Your Life in Radio Singles

Nick Hornby signing books at Central Library, ...
You were the first Goonie.

The discussion on the “A Few More Things Your Kids Won’t Do, Generation X” post inspired me to follow up on a project I started a few years ago.  Everyone gets those Nick Hornby-inspired Facebook memes (“15 Albums That Changed Your Life”), and as much as we identify with certain collections of songs our favorite artists put out at pivotal (I am “What’s The Story (Morning Glory?)” in case you were wondering), I think an inventory of radio singles is a much better sampling.  First of all, there are more of them, and radio singles are more accessible sooner than the esoterica of record stores.  (Speaking of which, I’m pretty sure we stilled called them record stores well after they stopped selling vinyl records…but that’s a whole other esoteric discussion.)  So, your life in radio singles.  What would it look like?

Some rules:

  • They have to be singles that you remember the release of, either on the radio or on television.
  • They must evoke a person, time, place or way of being whenever you hear them.
  • You must list them chronologically, or as Rob from High Fidelity has it, autobiographical.

I’ll start.

An Innocent Man (song)
Oh yes I am.

1. “An Innocent Man” by Billy Joel, 1983.

2. “Uptown Girl” by Billy Joel, 1983.

3. “Gloria” by Laura Branigan, 1983.

4. “The Longest Time” by Billy Joel, 1984.

*1, 2, and 4: I listened to this album all the time in the basement with my dad in the house we lived in when I was born.  We had a silver analog stereo, and I remember wondering where the songs and singers went when they faded out.  We watched cartoons, practiced spelling, reading, and boxing and listened to Billy Joel. I danced and jumped to the doo-wop grooves of this album and made the record to skip.  This would directly lead to the need for digital audio in the Cocca household.  3: I remember seeing this performed on one of those awesome pop shows.

5. “Take On Me” by A-ha, 1984. One of the first music videos I ever saw. It was a cartoon. And it was perfect.

Born in the USA
I went with this instead of the "Born in the USA" cover. Sorry, ladies.

6. “Born In The USA” by Bruce Springsteen, 1984. My dad had this one too. I remember singing the chorus as loud as I could in my room.

7. “Ghostbusters” by Ray Parker, Jr., 1984.  If you were a kid in the 80s with any access to a radio, you loved this song. I had a Ghostbusters mirror from a fair in my room. It fell off the wall and broke, probably because I was dancing too enthusiastically to “Ghostbusters” by Ray Parker, Jr.

Speaking of.  8.”Dancing On the Ceiling” by Lionel Richie, 1986. Dancing. On. The. Ceiling! I remember this in conjunction with being at my cousins’ house and seeing  the Latter Day Saints commercial where the little boy takes a groceries to his lonely neighbor.

9. “You Can Call Me Al” by Paul Simon, 1986. Another one I remember because of the video. And the trombone.

10. “True Blue” by Madonna, 1986. Walking around my grandma’s development and singing it to show my older cousins that I knew a Madonna song.

11. “Luka” by Suzanne Vega, 1987. The 80’s could be effing scary.

12. “(You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (To Party!)” by the Beastie Boys, 1987.  I was licensed to spill.

13. “Superstitious” by Europe, 1988. Because I decided I should start watching MTV and have a favorite hairband. I was 8.

14. “Kokomo” by the Beach Boys, 1988. Cocktail and Uncle Jesse were everywhere that year. Elementary school music class “bring your favorite tape to school day” was no exception. What a cool song. Hard to believe Mike everlovin’ Love wrote it without Brian.

15. “Make Me Lose Control” by Eric Carmen, 1988. My sister was 3 and LOVED this song.

Rock the House (album)
Too literal? Too fresh!

16. “Parents Just Don’t Understand” by DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince, 1988. The first rap song I can really remember.

17. “Nightmare On My Street” by DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince, 1988. My cousin and I were at our grandparents’ house and called the station to request this one. We got through and got on air and listened to it on our Pop’s radio in his den. I dedicated it “to everybody.” I think it was Halloween.

18. “Straight Up” by Paula Abdul, 1989. I was in fourth grade. She was so hot. And the video was awesome.

19. “Batdance” by Prince, 1989. From the Batman soundtrack. My cousin insisted that Prince said the f-word in it. Dancers were dressed like half Jokers/half Batmen. Started watching Vh1 around this time.

20. “Cherish” by Madonna, 1989. Reminded me of The Association. Thought she was pretty. Wanted to live underwater.

21. “Right Here Waiting” by Richard Marx, 1989. Do I listen to pop music because I’m miserable, or am I miserable because I listen to pop music?


