The songs I loved to hate
A life of earworms, plus my weekly shareables: Tom Hanks, Springsteen, and the Denver airport hellscape
My bud Joe Posnanski posted something the other day that jumped off a discussion we had about the songs we’ve heard the most during our lives.
Joe turned it into a beautiful little essay about the songs he heard the most, year by year, and also the most famous athlete of that year. I have similar memories of a lot of the same songs (and the same athletes). But what I took the most from that discussion is all the songs I remembered HATING over the years, because there was no way to get away from them.
(Activating old-man voice …) Consuming music was a lot different when I was growing up. People heard new music on the radio, which for most of us meant the local Top 40 station (supplemented later by MTV). I owned a couple dozen albums (or cassettes or CDs), but only a few people I knew could afford a big collection. There was nothing like Spotify that put the whole world of music at your fingertips. As a practical matter, our playlists were limited. So one song could dominate your headspace in a way that just doesn’t happen now.
There were two songs from back then that took up full residence in my brain, for similar reasons.
One would have been around 1982, the summer before I went to college, when I went to the beach most every summer weekend. John, one of my beach buddies, always brought a boom box but seemed to own only one cassette: THE BEST OF BLONDIE. The opening track was “Heart of Glass.” Sometimes he would play it three or four times every beach trip. It got to the point where if it came on the radio, I would dive across the room to turn it off.
The next memory is from the next year, when I was a freshman at UGA and moved in with an old high-school buddy named Todd. Todd was a great guy. I loved rooming with Todd. Except for one thing. He had one of those alarm clocks that could play a tape when the alarm went off, and every morning he set it to play the same damn song: Loverboy’s “Turn Me Loose.”
“Turn Me Loose” had been out for a couple of years by then, and I didn’t like it much to begin with. But let me tell you something: When you are a sleepy and occasionally hungover college student, and “Turn Me Loose” wakes you up at 7:30 every morning, you come to fantasize about throwing the tape, the alarm clock, and every member of Loverboy out your third-story window.
There were so many songs like that. Paul Simon’s “50 Ways To Leave Your Lover.” Queen’s “Another One Bites the Dust.” Rod Stewart’s “Da Ya Think I’m Sexy?”, which I never realized was spelled that way until I looked it up just now. This makes me hate it even more.
The funny thing is, I enjoy a couple of those songs now that I don’t hear them a dozen times a day. I’ve especially come around on “50 Ways,” since my drummer friend Doug explained the exceptional groove of Steve Gadd’s drum part. These days it’s easier to just set something aside and just say it’s not for me.
And every once in a while, earworms can be good. One year, when I was in a high-school summer program, the guy in the room next to me woke up every morning to the Gap Band’s “Burn Rubber.” Now that’s how you greet the day.
A quick coda that might blow your mind: Dave Grohl on the crossover between “Burn Rubber” and “Smells Like Teen Spirit.”
10 things I wanted to share this week:
RIP Gordon Lightfoot, who wrote one of the most unlikely pop hits of my lifetime: “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.” I wrote about it a few years ago as basically a news story set to music. Add “Sundown,” “Carefree Highway” and “If You Could Read My Mind” to the list and that’s a pretty damn solid career.
My weekly for WFAE was on North Carolina’s reverse Robin Hood scheme on school vouchers.
John Woodrow Cox, the best writer in America on gun violence, has spent years following a South Carolina girl who witnessed a school shooting when she was 7. Now, at 13, she is finally going back to a classroom.
This Chris Heath profile of Tom Hanks pulled off a rare feat: It taught me a lot more about somebody I thought I knew all about.
DOG NEWS: While I work on my book, I’m devoting this slot to dog stories. This week: The 2023 Westminster Dog Show starts tomorrow! Here’s a roundup of all the places you can watch on TV or streaming.
Really enjoyed this piece from CBS SUNDAY MORNING on the legacy of Bruce Springsteen’s NEBRASKA. The hook: There’s a new book by Warren Zanes called DELIVER ME FROM NOWHERE about the making of the album.
Meet Jungleman, poker’s autistic superstar.
There was a lot of discussion among journalists about this Maureen Dowd column on the death of the newsroom. I’ll just add this: The real value of a newsroom was when a big story broke. All the chatter stopped and all the scattered pieces snapped together into a huge and beautiful machine. There’s not a Zoom call on earth that could match that moment.
The Denver airport might literally be hell.
I spent part of the week catching up on the music of Joy Oladokun, thanks to this excellent profile by Marissa R. Moss. Her new album, PROOF OF LIFE, is very good, but I’m a little obsessed with her 2021 album IN DEFENSE OF MY OWN HAPPINESS. It’s like Bill Withers crossed with Adele. Here’s “Someone That I Used To Be,” which would fit right into the top 10 of any pop chart from the last 20 years:
See y’all next week, everybody.
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