Friday, September 28, 2012

Red Sox and Silver Linings

As the 2012 Red Sox go gently (or maybe “limp shamefully”?) into that good night, fans are left trying to salvage something positive out of this season.  It’s not easy.   In fact, I had to rely on Aristotle to do it. 
Here goes: the 2012 season is part of a larger story.  It’s a low and humbling and soul-crushing part of the story, sure… but it’s also an essential part.

To get what I mean, we have to go back eight years ago, to the waning minutes of October 17, 2004.  Red Sox vs. Yankees. Game Four of the seven-game American League Championship. The team that wins this series goes on to the World Series.  And it looks like that team's going to be the Yankees.
They just needed three more outs.

The Red Sox had entered ALCS five days before, on October 12, full of swagger and fire. But they ended up losing Games One and Two. Then came Game Three, on October 16th, which they didn't just lose; they got decimated, 19-8.

Former Red Sox General Manager Theo Epstein called it a "colossal defeat." The Boston Globe's Dan Shaughnessy said that in Game Three the Yankees "stripped the Red Sox of all dignity." Every reporter covering the series made it a point to remind Red Sox Nation that no team in baseball history had ever been down 3-0 in a postseason series and came back to win.

For a Sox fan, Game Three was the pits. And that’s not a colloquialism; I mean it was like being in a pit— a deep, dark, seemingly inescapable pit. The rockiest of rock bottoms. A nadir. The belly of the whale.

Then came the next night, October 17th. It's Game Four, bottom of the ninth, and the Sox are trailing 4-3. They have only one half-inning to keep the series alive. If they don’t, they go home.
But then Kevin Millar draws a walk off Mariano Rivera—and everything changes.  Pinch-runner Dave Roberts steals second; a Bill Mueller single gets Roberts home to tie the game; and two hours later, at 1:30 am, David Ortiz clobbers a walk-off homerun in the twelfth. Final score: 6-4, Sox.

That was just a start, of course.  But a start that lead to a Sox victory in Game Five.  And Game Six.  And Game Seven. And so, the Red Sox, after being down 3-0, won the ALCS and headed to the World Series—where they reversed an eighty-six-year “curse” by sweeping the St. Louis Cardinals in four games.

So what does this have to do with the 2012 Red Sox?  Simple: it’s all about the story.  You see, to me, the story of the Red Sox 2004 postseason is not just about a team clawing its way out of a pit; it’s about the pit itself.

Say if the Red Sox weren’t down those first three games? Say if they didn’t suffer the “colossal defeat” of Game Three, the one they lost by eleven runs?  Would the Game Four victory, and the three wins that came after it, be as sweet?

Sure, “a win’s a win.”  But a win snatched from certain defeat, right from the hands of your most hated rival—that’s a WIN.
Here’s where Aristotle comes in. The concept of the "dialectic" says that you can’t fully understand something unless you also know its opposite. You know good by knowing evil. You need darkness to see light. You need to comprehend defeat before you can truly appreciate victory.

Compare the 2004 ALCS against the Yankees to the 2004 World Series against the Cardinals, who went down in four straight games. No pit, no adversity, no whale belly, no seemingly unconquerable obstacle... and consequently, no compelling story.

Sox fans have endless stream of words to describe the feeling of finally winning a World Series after eighty-six years: unforgettable, historic, redemptive. But when describing the actual 2004 World Series itself, one term keeps coming up: "anti-climactic."

Or how about their next visit to the World Series? Let’s face it: the Red Sox's 2007 season and postseason didn't have anywhere near the drama of 2004. For most of the season, they were in first place. Hard to get a story out of that, you know?

Once again, what does this have to do with 2012?  Basically, the 2012 season, taken as a whole, is like Game Three of the 2004 ALCS, with innings 1-8 of Game Four thrown in. In other words, it was the pits. 
We landed in the pit at the end of 2011, when the Red Sox flitted away their comfortable lead in the standings and failed to make the play-offs, and never left.  The 2012 season introduced us to a much-maligned new manager. On his watch, old friends left, and then new friends left—to the point that the team currently crawling to the finish line hardly resembles at all the one that took the field in April.  And for the first time in fifteen years, the Red Sox will end the season with a losing record.

The season that started out with all the “Fenway Turns 100” hoopla didn’t live up to the hype. Not by a long shot.  Instead, we had an entire season in the belly of the whale.   
But this is just part of the story.  A heart-breaking but necessary part.

If this season looks like Game Three of the 2004 ALCS, then we have to remember that from the “colossal defeat” of Game Three came the miraculous, one-for-the-ages Game Four.  And we will have another Game Four. Maybe it will be next year, maybe it will be the year after.  But it will come.  Boston will surge back, someday, and when it does we’ll appreciate the accomplishment all the more.
Since we didn’t have too many walk-off victories this season, Sox fans may have forgotten how those games make for great stories.  But you can’t have the “come-from-behind” victory unless you were first behind.  You have to have eight lousy innings before you can have a redemptive ninth.  You have to lose all hope before you can get it back.

The story of the Red Sox isn’t finished.  Yeah, they’re still in the pit, but they’ll crawl out.  And when they do, we’ll love them all the more because of it.  Aristotle, after all, said so… and I’m pretty sure he was a Sox fan.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

"Talk Like a Pirate Day" Turns 10!!

Avast, me hearties: what follows may just be the most philosophical treatise ever on “Talk Like a Pirate Day.”

Now, for those of you who have been marooned on a deserted island for the past decade, “Talk Like a Pirate Day” is an annual event which has been celebrated internationally every September 19th since 2002. And I was going to commemorate the historic tenth-anniversary of this great tradition by writing a piece filled with pirate puns and a whole lotta "blimeys" and "salty dogs" and "cats-o-nine-tails."
But you know what? Everyone's going to be doing that.

So I decided to do something a little different: I'm going to celebrate ten years’ worth of pirate-parlance by NOT talking like a pirate.

Now before you accuse me of being a poop-deck party pooper, let me assure the masses: I'm not trying to take the fun out of "Talk Like a Pirate Day," because that would be impossible. Talking like a pirate, after all, is one of the simple pleasures of life.

Think about it: the one day out of the whole year when the letter R gets its due, when everyone's your matey, when you can pick up the phone and actually say "Ahoy!"-- what's not to love?

(Incidentally, according to Internet scuttlebutt, Alexander Graham Bell wanted "Ahoy!" to be the greeting for the telephone back in 1876, until Thomas Edison swept in and suggested the bland-by-comparison "Hello." Who knew Edison was such a pirate-hater? )

And the jokes! My family and I have spent whole meals telling nothing but pirate jokes. ("Who's a pirate's favorite baseball player?" "Nomarrrrrrrr Garrrrrrrrciaparrrrrrrrra." "Where do all the Spanish-speaking pirates hail from?" "Arrrrrrrrrgentina.")

