Meeting the Beatles for the Non-Believer

The Beatles Later YearsAnyone interested in parting with roughly $190 US for the new Oasis deluxe box set? Me neither. Nor is my fellow blogger at everyrecordtellsastory.com. He has issued a Vinyl Challenge to see how else he might spend the equivalent in British pounds. He’s set out to build the best record collection he can for a friend who needs to get hooked on vinyl. Check out his last few posts to see how he’s accomplishing this. If you haven’t shopped for vinyl in a while — or say 20 years — you’ll be surprised at how things have changed.

Every Record Tells a Story has inspired me. I’m not in the market for an Oasis deluxe box set, either, so I’ve thought about what else I could do with the money… some way that I could help out a friend… some way that I could build a package of the best the world of music has to offer. And, coincidentally, you could say it was inspired by Oasis in reverse.

But really it was motivated by an incident that took place a few weeks ago at a party we hosted. There I learned that one of our guests does not like the Beatles. Like most people who say this, he seemed to imply that the band is overrated.

A shrug for the Beatles? This is quite curable.

With people one knows well, the remedy can be achieved over time and a paced series of recommendations. But in the case of a person one sees occasionally and at social events that primarily revolve around their children’s school, it’s a bit trickier as people aren’t so receptive when one dominates the conversation with talk about bands. (Trust me, I’ve been down that road before.)

So the challenge I have undertaken is this — find a way to budget the $190.00 to develop my own “box set” that provides the critical education necessary for enlightenment and enhanced musical pleasure, because, after all, life is so much better when you have the Beatles around to enjoy.

You might ask, “Can’t you just download some hits from iTunes and be done with it?”

The key here, though, is context. My friend probably has already heard most, if not all, of the Beatles chart-toppers and a handful of B-sides. Somewhere along the line, their brilliance was not absorbed. (In fact, I argue that the prevalence of things like The Beatles 1, etc., does more to inhibit understanding of the Beatles than develop it.)

Like the Oasis box set, my collection includes more than just music. In order to appreciate the Beatles, a person needs to understand their role in the development of the rock and popular music canon, how they transcended boundaries — the disappearance of which we take for granted, and the foundation they established for the artists who emerged with them and afterwards.

I don’t know said friend well enough to spend $190 on him, regardless of how life-changing this gift would be, so this is fact-based but fictitious. So, let me introduce to you…

THE GENXATMIDLIFE.COM BEATLES ENLIGHTENMENT BOX SET

IMG_2083Hard Days Write ($9.98 at Barnes & Noble) — The Beatles were prolific. Maybe it was the 10,000 hours of practice, the intensity of Hamburg, the early years spent in hotel rooms sheltered from mobs of teenage girls bent on plucking the hairs from their growth follicles — but few bands (or none) have produced so much, so good in such a limited amount of time. It probably helped that they didn’t tour after 1965 — more time for songwriting and working in the studio.

This book does a great job of illustrating the bridge between the Beatles’ early years — simpler songs, “innocent” subjects — and the more sophisticated compositions of their later years. These guys could write about anything… from pets to prostitutes… and make it awesome. In fact, if they were sitting in my house right now, they could probably craft a Top 10 hit about how much I’d like new granite in my kitchen.


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Rubber Soul ($19.99 on amazon.com) and Revolver ($19.99 on amazon.com) on vinyl. Post Hard Days Night the title for “the Beatles’ Best Album” is up for grabs. Is there really a consensus? Each has it merits, but in my opinion, these two are the most important for the non-believer, as they are likely the ones they don’t know that well. (This observation is based only on conversations I’ve had with said people and is in no way quantifiable or scientific.)

You can’t have one without the other. The transition began before Rubber Soul, but it’s at this point that it is fully emerged. With Revolver, it is fully realized, and there is no turning back (even with the stripped-down efforts of Let It Be). By this time, the Beatles had obviously matured significantly as musicians, songwriters and observers of the world.

