Five years ago but still six feet apart! Originally written and posted on Monday, October 31, 2016
Last year I’d borrowed the idea of blogging a “50 songs in 50 days” countdown to my 50th birthday, counting back (in no real particular order) my top favorite songs of all time. Most were ballads, some were classic pop tunes, but each was a song that defines an era, no matter how small, of my life. After December 21, 2015, I began to realize there were still so many songs I love, so naturally that led to this year’s 51 to 51. I feel like music is such a huge part of my day to day life (and it has been since the seventies) just as much as talking about or writing about myself is, for anyone willing to listen/read.
Therefore, I present to you my Top 51 to 51 Countdown for 2016. I hope you enjoy it and that you will chime in with your own memories, even if to make fun and be silly. That’s what’s it’s all for, finding the joy.
Cough Syrup (Young The Giant) - Day 51
Today we start with Cough Syrup, a song that is the most current on the list, one with a beautiful melody and lyrics that talk about the difficulty of finding a light at the end of the tunnel. We medicate hoping to feel better, hoping for the sadness to dissipate; hoping that when the cough syrup goes down, the woes will go away. As someone who has fought against depression for more than half my life, I hear these lyrics and am reminded that every day is a new battle, but it’s not one I’m willing to lose. Here’s to hoping.
If I could find a way to see this straight, I'd run away
To some fortune that I, I should have found by now
And so I run now to the things they said could restore me
Restore life the way it should be
I'm waiting for this cough syrup to come down...
See You In September (The Happenings) - Day 50
Song 50 is, I think, the oldest one on the list. Overall, I don’t usually love the music of the sixties, with the obvious exception of the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, but this one, as many songs do, reminds me of that little angel on my shoulder, Angie. Admittedly I don’t know the song from when it was a hit on the radio in 1966. My memory of this particular tune comes from our time in the Poconos, a time when we all yearned to find happiness somehow, especially, I think, my mother.
In those small moments when they’d have weekend guests, they’d go out coupling to one of the resort hotels that showcased bands from the past. Angie was enamored with lead singer Tom Giuliano of the Happenings, and he was always so gracious to my parents and their friends after their shows at Paradise Stream. I remember this song fondly as my mom would sing it acapella in the kitchen days later as the veil would begin to fade. Funny to think how very alike we are/were.
Sky High (Jigsaw) – Day 49
Sky High is an unintentionally feel good song, despite the lyrics, from the mid-seventies. It’s about a breakup that explodes. He sings about a girl who deceives him, but the pop horns and almost-disco beat makes it a sweet, happy memory. For me, at least. It’s one of the many one hit wonders of the seventies, glued to my bones for eternity.
Mutual Surrender (Bourgeois Tagg) – Day 48
I moved back to Long Island from the Poconos in the summer of 1985. A lot happened in such a small amount of time, not the least of which was discovering and falling in love with the new sound of new wave on a radio station called WLIR. Pop music at that moment in time was muddled and disjointed, so finding this left of center type of sound was pretty much a mirror of my finding my own awakening.
I was working at the Green Acres Mall at a store called Jeans West, and on my breaks, I’d walk down to Sam Goody to listen to music on those bulky, padded headphones attached to the walls. I’d heard this song on WLIR a few times already, but I found the cassette at Sam Goody and decided to listen to it to try and learn the words. Talk about a one hit wonder; this wasn’t even ever a hit, but it sticks in my head as the standout song that solidified my love for new wave and latching me to being rebellious and unusual. Well, in my own way.
You have probably never heard this song before, and though it doesn’t really hold up that well, this is Mutual Surrender by Bourgeois Tagg. You’re welcome.
What Is Love? (Haddaway) – Day 47
If you were alive in the nineties, you know this song. You may know it as the theme for the Roxbury characters from SNL played by Will Ferrell and Chris Kattan. To me, it was way more that – it represented the resurgence of the long-dormant disco sound that evolved into Freestyle but began, again, to become mainstream. Back in the late seventies and early eighties, listening to disco was among the many things about which I hid in the proverbial closet. The kids at PMHS were listening to southern rock and hard metal bands, but I would sit and cue up 92 KTU on the radio, static and all. It was a miracle I could even get shitty reception, but I did, and I listened, and I loved. One of the songs coming up later in this countdown is an ode to those moments in the Poconos when I hid from the world, but today’s song was a true celebration to me, the joy of being an adult, no more hiding in closets. To this day I hear this song on the radio and I always crank it up. Maybe you do too!
Drive (The Spirits)/If You Could Only See (Tonic)/Closing Time (Semisonic) – Day 46
Today I present three songs, so I’ll label this as some songs that still resonate from a particularly terrible year. Dichotomy much? There’s something about me that finds comfort in the music that played around me when I was at my very lowest. Late 1997 into 1998 was, as anyone who knows my life story, the very worst period of my life, the period that shook my foundation and remolded me into a different person. Hollow and sad and so, so lost, I first felt the experience of being rallied around by those in my orbit. It’s when I first realized I’d had an orbit; that as lonely as I felt, I was NOT alone, not ever.
Mary’s shocking and sudden death, the babies’ bereft, cried-out faces etched into my memory as if scribbled in black sharpie on the backs of my eyelids, brought about the kindness and goodness of people and, strangely, added color to my lackluster life, colors I’d never experienced. They were not pretty colors, but they were colors nonetheless and I needed to be able to fill in the blanks of my life with them from that point forward. Each day I went to work wishing it had been me in that coffin, but I kept realizing I was surrounded by people who genuinely cared about me and those kids.
And the music that played behind us, though at the time may not have been so important, now sings hauntingly to me as a reminder of all those sad but beautiful colors and emotions, of being empathically carried by the people around me. Each of today’s songs reminds me of that time when, as lonely as it felt having to be among the living, I was never alone.
Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end. Yeah.
Annie’s Song (John Denver) – Day 45
There’s something about the early seventies that is just so magical in my memory. I am always the first to tell people I had a vibrant, happy childhood. From as far back as my first memories up until the summer of 1979, I truly was a happy soul. And the music of that decade still fills me with a serene sense of roots. I can go on and on about the house where I grew up, across the street from a park, with neighbor kids who were just my age and with whom I created adventures every single day like it was eternal summer.
