365 Day Song Challenge: Day 15 – “You Can Call Me Al”

Day 15. A song your parents played on road trips when you were young

“You Can Call Me Al” — Paul Simon

paulsimonchevy“Young” is a relative term. I’m 43 years old, and I still feel young. I’m assuming that the creator of the challenge meant “when you were a kid” but it’s vague enough to allow for some license.

I’m going to use that license, because, although we did a lot of road trips when I was a kid, I never remember us listening to music. My parents were not “The Wheels On The Bus”-type people (thank God). On top of that, we did a lot of overnight driving. The “if we leave at midnight the kids will sleep and we won’t have to listen to them” mentality. Of which I wholeheartedly approve as an adult.

When I was really young—the time when we did the most driving—we were still in the era of AM radio in the car. (Cue “AM Radio” by Everclear.) By the time we got to the era of the Power Wagon, and the capability to play tapes, most of those really long trips were a thing of the past (and a good thing, too, given the Power Wagon’s other “amenities”). So, as a kid, I got nothin’.

This is where the license comes in.

In 1988 I went on a student exchange to Australia, where, as it happens, we also did a lot of road trips. I saw a bunch of New South Wales from the back seat of a Holden Premier station wagon (which actually did have power and did have a tape deck). So I’m focusing on those.

In preparation for the exchange, I had taped a lot of albums, one of those being Paul Simon’s Graceland(with his first greatest hits album, Greatest Hits, Etc., now long out of print, on the B side). For one reason or another, we started listening to that tape every time we went somewhere.

I stayed in Kiama, NSW, which was some sort of weird focal point for exchange students. While I was there, we had at least six or seven students from other countries just in my class. I’m not sure why that was. One of those, a guy from Denmark named Janus became a close friend, and he began to spend a lot of time with my family, joining us on many of those trips.

Now, we were pretty goofy as it was, but when “You Can Call Me Al” would come on, the goofiness went to 11. During the song, we played air guitar, air bass, air trumpet (mimicking the moves from the video as much as you can while sitting in a back seat), air pennywhistle, air bongos… Anything “air.” Which must have looked really weird to anyone who saw us.

Cascading notes, starting on that last paragraph:

And now, here’s something we hope you’ll really like:

365 Day Song Challenge: Day 14 – “Dance With The Devil”

Day 14. A song you like that’s instrumental only

“Dance With The Devil” — UB40*

DanceWithTheDevilLet me start by saying that, on the whole, I like instrumentals. While some people may think that a song with no words is a cop-out, as if the songwriter is only doing half the work, I think that to write a song that holds your interest without vocals is a challenge. Well-done instrumentals are worthy of your attention.

Now that I’ve bored you with that (always a smart move when trying to keep people reading), I’ll move on to the rest of the post.

My introduction to UB40 was in 1985 when they released the cover of “I Got You Babe”they did with Chrissie Hynde of The Pretenders. I didn’t pay much attention. Not really my thing.

In 1988 my friend Mark was my ride to school. Then he got a girlfriend and I got relegated to the back seat. Perfectly understandable, but I was nonetheless unimpressed to be stuck back there. I really don’t like riding in the back seat, even today.

To her credit, however, she introduced him to some new music, including Bob Marley. That was my first real introduction to reggae, and I kind of liked it.

One morning we were listening to something that, in my ignorance, I thought was Bob Marley. Turned out it was UB40. “Red Red Wine”was climbing the charts, no doubt to the simultaneous joy and dismay of UB40, since “Red, Red Wine” was five years old at that point and they’d recently released a new album that wasn’t getting much attention at all.

Because of that, I started paying attention to UB40. That year they toured, with one of the stops being Springfield at the then recently reopened Paramount Theater. We went to the concert, even though my only exposure was still only Labour Of Love.

After Ipso Facto (the opening act) finished, we waited. After what seemed like a very long time, some music started. The riff repeated for, again, what seemed like a long time before the band actually took the stage and the horns started. I like horns. So despite the wait, the band got my attention, and kept it throughout, even though I didn’t know many of the songs. It convinced me I needed to get more of their music.

