Archive | 9:03 am

An emotional journey through a lifetime of “popular music,” by Bob Zuber

14 Feb


A bit over a year ago, while listening to the radio in my office, I heard a song that immediately evoked a flood of emotions in me, emotions that were neither unfamiliar nor particularly limited to that one song.  But it got me to thinking – as a devotee of what is known as “pop music” – about the many songs over many years that made me sing and, more importantly, kept me sane.   There were times in my life – too many probably – when a pop music station and its sometimes bouncy, sometimes mournful, sometimes profound, sometimes light tunes and lyrics that was all that stood between me and prolonged bouts of despair: getting through childhood, profound relationship disappointments, medical issues and, most often, coping with the human condition and the propensity of so many of us for self- and other-destructive behavior.

Through lean and lonely times, through many personal passions and professional investments that often amounted to little in the end, through threats to life and integrity – some self-imposed —  the following list of tunes had as much to contribute to my well-being and determination to persevere than any academic degree or intimate investment.   With all due admiration for the many people with whom I have shared – and continue to share – an emotional bond, these songs allowed (mostly healthy) emotions to flow that would have likely stayed dammed up if left to their own devices.

I’ve been working on this for months.  Valentine’s Day seems like a good time to launch.

In preparing this “100 list,” there were a few ground rules that I followed:

  • Over many weeks, I listened to hundreds of pop songs on radio stations and You Tube which were both important reminders of beloved music and suggestive of other songs that I had “forgotten about” for a variety of reasons, including at times because of the conflicted memories that were evoked. This forgetting was particularly evident with regard to artists who were relative “flashes in the pan,” putting out one or two songs that resonated, but without a consistent body of work.  Indeed a couple of those “one hit wonders” made my final list.
  • I gathered together an initial list of about 280 songs, all of which had cause to make my final grouping, and then started to whittle them down. This was enormously difficult, at times frustrating. While the final list covers my entire sentient life span, songs are bunched during the eras where the need (even more than the desire) for them was greatest – in childhood, after a major breakup, before and after heart surgery, at the closing of an inspirational project, a familiar office, my beloved Harlem parish church.
  • I made a tactical decision to include no more than 2 songs from any one artist. This was necessary to help me finally consolidate the list, but also raised problems.   What, for instance, do you do about the Beatles?  While there is probably no Beatles song that would make my emotional top 20, it would be possible to fill virtually half the “100” list by pilfering songs from Revolver or the White Album.  Other artists – Chicago, Michael Jackson, Genesis, Pink, Carole King just to name a few – created for me their own numerical challenges.
  • The other “rule” was that I would focus on songs that had demonstrable public access and popularity. In other words, there were no “meaningful” tunes pulled from the last soundtrack of relatively obscure albums.  In this current age of You Tube and ITunes, it is more possible than ever to create highly “personal” lists of music which one can then self-reference, over and over.   I wanted to be sure that all of these “100” songs, if at all possible, were more likely than not to have affected a good number of other people as well, that the emotional impact of these tunes is in some sense a shared venture.
  • There is absolutely no implication here regarding quality. This is not a “critics” list, but a list of the songs that acted for me as a kind of “emotional stint,” keeping the life blood flowing at times when the arteries feeding that life were unusually clogged.   If I spent more time with the list it would surely modify in some aspects, perhaps because I would “rediscover” more one-hit wonders or perhaps because I would change my mind (for the hundredth time) regarding which 12 songs were “last in” and which songs were “last out.”  As noted, I was struggling over a list much larger than “100,” a list that, in full, would have perhaps provided a better overview of my often-complex and occasionally dysfunctional emotional web, probably along the lines of “more information than you would ever need.”   But choices had to be made, and this list represents a reasonable, non-hierarchical reflection of my interaction with a life of “popular” tunes.

I’m sharing this now rather than working on it further (which might have included hyperlinking all the songs or even trying to “order” them by their importance) because I mostly just want to commend this as an activity, surely for anyone over 40 with a long relationship with the pop music world.  The truth about us, even those who have achieved fame and fortune, even those who have learned extraordinary coping mechanisms to adjust to life’s challenges, is that we will forever be that person who uses the music of the times – the music of your times – to maintain their bearings in the world.