Here's a new one: What’s a pirate’s favorite Carly Rae Jepsen song? “Call Me Matey,” of course.

Finally, in terms of sheer entertainment value, “Talk Like a Pirate Day” absolutely eclipses almost all of its brethren in the “Talk Like a–” genre, including “Talk Like a Klingon Day,” “Talk Like Beaker Day,” and “Talk Like a Charlie Brown Teacher Day.” (Only “Talk Like Sean Connery Day” even comes remotely close.)

And yet, when you strip away the glitz, glamour and gutturalness of “Talk Like a Pirate Day,” you end up with a pretty inspiring story about the power of the written word.

I’m sure the TLAPD Faithful know the story, but for the newly-initiated, it bears repeating: many years ago, two friends, John Baur and Mark Summers were playing racquetball and, as they were wont to do, talking like pirates. They were having a jolly-roger old time—so jolly, in fact, that they wanted everyone to have the opportunity to talk like pirates.

And just like that, "Talk Like a Pirate Day" was born. But, like a tattered treasure map, that only tells you half the story.

Indeed, the legend only truly took off in 2002, after one of the two co-conspirators wrote a letter outlining the "Talk Like a Pirate Day" concept to syndicated columnist Dave Barry. Sufficiently hooked by the idea, Barry penned a seminal column, explaining "Talk Like a Pirate Day" to the land-lubbing masses.

So if we were chart the route of "Talk Like a Pirate Day": two guys come up with an idea in a racquetball court; they tell the idea to a columnist, who writes about it in a newspaper; that column sparks a revolution that spreads across the seven seas.

But you couldn’t have the revolution without the column. For as ingenious as Baur and Summers’ idea was, if it weren’t for Barry’s newspaper column, you and I wouldn’t be celebrating the tenth-anniversary of "Talk Like a Pirate Day" this September 19th.

Ultimately, the history of "Talk Like a Pirate Day" reminds us that just having a great idea isn’t enough. How many great ideas, after all, get stashed away in our own private Davy Jones’ lockers, never seeing the light of day? You need to share your idea. You need to write it down and then send it out to the world, like one of those famed messages in a bottle.

And that’s perhaps the lasting lesson of "Talk Like a Pirate Day": that the pen really is mightier than the sword.

Or should I say: mightiarrrrrrrrr!

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

A Summer School Teacher Looks Back at "Summer School"

In case you missed it: twenty-five years ago, in the summer of 1987, the vastly underrated Mark Harmon comedy Summer School made its theatrical debut.
For those of you who have (inexplicably) never seen it, the film recounts the wacky misadventure of Freddy Shoop (Harmon), an uninspired teacher with a crop of equally uninspired summer school students.  Shoop's been given an ultimatum:  get these slouches to pass English… or lose his job.  Along the way, Shoop also has to foil an Evil Vice-Principal (a requirement for 80s movies) and win the heart of the teacher next door, the prim, by-the-book Robin Bishop (played by Kirstie Alley). 

Watching it again a quarter-century later, I have to say the film is quite remarkable—and not just because it allows one to chart how far its leads have come: Mark Harmon, after all, has evolved from playing goofy, Hawaiian-shirt-wearing playboys like Shoop to raking in $500,000 per episode as the super-serious Special Agent Gibbs on the top-rated NCIS;  and Kirstie Alley is… well, she’s slated to repriese her role as "Self-Parodying Hasbeen" on the upcoming Dancing with the Stars: All-Stars.
No, what really makes this movie stand out is how sweet it is.  Not only does film have a lot more heart than it ought to, given its premise, it’s also nowhere near as raunchy as other flicks that came out in the Porky’s-fueled 80s. (Clearly, though, the film’s marketing folks don’t want you to know that: the DVD cover shows Mark Harmon, margarita in hand, poking out from behind a sign that says “Bikini Xing.”) 

Granted, the film doesn’t get everything right.  As someone who has taught in the summer school trenches for twelve years, I have a few quibbles with the movie’s depiction of the venerable post-vernal (or pre-autumnal) educational institution.  For example...

* Mr. Shoop is basically blackmailed into teaching summer school by aforementioned Evil Vice-President, after the real teacher wins the lottery and bails.  In real life, teachers choose to teach summer school; believe it or not, we even get paid to do it.  
* Shoop is a physical education teacher but he’s forced to teach English—a switcheroo that tends not to happen in the real world, due to this pesky thing called Teacher Certification. 

* Finally, Mr. Shoop’s job is dependent on whether or not his students pass a test at the end of the summer.  Now, come on: judging a teacher on how well the students do on an exam?  That would never, ever happen in real life.  (Uh… hmmmmm…)

Moreover, as a teacher myself, I’m a little uneasy about how close Shoop gets with the kids.  A majorplot point has Shoop agreeing to give the students incentives to get them to study for the final exam.  Good idea… except one of the “incentives” involves allowing the kids to throw a party at his house.  Not cool, Shoop. 

Even less cool:  he lets a fetching female student named Pam move in with him.   Nothing happens between them, of course, but still… that's some fire with which single male teachers should be playing.  (Bonus points if you recognized a young Courtney Thorne-Smith playing the part of Pam.)

All those quibbles notwithstanding, the film does an admirable job portraying its teens in a genuinely positive light.  No, the students are not the most studious lot. And no one will ever accuse them of being role models: one moonlights as a male stripper, while two others almost get arrested for underage drinking. (Luckily, Mr. Shoop intervenes… and then gets arrested himself!)

Still, the teenagers in Summer School do have some redeeming qualities.  When Evil Vice-President tries to replace Shoop, they drive out the new teacher by re-enacting scenes from the Texas Chainsaw Massacre.  And when they realize Shoop’s job depends on their grades, they try their darnedest to step it up.  In short, they care about poor Mr. Shoop.

And Shoop cares about them, too—which is another thing that makes Summer School stand out among other 80s teen-flicks: it shows adults actually having some redeeming qualities of their own.  And given the shellacking adults took in 80s cinema, this is a revolutionary concept indeed.

Take, for instance, the grown-ups in Ferris Bueller’s Day Office:  Mr. Rooney is a vengeful, monomaniacal doofus; Cameron’s dad loves car more than his son; even Mr. and Mrs. Bueller, despite their obvious love for Ferris, are completely clueless and ineffective. 

There's more: The minister in Footlose who outlaws dancing.  The parents in Sixteen Candles who forgot Molly Ringwald's birthday.  The dad in Say Anything who's been siphoning money off his elderly clients for years.  And, really, isn't Impending Adulthood is the main antagonist of St. Elmo's Fire? 

