The Countdowns No One Asked For, 1979-80: 40-31
40. "Sara," Fleetwood Mac
I rode the bus to school every morning and most afternoons. Not exactly my preferred mode of transportation. Riding with other kids didn't bother me. If anything, it helped because we all talked and laughed. Whenever I felt like withdrawing, I'd read a book. I rarely wrote because the bus was too bouncy and we traversed many gravel county roads outside Poplar Bluff. The length of the ride was the issue for me. Because we lived so far out of town, I had to catch an early bus which meant getting up between 5:30 and 6 a.m. to bathe, eat breakfast, and watch a little of the local news. One silver lining to the long ride was it allowed me to have a moment to wake up. And sometimes I would just reflect on whatever was going on, which was usually a deep existential crisis that I kept silently to myself. I envied the kids who were driven by their parents or (even better) got to walk to school, which seemed like the ultimate freedom and, based on my exposure to fiction, offered the possibilities for adventure. No adventure on the bus.
39. "Take the Long Way Home," Supertramp
The first time I heard "Take the Long Way Home" was at night in bed. The local AM station was playing it after a basketball game, I think. Something about it struck a chord in me. Maybe it was the harmonica at the beginning, calling out in the dark. Or the way the song transitions from its first verse to the bridge.
But there are times that you feel you're part of the scenery
All the greenery is comin' down, boy
And then your wife seems to think you're part of the furniture
Oh, it's peculiar, she used to be so nice
I heard a yearning in the melody and Roger Hodgson's voice that touched my young soul. Had I possessed a Sony Walkman back in those days, I would've listened to "Take The Long Way Home" on repeat during those bus rides. Some songs are meant for solitude and this is one of them. Even today, at 53, I will listen to it on my commute home from the office and wonder how that 12-year old on the bus got to this point.
38. "You Maybe Be Right," Billy Joel
I knew about Billy Joel. Songs like "Piano Man," "She's Always A Woman to Me," and "Just the Way You Are" were all on my radar. But, Glass Houses is the first Billy Joel album I got into. My brother owned 52nd Street and The Stranger on 8-track and I enjoyed those, but Glassh Houses was a game-changer. And with "You Maybe Be Right" it was as if I had found my very first personal anthem. Granted, I never engaged in the reckless behavior referenced in the song's lyrics nor did I have a reputation for being a bad boy, so there was no logical basis behind claiming it beyond considering myself a complete weirdo in comparison to the other kids. I suppose at the age we all did.
37. "You're Only Lonely," J.D. Souther
The reasons for preferring to ride to school with my parents or one of my brothers were many, but at the top was getting to listen to the radio on the way in. Today, with the ability to stream music anywhere we are, the notion of listening on the way to school as some special treat feels so quaint. It was, though, a pleasure on a level with getting ice cream after a game or an unexpected stop for a burger while grocery shopping with Mom. Both my brothers worked for the newspaper in town, not as intrepid investigative reporters, but as mailroom clerks who deliverered the evening paper to local businesses. Sometimes they would drive a truck home after work and then back the next day. Certain songs put me right back in the passenger seat of one of those trucks on mornings headed to another day of Cervantes unmentioned 11th circle of hell: Poplar Bluff Junior High. "You're Only Lonely" is one of them. It was perfect, mid-tempo, radio-friendly pop. Even though J.D. Souther is singing about being there for a woman he loves, it was a source of encouragement on days when I just didn't feel like I like belonged anywhere. I was fortunate to have never been bullied much, so I didn't feel ostracized. It was more of a sense of anonymity. No one knew me. It was a lonely feeling, but songs "You're Only Lonely" let me know it was okay to feel that way sometimes.
36. "Brass in Pocket," The Pretenders
"Brass in Pocket" was another song I wasn't aware of during its initial release. I became aware of it when "Back on the Chain Gang" came out. My exposure to music relied solely on what played on the radio in Poplar Bluff and I don't remember hearing "Brass in Pocket" much. Like others, this song served as a reminder that a much bigger pop culture world existed out there and I was determined to learn about it. Spending a chunk of the day in transit to and from school on a radio-less bus thwarted my efforts, but I committed to a vigilant study. If that meant sacrificing what scraps of a social life I had to stay home and listen to American Top 40 and read entertainment magazines, then so be it.