This is one case where I insist on vinyl. There is something about the act of placing the needle on the record, the shiny outer strip that marks the anticipation of the first notes, that prepares the listener for the power of what they are about to hear. It’s like a ritual, paying homage to those first listeners who slid the vinyl disc from its dust cover, delicately securing its edges between the pads of their middle fingers and thumbs, placing the hole on the center spindle, setting the speed to 33 1/3 and switching on the turntable. If my friend is going to really listen to these albums for the first time, this is how it needs to be done. (And if they don’t have a working turntable, they can come to our house where we will be happy to provide educational commentary between sides.)

Rubber Soul ($12.99 on amazon.com) and Revolver ($13.88 on amazon.com) on CD. For practical reasons.

Let It Be RooftopAbbey Road ($12.99), Let It Be ($16.29), The White Album ($19.88), Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band ($13.88), Magical Mystery Tour($13.88), Help! ($16.29) on CD from amazon.com*. Why CDs and not iTunes? Each of these need to be understood as a collection. On iTunes, it is too easy to perceive each song as a single, and that is no way to consider the works of the Beatles. You need to hear “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (Reprise)” roll into “A Day in the Life. You need to witness the range of “Rocky Racoon,” “Glass Onion” and “Julia” within a single (double) album. Worst of all is how iTunes severs The Medley.

With a CD, you can open the jewel case, check out the cover, hold the evolution in your hand. On iTunes, it’s too easy for very special music to get lost among the shuffle of Ratt’s first album, the Timberlake stuff you have for parties and that Edwin McCain song you downloaded for your friend at 12:03 a.m. last Saturday night after that second appletini.

If I had more money to work with — or was a better bargain shopper — I’d buy all the way back to Meet the Beatles. But given the limitations of my imaginary budget and, most likely, my friend’s willingness to listen, I can’t push it. Anyway, I want to leave something for the “new” Beatles fan to discover, so they can come back to me again and again and tell me how right I was.

IMG_2089Hard Days Night” DVD ($18.99 at Laurie’s Planet of Sound) — It’s easy to think of a band that recorded, “I Want To Hold Your Hand,” as dismissible in the post-60s musical era. In fact, this is the song people (though they are few) bring up when I express my shock that they don’t care for the Beatles. These people need to be reminded that the Beatles had a lot of work to do before they could unleash “A Day in the Life,” and even “Help,” on the world. They had to chip away at the barriers of convention that dominated popular music.

In the movie, “A Hard Days Night,” the world was introduced to four young men from Liverpool, of all places, whom you could see right away had a kind of humor and humanity that gave hint to their staying power. After seeing this, how would anyone be able to resist?

Without tax*, I have spent $189.03, just shy of my $190.00 goal. Converting a non-believer for less than $200.00? As Master Card would say — Priceless.

* I know that shopping at markets and independent record stores is much more fun. But with Amazon Prime, shipping is free, it comes in two days and I don’t pay tax, which I have conveniently left off the B&N and Laurie’s “purchases.” Plus, it’s a bit cheaper than our local indy shop.

6 Things Only a GenXer Would Find in The Basement

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Who knew that cleaning out a basement would provide so much material for a blog? Well, I kind of did, but I had no idea what little treasures I’d find back in dusty corners among 30+ cans of left-over paint (not our fault — previous owners were ridiculous about keeping them), garbage bags filled with concert t-shirts, and countless bins of toys illustrating consumer culture gone berserk (actually, I made the kids reduce this by 50 percent last summer).

If you are a GenXer and you’ve made it to midlife, you’ll appreciate the following… and you might even have similar sorts of things in your own basement.

A library of mixed tapes. When I say “library,” I imply that it has been catalogued… curated, if you will, to include the very best music of my time. But to say such things about my collection of mixed tapes is misleading. As I read the card inserts of the cassette cases, it became clear that the music I felt worthy of transferring from one tape to another (or record off of WVUR) was disappointingly limited. How many mix tapes should I really have created including The Smith’s “How Soon Is Now” and When In Rome’s “The Promise”? I am a good 20-plus years past my youthful prime, and I have more diverse single playlists on my iPod than what remained of my entire collection of mix tapes.