Ultimately, all these depictions just reinforce what Ally Sheedy says in The Breakfast Club: “When you grow up, your heart dies.”

Well, Freddy Shoop’s heart is alive and kicking, thanks. Yeah, he shouldn’t have taken the kids on that field trip to the peting zoo.  And he really shouldn't have let the kids party at his house.  But he does lecture them about how drinking kills brain cells.  And he goes out of his way to help the students—serving as the driving teacher for one student and the Lamaze coach for another.

And he somehow inspires them: they all do OK on their final exam.  No, only a few of the kids 
technically pass; in fact, the kid who gets the highest grade excused himself to go the bathroom on the first day and never came back.  Still, they show enough improvement that Reasonable Principal, overriding Evil Vice-Principal, allows Shoop to keep his job. 

In the end, despite all its low-brow humor and general goofiness, the film teaches some pretty good lessons:

(1) Working hard pays off. 
(2) Good things happen when adults and teens share a common goal.
(3) Shoop says at the end,"There's more going on here than test scores and grades"-- a truth that someone should communicate to the folks in Washington.  After all, a grade on an exam rarely reflects all the things going on in a classroom.  
(4) And, finally, as the student who spent the entire six weeks in the bathroom reminds us... some kids improve by not coming to class.   (Sadly, I'm probably not joking there...)

Bottom line: if you haven’t seen Summer School at any point in the past twenty-five years, check it out. Even if you have seen it, check it out again.  Either way, you’ll be pleasantly surprised.  Like Mark Harmon himself, the movie has aged pretty well.  

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Pitch for Pitchapalooza 2012

Why not us?

Back in 2004, pitcher Curt Schilling asked this question during the Red Sox's historic, curse-breaking quest to become World Series champs. Now, my wife and I-- pitchers of a completely different groove-- are going to borrow this question for our campaign to win Pitchapalooza.

"Say whaaa?" asks ye who happened to stumble on this page accidentally, while Googling a recipe for dates-wrapped-in-bacon. (Delicious, by the way.) To the uninitiated: Pitchapalooza is an online contest for aspiring writers. Think "American Idol" for wanna-be novelists: twenty-five "pitches" for novels are posted, and the masses vote on which "pitch" has the most potential. The winner gets a one-hour meeting with the "Book Doctors," Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry, who will advise you on how to get your book published.

Some necessary back-tracking: about a year-and-a-half ago now, my wife Sheri and I finished writing a young adult novel. That, we realize, was the easy part. Now we have to convince someone to get behind the darn thing.

As part of our seemingly endless task of generating interest, we entered the Pitchapalooza contest. They picked us at random, and now as of right now--

We're in first place! Woo-Hoo!

To everyone who has voted, thank you, thank you, thank you. We appreciate your support more than you know.

But it's not over yet. The Book Doctors won't name a victor until March 15. So we will not rest. We're going to keep campaigning, trying to put as much distance as possible between us and our competition. So if you're interested in doing us a solid, do the following:

Now, if you want to see what our novel is about before voting (and good on you for being such a smart shopper), read our pitch, reprinted from the contest page:

Mythology High

Mac is an epic punk. No wonder: after his dad went off to fight in the Trojan War and never came back, Mac spent his childhood evading his mom’s scumbag suitors—all one hundred-and-eight of them. Of course, he turned out this way—a moody, friendless sixteen-year-old who pulls pranks, blows off work, and alienates everyone at school.

But when he trains a flock of birds to defecate on the headmaster, Mac (short for Telemachus) takes his misanthropy to new lows. The administrators give him an ultimatum: prove that he’s truly the son of Odysseus by doing something heroic—or get out.

And so begins Mythology High, a high school drama that just so happens to take place 3,000 years ago. Gloriously anachronistic, the story recounts Mac’s three-month odyssey as he encounters fantastic beasts, seeks legendary artifacts, and does the two things he never thought possible: meet a girl and make friends.

More than simply a companion piece to Homer’s epic, Mythology High is a novel about friendship and transformation, regret and redemption, with all the adventure, romance, suspense, and heart that both high school teachers and their students can enjoy.

Still not convinced? Then consider these Six Reasons Why You Should Vote For Sheri and Mark's Novel:

  1. We're a husband-and-wife writing duo. Come on: how adorable is that?

  2. In our very first chapter, our hero trains a flock of birds to defecate all over the administrators on the first day of school. You hear that? Defecating birds! Is that a hook, or what?

  3. If we our book is eventually published, we will try to get the surviving members of the Monkees to write a song for the eventual musical.

  4. If we win Pitchapalooza, it will be like one of those great Sylvester Stallone movies, in which the hero comes from nothing and defies all odds to come out on top. (And I'm talking, of course, about Stallone's 1987 arm-wrestling drama Over the Top.)

  5. Our book includes a Minotaur, which may conjure up happy memories of Minotaurs you had when you were children.

  6. Did we mention the defecating birds?

And if you're stll not convinced... let me just say this: look, we believe in this book and think it's a jolly fun ride. We have oracles and suitors, bandits and blind prophets, underground labyrinths and magical two-headed flutes. We have Homer himself. Yep: Homer's a character, as a geeky teenager, with a limp and a crazy obsession for heroes.

But, most of all, if you strip away all the adventure and ancient mythological trappings, we have regular old teens, facing regular old teen problems. The five teens at the core of our story seek approval from their parents, make friends, fall in love. Only our teens are wearing tunics.

So, one more time (in case you don't want to scroll up), here's how you vote for Mythology High:

Thanks for your help. And remember that three-word Pitchapalooza mantra: Yes we can.

Uh... I mean.. why not us?

Sunday, February 12, 2012

On The Phantom Menace Re-Release: Now, If They Could Only 3D the Plot...

Note: With Star Wars: The Phantom Menace getting the 3D upgrade, I thought I would re-post this piece, about the disappointment I felt when I first saw the film back in 1999. It's really a loss of innocence piece-- or, more accurately, a "Jar-Jar-Binks-abruptly-and-single-handedly-assassinated-my-protracted-childhood" piece. Enjoy, and may the Force be with you... except for you, Mr. Binks! You can rot in Mustafar for all I care!

* * * * * * * * * *

I was twenty-eight going on ten.

Thirteen years ago, in May 1999, I was caught up in the same cultural phenomenon that was sweeping the nation, but for me, it was something more.

You have to understand: when I was a boy, the Star Wars Saga was my life. I bought the figures, play sets, cards, books, comics, soundtracks, puppets, posters, candy—you name it, except for maybe the Underoos.

