So, we wondered, who’s making music these days that impressionable preteens and their parents enjoy? Top 40 radio is pretty much dead, and the lines between Radio Disney, MTV, and whatever the hell it is that the over-30 crowd is listening to these days have been drawn depressingly deep. Look, it isn’t just that we think the Jonas Brothers and Lil Wayne aren’t all that great; it’s that some of us can remember enjoying the latest hits from the Spinners, the Bangles, or Cheap Trick right alongside our parents.
Current music is still a multigenerational thing, but not the way it used to be — so here, without further ado, is a list (with downloads, natch) of some of the stuff your faithful Popdosers were listening to in their formative preteen years. Pull up a chair and a set of headphones, and give in to Tweener Mixtape Madness!
Going into this post, I was confident that my five selections would be the squarest and whitest on the staff — and my co-‘dosers didn’t disappoint: while I was loading up my Fisher-Price record player with my mom’s old Billy Joel, Elton John, and Eagles records, and mooning over the latest sappy ballads from REO Speedwagon, Bryan Adams, and Survivor on the radio, everyone else was grooving to the Spinners and Husker Du.
Well. Too late to take any of it back now, so I may as well just dig into the ol’ memory banks and share five of the heaviest rotated tracks on my playlist in 1985-’86 — the years when I really got into music heavily, but before I crossed the line into teenhood:
Christopher Cross, “Charm the Snake” (download)
I heard about this album from a report on Entertainment Tonight, of all places, and although I’d never been overly fond of the Cross I’d heard in the past (my parents owned the first album on vinyl, and a cassette copy of Another Page floated around our van for years), something made me pick up a copy of Every Turn of the World — and then proceed to play it so many times that the tape actually snapped from overuse. This record was meant to show Cross’ harder-rocking side, and though I still prefer it to, say, “Arthur’s Theme,” I can see why radio slept on it.
Chicago, “Along Comes a Woman” (download)
They went on to record some pretty craven sops for Top 40 radio, but Chicago 17 deserved to be huge — even if it relegated the band’s once prominent horns to bit player status, it also contained some of the finest pop-rock to grace the airwaves in 1984 and ’85. I was 11 years old and didn’t have the first clue about what you were supposed to do when a woman came along, but it sure sounded like fun.
a-ha, “Take On Me” (download)
We have a Norwegian correspondent on the staff, and yet I’m the only one who cops to playing the shit out of “Take On Me”? What a bunch of crap. Whatever. I’ll take my lumps — I rode my bike to the Wherehouse next door to the Supercuts and picked up Hunting High and Low on vinyl, and even if some of it was kinda arty for my pre-adolescent tastes, I was still listening to the album a year later, when Scoundrel Days came out and delivered one of the most crushing disappointments of my musical youth.
Jack Wagner, “All I Need” (download)
When I was a kid, my mom operated a daycare center out of our house — and during the day, when the kids were in school, she watched ABC’s soaps, which is why I still remember the melody of the network’s long-running “love in the afternoon” ad campaign, and why I knew who Jack Wagner was even before he had his big #2 hit with “All I Need in the fall of 1984. Knew who he was? Hell, I wanted to be him — or rather, I wanted to be Frisco Jones, the super-cool, bearded, mullet-susceptible cop-slash-superspy he played on General Hospital. Mock his music if you will; I still say the dude could sing.
Georgia Satellites, “Keep Your Hands to Yourself” (download)
I don’t listen to most of the other stuff on my list very often anymore, but the Satellites are a band I can still stand behind. Elektra scored a hit for the band when they released this cutesy novelty track as the leadoff single from their debut album, but they also cemented the Satellites as a one-hit wonder even before their career had really begun — which is a real travesty, because nobody was cutting Faces-inspired rock & roll like this in the mid-to-late ’80s. Pick yourself up a copy of their third and final album, In the Land of Salvation and Sin. You’ll thank me later.
