|Meat Loaf, Bat Out of Hell, 1977|
In 1977, Meat Loaf released the rock-operatic album Bat Out of Hell. It first came strongly to my notice when I was a young adult, working at the grocery store. One of my good friends (Rita the meter maid) was a little older than me, and had a much wider musical taste. I had been listening to the tape in my car for a while when we went on a bus to a Twins game. The store did a lot of stuff like that--paying for the bus and letting as many of us as possible take the day off, providing "pop" and snacks on the bus-ride, and getting reduced-price tickets for the game. (It was a good year for those Twinkies, too.)
On one memorable night, pretty much everybody on the bus was at least a little toasted, if not completely drunk. Someone's boom box was playing, and the song "You Took the Words Right Out of my Mouth" came on. One of the stockboys stood up at the front of the bus to sing Jim Steinman's part, while I stood in the back and sang Marcia McClain's. "On a hot summer night..."
I missed the beginning of the phenomenon that is R.E.M. I was too provincial, or too sheltered, to have discovered it on my own. A friend made a mix tape for me when we were about to graduate from high school. One of the songs was "Superman", from Lifes Rich Pageant (released in 1986). (Yes, there is no apostrophe.) It was one of those watershed songs, a breakthrough time in my musical history. I own every R.E.M. release. Theirs are the first songs I turn to when mixing CDs. If there is any one band that sings the soundtrack of my young adult life, it is R.E.M.
"Trust me when I say I know the pathway to your heart"
Hunters & Collectors. Do you know Hunters & Collectors? If not, you ought to. The band formed in 1981 in Melbourne. Though the lineup has varied over the years, their guitarist/singer/songwriter, Mark Seymour, is a mainstay. I became a fan after my former physical therapist, an Australian tennis player named Wolfgang, introduced me to their music. It is a sort of easy, guitar-strong rock that brings to mind muscle cars, late nights, and wild beach parties. My favorite of their songs is from Human Frailty (1986): "Throw Your Arms Around Me."
"You will make me call your name, and I'll shout it to the blue summer sky..."
1988 was a pivotal year for me. High school graduation, the start of college, and a whole lot of associated drama and excitement. There are a whole lot of songs that take me right back to that time and place and boatload of feelings, but maybe none so much as Journey's "Ask the Lonely" (from Greatest Hits). There's something so earnest and rocked out and strong and emotional about it.
Of course it helps that it was sung by Steve Perry, who is the voice of Journey for me.
"You know, with every heartbeat, we love.
Nothing comes easy..."
I was a sophomore in college when I met my future roommate, Christine. She took a job in the same campus office in which I'd been working for the past year already. We were friends but not really really close. Somewhere along the line, though, we decided to get an apartment together for junior year. One thing led to another which led to another, and we looked for a place for three (with the addition of my very good friend Mike), and then we ended up with another (Christopher, a.k.a. Dickhead) when our landlords executed a clever bit of manipulation.
The point is that Chris and I became much better friends over that period, to the point that she invited me out to stay at her parents' place for a long weekend. Part of the rationale was that our favorite band--Depeche Mode--was playing at Summerfest (opened by Nitzer Ebb, a dirty little music secret I hold to this day). Their terrific album Violator had just come out (this was 1990) and we just couldn't get enough. My favorite song then, and still, is "Sweetest Perfection."
"Takes me completely
Touches me sweetly
Reaches so deeply..."
It was also the start of my tentative edging back to the music of my roots, the true country upon which I'd been raised. I started listening, here and there, to some Johnny Cash and some Willie Nelson, and learned about some newer acts along those same veins. One of them was Clint Black. I bought his album The Greatest Hits, and was blown away by the song "Like the Rain."
My best guy friend in Michigan was my boss, Andy. We were good friends when we worked together, and even closer after he left, and then I did, too. We had similar tastes and sensibilities, despite having grown up in quite different ways. It was hard to leave him when we moved to Illinois after finishing grad school.
We remained friends, though. We'd call periodically, and email, and visited a couple of times, too. I will never forget one call. I had just gotten out of the shower - like, I didn't take the time to dry off, just ran for the phone - and spent at least two hours wrapped in a damp towel, sitting on the floor between the bed and the wall next to the window, talking and laughing and missing him like crazy. During that conversation, he was very excited to tell me about a new song that he couldn't stop listening to. It was called "Barely Breathing", from Duncan Sheik's debut album, Duncan Sheik (1998).
"Will it ever change?"
I've always loved the band Live. Ed Kowalczyk fascinated me from the first (see, e.g., these posts). When The Distance to Here came out in 1999, I bought it full-price from Best Buy, which should indicate how serious was my affection. My favorite song from the album is "Dance With You," which combines a rare lyricism with Kowalczyk's trademark soul. I could listen to this song twice a day, every day, and never get tired of it.
"the stillness in your eyes
convinces me that I -
I don't know a thing"
I recently took a FB quiz, surprisingly long and involved, to find the song that's essentially "me". The result? "Hey There, Delilah" by Plain White T's (from 2005's All That We Needed). I was surprised because it's nothing I'd ever known anything about before, but careful listening and lyrical analysis makes me realize: it's a great fit.
"Don't you worry about the distance;
I'm right there if you get lonely.
Give this song another listen--
Close your eyes,
Listen to my voice; it's my disguise.
I'm by your side."
Bonus: three television shows with the best obscure music
Criminal Minds, including:
"My Side of the Story" by Hodges (two episodes in Season 5)
"Let It Be Me" by Ray LaMontagne (Season 6 & Season 8)
"As It Seems" by Lily Kershaw (Season 6 & Season 7)
"Hallelujah" by Rufus Wainwright (Season 7)
"Precious Stone" by JR Richards feat. Jason Kolter (season 9)
Stirling's "Turn Up the Dark" (Season 2)
Dala's "Butterfly to Wasp" (Season 2)
"Fortress" by Dala (Season 1)
"Lost at Sea" by Hugh Dillon (Season 1)
"Weightless" by Black Lab (Season 2)
"All Roads Lead Home" by Golden State (Season 3)
"Clearwater" by JR Richards (season 4)
[the title quotation is by Haruki Murakami, from Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World]