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CSI: Music: Exploring The Dreaded ‘Cold Case’ Files

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Who doesn’t like discovering new music?

One of the more popular functions of music streaming services is their nudging us towards music that we’ve never played before.

Their algorithms suggest songs (sometimes successfully) that extrapolate on other music that we already like.

But what about discovering old music? That is, finding songs that have eluded us?

Songs that we heard, but never could identify the artist or the title?

Those are some fun music mysteries to solve!

It may be a snippet of a song that you heard from a movie years ago. Maybe the song was played at a party and you loved it – but never found out what it was.

Apps like Shazam and SoundHound help identify music while you are hearing it.

But what about the mystery tunes that we haven’t heard in decades?

Those are the songs that are relegated to the dreaded Cold Case Files.

It may take years or decades to solve those mysteries. But when they are unraveled, it can be an exhilarating experience! Let me share a few examples…

  • My favorite song to hear while roller skating as a 10-11 year old was a fun song with a couple of big drum breaks.

Rainbo Roller Rink in Noblesville, Indiana, had a sound system that wasn’t clear enough for me to discern a lot of the lyrics.

It took several years after roller skating went out of vogue for me to realize I was longing for Sha Na Na’s version of “Born to Hand Jive” from the movie Grease. (Still a fun song!)

  • There was a funky 70s song that I remembered hearing as a kid on our pop AM radio station.

I never heard it again until the late 80s when Paul Shaffer would occasionally play an instrumental version of it on Late Night with David Letterman.

It had a fantastic guitar break that took over the middle of the song.

It wasn’t until working a lonely evening shift in 1995 that I heard the song again on a disco themed radio show.

“Strawberry Letter 23” by the Brothers Johnson! Resolution!

Back to late 70s funk:

There was another disco-ish song that I couldn’t identify. I never heard it through the 80s, since disco was persona non grata at that time.

I thought I had stumbled onto it in college when I first heard War’s “Low Rider.”

(How did I not hear that song until college???) I eventually realized I was mistaken.

It wasn’t until watching an old American Bandstand rerun on VH-1 in 1996 that I finally heard the song again:

“Don’t Let Go” by Isaac Hayes! I literally fell over on my bed when I heard it, I was so happy!

A more recent version of this happened to me while discovering music on the internet.

I was fascinated to find that a former K-mart employee had uploaded a dozen or so cassette tapes of K-mart’s background music from 1989-1991, onto the Internet Archive.

The music was mostly easy-listening: a genre that I enjoy more than most. Most of the songs were easily identified.

But one of the more difficult ones was the first song on the tape from October of 1989. 

This tape has nearly 800,000 views now…almost 10 times any of the other tapes.

The song in question is a light jazz/pop instrumental. Song identification apps were stumped, as was the collective Internet Archive community.

Until four years later: When someone, somehow, finally figured it out. Now a song I had loved for several years finally had a name:

“Jamboree…”

…By Mladen Franko and His Orchestra: An obscure Croatian composer/conductor. 

Song identification isn’t nearly as difficult now as it was during the stone age before the internet. Usually one can find some sort of forum to ask about songs in question, but it remains difficult if you only have a memory of a song and not the actual music.

But the thrill of finding a long searched for gem is just as exciting. 

Have you ever had a similar revelatory experience of solving a long lost musical cold case? 

Let the author know that you liked their article with a “Green Thumb” Upvote! 

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Phylum of Alexandria
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May 17, 2024 7:20 am

Not so much a tip-of-the-tongue phenomenon…more of a bottom-of-the-brain phenomenon? Whatever you call it, I’ve certainly been there.

On the old sitcom Married…With Children, Al spent an entire episode trying to name a song that he remembered only through a three-syllable fragment, with only one known word: “[hmm hmm] him.”

I don’t quite remember if he ever finds out what the song was. If he did, I’m pretty sure they didn’t name it, and I never heard something that I recognized.

So I had long wondered what the “[hmm hmm] him” song might be. Then, after high school, I finally got into the early Beatles, and finally heard “Ana (Go to Him).” And it clicked! “Go with him!”

Thinking about it more, I believe there’s a scene in that episode where Al goes to a record store and sings his garbled passage to the clerk. What’s funny is that right around the time that I discovered “Ana,” I had started working at Tower Records.

And I had many opportunities to hear people mutter/sing stuff like “baby baby baby…you know the one” or some such, and try to figure out what song they were talking about. And I did help a few of those people find what they were looking for. So I guessed I paid it back in some way.