It must be a shock to the system when adolescents these days graduate from the de-sexualized tween-pop of Miley Cyrus and the Jonas Brothers to Top 40 radio, where suddenly they’re fed a steady diet of bleeped-out profanity and a raw carnality that once distinguished Blowfly records. When I was cutting my teeth on pop radio in the mid-’70s, artists knew there were more profound benefits to showing a little leg than to shaking their “Laffy Taffy” in our faces. Sex was everywhere in ’70s pop, but the radio still served as a relatively safe place for a kid on the cusp of puberty to explore those soon-to-be-raging hormones.
Euphemism and innuendo were the names of the game, whether it was disco funkster George McCrae imploring his woman to “Rock Your Baby” (download) or the Starland Vocal Band indulging in some very-AC “Afternoon Delight” (download). The Commodores offered an education in breasts without ever using the word on “Brick House” (download), while Aerosmith seemed to offer up every conceivable turn of phrase on hits like “Walk This Way” and, particularly, “Sweet Emotion” (“wearing out things that nobody wears,” “the backstage boogie set your pants on fire,” “you can drink from my glass”) (download).
Of course, a pop singer with the audacity to come right out and say what he wanted could still get to the Top 5 during the sexual revolution. Peter McCann did it on “Do You Wanna Make Love” (download) and “Right Time of the Night” (the latter a hit for Jennifer Warnes), but he did it with such a deft, lite-rock touch that his overt pleas for nookie fit comfortably on the radio alongside such creampuffs as “I Like Dreamin'” and “Don’t Give Up on Us” during the spring of ’77.
Songs like these offered a tantalizing glimpse of what was to come for pre-pubescent pop listeners in the mid-’70s, but none of them (not even “Sweet Emotion”) was so lewd or outrageous that parents would raise an eyebrow on those few occasions when they’d listen in. Of course, my parents also let me ride my bike across town by myself when I was 10; if I allowed my 11-year-old son to do that today, I’d probably be hearing from Child Services tomorrow.
The Spinners, “Could It Be I’m Falling in Love” (download)
This is the first song I remember hearing on the radio, and I fell in love with it instantly. Those horns, those strings, those smoove vocals, and the women pitching in during the chorus … heavenly. One of the most underrated soul groups of the era, for my money.
Elton John, “The Bitch Is Back” (download)
I could indulge in a bit of revisionist history here and list “Funeral for a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding” instead, since my parents had every Elton John released up to that point and Goodbye Yellow Brick Road was given a fair amount of play around the house. But this was the song that I played nonstop while dancing around the record player (and occasionally sending the needle flying). Maybe it was because it had “bitch” in the title, and I knew that was a naughty word. Maybe it was the energy and the “Whoa-oa-oa!” bits at the end of the verses. Maybe it was the sax solo. It was all of those things, I guess.
Captain & Tennille, “Shop Around” (download)
I had a big decision to make. I had money — the first money I remember being allowed to spend on my own — we were headed to Peaches Records on Sunrise Blvd. in Ft. Lauderdale, and I was going to buy my first 45. This is what I chose. The fact that it was a cover was lost on me — I wouldn’t discover Smokey Robinson for a few more years — and for all I knew, Toni Tennille was singing about going to the grocery store, not playing the field. The amazing thing now is how good this still sounds. I was prepared to cringe after listening to it for the first time in over 30 years. I didn’t.
Kiss, “Detroit Rock City” (download)
Ah, peer pressure. Such a powerful weapon. It was fourth grade, and every boy in my class loved Kiss. (The girls all loved Elvis and the Beatles.) I didn’t really know what I liked, but I sure as hell knew that I wanted to fit in. Boom, Destroyer soon became the first album I ever bought. I abandoned Kiss the second that MTV made its debut –and went head first down the UK synth-pop rabbit hole — but “Detroit Rock City” still makes me smile.
10cc, “The Things We Do for Love” (download)
Again, another lyric completely lost on me — compromising? What the hell is that? — but those chords and that Beach-Boys-ish break were too good to resist. It makes sense that I would later become a fan of Jellyfish, and I laughed out loud when I first heard them lift the “walking in the rain and the snow” part of this song wholesale for their song “Sabrina, Paste and Plato.”
