In their ten-year-long effort to purge “the shrine” aka my old high school bedroom, my parents occasionally drop off boxes of my old “stuff.” So far I’ve received boxes of baseball cards (one of dozens), books, magazines, Super Nintendo and Genesis games, CDs, Transformers and now cassette tapes — a big ole shoebox full of cassette tapes, almost all of which are dubs. Plenty of the cassettes are completely free of label. So it might take me some time to go through them all. But I’ve found three labeled tapes, three labeled mixtapes, in the lot. I’ve created Spotify playlists for each. I’ve not “bettered” the mixes in any way. The awful tracks remain, blemishes on my taste (and lack thereof) as a teenager. What you see here is the track order as they were created from 1993-1996. Enjoy these time capsules (or not), these (ugh) plastic windows into my teenage schizophrenia.
The Mixtape Project: Volume 2, Stuff #1
Unless my mixtapes were thematic I always called them “Stuff” and then numbered them sequentially. I spent more creative juices coming up with titles for the thematic mixes (e.g. Caffeine) so I should get a bye for not wasting energy with these titles. Out of all ten or so “Stuff” tapes, only #1 survives. Or at least, it’s the only one that still has a label. I may find more as I go through all of the unlabeled tapes in this box. A handful were lost when someone stole my car in college. So it goes.
If I could have opened every mixtape with “Big Sky” I would have. Reverend’s Rockabilly burner brings all of my favorite mixtape-opener elements: 1) instrumental; 2) 3 minutes or less; 3) also opens a favorite album (1994’s Liquor in the Front).
“Another Day” – Dream Theater
After a burner, I always liked to drop the pace. So far I’m going paint-by-numbers with “Stuff #1.” Reverend. Check. Dream Theater. Check. Prog melodrama (featuring a killer sax solo/outro) may have been a jarring switchback after Reverend, but considering I listened to an EPIC CRAP-TON of Reverend and Dream Theater during these years, I’ll allow it.
“Pain Lies On the Riverside” – Live
Jackin’ the pace back up. If you’re a Live auto-hater and you auto-hate “Pain Lies On the Riverside,” FOR FLIPPING SHAME. Live might have eventually sucked donkey balls, but Mental Jewelry was a great rock album and this was a legitimate jam.
“Dela” – Johnny Clegg & Savuka
The first monkey wrench. Some people went through their Afro-pop phase with Paul Simon, but Johnny Clegg and I cruised that savannah with the top down and the Cruel, Crazy, Beautiful World album on repeat. I recently learned that this song played a prominent role in the movie George of the Jungle. I have no comment. Don’t ask me again. I don’t know anything.
“Don’t You (Forget About Me)” – Simple Minds
Staying in the 80’s, I maintained mid-tempo with a low-hanging Simple Minds track. At this point, I’d stumbled into the Simple Minds backwards through their underappreciated 1995 record Good News from the Next World and then Glittering Prize, their 1992 greatest hits collection. I’d retrospect this one into “Up on the Catwalk” or “All the Things She Said,” but, like I said, they were new to me at the time… and thus this song wasn’t yet burnt out.
“Pass the Hatchet” – Roger & the Gypsies
Does anyone still listen to the Desperado soundtrack? Man, what a record. And such a slice of my 1995 moment. I was smitten with the movie and Salma Hayek, the soundtrack and, well, Salma Hayek. (I was 17 when this movie came out.) I loved throwing these curveballs onto different “Stuff” records because songs like this introduced a style of music I’d not yet discovered. This song and the Get Shorty soundtrack opened a gateway to the Stax instrumental funk/soul sound of the 70’s.
“Sister Havana” – Urge Overkill
When I think over forgotten gems of the 90’s I think of “Pain Lies On the Riverside” and “Sister Havana.” Prior to Saturation, Urge Overkill released three relatively meh records and after Saturation, they released another couple of records to which nobody listened (they were actually pretty good, including 2011’s terribly named Rock & Roll Submarine). But for a fleeting moment in 1993-94, UO killed it, which is really better than not killing it at all. In the end, they’ll just be remembered for playing the Neil Diamond cover “Girl, You’ll Be a Woman Soon” on the Pulp Fiction soundtrack. Is that fame? Fame by association perhaps. Maybe they could make a comeback by doing a “Cracklin’ Rosy” cover.