And that’s what this song is to me – eternal summer. The memories of the early seventies fill up my senses like I’d imagine a night in a forest would, like a walk in the rain. Annie’s Song is exactly how I would describe the memories of my life as a child on Wright Avenue and I feel like if you asked the kids from my neighborhood, they may tell you they agree. The tune is melodic, and the lyrics speak of joy. Denver may have written this about someone he loved, but it translates, for me, to the love I have for those beautiful, endless summer days in Greis Park.
You Gotta Be (Des’ree) – Day 44
You Gotta Be is a pretty song with a nice message about learning from past mistakes and marching forward with your head high. It’s sung by Des’ree, a woman whose voice takes you to a jazz club, allowing you to close your eyes and sway. That’s the reason I love this song. Simple as that.
Time asks no questions
It goes on without you
Leaving you behind if you can’t stand the pace
The world keeps on spinning
Can’t stop it if you tried to
Time After Time/All Through The Night (Cyndi Lauper) – Day 43
Cyndi Lauper is an enigmatic oddball with a unique sound that paved a bridge between pop and new wave and added another eighties bombshell to the charts. She’s So Unusual is such a great album. It spurred some of the decade’s monster hits, the leader of which is every girl’s anthem to this day, Girls Just Want To Have Fun. It was a giant on MTV and put Cyndi in the spotlight throughout the decade. But as much as I love that song and crank it when I hear it, it’s her ballad Time After Time which makes my countdown, tied along with the pop ballad All Through The Night, both songs of which are just perfect classics.
Time After Time is timeless; it’s a song that is still played on contemporary radio, and likely always will. Cyndi’s voice is so sincere and the harmonies in the chorus always make me sing along. And since having my Woof in my life, it’s taken on a new meaning to me, for us, because I always want him to know I am his safe place (and he is mine.) Also, Romy and Michelle. Duh.
All Through The Night, to me, is just such a beautifully melodic song about longing, with harps and chimes and synths to make you sway. I love the end so much, where Cyndi holds that note and the harmony balances it out…. I can’t. It’s just such a great song from such an unusual girl.
Firework (Glee Cast) - Day 42
When Glee began on Fox in May of 2009, it immediately delivered what the title of show promised – glee. Glee was a mirror of a wishful high school experience that nearly every gay geek could ever want; to be popular as part of the underdog extracurricular. Speaking for me though, and maybe for Chris, we were watching these enormously talented kids sing till their hearts swelled while simultaneously living through provocative, important stories of failure and acceptance and anxiety and lust. I think any fan of Glee could find a part of themselves in Rachel or Kurt or Mercedes or Finn. And some, maybe, even found a piece of themselves in all.
Every song sung by Lea Michele, the Spring Awakening star who breathed life into the effervescent but insecure Rachel Berry, is perfection. When Rachel sings something that’s concurrently on pop radio, you’re amazed at how beautifully, how masterfully she sings it, and how much heart and soul she brings to it. Whether it’s by Barbra or Celine, from Les Mis or Cabaret, or a song that’s never quite made it to the charts, Michele, as Berry, makes it an instant classic. I have a playlist of favorites, as it’s impossible to pick just one, or just five. This post, therefore, celebrates all the songs sung by this mesmerizingly talented girl, but the video is that of Katy Perry’s Firework, as an anthem to the dreamer in all of us.
I’d Die Without You (PM Dawn) - Day 41
There was a brief time when I lived in a room in Aurora’s uninsulated attic. The room was small and had pitched ceilings, but I was young and didn’t really need much. I had a bed, a chest of drawers, a barrister bookcase, and a few posters on the blank walls. There was a window that faced west and allowed me to look out at the green across Rockaway and Corona Avenues. In spite of all that, I don’t think I was ever more comfortable calling someplace my home than in that short spattering of time in 1992. At that point I had already been in and finished 3 relationships in a young gay man’s life, the third of which had been lingering and torturing me. My solace was that room.
I’d Die Without You by PM Dawn takes me back to that room when I close my eyes. As one did in the days prior to the mp3, I’d recorded the song off the radio onto a cassette and would rewind it and replay it over and over, a running theme in my life of music. It’s not so much about lyrics, though they resonated for sure at the time, as it is about the tear drop shaped piano notes and the dreamy voice of the lead singer as he apologizes while under water and drowning. Strange, I know, how I can find consolation in sad melodies and lyrics that bring me back to a small, cold, lonely room.
Year Of The Cat (Al Stewart) - Day 40
From the mid-seventies comes this melodic, soothing tale of a man beguiled by a woman who smells of incense and patchouli. It’s an uncharacteristically long song from an era when hits were cut to just about 3 minutes to maintain air play on the radio. A combination of complex instrumentals combining piano and sax solos with a pleasant, wistful voice, Year Of The Cat is a mastery of easy listening for someone like me who likes their songs to be filled with repetitious rhythm and strain.
They just don’t make’em like this anymore. I mean, that horn solo at 4 minutes and 13 seconds in is everything.
Get Outta My Way (Kylie Minogue) - Day 39
I have been traveling to Provincetown every summer since 1994. It’s my happy place. It’s where my soul breathes without restriction and I feel unboundedly connected. When I can hear a song, close my eyes and allow it to take me back to Ptown is when I am happiest (other than obviously being there).
International superstar Kylie Minogue’s 2010 hit Get Outta My Way is the one song that always did it for me, but it wasn’t until a summer or two afterwards that I discovered a tribute video being lip-synced in black & white by a bunch of hot porn actors that the song was grounded as a major favorite. It’s a delightful pop song about leaving her man behind if he isn’t gonna keep up. Female empowerment at its best.
I’m about to let you see
This is what’ll happen if you ain’t givin’ your girl what she needs.
And to watch these beautiful boys gyrate and lip-sync on a giant screen while holding a Corona and standing at the Wave Bar on a hot summer night is a memory I hope I never lose. Thank the gods for YouTube.
