After my bit of a diatribe on Friday, wherein I railed against the political and social aspects of this world that really irk the hell out of me, I thought it best to calm down a notch and post something light-hearted and innocuous that would only offend those who seek validation in being offended. And here we go…
ONE. Meatloaf – “Paradise by the Dashboard Light”
This lovely ode to baseball, promiscuity and vintage automobiles is perhaps one of the finest tunes to warble when one has tippled a bit more than one should. This opinion is not necessarily shared by the masses, since the song is epically long, it has a somewhat unhappy narrative, and the vocals are annoyingly intrusive if you just want to discuss Sartre whilst munching on cocktail weenies. But still, this tune is worshipped by two extremely sage people: Me and my oldest sister.
The two of us share a rocky past, as siblings often do. (You should never trust siblings who swear they have loved one another since they shot out of the womb. It’s just not feasible or believable. In real and non-medicated life, siblings bicker, they drift apart, and then they come back together, in an endless cycle. This is what Mother Nature intended, and the relationship is stronger in the end.) But if this song comes out of the stereo speakers in a social setting where we are in attendance despite published warnings that we should not be an ensemble, we are transformed.
We immediately race to the nearest area of wherever we are that can feasibly be considered a stage, and then we start wailing. Throughout the entire song, all 700 minutes of it. (Okay, we don’t always pay true adequate tribute during the “baseball announcer” bit of the tune, because there’s a lot going on there and it’s hard to maintain focus.) But for the rest of the song? We are on it. And no, we don’t trade off the lyrics, like Meatloaf and Karla DeVito do. We both sing all of them, especially that last segment where all the angst and dissatisfaction comes to the fore.
It’s a fine and wonderful experience. At least for the two of us. The rest of the family members whip out their smartphones and start updating their wills, because they have focus issues and can’t appreciate fine art. I don’t need your money, Aunt Agnes. I have the music in me. Sod off.
TWO. Elton John – “Your Song”
I used to sing this one solo, back when I was a wee bairn in somewhat-rural Oklahoma and clutching my tiny radio, emoting softly, under my bedcovers as I consoled myself that life didn’t have to be what I knew of it then. I really wanted to meet that person who could put down in words how wonderful life was that I was in the world. It was a nice salve, a temporary patch, but the song would prove to be even more powerful in a group setting.
Case in point: Several years ago, my partner and I were in a gay bar (surprise!), an off-the-beaten-path place that we had been to a few previous times. It was a decent spot, nothing fancy, but it had managed to survive many years simply because it allowed people of a feather to gather and relax. (Sound familiar to those folks who remember when we had to be furtive and careful? Yeah, I thought so.) It was fairly late in the evening, meaning everyone was in that mood you can get to when the inhibitions recede, however briefly, and the atmosphere was just warm and comforting.
The DJ hit a button and this song filled the building.
Every single person in the bar started singing along. No holdouts, individual conversations ceased, attitudes dropped, and there was just this mass of people who knew every word. (Even the bartender stopped hustling about, pausing to join in.) Words can’t describe. It was simple yet powerful, and it has stayed with me ever since, perfect and clear.
Then the song ended and we all went back to being bitchy and jaded.
THREE. R.E.M. – “It’s the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine)”
Actually, I’m not sure that anyone, other than lead singer Michael Stipe, can feasibly remember all of the words to this song. (There are a lot of them, often in rapid-fire succession.) The fun with this one is in the trying. It’s a hoot to take a deep breath and then just launch, seeing how far you can get before you hit the first of many roadblocks. You will inevitably spend long stretches simply mumbling or making up gibberish because you have no idea what the real words are. Just like certain politicians.
Side note: If you have ever made it all the way through with nary a misstep whilst imbibing but not cheating, then text me. We clearly should be friends.
FOUR. Three Dog Night – “Never Been to Spain”
There are two reasons why this one made the cut. First, they mention Oklahoma in the song. It’s not necessarily an honorable mention, more of a minor shout-out, but when you’re an impressionable youth in the 70s who has no self-esteem (partly because you live in Oklahoma, let’s be fair), there’s a wee bit of exhilaration to hear that shout-out. It’s nice to have someone acknowledge that your home state even exists, something that normally doesn’t happen. (Okay, there was that whole mess with the “Oklahoma!” musical and movie, but there was nothing realistic about those productions, starting with people singing about how happy there were to live there.)
Second, and more importantly, this song has a nice arc, starting slow and building in intensity. This allows the less-talented among us time to adjust our vocals to somewhere near the actual key of the song and try to stick with it to the climax without too much shame. And the message is nice, with the “what does it matter?” refrain. To me, it’s a more joyous song than the obvious “Joy to the World” by the same band. That one seems a bit too forced. This one feels just right.
FIVE. Van Morrison – “Brown Eyed Girl”
This definitely falls into the “sappy and obvious” category. It’s been overplayed for decades, and it’s the go-to song in so many movies where the script hits a rough spot and the producers throw this tune in to evoke a mood of nostalgia and sunshine when the story should be doing that. (And I’m a little biased in that the song reminds me of New Orleans, a place I love. This is mainly due to one remarkable evening on Bourbon Street years ago when we happened to hit several bars in a row where local bands were covering this song. It became the theme for the night, another concept I associate with New Orleans. In fact, if you’re up for it, here’s a link to one of my many questionable adventures in NOLA.)
Still, despite the overplay, this song is a great sing-along, especially when a group of shiny, happy people all join in on that delicious “sha la la la la la” chorus, smiling and harmonizing and not caring about how you might sound. Because we all need more of that in our lives, little stretches of time where we just let go and we don’t worry about anything for at least five minutes.
P.S. I know this is a very short list, conforming as I did to the “five-item limit” I do with these Sunday in the Park bits, so there are many more ditties out there worthy of mention. What songs would you suggest? Scroll down and get to clicking. (Yes, I’m openly pandering for interaction, something I don’t normally do. But I’ve been to Spain now, and I kinda like the music…)