Shortly thereafter I got their recently-released UB40album. (The one I mentioned before that hadn’t been getting attention.) I immediately recognized the first track on the album as the song that had started (and ended) the concert. If you’re paying attention (and if you’ll recall I told you to pay attention way back on Day 1) you should be able to figure out that song was today’s entry, “Dance With The Devil”

It’s a horn-infused instrumental (with reprise at the end of the album) that may very well be the best song on UB40. It was the start of a journey that culminated in my acquisition of a dozen albums, a bunch of singles, and a bootleg or two. (Ssshh. Don’t tell.)

So after all that, can I say that relegation to the back seat was worth the discovery of a band that has provided me who-knows-how-many hours of enjoyment?

No. No it wasn’t.

* Another change from the original choice last year. The original was “Charm” by Tony Banks. I love that song, but since no one but Genesis fans know that Tony Banks exists, I decided to go with an artist that was at least a little bit mainstream. I’m also trying to use songs and artists that you can actually get easily, thus the links to Amazon, and Tony Banks doesn’t fall into that category. Most of his stuff is available on CD, but not digitally. That said, if you still use CDs, I’d encourage you to check him out.

365 Day Song Challenge: Day 13 – “Right Here Waiting”

Day 13.A song that reminds you of a past love

“Right Here Waiting” — Richard Marx

It goes without saying (but I’ll say it anyway) that the transition from high school to college is a big one.  Especially when you leave home to do it. Nothing against those people who live at home during college, but it’s not the same as packing up, being away from your parents and getting that first glimpse of what it’s like to live life on your own.

Granted, I was only an hour away from home, but it was far enough away that going home at the drop of a hat wasn’t really an option. Especially with no car. (Why is it that an hour drive in 1989 seemed so much longer and more difficult than an hour drive does now?)

The transition is that much harder when you’re in a relationship. There are so many things changing in your life, and yet there are so many things (like, say, a girlfriend) that you want to hang on to. As we know, that’s not the easiest thing to do for a variety of reasons. I’d be interested to see statistics on how many relationships that are underway when people head off to college actually survive. I’m not saying it can’t happen, because I know people who have done it, but it’s tough without a doubt. The odds simply aren’t good.

In my case, my girlfriend was an underclassman, so I was off to college and she was staying put.

When she handed me the tape of this song, I had never heard it, despite it being the week after it hit #1 on the charts. I was a Top 40 snob at the time (I guess I still am, pretty much). As I mentioned a couple of days ago, I’m not really someone who always pays attention to the lyrics, but with this song, it’s pretty much impossible not to.

Talk about songs that rip your heart out. Given the situation, she couldn’t have picked a better (or worse, depending on your point of view) song. Even though it was Richard Marx’s voice, it was her saying these things to me. It was like he knew exactly what we were going through, albeit with the roles reversed. And I guess, since he wrote this song as a message to his wife while she was filming a movie in South Africa, he did.

Long story short, the relationship couldn’t handle the distance and the changes we were both going through. By the following spring we’d broken up. (Richard Marx and his wife still appear to be together, though, so that’s nice.)

These days I rarely think about it, but when this song does pop up, I’m reminded of those days. It’s a snapshot piece, perfectly summing up that point in time. You get those sometimes.

Okay, having said all that, I hope we’re coming to the end of all these sad, doom and gloom topics and getting into something more lighthearted. Sheesh! Songs that rip your heart outShameless self-pity. “Hold On My Heart.” (Well, that last one doesn’t make me sad, it just is sad.) The person who put this list together might just need therapy…

365 Day Song Challenge: Day 12 – “Let It Rock”

Day 12. A song you play when you’re getting ready to get your confidence up

“Let It Rock” — Kevin Rudolf featuring Lil Wayne

It happens without warning.

Sometimes it’s in the afternoon, sometimes just before bed. Sometimes it’s right in the middle of Downton Abbey.

