Is it possible to love a song too much ? Hmmm, let’s find out…
Back in 2013 a 60 track, 4 cd deluxe edition of Van Morrison’s 1970 album “Moondance” was released. It was fat with alternate mixes and multiple takes of the original LP’s 10 tracks. And in true nesting doll style, it was home to 10 separate versions of the song “Caravan”. There were takes one through 8. Re-do’s of those takes. A remix. The original LP version. Over 16% of the tracks on the deluxe were versions of freaking “Caravan”.
You want some Caravan? Oh I’ll give you some freaking Caravan….
Once the moon-sized “Moondance” was officially out I asked the biggest Van fan I knew what he thought about it. “There can never be too many versions of Caravan” he gushed. I said something like “oh yes there can” and followed it with a smug “why would you want so many versions of the same song by the same artist with what seems to be minimal variation”? Okay, I didn’t say it that eloquently, it was more like a “why the hell do you need that many versions, what’s the point”??? To be honest, my incredulity was more about Van himself whom I didn’t really like…yet for some reason, I went all in and instead attacked the premise…because I am a hypocrite.
Yup, I might as well have been looking in a mirror when I asked him “why”…because I myself, the accuser, was a total, complete and utter Version Hoarder. Long-term and hardcore, with dozens of carefully curated playlists devoted to singular songs in my music library. And those lists made the mega “Moondance” serving of “Caravan” seem downright cute.
My one-song-themed playlists were crowded places where it was hard to breathe. Beyond whatever original version of the song inspired their creation, they were crammed with demos, remasters, and staggeringly excessive amounts of live stuff. Then there was the devil YouTube with its countless bedroom renditions and isolated vocal takes. Yes, I needed those too. Somewhere along the way, I’d gone from liking a nice song to obsessively stalking it.
And here I was berating my innocent friend for my own demented and obsessive behavior.
You might be a Version Hoarder if…
Say you really love a particular song. Like really, really sloppy love it. Meaning you want to know everything about it. Where it came from and everyone it’s ever been with. You just can’t get enough. And so you set about consuming it in all its iterations, gathering outtakes, unreleased and live versions, remasters, and remixes of the song like some compulsive squirrel gathering nuts for several winters at once. All the while you never stop believing that there exists in the world some elusive, unfathomably beautiful unicorn version of the song that you have yet to find. And so you never stop looking. If this sounds like you, then you might be a Version Hoarder
Version Hoarding is kind of like the “shy” person’s version of a being Show Hoarder, you know, like those folks who collect and archive all the Grateful Dead, Dylan, Phish, or Neil Young concerts? While they are both examples of obsessive loved-up consumption, the former is a more insular ”Dear Diary” kind of collecting and not so much a sharing and communing with others type of thing. Version Hoarding has more of a sad girl/sad boy flavor. It’s a secret between you and the song. It’s personal.
The photo at the top features just a smidge of my collection of Fleetwood Mac’s “Sara” which contains versions by the band, Stevie Nicks herself, and assorted strangers. I have been obsessed with this song for roughly ten trillion years. I love Stevie’s opening “Wait a minute baby”. I love Christine McVie’s melodically perfect piano lines. I love Mick Fleetwood’s brushes. I love how epically long it is for a pop song (6 minutes and counting). I love the weird subtext that inspired it namely Stevie and Mick’s affair, he being the “great dark wing” in the song, and that she still threw in a nod to her previous entanglement with Don Henley (“If you build your house I’ll come by”) and the child they never had (the titular Sara).
The song is oh so Stevie, a little out there but crazy beautiful. Thankfully since both Mac and Stevie have maintained very active touring schedules this century I’ve been able to enjoy a fairly continuous supply of fresh “Sara”. I love the original. I love the demo. I even love the random 2013 live version from the Mac show at the Sprint Center in Kansas City that April with its big fat Fleetwood drums.
I am a Version Hoarder. Maybe you are too. But we’re okay. We’re just drowning in the sea of love. And like Stevie says in the song that’s where everyone would love to drown. Never change, never stop.
During the sweet days of summer of 2010, for 2 whole months, I was obsessed the music of ’70s soft rock troubadours Seals & Crofts. 10+ years later and I’m still trying to make sense of it. The jasmine’s in bloom….
For someone who endlessly whinges about how much she hates the term “Guilty Pleasure”, I admit I still feel a tiny challenge when it comes to celebrating the thing I’m about to explain. Come to think of it, “celebrating” might not be the right word, what I mean is it’s hard trying to relate why I liked it, or why I got quite so into it for what turned out to be a pretty short span of time. To be honest I have only the vaguest idea. I think it relates to the general concept of both “childhood” and “better days” and the kind of fantastically remembered notions you have about the past once you get a little distance. But shit, I also just like some ridiculous old pop music.
Right so in the summer of 2010 I became inexplicably fixated on the music of Jim Seals & Dash Crofts aka Seals & Crofts, the ’70s soft rock duo who dominated the AM radio airwaves throughout that decade. They’d been huge back in the day, scoring a handful of truly infectious hits including “Diamond Girl”, “Get Closer”, “We May Never Pass This Way Again” and laid back behemoth “Summer Breeze” (which made putting plates on the dinner table seem like the most romantic thing in all of humanity). Like most people of my generation (X), I was pretty familiar with the aforementioned hits but admit that was solely down to old school osmosis…meaning that every car journey of my childhood was tuned into and soundtracked by sugary sweet AM radio. Thus the malleable little kid brains of my brother and I were exposed to this sweet but sinister musical asbestos on a daily basis as it reverberated through our insanely cliched succession of ’70s family vehicles: the requisite station wagon (kids pinballing in the back), a blue Econoline van (kids pinballing in the back even more violently) and most importantly, our Mom’s white Chevy Nova which had a huge sunflower painted on the side, as commissioned by my hippie Mom, often resulting in my grade school classmates letting me know that “I saw your Mom’s car today” which though I love now, I found unspeakably humiliating at the time.
Sorry got off track there but that was some f-ing car. Now to be clear, I genuinely enjoyed some of the songs I was exposed on those car rides. Not usually enough to sacrifice allowance money on, but enough so that I might possibly sing along to them under my breath as they wafted through the Nova, like for example the Captain & Tennille’s “The Way That I Want To Touch You” (hell yeah) or the Eagles “One Of These Nights” (ni-hi-hi-hi-ights)…but as open as I was to a good hook, Seals & Crofts aka S & C, never quite managed to capture my attention. Not only was I not moved by the songs ( the lowest common denominator), they also didn’t meet my crucial, non-negotiable young girl in the heat of pop music infatuation standards i.e. they didn’t rock and they weren’t young and cute.
Seals & Crofts 3 biggest hits all peaked at the # 6 position in the Billboard Pop Chart. 666. Just sayin’.
Yet there I was in our year of 2010 eagerly rooting through their entire recorded catalogue on iTunes like a freakin’ Smithsonian archivist, painstakingly cherry picking songs that sounded cool and stuffing them into a playlist. And like a kid who prefers the packing peanuts to the actual gift in the box, I found myself way more interested in exploring the deep cuts I’d never heard than the familiar hits. Once assembled, I proceeded to listen to this approximately 10-12 song “Ultimate Seals & Crofts Playlist” every day. On the daily train ride to work. While riding loops around Central Park. As I was washing the damn dishes. For all of July and August. It was like a ’70s AM radio themed version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers wherein some soft focus, earth shoe wearing, incense cone burning, hang-gliding, Chevy van driving, ambiguously spiritual, herbal essence shampooing, Tab drinking muthaf*cking ghost had moved into my person and taken control. What triggered this ? The hot July days ? Memories of catching fireflies in the backyard as a kid ? What the holy hell was happening ?
Look, we can’t talk here, meet me in the next paragraph…
I need to get factual for a minute but I swear I’ll be brief. That up there⬆️ is the inner sleeve of S & C’s 1974 album Unborn Child featuring the lyrics of the title track. They were written by Lana Bogan, wife of the duo’s recording engineer Joseph Bogan and then set to music by S & C. The song was actually released as a single but due to the controversial nature of its subject matter many radio stations refused to play it (especially as it came in the wake of the Roe v.Wade decision in 1973). And so it only got as high as #66 on the Billboard pop chart ( wait, 66). Still S & C were popular and “hot” enough at that point that the album itself landed in the Top 20 and ultimately went Gold.
Okay so I have a confession to make. About a year before my official S & C infatuation began, I had actually purchased an LP of theirs…it was, yup you guessed it, the infamous, aforementioned Unborn Child. It cost $1 and I bought it along with a pile of other cheap records from one of those NYC street vendor guys who sell old albums out of crates on the sidewalk. My first reaction upon seeing the album title and perusing the lyrics of the song it had been named for on the inner sleeve, was a hearty “what the f*ck“. To be honest, knowing how popular S & C were at the time of Unborn Child’s release, it kind of pissed me off. It seemed downright insidious, packaging this particular sentiment on an album released at the peak of their fame, knowing those who’d been seduced and won over by the sweet hits the previous year would just buy it based on history. Anyway, it didn’t matter that it was already 35 years old, I just couldn’t let it slide. And so I bought it as a curio, a historical object, a weird ’70s artifact to be incredulous about with music nerd friends. I bought it because because it made me (gently) angry. I know that seems weird and counterintuitive as f*ck but there you go. I’d like to think we’ve all done things like that ( uh, right ?), like bought an elderly book with debunked ideas or a piece of hilariously misshapen fruit just to have, to be amused or astounded by, or to make your friends laugh or whatever. And that’s literally all it was to me, this thing I could wave around every few years and say “have you ever seen this?”. I admit never actually listened to it, not until a year later in 2010 when the S & C obsession took hold of me. All of which is to say yes, that sleeve pic above is of my own actual copy.
