Monday, August 24, 2009

The Other Side of Summer (Songs), Part I

Not to keep harping on Rob Sheffield, but I have to again take issue with his opinions on popular music. The latest Rolling Stone features his list of "The Songs of Summer," wherein he highlights "the best summer jams of the past 20 years." The list is extremely hip hop and R&B heavy, which just a smattering of pop/rock songs in the mix. Thus, most of his selections are songs that I couldn't stand or don't even remember.

I like hip hop, but I'm very picky. Most of the mainstream American "bitches n' ho's" tripe bores the shit out of me. The hip hop artists I tend to like either hail from outside the U.S. (The Streets, M.I.A) or are from another era altogether (old school Run-D.M.C. and the Beastie Boys). As for R&B, I can only get into 60's and 70's Motown. The rest...snoresville.

So then--in answer to Rob Sheffield--here is my summer song list. Some of the ones I've picked are ones I actually disliked; I chose the songs that evoke my most vivid summertime memories, for better or worse.


Wilson Phillips: “Hold On”
When I was sixteen I had a summer job as a cashier at Milano's, a (now defunct) fast food pasta restaurant in Broad Ripple. Most of my co-workers were also in high school, but they were all going into their senior years at Broad Ripple High School and I was just a lowly junior: to them, I might as well have been a ten-year-old in pigtails. Thus, all the shit work was foisted upon me. When it was slow I had to mop the floors, scrub down all the booths and tables, and (ugh) clean the toilets. The music piped into the store was all soft-rock adult contemporary--Michael Bolton, Phil Collins, etc. And the number one song I used to have to listen to while on my hands and knees, scraping gum from the bottom of the tables? Wilson Phillips's “Hold On.” That wretched, chirpy, faux- inspirational piece of dog doody was played at least once an hour, and I absolutely hated it. Even the name “Wilson Philips” conjures memories of that white Oxford shirt, the khaki pants, the ugly brown loafers and that goddamn green visor I had to wear as part of the Milano's uniform. It was the opposite of sexy (like Wilson Phillips).

Bell, Biv Devoe: “Poison”
Another song I loathed, but this one at least has a positive memory attached to it. Mike was a cook in the kitchen and was the one person there I was cool with. I had a bit of a crush on him, too. Mike was one of those hip hop white guys, before that style and attitude became the norm among high school boys. He wasn't the greatest looking guy—bad hair, ugly glasses and one of those unfortunate peach-fuzz mustaches—but he lifted weights a lot and had a killer bod. Plus he was sweet and funny, so that went a long way towards his attractiveness. Mike was a big fan of Bell, Biv Devoe (or BBD, as they were called) and LOVED this song. He used to listen to WTLC in the kitchen when the manager wasn't around, and he would crank “Poison” and dance around to it whenever it was played. Note: for you youngsters, “Poison” was probably one of the worst songs of that era, featuring the lyric “Never trust a big butt and a smile.” (So...beware of Rosie O'Donnell, I guess?)

The Sundays “Here's Where the Story Ends”
My sister turned me on to The Sundays that summer. Great band, great song.

The Cure Disintegration
After spending my days taking shit from surly Milano's customers and scrubbing floors and toilets to the sounds of Wilson Phillips and Bell Biv Devoe, Disintegration was like a soothing balm for my psyche. Genius album--Robert Smith at his moodiest. I listened to it constantly, especially “Pictures of You.”


Jesus Jones: "Right Here, Right Now"
This song pretty much defined that summer for me--so much so that I referenced it in a short story I that wrote (to be published, stay tuned...).

Paula Abdul: "Rush Rush"
My friend Amanda and I LOVED this video for one reason: Keanu Reeves. It was in heavy rotation on MTV that summer, and we would call one another whenever it came on. The video is a gigantic hunk of Velveeta; a laughable homage to “Rebel Without a Cause,” complete with hammy acting and cringe-inducing dialogue. I still love it.

Crowded House – Woodface
This cassette lived in my Walkman for the entire summer. After the previous summer working at Milano's, I made a conscious choice to remain unemployed and instead spent most of my time lounging by the pool, baking myself to a rich golden brown hue and listening to Neil Finn sing “And the excess of fat on your American bones/Will cushion the impact as you sink like a stone.” Awesome.

