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  • Writer's pictureJeff South

The Countdowns No One Asked For, 1979-80: 90-81

90. "Here Comes My Girl," Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers

I found my 7th grade yearbook to search old photos, reminisce a little, get ideas for stories to share for this series, and, most of all read the inscriptions of those who signed. Most were variations of "to a nice guy..." "to a sweet guy..." "to a friend..." and "may your life be as long and useful as a roll of toilet paper." In the upper corner of the front inside cover was this:

"To a real sweet guy who went with my best friend. Sorry it didn't work out. See ya around! --Becki

I had a girlfriend in seventh grade?!?! I'm pretty sure this is the first I'm hearing of it.

89. "Head Games," Foreigner

I'm not one to brag, but as a seventh grader, I had a math class with eighth graders. I am not sure how this came to be, nor was I only seventh grader in this land of older students, but obviously this meant I was gifted. The Professor Xavier to our band of X-Men was a tall woman with short who was pleasant enough, even though she signed my yearbook, "To Jeff, who didn't do much of anything. Only kidding." One guy in my class, an eighth grader who with a full beard, leaned over one day and whispered, "ever notice how she smells different?" I just kind of shrugged and ignored him so I could get back to writing a story instead of doing my assignment (my god, my teacher was right!). He persisted. "Know what that smell is? It's gin." Honestly, he seemed like the kind of kid who would know what gin smelled like. I don't know what this anecdote has to do with "Head Games." Perhaps I was brooding over whoever my girlfriend was. Maybe we broke up with me because of all the head games that 12-year olds play with one another. One lyric summed up what probably happened to our relationship: we pass each other by 'cause we don't know what to say. How many times did we pass one another in the hall and exchange silent, awkward glances? I honestly don't know the answer to that question because I still don't know who this girl was. Head games are a bitch, man.

88. "Yes, I'm Ready," Teri Desario with K.C.

I was a romantic at a young age. I believed in the power of love, even at first sight. One time, in that math class with eighth graders who knew about gin, I sat across from a beautiful girl who captivated my attention. She had never sat across from me before and the instant she took the seat to my left my belly fluttered. "Yes, I'm Ready" by Teri Desario and K.C. (minus his Sunshine Band) played in my mind as I imagined her and me doing a couples skate at the rink that coming up weekend. Should I ask her? Throw caution to the wind and act on a romantic impulse? The pros and cons of such a risky move consumed me for what felt like a lifetime. I guess they consumed while I was staring at her, too, because she finally turned to me and barked, "you got a problem?" I kept my head down the rest of the period and took a silent vow to never look think about couples skating with her again. In retrospect, her question was perfectly valid. All she saw was a goofy seventh grader staring at her. What was she supposed to say? "Go ahead. Stare. I don't mind at all since it's you doing the staring." Yeah, that never happens.

87. "Flirtin' With Disaster," Molly Hatchet

My brother owned the Molly Hatchet's Flirtin' With Disaster on 8-track and whenever I rode in his car, he would crank this song up as we cruised down the highway. I told myself whenever I got my own car, I, too, would play "Flirtin' With Disaster" loud with the windows down. Even in the harshest winter weather. Because, to me, that's what flirting with disaster was all about. This song also spoke to the rebel I never had the guts to be. I didn't party. I hadn't kissed a girl yet. I didn't know what gin smelled like. I attempted to smoke one of my dad's cigarettes, but it didn't go well. Rock music like that of Molly Hatchet or AC/DC allowed me a momentary escape into a world where I wore a leather jacket, smoked cigarettes, and kissed girls because they wanted me to kiss them because I was rebel who flirted with disaster. And I knew the smell of gin and I liked it.