As a ten-year-old boy, I considered The Empire Strikes Back the single greatest movie I had ever seen. (And, thirty-one years later, I may not have wavered in that opinion.) The summer Empire came out, I must have seen it in the theater seven times. Same with Return of the Jedi, three years later. We didn’t have VCR’s back then, so I would actually sneak a tape recorder into the movies, so I could at least listen to them. In the end, I knew all three movies by heart-- line by line, Jawa-grunt by Jawa-grunt.

In my young and oh-so-innocent estimation, George Lucas, the lord of all things Star Wars, was an unqualified genius—and a kind and generous one at that: after the saga seemed to conclude with the death of Darth Vader in 1983’s Return of the Jedi, George promised “prequels”—three more movies, three more adventures filled with great stuff like the Ice Planet of Hoth, the Millennium Falcon, and (my personal favorite) Boba Fett the bounty hunter.

So a year went by, then five, then ten. Finally, in May 1999, sixteen years after the last Star Wars movie, George Lucas offered his legions of fans the dream come true: Star Wars—Episode One: The Phantom Menace.

I didn’t know what to do with myself. I bought my tickets a week before and took the day off from work on opening day. And when the lights went out, and those familiar trumpets blared John Williams’ iconic score, and the words Star Wars, in big, yellow letters, filled the screen, it didn’t matter that I was twenty-eight, married, and remarkably charged with teaching the nation’s youth. No, at that point, I was a ten-year-old kid again, feeling the Force flowing through him.

Then a terrible thing happened: I actually watched the movie.

Was it the worst movie I ever saw? No. But it was nothing I had expected or even could have settled for. It seemed George Lucas and Co. were so wrapped up in their new-fangled, computer-generated special effects that they forgot to, you know, write an interesting story.

Instead, they reduced the once and future Dark Lord of the Sith, Anakin Skywalker, to an annoying kid.

They offered up a mind-numbingly elongated desert chase sequence, complete with a goofy, two-headed sports announcer.

They created a potentially cool new bad-guy, Darth Maul, and then they (literally) took the legs out from under him.

Worst of all, they subjected fans to… I can hardly bring myself to say it… the loathsome, unforgivable Jar Jar Binks.

A computer generated idiot-alien, Jar Jar almost single-handedly brought down the entire franchise. (And considering this franchise also includes the Ewoks, that’s saying something.)

Jar Jar talked like a four-year-old, which I guess was supposed to be cute. It wasn’t. He was kind of clumsy, too, and I guess watching him trip all over the place when fighting bad guys was supposed to make us laugh. It didn’t. In fact, it was all I could to keep from crying.

I waited sixteen years for the movie event of a lifetime… and I got Jar Jar Binks?

I suppose it was my own fault. Because I had built it up and built it up to such a degree, the movie could never have exceeded my expectations. But how was it possible that it wasn’t even in the same galaxy as my expectations?

I’ve actually come to appreciate, over the past ten years, the irony associated with Phantom Menace and the other two prequels. At their core, the first three episodes— the plot-challenged Phantom Menace, the inconsequential Attack of the Clones, and the overstuffed Revenge of the Sith—warn against the danger of unchecked power. And, in a bizarre way, that’s the story of George Lucas as well; he became such a powerful force in Hollywood, no one had the guts to tell him that his ideas were getting increasingly lamer. As a result, the all-powerful Emperor Lucas, much like his fallen angel Anakin Skywalker, was seduced by the dark side of his own hype and the power of his technology.

"Don't be too proud of this technological terror you constructed," Darth Vader warns an associate in the first Star Wars. I wonder what would have happened if any of George's underlings, seeing how enchanted he had become with his computer-generated effects, had the guts to say that to him.

Looking back thirteen years later, I can see that Phantom Menace truly marked the abrupt end of my rather prolonged childhood. It was the day I realized that maybe the people you once thought were geniuses were just schmucks who got lucky. Few experiences could have topped the high I felt sitting in that theater on the opening day of Phantom Menace back in May 1999. And few could match the disappointment I felt, two hours later, when the movie was over, and my childhood, I realize, was too—irretrievably lost, in that galaxy far, far away.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Pseudo-Profanity in Pop Songs

So I have a piece in the Hartford Courant today, about profanity heard in current pop songs. Or, more accurately, about the profanity not heard in current pop songs, but definitely implied. Only instead of hearing the swear, you'll hear the first letter of the expletive, or you'll hear weird sound in its place. It's the "everything but" manner of swearing.

I called this phenomenon "pseudo-swearing," or just "pswearing." And, as I state in the article, what I resent the most about pswearing is the double-dipping: singers get their songs on mainstream radio, but the hard-core fans who don't mind a little cussing still think they're cool.

As with all of the pieces I've written for the Courant, there was a fence around this one. 700-word-long fence. To abide by the word count, some things had to get cut-- by me or by the editor. Usually, some details end up getting pitched, to preserve the central message.

But I like details. So I decided to go back to my original document and resurrect those details here, on this space, as a sort of "supplemental" to the article published in the Courant. That way, I get two articles for one-- a newspaper piece and a blog entry. (Now look who's double-dipping! Ah, delicious irony!)

* In my original draft, I listed a bunch of songs from the past year that contain "pswearing"--offensive language that was edited out. For space reasons, the paragraph containing that list was cut. But because I think that list shows the pervasiveness of the "pswearing" phenomenon-- and because compiling that list took some time and effort-- I wanted to restore it here. So here are some singers who pswore in their hit songs in 2011:

  • Usher (“DJs Got Us Fallin’ in Love”)

  • Maroon 5 (“Moves Like Jagger”)

  • Mumford and Sons (“Little Lion Man”)

  • Ke$ha (“We R Who We R”)

  • OneRepublic (“Good Life”)

  • Taio Cruz (“Dynamite”)

The last one is probably the most disturbing, only because kids seem to enjoy that song so much. My son Charlie has learned it on piano. There's even a version of the song on Kidz-Bop, for crying out loud. Meanwhile, in the second verse, Taio Cruz says "What the @&#!." Why you gotta go there, Taio?

* In the original piece, I acknolwedged that rock-and-roll artists have always used profanity in their lyrics-- and some didn't try to hide it. For example, while I can't say for sure that ZZ Top said "S-word, I got to have her" in "Legs," I absolutely know that Roger Daltrey drops the F-Bomb in "Who Are You."

The difference in the current drop of artists is that they're actually swearing in the titles of the songs. In my original draft, I listed three such offenders from 2011. Their names were cut from the Courant article due to space restraints, but I wanted to restore them here:

  • Cee Lo Green, “Forget You” (actually “F-Bomb You”)

  • P!nk, “Perfect” (actually “F-Bombin’ Perfect”)

  • Enriques Iglesias, “Tonight I’m Lovin’ You” (actually… well, you can figure it out)
* Of those three, I consider Cee Lo the most egregious pswearing culprit, if only because of the degree of mainstream fame he's achieved over the past eighteen months. Gwenyth Paltrow has covered his signature song on Glee. He sung at the Macy's Thanksgiving parade and is slated to sing for the Obamas as part of TNT's "Christmas in Washington" special. Heck, "Forget You" even showed up in the new Muppet movie, courtesy of Gonzo's chickens. How much of that, exactly, would have happened if he went with his original lyrics?

