Having listed my 15 all-time favorite albums last time, I’ve decided to remain in a musical vein for a little while longer. This time around, I’m going to reveal the songs I discovered and fell in love with during my college years at State University of New York at Stony Brook.
Recently, I put together a playlist on my iPod of these songs, arranged more or less in order of when I first encountered and embraced them. Here’s that playlist, along with some comments, anecdotes, and random memories.
As I recall, this was the very first “new” song that I took notice of when I got to college. It was fall 1987, I was a freshman getting settled into my dorm room, and I turned on the bulky boom box I had brought from home to see which radio stations I could pick up. To my dismay, I discovered that I was too far away—and too deep in a valley—to be able to pick up 92.3 WXRK, New York City’s classic-rock station at the time, and the home of Howard Stern, whom I had been listening to regularly for years. Trying to find a local station I could listen to, I stumbled upon “Like the Weather” and was immediately pulled in. At first, I mistakenly believed it was by ’Til Tuesday, who had scored a hit a couple of years earlier with “Voices Carry,” which I liked a whole lot (still do, in fact). I would rediscover 10,000 Maniacs about six years later, when they released the hit single “These Are Days.”
I was a huge fan of Sting’s first solo album, The Dream of the Blue Turtles, and bought his follow-up, ... Nothing Like the Sun, as soon as it came out. I was still in the first semester of my freshman year. “We’ll Be Together” was the big hit single from that album, and I remember that I had gone across campus one night to tutor a girl in math (to give you an idea of how lousy she was at math, she had ME tutoring her). I was about to knock on her door, and I heard this song playing in her room. I smiled and thought, “Hey, I’ve got that album!” Made me feel like I was actually living in the present.
I had never been a Grateful Dead fan—I’m still not, really, though I do love their song “Box of Rain,” which I first heard in the series finale of the wonderful TV series Freaks and Geeks. “Touch of Grey” was catchy and fun, and I associate it primarily with that first semester of college, when I was living away from home for the first time, opening myself to new ideas and new experiences, and starting to find myself.
The 1987 Yes album Big Generator got a lot of play on my dormitory hall during freshman year. This was the first song on the album, so I heard it a LOT. I liked it so much that I actually went to see Yes in concert later that school year at Nassau Coliseum. The show didn’t make me any more of a Yes fan than I was before, but I still like this song.
5. “My Old School” Steely Dan (1973)
One of my hallmates during freshman year, Ken Strauss, was always playing stuff by Steely Dan, a band I’d never really listened to before, and this song in particular was in heavy rotation. I fell in love with it immediately. It’s my absolute favorite Steely Dan song, and I always smile when I hear it. Fortunately, Ken and I reestablished contact a few years ago, and I was able to thank him for introducing me to it.
I didn’t get to see the animated film Heavy Metal when it was first released in 1981—it was an R-rated movie and I was only 12 years old at the time. But in my freshman year of college, someone living on my hall had a bootleg copy of the film on VHS and we all watched it quite frequently. I came to love a number of the songs from the movie, and fortunately, another guy on the hall had the soundtrack album on audio cassette. I borrowed that tape a lot, just to listen to this song and...
Probably my favorite song from Heavy Metal, and it plays during my favorite segment of the film: the “Captain Sternn” sequence, written and designed by comic-book artist extraordinaire Bernie Wrightson.
I was never a huge fan of Cheap Trick, but I LOVE “Reach Out.”
It was fall semester of my freshman year, late 1987, when I overheard someone on my hall playing the song “The Kids Are Alright” by the Who. To me, it sounded almost like an early Beatles track that I’d never heard before. Something just clicked in my head and suddenly, I felt that I needed to hear more stuff by the Who. Much more. I was already familiar with “Pinball Wizard,” but I really didn’t know much about the band or the extent of their catalogue. I then borrowed a bunch of Who stuff from a couple of guys living on my hall and immersed myself in it. Very soon after, I discovered “Substitute,” and it was love at first listen. It’s no longer my favorite Who song (that would be “Bargain”), but for a while, it sat at the very top of the list.
By the end of my freshman year of college, I was well on my way to becoming a major Who fanatic. During the summer of 1988, classic-rock station 92.3 WXRK in NYC aired a radio documentary about the Who, which I recorded and listened to repeatedly. In the midst of a segment focusing on the band members’ solo projects, this song was played, as it was the first song on Pete Townshend’s first solo album, Who Came First. I absolutely loved it. Still do. It’s one of Pete’s most beautiful songs, and upon hearing it for the first time, I knew that I would have to go out and buy all of his solo material, in addition to his work with the Who.