Whenever I Call You “Friend” (Kenny Loggins & Stevie Nicks) - Day 38
There are certain songs, sung by certain artists, which transcend time, that sound the same in this very moment as they did the first time, we heard them on AM Radio. For me, Whenever I Call You “Friend” is one of those songs. The beautiful, honey-dripped blend of Stevie and Kenny’s voices is literally as delicious to the ear as home-cooked baklava is to the palate.
Now, to be completely honest, I’m not sure if it was intended as a love ballad or an ode to that one perfect friend. Or maybe even both. But speaking as someone who deftly relies on the empathy and shoulder of his friends, this song is an anthem for me to all those who show me their unconditional support and love.
Sad there’s no actual video to accompany this post, or to just enjoy with eyes as well as ears. I suppose it was never recorded live, and it was certainly recorded before the MTV era, but man would that be cool to see a seventies-garbed Stevie Nicks swaying behind a mic-stand in harmony with a similarly-coifed Kenny Loggins.
Now I know my life has given me more than memories.
Day by day, we can see.
In every moment there's a reason to carry on.
Sara (Fleetwood Mac) - Day 37
And speaking of Stevie, here’s one of the most beautiful songs I’ve ever heard. By the time Fleetwood Mac released this song, they were already a major force of what would come to be classic rock music. Scores of number ones and chart toppers, some sung by the darling Stevie, some harmonized by Stevie and Lindsay, some even sung by Christine McVey. But for me, there is nothing that compares to the sparkling magic and haunting resonance of Sara.
Sara, you’re the poet in my heart.
Never change, and don’t you ever stop.
I was introduced to this song when I lived in Pocono Country Place by part time resident Roberta who was, at the time, my mentor and my muse. She was a few years my senior and was the first person to encourage my imagination, to inspire me to pursue my passion for writing, to not just push it aside as childish reflection. If I’d told Roberta that I could imagine myself flying across the moon in a sleek silver cruiser, she’d pensively ask me to describe it so she could see it for herself. I would really love to know where she is these days…
She Sells Sanctuary (The Cult) - Day 36
A kick-ass song about jealousy, shriek-sung by a voice that is simultaneously abrasive to the ear and manages to fit perfectly in line with the percussion and guitars, is today’s favorite. She Sells Sanctuary by the Cult is one of the many crazy-amazing songs from a long, loud playlist of my WLIR days. Hot, black, smoky nights at the Malibu on Lido Blvd., music pumping so hard you can feel the beat with your whole body.
It’s also a song (among many) that reminds me of my pal Kenny Lesko. Kenny was a unique individual, to say the very least. From the first millisecond I ever saw him, mastering the power mullet, draped in a gray duster, rocking the fingerless leather gloves and sporting a cigarette between his lips, I knew I wanted to be this guy’s friend. How would I ever know he’d end up one of the best people I’ll ever know? Funny, creative, perverted, loyal, sarcastic, kind, confident… I could spew a list of adjectives all day to describe Kenny. This song will always bring him to front of mind, moving perfectly to the sway of the song, Grolsch in one hand, cig in the other.
Sailing/Arthur’s Theme [Best That You Can Do] (Christopher Cross) - Day 35
There is something truly special about the voice and the music of Christopher Cross. Cheesy as most of his songs may seem, they are some of the most memorable from a time of flux in pop culture. Even now when I listen to Sailing, his debut mega hit from 1980, I am transported. Much like the feeling I’d described last year for a similar song by the Little River Band, this song really does take me away to where I’ve always heard it could be. Just a dream and the wind to carry me, soon I will be free….
For that scared kid in the Poconos whose only friends were a blind dog and the teenaged characters in comic books, I would hear this song, close my eyes, and just wish I could be rescued from the mundane and carried away on the Titans’ T-Jet or a Legion Cruiser.
In addition to Sailing, honorable mention is deserved for Arthur’s Theme (Best That You Can Do), another song that brings to mind, for me, the childlike wonder of all the things I’d never imagined I’d ever find, like falling in love in New York City. Strangely I don’t really associate the song to the film with Dudley Moore and Liza Minelli, as amazing as it is; I get the continued reverence of a dreamer’s escapism in the beautiful horn solo that I feel when I hear Cross’s first hit, Sailing.
No Air (Jordin Sparks & Chris Brown) - Day 34
Jordin Sparks, best known for winning American Idol, is a girl filled with huge talent. Bitch can SANG. And though I don’t particularly care for her genre of music, or anything really from the current decade, No Air, her duet with the unlikable lothario Chris Brown, is actually one of my favorite songs ever. Granted, the fact that Rachel and Finn sung this together on Glee did help me love it, but I really did find the song quite amazing from the first time I encountered it. There’s something in the chorus that speaks to the captivity of true love, that sense of drowning without one’s partner.
Hard as it is to admit I like a song that was written by a team of people behind the scenes, just like most of the crap that’s been produced and spewed upon us over the past decade, the saving grace is the truth in Jordin’s voice and, undeniably, Chris Brown’s as well.
The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face/Killing Me Softly (Roberta Flack) - Day 33
The Seventies was the decade of the singer/songwriter. Today I present Roberta Flack. I mean, is there anything else to say? A voice that’s both understated and gigantic, lyrics that beg for connection. It’s really hard to describe the way these two songs make me feel, other than saying Killing Me Softly and The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face both take me back to the furthest memories of my very happy, innocent childhood.
I remember being a little boy and thinking how confusing and amazing these songs were; they intrigued me to understand grown-up relationships. There was a man who knew her better than she knew herself. His music tore her apart, but it made her sing these beautiful lyrics to this music-box sound. It was both terrible and wonderful, and how is that possible?
Haunting even today, when I hear either of these songs I am reminded of those evocative moments when I was a little boy who’d stand in the leaf piles across the street in the park, looking up at the stars in the early night sky, endless and scary but also tantalizing and welcoming.
Calling You (Blue October) - Day 32
Calling You, by alternative rock band Blue October, is an anthem to obsessive love. It holds one of my favorite lyrics in any love song: I can’t believe you actually picked me. This song came to be popular in the early 00’s but I identify with it as coming to be during the beginnings of my relationship with Chris. Both of us were damaged in some way but found peace with one another, finding friendship and love amidst the tumult.