What’s clear is that I need to revisit that old episode of Married..With Children.

I’m sure there are more cases of mystery songs for me, but they’re packed somewhere in the bottom of my brain.

Anyway, fun stuff! Thanks, Link!

Virgindog
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May 17, 2024 7:58 am

Here’s the scene in the record store….

https://youtu.be/iuMazsXVRgQ

On a similar note, I imagine everyone saw this story on Stereogum a couple weeks ago.

https://www.stereogum.com/2261440/mysterious-viral-80s-song-everybody-knows-that-finally-identified-after-three-year-hunt/news/

Phylum of Alexandria
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May 17, 2024 8:06 am
Reply to  Virgindog

Ha! Perfect! Looks like he did discover the song after all. And it’s not the Beatles. I guess the original. Good to know that I zeroed in on the correct song at least.

Also, LOL @ “lostwave.”

rollerboogie
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May 17, 2024 7:22 am

This is such a fun topic. I was anxiously waiting the reveal on those song titles every time. I mentioned the song “Born to Hand Jive” just a couple of weeks ago in the comment section of my 5/4 article, in a thread about the “Bo Diddley” beat. I loved that song as a kid too. So many mysteries that would have likely remained so back in the day can be resolved now with the internet. Your K-Mart cassette caper sounds like it was a tricky one, and that is really cool that somebody was able to crack the case. I had a similar feeling when researched elevator music last year and I was able to place names to so many seemingly anonymous recordings I heard growing up, as the artists were rarely mentioned in that genre.

One story of a mystery solved. Back in the late nineties, I was at a water park with my nephew and a Latin jazz version of Day Tripper started blasting out of the p.a. I was riveted by it. A number of years later, out of nowhere, I suddenly had the urge one day to find out who recorded it. It took some internet digging deep into the night, but I found it. It was by Domingo Quiñones and it was off of a CD called A Tropical Tribute to the Beatles. I purchased the CD online and wore it out for the next couple of years, as there were so many great covers of Beatles songs on it in the style of salsa, mambo, etc.

Last edited 1 month ago by rollerboogie
rollerboogie
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May 17, 2024 8:49 am
Reply to  LinkCrawford

That’s a shame. It’s on Spotify, but I know you don’t do Spotify.

rollerboogie
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May 17, 2024 8:52 am
Reply to  LinkCrawford

I saw it on Apple Music but the link I tried to post is not working.
But it’s there. It’s actually called Tropical Tribute to the Beatles.

Last edited 1 month ago by rollerboogie
rollerboogie
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May 17, 2024 9:00 am
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Phylum of Alexandria
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May 17, 2024 7:48 am

This isn’t quite the same thing, but when making my comprehensive 90s radio playlist, I had so many instances of “Oh wow, I totally forgot about this song!”

I’ll leave the link here to leave the possibility that it can lead to such discoveries for others.

(and also, if you have suggestions that aren’t on here, let me know. My requirement for inclusion is that I have to remember the song from that time)

https://open.spotify.com/playlist/3uPKHtjxmmawerDG8FwQoP?si=3db0dc16dbd74dd8

Virgindog
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May 17, 2024 8:04 am

On a related topic, for years I was certain that “True” by Spandau Ballet was a cover of a 1960s song. I thought it might have been by The Association, so I listened to as much Association as I could get my hands on at used record stores.

Come the Internet Age, Wikipedia tells me it’s not a cover. “It was written by the band’s lead guitarist and principal songwriter Gary Kemp to express his feelings for Altered Images lead singer Clare Grogan.”

So now I’m on a search for whatever song I thought they were covering. Any ideas about what 60s song sounds similar?

Low4
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May 17, 2024 10:00 am
Reply to  Virgindog

Who’s going to be Gregory’s girl?

Aaron3000
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May 18, 2024 10:48 am
Reply to  Virgindog

That could be an article all itself: songs you thought were covers but were really originals. A few years back I was deep in my CCM phase, and I was convinced that this Crowder song was a version of an old hymn. Turns out it was a new composition (he cowrote it), but it still reminds me of a hymn I’ve heard before but don’t know exactly what it is.

https://youtu.be/7tElvdnId4Q?si=VQkX41BpD91Ytrzo

rollerboogie
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May 18, 2024 2:31 pm
Reply to  Aaron3000

I thought “Tempted” by Squeeze was a Stevie Wonder cover for a good 20 years after it came out until a friend corrected me.

thegue
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May 17, 2024 9:21 am

Kids will NEVER know the thrill of finding a song’s title! I still get some excitement when I Shazam a song (while I embarrass my wife in a store, holding my phone up like I’m at a concert during a ballad), but it took me YEARS to find this song, which one of my tennis players played in his car.