Cheap Trick, “The Flame” (download)
During the summer of 1988, I fell madly in love with a girl who I met during a summer-camp version of The Dating Game. Like myself, she was 11 years old. I was crazy for her and felt we were destined to be together. She didn’t seem to reciprocate, though; she was, like many women in my life, mysterious and elusive. One week, I came down with the flu and was moved from my bunk to the camp infirmary. Looking somewhat yellow and sickly, this was the one time she chose to come visit me. In my room, I had a small transistor radio, quietly playing tunes from the camp radio station. As she came into my room, “The Flame” by Cheap Trick came on. Her eyes brightened up. “I’m going to go to the station and dedicate a song to you,” she said, and with that, she was gone.
I immediately started to feel better. She truly cared about me! “Wherever you go, I’ll be with you,” I thought. She was going to dedicate “The Flame” to me, to let me know that even though illness had delayed our love, she’d be waiting for me when I got out.
“… and this one goes out to Jason, who’s sick in the infirmary right now, from Lisa.”
What comes on the radio? “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” by the California Raisins. I was heartbroken. Our relationship was over.
Wham!, “Wham! Rap ’86” (download)
I’m not sure how it happened, but somewhere in 1986 I became a Wham! fan, thus cementing my poor habit of really digging groups at the exact point where there was no longer a chance that they’d be a band anymore. (See “Queen, 1991.”) I bought my Music From the Edge of Heaven cassette shortly after it was released and, for whatever reason, gravitated toward this song. Nothing shouts “masculine” like a nine-year-old singing “Wham! Bam! I am! A man!” in a voice that didn’t even need to go into falsetto. If my parents were worried, they never let on.
Debbie Gibson, “Electric Youth” (download)
I was only reminded of this one as a result of Dave Steed’s recent story about driving through the ghetto listening to this song. Debbie, you seemed so accessible to me. We’re both from Long Island. We both dance like girls. Yeah, you were 19 and I was 12, but still, it could have worked out, right? Fun fact, everyone: my mom drove me to the Meadowlands in New Jersey — through a hurricane – to see Debbie perform. Bros opened.
I remember being all sorts of excited when MTV debuted the video for “Electric Youth.” Man, I wanted to learn all of these dance moves. Seriously, I am straight.
Indigo Girls, “Closer to Fine” (download)
My Indigo Girls obsession didn’t start until somewhere around 1994, when I picked up the glorious Swamp Ophelia, but in December 1990, I went to a camp reunion (yes, the same camp where I had my heart broken by a California Raisin), and my best friend at the time — a guitar prodigy — picked up an acoustic and sang a duet of this song with another girl. I was instantly struck by the harmonies, and quickly went out to pick up this cassette. Okay, so maybe I was out of my preteens — I had just turned 13 — but I’m going to count it. Also, it’s further proof that I have the musical tastes of a 35-year-old gay man.
Billy Joel, “Summer, Highland Falls” (download)
If I told you that Songs in the Attic was the first CD I ever owned, I’d only be half-lying; along with my very first CD player (a boombox which I still own, by the way), I received this CD … along with Richard Marx’s Repeat Offender and the Pretty Woman soundtrack. In any case, what a disc to receive — it’s probably still my favorite Billy Joel release. As a young piano player, I automatically gravitated towards certain songs of his, and “Summer, Highland Falls” was one of them. Like “She’s Always a Woman,” this is one of those songs where Joel styled the piano to sound like an acoustic guitar. On a personal and (what else is new) embarrassing note, I remember having my heart broken not long before hearing this song for the first time, and thinking that, at 12 years old, I could somehow relate when he sang “perhaps we don’t fulfill each other’s fantasies.” Jesus. I hope some of the other Popdose contributors have stories more embarrassing than this one.