My deeply ingrained disdain for the song ( and album title) didn’t derail my Seals & Crofts Summer Love Experience though. We had a difference of opinion yes but I mean, I didn’t necessarily agree with everything my beloved Prince sang or said over the years so slack was cut. S & C and me, let’s just agree to disagree.
This line up is nuts for more reasons than I can list.
Thankfully someone had the good sense to document this incredible event for posterity. Want to see Dash Crofts in a fetching white suit and shades looking exceptionally rock star like and view some truly inspired interpretive dance by denim clad audience members soundtracked by “Diamond Girl”…yeah you do, so please, if you will, cast your eyes here. In addition I recommend you watch this vintage intro to a TV broadcast of the C-Jam here because the last couple of minutes are pure gold. And one last thing, Jim Dandy to the rescue. Truth be told, watching the audience enjoying the C-Jam is way more fun than watching the actual show. It’s an endless sea of sun-visors, jeans and mustaches…Linda’s and Susie’s…Mike’s and Tommy’s…and though we can’t technically see it, home to a no doubt staggering amount of weed.
“I’m not dumb Lindsay, I know what high people look like. I went to a Seals & Crofts concert last summer !”
Quote from Millie ( Freaks and Geeks Episode 13)
Listening to Aretha Franklin’s Amazing Grace album or watching its companion documentary of the same name doesn’t require that you follow her same faith or even practice any religion ( except maybe worshipping Aretha herself, hallelujah). Experiencing both of those aforementioned things is a visceral experience, the emotion expressed transcends specifics, it’s about a feeling. Before you get crazy, I am not about to compare listening to freakin’ Aretha to digging into S & C catalogue. It’s just easier to explain this next stuff by using the Amazing Grace experience as an example. Okay so while I was digging into the S & C discography I inevitably delved into a bit of the duo’s history and discovered they were longtime devoted followers of the Baha’i Faith. There are references to its tenets within the lyrics of some songs, not aggressive, but definitely in there if you’re looking. But it didn’t color my listening experience, didn’t come across as proselytizing. What I’m getting at is, like The Queen’s Amazing Grace the music of S & C is more about a feeling for me, evoking things that aren’t necessarily religious…like when we used eat outside at McDonald’s as kids and throw fries to the birds on hot ’70s Saturday afternoons. Does that make sense? It’s a feeling.
“Cause You Love” is a wake up call directed at all of humanity that is as gentle as being hit with a pillow stuffed with cotton balls and I love it.
What did I discover on my journey into the S & C discography? Well, Crofts’s voice had a quirky, occasionally cartoonish quality and sounded best when it was singing in harmony with Seals, who himself generally took the lead. And though things were sometimes cloudy lyrically, it never really rained, which is to say even the saddest, most serious Seals & Crofts songs were brimming with melodic optimism. Sure the aforementioned “Cause You Love” offers that times are “heavy” and “hard” but it still sounds like blazing sunshine. Yeah, “Baby Blue” is a song about leaving someone to go play the field but its melody is so joyful, its sentiment so polite and empathetic that it makes behaving like a restless bastard sound like flying a multi-colored kite. I liked how laid back plea for closeness “Million Dollar Horse” employed an actual “chk” sound in and around the chorus to represent a tiny bit of spur kicking. And while “Desert People” is specifically related to the aforementioned Baha’i faith and features the lines “so let your sweet rain fall on me, for I am dying, we’re desert people and we’re in pain, but we’re still trying”, it also sounds like something you’d listen to while driving to the freakin’ beach. “I Keep Changing The Faces” describes going from partner to partner and justifying the action because our protagonist is “in love with love” but its groovy Doobie Brother-esque backdrop makes him sound like the sweetest lounge lizard alive. And even though “If and Any Day” drips with regret and craves assistance from above it still sounds like the theme song of a ’70s movie about rollerskating at Venice Pier. Yup, songs by Seals & Crofts are fueled entirely by the fumes of a straight up unadulterated ’70s summer breeze.
If it’s cool enough for the THE GREATEST then clearly it’s cool enough for us all.
A summer fling. That’s really what it was, my Seals & Crofts obsession. A sort of sweet memory that lives mostly in the rearview. While I still have a handful of tracks in rotation and occasionally play ’em when the mood strikes, I haven’t indulged anywhere near as much as I did that July and August, haven’t felt the urge to hit play on the old playlist.
As a child I kept a scrapbook of celebrity obituaries and admittedly maintained only a tenuous relationship with the concept of “carefree” and “happy”. This kid who lived down the street was constantly referring to me as being “mad at the world”. And it used to piss me off (if only I’d known the word pragmatic back then I could’ve defended myself properly). I think in some weird way my infatuation with Seals & Crofts was related to that. They were like the sonic embodiment of the innocent carefree ’70s kid days and some particularly elusive feeling I wanted to grab a hold of and apply retroactively. That innate musical lightness and laid back groove they peddled seemed particularly in sync with that time or at least felt “as one” with it in my mind. Truth be told, it was f-ing fun, randomly becoming obsessed with a band from days of yore for reasons I both totally understand yet totally don’t. The whole experience was weird as hell…and I highly recommend it and wish it for everyone. Gonna close this out with something that’s never gonna get old because yeah, just have to…
I hate the term “guilty pleasure”. While I can sort of appreciate it’s assistance as a vague genre that corrals songs generally regarded as being “uncool” or “cheesy” together, thereby making them easier to find, I hate its connotation of shame. I outright detest the judgement inherent it it. I damn straight resent the smugness and hubris required to listen to a song ironically. When a song is branded or categorized as a “guilty pleasure”, you are in essence being told how to listen to and feel about it. Being reminded that no matter how much you enjoy it, the song in question is inherently silly and/or stupid and doesn’t deserve to be taken seriously. That it is, by definition, unworthy of your devotion. I know you love him girl, but you can do better...
“Guilty Pleasure” is basically the junior high bully of musical genres.
Of course, we don’t get to decide what we like. The fact remains, we humans are just helpless dustballs at the mercy of our internal wiring. What we like is just plain beyond our control.
And what’s the point of fighting your involuntary attraction to that perceived to be cheeseball song anyway? What do you gain by denying your love ? At the end of the day, nothing. Which is to say you shouldn’t waste your valuable time fighting it. It’s better to just give in. It requires no effort and you will be rewarded with pleasure. That overly earnest, ridiculously overwrought, superficially sentimental junk hunk of pop music candy you’ve always been embarrassed to admit that you like ? Go on andown it girl. Ignore the haters and erase the guilt. Celebrate your pre-ordained musical DNA, turn it up and wave your hands in the air like you just don’t care. Stop prefacing discussions of the song with an “I know this is lame but…” because if you love it, then technically it’s not really lame. You can’t help what you like. Who gives a rats ass what anyone else thinks? You do you, you magnificently tasteless dustball, always, always.
Sheena welcomes you the guilt-free zone…
When I was record store employee back in the day, I found myself on the receiving end of many “guilty pleasure” themed confessions, people asking for things that they were clearly embarrassed about then attributing their choice to “I have to get this for my sister/ father/ partner”. Unsurprisingly Moms and Dads were the ones most frequently thrown under the bus. Many people would pretend they didn’t know a songs exact title and/or deliberately mispronounce an artist’s name as a way of further disassociating themselves in an a attempt to avoid judgement. I was super-empath, praying mantis sensitive enough to be hip to this game and would sometimes pretend to like a particular song just to help them feel more at ease…to tell the truth, I was always oddly touched by their embarrassment and awkward diversionary tactics. See I understood. I’d felt guilty once too.
There were certain things it took me years to admit I loved out loud to another human. While I was primarily obsessed with “cool stuff” when I was a teen like XTC, The Jam and The Police, I also absolutely loved Christopher Cross’s self-titled debut album which was home to both “Sailing” and the godforsaken “Ride Like The Wind”. I adored it to its flamingo sleeve’d, windswept core and played it nearly every damn day.
It was the existential tag team of futility and time that ultimately freed me from the musical shame cellar. Basically I enjoyed so much musical cheese that keeping up the facade of coolness required far more effort than I could ever consciously devote to it. And handily, as I got older, I started to care less what other people thought, simple as that.
The canvas can do miracles…
What I’m trying to say is that there is nothing wrong with you. Love is love and the purpose of this demented diatribe is to encourage you to embrace your ingrained musical tastes and forever abandon the signifying label known as “guilty pleasure”. And so in the spirit of full disclosure I’m going to share with you 7 songs I love that by the established standards could be considered “guilty pleasures”. Since I feel no guilt or shame about my love for them, I usually just call them My WTF Songs™. Which is to say they are a bemused question I ask myself out loud as they play and I feel both incredulity and delight about the fact that I love them as much as I do. They are not cool in the traditional, logical, acceptable or obvious sense. A few are eye-rollingly over the top and some are scarred with truly cringeworthy lyrical content. They won’t make any All-Time Best anything lists. And I genuinely, unabashedly, unashamedly love them.
I hope the sloppy love letters to these misfit songs that follow encourage you to share and embrace your own musical baggage. In fact, if you feel inspired, please feel free to share your WTF songs in the comments. I would genuinely love to hear about ’em and promise I will still think you’re cool no matter what they are.
Bobbi Martin “For The Love of Him” (1970)
Bobbi Martin’s 1970 Top 20 pop hit “For The Love Of Him” is one of the most disturbingly regressive pop songs sung by a woman in chart history. Behold it’s epic and sinister message ….
When he opens the door says “I’m home” Be aware of the look in his eyes They tell you the mood he’s in What kind of day it’s been For the love of him Make him your reason for living Give all the love you can give him All the love you can
I’ve seen the lyrics written out on various sites where they claim the second line of the chorus is “Make IT your reason for living”…but make no mistake, what Bobbi actually sings is make HIM your reason, which is very troubling indeed. And as she co-wrote the song, no one was putting words in her mouth. I have tried to give Bobbi the benefit of the doubt and attempted to reinterpret this as a love song to Jesus to see if it fit but no, “For The Love Of Him” can only ever be the anguished hymn of a truly desperate and scared housewife.