He had no idea what the song was, and it took me about five years to find it.

(I’ll post it when I get home)

Low4
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May 17, 2024 10:01 am
Reply to  thegue

Tennis players unite!

thegue
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May 17, 2024 9:37 am

The music was mostly easy-listening: a genre that I enjoy more than most. Most of the songs were easily identified.

This is my shocked look.

thegue
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May 17, 2024 9:43 am

I will share one story about a song I knew the title of, but failed to purchase the 12″ when it came out, and my attempts to find it years later usually failed.

Clubland was a GREAT Eurodance act from the early 90s who had a couple of #1 hits on the Billboard dance chart, but ClubHOUSE was an Italian Eurodance act with a number #1 out a little earlier. I confused the two, and was unable to find it.

Until Napster.

I regularly used to share “Songs of the Week” with my classes, and one day in the early 00s I shared the story of that lost song. I didn’t have Napster yet, but a student did, and they burned a copy of the song and gave it to me.

https://youtu.be/NjLS-EYD9ao?si=apK9_2X39yY_sSrf

Phylum of Alexandria
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May 17, 2024 10:00 am

Whoah….I have actually just discovered a long-running mystery song!

In fact, I was in the middle of writing this comment as a plea to you all for help to solve the mystery. But then I did one last Google, and I finally struck gold.

When I was studying abroad in Japan (04-05), a friend played a song that I swore was Leonard Cohen. It sounded halfway between “Avalanche” and his gruffer, later stuff, like “Waiting For the Miracle.”

The bit I remember is a line that I had thought was “run to me, run to me, run to me.”

But upon typing this out, I thought: “maybe it was run from me.”

Upon Googling “Leonard Cohen lyrics run from me” I happened on a blog post that was centered on “The Adversary” by the Australian band Crime & the City Solution.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=amH_W3AKAak

And that’s my song! Very Cohen-esque. And at one time I thought that Nick Cave might have covered this mystery song. But he had covered “Avalanche.” Still, I wasn’t so far off, as Crime & the City Solution were compatriots with the Bad Seeds, and had a similar vibe.

Success! A 20-year-old mystery has been solved!

Huzzah!

Pauly Steyreen
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May 17, 2024 11:19 am

From the unimpeachable Until the End of the World soundtrack. Best soundtrack ever!!!

JJ Live At Leeds
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May 17, 2024 10:22 am

Great subject. For me, there’s a song that comes straight to mind. Heard it on a trailer for an upcoming show on BBC but in pre-internet days had no idea what it was. Well over a decade later I randomly heard it playing and discovered it was Minnie Riperton: Les Fleurs.

Then there was one that my nana heard on a trailer for Doctor Who in the 00s. She remembered the song from her early 20s and said how much she had loved it but 50 or so years later she couldn’t think what it was called or who the singer was. It took me some searching but I discovered it was Della Reese (can’t remember now what the song was) found a CD it was on and ordered it for her with a note to play a particular track number. Made her day.

There’s times once the internet did come along but before apps like Shazam when I’ve been in a store or out and about and heard a song playing that I didn’t know but liked the sound of. I’d try and focus on the lyrics and memorise a line or two for when I could get home and search for them online to find the song. Sometimes it worked, sometimes I’d get home hours later with the lyrics dropped out of my head and lost forever.

Low4
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May 17, 2024 10:30 am

Let me hear your balalaikas ringing out. Our local indie (non commercial) radio station never identifies what it’s playing, so I had heard the following several times before I was able to do a google search and figure it out.

https://youtu.be/MkG1J5SZ_kw?si=IC8wloyxTqaWOhVv

There are a couple of others from that station that I haven’t been able to figure out. Maybe y’all can help. One sounds like it’s from the band that played California Lady, an early ’70s sound. A man and a woman trade off the lines. The only lyric I can remember now goes: Our love is creative blah blah blah

Anybody?

rollerboogie
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May 17, 2024 10:51 am
Reply to  Low4

Boney M. was never big here in U.S., but Rasputin was a massive hit around the world. Married to a Polish woman, one learns these things.