22. “Runnin’ Down A Dream” by Tom Petty, 1989. Cartoon video. Awesome song.  Discovered it (and Tom Petty) while looking for something to watch.

23. “Free Fallin'” by Tom Petty, 1989. Two kids singing this on the escalator at the mall. She loves Jesus? And America? I am 9 and so do I.

24. “Wicked Game” by Chris Isaak, 1989. This is when I started to realize there was something inexplicably beautiful about being heartsick. Could longing be better than having? Wait, what? Nevermind.  Baseball cards!

25. “We Didn’t Start The Fire” by Billy Joel, 1989.

26. “Another Day In Paradise” by Phil Collins, 1989.

25. “I Wish It Would Rain Down” by Phil Collins, 1989.

27. “Leningrad” by Billy Joel, 1989.

28. “The Downeaster Alexa” by Billy Joel, 1990.

29. “Nothing Compares 2 U” by Sinead O’Connor, 1990.

I'm totally bald, guys.

*25-29: I memorized “We Didn’t Start The Fire” for a poetry recital and explicated “Another Day In Paradise” for an English project. These tracks and these albums crystallized some early ideas about social justice, history, politics, longing, work…

30. “Black Velvet” by Allanah Myles, 1990. In addition to Jesus, I must now also come to terms with Elvis. Staying up late on Friday nights watching Vh1 and the Family Channel with my mom.

31. “One More Try” by Timmy T, 1990. I wonder what kinds of things people do to screw relationships up. Driving to my grandparents’ house past the municipal golf course and hearing it on the radio.

32. “No Myth” by Michael Penn, 1990. I had trouble sleeping as a kid. I used to listen to the local adult contemporary station every night and I really loved all these 1989/1990 songs. And black jeans.

33: “I’ve Been Thinking About You” by Londonbeat, 1990. See above. Sha-pop-pop. I’d often hear “No Myth” and “I’ve Been Thinking About You” back-to-back on ninety-six-one. And “King of Wishful Thinking” and so many other classics. “Wicked Game” was like a bonus.

34. “It Must Have Been Love” by Roxette, 1990. I remember hearing this in the car for the first time.

35. “Hazard” by Richard Marx, 1991. Mystical. This is one of the great narrative videos of the early 90s. I buy Rush Street.

36. “Baby, Baby” by Amy Grant, 1991. And everything else from Heart In Motion.

37. “Everything I Do (I Do It For You)” by Bryan Adams, 1991. Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves Soundtrack. Video plays at the end of the VHS tape. This is the single greatest “couples” song ever played at any elementary school skating party. I am in 6th grade and am smitten. See #21.

38. “Losing My Religion” by R.E.M. One of these arty grown up bands they’re playing on Vh1 when I’m 11. More of this, please. I hear it walking past the Tilt-A-Whirl at Dorney Park.

He found you at Kmart. I taped you on a Kenwood.

39. “Motownphilly” by Boyz II Men, 1991. I don’t think anything needs to be said about this song. I borrowed the album from my cousin and dubbed it. They came to the Allentown Fair that year with Hammer and TLC. I was not allowed to go.

40. “It’s So Hard To Say Goodbye To Yesterday” by Boyz II Men, 1991. See above. These guys were the real deal.

41. “End of the Road” by Boyz II Men, 1992. See above. Still waiting for theuppityupalexvanderpoolera.

42. “Just Another Day” by John Secada, 1992. Remember Adult Contemporary?  Do you miss it as much as I do?

43. “Jesus Is Still Alright” by DC Talk, 1992. Samples the Doobie Brothers, Madonna, and Snap! The video on that Christian station out of Bethlehem makes me want to grow a goatee. Nathan Key turns me on to Free At Last.

44. “The One” by Elton John, 1992. And we’re back to see #21 above.

Redaction: I forgot “Into The Great Wide Open” by Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, 1991. The early 90’s music video aesthetic is something I miss. Petty was dressing like a hippie pirate at this point and I first heard this song on SNL. When you’re a kid, and you’ve sort of grown up on a certain album by a certain artist, and then you start getting a little older and that artist releases something new, it’s sort of like John on Patmos. This is a great track with a great narrative video on a great album from a great artist. When I was 11, this is what I was listening to instead of Nirvana.

Part 2 forthcoming next month.


Nick Hornby image via Wikipedia. Billy Joel image via Wikipedia, fair use. Bruce Springsteen image by werejellyfish via Flickr. JJ/FP, Phil Collins, and Boyz II Men images via Wikipedia, fair use.

