All I Really Need to Know I Learned from Classic Rock

Life's encyclopedia.

Life’s encyclopedia.

If you celebrate enough birthdays (even if you are “forever 39”), you learn a few things. But where did all this wisdom come from? Turns out there is a fourth R — Reading, wRiting, aRithmatic and Rock.

Turns out all I really need to know I learned from classic rock.

If you cling too tightly, you’re gonna lose control.
(Hold On Loosely, .38 Special)

Better recognize your brothers, everyone you meet.
(Instant Karma, John Lennon)

Hold on to 16 as long as you can. Changes come around real soon make us women and men.
(Jack and Diane, John Mellancamp)

The suburbs have no charms to soothe the restless dreams of youth.
(Subdivisions, Rush)

Maybe it’s not too late to learn how to love and forget how to hate.
(Crazy Train, Ozzy Osbourne)

The love you take is equal to the love you make.
(The End, The Beatles)

And it came to pass that rock-n-roll was born.
(Let There Be Rock, AC/DC)

Nothing lasts forever but the earth and sky.
(Dust In The Wind, Kansas)

Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone.
(Big Yellow Taxi, Joni Mitchell)

Time waits for no one, and it won’t wait for me.
(Time Waits For No One, The Rolling Stones)

If there’s a bustle in your hedgerow, don’t be alarmed, now. It’s just a spring clean for the May Queen.
(Stairway to Heaven, Led Zepplin)

War, what is it good for? Absolutely nothin’.
(War, Edwin Star)

I hope the Russians love their children too.
(Russians, Sting)

It doesn’t really matter which side you’re on. You’re walking away, and they’re talking behind you.
(New Kid In Town, The Eagles)

The problem is all inside your head.
(50 Ways To Leave Your Lover, Paul Simon)

Traveling twice the speed of sound, it’s easy to get burned.
(Just A Song Before I Go, Crosby, Stills & Nash)

I’ll love you with all the madness in my soul.
(Born To Run, Bruce Springsteen)

Send it off in a letter to yourself.
(Rikky Don’t Lose That Number, Steely Dan)

There’s too many places I’ve got to see.
(Freebird, Lynyrd Skynyrd)

There ain’t no Coup de Ville hiding at the bottom of a Cracker Jack box.
(Two Out Of Three Ain’t Bad, Meat Loaf)

So teach your children well, GenX, and keep that throwback rock station on the presets. It’s called classic for a reason.


Photo credit — Unger


RIP, Glenn Frey

Life's wisdom on the dial.

Life’s wisdom on the dial.

The people of my generation were not just raised by our families and our communities. We were raised by the radio, the people who chose the songs and the artists who created them.

This past week has been a tough one for those of us who learned about the world through rock’s classic years, with the loss of Bowie last Monday and Glenn Frey today. Though I would say that I am more of a Bowie fan, it’s Frey’s passing that makes me uneasy.

Bowie was ethereal, singing about worlds that exist at the edges of our minds, giving us an escape from the everyday, even if it wasn’t always a pleasant journey. The Eagles taught me more about the world I was living in and would inhabit — the common experiences, the pain, the complexity that comes with just living a life.

A few years back at a party I was asked to advocate in favor of the Eagles during a marital disagreement about the band. My best argument was this — they are among rock’s greatest story-tellers.

And they are the writers behind one of my very favorite songs of all time. I am grateful that their music played a role in shaping my view of the world.


Photo credit — Adrian Keith/

Songs That Make Life Better


Yes, I have a copy of the soundtrack to “Times Square” on vinyl!

There’s this great post over at 500 Reasons Why The 80s Didn’t Suck on 52 songs you could not live without. (Truthful blog title, by they way. Eighties music doesn’t suck, and I’m happy to debate the point with anyone.) This is great inspiration for Songs That Shaped A Life, because… how could I live without my songs?

I’m going to put a little twist on this. Thinking of 52 songs I can’t live without leaves 100s alone and unmentioned. So, this list is 25 songs that make my life better. Call it my birthday mix tape. It may not look the same next year, but for now, here goes…

“Maiden Chant,” Liz Story
“Maybe I’m Amazed,” Paul McCartney
“Don’t Tell Me You Love Me,” Night Ranger
“Shake the Disease,” Depeche Mode
“Panama,” Van Halen
“Supermassive Black Hole,” Muse
“I Will Possess Your Heart,” Death Cab for Cutie
“You Don’t Have To Cry,” Crosby, Stills & Nash
“Cowboys and Angels,” George Michael
“Song for the Dead,” Queens of the Stone Age
“New Kid In Town,” The Eagles
“Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want,” The Smiths
“Blue Monday,” New Order
“Green and Gray,” Nickel Creek
“Dream Brother,” Jeff Buckley
“Magic Man,” Heart
“To Live and Die in LA,” Wang Chung
“Love Is The Answer,” England Dan & John Ford Coley
“Here Comes The Rain Again,” Eurythmics
“Madonna of the Wasps,” Robyn Hitchcock & The Egyptians
“Eyes of the World,” The Grateful Dead
“You’re the Best Thing That Ever Happened to Me,” Gladys Night & The Pips
“The Killing Moon,” Echo & The Bunnymen
“Champagne Supernova,” Oasis
“Gymnopedies,” Erik Satie, composer

