Drew’s “40 at 40” (part 1): A birthday celebration through music

Had a bit of a wingding this weekend as part of my 40th birthday celebrations. If you were so lucky as to attend, you walked away with a 2-CD set of my “40@40,” a reflection of all the songs over my life that are the most meaningful to me.

Not only do the songs come in the set, but you also get complete liner notes explaining my choices, which is really way too much information about tunes that, essentially, are about dancing your ass off and whooping it up.

If you’re curious at all about the way my mind works (and I understand if you aren’t; I barely am myself), then I share the selections here. First the introduction on the CD:

Tim Dohrer put the challenge in my lap: On my 40th birthday, choose 40 songs that make up the soundtrack of my life, the songs that had a lasting impact me across the years. The 40@40 challenge had only two rules: No more than two songs per artist; and be honest.

I, of course, bent the rules to my will. First, Talking Heads and David Byrne are not one in the same. Second, there’s such a thing as too much honesty. Play just about any Cyndi Lauper tune, and I can vividly picture the high school dance where it was played. But do I really want to memorialize the gawky anxiety of Homecoming? And do you really want Cyndi Lauper in your stereo?

This list is also a bit dishonest because it leaves out some crucial influences: copious amounts of Big Band jazz, the minimalist anthems of Phillip Glass, and classical, classical, classical. If were really being honest, I would kick things off with K-Tel’s disco-thumpin’ “Hooked on Classics,” which is truly what awoke 11-year-old Drew’s inner musical omnivore. Instead, we shall stick to pop rock here, because let’s face it, those tunes are the yellow bricks paving the road to the Emerald City.

And I’m as surprised as you are that, for a guy who doesn’t particularly care for dancing, so many of these songs are real shake-your-money-makers. Whether or not you like to shake what your momma gave you, I hope you enjoy this trip through time.

Tim pointed out to me later in the evening that there was a third rule: No songs from before the day you were born. As it turns out, I only really flubbed one, which you’ll see in tomorrow’s post of Part 2.

The select songs and their liner notes (click the link to hear them on Blip.fm!) :

1. Talking Heads: Road to Nowhere

The punky nerdy Heads were my college soundtrack. This song in particular. Why? Because my fellow marching band geeks and I built a giant hollow replica of the Northwestern Rock, put it on wheels and wired it for sound. This was the anthem blaring from our speakers as we pushed this beast up Sheridan Road to promote band recruitment. Sweaty hot inside our float, I thought: “College is great.”

2. Men at Work: Overkill

Man, I so wanted to go to the Men at Work concert when they played Timberwolf right up the road from Cincinnati in 1983. But my mother was not ready for me to succumb to the empty promises of rock and roll, and she denied my parole. I sulked, and she tried to cheer me up by showing me the tepid concert review in the Cincinnati Enquirer. It did not cheer me up. This version was recorded years later by Colin Hay, and makes a nice update from the original.

3. Creedence Clearwater Revival: Bad Moon Rising

CCR is real America. Their music never feels stuck in one era, and is always unassailable. This tune was on the “American Werewolf in London” soundtrack. Great movie.

4. Eagles: Hotel California

A warhorse of a standard, and many performers are sick to death of it. Who cares? I would listen to it over and over in my room, feeling spectral and all-knowing.

5. Jim Croce: You Don’t Mess Around with Jim

Even though this was my brother’s music, my father took a shine to it. This tune reminds me of riding in his 1976 Pontiac Grand Ville convertible, listening to Croce on the 8-track car stereo.

6. Soft Cell: Tainted Love

Do you remember a 2006 Levi’s commercial with ER doctors singing “Tainted Love” in time with beeping monitors? I had completely forgotten this song until that moment, and it transported me to 1981, taping Casey Kasem off the radio.

7. INXS: What You Need

What a bass line! Good for gawky high school dancing.

8. Peter Gabriel: Shock the Monkey

Oh, Peter. You’re so wonderfully weird and inscrutable, especially this ambiguously euphemistic tune.

9. Queen: Flash’s Theme

OMG OMG OMG you guys … 1980 Drew was SO IN LOVE with the “Flash Gordon” movie, right down to the flying spaceships with visible wires. Queen belongs on this list with just about any of its songs, but the confluence of nerd metal and cheeseball sci-fi makes this peppy theme a perpetual must on my list. As Freddy Mercury sang: “King of the impossible!”

10. Oingo Boingo: Nasty Habits

[I can only find this live version on Blip.fm]

God bless Danny Elfman and the forces that keep his eerie, quirky tunefulness thrumming in the public ear. “Weird Science” was my first choice here, but it made the disc run long, so “Nasty Habits” is a happy, funny (kinky) second.

11. Thomas Dolby: She Blinded Me with Science

Yes! More nerd rock! Dolby is just having too much fun here. The fun compounded for me when “Science” became a killer arrangement for high school pep band. Great to listen to and to play.

12. Talking Heads: (Nothing But) Flowers

The 1988 “Naked” album was on steady play throughout college on my cassette deck alarm clock (my only source of music those days). Choosing just one from this album was a struggle.

13. The B-52’s: Dry County

The “Cosmic Thing” album is best known for “Love Shack” and “Roam,” but for me, it’s the bouncy boredom of “lazy days” that has always stuck with me. You can really feel the roots of a local band singing about what they know.

14. Murray Head: One Night in Bangkok

I could never get my head around the notion that this tune came from a Broadway musical, “Chess.” This idea, plus the mix of sounds and odd narration, held me pretty rapt.

15. David Byrne: A Million Miles Away

[Inconceivably, Blip.fm does not have this tune on file anywhere in its near-infinite digital warehouse.]

The “Uh-Oh” album: fantastic from top to bottom. Choosing just one was tough, but this tune gets the nod because of the lyric, “I ain’t gonna work here no more.” When I was slogging along in my first stultifying corporate gig, I hummed this tune non-stop to keep my spirits up.

16. Barenaked Ladies: Call and Answer

[Can only find this live version with Alanis Morisette on Blip.fm. Weird omission!]

This band is always an enigma, playing around between gimmickry and masterful tunesmithing. Not that I mind the former, but “Call and Answer” is definitely the latter, a real building-up of emotion with a relentless drive behind it. Listened to this album a lot in the days winding down to fatherhood.

17. Aretha Franklin: Think

First introduced to me through the “Blues Brothers” soundtrack. It was the beginning of my lasting love of strong women who don’t take no shit.

18. Madonna: Respect Yourself

[Not! On! Blip!]

The “Like a Prayer” album thumped through the air on every floor of my college dorm. The more I listened, the more I realized that underneath the bubblegum and the stunts lurked real musicality.

19. Paul Simon: Under African Skies

I really think music historians will hold “Graceland” on a special shelf a hundred years from now. Laced with the African vocals of Ladysmith Black Mambazo, the entire album blew my little mind. I could have chosen any tune for this list.

20. Enya: Orinoco Flow

In 1989 I got hit by a car, which broke my arm and required two surgeries. Somewhere in the middle of this I had four wisdom teeth pulled. The point is, I was on a lot of painkillers. And this Enya tune warbling endlessly in my headphones played a kind of ethereal shepherd that tethered my altered consciousness to this plane and kept it from floating into the land of fever dreams and imaginary friends.


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3 responses to “Drew’s “40 at 40” (part 1): A birthday celebration through music

  1. Sean G

    A great idea and a fantastic list. Happy birthday, again!

  2. Carol

    You’ve certainly got Chuck and me discussing which songs we’d put on our list. Mine would include plenty of sad British pop music and obscure 80s/90s groups.

  3. Pingback: My awesome influence map « The Retort

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