Simply Red, “Holding Back the Years” (download)
I’ve been a Simply Red fan ever since “Holding Back the Years” became a #1 hit in America in the summer of 1986, and even though they’ve recorded plenty of good pop and soul songs since then, this one is still their crowning achievement, a haunting ballad about a man stuck in the past, unable to move forward: “I’ve wasted all my tears / Wasted all those years / And nothing had the chance to be good / Nothing ever could.” Frontman Mick Hucknall gives it his all on the vocals, and Tim Kellett’s trumpet emphasizes the melancholy that’s always one memory away.
Device, “Hanging on a Heart Attack” (download)
When I was ten I thought Device’s minor hit from ’86 was “tough” and “atmospheric.” It’s neither — the midsong zombie chanting is silly — but the echoey chorus continues to take up space in my head.
Danny Wilson, “Mary’s Prayer” (download)
This Scottish trio was a one-hit wonder in the States, but if you’re only going to have one hit, it doesn’t hurt to make it as incandescent as possible. “Mary’s Prayer” was the best thing on the radio in the summer of ’87. Two decades later, it still burns brighter than most songs.
The Cure, “The Lovecats” (download)
This one is the “older brother’s influence” selection: my brother made me a dub of his Standing on a Beach cassette in ’87, and songs like “Mr. Pink Eyes” and “Close to Me” quickly became favorites, but “The Lovecats” was the best of them all. Luke Doucet & the White Falcon’s cover, from their new album Blood’s Too Rich, captures the love-drunk spirit of the original.
Paul Simon, “Stranded in a Limousine” (download)
In the summer of ’87 my dad taped the Paul Simon movie One-Trick Pony (1980) off of Lifetime. I watched it every day for about a month. I can’t explain why I was so drawn to it, but it was interesting to find out years later that Simon’s bandmates were played by Richard Tee, Steve Gadd, Tony Levin, and Eric Gale, all top session musicians at the time who also played on the accompanying soundtrack album. They’re not bad as actors, and neither is Simon, though he’s no leading man. (The movie also features Lou Reed playing a sleazy record producer, a role he probably relished.) I couldn’t find the soundtrack in any store in my hometown that fall, so I bought Simon’s Greatest Hits, Etc. (1977) instead. One of the two new songs on it was “Stranded in a Limousine,” a menacing but upbeat R&B-influenced number that’s about a guy from a poor neighborhood who makes it rich and never returns, only to realize his money has made him paranoid and even less happy than he was before. Or at least that’s what I took from it. Greatest Hits, Etc. has been out of print since the late ’80s, but in 2004 Rhino reissued One-Trick Pony and included “Stranded” as a bonus track.
The Moody Blues, “Departure/Ride My See Saw” (download)
I was raised in a very “country club” Republican community. However, by the mid-’70s, my parents got divorced, my mom and oldest brother started listening to the Moody Blues, and the vibe in our household loosened up quite nicely. While I didn’t memorize the words to “Departure,” it was the first time I had heard the word “tarmac” — but was too lazy to look it up in the dictionary, so I thought they were talking about another planet.
The Beatles, “The Ballad of John and Yoko” (download)
This song was the first 45 I ever bought — it was well before my tween years, but I consider it an integral part of my musical upbringing since there’s a bit of trauma associated with the song. You see, my middle brother took the record to school for “Show and Tell” exactly one day after I purchased it, and claimed that he “lost” it on the playground. Years later, I found out he gave the 45 to a girl he liked (and he was only in first grade). Then my oldest brother bought the cassette of The Beatles: 1967-1970, and for the longest time I thought those were the only songs the Beatles ever recorded. Thankfully, “The Ballad of John and Yoko” was on that compilation, or else I think it would have pushed me into a permanent “Mr. Magoo” state of confusion.
The Beach Boys, “Fun, Fun, Fun” (download)
My first “all air guitar” band was created when I was nine in my best friend’s living room (with a fireplace poker as a mic). This was our opening song, and boy did we crank that Magnavox console to the speaker-cracking point. God, I loved the Beach Boys back then. The harmonies, awesome lyrics (i.e., “She makes the Indy 500 look like the Roman chariot race now”), and did I mention the harmonies?