Why these? I recall that each of these had me within the first verse, sometimes just with the opening notes. There are plenty more, though, so I’m not sure why I am even attempting such a list.

Feel free to comment with any of your own. You’ll probably remind me of number 26, number 27…

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.

The Song That Changed Everything

Venus and Mars were all right that night.

Venus and Mars were all right that night.

In July of 1994, I was a young lady in the latter half of her 20s building a career, hanging out with friends, playing volleyball at North Avenue Beach and packing up her apartment to move across the alley from a studio to a one-bedroom.

One Friday evening that month, I took a break from the boxes and newspaper to meet a friend whose friend’s band was playing at a bar two blocks away. Something felt very different about that evening. I told myself it was buzz about the move.

At the bar, I was introduced to a guy who was cute, seemed nice and was a friend of a friend of a friend, which was considered something along the lines of an endorsement. We struck up a conversation that was very much like many others I’d had in bars on Friday nights… until a song came on that I would never expect to hear in a crowded Halsted Street drinking establishment, “Listen To What The Man Said,” by Paul McCartney.

In that moment, when the bouncy beat launched into, “Anytime, any day, you can hear the people say,” something changed. We were no longer two kids in a bar in Lincoln Park having a superficial conversation about how much we liked the Bulls. We connected on a deeper level.

I felt safe revealing my music nerd self and told him how much I loved Paul McCartney. He said that although he wasn’t a Beatles fan (I made sure that changed), he did like songs from Wings because they reminded him of his childhood. Was this love at first sight?

Maybe it was love at first discussion about rock music, a pastime that continues to this day. One of my favorite things is to talk about music with my husband. It probably always will be. The other day I asked if I was really going to be 72 years old sitting around listening to 1984 and talking to him about Van Halen. He confirm that, yeah, I probably would.

When we married three years later, we actually chose different McCartney songs for our first and final dances. This one was too tied to the magic of that first chance meeting. There was something so spontaneous about how it happened, and it is at its most perfect left as the song that brought us together.

My once and future favorites

Who could resist this album art? It is a post unto itself!

Who could resist this album art? It is a post unto itself!

I knew lyrics to Beatles songs before I could understand them. When I was three years old, I was weaned on a steady musical diet of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. The songs on this album are the soundtrack of some of my life’s first memories (along with “I Think I Love You” and “Sugar, Sugar”), and I believe that my views of the world were formed, in part, by what I heard in the music and lyrics.

I distinctly remember being three or four and cycling the lyrics to “She’s Leaving Home” through my mind, which was not at all prepared to understand the meaning of the song. I stumbled over the line, “She breaks down and cries to her husband, ‘Daddy, our baby’s gone.’” I wondered what in the world a husband-daddy was, and when it became too complex to imagine, I gave up and just sang along. I was probably ten before I reconsidered those words and then understood. That was about the time my interest in The Beatles was reignited and being mature enough to comprehend what they were saying was akin to finding hidden treasure under my swing set… it was always there but just waiting for the right moment.

The Beatles exposed my young mind to all kinds of other questions, such as:

  • Why would a banker wear a guy named Mac when it rains?
  • What spooky things were going on at that benefit for Mr. Kite?
  • Why did Eleanor Rigby wear a mask? I muddled this with Halloween and trick-or-treating and came up with a very odd image that perhaps I’ll share with Tim Burton if I ever meet him.

Early exposure to The Beatles is a beautiful thing. I can think of no collection of modern artists more appropriate to provide a lifelong love of popular music. When my children were born, I picked songs for each of them from the Lennon & McCartney collection, In My Life,” and “Here, There and Everywhere”.

They will always be my favorite band.

What is Rod Stewart really trying to say?

Is there really an American Songbook III by Rod Stewart?

Is there really a Great American Songbook III by Rod Stewart? On of the songs on the album is “Isn’t It Romantic?” I guess Rod learned a thing or two about love since “Hot Legs.”

The push-pull between misogyny and female worship in rock music is classic. If you listen to lyrics from some songs, it’s hard to consider how someone had the nerve to sing them, let alone put them down on paper. And sometimes I end up laughing out loud imaging such words stripped of their melodious backdrop and left alone to be judged on their own merits.