Take away the old, show me the new.
And I feel like I can fly when I stand next to you…
Only wanna see if you’re okay when I’m not around.
Asking if you love me. I love the way you make it sound.
If we were to have gone with a traditional ‘first dance’ at our wedding, I’d have seen if there were a slower version of this song to hold him and sway, while whispering the words in his ear, because I still can’t believe he actually picked me.
I Just Want To Be Your Everything (Andy Gibb) – Day 31
This post is as much about the entire year of music from 1977 as it is about the song I love most from that year, by the artist who began the stirrings of the baby gay I was at age 11. I could run a list as long as my arm of the songs from 1977 that I could listen to all day; in fact, when going through my online music playlists, often I come back to ‘77 as the stand out. But today we will chat about the magic that is Andy Gibb and his mega-hit I Just Want To Be Your Everything. The landscape of pop music began changing as the seventies approached its end, and the Bee Gee’s had their imprint on so much, not least of all the career of their youngest brother.
The album cover had Andy in a red shirt, unbuttoned enough to showcase his hairy chest. There he was with his wavy, feathered hair and the smile of what can only be described as that of a demigod, the son of perhaps Zeus and some beautiful Australian mortal. My cousin Cristine had a huge crush on Andy Gibb, and she was allowed to, as a little girl in suburban America. I, obviously, was not. But when Aunt Pat got us tickets to see him perform at the Westbury Music Fair, it was all I could do to contain myself. He was literal perfection. His music was brilliant delight. It lit me up inside, and I didn’t know why, I just knew I could never talk about it. Until now, so enjoy some youngest brother Gibb!
The King Of Wishful Thinking (Go West) - Day 30
Go West released a song called We Close Our Eyes in the mid-80s during that time I’ve spoken about which began turning the table on music in general for me. I loved that damn song as it flowed with my new obsession with WLIR and its new wave revolution.
It wasn’t until 1990, though, that these guys released a song that melted into the pop mainstream. Having a huge hit that was associated with the biggest film of the year starring the biggest stars of the year was probably not a bad thing, but it certainly solidified The King Of Wishful Thinking as one for the history books. A blend of pleasant pop and lead singer Peter Cox’s vocal range, along with that sound of theirs that made me love their new wave feel, this song has always been one I crank when I hear it on the radio. Listening to it as I write this, I just did exactly that!
PS: I’m always a sucker for a pop song with horns in the break!
Eternal Flame (The Bangles) - Day 29
Sometimes I fall in love with a song long after its release and only because of what it reminds me of when I think back on it. Frankly, I never really liked Eternal Flame by the Bangles in 1989 when it was a hit, but it was my best friend Vinny’s song for his then-partner. At the time I found it to be simplistic and ordinary, nothing special.
Years later when my friend was sick and near the end of his life, we went on a day trip together and heard this song on the radio. Vincent confessed to me in that moment what this song represented to him and why he loved it so much. He explained a lot to me that day, as we spoke of our past loves and the mistakes we made with them, the things we did to them. I never heard this song the same way again after that day in March of 2006.
Months after he passed, I bumped into his ex at the bar and broke the news of his death. Richie was blown away at the news, as I assume anyone would be at hearing of the death of someone they once truly loved. We cried and drank and cried some more that night, and when we eventually connected on social media, I realized Eternal Flame was just as much Richie’s song as it was Vinny’s.
I know it’s weird to love a song that breaks your heart. But that’s me. I love music of all kinds, even when it tears me up to listen to it. Sometimes, in fact, especially then.
Say my name, sun shines through the rain.
Dancing Queen (ABBA) – Day 28
How ABBA never made it into my first year’s countdown last year is bewildering. My entry regarding disco mega-hit We Are Family by Sister Sledge talked about that K-Tel record album that started it all for me, the one with all the hits of the day. One of those hits, among the sea of disco pearls, was Dancing Queen. This song is so cheesy and so amazing, from the opening piano drag to the very end that has those Swedish voices just floating away into the disco netherverse.
ABBA’s sound in general was so uniquely seventies but so brilliant for that decade, and even though it doesn’t really hold up, it seems that many have held onto the magic; from Priscilla, Queen of the Desert to Muriel’s Wedding to a tribute album by Erasure, ABBA is a force to be celebrated. You may be sarcastically shocked to hear that Vinny and I LOVED Dancing Queen and all the gay-related jokes we’d make about each other and about it.
You know when you hear it, you also turn it up. There’s no point in denying it.
True (Spandau Ballet) - Day 27
Sixteen Candles is among my favorite films of all time, for many reasons. One of them is the music. It’s a splash of the best sound from an era of innocence, combining pop with synth and dance. But there’s always a stand-out song that, when you hear it, immediately makes you yearn the way sophomore Samantha Baker did for senior Jake Ryan as she watches him slow dance with his girlfriend Caroline. The velvet sound of lead singer Tony Hadley’s sincere vocals makes True by Spandau Ballet an all-time favorite. This song is played on the radio as often today as it was in 1984 when that classic John Hughes film popularized it.
There’s not much more you can say about it: it’s just a great song that stands the test of time. It’s a great love ballad and an all-around easy listen on the ear.
Time [Clock Of The Heart] (Culture Club) - Day 26
Chris and I recently scored last-second tickets to see Culture Club perform at the Westbury Music Fair (or whatever it’s called now), thanks to 2 amazing humans who thought we might enjoy the show. Well, let me say we DID indeed enjoy that concert, and it took me this many years to realize how much I loved, *LOVE* so many songs by Boy George and the band. Their list of hits is undeniable, but today’s song, Time (Clock of the Heart), has got pretty much everything, including the eighties horns I love so much, that sweet and sultry voice of Boy, black girls singing back-up, and a catchy hook.
To see and hear this song performed live, to perfection, was exactly the reminder I needed to nail it to my list of tops. The band sounded as good today as they did when they were recording hits in the early eighties. I encourage you to go see them, now, wherever they’re playing!
Cause, hey, you and me, we know we got nothin’ but time!
