One song that is in heavy rotation on my iPod Nano these days is “Echo Beach” by Martha and the Muffins. Every time I hear this song-a classic from 1980-I am reminded of the time that I almost saw them. They were playing at Tuts in Chicago just right after New Year’s Day in 1981.
I had gone to Chicago with my best friend Chris Vasquez and two other friends Colleen and Dawn to see them. Colleen, a mutual friend of ours said that she could get us in free. Sadly, we spent too much time at another friend’s apartment before the concert-by the time we got to Tuts, we couldn’t get in. Colleen pleaded with the bouncer (whom she knew), but to no avail.
To this day, I swear that when we were standing out there on the sidewalk I could hear Martha and the Muffins playing inside. There was another band playing later-David and the Happenings, a band from SIU-so we decided to wait in this small blues bar just down the street until they came on.
Now, whenever I hear “Echo Beach” I think about the time that I was so close to seeing the band at Tuts that cold, January night.
And this got me thinking about a lot of the music I have grown fond of over the years. What is the story behind some of my favorite music? What was going on in my life when I first heard or listened to a particular song over and over? We all have our favorite songs that remind us of something in our lives, whether it was someone we once dated, hanging out with friends, or some other significant event.
I like making lists, especially ones about music and how it has impacted me most over the years. It’s kind of what like the character played by John Cusack did in one of my favorite movies High Fidelity. More than just a “top 10” list, this list is my own personal soundtrack for my life.
There is no particular order for these songs. This is just a list of some of my favorite music and the memories associated with them.
(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction – Devo
If I had to come up with just one Devo song that had some connection to my life I might be hard pressed because there have been so many of their songs which have a lot of memories attached.
Devo was the kind of band that you either really liked or really hated. I have been a big fan of theirs ever since I first heard about them in October 1978 when I was stationed at George Air Force Base in the High Desert outside of Victorville, California. When I saw them performing their song “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” on Saturday Night Live and wearing those yellow radioactive suits, this was one band that I was definitely going to listen to more.
The following weekend, I was at a Tower Records’ store in West Covina picking up a copy of Devo’s first album Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo. Once I slapped it on my turntable, I couldn’t get enough of it. This was some zany, cool stuff. It was like nothing else I was listening to at the time. Little did I know at the time but my musi-cal tastes were beginning to change. I was really into music at the time listening to practically everything and in many ways, that album was the beginning of a musical transformation of sorts in terms of what I would be listening to for the next couple of years.
I Wanna Be Sedated – The Ramones
One memorable weekend in October 1980 I was home from Southern Illinois Univer-sity (SIU) when I saw The Jerks at Fridays for the first time and also ran into Chris who I hadn’t seen in over four years.
That same weekend I bought The Ramones’ Road to Ruin and Split Enz’s True Colors. Now, whenever I hear this song (or any song from the album) I think about that weekend and how my life would change when I got back to SIU.
You know what it’s like when you slap a new record on a turntable and as soon as you hear that first song you want to run out and tell all your friends about it? That’s kind of how I felt when I heard “I Wanna Be Sedated.” This was just a rocking song. And I am thinking, “damn, why haven’t I been listening to the Ramones already?”
I suppose that a lot of the songs that I heard that weekend would be worth noting, but it’s this song by The Ramones that has really stayed with me the most.
Vienna – Ultravox
If I were to come up with my Top Ten list of my all-time favorite New Wave songs not to mention one of my favorite all-time videos, one of them would be Ultravox’s Vienna.
It was October 31, 1980-Halloween in Carbondale-and I was sitting in the balcony of Shyrock Auditorium on the SIU campus waiting for Ultravox to take the stage. John Candy was in town, the host of a short-lived NBC show about college life and was sort of the emcee for the concert, keeping the audience entertained while every-one waited to find out if the opening act Steel Pulse would make it to the concert (they never did).
I had only heard about Ultravox just a few weeks before and had not bought my ticket until a few days before the concert. It has remained one of the best concerts I have ever been to-right up there with Devo in 1982, Ultravox again in 1983, and The Stray Cats in 1981.
In that last week of the month before that night, I had gone back home and seen The Jerks, ran into my old friend Chris, cut off my hair, got an earring, and seen Kansas in concert.
Whenever I hear Vienna now I always think back to when I was going to SIU and how music was redefining and shaping my life.
At the same time, the song also reminds me of cold, autumn or winter days-
“We walked in the cold air
Freezing breath on a windowpane lying and waiting
The warmth of your hand and a cold gray sky
It fades to the distance.”
The Wait – Pretenders
It’s the spring of 1980 and I am stationed at George Air Force Base just outside of Victorville, California in the Mojave Desert. For the past couple of months I had been getting into all kinds of new music-Tom Petty, Madness, The B-52’s, Talking Heads, Pat Benatar, and Gary Numan. One day I’ve got the radio tuned into some FM station out of LA and I hear the Pretenders for the first time. As soon as I hear their song “The Wait” I go out and buy their debut album the first chance I get.