This morning, it was Rod Stewart’s “Hot Legs” that put me in this frame of mind.

Who’s that knocking on my door? It’s gotta be quarter to four. Is it your, my friend, coming ’round for more? Hmmm… so someone is seeking something he has, at a time to seems to be rather inconvenient. And by “quarter to four,” does he mean a.m. or p.m.? This would reveal a lot.

You can love me tonight if you want. But in the morning make sure you’re gone. Ok, question answered, though if he said a.m. in the first place, “love” would have been one of my three guesses as to what this visitor sought. Yet, he tells this person to leave in the morning, so how long does he think this is going to take? Because sunrise is on its way.

I’m talking to you. Hot legs… wearing me out. Hot legs… you can scream and shout. Hot legs… are you still in school? I love you honey. Clearly he wants us to think that this woman is young, because I don’t think he’s talking about graduate school. Yet, he never does refer to his visitor as female, so I guess I am making some assumptions with this one.

Got a most persuasive tongue. You promise all kinds of fun. But what you don’t understand… I’m a working man. Are we supposed to believe that Rod is concerned about his ability to concentrate on the job after his early-morning rendezvous with Hottie? Perhaps he wants us to think of him as a responsible individual who’s considering the big picture of this encounter. But, given his indications that he thinks Hottie might be a minor, I’m not buying it at this point.

Hot legs… you’re an alley cat. Hot legs… you scratch my back.  Hot legs… bring your mother too. I love you honey. Really? Hottie’s mother? Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha.

It gets worse…

Imagine how my daddy felt… in your jet black suspender belt. Seventeen years old… he’s touching sixty-four. There are so many ways one can go with this, and none of them bode well for Rod, in my opinion. Either Hottie is a paid professional or Rod’s dad is a better-looking dude at 64 than Rod is at whatever age he’s supposed to be in the song. The best-case-scenario is that his dad is young-at-heart (as in he’s 17 years old and just shy of 64). But with these parental references, I don’t think Rod has a chance of wooing anyone with these lyrics at this point.

As the song wraps up, Rod goes on to tell Hottie to keep her hands to herself and asks a couple of more times if she’s still in school. Ultimately, he does admit to her that she’s making him a fool. And that’s the most truthful thing I heard in the entire three-plus minutes that I subjected myself to this song. One can only hope that this was a sarcastic message from Rod to his fellow songwriters about the perils of chauvinistic rock-n-roll cliches.

I must add that the flip side to “Hot Legs” in the UK was “I Was Only Joking,” so perhaps Rod just had a cheeky sense of humor all along.

Completely fascinated by Fleetwood Mac’s “Rumours”

Is anyone else completely fascinated by Rumours?  Get a few drinks in me — or just get me started on my tangent — and I will talk your ear off about this subject.

I was sitting around with a bunch of friends the other night, all of whom emphatically expressed their admiration of Fleetwood Mac, but what songs did they mention?  Nothing released post-Rumours.

Here’s how I see it, and I may suffer from false information or perception, so those with true knowledge can correct me if I’m wrong.  In the late-60s/early-70s, Fleetwood Mac was a “muscian’s band,” in the sense that other musicians appreciated their music, but they had limited, if any, commercial success.  When Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks joined, they were considered more like add-ons versus future stars of the group.  But their talent was fueled by their faltering romance, and Fleetwood Mac completed a HUGE masterpiece that they were never able to come close to replicating again, despite the competency of all involved.  Certainly, the other members of the band — Mick Fleetwood and Christie and John McVie added their own “spice of life” into the mix.

This story never fails to absorb my mind when I consider it.  Think about Tusk, think about the solo careers, think about “Tell me lies, tell me sweet little lies…”.  This stuff is nothing compared to the solid rock hits they nailed on Rumours.  Not only are the songs tight and terrific, you can actually hear the angst that fuels the power in tracks like “You Can Go Your Own Way” or “The Chain”.  Talk about what the anguish of failed relationships and hedonistic behavior can do for a band’s ability to create universally adored music!

Rumours was Fleetwood Mac’s 11th album.  Fleetwood Mac before it also featured the Buckingham/Nicks line-up, but neither in the years before nor the years after did they do anything even close to this.  This album reportedly sold over 40 million copies.  This album is probably in your big brothers’ (or your own) record collection.  You might even have it on vinyl.  The intern at your office might even have it on iTunes.  This is a piece of work that truly stands on its merits, because it wouldn’t have this kind of staying power if it didn’t.

The case I am trying to make is that you can be a great songwriter, musician and performer and never reach this level of accomplishment.  That’s a total understatement… of course that happens.  But, if it hadn’t been for all that the band had been going through, would they have pulled off something like Rumours at all?