“Cancion del Mariachi” – Antonio Banderas & Los Lobos
Two points to mention here. 1.) See all that was said about obsessing over Desperado above. 2.) 2:00 filler. But, you know what? No apologies. It’s a damn fine song. Whatever it is.
“Jessica” – Allman Brothers Band
I think I said something earlier about opening mixtapes with instrumentals, no? I took it one step further. I opened Side B with a instrumental too. This must be the best mixtape ever. Now I own this record on vinyl and it still gets plenty of airplay. My daughter doesn’t quite know what to make of it though. Hell, I originally owned Brothers and Sisters on one of those pimped-out gold Original Master Recording CDs.
“I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings” – Buckshot LeFonque
This is Branford’s acid-jazz collective / collaboration with hip-hop producer extraordinaire DJ Premier. This self-titled record served as my gateway to Herbie Hancock, Miles Davis, et al. I’m not sure the entire record aged as well as this track, for which Branford and co. built music around a recording of Maya Angelou reciting her poem of the same name. It’s a remarkable cut that works as an individual piece of jazz/fusion and as a aural worship of Maya Angelou. I, of course, cannot help myself and follow this with…
“Holler If Ya Hear Me” – 2Pac
I loved me some sonic mixtape whiplash. The best 2Pac song from the best 2Pac album. The albums released after this, including all of those released after his untimely death, catered to a broader audience and really lost track of the raw production and lyricism that populated his first two records. Don’t tell me you “just loooooove 2Pac” if you don’t looooooove Strictly 4 My N.I.G.G.A.Z.
“Low Rider (En Espanol)” – War
I must have thought I was being innovative, tracking down a version of “Low Rider” en Espanol. 2012 me isn’t all that impressed with my musical fascination with “Low Rider” in any language. I am impressed with my ingenuity, however, since I don’t even know where I even found this track.
“Mama Take” – Chicago
So I liked Chicago quite a bit. Even all the later schmaltzy stuff that makes some people think of Air Supply. “Mama Take” comes from their twelfth studio album, 1979’s XIII, otherwise known as intersection of critical and commercial distaste. I will not admit to seeing them four times in concert. The disco-era had begun to seep into the band’s jazzy sound on this record. Thus, hate. It’s not that really that bad (IF you like Chicago). If there’s a moment, however, when “Stuff #1” leaves the reservation it’s the transition into Chicago from (Latin) War and then into…
“As I Lay Me Down” – Sophie B. Hawkins
I guess I needed one of those pop songs that you’ll always remember even if you forget the name of the artist that recorded it. Must have been my token female artist for the mixtape. If you don’t take yourself too seriously, this is still a good song. If you hate 90’s pop nostalgia, and/or fun, you’re going to rage on this choice. By the way if you want to witness the person most tired of this song, watch Sophie B. perform this song in 2011. The recording method doesn’t help, but damn. I bet she’d rather be doing a Neil Diamond cover too.
Well, I was workin’ on my farm ’bout 1982, Pullin’ up some corn and a little carrot, too When two low-flying aeroplanes, ’bout a hundred feet high Dropped a bunch o’ bales o’ somethin’, some hit me in the eye…
So I cut a bale open, an’ man was I surprised Bunch o’ large sized baggies, with big white rocks inside So I took a little sample to my crazy brother Joe He sniffed it up and kicked his heels, said, ‘Horton, that’s some blow!’
“Recipe for Love” – Harry Connick, Jr.
I dunno. Just… I dunno.
Bombay Vindaloo – Dream Theater
The Good: Dream Theater never recorded this track in the studio and it only appeared on the Live at the Marquee album. So it’s got some rare-track fan cred and serves as a great closing track to the mix. Slow build, another instrumental…
The Bad: 2nd Dream Theater track on the record. After the Harry Connick, Jr. song followed by a 2nd Dream Theater I clearly ran out of ideas and just started phoning this one in. I’d have rather dropped “Another Day” from Side A and left this one right where it is.