Five months later, on September 10 I am sitting in Shyrock Auditorium at SIU wait-ing for the Pretenders to take the stage.
Whenever I hear the song I think about that spring of 1980 when I was preparing to get out of the Air Force and how my life would change forever a few months later when I started going to school at SIU. The die had been cast, a defining moment of my life was underway.
Their debut album still rocks. It’s raw, visceral, and powerful.
Funeral for a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding – Elton John
When I was a high school student in the mid seventies, you couldn’t listen to the ra-dio without hearing at least one or two Elton John songs like “Bennie and the Jets” “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” or his version of the Who classic “Pinball Wizard” being played heavy in rotation.
In a decade that started with Kent State and ended with the hostage crisis in Iran, the music of the decade might have lacked some of the cultural relish that the music of the 60s gave us, but it did offer a medley of styles and expressions which saw the birth of arena rock, disco and punk rock. It was also the beginning and the ending: The Beatles and The Doors were no more while the Rolling Stones, The Who, and Led Zeppelin would keep on rocking through the decade and turning out some of the best stuff. For other bands it was the beginning like The Eagles with their own distinct sound were ready to dominate the airwaves, while Queen, Aerosmith, Deep Purple, and Pink Floyd continued to redefine rock and push the music envelop.
In New York, the Ramones would strip down rock to its raw basics and energize crowds at a venue called CBGB’s. By the end of the decade, music would undergo a major reawakening thanks to those four lads from the UK who went by the name of the Sex Pistols and shook things up a bit.
It was a strange decade for music that gave us hits like C. W. McCall’s “Convoy” and Rick Dees’ “Disco Duck” along with soon to be classics like “Bohemian Rhapsody” “Hotel California” and “Born to Run.”
The decade also saw the rise of rock superstars and business-type rock and rollers playing enormous venues. It was also a time for Pop and Rock icons like Elton John.
I first started listening to Elton John in the summer of 1975 when it seemed that every time you turned on the radio another one of his songs was playing. He had al-ready scored big on AM with “Bennie and the Jets” and in the summer of 1975 he was shooting up the charts with his version of “Pinball Wizard” for the upcoming the-atrical release of Tommy as well as “Philadelphia Freedom” and “Someone Saved My Life Tonight.” I liked Bennie and the Jets a lot it was featured in a little known movie from that summer Aloha Bobby and Rose (starring Paul LeMat from American Graffiti fame). I had just a couple 45’s and as well as his first Greatest Hits collection. I didn’t listen to Elton John too much after that summer. I preferred more of his earlier stuff like “Your Song” “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” and “Rocket Man” than the stuff he came out with toward the end of the decade.
A year later I had raised the bar for the music that rocked my world and I pretty much stopped listening to Elton John until 1980.
When I started attending SIU in the summer of 1980 I started getting into all kinds of music and catching up on a lot of the music I might have missed which meant adding a lot of albums to my collection including Goodbye Yellow Brick Road.
There was at least one or two concerts every month on campus and a lot of up and coming bands were playing some of the local bars and clubs.
Elton John was one of the performers/bands who had a concert on campus that se-mester. As soon as it was announced that he was coming to SIU, my roommate and I decided to go. Elton John had recently reformed his old band and returned to per-forming the way he had when he first started. It was definitely going to be classic Elton John in concert.
My roommate asked his girlfriend to get us tickets and she got us some pretty good seats. Actually, she bought six tickets: one for herself, my roommate and myself and three for her friends. Somehow when she gave my roommate and me our tickets she got them mixed up with the other tickets. My roommate and I ended up with seats in the fifth row while his girlfriend and her friends ended up with seats in the twentieth row. Then, to complicate matters even more, my roommate had just broken up with his girlfriend. We had already given her the money for the tickets (she and I got along okay, too) so she had to give us our tickets. She just gave us the wrong ones though.
Elton John started off that concert with “Funeral for a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding.” The lights had gone down and you heard the song’s opening notes on a keyboard that sounded eerily like some funeral dirge. Then white lights bathed the stage with thick fog rolling across it; and it was then that you saw this small baby white grand piano on the left side of the stage illuminated by a few more white lights. When some of the fog cleared, you could see (and from where my roommate and I were sitting see very well) members of his band already on stage and then Elton walked out on the stage and took a seat at that baby grand. As that funeral dirge-like procession reached a climax Elton and his band launched into the song and literally brought the house down.
It was a memorable beginning to one of the better concerts I have been to and that song will forever remind me of when I was a student at SIU. I was just listening to it on my iPod today and you better believe I was transported back in time to that cool October night in 1980.
That’s one of the things that music is supposed to do. Take you back in time.