Actually, this box represents only a fraction of the mix tapes I found. It was filled to the top. For the record, the Rush and Anthrax belong to my husband (or one of his former roommates). Those are his toes too.

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Other relics of modern technology. Cassettes were to music in the 80s what CDs were to encyclopedias in the 90s — a brief interlude of technology that put what used to take up so much space (10-inch vinyl, a bookcase full of texts) on something much smaller and more portable. Now you can get much of what was previously available on these formats on the internet — for free or a small fee. But for a short period of time, the idea that you could take a 32-volume behemoth and capture it on a thin round piece of plastic was so revolutionary, even Microsoft got into the act.

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Fashion history. You knew it was coming, didn’t you? You thought, “Is it possible that these people have a pair of parachute pants in their basement?”

Yes, when everyone else dropped theirs off at the Goodwill in 1985, someone from my family kept his in a pile of clothes that, while reduced to only a few garments by now, still contains this pair in cement gray.

But does he still fit into them? That’s an answer that will remain unpublished.

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No young man circa 1984 would feel completely dressed without a matching Members Only jacket. But this one is even better — it’s a vest. And it’s a coordinating shade a gray, making it the perfect piece for the monochrome look. BONUS — it still fits!! Back in the day, if this dude had walked into my hometown’s teen disco, The Casbah, I would have faced some tough competition!

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Religion notebook doodles only a student in the 80s would make. My husband received As in Religion (Catholic school), but you wouldn’t know it from the cover of his notebook. Perhaps he was trying to hide the secret to his success behind these stylized band logos. Either that or, Dude, Jesus must have totally rocked in the 80s.

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And if Hubby was hiding A-worthy notes behind the cover, could this be his visual interpretation of the Crusades?

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I didn’t attend Catholic school, so I am not one to judge. But I wonder what Sister Mary Joseph made of this art.

The glory of 80s hair. Okay 80s hair band fans, check this out — a 1987 copy of Hit Parader. This magazine was first published back in the 40s, but it peaked in the 80s, and I think you can see why.

In my teen years, Hit Parader was the alternative to Rolling Stone that my mom would let me buy due to RS’s “mature” content, though I’m not sure how she came to this conclusion. The artists always looked much less stoned on the cover of RS than mags like Creem and Hit Parader.

This particular issue features Jon Bon Jovi on the cover (yes, it says “Too hot to handle” just below his name), with the promise of updates on other bands like Def Leppard and Poison, along with a Cinderella centerfold. (I’ve gotta ask, did people really tape Cinderella to their wall?) The neon pink masthead is a nice touch too. I wonder if they did that because they had a heartthrob on the cover.

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Don’t hate me because I have a Weeble. Not only do I have one of these in my basement, I have a whole Weebles Treasure Island Set! Of all the things that I found in our basement, this Weeble is probably the one thing that elicits the most envy.

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A Black Celebration for Valentine’s Day

Flaming HeartsA couple decades or so back in time, my friends and I celebrated Valentine’s Day in a way that was freeing in both its interpretation of the holiday and its obligations. We organized a Black Valentine’s Day party and invited everyone we knew to attend (not a big crowd, as we were on an overseas study program). The only requirement was that one dress in black and not hijack the event with their own romantic notions.

This kind of celebration was a relief to most of us, including me. After graduating from valentine collection boxes wrapped in red and pink construction paper, I spent Valentine’s Day in some interesting ways, including almost getting hit by a car on an icy highway, receiving flowers from a boyfriend a few days after we broke up (he had already ordered them), and receiving flowers from a stranger who had the same name as another “friend,” who awkwardly confessed to me that he didn’t send them when I called to thank him. (Months later I found out that the sender was some random guy from a party I attended who sent them on a whim.)

Armed with our party parameters, a boom box, and some lager, wine and junk food, we took over a big common room and threw one of the best Valentine’s Day parties we’d ever attended since the days of drinking Hawaiian Punch from Dixie Cups in grade school. I have a few incriminating photos of people breaking the “no romance” rule, but that was after a beverage or two, so it was possible that it had little to do with Cupid.