This thing was on the radio constantly when I was little and had no power or ability to change the station in Mom’s car. As a result of this forced exposure at a time when my mind was a malleable piece of clay, “For The Love Of Him” has been lodged in my brain like some beautiful, ridiculous, politically incorrect barnacle for roughly a trillion years. Hey Bobbi, let’s hear that second verse :
There’ll be times when he won’t say a word And you wonder if it’s something you said A gentle touch of your hand Tells him you understand
Okay, there’s a couple of additional verses after this but you don’t need to see them to get the gist of the songs message which is You are here to make him happy girl, that is your sole purpose in life, so just watch yourself. Yet I can’t dismiss “For The Love Of Him”, for despite it’s evil, insidious directive, the tune itself is Burt Bacharach level sublime. And Bobbi’s stunning, impassioned vocal so perfectly captures the lyrical pathos that I’m literally scared for her. And that chorus. “For The Love Of Him” is a genuinely menacing little cheeseball…and I love it.
Ashford & Simpson “Til We Get It Right” (1989)
Nick Ashford and Valerie Simpson wrote some of the greatest and most beloved R & B songs of all-time. Songs that are the very definition of evergreen including “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” and “I’m Every Woman”. And they too enjoyed a lengthy recording career, regularly landing in the R & B charts and enjoying a massive pop hit with “Solid” in 1984 ( “the thrill is still hothothothothothothot”). But while Nick Ashford was a masterful songwriter, he was not the greatest singer. This was regularly accentuated by the fact that Valerie was a very good singer and could wail, throw down, and act as a human steamroller whenever the situation required it. Calling out the disparity in their respective vocal skills is not a controversial opinion or a hot take. It’s never been a secret. Yet I’ve always kind of loved Nick’s “limited” voice. The way he would passionately reach for distant notes and not always get there. His audible effort. The endless keening and eternal breathiness. All of these qualities are on full display within “Til We Get It Right”, a deep cut off the duo’s 1989 album Love or Physical. It’s a painfully earnest shoulder shaking anthem about fixing the world before it’s too late, that grows in size with each passing verse. It’s dramatic and infectious and features a particularly big and sexy synth in the bridge which I have been crushing on hard since the day I first heard this song. “Til We Get It Right” is a beautifully earnest completely wonderful cheeseball of hope.
Nick Ashford passed away in 2011 and much as I love “Til We Get It Right”, I have a special memory of him that I value almost as much as that criminally fabulous song.
Okay, so I went to see Michael McDonald play at tiny Joe’s Pub in NYC back in the 2010’s when he was kicking out all those Motown cover albums. Fittingly, as they had written so many Motown classics, Nick Ashford & Valerie Simpson turned up as surprise guests late in the show. Cool right ? Anyway, as they made their way to the stage, they had to head down the staircase my friends & I were leaning on. It was kind of dark & one of my friends had a shaved head. As 6’2″ Nick was coming down the stairs, his eyes solely fixed on his destination, the stage, he placed his hand on our friends bald head to brace himself as he descended the staircase. He literally mistook his head for a bannister. It was then our friend then uttered one of the greatest lines I’ve ever heard;
“Nick Ashford thought I was the railing “.
You may think our friend was humiliated, but honestly, to this day, I thinkhe was blessed.
The Deuce Project “Stone Cold” (2003)
I first heard The Deuce Project’s “Stone Cold” when I was working at corporate mega music store conglomerate Virgin in NYC. I was instantly overcome by its handsome anthemic shuffle and over-confident vocal which is to say, I f-ing loved it. My infatuation ran so deep that I made a point of telling our Warner Brothers sales rep, the guy whose job it was to sell us new releases that I thought it would be a massive hit and maybe even land in the Billboard Top 10. He reacted with a chuckle and then served me up some hard truth, namely a big fat “no it won’t”. He was, of course, correct. Also there’s a (strong) chance he knew more about the Warner Brothers marketing budget than I did. My blind optimism never stood a chance.
Yet in the bizarro alternate musical universe that existed solely within the confines of my mind, “Stone Cold” was huge. It was number one on that chart for f-ing weeks. The Deuce Project made a total of 1 album and as of this writing do not have a Wikipedia page…but they don’t need one. The video of “Stone Cold” which you can watch above, will tell you more than the written word ever could. But as a public service, I’m going to fill in the blanks to enhance your viewing experience. The Deuce Project were a duo consisting of 2 childhood friends, and were actually signed to Madonna’s vanity label Maverick. Lead singer Josh McMillan described their music as “homegrown acoustic rock on Ecstasy.” Guitarist Noah Pearce added “What we do is cool jams on the guitar with Josh’s voice. We wanted a kind of Britpop feel.” Right, so in a nutshell “Stone Cold” is Josh and Noah, all beanies, floppy hair, hoodies, converse and chokers, emitting an almost comically obvious slacker, skater kid vibe singing what is essentially a Britpop song that sounds like the type of thing that would be playing during a party scene on the O.C. As homegrown cool jams on Ecstasy go, it don’t get much better than this…
Sheena Easton “You Could Have Been With Me” (1981)
If you are a incurable music nerd there’s a good chance you’ve pondered the eternal fantasy band question, which is as follows:
With no boundaries of time or place, what would your “dream band” sound like and who would be in it?
I’ve spent a disgraceful amount of time thinking about this and can confirm my mythical dream band would be ’70s era Chaka Khan or Gladys Knight fronting the Beach Boys circa 1966-1973 ( the epic-symphonic-psychedelic years). I’m pretty sure that’s what it will sound like in heaven if by chance I end up there someday. All of which explains why I have forever adored “You Could Have Been With Me”, the title track off Sheena Easton’s second album. While it wasn’t a platinum selling behemoth, it was an actual hit, getting as high as # 15 in the U.S. pop chart. It is an absurdly dramatic, lyrically eccentric Beach Boy flavored AOR power ballad that I guess could be described as “Surf’s Up” meets Andrew Lloyd Webber. In addition, its opening lines might possibly resemble the plot of a tacky romance novel :
You’re the seventh son of the seventh son Maybe that’s why you’re such a strange and special one
While Sheena can sang and unleashes a fine assortment of big notes along the way, the most captivating element of this thing is its shimmering, widescreen piano line. It sounds like it came straight off of Beach Boy Dennis Wilson’s seminal 1977 lost soul of an album Pacific Ocean Blue and is the sonic equivalent of walking straight into the ocean and never looking back. Wait. Hmmm, yeah, I’m suddenly realizing that might be a bit too dark and ominous an emotion to be inspired by a Sheena Easton song…let’s just say it’s melodically persuasive and I’d follow wherever it leads regardless of the danger. While “You Could Have Been With Me” doesn’t necessarily sound like what Chaka and Gladys getting all spaced out with Brian Wilson and the Boys presumably would have, it does offer a wonderfully weird European approximation of it and holy shit, I’ll take it.
ZZ Top “Rough Boy” (1985)
There are ZZ Top traditionalists who regard “Rough Boy” as something of a betrayal. They think it’s too “wussy” or “girly”. I vividly remember a male co-worker of mine characterizing it as ” the worst ZZ Top song ever”. I once read a posted comment from another guy that said “This always struck me as a gay song. It’s the only ZZ Top song I absolutely do not like”. “Rough Boy” is not a punchy, synthesized rattlesnake rock song of the sort that made ZZ Top famous and beloved. It is a languorous ballad sung by a lushly bearded boy ( Billy Gibbons) who is begging a girl to him a chance even though he ain’t much to look at and don’t have no canned speeches to persuade her with. Billy’s guitar serves as his wingman, extravagantly pleading on his behalf when he’s not singing, in an exceptionally seductive and swoon-worthy fashion.
See, what those aforementioned hater guys fail to accept and understand is that “Rough Boy” is a song constructed primarily for the enjoyment of girls. It was never intended for them and therefore their opinions about it are irrelevant. ZZ Top weren’t stupid, they knew what they were doing. “Rough Boy” was a deliberate attempt to send all the boys to the restroom at their shows en masse so they could hit on their girlfriends by serenading them with “Rough Boy”. And it worked. I should add I personally love the idea of it being a gay song, sung by one cowboy or leather daddy to another. I also like the idea of a girl singing it to another girl. In fact I want all musicians to cover “Rough Boy”. Women and Men. Metal bands and solo acoustic troubadours. Shoegazers and Dreampoppers. Country twangers and gospel choirs. And on and on forever and ever amen.
P.S. I think “Rough Boy” is the best ZZ Top song ever.
Montgomery Gentry “Twenty Years Ago” (2006)
It would be way too easy to fill this list with painfully literal country songs from the ’90s and ’00s that I have no connection with from a life experience position but just plain love. Montgomery Gentry’s “Twenty Years Ago” has taken up permanent residence in the beat down motel on the outskirts of my mind and even after 15 years, appears to have no intention of leaving. It wanders the hall in its bathrobe, beer in hand, offering its homespun insight at random, unpredictable times namely remindin’ me to not let pride git in tha way a what matters. It’s a straightforward tale about how a straight-laced, crewcut sporting, Vietnam Vet Dad and his rebellious son can’t see eye to eye. They fuss ‘n fight over many idealogical issues from hair length, to choice of friends to the dreaded “future plans”. Things inevitably reach a boiling point and get physical and our rebel son splits only to be called back years later when Dad is on his deathbed. And yes, there is a spoken word section where our hero has an epiphany in case you were wonderin’. It’s a perfectly predictable piece of genius, all impassioned vocalizing, bitchin’ chorus belting and infectious melody making and as long as the earth is spinnin’ I’m happy to have its corny ass livin’ rent-free in my head ‘n heart.
