I’m recommending this playlist of music that was on pop radio in the late 70s to very early 80s. Each of these songs has a very special meaning to me. Within the first 3 notes of each song, a very interesting thing happens in my mind: I am taken back to a very distinct time and place; I can feel the thoughts I felt when I heard these songs; I can see images burnt into my memory (that are unfortunately now starting to fade). I was between 4-7 years old during this time and this is when my love of music was forming and taking deep root in my mind. There are pictures of me in my back porch – a tiny little DJ that would spin records for hours and hours. Maybe some of these tunes mean something to you – some are obscure, others more well-known. I call it my “Chill” or “70s Playlist” and play it often.
One thing you’ll notice if you listen to these songs is that since they are from the late 70s time when that orchestra string section riffing in the background was such a big part of pop music. It’s an awesome sound and so easily places the tune in the era. I’d love to hear it in some modern music just to throw people off. From what I’ve learned, it was expensive to hire orchestra players 30-35 years ago so they would record a violin, viola and a cello as a 3-1-1 or 6-2-2 (meaning 3 violins, 1 viola and 1 cello) and triple or even quadruple track all of it to give it that really thick, drippy sound that you’ll hear in so many of the tunes in this era (think BeeGees).
I’d also love to hear my favorite artist, John Frusciante, cover all of them on a double album! @johnfrusciante .
Enjoy…I’m off to watch the original Doctor Who and Watership Down
In no particular order…(actually I think it’s alphabetical – sorry)
Fernando – ABBA – Not the most famous ABBA tune, but what really catches my ear with this band is the double female vocals. Makes it sound like they’re double-teaming my ears “there was something in the air that night!” And that name Fernando…I pictured the most interesting man in the world before he even existed!
- Weekend in New England – Barry Manilow – Barry…oh Barry. When I was little your voice sounded so authoritative. A delicate piano intro then Barry slips in with his deep New Yawrk voice…and he’s always asking when he can “touch” the person he’s singing to. I never took that literally as a kid, but I do now for some reason. This and “Looks Like We Made It” are one song in my head.
- God Only Knows – The Beach Boys – The horns grab you right from the beginning and the vocal melody has so much range. Such a pretty song. Plus the white goat on the cover of the album always got my attention as did the first words “I may not always love you.” “What?!” my little mind thought.
- Don’t Ask Me Why – Billy Joel – Shuffling tune that brings back memories of playing with my sister on the back indoor porch. I swore if I ever met Mr. Joel I would ask him “why?” But then I would realize that I already know.
- Only the Good Die Young – Billy Joel – this tune and “Movin’ Out (Anthony’s Song)” bring back similar memories. Billy Joel was a good story teller with some nice effects thrown in: “heart attack-ack-ack-ack”. But this tune starts with a catchy piano riff then the drums kick in and he’s talking to some girl named Virginia. I never imagined it was about him trying to talk a good girl into giving it up. I remember thinking, “really? If you’re good you’re going to die young?” Made me want to be bad.
- The Tide is High – Blondie – 70s punk meets reggae meets horns. This was one of my favorites at the time, with the horns swaying so nicely and Blondie’s background harmonies. Had a Grease kind of feel to it.
- Love Will Keep Us Together – Captain and Tennille – Tennille always reminded me of my dad’s best friend’s wife. I have an image of her sitting on the curb watching me play wiffle ball. What did she see in the Captain, anyway, with his stupid moustache, big shades and actual boat captain cap with the scrambled eggs on the rim. What did the Captain bring the the table here anyway? Tambourine?
- Hard to Say I’m Sorry – Chicago – Peter Cetera’s voice was another like Manilow that just sounded like you needed to listen to what he was saying…or else. Real pretty piano opening. I never knew what he was saying in the vocal “After all the hoo we’ve been through”. What the hell is “hoo?” Sounds like it’s something difficult that made him want to apologize though…
- Do You Really Want to Hurt Me – Culture Club – This was a crazy unique tune when it came out, more in the early 80s. It had reggae, mystery (boy or girl?) and the garbage can bashing at the end is intense. The beginning was also a mystery to me. I’d never heard anything start like that and break out into the “beep-beep” synthesizer with the tappity tap percussion and that snarky trumpet with the mute in it that ends the chorus – you can literally touch the music. But the beginning always made me jump up and say “ooo, it’s on!!”
- Rich Girl – Hall and Oates – These guys just give me memories of good times and this is a good time tune *gasp* with a curse! Rely on the old man’s money? Money won’t get you too far? What a lesson in economics I got!