* The last point I wanted to restore had to do with the purposefulness of profanity in pop music. I'm not necessarily against swearing in a work of art, but I just don't see how many songs are improved, artistically, with the inclusion of profanity. To illustrate this, I said the following: "How about Gwen Stefani’s 'Hollaback Girl,' during which she drops the S-Bomb a whopping 38 times? What effect was she going for there? And could it not be achieved with a mere 37 curses?"

* Finally, I used several sources to while writing this article, and I wanted to note two of them here:

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Songs from the Fall/ Winter of 1986

In the fall of 1986, I was the anti-Bill Buckner.

In Game 6 of the 1986 World Series, Bill Buckner let a routine Mookie Wilson dribbler roll between his legs, costing the Red Sox the game. The Sox eventually lost the Series, and the fans and the media pinned the loss, rightfully or not, on poor Bill. His life would never be the same.

Well, my life would also never be the same after the fall of 1986... but in a good way. That's the moment in time when I started becoming more social, when I started hanging out with other folks on Saturday nights besides Julie McCoy, Isaac the Bartender, and the rest of the crew from The Love Boat.

Here's something you have to understand: I went to an all-boys high school located about thirty minutes from my house. Thus, my school friends were scattered across various towns, which made it tricky to see them outside of school. And even when I did see people outside of school, I only saw other boys. For my first two years of high school, I knew NO girls. Forget about having a girlfriend; I didn't even have girl friends.

That all changed thanks to a little thing called a license—and no, not a License to Ill, but a driver’s license. At the beginning of my junior year, five or six of my guy friends got their licenses. Now, eventually, this ability to drive brought the realization that there is no place to drive to, that there really is nothing for teenagers to do in this world. But that came later. Now, the possibilities seemed endless.

So, even though I didn't get my license for another ten months, it didn't matter: I had no problem sponging off my friends. In fact, that's also how I started meeting girls: a friend met a girl from an all-girls school, and our circles of friends meshed.

As a result, in the fall of my junior year, my social life went from zero to... well, a little bit more than zero, to be honest. But hey, it was a transformation, nonetheless, a "coming into my own" (whatever that means). So even though I don't see my guy friends as often as I'd like, and I never see the girls I knew way back when, I always look back fondly on the Fall of 1986, as that moment in history which belongs particularly to me. (A Separate Peace shout-out there.)

I tend to equate epochs in my life with the music on the radio at the time. So, while thinking about the fact that twenty-five years have past since that fateful fall, I decided to do a follow-up to my wildly-successful post, "Rating the Songs of Summer 1986." (No, no one read the darn thing, but I liked it.)

As with the previous posting, I'm going to rate the staying power of twenty-five songs from the Fall of 1986, to determine whether or not they still hold up a quarter-century later. As before, I'm judging the songs according to three criteria:

(a) whether or not I still hear this song on the radio in 2011
(b) whether or not I cringe if I do hear this song in 2011
(c) whether or not I actually like the song

As always, some caveats before we begin:

(1) Since I was going with the whole "25 songs from 25 years go" angle, plenty of songs just plain ol' didn't make the cut. So, sorry in advance to Glass Tiger and Stacy Q, but as your fellow 80s casualty Robbie Nevil once said, “C’est La Vie.”

(2) I tried not to repeat some of the artists that appeared in the "Summer of 1986" posting. So that's why Stevie Winwood ("Freedom Overspill"), Madonna ("True Blue"), Huey Lewis ("Hip to Be Square"), Genesis ("Land of Confusion"), and Janet Jackson ("When I Think of You") don't appear here.

(3) Other songs that should have made this list (and would have if I thought of something witty to say about them) include the following: "Wild, Wild Life," Talking Heads; "Notorious," Duran Duran; "Sleeping Bag"/ "Velcro Fly"/ "Stages," ZZ Top (in my mind, they're the same song); "What About Love," 'Til Tuesday; and "Dancing on the Ceiling," Lionel Richie. (So sorry, Lionel.)

(4) I planned on doing this much earlier-- I mean, three-months ago earlier. I originally conceived this as a just "Fall 1986" piece, but as December dawned, I figured I better throw in Winter 1986 songs as well. And here I am, on the last day of 2011, putting the finishing touches on this stupid thing. Oh, well. I mean, what's time anyway but a human construct?

And now, Songs from the Fall (and Winter) of 1986—the era of The Fly, ALF, and Crocodile Dundee (not to mention the worldwide premier of The Oprah Winfrey Show).

"Take Me Home Tonight," Eddie Money: To borrow a catchphrase from Swingers, Eddie was money back in the 80s. How good was he? In the era of glitz and image that was the 80s, Eddie was able to sell records on the strength of his music. Which I guess is a nice way of saying he was none too attractive. Just check out the video, in which Eddie does the impossible: making Ronnie Spector look somewhat good by comparison.

OK, that's mean, so I'll say something nice: this song is gold. From the eerie opening guitar, to the kickin', legally-required-to-sing-along chorus, the Money-man hit the jackpot with this one. Plus, by getting Ronnie Spector in there, he was able to cash in on the mash-up phenomenon a good twenty years before mashing-up became a pop music pre-requisite. Dollars to donuts, this song is timeless-- and priceless. (Say, did you happen to detect any "money" puns in here?)

"Living on a Prayer" and "You Give Love a Bad Name," Bon Jovi: Recently, I made a bold pronouncement at work: "Of all the acts that rose to fame in the 80s, Bon Jovi has had the longest, most productive career." Then I realized that maybe that pronouncement wasn't all that bold. Honestly, who's their competition? R.E.M.? Van Halen? Only U2 comes close... then again, how many singles has U2 released in the past five years?

Now, one of my co-workers bristled at this idea, on "quality over quantity" grounds. "Sure, Bon Jovi still puts out music," he argued, "but it's all crap." I disagreed: sure, recent offerings such as "We Weren't Born to Follow" or "What Do You Got" may not be the greatest songs ever, but they're hardly crap. Derivative, maybe, but not crap. Oh, he's basically singing the same song over and over, all right... but it's a good same song.

And no matter what you may think of the quality of the music... two stupefying facts remain about Mr. Bongiovi:

(1) He's still cranking out hit singles. Now. In the 2010s. A quarter-century after the band exploded into the "household-name" stratosphere with Slippery When Wet.