Unlike “Caffeine” this one at least makes a lot of mixtape sense… until the end. Without docking points for the Desperado rehash (filler clemency), it’s a damn good mix of the moment. September 1995. I can’t fault too many of the song choices. I’ve noted my beefs. The moment begins to wear thin by the time the mix hits “Low Rider.” Meh. But bonus points for being a curio, I suppose.
As a dynamic mixtape that borrowed the rules of mixtaping, the rise and fall is strong. I never held too closely to single style and quarantined the oddities to the B-Side, where they generally belong. Side B might be a little too retro with the Allman Brothers, War and Chicago… and I needed to refrain from doubles. It’s a stylistic concern that should have been addressed. No doubt. I would have thrown another hip-hop song on the Side A for balance and slotted in some more contemporary rock that wasn’t another Reverend double up. Dispense with the doubles. Pfft. Lazy teenager.
In their ten-year-long effort to move me out of my old high school bedroom, my parents have occasionally dropped off boxes of my old “stuff.” So far I’ve received boxes of baseball cards (one of dozens), books, magazines, Super Nintendo and Genesis games, CDs, Transformers and now cassette tapes — a big ole shoebox full of cassette tapes, almost all of which are dubs. Plenty of the cassettes are completely free of label. So it might take me some time to go through them all. But I’ve found three labeled tapes, three labeled mixtapes, in the lot. I’ve created Spotify playlists for each. I’ve not “bettered” the mixes in any way. The awful tracks remain, blemishes on my taste (and lack thereof) as a teenager. What you see here is the track order as they were created from 1993-1996. Enjoy these time capsules (or not), these (ugh) plastic windows into my teenage schizophrenia.
The Mixtape Project: Volume 1, CAFFEINE
I drank my dad’s cold coffee when I was five. It should come as no shock that by the time I reached high school I was naming mixtapes “Caffeine.”
I played AC/DC Live a lot. It was and still is the only AC/DC album I’ve ever owned. Any AC/DC album cut sounds odd to me. I can’t think of another band for which this is true.
“Judgment Night” – Onyx and Biohazard
Frankly I’m shocked this is the only song on this mix from the Judgment Night Soundtrack.
“Sabotage” – Beastie Boys
Check Your Head was my first real exposure to the Beastie Boys. Looking back I can’t remember a time before the Beastie Boys because this song opened the floodgates for obsession. An omnipresent MTV staple, friends called friends to tell them when the video was on.
“Bring the Noise” – Public Enemy and Anthrax
The Public Enemy only version of “Bring the Noise” is good, but without the Anthrax guitars, it’s not “Bring the Noise.” For a brief period, and likely due to Judgment Night, all of my favorite rap songs had heavy guitar.
“Batdance” – Prince
My parents were convinced the lyric “Get the funk up” was actually “Get the fuck off.” At the time I didn’t know what it was but I couldn’t convince them otherwise based on the lack of a parental advisory warning on the album. I continue to love this song shamelessly.
“Battery” – Metallica
I was listening to “Battery” between games at the Harmarville Hoops 3-on-3 tournament and waiting for the next game on a court. I had this song blasting in my headphones, but a dude broke his leg on the hoop base right in front of me. I heard the snap over everything else. That *snap* still haunts me. And I can’t hear “Battery” without thinking about it.
“Mama Said Knock You Out” – LL Cool J
I suspect that when I’m old and senile and every other detail has disappeared I will remember the lyrics to “Baby Got Back” and “Mama Said Knock You Out.”
“Great White Buffalo” – Ted Nugent
So my parents used to work for Ted Nugent, running a farm in Southwestern Michigan. Yes. I grew up on a farm. Moving along. I have a sneaking suspicion that my first concert was a Ted Nugent show. If all you know about Ted Nugent is “Cat Scratch Fever, you may be impressed with “Great White Buffalo,” a track originally written during the Amboy Dukes days. Or you’ll just consider it crappy 70’s guitar rock. And you’d probably be right either way. Footnote: I don’t care about anyone’s politics here. This is about Ted Nugent playing guitar.