Rick Springfield “Souls”” (1983)
I’ve written about Mr.Rick before and consider him to be a criminally underrated genius. But I digress. Anyway, when I worked at the infamous One Hour Photo Lab as a young one (my first job), there was a guy there named Tom whom I became briefly infatuated with because he bore a slight resemblance to Steve Clark from Def Leppard whom I believed to be “hot”. And desperate AOR power pop animal with a killer hook “Souls” was the song I would play on my Walkman™ to soundtrack all my Tom-themed daydreams. In my mind, it was “our” song. Here is a lyrical sample for your enjoyment:
He held her tighter and tighter As he danced inside her She knew from the moment that she let him in They’d been two souls searching for each other
Ah yes, true love. And if that weren’t enough, just like the word “moot” making its famously incongruous appearance in “Jessie’s Girl”, Rick cleverly incorporated another vintage SAT word into one of the verses of “Souls” to remind us that he is well read and not the dumb rock star one might assume.
Too many nights on the ledge He acquired a knife edge Still the city didn’t acquiesce to his demands
Acquiesce y’all. Inevitably, that Tom kid faded from my mind as almost as quickly as he’d appeared but the experience left a “Souls” shaped scar that has yet to heal. P.S. the video is f-ing nuts. It features a sugar mama art patron, a Keytar, singing statues and the passing of cryptic love notes on champagne trays. But the best parts feature Rick pouting with immense frustration and desire while involuntarily clenching and/or pumping his fists…both gestures dovetailing very neatly into the the song’s aforementioned lyrical sentiments; he’s clearly feeling it with a capital F.
A Final Note : There is a “Guilty Pleasures” themed playlist on Spotify with over 2 million followers. Among the songs included are The B-52’s “Rock Lobster”, Phil Collins “In The Air Tonight” and Sinead O’Connor’s “Nothing Compares To U”. Abba’s “Dancing Queen” is in there, as well as Elton John’s “Tiny Dancer”. I personally have never considered these songs to be “guilty pleasures”. They aren’t inherently embarrassing or uncool, maybe silly and fun in a couple of cases but there’s no reason to be sheepish and ashamed about admitting you like them. No, what they are is older, the product of a different century. The aforementioned playlist is less a collection of “guilty pleasures” than it is a documentation of once contemporary trends that now sound “funny” in 2020. And so the water has gotten kind of muddy in terms how some folks define what a “guilty pleasure” is these days. All I know is I love my WTF songs and I want you to love yours without fear of judgement. And next time you gather them in a playlist don’t title it “Guilty Pleasures”, tell the truth…call it My Fucking Favorite Songs 😉
From the mid-seventies through the late eighties AOR, aka Album-oriented rock, ruled the radio airwaves in the USA. And I absolutely hated it and all I believed it stood for. Then Journey released a song in 1986 and ruined everything…
This essay won’t necessarily make you like Journey or the sound of AOR or ultimately appreciate either of them if you haven’t before. And I totally get that. But please know I was once like you. I was for all intents and purposes, a hater. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
What is this AOR?: If ever asked to define the AOR sound, I always say the same thing : It’s basically the musical equivalent of Baby Bear’s bed in “Goldilocks and the Three Bears” as in not too Hard (Rock), not too Soft (Rock) but juuuuust right…in the middle that is, taking elements of both ( loud guitars from the former, melody from the latter) and not overly accentuating either. And for added context, I’ll usually add that Journey are The Beatles of AOR. They were the purveyors of most accessible and successful AOR songs (including the genre’s defining theme tune, “Don’t Stop Believin”) and they remain the standard by which all other AOR artists are judged.
More Than A Feeling: By the time I hit my teens I had organically, inevitably begun to shed some of the uncool, childish musical accoutrements I’d accumulated in my youth. Once I hit junior high, I stopped buying Tiger Beat and 16 Magazine and instead started getting Creem and Circus, the “cooler” rock themed mags whose covers featured people like Patti Smith and Cheap Trick. I removed the Andy Gibb poster from my wall and used my allowance to buy albums by ELO and Eddie Money. I was growing up and my quest to ROCK had officially begun ( okay ELO and Eddie Money were not all that “hard” but you know, baby steps).
While I loved the 2 aforementioned artists, the first full on rock band I obsessed over was Boston, whose 1976 debut album, home to classic rock stalwart “More Than A Feeling”, remains one of the best selling records of all-time. I particularly loved their hairy singer Brad Delp, slapped his pictures on my bedroom wall and even went so far as to do a painting of him, which I sadly trashed years ago. And so, predictably, the first actual rock concert I ever attended was a Boston show at Nassau Coliseum after which I bought a tour shirt and a glossy program to ogle. Yes, guilty, total fan girl.
I don’t know, I just did…
The reason I am bringing all this up is because Boston are rightfully regarded as one of the seminal AOR bands and the premise of this whole piece is based on my resistance to and hatred of AOR. They literally helped architect the sound. And I loved them, so clearly the AOR appreciation gene existed in my inner circuitry, a part of me was drawn to it. The fact is the root of my hatred for AOR had less to do with the actual music than it did with an unpleasant association. Namely that the kids who bullied my shy, weird, art nerd ass in junior high and high school all seemed to love it. Which is to say I noticed which band was on your tee-shirt or badly painted on the back of your denim jacket as you were verbally laying into me. I wasn’t only getting my butt kicked by you but by the band the you liked. As you were tearing my notebook in half, the band looking out from your shirt were your approving henchmen and totally on board with the brutalization.
And so I started to hate the music my tormenters openly liked on principle. FuckYes. FuckBad Company. Once I hit high school, I was still me but of course the bands had changed. Fuck REO Speedwagon. FuckJourney. Thankfully there exists a visual aid, courtesy of Freaks and Geeks, that explains this concept far better than I ever could:
When ballots were being passed out in homeroom during senior year to choose the official Prom theme song, I distinctly remember Journey’s“Open Arms” being one of the choices. While I don’t recall if it was ultimately chosen, I do recollect my exact thought when I saw that it was on the 3 song shortlist: What a shit song. I checked it off on the ballot, just to be spiteful.
Senses Working Overtime: And it wasn’t a challenge to hate AOR. Boston aside, I wasn’t fighting a powerful urge. In fact I didn’t feel like I was missing a damn thing. My “unwelcoming” classmates could totally have their WPLJ with its horrible AOR parade of Journey, Billy Squier and f-ing Styx. See, by the time I got to high school I’d discovered my own musical homebase in the form of an NYU generated radio show called Wavebreaker that featured the latest songs from all the coolest New Wave and Post Punk bands of the era like Soft Cell, XTC and The Jam. I fell under its spell instantly and loved nearly everything they played. Hearing those artists for the first time was nothing short of revelatory. That AOR shit didn’t even come close. I mean how could this even compare with this ?
My official teenage God, Bible and Overlord…
She Needs More:MTV hit just as I began college and I spent a disturbing number of hours every day watching in rapt attention, clocking in anywhere from 3-8 hours a viewing session ( at least). In retrospect I may have been a bit too into it.
Journey were still extraordinarily popular at that point and so were a staple of MTV’s daily playlists. It was therefore inevitable that they and I would cross paths during my lengthy viewing shifts. And it was during one of these shifts in 1986 that I first heard “Girl Can’t Help It”, the latest single off Journey’s then brand new album Raised on Radio. The video itself featured the sweaty band performing the song live at Calaveras County Fairgrounds. It wasn’t even the official single aka the studio version you could buy. But it didn’t matter. All I knew was that Itotally loved the song.
Dammit to hell.
You Want A Piece Of My Heart? : Up until then, Journey and AOR had been the musical embodiment of high school bullies and suburban conformity. And that association ran deep for me. But pop music doesn’t care about your history. It is forever trying to charm and persuade you, to gain entry into your life by any means necessary. I was conflicted but there was nothing I could do, I wanted to hear “Girl Can’t Help It” again…and again. Mere days later, there I was in Record World, purchasing my first ( and not my last) Journey album. And just like that all my years of concentrated, deliberate hatred went up in smoke.
It is said that the truth shall set you free and the truth soon became clear, which was that not only did I love Journeybut that I totally loved AOR itself. Was it because I was finally hearing it out of the dangerous school environs and its terrifying associations ? Was it a case of you can take a girl out of the ’80s suburbs but you can’t take the ’80s suburbs out of the girl ?
I didn’t spend too much time questioning it. I just gave in to the urge. I began to openly explore and indulge this new found passion. I started tuning into the AOR themed radio stations I had previously mocked and avoided. I bought albums by Jefferson Starship, Zebra and Loverboy and allowed them to brazenly rub their leather clad crotches up against my Smiths and Cure LPs. Deep cuts by Heart and Foreigner were finding their way onto my previously elitist, obscurely post-punk band-ed mix tapes.
I admit it was a slow burn. Even as I began to explore my AOR tendencies, I still favored my New Wave/Anglophile side, and as far as radio still primarily worshipped the New Wave mecca that was WLIR…but I was finally comfortable buying albums and singles by AOR bands I liked. I felt free enough to admit that I liked Night Rangerout loud to other humans.
Can’t Fight This Feeling: AOR thinks it’s cool but it isn’t. It tries too hard. But that earnestness, that heart on the sleeve conviction is what makes it so inherently lovable. From opening track to closer, every song on an AOR album brazenly aspires to be a single. And while there are plenty of love and lust themed songs within its arsenal, there are also an equal amount of songs about overcoming things, hometowns and basic survival. With their laser focus on the concept of “chorus”, AOR songs provide the ideal soundtrack to any car excursion. This last fact was brought home during my high school Drivers Ed class. Whether we were tooling around town or making illicit trips to the beach, our mustachioed, chain-smoking, shotgun-seated, born and raised on Long Island instructor always had the radio tuned into…yeah, you guessed it. No other soundtrack would have made sense.