Who Loves You? (Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons) - Day 25
Who Loves You? Well, of course you know the answer to this question - I do! But hey, so did Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons way back in the seventies when their signature sound was changing and they needed to keep up with the times.
Talk about a great song. This one has everything – harmonies, a disco beat, nostalgia, and a rocking riff halfway through the song. The question should actually be “Who Doesn’t Love This Song?” Such good music; such a great listen.
It’s sort of the predecessor to Valli’s hit lead song to the blockbuster film Grease, but for me, and maybe for you, WAAAYYY better. This is one of those songs I wish didn’t end three minutes in. It could go on for twice that long and I’d still rewind it to play it again.
That’s who loves you.
Star Wars Theme/ Cantina Band (Meco) – Day 24
Part of the magic of the late seventies was the fact that so many musicians, including heavy hitters like the Stones, Paul McCartney, and even KISS, were dropping their hats into the disco arena. The popularity of Saturday Night Fever and everything surrounding it made disco the place to be. Disco dictated the fashion of the times and stirred a frenzy amongst pop culture. Everyone wanted a piece of Studio 54.
That said, today’s song may perhaps generate some hate mail, but whatever. Love it or not, part of the Star Wars universe history is the fact that the Cantina Band song was turned into a true disco song. When you can make the song from the local bar on Tatooine into a disco song, I must inquire “How could you not adore this?”
I give you the Star Wars Theme/ Cantina Band by disco musician and producer Meco. Play it really loud, right this instant. That is not a request but a command. And don’t ask questions, and do not ACT like your senses are being flooded by everything amazing about visualizing music.
Raspberry Beret (Prince) - Day 23
Few artists reach iconic status. Prince is one of them. He has a list of hits that is seemingly endless. Even before Purple Rain became the phenomenon it was, Prince was rattling off hit after hit, each with a blend of rock and funk and even a little new wave. This guy was the definition of visionary. Anyone reading this likely has a Prince song out of which they could lip-sync the shit.
Mine is Raspberry Beret. It was released post-Purple Rain but was an instant goliath on MTV. The melodic, roller-coastery rhythm is so hypnotic that I fell in love with this song immediately. It’s a simple but happy retelling of a boy’s first time with a girl that knew her way around.
I just love the bridge to this song so much.
I wouldn’t change a stroke
Cause baby I’m the most
For a girl as fine as she was then…
Mary’s Prayer (Danny Wilson) - Day 22
Another relatively obscure one for the list, this is Mary’s Prayer by a Scottish band called Danny Wilson. In the early days of VH1, which at the time was showcasing more adult-contemporary types of hits, this song blasted onto the charts and stuck in my head. It’s a combination of the lead vocalist’s sweet voice and the pop-synth that was so prevalent in 1988.
Naturally, years later the song took on a different meaning after my sister-in-law Mary suddenly died. In my brain I turned a song about a guy who lost his love and wanted her back at any cost into the sound of my own aching heart to have her back.
When I hear it today, I don’t have those exact same pangs I’d gotten in the decade or so after losing Mary, but I’m always tethered to this as a song that reminds me of her, hoping that if there’s a heaven, she’ll leave a light in heaven for me.
It’s just a pretty, melodic song to me that still stirs emotions.
Dear God (XTC) - Day 21
I challenge you to listen to these lyrics. Listen to the whole thing. The music is melodic and beautiful, so that will help.
Go ahead, I’ll wait. I just want you to REALLY listen.
Every time there is an act of terror, across the globe or right here in our classrooms and night clubs, I wonder to myself, how can people still believe this mythology?
“I won't believe in heaven and hell. No saints, no sinners, no devil as well.
No pearly gates, no thorny crown. You're always letting us humans down.
The wars you bring, the babes you drown. Those lost at sea and never found
and it's the same the whole world 'round.
The hurt I see helps to compound that Father, Son and Holy Ghost
is just somebody's unholy hoax, and if you're up there you'd perceive
that my heart's here upon my sleeve. If there's one thing I don't believe in…
Dear God is a perfect, poetic giant of a song that NEEDS to be heard.
Lotta Love (Nicolette Larson) - Day 20
Listen to the sweet voice of Nicolette Larson and try to brush off the jazz flute in the bridge. This song, written by seventies mega-star Neil Young, is all about the saxophone and the lullaby vocals of Larson. It’s from a time era of innocence when songs like this were all over the airwaves. (On this year’s countdown alone, there are 16 songs from this era of soft rock.)
Lotta Love is high on the list of favorites from 1977. It’s safely before the onset of punk and new wave, when AM Radio still reigned at the right hand od Disco.
I love the earthiness of this chick; it’s sad she didn’t have as huge a career as her contemporaries. But I could listen to this one over and over and that’s just fine by me.
Wishing On A Star (Rose Royce) - Day 19
When you hear the band name Rose Royce, most likely you think of their mega-hit Car Wash. And you’d be correct. Except, they have another song that is so amazing it has been covered several times and you’ve likely heard it and maybe didn’t know it was them.
Wishing On A Star, to me, is a transcendent song. You can hear it today and not really know when it was actually recoded and released onto the airwaves. It could be from last year, next month, or four decades ago. Just try to get past her cosmic-swan costume and bedazzled macramé headdress in this video. Listen with your ears and not your eyes, and I think you’ll agree.
A true ballad from start to finish, this one’s great for a slow dance, though its message isn’t necessarily that of togetherness in love; rather, it’s a song filled with the pangs of yearning for the one that got away. I love the sincerity in Rose Dickey’s voice. I could truly listen to it over and over, each time finding another nuance in those broken vocals.
Livin’ Thing (Electric Light Orchestra) - Day 18
I’m takin’ a dive..
It never occurred to me, back when this song was popular on the radio in the late seventies, that it was a song about overcoming suicide. Livin’ Thing is another in a long list of great songs by a great band from a great era of music. There are SO many layers to this song, from the synthesized undertones to the scolding back-up singers (Don’t you do it, don’t you do it.) to the echoing shouts of lead singer Jeff Lynne.