“Scalped” – Dick Dale
Thanks to “Miserlou” appearing in Pulp Fiction I bought CDs from five or six different surf guitarists. Dick Dale’s essentially the beginning and end of this conversation for any0ne interested in the microgenre. Dale released this album in 1994 and it was just as righteous as his old stuff.
“Drum Trip” and “Ecstacy” – Rusted Root
For a period of two years here in Pittsburgh, Rusted Root might as well have been the Beatles. They were local celebrities and everyone recognized them. Hell, I sat across the aisle from them at a U2 Popmart show at Three Rivers Stadium. I was obsessed with the drums that opened the album When I Woke and segued into “Ecstacy.” Thus the two came as a pair to close out the first side of this mixtape.
“Another Day” and “Take the Time” – Dream Theater
That there are only two Dream Theater songs on a mixtape called “Caffeine” that I made sometime in 1995 is somewhat of a miracle. Including “Another Day” as the leader on Side B is just pure laziness because I liked the lead in to “Take the Time.” Have an original thought, 1995 self.
“Coma” – Guns ‘n Roses
That I’d blow ten minutes of quality mix time on this song is a mystery. Rule #6 of mixtape creation, don’t waste ten minutes on a song that’s not m’f’ing epic. I don’t remember ever really liking this song, but apparently for a fleeting moment in time, my G’nR fix came from this 10-minute burner off of Use Your Illusion I.
“Don’t Ever Tell Me That You Love Me” – Huey Lewis
I went all the way back to Huey Lewis’ debut record for this kinetic New Wave popper. It’s not shocking. As you may well know (faithful reader), I’m obsessed with Huey Lewis and he used up almost all of his energy on that debut, self-titled record.
“Slam” – Onyx
Man. Before DMX came along and made every rapper look like wussies, Onyx sounded hard. Their style was brand new in 1995 (and still never really duplicated). I’m disappointed in my extremely obvious choice of Onyx songs, but it’s hard to beat “Slam.” And don’t neglect their undersold, underappreciated second record.
“Superstition” – Stevie Wonder
A great song. But out of left field much? Did I even listen to Stevie Wonder in 1995? I certainly don’t remember even having one of his albums. I must have gone raiding my parents’ stash. Hell I don’t even really listen to him now.
“The Girl Tried to Kill Me” – Ice T
I’ve always been on team Ice Cube in the battle of the Ices, but out of all the early Ice T tracks, this is the one. And the only one I would have ever picked for a mix. Also note the guitar. Kind of a running theme in these rap song selections.
“Scandalous” – Psycho Realm
From the soundtrack to Mi Vida Loca. The movie sucked. But the soundtrack deserved more press. The bands you knew phoned it in, but the groups you didn’t know and don’t remember provided some interesting tracks — Psycho Realm (before B-Real got his hands on them), Shootyz Groove and Funkdoobiest included. This was Psycho Realm’s first recorded track and reeks of a solid Cypress Hill tribute band.
“Gentleman. Let’s broaden our minds… Lawrence!” Another choice cut from the Batman soundtrack to conclude the tape. Another mixtape staple, “Partyman” showed up whenever I needed to wrap up a short remainder. You’d be surprised how many times you need a three-minute song for filler.
Rock, rap and Batman… and then there was Rusted Root, Huey Lewis and a moonlighting Stevie Wonder – who must have stumbled onto the tape looking for the (now lost) Soul Mixtape because he fit the required time stamp. Unfortunately this mix hit a short time before I discovered electronic music. What this mix desperately needs is some Prodigy and some Gravity Kills… but alas, both were yet undiscovered.
Side A starts strong. Four tracks I could legitimately put on a similar mix today. “Batdance” puts a kink in the method, but it could have survived had I followed Prince up with something less jarring than “Battery.” Three pairs of tracks from the same album = lazy. The Rusted Root pair works since they blend into each other. I shame my sixteen year old self for not venturing out into the depths of the CD library for a few more deep cuts, like Psycho Realm’s largely forgotten track on the B-side. Speaking of the B-side…
Side B’s a damn mess. A ten-minute track. A pair of unlinked songs from the same Dream Theater album. The Ice T song feels out of place. Stevie Wonder? Why not just throw some goddamn Bee Gees on there if I wanted to derail the tape entirely. If not for Psycho Realm and Onyx, I’d just rewind Side A over and over again.