Any Way You Want It: You can’t really be an AOR connoisseur. It’s an oxymoron. The songs are all about living in the moment meaning the only logical response or reaction to a good AOR song is a hearty “I f-ing love this song”. Then you start singing along. Simple as that, no deep analytical conversation or thought is necessary.
Okay, so if I were stuck on a desert island, which songs would I blast in my 1981 Camaro Z28 as I took laps around its perimeter along with “Girl Can’t Help It”? Oh, for sure it would be these bitchin’ babes:
Jefferson Starship: “Find Your Way Back” (1981)
Once gigantically voiced Mickey Thomas joined Jefferson Starship as their new lead vocalist in 1979, taking over from giants Marty Balin and Grace Slick who’d departed the previous year, the band began to lean hard into the AOR. “Find Your Way Back” is an anthemic, histrionic piece of candy that sounds like it’s always existed. If you were putting together an AOR song in a lab, this is what it would sound like. It features all the necessary ingredients that go into making a perfect AOR song. Infectious, simple acoustic intro. Over the top vocal. An unadorned, shamelessly singalong chorus. Shredding of a supremely neat and shiny nature. It sounds good blasting in both vehicle and arena. I love it. It also evokes powerful memories of…MyMom’s Cowbell™ ( not to be confused with this one).
Growing up, my bedroom and my brothers were inches away from one another and were divided by a single wall. Being teenagers who loved music meant that shit was always turned up loud. While I was listening to all that British stuff mentioned earlier, he spent a lot of time tuned into the AOR radio stations. Neither of us were considerate enough to use headphones which often led to a passive-aggressive battles wherein each of us would incrementally increase our respective volumes in an attempt to drown out the sound of the other. It got to the point that when my Mom would call us downstairs for supper, we couldn’t hear her over the musical din. Having to yell for us endlessly began to take it’s toll (translation: to really piss her off). And so she purchased a cowbell, a real one, like the kind that would hang around a cow’s neck in an old children’s book. Anytime she needed to summon us, she simply stood at the foot of the stairs leading to our rooms and violently rang the cowbell. And I have a distinct memory of hearing “Find Your Way Back” emanating from my brother’s room as Mom was shaking her thang one night to summon us to dinner. Which is why I will forever think of my Mom as an unofficial member of Jefferson Starship and is another reason why I will always love this song.
Heart: “Wait For An Answer” (1987)
While Heart’s 1987 album Bad Animals was home to the legend that is maniacal, unrequited love power ballad and former #1 song “Alone”, this deep cut, the last song on what used to be known as “Side One” is the jam. Like all the best Heart songs it is extravagantly, hair pulling-ly overwrought with Ann Wilson’s gargantuan voice making a vertigo inducing ascent skyward while synthesizers and drums chase after her. “Wait…” is also home to a truly extreme and magnificent key change on the last chorus because Ann Wilson can just do that shit. The song was written and originally recorded by Canadian artist Dalbello and unlike the typical AOR song, features somewhat cryptic and interpretable lyrical content; the protagonist sounds both haunted and desperate and makes oblique references to something bad that happened in the past. All of which only serves to make it cooler. It’s nuts and it’s awesome.
Night Ranger: “When You Close Your Eyes” (1984)
Night Ranger are most famous of course for one of the most beloved and polarizing AOR power ballads in history, “Sister Christian”. “MOTORING”! And it does rule…but “When You Close Your Eyes” will always be the one for me. It was Top 20 hit in 1984 and a welcome addition to the the noble pantheon of hit songs about getting acquainted in the back of a Chevrolet, effortlessly equaling the majesty of it’s predecessors by Bob Seger and, of course, Sammy Johns. Which is to say “When You Close Your Eyes” is about as straight forward as it gets, a clumsily wistful bit of reminiscing and wondering about an old love wrapped in an optimistic and gloriously melodic tune. In an interview with Songfacts in 2010, Night Ranger’s Jack Blades explained his inspiration for writing it this way;
I thought about my old girlfriend, where we split up, and I wonder if she ever thinks about the past, and all these things you went through when you were growing up, and all these things you did when you were together…and your first love…and the first woman that I made love to. And then everybody moves on in their lives, and you just go in separate ways. And I always wondered, “When you close your eyes, do you think about me?”
That’s about as AOR as a songwriting inspiration could possibly be. Perfect.
Zebra: “Your Mind’s Open” (1986)
Zebra are a 3 piece band whom despite hailing from New Orleans proved to be immensely popular on Long Island and as a result ended up relocating there in the early ’80s. Which meant I heard their name bandied around pretty regularly as a teenager. This choice of homebase and the fact that they were especially beloved by people from my teenage hell ground zero of course meant I wanted no part of what they were selling. Oh MTV tried to convince me, showing the videos for “Who’s Behind the Door” and “Tell Me What You Want”, 2 slabs of pretty perfect, melodically sophisticated AOR with some regularity, but I refused to let them in.
Of course once I had my born again moment that avoidance ended. I f-ing love Zebra. They are responsible for several of my absolute favorite AOR songs ever. “Your Mind’s Open” is the kind of thing you’d hear whilst entering the gate of a carnival whose theme was AOR. It’s plush and it spins around and offers a vaguely inspirational message, a little bit mind over matter, a little bit personal affirmation. It’s like candy-coated version of Led Zeppelin and I totally adore it’s gloriously falsetto-ed, synthesized fairground heart.
Hold On To That Feeling: In 2018, Steve Perry of Journey did an interview with Kate Mossman for New Statesman magazine and said something so on-point and buddha-like regarding his former band’s music that all I could do was nod in appreciation. He said he had loved high school and looked upon it as “a magical time, when innocence is running your life” and that he thought of a concert venue as “the backseat of a car “. He described his songwriting inspiration like this; “Everything I write comes back to high school. I know it sounds funny, but everything. It all comes from the emotions I grew into during my adolescence. Those moments are not to be tossed away. If something means something to you, go back and get it and make it part of your life. And anyone who doesn’t understand how important that is, you tell them to FUCK OFF”.
And therein lies the essence of Journey, one I wasn’t conscious of at the time but should’ve been perfectly obvious. Duh. Of course. Journey were literally about high school. And while I was actually in high school at the time when they were singing about it, at the peak of their popularity, I wasn’t having the Journey experience of it. None of the carefree, sometimes tears but mostly fun experiences but rather the polar opposite, the other side, the otherness, the bad shit. Turns out I was destined to resent Journey (and their ilk). The joy of high school was literally baked into their songs. It made sense that I’d gravitate to all that angry, wanting and weird British New Wave and Post Punk. That’s who I was, they were like me.
As a teen, the pop music you love gives you an identity. It helps you understand who you are, helps to articulate all your awkward ass thoughts. And when I think about how genuinely angry I was at certain bands and sounds I get it. I was hilariously, disproportionately emotional about it but, you know, I was teenager who lived for music so…
I guess the simplest way to explain it is this; there are a lot of assholes in the world that like chocolate but that’s not chocolate’s fault. Which is to say, I’m sorry AOR (and Journey specifically), you just got caught in my teen hate dragnet and I was mad. I know it wasn’t you. Thanks for still welcoming me in with Open Arms.
The Bee Gees epically wonderful live album from 1977, Here At Last…Bee Gees…Live is finally being reissued on vinyl this month. It is a 2 LP behemoth built on astounding songwriting, otherworldly harmonizing and glorious beards. It is also the key artifact from my former life as an 11 year old stalker. I can explain…
The manner in which I first discovered the Bee Gees is honestly somewhat unsettling though I prefer to just call it “weird” because it makes me feel better about it. I was 11 years old at the time. I’d like to say I’d seen them on TV and they’d blown my mind…or that I’d heard “Nights on Broadway” on the radio ( one of their then recent hits ), loved it instantly and begged my Mom to get me to the record store asap but alas, no. The sole reason I bought the Bee Gees 2 LP live album Here at Last was because the object of a supremely misguided childhood crush had it in his collection. That crush categorization is not an exaggeration sadly for the object of my affection was not in fact an adolescent peer but a newly and happily married grown ass man over the age of 30 with a beard.
I’m uncertain of exactly when my infatuation started but once it did, look out y’all, it became the absolute center of my daily existence. He lived across the street from my family and was just one of those people who had a natural rapport with kids. He never spoke down to me and unlike most adults seemed to truly appreciate my sarcastic sense of humor. He indulged my endless rambling about Paul McCartney and baseball and we would make fun of each other relentlessly. Anyway, I just thought he was the coolest person ever and I wanted to be around him every hour of every day.
Once summer arrived that year, he told me he was embarking on a major weekend project wherein he was going to paint his entire 2 story white stucco house a nice beige with dark brown trim. This sounded amazing for it meant he would be outside and “available” to me for as many hours as it took him to paint every Saturday and Sunday over summer vacation.
All day, every weekend I would sit at the foot of whatever side of the house he was working on and stare up at him on his ladder as he chipped and scraped all the old paint off in preparation for the new coat. I’d like to describe it poetically and say the white paint chips fell like summer snow around me as the chirping song of the cicadas filled the air…but mostly it was me sitting there perspiring in the sweltering sun, in my baseball cap and shorts as WCBS Oldies radio blared, trying to think of “cute” things to say that would impress him and make him fall in love with me ( whatever that meant to my immature brain at the time).
As if that weren’t enough to make my intent clear, every weekday morning I made sure to walk my dog at the exact time he left for work, just so I could wave to him as he pulled around the corner in his white Volvo.
Basically I was an 11 year old stalker. There’s no nice way to put it.
