I was never particularly nostalgic for the songs of my youth, rarely playing them at home or in the car. Of course it may have something to do with the fact that I came of age in the 1970s, and while there was some excellent music produced during those years, my memory seems fixated on the disco and novelty songs of the time. Perhaps nowhere did disco reign as supreme as in South Florida. Hialeah, right next door to my hometown of Hollywood was the birthplace of KC and the Sunshine Band (“That’s the Way (I Like It)”,” Shake Shake Shake (Shake Your Booty)”, “I’m Your Boogie Man,” “Get Down Tonight,” and “Please Don’t Go,”—Ya know, I’d forgotten how many hits they had), and Donna Summer owned a beach house in Venice, FL. I vividly remember when her version of “MacArthur Park” was the most requested song on the local radio station for about 100 weeks in a row in 1978. Miami loved Donna Summer.
I also find it hard to pine for such musical oddities as Jim Stafford’s “Spiders and Snakes” (Remember an America where this kind of song could make you a star? Yeah, me neither) and “My Girl Bill,” which finally got people talking about a very important issue: the proper placement of commas.
Other gems of the genre included C. W. McCall’s CB radio anthem “Convoy” and Rick Dee’s “Disco Duck,” which was an insult to both disco and ducks.
So I was satisfied with now and then catching a song from my past while scanning the shelves at Michael’s arts and crafts supply store or trawling the aisles of Stop & Shop (the only place, by the way, that you can still hear Taylor Dayne). The kids kept the car radio on the local Top 40 stations, and that was fine with me, as I love pop music.
Then I found 98.7, a good 70s and 80s “oldies” (I categorically reject that description) radio station that I sometimes listened to when driving alone to Target or Stop & Shop. When my daughter, Jenny, rode with me, she controlled the selections, scanning through our preset buttons to find a song we wanted to listen to. She would always skip over the oldies station or, if she hit the button by mistake, scan away from it as reflexively as if she’d touched a spider (I guess Jim Stafford was on to something after all). “Oh, that was a good song,” I’d sometimes exclaim, having caught a couple of notes of an old favorite, but she’d stop me mid-sentence with a withering look.
Then Adele burst onto the scene with “Someone Like You.” The song was incredible. It was incredible on 105.5, incredible on 104.7, incredible on 101.3, and incredible on 95.7. Sometimes it was incredible on all four simultaneously. After a few weeks the song was amazing. It was amazing on 101.3, amazing on 105.5, amazing on 95.7, and amazing on 104.7; it even started showing up on 106.5, not strictly a Top 40 station. It became possible to hop from station to station and catch the song just beginning on one, just ending on another, and playing within a couple of notes of each other on two others. What about the fifth? The song had probably just ended or would begin as soon as the current song was over. A couple more weeks went by and “Someone Like You” was great. It was great on 104.7, great on 105.5, great on 103.9, great on 95.7, and had caught up (or down) to great on 106.5. When several months had passed and it was still playing—“sigh”—on all those stations, we’d look at each other and say, “There’s got to be something else on.”
It was then, when we were nearing “Someone Like You” insanity, that I tentatively said, “We can try the oldies station.” With trepidation Jenny acquiesced. At the time 98.7 was heavy on Fleetwood Mac. Jenny recognized “Dreams,” and whereas she automatically rejected it before, she now decided it wasn’t too bad. And so started her education in some of the songs I’d grown up with.
At first she took 98.7 in small doses, but gradually we began spending more and more time there. As song followed song, I’d tell her the title and the artist. Some songs came with a story or reminiscence. And some songs proved the old adage “history repeats itself.” Take the Doobie Brother’s “Black Water” for instance. The first time we heard it, I told Jenny how much my sister grew to hate that song because when it was first released in 1974, the Florida radio stations played it over and over until you felt you were drowning in that “old black water” that kept “on rollin’” (or as my friend Roz puts it, “the most overplayed song of all time.”). Well, it turns out 98.7 also has a penchant for “Black Water,” and now when we catch those first dulcet strains, my daughter and I smile at each other and then Jenny hits the button.
After awhile the quizzes started. “Ok, who’s this?” I’d ask as songs came on. At first Jen said, “Elton John?” or “Fleetwood Mac?” to every question. Her guess of Elton John was a bit facetious because she knows I love Sir Elton, and in the time before her conversion, whenever we’d hear the first notes of “Tiny Dancer,” “Your Song,” “Bennie and the Jets,” or any of his other hits as she scanned the dial, my gaze would slide to the right and hers to the left and with a bit indulgence she’d let me listen.
Fortunately, the station played enough Fleetwood Mac for her to be right about half the time, and her confidence grew. Then as happens with someone learning a foreign language, it all clicked. She began thinking in 70s and 80s. As soon as a song began, she’d shout out “Rod Stewart” or “Phil Collins” or “The Police” or “the Rolling Stones.” “Yes!” I’d reply. It was like we were playing the old TV game show Name That Tune and she was the defending champion. I couldn’t have been more proud.
Now 98.5 is one of our favorites, and it’s fun hearing the old songs again. Jenny and I also like discussing the differences between songs then and now. While Connecticut stations aren’t so big on disco, we heard plenty during our trip to Hollywood in October. Of course, I’m not sure whether that was an “oldies” station we were listening to or whether South Florida is still stuck in the disco era. Miami did love its disco.
I’m thinking that to honor my past I really should put “MacArthur Park” on my iphone. And what the heck—a little KC too. All of this talk about music has also made me think that a little more reminiscing about old songs might be fun. For my next blog I’m going to try something different. I thought I’d invite my friend Roz, whom I’ve known nearly all my life, to discuss songs that made us who we are. If you’d like us to talk about a particular song, let me know in the comments section or on Facebook.
And until next time, “Rock On.”