I like a lot of the music by ELO, some of which are tethered to Xanadu (obviously), but this song is a true stand out for me. I’m absorbed by the rhythmic melody of the cello and the sweet soft vocal harmonies, not to mention the urgency of the horns. And of course, there’s the message: life is a terrible thing to lose.
This is the kind of song that can make one rethink the downward spiral of drug addiction and giving in to depression, and in that way, it has done its job.
I Love You (Climax Blues Band) - Day 17
Gratitude. This song is about being thankful and expressing that gratitude with the three words every human wants to hear: I love you. I spoke about Roberta, when I wrote about Sara by Fleetwood Mac, as being someone from whom I drew strength and confidence in a pivotal, impressionable time of early adulthood when all I could think about myself was that I was a mistake of God. When she and I would sit in her basement playing cards and daydreaming, we’d listen to soft rock radio and talk about each of the songs we’d hear. This song was one we couldn’t agree on; she found it to be way over-schmaltzy, and I heard it as a tribute to the appreciation I had no idea how to express. If not for her, I don’t know what kinds of stupid things I’d have done to escape the fear of my future reality.
Granted, I Love You is a love song written about a woman by a man, best utilized as perhaps a wedding song, a first dance. I hear the lyrics as magnified through my own lens: Thank you, babe, for being a friend and shinin' your light in my life… I wish I could find her and let her know how instrumental she was in saving my life. If not for Roberta Kannewischer, you might not be reading this daily music blog by Nicholas Marino.
Thirty-five years later, I hear this song and picture her face and remember how she’d laugh at me for liking this song and she’d tell me how she couldn’t stand the weepy guitar riffs. And I’d laugh back and say, “Whatever you say, Birdie.” Since then I hear this song of gratitude and it works for so many people who have come into my life to help guide me and keep me grounded. Not an easy feat. A lot of you are here on Facebook and I hope you’re reading this. Some are not, and I hope they always know how grateful I am to them.
Everything She Wants (Wham!) - Day 16
First, let’s talk about this video. OH. MY. GAHDS. that gorgeous blonde mullet bathed in glorious black & white eighties side lighting, George, all perfect with his just-large-enough hoop earrings and vivid white teeth. What a vision he was, so dark and beautiful. I literally can’t.
This song came out when I was in college at the U of Scranton. I was still firmly in the closet, denying I liked music by anyone androgynous. George Michael wasn’t exactly as androgynous as Boy George, but he did give off that gay vibe, and admitting I liked him, to me, meant outing myself. I would play this song alone in my dorm room, hoping no one was around to judge and put the puzzle pieces together. And I’d hope the video would come on in the background so I could look at that beautiful face.
Some may argue Everything She Wants isn’t the best song by Wham!, but I wholeheartedly disagree. Great lyrics, bouncy eighties synths, so much better than Wake Me Up. But really, it’s all about this video.
PS: His name is Andrew Ridgeley. And how very dare you not know that? His perfect brown mullet and sad puppy eyes were almost as adorable as George’s. Almost.
The Ghost In You (Psychedelic Furs) - Day 15
The Psychedelic Furs, gods among men in the new wave record books, belted out some of the most memorable songs of the eighties, but for me their standout song is The Ghost In You. A sweetly haunting melody about hanging on to the memory of that one who got away with your heart.
When I think about new wave, I tend to recollect the more upbeat, harder stuff by Depeche Mode and New Order, but this song by the Psych Furs really defines the growth of new wave synth music as a staple into the mainstream of American pop culture.
Give it a listen: Richard Butler’s unique voice sounds familiar and exotic all at once, lulling you into the mood with him, celebrating rather than mourning that one that got away.
Inside you the time moves and she don't fade.
The ghost in you, she don't fade…
Breaking Us In Two (Joe Jackson) - Day 14
Joe Jackson is, in my opinion, one of the most underrated musicians of our time. Genius song writing, profoundly memorable lyrics. The Billy Joel of Britain, his songs are catchy and fast and smart. His piano lulls you into the moment. His sweet, pointed voice drums against your heart.
Breaking Us In Two is a lovely ballad about just trying to make it work without the drama that always seems to interfere. It reminds me of a relationship I’d had with someone who is still special and dear to me; impossible to ever agree on things, small or large, but the love never went away. Always something breaking us in two.
No need to psychoanalyze that relationship other than to say that when I hear this song, I think of how difficult the fight always seemed to be just to stay on track. Maybe that’s how regular relationships work, but I am not a fighter, never was.
They say two hearts should beat as one for us
We'll fight it out to see it through
I say that won't be too much fun for us
Though it's oh so nice to get advice
It's oh so hard to do..
Who’s Crying Now? (Journey) - Day 13
The best part of the song, though, is the instrumental ending that could go on for all eternity and be the best thing you’ve ever listened to. From that 3 minutes 28 second mark, you’re escorted on a (dare I say it?) journey into the inner soul and outer space. Play that beautiful air guitar and drum the air in front of your closed eyes as you feel. Just feel.
Much like the very end of Hotel California, I indeed crank my volume to its highest during this instrumental and simply swoon. Such a great song, transcendent of time. And space.
Come To Me (France Joli) - Day 12
Come to me, when you’re all alone and feelin’ down.
Come to me, when there’s nobody else around.
Come to me, I’m still waiting open armed for you.
Come to me ‘cause I will comfort you
When you’ve no one to turn to, I will be here just for you…
This is the disco song to which I alluded in my blog for song 47, this giant from France Joli. It was my connection to back home, the song my childhood friend Jan loved and, whenever I heard it on KTU, it helped me feel like I was still a part of that old life.
Amidst that late seventies – early eighties “disco is dead” nonsense, France Joli’s sexy anthem about being there for her friend helped me know dance music, in whatever form, wasn’t going anywhere. When I hear of someone who also loves this song, I know I will immediately love them. Just ask my sister-in-law Margie! (Insert disco porch party here!)
But the one person who I know will always perk up when she hears this is my Jan. We have our amazing shared memories of being teenagers in her house in Lynbrook when I would come back from the Poconos for the weekend. We would groove together and just laugh and feel the love of friendship. That’s a memory that I hope never fades away, for either of us.