But he and his wife, who was also supremely sweet to me, thought I was a good kid…so good that when they went on vacation to France that year they asked if I wanted to feed their cat, an irritable guy named Bunky, and bring in their mail while they were away for the week.
It was as if they had bestowed upon me a precious gift, for this assignment would offer me ample opportunity to, you know, look at stuff in their house, undisturbed, at my leisure. I’d been inside before but not without supervision so the prospect of this was nothing less than thrilling. Now don’t get me wrong, I also wanted to do the best jobever, with them arriving home after their long journey to witness Bunky happier and healthier than when they’d left him and the mail piled as neatly as if it were a museum exhibit on the table, thereby scoring maximum “love points” which I naively assumed I could .
And all in all, I did a good job and behaved…well okay, I did take the opportunity rummage through their old photo albums and swoon over photos of him as if they were pin-ups in a teen magazine. And I may possibly have buried my face in a shirt hanging in the closet to catch a scent or something. But beyond that I totally did my job. And honestly the activity that excited me more than either of those things was of a far less salacious nature, namely getting to rumble through his record collection which was located in a cabinet in the dining room.
There were about 200 or so albums within it including multiple titles by the Bee Gees. Hmmm, he seemed to like the Bee Gees a lot. It was clear what needed to happen. I too had to like the Bee Gees. Which meant I had to buy an actual Bee Gees album. Being young and solely obsessed with the outward appearance of material things ( toys, cars, animals etc.) it made sense that the album I gravitated toward was the one with the fattest spine ( 2 LP’s), the coolest cover and the most songs. It was Here At Last…Bee Gees…Live. That was the one I would get.
I can’t quite recall when I bought it, I think it was a few days after I’d first seen it there. All I know is that once I made the hefty purchase, which took every nickel of my meagre savings, I instantly felt closer to him. Even though he didn’t know it yet, we now officially shared something.
The inner gatefold of the album is a terrible triple exposure photo I resent to this day.
“It’s great to be in Los Angeleez”
( Barry Gibb greeting the crowd at the end of “Love So Right”)
Now to be clear, I was familiar with the Bee Gees, I knew they were 3 brothers for example, Barry, Robin and Maurice Gibb, I’d just never owned any of their records. And not only was this my first album of theirs, it was also the first “live” album I ever owned. While it employs some of the fabulous tropes of live albums of the day like the occasionally irritating horn section and crowd exhortations of “Everyone come on!”, it’s mostly all business, the brothers offering up one song after another in assembly line fashion.
Yet it was a curious listening experience for the Bee Gees were going through an extreme sonic identity crisis at the time it was recorded (and were soon to land hard on planet disco). It features baroque and esoteric ’60s pop, lowly ’70s pub rock and proto-soul disco all stuffed into the same show. And as it was spread over 2 records aka 4 sides, my juvenile attention span just wasn’t up to the challenge of listening to the whole thing (despite my wanting it solely because it was BIG). Thus it wasn’t long before I became completely fixated on a singular side of the album which I found myself playing endlessly to the exclusion of all others.
To translate in vinyl speak, it was all about Side 2. The track listing is as follows:
1-New York Mining Disaster 1941 2-Medley (Run To Me / World) 3-Medley (Holiday, I Can’t See Nobody, I Started A Joke, Massachusetts) 4-How Can You Mend A Broken Heart 5-To Love Somebody
The side consisted solely of singles from earlier in the band’s career all dating back to the late ’60s and early ’70s. There are 2 medleys and each song is performed in proto-unplugged style with the brothers Gibb harmonizing around a single microphone for the majority (with Barry strumming his acoustic guitar).
I’d never heard any of these songs before and was completely enthralled…but not just by the songs themselves by the weird stuff that seemed to be going on around and within them. For starters I wasn’t sure if Robin Gibb was a good singer or not, with his vocal tone more often than not resembling that of a bleating sheep. And what did “New York Mining Disaster 1941” and “Massachusetts” even mean ? And why was the audience screaming so much, what was happening that I couldn’t see ? And why does Barry keep doing that breathy thing with his voice ? The whole of Side 2 was a mystery that I needed to solve which meant playing it over and over to the point that when I finally heard the original full length studio versions of the songs, I didn’t like them. I wanted the warm security blanket of the live, stripped down, truncated, debatably weird versions filling my ears. I guess you could liken it to Nirvana fans who prefer the Unplugged versions of songs to their initial studio incarnations, marginally sacrilegious but love is love.
While the Bee Gees are obviously the stars of the album, the LA Forum audience also deliver an exceptional performance, offering consistently jarring full body shrieks in response to every drawn out syllable, breathy Barry delivery, dramatic Robin pause and brotherly harmonic convergence throughout the album, especially during the tracks on Side 2. They never stop. They are endlessly losing their sh*t.
The show the album was recorded from was actually filmed but for some reason the brothers didn’t like it and it was never released…and I’m okay with that. I think it would spoil the album’s charms, which has a lot to do with the aforementioned audience. Those moments of mystery where it’s clear something they are seeing as opposed to something they are hearing is making them scream, well, I don’t actually want that mystery to be solved. Whatever it is that seems to be happening during “I Can’t See Nobody”, I’d rather not know.
Thankfully I’ve come to appreciate the other 3 sides over the years ( or in streaming parlance, the other tracks) and remain staggered by the songwriting gift on display. How could they write so many amazing songs ??? It’s truly insane…okay “Boogie Child” is still bullsh*t but every show needs a bathroom break.
Fun fact: I stole $ out of my Mom’s wallet to buy this mag with the Bee Gees on the cover. Yes, I got caught.
Back to our “love”story: Upon their return from France the neighbor couple presented me with a cool burgundy coin/ keychain with the Eiffel Tower on it that I used for years and wish to God I still had ( it got lost along the way). And though I don’t recollect the details, my older man crush and I did go on to have genuine Bee Gees related discussions. Mission accomplished and one step closer…or so I thought.
After about a year or so of my passive aggressive courting, fate intervened in the form of my Mother. One morning immediately following my daily dog walk-wave routine she confronted me about my behavior. She’d suddenly become concerned with the relentless fervor of my pursuit. She glared at me saying “this needs to stop” and “you are making everyone really uncomfortable”. This was a surprise. Huh ? Who’s everyone ? I remember feeling embarrassed that people actually knew…especially her. But come to think of it, the other kids did make little comments. I’d been the opposite of discreet. Yup, I was in love and it freakin’ showed every day I stepped out the door. And though my crush never said anything about it, it occurred to me that maybe, just maybe he was “uncomfortable” too and didn’t want to embarrass me.
And so I stopped. Literally, from then on. It was abundantly clear from my Mom’s tone that she meant business and I didn’t fight her on it. I do remember crying right after she spoke to me but not much else. And as it happened, maybe because of this cold turkey approach, my feelings for him did start to fade soon after. For one thing Junior High was about to begin and I suddenly had more pressing concerns ( staying alive being the main one).
Still while my crush was fading into the past, my love for the Bee Gees was growing exponentially. I actively began collecting all the LPs becoming especially fixated on 3 particular ones; Main Course, Children of the World and this oddball oldie I’d found in the cut-out bin for $1.99 called Mr. Natural . They remain embedded in my heart in the way those albums are when you first came to know them in childhood. You know every inflection on them inside out, and the way they make you feel sets the standard for everything that comes after. And yes, of course I bought Saturday Night Fever when it was released ( before the film itself was), I’d been primed. It was the first Bee Gees album I’d bought in real time.
Man did I love these…
Beginning in the ’90s, like a lot of people, I started buying cd versions of my vinyl collection. I still loved the Bee Gees and so it was inevitable that I would get around to Here At Last. Though many years had passed since I’d first heard it, the instant I queued it up, I was transported back to my blue shag carpeted bedroom. Even looking at the cover photo of the Gibb brothers awash in garish red light around the mike triggered memories of my not as secret as I’d ignorantly assumed obsession with my neighbor. Truth be told, deep down I was still actually a little embarrassed about the whole “affair”, the misguided contents of my 11 year old heart so brazenly on display for everyone to see and all that…but it also made me laugh at how f-ing weird I was and how I used the Bee Gees as this special love glue, this inroad to commonality and bonding.
One day around 2010 or so I absentmindedly googled my neighbor crush’s name for the first time ( seriously, I’d never done it before for some reason)…and the first thing that popped up was an obituary. It turned out he’d died back in 2007. He and his wife had moved a couple of years after the “summer of love” as did my own family and we’d organically lost contact over time. I think the last time I spoke to him was when I was around 13 or so, I honestly can’t remember.
But know what, I’ll always be grateful to him, not just because he was always so cool, kind and tolerant of my crazy little ass but because he gave me something I still have to this day, this musical gift. Not just the fabulous Gibbs themselves of whom I own every album, but just the joy of talking about music with someone older who loved it, who knew stuff I didn’t, who could teach me things. I had no clue at that stage that nearly my whole adult life would see me involved in the music universe and that my burgeoning love for pop music would introduce me to the most amazing human beings I’ve ever known. He put a brick in that life foundation.
Listening to the album again as I’m writing this makes the memories of that summer come flooding back. Anyway, I just want to say thanks LS wherever you are, for letting me hang out with you all those days, being my pal and giving me something amazing that I don’t know you were even aware you were giving to me. Gonna treasure it forever.
Listen to the album here:
Here At Last is officially re-released on vinyl 6/26 through Capitol/UMe
What you see above is my actual pen pal request as published in the UK’s greatest pop music magazine ever Smash Hits back in the ’80s. I was 100% desperate to know someone in England which I felt was home to the best music & what appeared to be the cutest people. I was both excited & disturbed when I first saw the published ad because while WOW I was in Smash Hits (!), they’d also re-punctuated my first sentence, changing the period to a question mark. It was actually a meant to be a statement about how I, teenage Hope, felt about music, not a question. But still, Smash Hits (with Heaven 17 on the cover) !!