Taken from an interesting bit about the intersection of creativity/spontaneity at http://the99percent.com/
As much as I like to be spontaneous (I’m really not) and as much as I like to make last-minute, spur-of-the-moment plans (I generally won’t) and as much as I can make split decisions… meh. You get the picture. I often look at a perfect opportunity, last night for example, to escape from the daily grind. Everyone’s got a daily grind, be it a 70-hour-per-week job, a litter of kids at home, a work-from-home situation that feels like the end of sanity. If you’ve read a sizable portion of this bl-g you’ve probably read a few posts that encourage active participation. It’s just so much easier not to do things. To not go see that movie. To not attend a band’s show because I just don’t have the energy. Staying home is almost always easier. But do you make memories, entertain new experiences?
A few weeks ago, I Shazammed a song by a band called Dry the River. I finally had the opportunity to listen to the full record sometime last week. From the very first spin, I was hooked. Full-on, hooks through the gills. I’ve been pushing the band on Twitter (@drytheriver) whenever possible. They remind me vaguely of Shearwater (probably because I’ve been listening to Shearwater a ton lately) if Shearwater were enamored with some Scandinavian folkies like First Aid Kit. They’ve mentioned the influences of Leonard Cohen and At the Drive-In, a comparison I quite like. So yesterday I received one of those concert announcement emails from one of the local promoters. I don’t always skim these things because I’m usually aware of a show before it arrives in my inbox. Well, there at the bottom of the page was a small blurb mentioning Dry the River playing at the Club Cafe, that night. Ugh. Overlooked, likely because they just recently became a name on my radar.
I wanted to go, of course. The rules of Interweb hyperbole permit me to claim that Dry the River’s Shallow Bed is the OMG best m’f’in album of 2012. But I just couldn’t muster the gumption to go last night. A night in which I had nothing doing, nowhere to be, no immediate responsibilities to undertake. And I make these grand speeches about making the effort on this bl-g. I’m a hypocrite.
It takes energy and time to go out into the world. It seems silly but it’s true, especially when days are filled with other responsibilities. Work. Kids. Wife. Coffee consumption. Fiction writing in between all of that. I build myself up for going out. I look forward to my dates with live music for weeks in advance. Could I talk myself up in one day? Ehhh, not so much. All I wanted to do was get the kids to bed, do my workout and catch up on some Sherlock, some baseball watching and maybe paint the attic stairs. Some nights you’ve talked yourself up for a night of nothing whatsoever. And when you’ve talked yourself up for nothing whatsoever that something that comes along, even something as fated as a Dry the River show the moment after discovering the band, just needs to take a night off.
Have you caught up on your Sherlock? If not, stop reading this and go watch some Sherlock! What's wrong with you?
To be fair, I almost talked myself up. The wife even told me to go. After all, I could have written a spectacular bl-g proclaiming my love for this soon-to-be buzzband, touting their brilliant mishmash of folk and rock. I could have marked off another venue on my Pittsburgh concert-going to-do list. Somehow I’ve never been to (or don’t remember) the Club Cafe. It would have been glorious, I assure you. But on the other hand, I’m writing this instead. And while it’s not as glorious as a night out with live music, some contemplative time about choosing to squander opportunities can almost be as valuable. I’ll go out there and get ’em next time. I promise. I might just need someone to remind me about this post, three years from now when I’m complaining about how I didn’t go to that Dry the River show on some arbitrary, ho-hum Tuesday back in Oh-12.
I bought my ticket to see Ghostbusters on Tuesday for two reasons. A) I wanted to make absolutely certain that I had a ticket; and B) I wanted to make absolutely certain that I’d go.
I wanted to make sure that I’d go to something I absolutely wanted to do. It seems like such a strange phenomenon: to need to force oneself to do something necessary, no matter how frivolous. But in the “adult” world with families and jobs and other pressing demands for time, it is all too easy to let the necessary frivolities slide. Concerts, movies, events. The act of leaving the house at night to partake of something enjoyable often becomes a chore. It’s easy to get my daughter to sleep, throw myself on the bed and turn on the television. Something’s on. A hockey game. The World Series. If nothing else, there’s always Turner Classic Movies. All I need is to see Robert Osborne introduce some third tier Joan Crawford flick and I’m hooked.