I would bet just about any amount of money that our playlist for that evening included New Order, Depeche Mode, U2 and Terence Trent D’Arby, among others. We popped cassettes in and out of the boom box all night long, yelling, “Wait a second,” while we fast-forwarded and rewound to our selections, the gap between songs filled by the clinking of bottles and glasses and the chatter of 30 or so people who were united by a common goal — to leave Valentine’s Day with a lighter heart.

If you were to put such a playlist together today, what would you include? Let me offer you some inspiration with something from that original Black Valentine’s Day celebration.

The Beatles Anniversary Special Celebrated More Than Just 1964

The Beatles in 1964I have to admit that even as a Beatles fan, I was slightly skeptical of the 50th anniversary special commemorating their first appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show. It’s not that I didn’t think it’d be filled with good performances. Rather, I was wary of it not capturing the essence of The Beatles, which means something very different, I’m sure, to a fan born several years after 1964 versus someone who watched the Ed Sullivan Show live that February 9th.

When I talk with other people about The Beatles, those who aren’t fans — and there are many more than I expect– automatically bring up “I Want To Hold Your Hand” or another one of their early hits. (It’s probably much like what Beach Boys fans hear from people who mention “I Get Around”.) They think of Beatlemania and the screaming girls and the matching suits. This is a far place from where I am, having “discovered” The Beatles through Sgt. Pepper and The White Album.

Rather than rehash that early period, last night’s show transcended that time of frenzy and wove many aspects of The Beatles’ contributions in a way that paid homage to the foundation of their influence on music. It didn’t all begin 50 years ago, and it has continued long after, but that event from 1964 made all that came after possible.

Wow — FIFTY years ago. That’s incredible when you see how relevant The Beatles still are — as last night’s special showed — and the degree to which they remain an influence on pop and rock music. Not every artist handled their assignments well, but there were some highlights, and it was in those that love for the music really shone. Maybe you agree with some of these:

Imagine Dragons did an incredible rendition of “Revolution”. They chose a more R&B treatment, kind of like what the skiffle bands of The Beatles’ origins would have done. It was interesting to see a young band use an old sound for a truly fresh take that didn’t stray too far from the originals.

Ed Sheeran paid beautiful tribute to “In My Life,” a song so amazing that everyone should learn the words and melodies the way we know Happy Birthday. Few have expressed love of any and every kind so well.

Dave Grohl, Joe Walsh and Gary Clark, Jr., really warmed up the theater with “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” before Ringo Starr came out as the lead-in to the finale featuring him and Paul. By then, everyone was loose and moving. Usually when you see televised performances like this (the Grammys, etc.), only a few of the artists get up and really enjoy the music. Last night, we saw no stiff faces or self-conscious masks of boredom.

Both Ringo and Paul McCartney turned out solid performances. While Ringo was never known for his singing voice, he’s clearly an entertainer in front of and behind the drums. McCartney is always amazing. He may not have the vocal range he once did, but he is present for every minute of every song.

The (remaining) Beatles showed tonight why they are, in fact, The Beatles… why they occupy that echelon above all others. By the end of the evening, the audience was engrossed. Almost every performer who played one of their songs displayed a sense of gratitude to the music. (My one criticism about the evening was that artists who clearly weren’t inspired had the opportunity to perform. With all the talent available, they could have found an alternative to Alicia Keys, who seemed almost dismissive.) Not only have The Beatles inspired people to love their music, they’ve inspired people to love all kinds of music. Who can deny this after seeing that whole theater under the influence of “Yellow Submarine”?

Drill down to a single person sitting on her couch in Illinois. My opening Facebook comment about the performance was that I did a better job singing “Ticket To Ride” on my couch than Adam Levine. I don’t think that I am a better singer than him. Rather, there’s a passion in loving a song, in having sung a song thousands of times (quite possibly more than Adam Levine) that makes the difference.

That is The Beatles’ legacy. And to my surprise, the 50th anniversary special captured it. Click here for a great recap from Billboard, including the set list.