I’ll Stand By You (The Pretenders) - Day 11
In 1994, The Pretenders released this ballad about loyalty against all odds. Until this point, I don’t think I’d ever heard anything but progressive rock tunes by this band, all of which were always pretty good but never top of any of my lists. And then came I’ll Stand By You.
Chrissie Hynde’s voice is the definition of earnest. You know she means every single word. She says all the things we say to the ones we love who are battling their demons. I’d venture a guess that this song is at the top of many people’s list of best songs, as most people can really relate to having that person in their lives who is their rock, their footing. I am lucky, as I can list several names of people who I KNOW would always have my back, will ground me when I need it, shall never desert me even at the harshest of times.
This song is a dedication to those people, because the same can be said from me to them.
When the night falls on you, you don’t know what to do
Nothing you confess could make me love you less…
Even The Nights Are Better (Air Supply) - Day 10
Somehow, against the adversity of seemingly EVERYONE thinking their music is just terrible, Air Supply still managed to carve out a pretty lengthy time in the early eighties as their own with at least six chart-topping hits. I am not afraid to admit I loved Air Supply. I had their greatest hits CD when CDs were still a thing. I had Lost In Love on a ‘45. I would jam the fuck out to Making Love Out Of Nothing At All while I was at college in that period of inner struggle. But none of their songs resounds to me and light sup my soul like Even The Nights Are Better.
I pretty much love everything about this song. I think I swoon more than normal when it reaches the guitar bridge, and then Russell’s sweet high voice breaks back in at a chord change. This is another song I wish went on way longer than a mere 4 minutes. In fact, as I’m writing this, I’m listening to it on a muthafuckin’ loop!
Magic Man/Crazy On You (Heart) - Day 9
I could not decide between Magic Man and Crazy On You when it came time to narrow down my favorite song by seventies and eighties mega-band Heart. The weird thing is, amidst their eighties reinvention, among their string of amazing hits like What About Love? and Alone, I finally discovered the literal magic in their music from the seventies. Obviously, I was aware of their existence when I was a kid, but at that time of my life I was a burgeoning disco diva, and frankly my brothers didn’t listen to Heart, so we didn’t really hear it in the house.
You might agree that Ann Wilson’s voice is, hands-down, one of the most amazing rock voices of our time. There is literally nothing she cannot sing. Heart paved the way for rock chicks like Pat Benatar and Lita Ford. I even think that Heart’s consistent radio presence into the nineties made way for the careers of Alanis Morrissette, Joan Osborne, Sheryl Crow, and so many others. Maybe that’s just my opinion, so if you want to voice your won, write a blog.
For these two particular songs, it’s ALSO about the mystical sound of the guitars paired with Ann’s emotion-soaked pipes and Nancy’s beautiful harmonies. I could listen to Magic Man literally for days. I know the same can be said for pretty much every song in this countdown from this point on, but still.
Now, shut up and listen to both these amazing songs from the early part of Ann & Nancy Wilson’s career, or I swear I will go crazy on you. And not in the good way.
867-5309/Jenny (Tommy Tutone) - Day 8
I can’t believe this song didn’t make my list of 50 to 50 last year, considering it is my favorite song, aside from Rock Lobster, to beat the fuck out of at karaoke, and has been since before I even knew that karaoke was a thing. It’s probably one of the most notorious one hit wonders of our generation, with the catchiest hook and a phone number that anyone who wasn’t born a millennial knows. And face it, we’ve ALL dialed 867-5309 and asked for Jenny at least once in our lifetime.
I think what I love most is, strangely, the bar-room feel of the music, the fact that it is an anthem to late nights in the club searching for that girl, or guy, that you know will never be yours. But the dreamer knows he’s gotten his ‘in’ by coming upon Jenny’s phone number.
In a year when the music of Dionne Warwick and Barry Manilow was giving way to a new sound, Tommy Tutone took the lead of the others making good on MTV to create a video about a stalker to go along with a catchy song that has lasted ever since.
I got it! I got it! I got your number on the wall!
Please enjoy 867-5309/Jenny, and if you feel like it, maybe grab a hairbrush and karaoke the shit outta it! I have already started.
A Song For You (The Carpenters) - Day 7
I confess to not knowing the existence of this song, at least not this version by the Carpenters, until early in this new millennium. Crazy, right? Especially once hearing the way Karen Carpenter sings, so beautifully and so earnestly, the lyrics written by Leon Russell. Part of the reason I love Karen Carpenter is the obvious connection of her voice to my childhood, but to find a song by an artist so long after said artist’s death, and to be moved so profoundly by that song, speaks deeply to me.
There is subtle sadness in a song that is a true love song sung by a girl who, in her own life, was tortured, constantly battling self-loathing . Talk about bittersweet.
A Song For You has been recorded by many different diverse artists, notably by another tragic artist from the seventies named Donnie Hathaway and also by American Idol runner-up Elliott Yamin, whose unbelievable performance was what struck me to research the song and led me to this version by the Carpenters. And for me, this one is, and should be, the staple. When something so beautiful is done in such an understated way, it needs to be revered.
I hope you feel the same way.
Tell It To My Heart (Taylor Dayne) - Day 6
I actually remember exactly where I was the first time I heard Tell It To My Heart by Long Island’s own Leslie Wunderman, aka Taylor Dayne. It was morning; I was getting ready for work at the Pennysaver in my basement apartment at Aurora’s, listening to Z100. This bangin’ song came on and I was mesmerized by the voice of the singer. Days went by, the song grew in popularity and air play, and before we knew it Taylor Dayne was everywhere with that giant mane of hair and red lips for days. But that voice! Holy gods, that voice! And such an amazing debut song, an upbeat anthem to dance to and really feel in your groove-bone. Don’t act like you don’t have a groove-bone.
When I hear this song, which I love, I am transported back to those glory days at the Pennysaver where I met so many of my life-long friends, where I found the courage to come out, where I began the march from childhood to manhood. In a way, part of why I love this song and most of her songs that followed is because of those people. Certain things, and certain people, stay with you always. I am thankful for that, and I am happy to be reminded of them all whenever I hear Taylor Dayne belt out her greatest song.
