The Rilke post from earlier got me thinking about the first poem I ever memorized.
Obviously, nursery rhymes were first, and then songs like Jesus Loves Me. Then, when I started school, My Country Tis of Thee, America the Beautiful, The Star-Spangled Banner, Simple Gifts.
In fourth grade we had to memorize and recite poems, so of course we all asked if we could do Top 40. Someone beat me to We Didn’t Start the Fire (I memorized it anyway…we all did), so I did Another Day in Paradise by Phil Collins. The song really affected me. Years later, I’d find myself working street-level with the homeless populations of the Lehigh Valley. What had seemed like a very 80s problem has gotten so much worse.
The first sort of classic poem I ever memorized was To Althea From Prison by Lovelace, the cavalier. It’s very famous, especially for this line:
Stone Walls do not a Prison make, Nor Iron bars a Cage;
but the ones that really got me were
When (like committed linnets) I With shriller throat shall sing The sweetness, Mercy, Majesty, And glories of my King; When I shall voice aloud how good He is, how Great should be, Enlargèd Winds, that curl the Flood, Know no such Liberty.
When I lie tangled in her hair, And fettered to her eye, The Gods that wanton in the Air, Know no such Liberty.
I was 15, so yeah. Killed me. Still does.
It strikes me now that “Slide Away” by Oasis, which I also discovered around that time, is a cavalier poem from the Council Estates. I love it so much.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
*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.
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.