Chicago, “Feelin’ Stronger Every Day” (download)
I think this was one of the first 8-track tapes my oldest brother bought through the Columbia House Record Club, and it was on the stereo all the time — until the next 8 track came in the mail. Since this song was at the end of the track list, we had to listen to “Rediscovery” before getting to the good stuff, because the 8-track player we had couldn’t rewind or fast forward — it was a one-way trip through the songs.
KISS, “I Want You” (download)
My love of KISS marked what my older siblings would say was my descent into the world of “crap music.” I didn’t care; I thought the sun rose and set on those four hard-rockin’ superheroes known as KISS. While Rock and Roll Over was not my first KISS album, it was probably the one I listened to the most in sixth grade.
The Hep Stars, “Don’t” (download)
A 45 rpm single from my parents’ collection, this was a huge hit in Scandinavia in 1966. I discovered it in my parents’ attic about a decade later and it was love at first note. Why? I’ll never know. Listen to the bass player — he has the worst timing ever; I can’t believe they released it in this state. The heavy Swedish accent is a distraction, to say the least. Anyway, this was my all-time favorite song in 1976. Elvis Presley couldn’t hold a candle (or so I thought) to these pale Swedes. Abba’s Benny Andersson plays the organ. (age: 5)
The Shadows, “Apache” (download)
Another 45 rpm single I discovered in the attic in the late ’70s — on yellow vinyl — I loved that. My dad played guitar in a band in the ’60s, and even though he was a Beatles man at heart, he worshipped Hank Marvin, and what do you know? So did I. My mom accepted the Shadows as well, ’cause she was a huge Cliff Richard fan and they used to be his backing band. I also loved anything with a bongo beat at the time. (age: 7)
Bee Gees, “Tragedy” (download)
Just because Maurice looked a lot like my dad at the time, really. I remember I wished my dad looked more like Barry, but now I’m glad he didn’t. We kept the Spirits Having Flown cassette in my parents’ blue Volvo 144, and played it constantly along with Andy Gibb’s Shadow Dancing and Barbra Streisand’s Guilty. I guess my mother had a thing for the Gibb Brothers. Or was it just Maurice? (age: 9)
Toto, “Africa” (download)
I always thought David Paich’s vocals on the verses was so cool. And I loved synths at an early age — God knows why. And I loved exotic adventures. I didn’t really know any English at the time, but I understood the Africa part, and I remember imagining Paich as a kind of a Colonial explorer complete with khaki shorts and an Indiana Jones hat — which wasn’t too far off the mark, judging by the video. (age: 11)
Lionel Richie, “Hello” (download)
Lionel Richie was actually my first real rebellion against the tastes of my parents. It makes perfect sense — I was a petty little conservative Alex Keaton replica with a sentimental twist, and Lionel Richie’s yuppie sound was the soundtrack of my life until I finally discovered that little girls don’t like real-life Alex Keatons with nothing but sappy ballads on their Walkman. That took me years to find out, though. (age: 12)
Sweet, “Fox on the Run” (download)
Eschewing the occasionally fey phrasing of previous Sweet hits, this song is just a stompfest, and Brian Connelly sounds just a little bit like Gene Simmons here. If you can’t get over yourself and enjoy this tune, get out of my car and walk home. My best memory of the song is my birthday party at the time, complete with light-up pumpkins to accentuate the October theme, pizza (and lots of it) and my buddies crawling through the connected closets to peep my sister on the other side. Said party was declared the hit of the season by all.
Pilot, “Magic” (download)
You know this song like you know day follows night, and to an entire segment of people, the tune reminds you that you just saw this … The band, Pilot, was co-opted by Alan Parsons shortly afterward and became the de facto Project band.
My memory of this song is fuzzy because I remember this being on the radio as my mom was driving Sis to dance school, her rusty Nova hitting the curb, and this being the age before mandatory seatbelts, my face smashing the dashboard.
Explains a lot, don’t it?