86. "Deja Vu," Dionne Warwick

I sit here contemplating Lady X, the mysterious girlfriend Becki referenced in her yearbook signing. Not one photo of my class is stirring a memory of her identity. One person I know it wasn't was my biology teacher, Ms. Ray, who was a lovely woman with a warm smile and I would've done pages and pages of homework for her if she had asked. My crush on her was significant. She, along with my English teacher Mrs. Allen, used to encourage my writing. Ms. Ray, however, did not like it when I wrote in class instead of working on my assignments. Learning about cells and photoplasm and amoebas was fine, I guess, but I had stories in my head that needed to be let out. She also called me out in class once. I was talking a girl across the row from me named Karen who was clearly out of my league. Karen was not the kind of girl you took on a couples skate. She likely enjoyed more sophisticated evenings like getting a pizza or riding on a yacht. Anyway, Karen was keeping my abreast of all the key relationships among the popular kids in school, which I found enthralling. I had so many questions. Before I could get them answered, Ms. Ray's lilting voice called out, "Jeff, keep your mind on your work and not Karen." This prompted gales of laughter from the class and I first experienced that soon-to-become common desire to crawl under a rock and die.

85. "An American Dream," Nitty Gritty Dirt Band

Should I include a song that brings to mind zero memories of it or its significance in my life? What's the point, really? Because I'm a completist. This was a top 15 song that finished 72nd in Billboard's Top 100 Songs of 1980. Plus, I dig it now. It's got a "Margaritaville" vibe to it that I wouldn't have appreciated at 12 years old. I'm listening to it now as I write this while working from home and wishing I could be on a beach sipping a tropical drink, thinking about life and pondering the identity of Lady X.

84. "Ships," Barry Manilow

Typically, I rode the bus to and from school, but some days I requested to be picked up by either one of my parents or one of my brothers. One such day, I sat just inside the glass doors peering out at Poplar Bluff while working on a story that was going nowhere. A female voice behind me startled me. "You waitin' on your folks or something?" I turned to see an African-American girl in a light coat and faded jeans. "Yeah," I said. "You?" She nodded and sighed and then proceeded to inform me of she didn't like Poplar Bluff Junior High because the school was so dirty. "The floors are dirty. The bathrooms are dirty. Our lockers are dirty. Look." She ran her finger along the heater attached to the wall and held it out to me. "Dirt." "I don't know," I said. "Seems pretty clean to me." She scoffed and looked away and we stood there in silence for what felt like the rest of seventh grade. I never asked her name nor did she ask mine. I never saw her again.

83. "Why Me," Styx

Styx was just about the biggest band around in 1979 when they released Cornerstone. My personal introduction to the band was through a K-TEL album that contained "Renegade," which I loved. Cornerstone contained Styx's only #1 song, "Babe," which was a staple at Skate City. Cornerstone was the album that really forged my deep affection for Styx that would only grow stronger with the release of Paradise Theater in 1981. Also, "Why Me" was a great anthem for my junior high years. I think if a Wonder Years-esque show were made of time at PBJHS, I'd use "Why Me" as the theme song.


RANDOM FACT Styx is a major inspiration behind my debut sci-fi novel, Kilroy Was Here, which you should totally order while you're here.

82. Goodbye, Stranger" Supertramp

Life changes fast, right? Cliche as it is, that statement carries sobering truth that a 12-year old me couldn't comprehend. It slapped me cold and hard one Monday when I returned to school after an uneventful weekend. Things seemed off. A heaviness hung. Mrs. Ray, my sweet biology teacher with the soft voice and kind smile, had been killed in an automobile accident. It was the first time death had invaded my education experience. Family members had died, yes, but never anyone I knew from school. Teachers existed in the bubble of the building. To see them anywhere but at a school event was akin to spotting a wild animal outside their natural habitat. Teachers didn't go to the grocery store or the lake or shop for records. And they didn't die.

81. "Bad Case of Loving You," Robert Palmer

Funny how a song can instantly take you back to a specific place and time. I'm listening to "Bad Case of Loving You" as I write this and thinking about K-TEL albums, which were the Now That's What I Call Music compilations of the 70s and early 80s. This song was on the same album as "Renegade." This is such a fun song and takes me back to those days of listening to vinyl records while wearing giant headphones. I used to crank this song up and dance like crazy. I can picture me in the tiny bedroom I shared with my brother. There I am sitting on the top bunk, a little hunched over because otherwise I'd hit my head on the ceiling. This song is playing and I've got a spiral notebook open to a story I'm working on. Or maybe a note confessing my crush on some girl.


Oh my god.

Holy shit, I just figured it out.

Molly. That's who Becki wrote about in my yearbook. Molly.

Lady X is Molly.

Well, I'm glad that's settled.

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