35. "Cool Change," Little River Band
Bus rides are introspective by circumstance. You're stuck inside poorly ventilated mode of transportation surrounded by other kids who don't want to be there, so naturally the mind wanders and questions the meaning of existence. Sometimes I wonder what life would've been like in the late 70s and early 80s if we had had the technology we have now. I can picture myself listening to music on my phone, something like "Cool Change," after a long day of not understanding junior high life and staring out the window hoping something would happen to cause to me like it. Then, I remember who my dad was and I can't imagine him letting me have a smartphone at 12 years old, which would cause me great sadness and I would stare out the bus window and softly sing "Cool Change" to myself.
34. "Send One Your Love," Stevie Wonder
Even at a young age, I was fascinated by the concept of romance and love. Maybe it was the steady diet of movies and television. Maybe it was popular love songs like "Send One Your Love." The notion of a powerful connection between two people appealed to me. I was far too immature to understand what it meant, but I believed even then that people weren't meant to go through life alone. I determined at 12 years old that love was real and attainable and that I would wear my heart on my sleeve. This is why I dabbled in song lyrics and poetry. Being 12, I didn't openly share those writings with many people at all. A tall eighth grade dude who sat next to me in study hall used to try to read what I was writing. I relented to his pestering once and he mocked my work. Haters gonna hate, amiright?
33. "Don't Bring me Down," Electric Light Orchestra
Behavior like the one exhibited by the eighth grade dude caused me no end of frustration. Junior high males aren't collectively known for their inclusive behavior. Anything that ventures from the accepted masculine behavior put one on the receiving end of any variations of a homophobic slur. Play sports and excel. Hunt. Fish. Work on cars. Party. Talk about girls' bodies. Conform. Never mind that I could name both the starting rotation for every team in the National League AND tell you who wrote episodes of "All in the Family." In my heart, I was an artist, a creator. But, junior high in 1980 wasn't known for fostering that kind of thing. People wanted to know if you were going to play ball, literally and metaphorically. And, since I liked sports just enough, I decided I would conform. Openly, I was a sports fan while composing scripts and stories in my brain.
32. "Too Hot," Kool & the Gang
I liked dancing and admired dancers when I watched them on the screen. Every year when The Wizard of Oz came on TV, I looked forward to the Scarecrow's "If I Only Had a Brain" number and marveled at Ray Bolger's moves. I wondered if I could ever do something like that, sing and dance in a movie. As much as I loved the comedy sketches on The Carol Burnett Show, I equally adored the musical numbers. Their work impressed as much, if not more, than the athletes I watched. Poplar Bluff Junior High didn't stage an annual musical, so I had no opportunity to explore those interests. That was totally fine, though, because I was going to be a basketball player. Just needed to work on my game a little. So, as soon as I got off the bus from school, I'd head to the backyard to shoot some baskets on the goal Dad had put up for us. I would spend hours working on my moves. Still, I wanted to dance, too. So, on days I was home alone, I'd set the living room up and turn on something like Kool & the Gang and work on those moves, too.
31. "On the Radio," Donna Summer
We didn't have any seventh grade sports teams back then. Just an eighth grade football team and eighth grade boys basketball team. I didn't play in a rec league, so, other than some pickup games in my neighborhood or ones my brother would get me in, I played a lot of solitaire basketball. Often I would take our portable cassette recorder outside and pop in a Donna Summer tape we had and hoop it up. I had no game to speak of, just a lot of grit and heart and determination. Or, as it is sometimes called, delusions of grandeur. In my heart, I was a storyteller and a writer. Saturdays and Sundays spent watching baseball, football, and basketball on television and evenings spent listening to Cardinal baseball on the radio fostered the same dreams as seeing Star Wars on the big screen. Ultimately, I saw myself as someone with no identity and convinced myself that finding one lay in making a ball team. I chose basketball because, lamentably, kickball was not an interscholastic sport.