writing too many ballads (and, I assume, for not being John Lennon or George Harrison), was an enormous hit in 1976, reaching #1 on the charts. It was difficult to tune to an AM station that year and not hear the song. That’s where I first heard it.

Long before sports opinions and political blowhards took over the AM dial, music was actually played on these stations. FM was in its early, experimental stages, and it was run by longhairs ushering in much of the music we’re still subjected to daily on classic-rock stations. Meanwhile, AM stuck to safe hits, songs that weren’t too offensive or were sly enough to hide their lewdness within a sugary Top 40 sound (“Afternoon Delight” is a perfect example). During the ’70s my family took long summer vacations that had us driving to KOA Kampgrounds throughout the U.S. This was the era before cassette players, so radio — specifically, AM radio — was all we had to accompany us on our long journeys.

Although I may have complained about being stuck in a car or van with my parents and three siblings, I look back on that time fondly. Through all of the jockeying for primo seat positions and bickering over who was annoying who, my parents provided us with a time to be a family unit. I wish my wife, Julie, and I were able to take these sorts of long vacations with our kids and explore the nation’s history and odd tourist attractions, but for now it just isn’t feasible.

The time I spent on the road in the ’70s, traveling the vast and varied landscapes, had a profound effect on me. To this day I still love lengthy car rides with little conversation — just me, possibly a companion, the open road, and the radio. Thirty years ago my family would listen to whatever station we could pick up. We heard all the cheesy songs you’re likely to find on the plethora of ’70s music compilations available these days (Rhino’s massive Have a Nice Decade collection pretty much covers everything, including news sound bites), but most of those songs don’t have any lasting power for me. However, “Silly Love Songs,” despite the innocuousness of the music, has stuck with me throughout the years.

After passing through the halls of heavy metal and graduating into classic rock and the underground college-music scene, my good friend James lent me Wings’ compilation Greatest (1978) during my sophomore year of high school. I spun that LP for a week straight before having to give it back. Hearing not only “Silly Love Songs” but “Jet,” “Let ‘Em In,” and “Band on the Run” made me fall in love with the solo work of Paul McCartney. From that same record I discovered “Junior’s Farm,” “Another Day,” and one of my faves, “Mull of Kintyre.”

You have to remember that during this time — the mid- to late ’80s — the only McCartney songs still getting lots of Top 40 radio play were his duets with Michael Jackson and, to a lesser degree, Stevie Wonder. Occasionally you’d hear a current solo song like “No More Lonely Nights,” but you’d have to have the tape deck rolling if you wanted to hear it more than once. I was thrilled to have my BASF cassette copy of Greatest to keep a smile on my face and my fingers drumming along. I owned that cassette for years. And I remember when I discarded it — 1989.

That year McCartney released Flowers in the Dirt, a strong effort that included many excellent tracks cowritten by Elvis Costello. In support of this great album, McCartney toured for the first time in years and promised to play many of the Beatles songs he’d long sworn off while he was trying to establish himself as a solo artist. When he and his crack back (plus wife Linda on keyboards and vocals) landed in Cleveland, my friends Matt and Steve and I, along with Steve’s younger brother, went down to the old Cleveland Municipal Stadium to scalp tickets the night of the show.

Unfortunately, we had to split up — four tickets together were impossible to find. Steve and his brother wound up in nosebleed seats, while Matt and I, having bought the tickets of some dude who was spending that night in rehab, found ourselves in the 16th row, center stage, sharing a joint with the rehab dude’s buddies, who had sold us the tickets. Numerous times during the concert I would stop and point at the stage, exclaiming into Matt’s ear, “Dude, that’s Paul fucking McCartney!” It was unreal. The next day I ditched my old cassette of Wings’ Greatest and bought the CD. It accompanied me throughout college and the blue house basement days and still resides in my collection.

Long after college and well into my marriage, Greatest has remained one of my favorite albums, and “Silly Love Songs” continues on as one of those rare and wonderful tunes that can bring a smile to my face in its first few seconds. From the funky bass line to the groovy horn arrangements, from the layered vocals to that plain and simple drum part, I hear the song and I’m at ease (at least for the duration of its nearly six minutes). Because it’s been with me for so long, it allows me to reflect on who I was, who I am now, and how I grew into the person I am.

It’s no mistake that for one of the first road trips Julie and I took to Tucson, Arizona, where my parents moved in 1997, the travel tape I made for that short vacation included “Silly Love Songs.” I can’t tell you what else was on that tape, but I can recall singing along to the song with Julie as we headed into the desert. That trip, in 1998, was significant not only as our first trek to Tucson but also because it was the last time we would visit my parents by ourselves. The following January, our daughter, Sophie, was born.

This week we’re heading back to Arizona to visit Mom and Dad for Easter weekend. It’s become a tradition, I guess, to drive from Saugus to Tucson each year for the holiday. Generally, I do most of the driving while Sophie and Jacob, our son, watch movies and Jules reclines for much-deserved kick back time. But there are always moments during the eight-hour drive when we all listen to music together: Sometimes it’s Julie’s choice of Jackson Browne. Other times we put on Sophie’s request for Hannah Montana. When it comes to me, my mind always drifts back to the ’70s and those endless summer vacations. That’s when I want to pull out Wings’ Greatest one more time and try to fill my kids’ heads with “Silly Love Songs.”