A gem from the second half of my freshman year. It’s just so damn catchy. I still smile whenever I hear it. I remember that Roy Orbison died shortly after the first Traveling Wilburys album was released, and one day I was walking across campus listening to my Walkman and I was pleasantly surprised to discover that I was able to pick up “The Howard Stern Show” on the radio. As I was walking by the Student Union, Howard was saying, and I’m paraphrasing only slightly, “Boy, that Roy Orbison is one unlucky bastard, huh? He gets this great resurgence to his career and then he drops dead!” Yep, that pretty much summed it up.
|Unable to embed video for this song; a link to it is provided below.|
I bought the Who’s Quadrophenia album very early in my sophomore year (fall 1988). Some time later, I don’t remember exactly when—it could have been during my junior year for all I know—I was sitting in a sociology class one day, bored out of my mind, and to keep myself from falling asleep, I started jotting down the lyrics to this song, just to see how far I could get before I reached a section where I didn’t know the words. I was surprised to find that I’d made it to the end of the song, and, after later checking what I’d written against the album, I found that I’d gotten everything correct. “Hmph, guess I really like this song,” I commented to myself. I was particularly pleased when, several years later, I taught myself how to play it on guitar.
After a string of fairly weak and disappointing albums throughout the 1980s (the sole exception being 1982’s Tug of War), Paul McCartney rebounded nicely at the end of the decade with Flowers in the Dirt. This song was one of the strongest on that album, a nice little ditty that recalls “Blackbird” and “Mother’s Nature Son,” both off of the Beatles’ White Album. It’s about the bond between fathers and sons. Around that time, my dad was having health problems and he and I weren’t getting along all that well. I remember my college girlfriend, who had lost her own father in her early teens, telling me, “If anything happens to that man and you’re not speaking to him, you’ll never forgive yourself.” Then this song came along. I patched things up with him shortly after that.
Not much to say about this one, other than the fact that I liked it as a kid and liked it even more in college, particularly in my sophomore and junior years. Probably because the 20th anniversary of Woodstock was happening around that time, and there was a lot of looking back and retrospecting about that historic event and the music that was played there, so this song was getting a lot of airplay—and it was used in what I feel is one of the funniest comedy bits that Howard Stern ever did.
I can’t remember exactly when or where I first heard this song, but I liked it so much that when Living Colour came to play at my college, I went to see them. Guess which song they didn’t perform that night.
I already knew the B-52s from “Rock Lobster,” but that song was never a favorite of mine. When their album Cosmic Thing came out, “Love Shack” got most of the attention, but I much preferred “Roam,” which I found to be more catchy and fun. Kate Pierson (who, incidentally, looked beautiful in the video for this song), had a fantastic voice, and obviously, I wasn’t the only one who thought so, because around my senior year of college, several other musical acts asked her to do guest vocals on their songs. Worked for me, as you’ll see in the next two entries.
At the time this song was released, in the fall semester of my senior year, I knew next to nothing about Iggy Pop. I believe my first real exposure to him was when he appeared on Howard Stern’s legendary “Channel 9 Show”—and nearly walked off in a huff. Shortly after that, I heard this duet between Iggy and Kate Pierson and it became one of the very first—and very few—cassette singles that I ever bought.
And here’s the third part of the “Kate Pierson Trilogy.” I never really cared for REM, and I thought that Michael Stipe showed himself to be a flaming ass when, in an interview, he referred to the Beatles as “elevator music.” But I really enjoyed this song—it’s one of the other very few cassette singles that I ever bought—and I thought, “Well, maybe there’s something to REM after all.” Then, in another interview, Stipe was asked something along the lines of, “Do you have any regrets?” and he replied, “Shiny Happy People.” Clearly, he and I wouldn’t have much to talk about.
I remember first encountering this song on MTV. I was hanging out at my college girlfriend’s sister’s house one day, and the TV in the living room was on. I was laying on the couch, reading a comic book, and I heard the lyrics, “What if I were Romeo in black jeans.” I happened to look down and noticed that, hey, I was wearing black jeans! That got me to pay attention to the rest of the song, and I really liked what I heard. A few years ago, I had the pleasure of playing this song with my friends Clive, Keith, and Paroo, in our little band, Clive’s Rocking Attic Party (C.R.A.P. for short).
I remember hearing this song for the first time towards the end of my senior year—spring 1991. I was working on a term paper in my dorm room early in the morning while listening to “The Howard Stern Show”—I had since moved out of the valley that I had lived in during my first three years and could now hear the show on a regular basis again—and Howard premiered the song at the end of the show. Stern mocked it, of course, commenting that Simon was still ripping off other cultures’ musical styles, as he had done on his much-acclaimed Graceland album. I shrugged off Howard’s remarks, as the song sounded great to my ears. I even went out and bought the album it came from, The Rhythm of the Saints. I always associate “The Obvious Child” with the very end of my college days, which is why I placed it last on my playlist. But memory’s a funny thing: I just checked the release date for the song, and apparently, it came out six months earlier, in October of 1990. Oh well—I’m pretty sure everything else I remember about it is accurate!