No idea on your early 70s mystery.

Pauly Steyreen
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May 17, 2024 11:20 am
Reply to  Low4

Boney M was proof of concept for Milli Vanilli — the original Frank Farian lip sync creation.

rollerboogie
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May 17, 2024 12:06 pm
Reply to  Pauly Steyreen

Yes, when Tom brought this up in The Number Ones, I wondered why Boney M didn’t get barbecued like Milli Vanilli did. Part of it was that it was a different era, where this sort of thing was more common practice, but when one does a deeper dive, the two entities do have their differences. 2 of the 4 members of Boney M. actually did sing on the recordings along with Farian. And the ones that didn’t record still sometimes sang live, so it wasn’t 100% fake, like Milli Vanilli, where Farian actually employed a completely different group of people to record the music and the fellas were winning Grammy awards when they didn’t contribute anything musically whatsoever, live or in studio.
The difference in outrage makes a little bit more sense. Just a little.

Last edited 1 month ago by rollerboogie
Aaron3000
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May 18, 2024 11:02 am
Reply to  Low4

No clue on the mystery song, but LOL at the MST3K reference. Here’s an unriffed clip of “California Lady” in case it helps trigger someone’s memory of what you’re looking for.

https://youtu.be/-LXqMAkPQR4?si=vSG4MqyDNpVohuuJ

Last edited 1 month ago by Aaron3000
mt58
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May 17, 2024 10:58 am

“ I’m not sorry we know what we know. We’re men, not dogs, and when we find a mystery, our job is to solve it, not roll in it. Yet I can’t say I’m entirely unhappy that Michael Goodwin was careless that day in 1963. Pursuit is half the joy of this line of work.”
– Dave Marsh, re: the final entry (#1001) from his wonderful book, “The Heart And Soul Of Rock and Roll.”

Here’s the entire essay for all of you musical detectives. Enjoy.

https://www.lexjansen.com/cgi-bin/marsh_xml.php?fn=95

Both Grouse
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June 4, 2024 11:32 pm
Reply to  mt58

We’re men, not dogs, and when we find a mystery, our job is to solve it, not roll in it.”

My new favorite quote.

thegue
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May 17, 2024 12:39 pm

Let’s expand this search to a TV SHOW I’ve searched for years.

Back in the 1980s, CBS would have this goofy “special presentation” intro where the words spun in a circle towards the viewer, and the “special presentation” was sometimes a popular film, miniseries, et al…but in the summer?

That’s where they shared pilots they’d washed their hands of.

During the Raiders of the Lost Ark glory years, there were a number of efforts to bring it to the small screen. The most successful of these was ABC’s Tales of the Gold Monkey starring Stephen Collins before he was known as a creep.

CBS showed their satirical version of Raiders as a Special Presentation.

I do not remember the name of it, but thirteen year old me was hooked. The ONLY things I remember about the show:

  1. He flew a biplane, and whenever he was flying there was a chorus which sang his name: “Gallagher GALLAGHER!”
  2. He was giving chase to a villain in SE Asia, and after the man ran through a puddle, Gallagher fell into it as if it were a deep pool.

I have never been able to find an imdb page for the show, or any YT clips – then again, it’s very difficult to search for “Gallagher”.

Aaron3000
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May 18, 2024 11:25 am
Reply to  thegue

Yeah, I just got a whole lotta watermelon smashing. CBS did try to cash in with “Bring ‘Em Back Alive” but that’s obviously not the show you’re looking for.

Both Grouse
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June 5, 2024 12:00 am
Reply to  thegue

I’ve got one, sorta. My recollection is that back in the late 70s, one of the 3 networks had a slot for a one or two hour creepy movie. I think it was on Fridays. They were all one-offs, not connected at all. Low budget, vaguely sci-fi/horror affairs…?

I clearly remember one episode featuring a mysterious native American medicine man character, who’s helping some nice folks that are caught up in a dispute with mob guys (perhaps). The mob guys are in pursuit, but there’s a long, lonely stretch of mountain road in between. The medicine man stays behind and places a line of grain or whatever across the road, and then waits. The bad guys hit the line of grain and it’s like solid rock, the car is smashed.