Foreigner, “Cold as Ice” (download)
Eeeeww. Foreigner. Scoff if you will, but those first three albums (self-titled, Double Vision, and Head Games) all had some classic songs on them. This is a prime example of what they did best, a driving pop tune with some unheralded musicianship bubbling beneath the surface. I recall this tune breaking out during a major summer drought. We had a lot of fun with the irony (no, we didn’t.)
The Cars, “Let’s Go” (download)
This was a huge hit for the band, huge enough to be covered by the Chipmunks on the deathless Chipmunk Punk album. For many, it was the weird synth punches, tight harmonies and the bop-til-you-drop sound of the Cars, not the weirdly warble of Television, that characterized new wave rock music.
This song immediately recalls the opposite of “Cold As Ice,” since it was on Christmas break that I got the Candy-O cassette. Mom drove me and Sis to the mall (back when the mall was still a little grungy but a whole lot cooler) and insisted we each get our own copy of the album so she wouldn’t have to referee. There had been a snow storm on Christmas Day so, four days afterward, we were freezing our asses off! Somehow it all made sense because, at that time, nothing was cooler than early period Cars.
Greg Kihn, “The Breakup Song” (download)
How in the world did Blue Oyster Cult not attempt a lawsuit? Don’t get me wrong, I love this tune, but I loved it more when it was called “Don’t Fear the Reaper.” This represented a first for me, as it was my first recuperative obsession song. Maureen, who lived a couple streets over, was a little hottie even then. I give up my stuffed Snoopy toy for no one, but for her I would have gladly relinquished my puppy. (Forget it, man. It’s Chinatown.) I was blind, so blind, to the fact that she was into me, and by the time the lightbulb went off over my head, she wasn’t into me anymore. It was the beginning of a relationship pattern that exists to this day.
I don’t know why I got tied into “The Breakup Song,” since we never were actually in make-up mode, but it was there, I was there, she wasn’t there and kids just do stupid, stupid things sometimes.
Kraftwerk, “The Robots”
Ten years before my aunt took me to see The Grateful Dead and Santana, she gave me a copy of Kraftwerk’s The Man Machine. She knew that I was a total space geek and Star Wars nut, and since I liked space so much, she figured an album about robots and shit would be a winner. She was right. My copy of The Man Machine was the best birthday present ever. I would listen to “The Robots” over and over on headphones, drawing endless pictures of what I imagined the robots looked like. I imagined something like a cross between the mean red robot from The Black Hole and R2D2 singing into a microphone.
Husker Du, “Celebrated Summer”
I wasn’t trying to sow the seeds of indie credibility, it just kind of happened. I was a real lonely little geek and I would spend endless hours laying awake and listening to the radio. I discovered KPFA’s “Maximum Rock & Roll,” NPR always had some interesting late-night programming (where I was exposed to the surreal auditory landscapes of ZBS media), and the great KFJC out of Foothill Community College. I would record long stretches of radio on Memorex C-120s while I slept and go over the results in the morning. Among these tapes I captured this precious gem of a song that would serve me well as a personal anthem over the rest of my life.
Supertramp, “C’est le Bon”
I was a big Springsteen fan as a kid, because my mom and dad were. Anyway, their friend had taped a copy of Born to Run for them (with Darkness on the Edge of Town on the flipside) and as a bit of filler for side A, he had put this song on there. So as the last melancholy strains of “Jungleland” faded out, the bright guitars of “C’est le Bon” kicked in. It’s the one of the strangest contrasts I can think of — from Bruce to Supertramp — but this song was such a fun, tasty morsel after the breathtaking epic that is Born to Run. I remember thinking I was home alone once and I was in my room singing along to this at the top of my lungs. I went into the kitchen to make a sandwich and my mom and dad were sitting there. Clearly they heard me. I went back into my room and didn’t come out again for a very long time.