You know what I’m talking about: that crushing blow of doubt that suddenly makes you wonder if you’re good enough, and smart enough, and doggone it, do people really like you? The slightest thing can trigger it: A bad review. A traffic light turning yellow when you least expect it. Sun spots. Pow! You’re a quivering heap of self-loathing. (Once it even happened when I didn’t get a trophy for participation in the softball league. No, we didn’t score a single run all season, but shouldn’t we all be winners?)

You know you can’t stay like that, so you have to nip it in the bud. You must stop it right then.

And here’s how. I’ve figured out the sure-fire cure. You see, after seconds of research (read: I saw some football highlights on SportsCenter), I determined that the only way to build up your confidence is by being part of a huddle of guys jumping up and down and chanting. (Sorry ladies, you’ll have to figure out your own solution.)

So I hired eleven guys. Because a dozen seemed too many and ten wasn’t enough. They’re on call 24/7 and are required—by contract—to drop everything and come to my house whenever I text them the message Feeling poopy! :-(

They have 12 minutes to get here. Once they arrive, we gather in… I don’t know, let’s say the dining room if you’re that bent on the details… and then huddle up.

First we pray. Then I start playing “Let It Rock.” The mood changes almost instantly. After a verse, we start swaying. By the first chorus we’re all head-bopping in unison. By the Lil Wayne rap section, we’re bouncing up and down and doing that whole Arsenio Hall woot-woot hand thing. When that’s done and the music starts up again we all bump chests and file out of the room, each one of us touching the quote printed above the door. (It’s from Rex Ryan and says “Put your best foot forward. Can you please put your best foot forward?”)

Mission accomplished, we slap each other’s butts and mutter “Good huddle, good huddle” and then I tell everyone to get the hell out. The entire process takes four minutes. Okay, sixteen if you count travel time.

Once again brimming with confidence, I can happily return to the couch, secure in the knowledge that I’m da man while I enjoy the Dowager Countess verbally bitch-slapping someone. (And don’t pretend you don’t know what I mean… You know.)

365 Day Song Challenge: Day 11 – “Hysteria”

Day 11. A song you indulge in shameless self pity to

“Hysteria” — Def Leppard

This is a tough one, because, outside of fantasy football (where I whine and wail until the cows come home) I don’t do a lot of self-pity.

At least not these days.

However, there was a time in the past (read: high school) when I seemed to be in a constant state of depression about my love life, or lack thereof. You see, high school is not kind to shy, introverted, geeky types. And for most of my high school career, I fell firmly in that camp. If I had a dollar for every “You’re so sweet” and “I just want to be friends” that I heard, I could… well, I could probably just about buy a nice dinner. But man, it sure felt like a lot more often back then.

At least I’m not bitter.

High school was also the era of Def Leppard. Sure, 1983’s Pyromania was pretty big, but in 1987, they released Hysteria, and after floundering a little bit in the charts, it caught fire and all hell broke loose. (Yes, if you can believe it, this 10-million-plus-selling, ubiquitous-for-over-two-years album actually took a while to catch on because their lead single, “Women,” just didn’t click with people).

Both Hysteria the album and “Hysteria” the song were released at the apex of my misery, so they are both a little bittersweet to me, even now. Someday I’ll write a post about my “Music as Time Machine” theory, but suffice to say, when I hear the song “Hysteria,” I still remember exactly how I felt then.

To be honest, I’m not really a “words” guy. I know the words to plenty of songs, but in a lot of cases, I’m much more attune to the mood of the music itself than to a song’s lyrics.

This is one of those cases. In fact, I barely know the words to the verses. (I just looked them up, and as it turns out, they’re crap. Thank God I never learned them.) But man, take those bridge & chorus lyrics, and the plaintive guitar from the verses and… Well, they sure got me. And I remember more than one instance of self-pity while listening.

Fast forward 25 years (can that really be?) and that shy, introverted, geeky teen is… yeah, still introverted and a bit geeky, but not nearly as shy, and certainly much happier about life in general. As it happens, I’ve got a good life and I’m thankful for that. And my love life turned out pretty well, too. Overall, I can’t really complain.

Except about fantasy football. Don’t even get me started about #%!&ing fantasy football.

At least I’m not bitter…