1984 Never Ends

1984It’s a sweltering August evening. I’m in the front passenger seat of a sleek black sports car listening to music at high volume in a parking lot somewhere in Northeast Indiana. It’s 1984.

Not the year 1984… rather, the CD my husband and I were cranking after coming from an anniversary dinner to the resort where we were married.

But it could easily have been 1984 in the same vicinity, in the same month, on a similar hot night, in a (much likely) less impressive car with the same CD playing. In fact, that anniversary evening, I had that sensation that is not quite deja vu and not quite flashback, a cocktail of past and present that reminds you that some moments line up on a parallel. There are things in your life that don’t just remain the same… they keep popping in at various points, layering on new meaning each time.

I remember the weeks before 1984 was released. There was all manner of speculation about what the album would be. It was a bold statement to name the album after the year, as if it would be the artistic statement that summed up the era. I would be surprised if that was the band’s intention. The real big news was that Eddie played keyboards on it.

When I first saw the video for “Jump” on MTV, it was actually kind of disappointing, because I listened (and still do) to Van Halen for a harder, more swinging sound. But as soon as I heard the rest of the album, I could overlook it. The one thing it did was open the band up to broader air play, which used to be a much more important thing for a fan than it is now.

There’s something about Van Halen, and especially 1984, that reminds me of being young, more than any other music from that time. In a way it enables me to experience that feeling even now. So, while listening to 1984 might not seem an obvious choice for celebrating a wedding anniversary, it was perfect for my husband and me.

Coincidentally, today is Eddie Van Halen’s birthday. It’s a fitting way to wrap up my week of birthday blog posts on songs that shaped my life.

Rock-tales live posting on Facebook for Grammy broadcast

Grammy AwardIf you’re a music fan, head over to the left side of this page and like Rock-tales on Facebook!

Join the Rock-tales Community tomorrow night for live commentary about the 2014 Grammy Awards, covering everything from who deserved to win to who should have won, from stunning performances to “interesting” choices of all manner of things. There’s nobody better than folks just like yourselves to share the play-by-play of one of music’s most high-profile events.

Faithful follower or casual viewer, we would love to hear what you have to say!

Justin Bieber — A Modern Day David Cassidy or Leif Garrett?

We interrupt Songs That Shaped A Life week to comment on news of the day regarding Justin Bieber and his arrest for driving under the influence of substances, illegal it appears, as he is apparently only 19 years old.

From my cursory review of pop culture coverage seeing the Yahoo! homepage while checking my email, scrolling through my Facebook feed and watching the muted televisions at Super Nails while enjoying a birthday pedicure, this story rivals the break-up of the Captain & Tennille’s 39-year marriage.

It seems that some people are fairly bothered — almost outraged — by Mr. Bieber’s poor decisions. But I wonder if this was intentional. After all, the blueprint for emerging from teen-idol-hood with controversy has existed for more than 40 years, ever since David Cassidy decided to pose naked on the cover of Rolling Stone.

David Cassidy all grown up on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine.

David Cassidy all grown up on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine.

By now, most of us have watched enough episodes of Behind the Music and E! True Hollywood Story to know that transitioning from the bedroom walls of 11-year-old girls to iTunes accounts of a more sedate and mixed-gender fan base is a challenge. I know little of Mr. Bieber’s musical talent, so I can’t guess at how much of a stretch this might be for him, but there must be some measure of discomfort at having your image on the toothbrushes of fourth-graders when you are approaching your twenties. (If we were talking, you might note that Gene Simmons shows no embarrassment of the KISS merchandise marketed to 9-year-old boys back in the day, but he was never a teen star and appears to have little shame about anything, including starring in a reality television show titled Gene Simmons Family Jewels.)

The question I have though — aside from whether or not he and Miley Cyrus are twins separated at birth — is if he’s trending more David Cassidy or Leif Garrett. A few years back, the same Facebook feed, Yahoo! homepage and soundless flat screens in public places showed a Justin Bieber who had a watchful parent and well-mannered mentor. This might give him the David Cassidy edge — a guy shaking loose a goody-two-shoes image who otherwise has it together. But getting charged with a DUI and resisting arrest after drag racing your Lamborghini through a residential neighborhood seems a bit more Leif Garrett in its recklessness. (Click on the link, and you’ll see that Leif has already shared his wisdom on this subject.) Granted, today’s public is more indifferent about naked Rolling Stone covers, and teen idols looking for that kind of attention have to work (or twerk) much harder.