The Scorpions, “Big City Nights”
My friend Shane got his own copy of The Scorps’ breakthrough album Love at First Sting for Christmas. Sometimes we would go powergeek with our friend Scott and sit in his dad’s car and pretend we were driving. Sometimes we would pretend the car was like a helicopter with jets and we were flying over a post-apocalyptic landscape. No matter what was happening in our heads, this song would be playing LOUDLY.
Men at Work, “Down by the Sea”
Something about this meditative closing track from Business as Usual still evokes memories in me of late childhood days. That sleepy phaser/reverb guitar sounded so good on a lazy summer afternoon, when I just wasn’t feelin’ it for my space Legos or drawing barbarian chicks or riding my bike, I listened to Men at Work.
“99 Luftballons” (download) is the first song I can remember loving as a kid. During the summer the Americanized “99 Red Balloons” was played on popular radio in Connecticut, my sister pointed out that Nena wasn’t an American band and invited me to guess where they were from. Even though my first instinct was to say “Germany,” I took what I thought was the safe guess of “England” and was wrong. I don’t know why I still regret that (or even remember it), but I do.
“What You Need” (download) was the first song that made me into a fan of a band, Australia’s INXS. It didn’t take me long to start spending my meager allowance on their older material, buying every album I could get my hands on, even the remix compilation Dekadance. Two years after “What You Need” had fallen off the radio airplay lists, I still occasionally drove local DJs crazy by calling up to request it.
“Let’s Go All the Way,” by Sly Fox (download), provided me with a valuable lesson: be very careful when buying an album just based on the strength of a single song. It didn’t take, as I was burned again several times in the future, but I don’t think I’ve ever bought anything that featured a greater contrast between the quality of a radio single and the remainder of the album. It makes me chuckle because even now, it’s still a pretty catchy song.
As a kid, the lyrics of “Your Love” (download) never made any sense to me, but it still brings back memories of the Outfield’s debut album, Play Deep, which turned out to be quite a gem. I bought it as part of the Columbia House order that supplied me with Let’s Go All the Way and Listen Like Thieves, and fell in love with it. I played that cassette until it practically wore out. There isn’t a single song on the album that I didn’t like.
Del Shannon, “Runaway” (download)
Every Thursday, the kids in my grammar school would descend on a local restaurant en masse for lunch. It had something to do with Thursday being the traditional day off for housekeepers. The best feature of the restaurant was the jukebox. My friend Blair played this song non-stop every time we were there. He grew up to be a successful criminal defense attorney, and I, well, you know.
The Beach Boys, “Don’t Worry Baby” (download)
Every winter when school let out for vacation, my family would go to the Catskills for a week. It was a different hotel every year, but they all had a couple of things in common. First, there was too much food. Second, there were always other kids there with their families. And third, somehow the legendary comedienne Totie Fields ended up being the headliner in the hotel’s nightclub on the Saturday night of our vacation.
This is another jukebox choice. One of those winters, I don’t recall which, this was the song played non-stop on the jukebox in the hotel. You know what? I never got tired of it, and I still haven’t. It’s my favorite Beach Boys song ever, and that’s saying something.
Bobby Darin, “Beyond the Sea” (download)
I spent my first 20 summers at my grandparents’ house in Atlantic City. Music was a huge part of those summers, and there’s no song that brings the shore to mind as much as this one. (Years later I found the original French recording by Charles Trenet, “La Mer,” which is equally wonderful in its way.) I live about an hour from the ocean now, but I keep this one on my iPod so that I can play it whenever I’m down that way.
The Four Seasons, “Ronnie” (download)
There is simply no underestimating the impact that the Four Seasons had on me. Perhaps I’m biased because I’m a Jersey boy like them, but I think they are consistently underrated given the number of hits they had. And not just any hits either. Great songs with wonderful Bob Gaudio productions. I love so many of their songs that it’s hard to choose just one, but I’ll take this one because a few years later I met my own Ronnie, and as the lyrics say, she was my first love.
