Thursday, March 19, 2009

Compulsive Chronicles #3: Ain’t No Shame in Lovin’ You, Baby

Compulsive Chronicles is an ongoing column for SPOKE(a)N(e) Magazine, and every month, I have supplementary material to that column here. Be sure to check out Issue #3, where I talk about my deep and abiding love for British rock. To read past supplements and find links to previous columns, please visit all posts under my
SPOKE(a)N(e) label.

Before I became the rock fan you see today, I had a pop radio past just like everyone else. Behold, the songs I once played again and again and again and . . .

1. Shoop - Salt n Pepa
At ten years old, I recorded this song off the radio and carried the cassette around in my Walkman, playing and rewinding the song no less than eleventy-billion times that year. You were not cool if you did not know all of this song, and man, was I cool. So cool in my black leggings and oversized denim shirt, a superfluous belt and dangly earrings. So super cool with my not-quite-grown-out perm and wide black headband. White Girl in Montana, busting out the lines, “Ooh I love you in your big jeans/ you give me nice dreams/ you make me wanna scream!”

As if I really knew what any of that meant, but I liked to think I did. Sure, I wanted to die of embarrassment when a boy I liked gave me a Garfield comic book for Valentine’s Day that year, but . . . that was soooo besides the point! I was a fifth grader, so of course I knew everything there was to know. Ever.

We were all this brand of lame once, and it’s okay. Really. I still know every word, and I’m not trying to be hipster-ironic when I say I still like it. Though I’ve never had another recording of it other than that now dubbed-over radio tape, I will always enjoy hearing it.

2. Hold Me, Kiss Me, Thrill Me - Gloria Estefan
Even as a kid, I had completist tendencies. Before one Christmas when I was very young, I asked for a Gloria Estefan cassette. I’d seen the video for “Get On Your Feet” and I liked the jumping. In my stocking, I found a greatest hits album. A Christmas or two later, even though I was somewhat indifferent to the single “Turn the Beat Around,” I felt that I must have her new album of cover songs. Most of the songs she chose, I’d never heard the originals. Again, my parents complied.

I ended up listening to that album so often that now the originals sound like covers to me. The title track is one my friends and I would half-jokingly sing in my room, saying that we were directing it at whatever boy we liked at the time. In fact, one time I was on the phone with one of those boys, and my friend Heather took it upon herself to blast the song in the background. I might have been mortified had I not also found it hilarious. It started a long trend of one of us providing a soundtrack to the other’s “important” romantic conversations. We were making sure to mark the memory, naturally, and we were mostly unconcerned with the boys finding it strange.

Even once I reached high school, I’d still pop the tape in my car stereo here and there, much to the raised eyebrows of my passengers. “Hey, man,” I’d say, “You want to drive around with your butt toasty from my awesome seat warmers, then you’ll listen to whatever I want!”

I’ve still got the cassette in a box somewhere. When I’m out shopping, sometimes one of the songs will catch me by surprise when it plays over the store’s in-house system. Original version or not, I find myself quietly singing along without making a conscious decision to do so. Say what you will about the cheese-factor of her music, but she made a cover album for a reason — they’re good songs and they reminded her of being young.

3. Again - Janet Jackson
I won this album by accident. With the radio on, I’d been vacuuming my room, and when I finished, all I heard was “Ninth caller wins!”

Wins what? Who knew? I called anyway and got through. Apparently it was some sort of Pepsi promotion, and a game card or numbers were involved. I had none of these things. Being a kid, and one expressing obvious disappointment that I’d misheard, the DJ took pity on me and told me to come down to the station for a free CD or tape. They let me look in a cabinet with an assortment of different music, and I picked Janet. I already had Rhythm Nation 1814, so of course, I needed the new one. I already knew I liked the single, “If,” a song that was far dirtier than I realized at the time.

Even though it’s been years since I last heard “Again,” I could tell you the first two verses right now, almost word for word, without trouble. Something about a syrupy ballad talking about returning to an ex made my young self rewind its portion of Side 2 for hours. It seemed like a good story, I suppose, and eventually another video came along with it.