My favorite was one that probably was influenced by Jaws, but with a twist. At the beginning, a couple of kids who live at the seashore find a turtle and, being kids, paint some sort of letter or symbol on it. Flash forward 20 years, and the same kids still live at the beach, and a giant turtle is wreaking havoc. There’s a bunch of drama that I don’t remember, but what seared itself into my mind was the last scene. It’s an overhead shot of the ocean and you can see the shadow of the giant turtle swimming underwater. The camera zooms in slowly and maybe the turtle’s shell breaks the surface, and we finally get to see that *gasp* it’s the same turtle! That symbol is still painted on its shell!!!

cappiethedog
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May 18, 2024 3:58 am

I knew it was a Chinese martial arts film. Because all the actors were speaking Chinese. And I remembered a harbor full of junk boats. The song playing over the soundtrack was in English, and it was so catchy. I loved that song. If I knew I would never hear it again, I would have consulted the TV guide.

Oh, who cares. I’ve got R.E.M.

But it bothered me.

What I remember most about my last week in the old house: 1) Feeding the neighbor’s parakeets. So many parakeets. It was like Nicholas Roeg’s Walkabout in that domestic aviary. 2) Reading Christine. Hardcover. I bought it at Liberty House, a department store, which would eventually morph into Macy’s. Can you imagine? Books in Macy’s? 3) That song.

Me and the song reunited in 2006. I bought Have a Nice Decade: The Pop Culture Box.

Disc 5, Track 19: “Sky High” by Jigsaw.

It was from the film The Man from Hong Kong. George Lazenby is a co-star. Not quite “Live and Let Die”, but it has some interesting orchestral touches.

I don’t know. I kind of miss not having access to everything. If I got the info right away, I’d be pretty sick of “Sky High” by now. It’s not a work of genius. But critical language doesn’t apply to anything you hear or watch as a kid.

rollerboogie
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May 18, 2024 7:21 am
Reply to  cappiethedog

I remember Sky High but I had to listen to it to remember that I remembered it. It’s one of those songs that was a big hit in its day, but hasn’t stayed in the public consciousness over the years so I could see how it eluded you.

blu_cheez
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May 20, 2024 5:21 pm

I could hum parts of Mel & Kim’s “Respectable”, but I had no idea what the song was called, or who sung it until it came up in TNOCS (I think it was the column for “Never Gonna Give You Up”) – that’s a really fun song!

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May 21, 2024 10:19 am

You know how video games and sometimes video discs have Easter eggs, features that aren’t listed but which you can be found through idle searching or through luck? When I suddenly come upon such songs, to me it’s like a real-life Easter egg. I especially like hearing songs my mother would sing which I thought she made up – “You Talk Too Much” and “Master Jack” were two discoveries that tickled me.

Here’s a song I lost, then found. From 1987-1988, I used to pick up the Cornell radio station on part of my Sunday drives from Horseheads to Syracuse. Sometimes I would hear half of their full play of albums such as Willie Nelson’s Red Headed Stranger or Bob Dylan’s Blood On the Tracks. One day I heard this beautiful folk-rock song with the recurring refrain, “Turn, turn to the rain and the wind.” It was a long song, and I slowed my speed so I wouldn’t drive out of the signal, but no avail. Months later, during a romantic moment, I heard Dylan singing it. My girlfriend had it on a cassette tape and had no idea what the title of the song was. (She knew I was a music freak, and was very understanding that the kissing stopped for a couple of minutes while I tried to figure out the name of the song.) Still more months passed, and suddenly it was on an album I had purchased, Fairport Chronicles, an anthology by the Fairport Convention. The title was “Percy’s Song,” a cover of Dylan protest song about a miscarriage of justice.

Now for one that got away. Sometime in 1985 or 1986 I drove out to a job interview at a radio station somewhere in the middle of nowhere south of Buffalo. The song on the radio had a gruff-voiced singer in a rock band setting sounding much like Jimmy Iovine’s productions of Springsteen, Petty, or Graham Parker. It was a low-key ballad, similar in sound and feel to Springsteen’s “Not Fade Away.” In my memory, there was the woman’s name “Janey” or “Jamie,” but that could be wrong – none of the Janey or Jamie songs I can find online fit my memory. However, by now all my memory of this one song could be wrong – certainly the name, but maybe even the sound and tempo. I wanted to be on time for the interview, which was in an unfamiliar location, so I didn’t stop to get the station call letters, and the station I was interviewing at had a different format.

I just want to add that instrumental music will make me crazy if I can’t identify it.

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