Comments, comments, please! What do you think? Is Justin more David or Leif? I haven’t yet made up my mind.

Music as a Time Machine

One of my uncles with the next generation at Lake Michigan.

One of my uncles with the next generation at Lake Michigan.

I’ve heard that smell is the strongest sense for memory, but for me it’s hearing, specifically music. Songs are like snapshots, and there are certain ones that every time I hear them, it’s like a photo has slipped out of an album onto the floor, and when I pick it up, my mind is flushed with memory.

This is different from hearing a song that was played at your wedding or a favorite album from high school. These songs have meaning only so far as they remind me of an certain era of my life and are otherwise unrelated to what was happening at the time. Chicago’s “If You Leave Me Now,” is such a song.

When I was a child, my brothers, especially the older of the two, and I were the most spoiled niece and nephews on the planet. My mom was the oldest of six kids. She was from what I later understood to be a stereotypical big Irish family, all packed in a post-World-War-II tract house in Merrillville, Indiana — a place where the door was open to all manner of friends and future family and people parked their cars on the lawn, because there wasn’t enough room in the driveway. It was a working-class neighborhood where people didn’t care about the impropriety of such a thing.  There was lots of noise and teasing and competition and love.

The house was tiny. When we stayed overnight, people were either displaced to the living room couch and floor, or we ended up there, where we were woken at probably something like 1 a.m. by my just-over-legal-drinking-age uncles upon their return from The Chatterbox. They were funny guys with an affinity for the kind of humor that amused school-age kids, and we’d laugh so hard that we’d beg them to stop because our stomach muscles hurt.

Each summer we’d spend a week there, visiting the drive-in theater, McDonald’s, the Venture store for toys and the beaches at Indiana Dunes. One my uncles had an old blue car, the kind with bench seats, and whenever I hear “If You Leave Me Now,” I am back in that car again, on my way to Lake Michigan where my brother and I are going to be tossed into the water dozens of times and given the largest soft-serve ice cream cone we could imagine on the way home. I’m looking down at the floor mats, my hand on the back of the passenger side of the front seat, leaning forward in expectation. I’m barefoot, and there are grains of sand that roll around under my big toe because it’s August, and the car has already made the trip to the lake more than a few times that summer.

“If You Leave Me Now” was popular one particular summer (of many like this), but it wasn’t as if every time we turned on the radio we’d hear it. I knew it was meant to be sad, but it wasn’t to me. There were probably songs we heard more often, but it was that moment of awareness that pulled it all together like a finishing thread.

No one from my family lives in that house anymore. Everyone has moved on to places where parking on the front yard would elicit some very confused looks from neighbors and possibly even a visit from law enforcement (or the community’s security officer). I haven’t seen pictures from that time for a decade, at least. For now, I don’t need to. I have a song from the soundtrack.

My Old Friend, Boston’s First Album

Boston's first album

It’s my birthday week again and time for more Songs That Shaped A Life. (Funny how quickly 365 days go by.)

I have a memory from when I was young of an album cover propped up against the paneled wall of my aunt’s bedroom — Boston’s first. At the time, I was a kid with limited musical tastes and experience. None of the songs on the album were familiar to me, but the visual was like a crack in a door to a room filled with the privileges of teen-hood. My aunt was just five years older than me, and I couldn’t wait for someday when I would be as cool as the older kids whose record collections expanded with the addition of such eye candy.

Sometime between then and my freshman year in college, I became more familiar with the songs on that first album. But the buzz about Boston faded with their second album, and in the midst of MTV, Michael Jackson and the 80s British Invasion, there were few opportunities to get to know the music of a band whose sound became written off as “corporate rock.” You could hear them only on AOR and, eventually, the classic rock stations that emerged when the spread between Poison and Zepplin became a divide too large to cross at one point on the dial.