(2) Those old songs still get played. Like Jon himself, these 1986 songs have aged well. (Damn you, you 49-year-old rock ambassador, with your wrinkle-free face and full head of hair!)

You know, it's funny: Back in the Fall of 1986, the guy who drove me to high school played his Slippery When Wet tape every morning. Flash-forward twenty-five years, to December 2011: I'm driving to high school (I'm a teacher now), and I hear "Livin' on a Prayer" on the radio. Nothing's changed. Like I said, funny... or, as a reminder of the passage of time and my own mortality, utterly soul-crushing. Take your pick.

"True Colors," Cyndi Lauper: It's clear that this song, her follow-up to her hugely successful She's So Unusual debut album, was meant to show the softer side of Cyndi. Less clear is why she needed to do that, since she had already shown us that side with "Time After Time." No matter: whatever her motive, this song is simply beautiful. But don't take my word for it: ask the 3,000 artists who have recorded the song since 1986 (including Phil Collins, Eva Cassidy, the gang from Glee, and a bunch of other people I never heard of).

By the way, fans concerned that this softer Cyndi no longer wanted to have fun need not have worried: at one point in the "True Colors" video, she's wearing a skirt made out of shredded newspaper. Talk about showing your true colors...

"To Be a Lover," Billy Idol: Another example of an artist showing a softer side in late '86. Granted, "To be a Lover" wasn't Easy Listening Idol... but it wasn't the Rebelliously Yelling Idol, either. Instead, for his first single off Whiplash Smile (great title), Billy "remade" a 1968 R & B song, "I Forgot to Be Your Lover," by William Bell.

I put "remade" in quotations because Billy's version doesn't sound anything like the original... nor does it sound much like anything else he had ever done. And the innovation paid off, at least in the short term: the song peaked at #6 on the Billboard charts. Unfortunately, audiences quickly forgot to be lovers of this song, which slipped from the mainstream by early '87. You never hear this on the radio anymore... and I place the blame for that solely on the doorstep of Cameron Crowe.

Why Cameron Crowe, you ask? Apparently, when he was writing the script for Say Anything..., he initally had "To Be a Lover" in mind for the Lloyd Dobler/ boom box scene. He quickly changed his mind (Crowe has said he liked "To be a Lover" for exactly "one day, the day I wrote that scene"), but imagine if he actually went with Idol over Peter Gabriel? What kind of world would this be?

"Welcome to the Boomtown," David and David: Under-appreciated song, from a wildly, sinfully under-appreciated album, Boomtown . And I don't mean just under-appreciated now; even in 1986, this duo of Davids didn't get the love they deserved. You never hear this or any other David and David song on the radio, and that's a shame, because this album is really, really good. Just didn't take for whatever reason.

Strangely enough, the same can be said about the short-lived NBC cop show from 2002, also called Boomtown. Everyone seemed to praise the show, starring Neal "The-Guy-with-the-Intense-Blue-Eyes-Who-Appeared-Opposite-Tom-Cruise-in-Minority-Report" McDonough, but it barely squeaked out a year. The lesson, of course, to artists everywhere: never name your project "Boomtown."

Three more comments:

(a) A lot of double groups in the 80s, huh? David and David, Duran Duran, Mr. Mister, Lisa Lisa (see below), Talk Talk, and even The The...

(b) If you don't know David and David (and who can blame you, since they only put out this one album?), you owe it to yourself to check out these two other songs, which I feel are even better than "Welcome to the Boomtown": "Ain't So Easy" and (my favorite of theirs) "Swallowed by the Cracks."

(c) Seriously, what's up with Neal McDonough's eyes? I mean, his stare just drills a hole right into your soul...

"Don't Get Me Wrong," Pretenders: I can't pretend to love this song, but I still hear it on the radio, so I guess someone likes it. And at least it's better than the repugnant, unredeemable "Brass in Pocket." What a terrible song, with its chorus and the uber-hip verses all sprinkled with unintelligible British slang like "new skank" and "so reet." The song actually makes my skin crawl and ears bleed at the same time. Man, I hate this song... Where was I? Oh, yeah... "Don't Get Me Wrong"... not a fave, but catchy, harmless, enduring. Let's move on...

"A Matter of Trust," Billy Joel: When perusing through Billy's extensive discography, one may find it helpful to put the songs into categories. First, you have Piano Songs and Non-Piano Songs. Then, as subsets, you have Songs that Are Autobiographical ("Piano Man," "The Entertainer"); Songs that Aren't Autobiographical But Seem As If They Should Be ("Goodnight Saigon," "Downeaster Alexa"); Songs That Tell a Story ("Scenes from an Italian Restaurant," "Allentown," "Movin' Out"); Songs That Suggest Billy Joel is Bipolar ("Summer, Highland Falls," "I Go To Extremes"); Songs That Are Sweet ("She's Got a Way," "Just the Way You Are"); and Songs That Seem Like They're Sweet But Are Actually Kind of Insulting ("She's Always a Woman").

Which brings us to "A Matter of Trust," which I'd call his best Non-Piano Song That By All Rights Should be a Piano Song. Here's what I mean: "A Matter of Trust" is a straight-up ballad, a love song, filled with Billy's signature poetry. In other words, a quintessential Billy Joel piano song. But he doesn't use a piano. Instead, he breaks out an electric guitar and flirts with hard-rock. The result: a “traditional” Billy Joel song that’s also unlike anything else he’s ever done.

Now, some will disagree. Members of the BJC (Billy Joel Critics) have most certainly enjoyed some hearty, self-important snickers over the fact that he called this album The Bridge, since it indeed marks a transition, from the consistent, quality work of his earlier career to the inconsistent, not-quite-so-quality work of his later career. And, yeah, this album, along with the next two (Strom Front and River of Dreams) had more misses than hits. That’s what makes “A Matter of Trust” so noteworthy: it’s the last truly great song of his storied career.

At least so far. But he has more gas in the tank. The original "Piano Man" has one more great hit in him. Trust me.

"The Way It Is," Bruce Hornsby and the Range: Speaking of "piano men"... OK, I'll admit it: for years, I drove the Hornsby bandwagon. From 1986 to 2003, I saw him in concert eight times; for two of those shows, I waited by the bus afterwards and talked with the man himself. So, yeah, you could call me a fan.

And for this, I have suffered. The Hornsby-haters-- and they're out there-- have mocked me, dismissing his songs as repetitive, "Adult Contemporary" fare. But whenever I got discouraged, I remembered all the great artists-- from Don Henley to Bonnie Raitt to Huey Lewis to Grateful Dead-- who have collaborated with him over the years. In short: Hornsby's got game.

And it all starts here-- with a song that earned the band a Grammy for Best New Artist in 1987, that was later sampled by 2Pac, and that is still heard today, twenty-five years later. Face it, Hornsby-haters: Bruce wrote a classic. You may not like it... but that's just the way it is.

