From my earliest recollection, I have been obsessed with music to a far greater degree than most others possessing a set of ears. Rush was the first band that attracted my fanaticism. Three guys from Canada producing meticulously tight and virtuosic music with a lyrical message clearly aimed at cerebral adolescent outcasts awoke the dormant geekdom for all things sonically engaging that I assume was embedded in my genetic code from the moment of my conception.
Then my sister, who is 5 years my senior, went to college and began exposing me to all sorts of music that would somehow inspire me to sport the dumbest haircut ever devised throughout the remainder of my high school years. It was the 80s, so at least I wasn’t alone in opting for such a ridiculous coiffure.
Some songs stand out as having been definitive of my high school years. These are the songs that played a perpetual loop in my brain as I fell in love for the first time, drank my first beer, began to express myself in writing, and made a veritable hobby of rebelling against the Depression-era rules that were an unavoidable part of living under my parents’ roof. It was a time filled with formless hope and equally formless wear-it-on-my-sleeve rage resulting from a spotty understanding of the political diatribes of my punk rock heroes. Here are a just a handful of those songs that, more than just occupying a nostalgic place in my mind, still have the magical ability to transport me directly back to a time marked by teenage romanticism, melodrama and bittersweet anticipation:
Ah, Kate Bush. One of my earliest crushes using her beautiful four octave dog whistle of a voice to capture the dark Brontean romance of Catherine and Heathcliff. Heavenly.
Psychedelic guitars, cryptic lyrics and a boatful of questionable haircuts. Echo and the Bunnymen should have been so much bigger. Like most teens, I found myself infatuated with some seemingly unattainable fragile beauty on an almost weekly basis. Ian McCulloch captured such yearning perfectly in this song: “Just look at you with burning lips — you’re living proof at my fingertips!”
Not the John Hughes, slick movie version, but the original in all its rawness. “Wasn’t she easy? Isn’t she pretty in pink? The one who insists he was first in the line is the last to remember her name. He’s walking around in this dress that she wore. She is gone, but the joke’s the same.” Prescient, to say the least.
I like to pretend that Bono & Co. hung it up in 1987 right after releasing The Joshua Tree. Of course, they didn’t and hence they continue to sully the legacy of their first five wonderful albums. This Brian Eno-produced tune is one of the most beautiful songs ever recorded, in my humble opinion.
Oh, how I miss college radio. Princeton University’s WPRB turned me on to this brilliant nugget of neo-psychedelia.
The The. Matt Johnson was a one-man force of nature when it came to deceptively upbeat sounding new wave music underlying some of the most poignant descriptions of melancholy and self-loathing. Along with The Smiths, The The was my go-to artist when I needed to pretend that my life was so much more difficult than it really was.
If nothing else, I hope that I was able to provide some nostalgic listening to brighten your day. Or at least to make you cringe while recalling how silly you looked as a teenager.