It is easy to not make decisions and commitments. It comes so naturally to all of us. Our lives have become so… comfortable that we don’t need to exert any effort to remain perfectly placid.
Or so we think.
During my very first therapy session last winter, my therapist questioned what it is, if anything, I do for myself. What decisions do I make that purely benefit me? I had no answer. I wasn’t pretending to be the greatest husband and father in the universe, devoting all my waking hours to the care of my family. That wasn’t the point. I was plenty selfish of my time. But I participated in nothing. I floated from idle chore to idle writing time to idle video games. I’d stopped making active decisions.
So this week I made the active agreement with myself that I was going to see Ghostbusters on the big screen. I go balls out when I fucking cut footloose.
Background: I quote Ghostbusters at least once a day. It happens unconsciously, in paraphrase and directly. Cats and dogs living together… Ray, when someone asks you if you’re a God… Back off man, I’m a scientist… a couple of wavy lines… That’s right, this man has no Dick… Tell ‘em about the Twinkie… and so on and so forth. I hold three movies sacred. The Empire Strikes Back, Casablanca and Ghostbusters. There are a dozen or so demi-sacred movies. I’m just saying, there are tiers worship. …four feet above the covers! So I’m saying I’ve seen Ghostbusters a few times, including four times in the theater when I was only six years old and still had to hide my eyes every time the Librarian Ghost goes “RAWR!” That was your plan? Get her!?
I got to the theater early-ish to make sure I could get my seat. Left side of the theater, mid-distance from the screen, two to three seats into the row. By the time the movie started, only the front section of seats remained a viable choice for parties of more than two. The seats were filled with people wearing Ghostbusters tees and hoodies. After all, if you’d even botheed to figure out when and where the revivals were playing you were clearly a fan. There was no real publicity, just social media buzz from the Ghostbusters Facebook page driving these screenings on each of the three Thursdays before Halloween.
The theater darkened. The Columbia woman filled the screen, the grainy film stock usurping the screen from the digital perfection of the ads and trailers beforehand. I sat with my bag of slightly buttered popcorn and Cherry Coke, more self-medications, a permanent smile of my face, laughing with the crowd at the same jokes I repeated daily…. shocked to notice anything new. (There’s a Stay Puft ad painted on the brick building next to the Ghostbusters’ office… it’s no wonder Ray couldn’t help himself.) This is catharsis. Laughing in unison with the crowd even before the gag. This is why we make an effort to do something frivolous. This is therapy. Take the time to do what you love. Return to a moment in your childhood when you had nothing to do but enjoy being six (even if you didn’t know what that meant at the time). Even if it’s watching the same movie, listening to the same CD or reading the same book. These frivolous activities have meaning as long as we make the choice and the effort to participate.
How many times will the Grandmaster of the 80’s appear on the countdown?
I first introduced the concept of “synesthesia nostalgia” in my rumble-worship about movie soundtracks of the 1980’s. Catch up here. In the wake of this rumble I wanted to compile a list of my favorite soundtrack moments from the Me Decade. In order to qualify for the list the movie soundtrack moment must:
A) accompany a memorable scene from an 80’s movie;
B) contain contemporary ’80’s music — either reconstituted (but still representing the ’80’s) or written exclusively for the film;
C) not be played only during a static credit crawl. I’ve allowed opening credit tracks (see #10 and #7) because the set up for a movie can be infinitely more influential than anything that takes place while everyone’s deciding whether or not to take their leftover popcorn home with them.
11. National Lampoon’s Vacation – Opening Credits
Song: Holiday Road by Lindsey Buckingham
I wanted to include Iggy Pop’s opening credits from Repo Man here to be “edgy.” I just couldn’t shake the Griswolds though. “Holiday Road” is such a recognizable stalwart of the 80’s soundtrack pantheon that I couldn’t deny Lindsey Buckingham the credit he deserves. He certainly doesn’t get enough love for being a vital cog in Fleetwood Mac (damn you Stevie Nicks for stealing his thunder). I’m sure a mention in this rumble will certainly put his confidence over the top. Opening credits? Sure. But as far as I can recall this song plays through every second of the entire movie.
