The Power of Pop Music: Summertime Memories

Radio_jpg Although I have 9,000 songs on my iPod just a few have the power to trigger "a-ha" memories (e.g. I equate In the Year 2525 with the first Moon landing; The Night Chicago Died with Nixon's resignation).  The earliest I remember were novelty songs when I was a wee lad of 3 or 4, e.g. Shimmy Shimmy Ko Ko Bop; Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini; and Alley Oop.  What follows are some songs of summers past that bring to mind memories from my personal history. 


Lesely_gore Hearing Judy's Turn to Cry (Lesley Gore), Nat King Cole's quintessential summer song Those Lazy-Hazy-Crazy Days of Summer or the popular Australian folk song Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport takes me back to the summer of 1963.  I was 6 years old and remember those songs playing on the car radio while I sat in the front seat of our Rambler station wagon as we drove to Pittsburgh's Highland Park Zoo.  My sister Linda, two of her girlfriends and my brother Darrell were in the backseat.  At the zoo a baboon took a liking to me, followed me around and constantly showed me his multi-colored behind.



1965Dodge_Coronet The Rolling Stones' Satisfaction was the first rock song that registered with me.  It got plenty of airplay in August 1965 when my parents bought a new car, a steel blue Dodge Coronet sedan.  It replaced our 1960 Rambler station wagon which on two occasions lost its front wheel - once in the parking lot at Kroger and the other time at an intersection as we waited to pull into traffic.  But despite this potentially fatal defect (for both us and the car) I had a sentimental attachment to the car (in lieu of the dog I never had).  On the evening we left it at the dealership I sat in the car and cried.  We had the Coronet for 8 years until the fall of 1973 when we got an Oldsmobile Cutlass (for $3,300, the same price I'd pay for my plasma TV in 2003). 


Then in the summer of 1966 my sister Linda swooned for the guy group Wayne Fontana & the Mindebenders and their hit Groovy Kind of Love (another guy group, The Association, got her attention as well).  That same summer I got creeped out by the novelty song They're Coming to Take Me Away (Ha Ha), about a man going mad and being taken to an insane asylum.  In a chilling coincidence, later that summer a young man in Austin, TX snapped, climbed a water tower and randomly shot to death 15 people on the ground.



Big_apple_nyc During the summer of 1976 I visited New York City for the first time.  The songs burnt into my memory were Don't Go Breaking My Heart (Elton John/KiKi Dee); Kiss & Say Goodbye (Manhattans); and Turn the Beat Around (Vicki Sue Robinson).  I was 19 at the time and drove to NYC with my brother who had begun working in Bayonne, NJ the year before as band director at the town's high school.  It was also the first time I stuck a toe in the ocean, at the beach in Belmar, NJ.


Bill_idol_rollstone Skipping ahead 6 years, I was in the middle of vacation with my boyfriend Rick in August 1982.  We were on our way to Provincetown after having spent a few days in Ogunquit, ME and were stuck in traffic in downtown Boston (my first time there).  The New Wave song Kids in America (Kim Wilde) came on the radio and it was followed by Billy Idol's first hit Hot in the City (not to be confused with Nick Gilder's Hot Child in the City from 1978).


Men_without_hats Whenever I hear Every Breath You Take (The Police) or Safety Dance (Men Without Hats) it brings to mind the birth of my nephew, Corry, in July 1983 (on the very same day as his father's 30th birthday).  Curiously I don't have any such tuneful memories from when nephew #2, Nick, was born in December 1985.  



Fip_ferryMusic sounded just a little better to me when I was floating on a raft in the pool at my weekend share at Fire Island.  In the summer of 1999 one of my housemates, Matthew, loved No Scrubs by TLC and played it incessantly.  And Cher's comeback song Believe was the dance anthem of that summer.  I also recall that during my first visit out there in 1982 ABBA's Lay All Your Love On was big in the clubs and the summer of my first share, 1996, the debut CD by Kristine W. (a club star rather than mainstream) was a popular one at our house.


XM-Logo-2006 Finally, during the 2000's my summer share at Fire Island had XM Satellite Radio which introduced me to a lot of great songs from the 1960's and 1970's, largely R&B, that I was unfamiliar with.  Ultimately I purchased a few hundred of them on iTunes.  Some of the best were Edwin Starr's Headline News; Eddie Kendricks' Tell Her Love Has Felt the Need; and Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes' Satisfation Guaranteed.



Recalling the Deaths of Three Music Icons

Images We've just experienced one of those headline grabbing events that years from now people will ask each other "Where were you when ...?"  Of course I'm referring to Michael Jackson's death on June 25, 2009.  When I started my blog at the beginning of this month little did I know that such a major event would occur while I was mining memories of momentous events from years past. What made it memorable for me was the fact that it was the first "oh wow!" event to occur since I joined Facebook (10 days ago).  Immediately upon reading of his death online via a NYTimes News Alert, I checked my Facebook account to read reactions of my roster of "friends" and to contribute a few poignant comments of my own. 


As a small tribute to MJ's passing I thought it fitting to write about what I was doing when I heard about the deaths of two other music icons: Elvis Presley and John Lennon.  And although Jackson was taken too soon, he outlived Elvis and Lennon, who were 42 and 40, respectively, at the time of their deaths


Images Death of Elvis (Aug. 16, 1977): I was listening to an afternoon baseball game between the Pirates and Cubs at home ( Pittsburgh) during summer break between my sophomore and junior years at Penn State when the play-by-play announcer reported the news.  (Looking back I'm shocked at how young he was, but at the time I thought of him as a washed-up has-been.) 


John Lennon Shot (Dec.8,1980): I was living in Bayonne, NJ where I first lived when I started working at my first job in New York.  I was watching Monday Night Football on my little black & white set when Howard Cosell interrupted the play-by-play with the startling news of John Lennon’s shooting death.  (You can watch the following link to see the video clip of Cosell's announcement: John Lennon)


Some Other Notable Singers:Images I was home sick from school (2nd grade) and playing in the living room while my mother was ironing and watching the 12 o’clock news.  One of the stories was about Nat King Coles’ death on Feb. 15, 1965. (I believe it was the first time I heard the term “lung cancer”.)  I heard the news of Karen Carpenter’s death (Feb. 4, 1983) on the radio in my office (at ad agency Young & Rubicam) which was tuned to oldies station WCBS.  (I had some sentimental attachment to her as my first 45-rpm "single" was by the Carpenters.) News of Marvin Gaye’s shooting death (by his father on April 1, 1984) was heard on the evening news as my boyfriend and I were preparing dinner on Sunday evening. (After the news we watched the ABC mini-series The Last Days of Pompeii.)  I found out about Kurt Cobain’s death (April 5, 1994) from a  co-worker, but it wasn’t that big a deal to me since I didn’t follow his group Nirvana (I was only vaguely familiar with their song Smells Like Teen Spirit); however, my younger staff was more shaken.  Finally, I read of Ella Fitzgerald’s death (June 15, 1996) in the Sunday NY Times while out at Fire Island.  (Ella happens to be the only one of the eight singers discussed here whose life wasn't cut short, as she lived to be 79.)