"At This Moment," Billy Vera and the Beaters: A song that was never supposed to be on this list-- or any other list of memorable songs, for that matter. Originally released in 1981, "At This Moment" only lasted but a moment on the charts, reaching #79 on the Billboards before falling into obscuirty. For the next five years, Billy and his unfortunately-named Beaters waited for their break.... which finally happened when a TV producer heard them perform and had the idea of using "At This Moment" for his show, the Michael J. Fox sitcom "Family Ties."

And so this going-nowhere-fast song eventually skyrocketed to #1. Moreover, just like Michael J. Fox's marriage to Tracy Pollan, "At This Moment" has staying power; "light rock" stations still play it twenty-five years later. The lesson to undiscovered bands everywhere: if you keep marching confidently in the directions of your dreams, you will find success... even if you try to sabotage your chances with an absolutely ridiculous band name. (I mean, the Beaters? Honestly...)

"Everybody Have Fun Tonight," Wang Chung: Then again, if you have a goofy name, you might as well embrace it: Wang Chung not only included its name in its most famous lyric from its most famous song, but they even turned it into a verb!

What does it mean to "wang chung," exactly? Twenty-five years have not shed any light on this mystery, although the Internet swirls with speculation. (Does it mean "Yellow Bell" in Chinese? Does it mean "perfect pitch"? Is it the sound a guitar makes?) Personally, I think it has to do with the ancient art of Product Placement-- the product, in this case, being the name of the band itself.

Think about it: you take a catchy, up-tempo beat and combine it with a non-sensical chorus that includes the name of your band. And though folks may mock the lyric, everyone's still saying it. And I mean everyone: just look at the "Appearances/ References in Other Media" section of the song's Wikipedia page. From "Cheers" to "Veronica Mars" to "How I Met Your Mother," tons of TV shows have alluded to the line "everybody wang chung tonight."

Hey, I know the Product Placement worked on me: even though I dismissed the song as a 16-year-old, as a 41-year-old, I remember it fondly, as one of the signature songts of the 80s. Man, how did I get wang chunged like that?

"Sweet Love," Anita Baker: Not my necessarily favorite song back in 1986, but I wanted to give Anita some soulful props. This song, her first single, went to #8 on the pop charts and #2 on the R&B charts; plus, "Sweet Love" earned her a Grammy for Best R&B Song and another for Best R&B Vocal Performance (Female). As I said, not my cup of tea, but I respect her for giving us the best that she's got.

"I'll be Over You," Toto: This band really should have hung it up after "Africa." After all, how can you top that? But since everyone somehow thought "Africa" was sung by Asia, Toto soldiered on with this sappy little ditty, which actually reached #11 on the Billboard chart. Alas, the song's title proved prophetic, as fans were quickly "over" this song and the group. In fact, only the inclusion of the irrepressible Michael McDonald saves this song from obscurity. (As an aside, did Toto and Kansas ever go on tour together? Seems like a no-brainer...)

"It's in the Way That You Use It," Eric Clapton: Fun fact, courtesy of the book Scorsese on Scorsese: Clapton's original lyric for this song was "He's getting ready to use you." But director Martin Scorsese (who wanted to use this for The Color of Money) didn't care for the line. So Clapton and singer Robbie Robertson tweaked it a little and came up with a line with the same number of syllables: "It's in the way that you use it." And so was born a great song that, twenty-five years later, is never played and is barely even remembered.

Of course, I personally will always hold this song dear because of its appearance in The Color of Money, which is a film I saw with the first girl I could legitimately call a girlfriend.... regardless of whether she knew I called her that or not. Ultimately, the song's popularity and my relationship with the girl shared the same fate-- i.e. they were both short-lived.

"Shake You Down," Gregory Abbott: My inclusion of this song should in no way suggest that I endorse it; rather, I loathe it. I consider the week this terrible song reached #1 (in January 1987) one of the darkest eras in Billboard history. But I am mentioning it because it taught me something about female/ male perspectives.

The first time I heard this song, I immediately recognized it as limp, sappy-pappy crap. But my new female friends liked it-- loved it, actually. And while they didn't turn me around on this song, they did teach me something valuable: if men are born with the chromosome that prevents them from asking for directions, then women are born with the chromosome that makes them like crappy Gregory Abbott tunes. Somehow, it all evens out.

"The Rain," Oran "Juice" Jones AND "The Future's So Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades," Timbuk-3: I am bundling these two songs together because I never really knew, even at the time, if they were meant to be "real" songs, or jokey/novelty songs-- a la "Pac-Man Fever" or "Homecoming Queen's Got a Gun." "The Rain" seems real enough, but the talking part at the end-- the best part, for sure-- is played for laughs.

Timbuk-3's song, on the other hand, is just goofy all around-- at least, that's what I always thought. Only recently did I discover it's not goofy at all; apparently, lead singer pat mAcdonald (yep, that's how he spells it) considers it a song about... wait for it... nuclear holocaust-- with the "dark glasses" being a metaphor for turning a blind eye to a potential future that's made "bright" by a giant nuclear blast.


Yeah, I sort of see it, especially since he does make reference to studying "nuclear science" in the very first line. And yet... I somehow liked the song better when I thought it was just goofy.

While both Oran "Juice" Jones and Timbuk-3 were one-hit wonders, 'Buk-3 may have more "juice" than "Juice" as far as longevity goes-- if only because people still say the "bright future/ sunglasses" line. (Then again, that expression may predate the song, I'm not sure.) But I still prefer "The Rain," mostly because of its great put-downs-- for examlpe, "You without me is like corn flakes without the milk! This is my world. You're just a squirrel trying to get a nut!"

Plus, "The Rain' is the only one on this list (as far as I know) that has a rebuttal: Miss Thang's "Thunder and Lightning," which features the woman from "The Rain" sassing back to the man. When your song has a Rebuttal Version, you know you've made it.

"Human," Human League AND "Next Time I Fall," Peter Cetera and Amy Grant AND "All Cried Out," Lisa Lisa and Cult Jam with Full Force: And I bundling these three together, not because they all do that "male/female duet" thing, but because they all fall into the category of "Songs That I Have Been and On Some Level Still Am Ashamed To Admit I Like."

When I asked my wife which of these three should embarrass me the most, she picked "Human"-- which I actually find the least shameful. So then I decided to do the iPod Test: I have both "Human" and "All Cried Out" in my music library, but no "Next Time I Fall." So I guess my appreciated for Peter and Amy is shoved so far back in the closet that I can't even admit it to my iPod.