Elvis Costello “The Other Side of Summer”
I am including this song for its title, and because I remember my friend Zak making fun of the video. “Who's that in his back-up band, the Go-Go's?” NOTE: I couldn't find this video on YouTube, so you'll just have to imagine a girl group playing back-up for Elvis Costello while he sings this on a beach.


Tom Cochrane: "Life is a Highway"
This is the summer after my high school graduation. I was excited to be done with high school, but a little bit depressed and lost in a Ghost World (see the movie) sort of funk. The highlight of that summer was taking a road trip with my then-boyfriend to hang with my sister in Tulsa, then on down to New Orleans to visit his family. This song was played a lot, and reminds me of long summer days on the open road with my man, scarfing down Cheetos, Corn Nuts, and Diet Coke.

The Black Crowes: "Remedy"
This band always reminds me of Tulsa. The Black Crowes, weed, and Tulsa—sort of fitting.


4 Non Blondes: "What's Goin' On"
I was in school to become a court reporter during this time. We didn't have summers off, it was more of a “tri-mester” sort of thing, with short breaks in between. I heard this song a lot that summer while driving to school in my first car--a 1988 white Toyota Corolla. Other than that, not a lot of musical memories from that time.


Whale: "Hobo Humpin' Slobo Babe"
My boyfriend was crazy about this song. He had the CD single (guess he didn't care enough to buy the whole album). Rick and I had a big debate over whether the singer is yelling “Get off, get off, get off my face,” or “Get off, get off, get off of me.” Turns out the lyric is “Get off, get off, get off my bed.” We were both wrong.

Meat Puppets: "Backwater”
My friend Heidi and I decided this song was about toilets flushing. It sort of exemplifies nineties music for me: dull and stoned-sounding, with a lot of guitars. There were tons of bands back then that sounded exactly like this.


Presidents of the United States of America: "Lump"
This was not a good year for me. I was really sick that summer, and this song reminds me of being sick. I didn't really hate the song though. Sometimes I sort of liked it, and would crank it in when I was in my car. Sometimes I couldn't stand it, though. It was one of those songs I had to be in the mood to like. Probably the best thing about it is the parody that it spawned, Weird Al's “Gump.”


Primitive Radio Gods: "Standing Outside a Broken Phone Booth With Money In My Hand”
A beautifully sad, hypnotic song that peaked during another depressing summer. I had a bad temp job at a gigantic company that financed student loans. It wasn't the worst temp job I ever had, but definitely one of the most mind-numbingly boring. This song reminds me of that job, and being depressed. This was in my pre-medicated days, by the way. Thank God for Paxil.


Sugar Ray: "Fly"
I'm twenty-four years old and living with my boyfriend of six years in a two-bedroom apartment that I think is pretty fancy. It's the last summer that Rick and I are together. I'm about to be dumped and I don't even know it. This song is constantly on the radio. I hear it every morning while I'm driving to my latest shitty temp job. I liked it the first 200 times I heard it, but now it's starting to wear thin. Sort of like my relationship did.


Barenaked Ladies: "One Week"
This was my first summer relationship-free since I was seventeen, and I was sowing some wild oats. I had a brief fling with a cute alcoholic named Chris who was in a local improv comedy troupe, and he loved this song. It was my introduction to the Barenaked Ladies, and I've been a fan ever since.


Smash Mouth: "All Star"
This song was an important one for me, because it was one of the things that inspired me to quit the soul-sucking insurance job I had at the time and find something I liked. After leaving there I landed a gig at the Indianapolis Art Center where I made even less money, but I was finally happy. It was all worth it. And I owe it (partly) to Smash Mouth.


I seriously can't remember one song that was popular that summer. I may have blocked it out any musical memory I had from that time, as it would have been the heyday of Britney and Eminem, and I'd rather hear Meat Loaf sing the entire Indianapolis phone book than risk getting “Oops I Did It Again” stuck in my head (just typing that is risky...). This was the summer I was in love with an earthy, nature-loving artist who listened to a lot of folksy stuff like Simon and Garfunkel and Cat Stevens. Forced to choose, I'd say “The Boxer” and “Silent Sunrise” are songs that stand out, because both songs remind me of him.

"Look at their eyes! They're on pot!" (Almost Famous reference. Email me if you don't get it.)

Next time...part II

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