The requirements for being my pen pal were obviously pretty stiff, as you couldn’t just be into The Police & Culture Club to write to my stupid arse, you had to be “REALLY” into them. And the “busy” part had zero to do with an active social life & everything to do with school & the commitment of my very first job…at the ‘One Hour Photo’ store one town over.
You can see why this ad might be absolute catnip to the universe.
Now to cover my bases in case that UK ad got no responses, I put an ad in a glossy Japanese music mag called “Music Life” as well because I was also desperate to connect pop music freaks in Japan. It appeared in an issue with my personal love God at the time David Sylvian on the cover which thrilled me far more than it should have.
Inexplicably these ads worked. Within weeks of their being published I was inundated with hundreds of letters. Envelopes from Japan covered with stickers & cartoons that held intricately folded & elaborately decorated pieces of tissue stationary as well as actual photos of Ian McCulloch & Paul Weller arriving at the airport. Polaroids of people sitting in tiny bedrooms in Liverpool surrounded by Boy George paraphernalia. Old ticket stubs from recent New Order shows. And oh yes, there was some really weird shit too, mostly coming from a particular grown man who lived in Kidderminster but we’ll just leave it at that. Oh ’80s…
Yup, that pen pal pursuit is one of my most cherished memories of being a music nut-nerd in the ’80s ( and yes, I still have a bunch of letters saved somewhere).
And so, to celebrate those glossy, glittery, shiny pop times, I wholeheartedly offer you the genre-spanning, head spinning LOST IN THE ’80s PLAYLIST, a mighty fine, fittingly massive selection of wondrous singles that didn’t quite ascend to the heights they deserved & foxy deep cuts that never got to be singles but should’ve been.
There are 60 tracks (!) & all are gently gathered the YouTube playlist below ! I truly hope you discover ( or rediscover) something in here that both blows your mind & inspires you to investigate these particular artists . Let the music play…
Quick note: Why YouTube ? Well while putting this together I discovered a lot of these songs were not available on Apple Music or Spotify. Thankfully most could be found within the lord’s # 1 rabbit hole i.e. YouTube. You can hear the playlist featuring all these little wonders below ( & in some cases, enjoy the added bonus of seeing some VERY ’80s videos).
Listen here ! :
One last note while we’re here: I want to acknowledge & pledge my eternal love to these people, places & things below, nearly all of which are gone now but provided endless joy & fascination to a whole lotta teen pop nerds back in the ’80s. Bless them all to the last :
Magazines: Smash Hits, Number One, Record Mirror, Melody Maker, Sounds & NME
Record Shops ( in NY ): Slipped Disc, Rebel Rebel, Record Runner, Vinyl Mania, Discorama, Record World, It’s Only Rock’n Roll, Musical Maze & good old Tower on W.4th
Over the course of the ’90s, I worked in 2 music stores in New York City. No, they were not of the cool, indie, High Fidelity variety, they were both behemoth, double stuf megastores. Which meant when it came to in-store play we weren’t listening to Captain Beefheart, Alice Coltrane or Daniel Johnston, but were getting exclusively rocked with whatever the latest major label releases were. Sure on the cool end it meant getting to hear good shit like Garbage or Liz Phair in their entirety…but it also meant wading through more challenging and horrifying noise like Rusted Root and Candlebox on a regular basis. Of course you could attach value to the latter experience by connecting it to the notion that you were “broadening your knowledge” and therefore better able to help customers ( at least that’s what I did) but if you were having a bad day, hearing an hour of Ugly Kid Joe could ignite a truly debilitating migraine ( true story).
Anyway, when the official store DJ’s weren’t around, we would throw albums into the 5 CD changer & just let ’em play all the way through. And, gonna get flowery here, sometimes something magical would happen. Popping in these whole albums meant you’d end up hearing a lot of deep cuts. And doing that meant every now and then you would stumble (literally) on something really f-ing amazing that you’d never heard before.
Anyway, all that got me thinking it might be cool to shine a light on some songs & artists that got a bit lost in the immense MTV-Spin Magazine-Lollapalooza-Lilith Fair-Britpop-New Jack Swing-Grunge tornado of the ’90s and so….Welcome to the genre-spanning, head spinning 💥 LOST IN THE ’90sPLAYLIST 💥 a mighty fine selection of wondrous singles that didn’t quite ascend to the heights they deserved & foxy deep cuts that never got to be singles but should’ve been. There are 60 tracks (!) & all are gently gathered the YouTube playlist below ! I truly hope you discover ( or rediscover) something in here that both blows your mind & inspires you to investigate these particular artists . Let it play ⚡️
Quick note:Why YouTube ? Well while putting this together I discovered a lot of these songs were not available on Apple Music or Spotify. Thankfully most could be found within the lord’s # 1 rabbit hole i.e. YouTube. You can hear the playlist featuring all these little wonders below ( & in some cases, enjoy the added bonus of seeing some VERY 90s videos).
I have a geeky question for you. With no boundaries of time or place, what would your dream band sound like ? The one that would encapsulate everything you love in the musical universe in every way, vocals, sound, songs, everything. Is it Geddy Lee fronting The National ? Phoebe Bridgers singing with The Band ? Tierra Whack weirding out in a band with Frank Zappa ? Sorry, just doing some absurdist spitballin’ here.
I love hearing people’s answers to this question, especially if they are outright ketchup on pop tarts weird. My own mythical unicorn of a band involves ’70s era Chaka Khan fronting the Beach Boys circa 1966-1973 aka the lush spaced out psychedelic years. I believe this is what it might sound like in heaven..
And so as a means of somewhat satiating this fantasy, I’m perpetually on the lookout for things that at least sound like The Beach Boys of that era, even in the smallest way. If you are a Beach Boys fan & want to hear some cool 21st century, maybe obscure, sometimes one off songs touched by that particular bit of Wilson genius ( all 3 brothers), please check out the BEACH BOY-ESQUE PLAYLIST below featuring some beautiful & slightly off the wall acolytes of that sundown sound. It’s full of tracks that have that influence, that feel, that signature Wilson thing. And forgive me for that playlist title, I just need things to be 100% on the nose so my old ass can find them easily in my antique i-Tunes library 🙂
The Beach Boy-esque Playlist:
*Nerd note: In the early days of this blog I ran this piece in a slightly edited form, this is a miraculously updated version
One of my abiding memories of art school ( okay, I’m one of those people, please don’t hate me) involves a particular incident that occurred during a regular weekly critique class. The professor was a successful professional photographer, not world famous, but known enough. A normal class session with her involved our taking turns hanging our latest masterpieces on the wall, after which she would lead a discussion of the works’ respective “merits”. We were teenagers in NYC so yeah, there were a lot of photos of local landmarks, homeless people, or in my case, parking meters and empty swings ( I was shy so I only took pictures of inanimate objects not people). By the end of the semester she’d grown so frustrated with the quality of our output thatshejust couldn’t take it anymore. In the middle of a class one day, she snapped. Exasperated, she turned toward us and yelled ” You are all visually illiterate !“. No one responded. My pictures weren’t on the wall at the time thankfully… buuuut, you know, it was pretty clear she’d meant all of us, that we collectively sucked. And I too was an official member of the visually illiterate.
I’ve pondered this observation over the years and narrowed it down to one primary source. If I was visually illiterate™, in my mind there was clearly one main culprit. It wasn’t my lack of art history education that adversely affected my vision, I’d had a whole bunch of that. It’s just that DaVinci, Van Gogh, and Degas couldn’t compete with the behemoth that dominated every creative thought that sprouted within my mind. That behemoth was a book, and that book was The Beatles Illustrated Lyrics. It took a hold of me as a child and kept me in a headlock for years. It acted as the filter by which I absorbed, appreciated and created art. I blame this book for everything.
That’s Alan Aldridge on the right, the man responsible for all this.
Okay so the brief history of the book goes something like this.The Beatles Illustrated Lyrics was published in 1969. It was conceived by illustrator Alan Aldridge who up to that point was mostly known for his slew of stunning novel covers for Penguin Books ( Come look at these, oh man ). His Beatle idea was inspired by an interview he’d done with Paul McCartney for the British Sunday Newspaper The Observer in 1967 which also featured his own illustrations. Upon the articles publication, Aldridge was inundated with approving, excited fan mail. People went nuts for these illustrations. That overwhelmingly positive response gave him an idea, as in if people loved this handful of images this much they might really go crazy over a whole book of Beatle inspired art. Soon after he approached many of the leading graphic artists of the time including David Hockney, Ralph Steadman and Peter Max, and asked if they would be interested in creating pieces of art based on specific Beatle songs. In nearly every case the answer was a resounding YES. It’s amazing to think that at that point The Beatles were so almighty and ubiquitous and had such cultural cache that well known artists in a completely different medium literally jumped at the opportunity to make artaboutThe Beatles art. It was meta before they actually called stuff meta. Aldridge offered the eager artists a list of songs to choose from and those that didn’t get chosen, he would illustrate himself. He also posted multiple ads soliciting fan art to potentially include as well. And so The Beatles Illustrated Lyrics was born.
This is the 1967 Observer cover that started it all.