The world seems to agree: as far as longevity goes, I feel I actually hear "Human" and, to a lesser extent, "All Cried Out" on the radio, but I never hear "Next Time I Fall." Of course, the next time I do hear "Next Time," you know I'll be singing along. (And now that I admitted that in print, this blog will self-destruct in five... four... three...)

"Will You Still Love Me?" Chicago: It's 1986, and gang warfare erupted on the Billboard charts. David Lee Roth and his ex-band Van Halen put out competing albums (Eat 'Em and Smile and 5150, respectively); Benjamin Orr and Ric Ocasek, both members of the Cars, released singles ("Stay the Night" and "Emotion in Motion," respectively) around the same time; and Peter Cetera and his former bandmates in Chicago slugged it out in an epic Battle of the Wusses.

Just how vicious was this Cetera-Chicago duel? Well, I'm reminded of Sean Connery's line from The Untouchables:

"He brings a knife, you bring a gun. He sends one of your guys to the hospital, you send one of theirs to the morgue. That's the Chicago way."

Only, in this case, instead of knives and guns, the Cetera and the Chiaco guys were armed with cheesy, David Foster-penned ballads.

Who won this battle for soft-rock supermacy? Well, I'd probably give the nod to Petey, since both of his songs from 1986, "Glory of Love" and the aforementioned "Next Time I Fall," went to #1, while "Will You Still Love Me?" peaked at #3. Still, #3 is not too shabby, and Chiacgo proved they could survive without the bizarrely falsettoed Cetera. They'd go their own way-- the Chicago way.

"Heartbeat," Don Johnson: At some point in the fall of 1986, Eddie Murphy let out a big ol' *Phew*. See, up until that point, Eddie was the reigning Celebrity Who Put Out the Most Embarrassing Pop Song, 1985's insipid "Party of the Time." Then, in the Fall of 1986, Don Johnson decided to cash in on his Miami Vice fame by putting out this piece of steaming, soulless, opportunistic crud, which actually has gained some fame over the years.

For example, in 2007, put "Heartbeat" at the top of its "Worst Songs of All Time" list (beating out "Party All The Time" at #8). And back in 1999, it earned the #1 spot on MTV's 25 Lame show, commemorating the top 25 videos of all time (which MTV swore it would never play again).

But here's something curious: while I know no one who admitted to liking either "Heartbeat" or "Party All the Time," somehow they both reached the top five on the Billboard charts (#5 for Don and #2 for Eddie). And even curiouser: supposedly, Willie Nelson, Bonnie Raitt, and even Barbra Streisand helped Don Johnson on this album... which begs the question: just how crappy would the project have been if these folks didn't assist?

"Word Up!," Cameo: Going out on a limb here: I think this song has enjoyed a longer shelf-life than any other song on this list, save for the two Bon Jovi songs. Not necessarily because you hear "Word Up!" on the radio all the time (even though you do hear it occasionally), but because of the various incarnations the song has enjoyed over the past twenty-five years.

First, in the 1990s, a Scottish rock band named Gun re-made the song, a version which was apparently featured on the soundtrack of the Pamela Anderson vehicle, Barb Wire. (I never actually saw the film, but I'm sure the seventeen people who did would say it was the better for the song's inclusion.) Then, in the 2000s, the song lived on again: Korn (of all groups) made a version; and a radio personality out of Los Angeles named DJ Zax mashed-up "Word Up!" with Gwen Stefani's "Hollaback Girl"-- and actually made "Hollaback Girl" somewhat bearable.

Why has the song enjoyed so many lives? Obviously, it has a great sound, but I wonder if people are also responding, on some level, to its paradoxical Deeper Meaning. See, when I actually looked at the lyrics, I realized the song is actually an indictment rappers and other "sucker DJs" for "putting on airs" and writing about "psychological romance" instead of just writing cool dance music. Hence the paradox: a song that seems to critique other songs for their Deeper Meanings actually has a Deeper Meaning. Ah, Cameo, you tricksters.

"Walk Like an Egyptian," The Bangles: On the one hand, the recording of the song caused some friction among the Bangle-gals (Ban-gals?): it seems the producer not only forbade bandmember Debbi Peterson from singing one of the verses (she was relegated to the whistling section, of all things), he also replaced her drumming with a drum machine. So, some trouble was a-brewing behind the scenes. (Three years later, the group broke up-- not necessarily because of the tensions involving "Walk Like an Egyptian," but it couldn't have helped.)

On the other hand, the good far outweigh the bad with this song: it reached #1 on the Billboard chart in December 1986 and stayed there into 1987; it was the very first song performed by an all-female group playing their own instruments to reach the top spot on the charts; it brought the concept of "cops hanging out in the donut shops" into the limelight; and it still lives on today, as proven by all the "Walk Like an Egyptian" puns that surfaced in conjunction with the Egyptian Revolution of 2011. Bottom line: when you think of great songs from the 80s, this one has to be near the top of the pyramid.

(Unless, of course, you're Toni Basil, the one-hit wonder responsible for 1981's "Mickey." Seems songwriter Liam Sternberg first took "Walk Like an Egyptian" to Toni-- who turned it down! And if you listen closely, you can still, more then twenty-five years later, hear Toni Basil crying.)

"Stand by Me," Ben E. King: Yeah, the movie Stand by Me came out in late-summer 1986, but you heard the song throughout the fall, so I figured I could include it on the list. Moreover, I wanted to end with this song (and, incidentally, *phew* for finishing this mere hours before 2012 rolls in!) for three reasons.

First, some temporal serendipity: on December 31st, 1986, I actually saw the movie Stand by Me in the theater for the first time. Now, twenty-five years later, to the day, I'm here writing about it. So weird.

Second, temporal serendipity, part 2: the song "Stand by Me" was originally released in 1961, so it was 25-years-old when the movie made it popular again. (As a pseudo-aside: I can think of only one other song that charted twice, after a quarter-century gap: the Righteous Brothers' version of "Unchained Melody," in 1965 and then in 1990.) So 2011 marked twenty-five years after that re-release. Fifty years of "Stand by Me"? Hard to believe...

Finally, and most importantly, I wanted to conclude my memory-lane jaunt with this song because of what the song means. The song is about the importance of enduring friendships. The friends I made twenty-five years ago, when all these songs were popular-- well, I don't see any of them regularly. But I do see five of them, at least once a year. We Facebook. We exchange Christmas cards. We are most definitely still friends.

These songs may have provided the soundtrack of this magical time in my life, but my friends were the characters who made the movie of my life fun and interesting and worthwhile. The songs were on the car radio, but they were ones in the car with me. They were the ones who made the memories. They were the ones standing by me.

Twenty-five years ago, I was a junior in high school. Now I teach high school juniors. And for them, I have this one wish: that twenty-five years from now, in the year 2036, you'll look back just as fondly on your friends... and your music.

Word up!