Hold On (Wilson Phillips) - Day 5
I know that there is pain
but ya hold on for one more day and
ya break free from the chainsss…
At a time of personal freedom in my life, Girl-group Wilson Phillips released their mammoth debut hit single, and perhaps the song of the year for 1990, Hold On. Like many songs from that era, it might not necessarily hold up and is sometimes the subject of ridicule (See the urban dictionary definition of “rick rolled,” which I still don’t understand because I LOVE Rick Astley and that crazy-amazing song), but for me this song stands the test of time, reminding me that I have it all inside me to be strong and stay on course in a life that has no road map.
There’s a feel to this song that is hard to describe. It could be among a number of things, including the pangs of nostalgia. Either way, this song brings me joy and confidence. I was so happy that it was included in the movie Bridesmaids, because the girls of Wilson Phillips were included in the joke, making it not a joke at all but a lovely memory from ‘back in the day’. I guess that’s the best way to describe this song.
No More Tears [Enough Is Enough] (Barbra Streisand & Donna Summer) - Day 4
There is no video to go with this AMAZING GODDAMN SONG, as much as I wish there were. Or, at least if one exists, I could not find it on the interwebs. The year was 1979. Donna Summer was the reigning Queen of Disco. Barbra Streisand was still one of the top recording artists of the time. And then the world exploded when they released one of the most amazing duets in recorded herstory.
It’s not so much about the song itself, and certainly not the lyrics (for me, anyway), as it is about the vibe of the song. The baby gay that I was at age 13 LOVED this song, played the record until there were permanent dents in the vinyl. I mean, I would close the door to my brother’s bedroom (the only room in the house that had a working record player) and BLAST the shit out of this song, singing as loudly and brazenly as I could. I even heard Mr. Lombardi next door yell from his porch, “enough is enough already, Nicky!”
Well, the big fat 51-year-old gay that I am now LOVES this song still and is always reminded of the simpler times when I could hide myself away and lose myself in the music. It is perfection from start to finish. Even the record sleeve photo (pictured above) is sheer perfection. Let’s just say, I literally CAN’T with this song. Please don’t resist the urge to enjoy.
You Are The Sunshine Of My Life (Stevie Wonder) - Day 3
We all know his hit list. We all have a favorite or two. Mine is from the wonder years of my life, back in 1973 when the world was huge and the park across the street was my own playground. Talk about blissful ignorance!
You Are The Sunshine Of My Life! It’s a pure love song with a rumba rhythm and harmonies for days. It’s another of my favorite karaoke hits (as if I have even a fraction of the capacity to sing it) and it will always tether me to those golden childhood moments I hope to never forget. Memories of my Cheri Amour, my beautiful sister Rosemarie, my childhood friends Linda and Greg, our house on Wright Avenue, my mom’s AM Radio in the pantry. All the colors of joy.
And I Love Her/In My Life (The Beatles) - Day 2
And then there’s the Beatles. Last year they made my list with Let It Be. This year, I strategically chose two Beatles’ ballads that remind me of my two angels in the cover photo of my Facebook page. First is And I Love Her, a ballad from before I was even born, which was the wedding song of Rosemarie’s when she married Bob in 1974. Every time I hear it, I sway and think of her. I remember all the things, from being a bow-tied kindergartner who hung on her every word and looked at her with such awe and reverence, to power-mulleted mustachio dedicating this song to her at karaoke in 1992 (which was recorded and saved on a VHS tape that my mom used to LOVE to play… wonder where that ended up?). No matter where I am when I hear it, I can close my eyes and see my beautiful sister when she was a girl, early 20s, huge brown eyes and amazing seventies hair. It’s a wonderful memory.
Second is In My Life. One of the most often covered of the Beatles’ hits, it reminds me of the other cute little angel. I mean, listen to the lyrics so I don’t have to explain why.
Though I know I’ll never lose affection for people and things that went before
I know I’ll often stop and think about them.
In my life, I love you more
Those You’ve Known (Spring Awakening Cast) - Day 1
With one day left to my birthday, I decided to save this song from Spring Awakening as my penultimate. Obviously, unless you’ve seen the show you won’t know the song or what events led up to Jonathan Groff’s Melchior singing it. He is a boy who is grief stricken beyond words and ready to just give up on his own life until the ghosts of those who’ve gone visit to reassure him they’re never really far away.
The song is called Those You’ve Known, and my heart bleeds when I hear it, both with sadness of the burden of so much loss as well as with the swelling of joy knowing they walk beside me as I continue through this unpleasant world. Bleak, I know, to be a part of a song countdown, but so relevant, especially during the holidays when one feels the losses on a much greater scale than usual. My Christmas tree is littered with framed photos of those who’ve gone, because I really would give anything to have them all back. Even if just for a day.
Merry Christmas, Darling (The Carpenters) – Day Zero
To end a countdown of 51 songs to 51, when the one in question is born 4 days before Christmas, seems incomplete without a bonus song that only gets played this time of year, but is hands-down my favorite Christmas song ever. Therefore, here is song zero, Merry Christmas, Darling.
Just a few days ago, I spoke about Karen Carpenter, and the gravity of her voice in this holiday masterpiece is why I love it so. I know I’m ending this countdown on a downer for sure. Let’s just say it’s been a challenging past few years, between losing another sibling, a mother in law, a best friend, a job I’d had for 15 years… It’s difficult, at a time when people are supposed to be joyous and celebratory, to really feel that feeling intrinsically without a shit-ton of effort. I do my best, I really do. I decorate the tree and I try to put a lot of thought into gift giving to make the recipients feel loved.
But then I hear Karen Carpenter sing this song and I am immediately reminded that I can’t pick up the phone and call my mom just to say I love her, or call my sis and listen to her sing-songy voice telling me stories. I can’t call Vinny and laugh like we always did. I can’t wish any of them a Merry Christmas or Happy New Year, too.
So many of you know this sad feeling, this bittersweet sentiment that comes ‘round every December without them. I dedicate this song to you and to them, those who’ve left but never really leave us. Merry Christmas, my darlings.