There is much gratitude for me to pass around over the course of my life to people who brought out things in me I never could have brought out in myself, those who are the real heroes of my own modest contributions.  In some significant way, these songs are also heroic as they “hit a nerve” at times in my life when I could not see clear to hit my own.   Thanks to all of you and to these artists as we celebrate – or perhaps just cope with — yet another Valentine’s Day.

100 Songs for the (my) Ages

A Thousand Years, Christina Perri

Abraham, Martin and John, Dion

Africa, Toto

Against All Odds, Phil Collins

Alejandro, Lady Gaga

Along Comes Mary, the Association

Always a Woman, Billy Joel

America, Simon and Garfunkle

Angie, Rolling Stones

Aud Lang Syne, Dan Fogelberg

Beautiful Day, U2

Behind Blue Eyes, The Who

Bette Davis Eyes, Kim Carnes

Black Water, Doobie Brothers

Breakaway, Kelly Clarkson

Candle in the Wind, Elton John

Carry On, Crosby Stills Nash

Cat’s in the Cradle, Harry Chapin

Daydream Believer, Monkeys

Drops of Jupiter, Train

Easy to be Hard, Three Dog Night

Fire to the Rain, Adele

First Cut is the Deepest, Rod Stewart

Fool on the Hill, Beatles

Forever Young, Rod Stewart

Get Together, Youngbloods

Give Me a Reason, Pink

Giving You the Best That I Got, Anita Baker

Good Vibrations, Beach Boys

Hard to Say I’m Sorry, Chicago

He Ain’t Heavy, Hollies

Hello, Lionel Richie

Here Comes the Sun, Beatles

Here He goes Again, Dolly Parton

Human Nature, Michael Jackson

I Can’t Stop Loving You, Ray Charles

I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For, U2

I Will Always Love You, Whitney Houston

I’m Going Home, Daughtry

I’m into Something Good, Herman’s Hermits

In the Ghetto, Elvis Presley

In Your Eyes, Peter Gabriel

Isn’t She Lovely? Stevie Wonder

It Ain’t Me Babe, Bob Dylan

It’s Too Late, Carole King

Jump, Van Halen

Just Breathe – Anna Nalick

Killing Me Softly, Roberta Flack

Landslide, Stevie Nix

Let’s Hear it for the Boy, Deniece Williams

Lion Sleeps Tonight, Tokens

Live to Tell, Madonna

Living in the Past, Jethro Tull

Lola, The Kinks

Love Me Two Times, Doors

MacArthur Park, Richard Harris

Maneater, Hall & Oates

Midnight Train to Georgia, Gladys Knight & the Pips

Missing You, John Waite

Oh Very Young, Cat Stevens

Old Man, Neil Young

Operator, Jim Croce

Paradise, Cold Play

Payphone, Maroon 5

PYT, Michael Jackson

Rich Girl, Hall & Oates

Ruby, Kenny Rodgers

Sailing, Christopher Cross

Save the Best for Last, Vanesa Williams

Schools Out, Alice Cooper

Send in the Clowns, Judy Collins

Sherrie, Steve Perry

So Far Away, Carole King

Some Nights, Fun

Somebody that I Used to Know, Gotye

Something in the Way She Moves, James Taylor

Stay, Rhianna

Straight Up, Paula Abdul

That’s the Way I Always Heard it Should Be, Carly Simon

The Boxer, Simon and Garfunkle

These Dreams, Heart

Throwing it all Away, Genesis

Time after Time, Cyndi Lauper

Titanium, Sia and David Guetta

Touch Me in the Morning, Diana Ross

Trouble, Taylor Swift

Vincent, Don MacLean

Walk of Life, Dire Straights

Walking in Memphis, Marc Cohn

Want it that Way, Backstreet Boys

We Don’t Need Another Hero, Tina Turner

We’ve Only Just Begun, Carpenters

What a Feeling, Irene Cara

What a Wonderful World, Louis Armstrong

What’s Going On, Marvin Gaye

White Rabbit, Jefferson Airplane

Wichita Lineman, Glenn Campbell

Wide Awake, Katy Perry

Words of Love, Mamas and Papas

You’re the Inspiration, Chicago