- Take It to the Limit – The Eagles – I always thought they were talking about the speed limit. I have this image in my head of being in the back of the station wagon (yes, no seat belt) seeing the double yellow lines go by real fast saying to myself, “wow, dad is really listening to these guys!”
- I Love a Rainy Night – Eddie Rabbitt – I think it was his name that made me like him. It’s a mind worm tune too…with finger snaps!
- Your Song – Elton John – There’s a soft space in me for Elton John. Something about his piano playing. I know he spreads his hands and hits high and low octaves a lot and that gives his playing a broad, rangey and unique sound. But the words, which I know he didn’t write, are always so ambiguous they cause so much imagery to fly around my mind. “Don’t have much money, but boy if I did I’d buy a big house where we both could live.” And the part where he says, “if I was a sculptor,” I always thought he said, “if I was a skeleton”. I used to love skeletons. But I didn’t know why he’d be suggesting he was one.
- Daniel – Elton John – I always liked this song for a special reason.
- Don’t Go Breaking My Heart – Elton John and Kiki Dee – happy time duet that was very similar for me with Maxine Nightingale’s tune below. Right from the start those 70 effects are in full throttle. Together: Woo Hoo, nobody knows it. Elton: When I was down – Kiki: I was your clown – Elton: right from the start – Kiki: I gave you my heart! – Together: Don’t go breakin’ my heart!
- Say You Love Me – Fleetwood Mac – My favorite Fleetwood Mac song. There’s a lot of good stuff that Stevie Nicks does, but this one sung by Christie McVie has this dry, stolid character about it although she does show some range in the melodies. Still, it has a good time feel to it starting with a chugging piano intro. And listen to the banjo in the background too! Another one that reminds me of my dad’s best friend’s wife (what was it with her??).
- Music Box Dancer – Frank Mills – Piano instrumental that I’d love to learn how to play one day (I don’t think it’s that hard). But it has drums and the 70s orchestra and some droning voices in it too which makes it extra unique. The album art looks like a ballerina on some 70s lights too.
- Who Loves You – Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons – I love the opening. It starts real low and builds, then gets right to the matter and then breaks to Frankie and his bubbly voice. But as soon as I hear the opening I’m again in the back of the station wagon driving my dad to work (we only had one car) with my Gulf truck. 70s orchestra in strong effect here.
- December, 1963 (Oh What a Night) – Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons – To me, this song sounds like Kool and the Gang. Again, great opening, great beat with piano riff over it. Good times! Must have been a great night…
- Baker Street – Gerry Rafferty – A very calm interesting song that always captured thoughts of a dreary English city scape – Jack the Ripper kind of scene and I’m not sure why. Whiny little intro that makes the whole song. Then it kicks into that vicious sax riff. I never realized back them how nasty that guitar solo was!
- Without you – Harry Nilsson – I always thought this was a woman singing this. It’s such a melancholy tune, makes me imagine myself as a little 6 year old looking out a window dripping with rain, wishing I could be outside playing. Then it gets serious. “ I CAN’T LIVE! IF LIVING IS WITHOUT YOU!!!!
- Fire and Rain – James Taylor – Such soothing guitar work to open, singing about someone being gone and he writes down a song but doesn’t know who to send it to. Whoa, he’s seen fire and he’s seen rain! Impressive to a little kid.
- Dancing In the Moonlight – King Harvest – When I listen to this it literally feels like I’m dancing in a night October field under a full moon. A real bubbly tune with a descending riff that kicks into a rambling keyboard line behind a rugged but friendly voice.
- You Make Me Feel Like Dancing – Leo Sayer – Another freaky tune I always thought was sung by a lady. It’s funny how when you’re a kid the words are taken so literally. I still feel like dancing when I hear this and this guy’s voice is soooo high. Later in the song he tries to kick it into a lower octave (which was a trend back then) but it’s funny because even his lower register is high. There’s a part where he’s riffing “hah hah” over some “do-dodos” and then he tries to sound mean. But it never fooled me.
- Reminiscing – Little River Band – That opening is locked in my brain, a plodding single-note, sarcastic sounding tone. I have no idea what kind of instrument it is, some kind of keyboard effect. “Friday night, it was late” – I was hooked. It had such a jazzy feel to it. Although I really don’t get moved by jazz music at all, this piece resonates with me for some reason.