I met this book by accident. My Mom’s book collection was housed in a tall shelf at the foot of a staircase. The bottom half featured a set of World Book Encyclopedias from 1973 and a myriad of books about antiques. The higher shelves featured more adult fare including Nancy Friday’s “My Secret Garden” ( for those unfamiliar, a then bestseller featuring explicit true life sexual fantasies written by what seemed to be hundreds of suburban housewives) as well as several romantically themed horoscope books ( “Sexual Astrology” anyone?). The books in this “adult section” were the absolute epitome of the beige but swinging seventies. My brother and I had been warned not to touch anything on those top shelves. She’d made it implicitly clear that the books “up there” were “not for children”. That was all the incentive I needed to pursue some in depth exploration. Without really saying anything, Mom had said too much. With that admonition, I made it my mission to get on a step ladder and/or literally use the shelves themselves as steps to examine these illicit books at the top of the mountain whenever she went out. And that’s how I first got my hands on The Beatles Illustrated Lyrics. I knew who the Beatles were, had heard songs on the radio but I hadn’t truly discovered them yet. I was a late pop music bloomer and to be frank didn’t know very much until I turned 10 or so (read about the epiphany here). Still I was inexorably drawn to this book. It was the biggest book on the top shelf and it had a cartoon on the cover. It was essentially a picture book. My attraction to it couldn’t have been greater if it had been covered in chocolate. And so down it came into my kid hands every chance I got.
I experienced a tiny surprise unrelated to its content when I opened it for the first time. Inside the front cover was a crumbling, dried, pressed rose. This book clearly had some secret sentimental value to Mom. Not that I cared, the most important thing I noted upon this discovery was that if I made one wrong move, the flower would slide and rain out of the book in tiny pieces like confetti . So whenever I took it down from that initial point forward, I would sit on the staircase in front of the bookshelf, gently lay it across my lap and read it in a gravitationally sensible way to ensure nothing happened to the flower thus further ensuring that Mom wouldn’t find out that I was perusing her “dirty” books ( because of course in my ridiculous, paranoid little peanut brain, I assumed she was actually dusting for fingerprints and checking to see if books had been shifted around every day. I was an idiot).
The book is laid out simply. There are Beatle lyrics with accompanying illustrations next to them ( or nearby). Some are literal, some are visual interpretations only the actual artist could explain the meaning of. But there is a consistent visual that makes itself known pretty quickly.
Breasts. This book is absolutely brimming with them. Nearly every song’s accompanying artistic interpretation features a breast depiction. There are more breasts in this book than there are pictures of Ringo ( this is not an exaggeration, if you feel like counting you’ll see). To a lot of people, The Beatles were clearly SEX.
And so inevitably there is also some tasteless, misogynistic shit in this book. Though as a child I wasn’t conscious of it and didn’t fully comprehend what I was looking at, the weird subversiveness of some of the art. I took everything at face value. Check out the faces below representing “Dr.Robert”, “Sexy Sadie” and “Helter Skelter” respectively.
Beatles = Breasts
Questionable but know what, I totally love these. Helter Skelter is Helter Skelter.
Of course initially, my absolute favorite works were the ones with the actual Beatles in them. Especially Alan Aldridge’s ridiculously colorful, cartoony and psychedelic ones. I wasn’t even close to what you’d call a Beatle fan at that point, owned no Beatle records, and they were long broken up…but the gravitational pull of even their mere images was indescribably strong, especially the McCartney visage ( it’s official, Paul is magic). I still think the Aldridge depiction of “There’s A Place” (below) is better than the actual song.
I quickly developed favorites and it wasn’t long before I started getting out my tracing paper and copying stuff so I could look at them in the privacy of my room. Not just the ones depicting Beatles, oh no, but the ones of cartoon eyeballs murdering each other. A young man with enormous sideburns making out with an old lady. A “Taxman” eating humans and expelling them, literally. The tightly buttock-ed “Mr Kite”. I could not stop staring at this shit. And so no one was safe from my pencil.
I’m gonna say it: Mr.Kite has a nice ass.
As I got older, I inevitably grew weary of the book, wasn’t moved or shocked by it anymore and forgot about it, meaning I didn’t look at it much, if at all, once I was a teenager. Little did I know it was too late, it had infiltrated my mind forever and was never going to go away even if I never looked at it again. To this day, I love (live) to draw ( in ballpoint pen mostly) and I can see this book in literally everything I make, I can’t deny it. It’s in me.
Yeah, that guy at the end of the top row is Paul McCartney, so we’ve come full circle. In fact my Mom has recent drawings I did of John Lennon and George Harrison hanging in her house. Drawings directly inspired by the ridiculous book she attempted to warn me off.
A friend was in the UK recently visiting his in-laws and mentioned that his elderly father in law insisted on gifting him with a book from his vast home library. The book was not of his choosing. He was specifically offered a vintage copy of…The Beatles Illustrated Lyrics. The fact that his 80-something father in law thought that this particular book was important enough to make a special show of giving it to him as a keepsake, well, I took it as a weird yet beautiful affirmation. The book is unquestionably a product of its time but also a wonderful mess of sometimes questionable, often beautiful imagery: a truly oddball timepiece.
To close, here’s my favorite piece (below). It’s by French artist Jean-Michel Folon and accompanies the lyrics to “Blackbird” in the book. It’s both sad and optimistic and its relationship to the song is loose and interpretable. It’s the blankest, emptiest piece in the whole book …but at the end of the day kind of says it all.
Joan Jett has magical powers. Andy Moreno explains how the explosion of “Cherry Bomb” forced her to leave her hometown and find a way to ROCK forever…
I was going to call myself a late bloomer but the truth is I’m more like that old house plant you keep alive. It never dies and you wouldn’t call it healthy or vibrant but you do give it props for defying natural laws.
By 1982 Joan Jett was out of The Runaways and off making hits. I had one foot out of my home town and another knee deep in what I call Indiana girl muck. In 70’s Midwest, by 20 years old, you should’ve been well on your way to marriage and kids. A small starter house was a part of most friends’ worlds… if they didn’t already die in a drunk driving or overdose accident that is. I was working as a full time dispensing optician at an Ophthalmologist’s office in one of those ugly one story office buildings off of Lake Avenue in Fort Wayne, Indiana. You know those places that are completely devoid of any type of cool in an area where it was blocks and blocks of the same. I wore nurses whites and orthopedic shoes. On my break, I would sometimes run to Taco Bell with my boyfriend and, on occasion, suck back a beer or two before returning to finish my shift. But most times I’d drive solo forfeiting food to smoke cigarettes and blast my speakers making sure to put on the “power booster” to elevate the mood. I would drive in giant squares so that I could come back in time but long enough that I could feel the wind on my face and escape the debilitating monotony. What I’m describing is a lonely loner, early signs of a deep introvert. But even recluses get bored. In the “The French Song” Joan sings I know what I am, I am what I am. I might not have known what I was but I always knew what I wasn’t. I remember one particular afternoon, coming back from my lunch break, now in my newly purchased used canary yellow TR7 that unbeknownst to me had cracked cylinder heads and was already showing signs of major distress after only two weeks. I sat silently in that car as it bumped and rattled, unable to turn off, painfully acknowledging that I could no longer live this particular life. I couldn’t drive up to this building one more week to this job that I felt was pulling me into some unremarkable abyss. I thought about the week before and all the weeks before that. The reason I got this car was because I allowed my boyfriend to total my Celica GT lift-back by slamming into a pole while we were all drunk in the passenger’s seats. That was car wreck number 6 or 7 if I was counting. I was going to be 21, not 18. My nighttime shenanigans were becoming very worrisome to the sober adult me. Unable to get replacement parts locally, that car became a permanent garage fixture and I was afraid of the same fate.
In the following days “Cherry Bomb” came on the radio as I was dropped off yet again to the gates of doom as I was now carless. The music felt so alive blaring loudly from inside that vehicle. I didn’t want to step out knowing that life was stagnant on the other side of that door. It suddenly occurred how late in the game it was for me. My boyfriend was speaking but I drifted off imagining being where Joan was, this magic place where a girl like me could play guitar and live a completely different type of life. I left my body which I was prone to do. I was shaking my head and my hair starting flying around my face. I drank up every last ounce of that song. That moment unleashed some newfound freedom that I had felt rising up recently and caused it to erupt like an oil well. I would leave town for LA to try to play in bands! That was it! I started making a real plan. I quit that job, I babysat for my sister and saved enough money for a ticket. I got my GED. I recruited a friend. We left about 3 months later.
Andy in 1982: play it girl…
In hindsight I should have left about 3 years before I got on that plane to California if I wanted any chance to actually fly. I wasted just enough time to pack on enough self doubt and guilt that it was very hard to get off the ground even with all the miles between me and the muck. I drank when I was nervous and that was generally always. It doesn’t help matters to be drunk or timid but I could never decide which was worse. So I always erred on the inebriated side. Had I moved in 1979 I believe I may have become a real musician and possibly stuck to it to this day. I had the self discipline and desire but the few obstacles I ran into were enough to not only deter but stifle me entirely. Unlike all the determined strong folks you read about with all their dreams. It’s a shame too, because women artists were just about to pop, so the timing was right in the world for someone with limited talent like me to actually make it. That perhaps was my epiphany. I wanted to be Jimmy Page, Eddie Van Halen, Jeff Beck. In other words, I wanted to be credible but was convinced early on that I didn’t have what it takes to become great. And the alternative was becoming famous and mediocre. If I was anything I would be legitimate and authentic. Or nothing at all.
This is the bullshit I tell myself. I had about 5 years of practicing the guitar before I left home. I was getting better but it was already apparent I was not gifted. After more lessons, being in working bands and a few #metoo stories later I just gave up.
Andy in 1985: it’s on…
But Joan Jett got me out of that office building and on that plane to California. That in and of itself was giant in my small world. Her voice, guitar, and songs throughout the years got me into those band auditions. They put me in those record store jobs. Her chutzpah kept me in the mix of excitement, meeting songwriters and artists, mingling with creativity. She got me to New York, where I always dreamed of living.
I have enough hangups to fill five tour buses but Joan continues to motivate and inspire me to push my mole ass further into the world each year and for that I’ll always be grateful.
Editors note : Everyone make sure to check out the new fist pumping/tear jerking Joan Jett documentary “Bad Reputation” asap: it’s awesome.