As 2023 began, I felt somewhat wary.
And certainly weary.
The past few years have been tough.
And each of us had to figure out how to process them.
I realized: this year I turn 60.
That felt fraught with personal expectations and societal implications.
Then I realized: it doesn’t have to be:
60 can be a celebration!
Over the next six weeks, I invite you to join me by celebrating a song from each year to the present. These 60 songs may not all deserve 10’s on our TNOCS scale, but they all mean something to me. And I look forward to sharing them with you.
Fingertips, Part Two
Little Stevie Wonder
I’m glad to have been born the week of a No. 1 classic. (Tom Breihan gave it a 10, and rarely have I agreed more.) I particularly appreciate the locale of this live recording – the Regal Theater in my hometown of Chicago.
I Want to Hold Your Hand
I became aware of early Beatles songs as the foursome broke up. I didn’t really get into their catalog until “Got to Get You Into My Life” in 1976 reignited U.S. fervor for the Fab Four. Like “Fingertips,” “I Want to Hold Your Hand” is both itself thrilling and a signifier of a major talent.
When my parents divorced in 1972, their music also divided into two households. I don’t remember which parent got the “64 Greatest Motown Hits” collection. All I know is, I have it now. And what a collection it is! Of the 64, I would listen to 62 anytime (the Marvelettes’ “Don’t Mess With Bill” and the Miracles’ “Ooh, Baby Baby” are the two that leave me cold).
When it comes to “I Can’t Help Myself,” I don’t know what gets me first – the piano, the bass, the sexy voice of Levi Stubbs. All I know is I’m glad to be there.
First music toy – and chance to irritate my brother Tom.
Summer in the City
The Lovin’ Spoonful
This is one of the first songs I remember as a child. I remember the stop-and-start beginning, the jackhammer sounds midway through, and the coolness throughout. It sounded urban even if I was way too young to know that word.
Later, hearing hits like “Did You Ever Have to Make Up Your Mind?” or “Do You Believe in Magic?” I was confused. They sounded so white, and this didn’t. (As a kid, I probably would have been chastened by my dad for saying that. Today, I might be less blunt, but I’d stand by the impression.)
This, and the Association’s “Windy” are the songs I most connect with the foundational experiences of a Chicago kid’s childhood: going to the Lincoln Park Zoo; taking in that first Cubs game; and, best of all, the WIND Kite Fly at Grant Park.
No matter what time of year it is, when I hear the opening notes of “Respect,” I immediately feel the humid winds of Memorial Day weekend.
They weren’t kidding about that “worst winter ever” … well, until a dozen years later.
1967 Flashback #2:
The Lincoln Park Zoo was the only place you’d get a horse ride in the city.
I Heard It Through the Grapevine
And this song connotes the opposite. There’s a chill in the air whenever I hear it, even if it’s playing in mid-July. Gaye’s wounded lover sounds both raw and coolly detached, a truly difficult feat to pull off. The song became a hit at the tail end of 1968, so maybe that’s why my mind associates winter with it.
This one is a Chicago memory. Not just because of its long association with the White Sox at Comiskey Park but also because AM and FM stations (WLS, WCFL and WDHF/WMET, for starters) would not let go of it – it got as much play as an oldie as many current songs.
That led me to think Steam had to have some connection to the Windy City (a la Ides of March or the Buckinghams). Nope – the musicians who put the song together were based on the East Coast.
Christmas with Cuddly Dudley (a stuffed animal character from WGN’s “Ray Raynor Show”) and his Super-Jet.
Ain’t No Mountain High Enough
The Beatles weren’t the only ‘60s superstars to dominate 1976. Diana Ross had two chart-toppers – “Theme from ‘Mahogany’” and “Love Hangover” – and on the strength of those, Motown released her “Greatest Hits” set. That’s where I heard the glorious 6:16 version of “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” and realized Ross’ truest strength as a song interpreter.
Like Beyoncé a generation later, Ross does not have the pipes of a Franklin, Houston, Carey or Blige. But on this song, whose verses she does not sing but rather declaims in an intimate, affecting way, Ross shows what distinguished her from the Supremes and solo singers of the ’70s and ’80s.
Sooner or Later
The Grass Roots:
A song doesn’t have to hit No. 1 in Billboard to make an impression. (True, most of this week’s set did, though future weeks will show a shift away from that.) As a kid, the songs that made the greatest impact had catchy choruses, easy-to-understand lyrics, and bright instrumentation (often horn-packed).
Lots of Grass Roots songs did that – “Midnight Confessions,” “Temptation Eyes,” “Two Divided by Love.” But “Sooner or Later” did it best. To this day, if I’m in a rotten mood and need a pick-me-up, I’ll turn to this song.
First communion cake.
(I’d share the picture from the first communion, but it looks like I’m getting married to my 8-year-old classmate Maria).
Brandy (You’re a Fine Girl)
This song drives some folks nuts. Because its precursor-to-yacht-rock sound ensured generations of oldies station airplay long after it hit Number One.
The only thing about it that drives me nuts are those who refer to Looking Glass as a one-hit wonder. I well recall 1973’s “Jimmy Loves Mary-anne.” If “Brandy” is a 10 (and it is), “JLM” is a solid 8 or 9.
Next week: The Bicentennial…
and the high school years. See you then!
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