- Blinded By the Light – Manfred Mann’s Earth Band – Revved up like a deuce…I didn’t even know what a douche was, but I was singing that. It has a bunch of squirrely-whirly characters in it that I loved to hear about.
- Right Back Where We Started From – Maxine Nightingale – I’m on my big wheel in an open field in New Brunswick at my cousins house on a Saturday evening. No worries. “ooo and it’s alright!” I’d like to get right back there.
- Jackie Blue – Ozark Mountain Daredevils – Boom boom – boom followed by another squirrely sounding guitar. Then the soft womanly vocals seem to rip apart some girl named Jackie. Poor Jackie. Sounds like Jackie could take this singer with one swift backhand though.
- 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover – Paul Simon – I was always so intrigued by this. Again, I thought this was sung by a big middle aged woman (had a neighbor in mind – Liz) and I was very surprised later to see it was a little white man. The rhymes “make a new plan Stan, you don’t need to be coy, Roy” always made me feel like it was a Sesame Street kind of song. And I was like, “why would you want to leave someone that loves you?” The chord progression before any vocals with the snare drum really sets the tone for this serious tune with the funny kiddy rhymes.
- We Are the Champions/We Will Rock You – Queen – Used to go to sleep to this tune. How? I have no idea, but I think it was coupled with some cartoon or Daffy Duck rock back then – or something. I love Queen by the way. A soft strongly sung intro “bad mistakes…I’ve made a few”…then a booming anthem of victory! How could a little boy not love that.
- Maggie May – Rod Stewart – Classic tune that has everything from opening, voice, lyrics “steal my daddy’s cue and make a living playing pool. Or find myself a rock n’ roll band…that needs a helping hand”. Never realized it was a Mrs. Robinson kind of scenario going on.
- Tonight’s the Night – Rod Stewart – Rod Stewart has this voice – another one that I thought was a hoarse lady. And when I finally saw him (there were no videos or internet back then) I thought, “OK, it IS a lady” hehe. The lyrics “Stay away from my window…stay away from my back door” are memorable. Is he saying that anal intercourse is out of the picture? Makes me think of this picture of an androgynous man-woman baker telling the children to stay away from the pie cooling on the windowsill…even though he/she really wants them to try it so they can tell her/him how good that pie really is.
- You’re in My Heart – Rod Stewart – I always loved the whiny, remorseful violin that is almost like a character in this song. “Big bossomed lady with a Dutch accent! Ha Then the anthem “you’re in my heart you’re in my soul…”
- The Boxer – Simon and Garfunkel – Such quiet, subdued tunes that calm me to this day. Definite association to Watership Down cartoon movie about rabbits – a vicious, violent movie that I made my kids watch last year…cause I really wanted to watch it. In this song there’s this bleating deep pumping noise that comes in every once in a while. “By the ly-by the ly-ly-lylyly by the ly”.
- Bridge Over Troubled Water – Simon and Garfunkel – I never really understood what the bridge was over. How could water be in trouble? But the melodies of these guys always dragged me into their trap.
Dream Weaver – Gary Wright – My iPhone always thinks this is by Steve Miller for some reason, but it’s not. This was out of a different world, especially the sound effects at the beginning and end (what the hell IS that!!). For some reason I associate it with the blue ‘P’ in the old PBS slogan from TV. The sounds they made must have been similar – I think PBS made some kind of popping sound.
- Isn’t She Lovely – Stevie Wonder – A crying baby, a catchy tune. I’m kinda sick of it now though. I can see how I liked it a long time ago.
- Sir Duke – Stevie Wonder – The dynamic horns over a tippy tapping percussion. Then he’s talking about how wonderful music is. I completely understand why I loved it and still do.
- The Things We Do For Love – 10cc – I love this tune with its changes, hand clapping and the multiple layered vocals in the opening. I always wondered, what are the things you do for love?? It is very playful. “You think you’re gonna break up then she says she wants to make up.” Somehow I understood what that meant.
- I’m Not in Love – 10cc – The opening sounds like some kind of out of world trip. There’s so much space in it – there’s no other way of describing it. A great example of a big song that isn’t loud and doesn’t have a lot going on in it. It overwhelmed me when I was young and small, I think. Another one of those authoritative voices too.
- Precious and Few – Climax – “And if I can’t find my way back home…it just wouldn’t be fair.” A great lyric from an over-emotional sympathy-dripping tune. Is the singer crying?!
Well, I hope you enjoyed my little nostalgic trip along my 4-7 year old musical landscape. I really enjoyed writing it!