That tape was one of the few times I’ve ever won anything. I don’t know what makes some people particularly lucky at getting their name drawn, winning at gambling or anything else left to chance, but I’ve never been one of them. I’ll always put my name into the hat, but only with low expectations. At best, I hope that any good prizes with ‘You and a guest’ in the description, someone close will win and think of me.

4. Must Have Been Love - Roxette
At six years old, I’d already found MTV and the wonder of cheesy 80s effects. I wasn’t entirely sure I was supposed to be watching that channel. Knowing better than to ask, I was going to go ahead and assume it was allowed until someone thought to tell me no.

A girl from my class used to come over a lot after school. We’d dash down to the basement and turn on the TV. Playing with Barbies and discussing whatever was important to first graders at the time, we’d wait for “Must Have Been Love” to come on. We were fascinated by the effect where the singer’s outfits changed half a dozen times within seconds. Theories as to how they accomplished the look ranged from being “really, really fast at changing clothes” to “a magic camera that puts the pictures of the clothes on her and she’s not really wearing them at all!”

We also believed that a substance called “Invisible Paint” existed. Because Looney Toons are never wrong, of course.

For a long time, the video was in heavy rotation. Neither of us had the album, but we could reliably hear it on MTV most afternoons. Some days we had to settle for Cathy Dennis or Madonna. Some afternoons we’d flip it over to “Dance Party USA” instead. We wanted the clothes, the haircuts and the supposedly “grown-up” drama that came along with all these songs.

I still have a soft spot for Roxette and have a few songs floating on an 80s mix CD somewhere. Though they had a lot of successful singles, I don’t how many people even remember them now.

5. Stay - Lisa Loeb
Ah, the radio mixtape — Perfecting that mad dash across the room, over furniture and landing square on the ‘Record’ button every time I heard the first notes of a song I liked. Did it matter if I’d recorded it before? No. The moment must be documented! If I liked hearing a song every time a DJ played it, then why wouldn’t I like hearing it more than once on the same tape? This is the sort of logic an eleven-year-old me possessed. I made roughly fifteen radio mixtapes over the course of a couple years, and “Stay” featured on almost every single one.

What do younger kids do now, when they get stuck on a song but don’t have the means to buy it yet? No one has a cassette player anymore, and MTV doesn’t really play videos. Do they make their older sibling download it? Do they badger their parents? Or are they even aware of singles at all? Does the Disney channel dictate everything now? I don’t know the radio listening habits of the under twelve set. My near-five year-old recognizes some songs when we’re in the car, but I probably listen to the radio more than other people in their twenties. The death of the mixtape is something I have yet to fully wrap my head around, and the mix CD is probably gasping its last breath.

I legitimately like Lisa Loeb — I have three of her albums — but I know that “Stay” was played to the point of overkill when it came out. It’s been around fifteen years, and there are probably people who are still sick of it. It’s funny how her cat-eye glasses were considered very alternative at the time, and now everyone’s got some version of them.

I can remember being at the pool that summer and pausing when the song came on. For a long time, it caused extreme musical tourettes. I just had to sing along, and if I was on a waterslide at the time, then so be it.

So I turn the radio on, I turn the radio up
and this woman was playing my song
Lovers in love and the other’s run away
Lover is crying cos the other won’t stay . . .

Radio’s not what it used to be, I know, and it’s becoming increasingly difficult to find spots on the dial that play more songs you like compared to what you don’t. Still, there’s something to be said for flipping it on in the car and being surprised. Either a new song works its way into your brain or an old one comes on that makes you say, “I love this song. I haven’t heard this in forever!

A band doesn’t have to be on the radio to be popular anymore, but is there any band out there who wouldn’t be thrilled to hear themselves on it?

Honorable Mentions: “Take a Bow,” Madonna; “Waterfalls,” TLC; “Ironic,” Alanis Morissette