The Temptations, “You’re My Everything” (download)
Soul music was a constant presence in my life, and remains there today. The Philly kids that would come to Atlantic City on summer weekends taught me all about this music, and I fell in love with it. There is no question in my mind that The Temptations were the greatest vocal group ever. They had it all. Wonderful vocalists, great songs, all the right moves, and flashy suits. I’m proud to say that I saw the classic Temptations lineup in concert.
I’ve chosen this song because it is a great showcase for the Tempts’ two great vocalists, Eddie Kendricks and David Ruffin. For my money, Ruffin was the best soul singer ever. Four of the five original Temptations are gone. They died way too young, but they live on in songs like this.
MOJO FLUCKE, Ph.D.
Led Zeppelin, “Black Dog” (download)
I remembered this as one of the first songs I ever heard on record.
Elton John, “Crocodile Rock”
My two oldest brothers bet their paychecks on pool games in our basement and got into fistfights while this album played.
James Taylor, “Mexico”
My nearest-in-age brother taught me backgammon while listening to this album over and over.
Journey, “Separate Ways” (download)
As I came to listen to my own tuneage and my siblings all left the house one by one, the hype around Journey was at a white-hot frenzy as the world awaited the followup to Esc4pe (prounounced “esc-FOR-pee”).
Petra, “Angel of Light” (download)
The best Christian rock band’s best cut still stands the listening test of time, 25 years on.
“Come Sail Away” by Styx was popular when I was in first grade and I vividly recall one of the cool kids talking about the song. From that moment on, I loved it, even though I didn’t listen to the radio enough to hear it regularly. But whenever it did happen to come on, I rushed to listen to the song in its entirety. To this day, I place “Come Sail Away” near the top of my list of songs that veered me away from the showtunes my mom had me listening to and into the dark realm of rock and roll (not that Styx is even remotely “dark”)
The first album I ever bought with my own money was a Sha Na Na live double LP, The Best of Sha Na Na. I was a huge fan of their syndicated TV show (Saturdays at 7:00 on channel 3) and thought they were so cool. I rode all the way to Record Theater on my shitty two-wheeler, by myself, and bought the record. It had a pink cover and picture of the band on a concert stage gracing the cover. The album was filled with the typical early rock and roll music that Sha Na Na covered. My favorite was “Chantilly Lace,” primarily because of the opening, “Hello Baaaaaaaaaaaybee!” and that snazzy sax part. When I finally heard the Big Bopper version a year or so later, I was actually disappointed. It was slower and didn’t have the same juice as the Sha Na Na version.
My brother had a 45 of Queen’s “Fat Bottomed Girls” backed with “Bicycle Race.” Although “Fat Bottomed Girls” is the better song, back then I got a laugh out of “Bicycle Race” and played that one more often. My favorite line was “I don’t believe in Peter Pan, Frankenstein, or Superman.” And for years, I confused the next line, “All I wanna do is,” with “Wonder Woman do we.” I thought it was bitchin’ that these bad-ass English guys didn’t believe in these fairy-tale heroes but the hot, tough woman in a corset was legit. When I finally realized what the actual lyrics were, I was saddened, to say the least.
As radio became a part of my daily life, the inane top 40 hits of the late ’70s became my companions into adolescence. Some of them have left me for good (thank god) and others linger around in my memory like a bad acid trip. That’s where Nick Gilder’s “Hot Child in the City” comes in. The song was everywhere in 1978 and felt like a welcome relief from “Saturday Night Fever” and “Grease.” I had no idea what the song was about, I just liked the drums and the chorus.
We end with the first song I remember recording to have for my own repeated listening: “Kiss on My List” by Hall & Oates. The boys from Philly were appearing on Solid Gold, my gateway to rock and roll. My mom had an expensive Realistic tape recorder from Radio Shack and I set it up right next to the television speaker. Luckily, Hall & Oates were early in the show, so I didn’t have to wait long. Everyone in the family room shushed when I pressed record just after they were announced. The crowd applauded and Daryl and John lip-synched their number-one hit with ease. The recording turned out so great, it opened the floodgates to me recording anything and everything from the TV or the radio, creating my first mixtapes. The madness had begun.