A couple of weekends after I arrived at college, one of my new friends suggested we visit an old friend of hers who was living in a fraternity house off campus. He happened to be roommates with someone I knew from high school, and we ended up being there a couple of times a week. Blasting from the stereo in any number of rooms was the debut album by Boston.

It was a strange choice for a bunch of 20-year-olds in the late-80s. But it was in this building that I learned the words to “Peace of Mind” and “Hitch A Ride,” and began to appreciate the music. The evenings would begin with the relatively tame “More Than A Feeling,” and by the time it got to “Rock-n-Roll Band,” the party was in full swing, peaking with “Smokin,” then settling into “Let Me Take You Home Tonight”. Whoever organized that track list understood the principles of climax and denouement.

Instead of becomimg more rigid about music as I aged, I actually expanded my knowledge. Over the years, I learned more about Boston and came to understand why this album was so significant and how talented they were. It’s funny that this album once meant something entirely different to me, but that in a strange way it has been with me at various points in my life. Right now, I think it’s in slot one in my car’s CD player. If you roll up next to me at a stoplight and are crazy enough to open your window in a Chicago January, you’ll hear it drowning out my very bad interpretation of Brad Delp.

Cruising Tunes

cassette in carInsurance.com recently did a survey on best and worst driving songs, and when I got over my jealousy of the marketing team who worked on that program, I thought about the general subject of listening to music in the car. The number one pick was “Don’t Stop Believing” by Journey, which actually makes sense to me, though one might think something like “Drive My Car” or “Radar Love” would take the top spot.

When I was in college, my friends and I would enjoy what we called a “campus cruise.” We would pile into someone’s car and drive around the campus and adjacent student-housing areas just to see if we could catch anything interesting in action. Two gentlemen a few ladies in my group were interested in lived (or hung out at, I can’t remember) the same house, so it was convenient to drive around that block a couple of times. But mostly we meandered with no specific destination in mind. While the idea of this now is probably incredibly offensive to young folks, this was the 80s, and Ronald Reagan had been assuring us for years that it was our God-given American right to not deprive ourselves of any pleasure, as the world — and everything in it — was ours for the taking, especially petroleum products.

So, after plopping out of bed well after the sun rose and devouring a lukewarm pizza from the student union, we’d hop in someone’s car, roll out of the parking lot and pop in one very special cassette — Kick by INXS.

There is nothing on Kick about driving. “Don’t Stop Believing” isn’t about cruising either, but you can imagine why it was the top choice. It’s a turn-up-the-volume-and-belt-it-out anthem that transports you to a place where you are unashamed of who you are, what you want and what’s happened to you. For whatever reason, it seems like when we are behind the wheel of our car, we are in a place that is both public and private. We can sing out loud… to whatever we want… even if it’s Steve Perry and we have no chance of hitting more than four of the notes he does.

We didn’t sing to Kick. We generally ignored or fast-forwarded through the opening song, “Guns in the Sky,” but we did rap along to “Mediate”. We thought we were totally cool to “Devil Inside”. We imagined someone singing “Need You Tonight” to us, maybe even Michael Hutchence himself. Why not? We were in the car. Your imagination can take you anywhere when you’re in the car.

Kick was an obvious choice in the late-80s for a group of gals, but there is something very open-road-freeing about that album for most people, I think. It’s actually one of my husband’s favorites — a guilty pleasure for him, because his standards for musicianship at the time were so high it was surprising Kick even was a blip on his radar. The music is punchy and celebratory, like sticking your arm out the open window on the highway… before you became aware of the rare possibility that a pebble or some other small object could pop up from under the wheel of the car in front of you and puncture your skin and, in turn, starting telling your kids to keep their hands and arms in the car until you got to the last block before home.

The more I write about this, the more I miss it, and its context. A song like “Mediate” told us that the world really wasn’t all right, and several of us had already caught on to the false prophecy of the Reagan years. But we weren’t quite ready for reality. We knew it was coming, but it was our time to savor the last bits of youth.