10. Back to the Future – Too Damn Loud
Song: The Power of Love by Huey Lewis and the News
The Power of Love appears early in Back to the Future when Marty skates to school after blowing the amps at Doc Brown’s. It then reappears, perhaps less memorably… perhaps more, here when Marty’s band, the Pinheads, audition for the Battle of the Bands and a bespectacled Huey Lewis proclaims the song to be “too darn loud.” A short scene empowered by the song’s repeated appearance in the movie and the trilogy as a whole.
9. Beverly Hills Cop – The Cigarette Truck Chase
Song: The Neutron Dance by the Pointer Sisters
One of my favorite opening scenes to any ’80’s movie. Axel Foley. Cigarette truck. The Pointer Sisters. Movie magic. A perfect blend of synesthesia nostalgia. Fun wiki fact: the Russian government misinterpreted the song, believing the lyrics to be about nuclear war. I’m not sure but this might also have been the first R-rated movie I ever saw. Bonus points for that. And the banana in the tailpipe. And Harold Faltermeyer’s Axel F. And Rosewood. And Taggard. I love this movie so damn much.
8. Caddyshack – Opening Credits
Song: I’m Alright by Kenny Loggins
Dancing gopher. That’s really what this is all about. Nobody can listen to this song and not think Caddyshack and the gopher. Kenny Loggins was the Grandmaster of Ceremonies for the 1980s and this is his happy funtime anthem. Unfortunately I can’t get a clean embed to the actual movie footage. Instead here’s a fan video of the dancing gopher… since that’s really all we really want anyway.
7. Flashdance – The Last Dance
Song: What a Feeling by Irene Cara
Regrettably I have no choice but to place this song in the countdown. Like it or not Irene Cara’s anthem is dripping, oozing with synesthesia nostalgia. This is the epitome of the concept itself. Movie and music are inextricably linked in form and memory. Still it pains me. Jennifer Beals has really aged well though, hasn’t she? The guitar solo at around 4:30 just kills me a little inside every time I hear it. I doubly cringe because now I must also think of Jennifer Lopez too. Urgh. What I would give for this song to be erased from our collective memories.
6. Better Off Dead – VanFrankenBurger
Song: Everybody Wants Some by Van Halen
I can’t really vouch for the song. On it’s own, it’s just not a very good Van Halen song. And then you have to get into the question about whether Van Halen was really a decent band rather than just a fascist conglomerate. I’m not prepared to go there. I am prepared to laud the awesomeness that is Better Off Dead. This is the best scene in Better Off Dead and it just happens to involve John Cusack doing a Dr. Frankenstein impersonation with a few pounds of raw ground chuck that turns into he and she burger patties singing Van Halen and it’s suddenly the best that Van Halen has ever sounded.
5. Footloose – Chicken Race
Song: Holding Out For a Hero by Bonnie Tyler
I’ll spare you another Kenny Loggins anthem. It would have been easy to pick just about any clip from Footloose and call it iconic. What moment in that movie isn’t strikingly noteworthy for one reason or another? I challenge you to find one menial, tedious moment in the whole film. Trick challenge. There isn’t one. But if we’re downplaying all the more awkward musical/drama moments, the scene that rises above all others is the Chicken Tractor Showdown. Pure teenage stupidity played for thrills and set to Bonnie Tyler?? Movie magic while the theme for Footloose just makes me think of ratty sneakers in close-up.
4. Fast Times at Ridgemont High – Phoebe Cates
Song: Moving in Stereo by the Cars
We could be more subtle about the reason for this scene’s infamy, but why bother? Any male knows this as the Phoebe Cates scene. It might not be immediately obvious but there’s a song playing when she exits that pool. And whenever men of a certain age hear this song by the Cars, they’re 90% more likely to experience a spontaneous erection than, say, men of any other age. It might not fit the other criteria for true synesthesia nostalgia, but there’s true potency in those subliminal messages.