15 thoughts on “Your Life in Radio Singles

  1. Niccccccce. I didn’t start recognising your songs until You can Call me Al, no. 9. My dad used to play it all the time when we were on the road, sometimes 7-hour trips. I know the words by heart :). Great post! K

  2. I feel like you have written this post before. I’ve missed so much shared culture by not following current popular music at any time. The first song on your list that I can remember knowing as a child is “Kokomo”, and that would have been around 1992. I am actually very surprised to find that it had been released in my lifetime, since I knew it as part of an oldies collection. The only other songs on this list that I can even recognize by name are numbers 1, 2, 4, 5, 6, 12, 22, 23, 25, and 38, and I first (consciously) heard those after I was in high school at least (1996).

    In the late 80s and early 90s my musical tastes (inherited from my parents, of course) consisted of Motown and classic country on cassette or radio stations. I’ve never watched MTV or VH1, though I did collect music videos that my favorite artists had released a decade or more earlier for a time. I am sure that I did hear some of these other songs as department store background, but none of them made any impression on me.

    1. It’s a revision of a much earlier post that’s been offline for a while. Good memory! I was always into oldies as a kid and still am. I was also a big Monkees fan (still am) because of their show being rerun on Nick at Nite and hearing them on the oldies stations.

  3. Wow, I loved this! #5 Take on Me was so cool as a music video. I loved how the cartoon became real life and vice versa. Here are mine.

    1. “Roxanne Roxanne” UTFO 1984 Loved this song so much I convinced my parents to let my sister and I go to their concert. They dropped us off at their daytime concert in Oakland. They shopped in Chinatown while we, a 13 y/o and 9 y/o grooved in an auditorium.

    2. “When Doves Cry” Prince 1984 I’m still a HUGE Prince fan. I remember the kids in class talking about wanting to go to his concert.

    3. “Walk This Way” Run DMC 1986, I never really liked metal, but I loved the Aerosmith mix in. I loved the video and can remember Steven Tyler screaming into the mic.

    4. “Fight for Your Right” Beastie Boys 1987. I remember a friend and I loved this song. When I hear this song, I can hear her yelling down the hall, “Hey Sophomore!!”

    Good times. :-)

    1. Excellent! Prince is great. You have to love His Royal Badness. “Fight For Your Right” was everyone. I was only 6 or 7, but I knew it was cool to like that song, and I knew it was a kids’ song and not a grown-ups’ song, if that makes sense.

  4. Holy cannoli! Are you from the tri-state area? Your collection resembles those of a lot of people I know…….are you from Jersey?
    There’s no way I could compile a list like that…bravo!
    There is one song I remember listening to in 8th grade at a “boy/girl party” in red-headed Richie’s basement: “Paradise by the Dashboard Light” by Meatloaf. We listened to every word and tried to analyze the hidden innuendoes in the lyrics (so….then… “paradise” was her……oh…I get it!.)
    We thought we were all that and a bag of chips.

    1. ha! not so hidden, were they?

      I’m from PA, so depending which three states we mean, yes. I also lived in CT for a time. Billy Joel and Bruce Springsteen are bigger in Philadelphia than anywhere else in the world. The area were the Sixers and Flyers play (miss you, Spectrum!) has, in addition to the championship banners of those teams, a banner each in Flyers colors for all of the sold out Philly shows Bruce and Billy have done. In 2009 I got to see Springsteen’s last show at the Spectrum before it closed. What can I say? It was transcendent.

  5. I was born in 1953. The first single I bought was “Get off of my Cloud” by The Rolling Stones – bought with my paper round wages for 6d (old English money!). I remember my parents being a bit thrown that it wasn’t by those nice clean boys they called The Beatles. :)
    I’m off to start my Facebook list .

    1. Taking it a step further (or farther, if you prefer): my first Stones album (on CD…a reissue of “Some Girls”) was given to me for Christmas one year when I asked for Guns N’ Roses. Works both ways, I guess. Love the Stones.

  6. Excellent list. As a Gen Xer, I can relate to these songs. My first concert was a Beach Boys show at Six Flags in large part because of Kokomo. I loved that song. I would also add “The Goonies ‘R’ Good Enough” by Cyndi Lauper to your list.

  7. What an impressive list. In some ways it was like listening to Casey casem’s top songs on Sunday. Thank you for the good, great memories. I would have to include the additions of a bunch of the late Michael Jackson, Bobby Mcferins “Dont worry be Happy,” and some top notch “Hungry Like the Wolf and Pieces.” it reminds me of my first bought tape the Cocktail Soundtrack. Can’t wait for your second list…

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