3. Say Anything – Boombox
Song: In Your Eyes by Peter Gabriel
This is by far my least favorite entry in the countdown. Not because I don’t love the song… or the movie… but because I hate being predictable. There’s no way to exclude “In Your Eyes” because no 80’s movie moment is more iconic than John Cusack standing outside Ione Skye’s window with that boombox. I miss the days where it was socially acceptable to haul a 20 lb. apparatus for blasting treble-heavy tunes on your shoulder. Maybe this should be #1 but I prefer it here. In the middle. Fun fact: the original working title of the film was …Say Anything… instead of Say Anything…
2. Ghostbusters – The First Call
Song: Cleanin’ Up the Town by the Busboys
What else did the Busboys do? I dunno. Don’t care. Their song begat the Ghostbusters into this world on their first honest paying gig. This is enough for three for four lifetimes. The best Hollywood movie of the 80’s has to have a killer 80’s soundtrack. While Ray Parker, Jr. got all the press (good and bad – shame on you for stealing Huey’s beat) the Busboys cranked out the real hit. Is it a great song? Without the movie, nobody remembers the band or this song. At the same time, what could have replaced the song? The whine of Ecto 1’s siren has become one with the jazz-fueled piano riff. (For the record, they put out a pretty decent record called Minimum Wage Rock & Roll.)
1. Top Gun – Beach Volleyball
Song: Playing With the Boys by Kenny Loggins
So you wanted “Danger Zone” did you? “Danger Zone” is a great track. I’m pretty sure I’ve tested all of my car stereos by cranking it up to 11. Don’t get me wrong, I love me some “Danger Zone” but when you hear the song what scene in Top Gun comes to mind? Maybe my experience has been warped somehow but I don’t think of anything other than F-14s flying around and landing, taking off and landing like I’m at some Blue Angels festival in the glowing dusk sunlight. There’s no scene attached to the song. And yes, I know I included the song from Caddyshack because of the dancing gopher… but that’s different. That’s different because there wasn’t the greatest homoerotic beach volleyball scene in history slapped dead in the middle of the movie backed by yet another killer jam from Kenny Loggins. The man really was a god among boy scouts.
Before I sold my Volvo I found a plush travel case filled with mixtapes in the trunk. They were labeled Stuff #1 through #7. Sonic time capsules of plastic and ribbon. I’d poured hours of energy into selecting tracks, ordering, pressing play and record at the same time, swapping CDs in the old Kenwood 6-CD stack system that jammed every time I selected the tray CD while the changer swapped discs. The gray Maxell cassettes each held a 90-min cross-section of my high school life between 1995 and 1997. Old songs mixed with new, whatever had hooked me at the time. The ink on the cardboard had faded or streaked. Most song titles had been rendered completely unintelligible. I’d been someone else then – a pimply-faced kid that thought 21 was an impossible age, that worried he’d never get laid, that had just begun discovering bands like the Allman Brothers, Velvet Underground, the Clash and the Cure. Sometimes I envy that kid. The world of music at his fingertips. As odd as it sounds I envy the time he spent compiling all those mix tapes, pouring over track lists, planning, stacking media in the order it was to be recorded. The mixtape is an archaic concept that our kids won’t know anything about — having grown up in the era of digital music and the playlist. There’s nothing wrong with the playlist; drag and drop, compile, re-order. It’s the perfect, efficient means to an end. For the ultra lazy iTunes even creates playlists for you. Don’t get me wrong. I support the playlist because it has improved the quality mixtapes. Without the playlist I could never compile my yearly list of my top 50 songs of the year. It just wouldn’t be manageable over four cassettes, never mind the constant reordering. On the other hand, there are teenagers all over this world that are eventually going to clear out the back of their first cars in ten years, and I can tell you what they’re not going to find: they’re not going to find a box of cassettes containing seven mixtapes, a Terminator X and the Valley of the Jeep Beets (that belonged to Bill Pesce) and a Ghostbusters soundtrack. They won’t find those time capsules left by their younger selves. Playlists will be deleted, erased, left on old computers and iPods. So what did I do when I found that travel case? I threw the entire thing in the garbage because I’m pretty sure one of those mixes contained “I Swear” by All 4 One. That’s the downside to time capsules; your younger self was probably also kind of a douchebag that you’d probably rather forget.