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From Zero To 60, Part 1:

Ten Songs From My First Ten Years

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As 2023 began, I felt somewhat wary.

And certainly weary.

The past few years have been tough.

And each of us had to figure out how to process them.

I realized: this year I turn 60.

That felt fraught with personal expectations and societal implications.

Then I realized: it doesn’t have to be:

60 can be a celebration!

Over the next six weeks, I invite you to join me by celebrating a song from each year to the present. These 60 songs may not all deserve 10’s on our TNOCS scale, but they all mean something to me. And I look forward to sharing them with you.


1963:

Fingertips, Part Two
Little Stevie Wonder

I’m glad to have been born the week of a No. 1 classic. (Tom Breihan gave it a 10, and rarely have I agreed more.) I particularly appreciate the locale of this live recording – the Regal Theater in my hometown of Chicago.


1964:

I became aware of early Beatles songs as the foursome broke up. I didn’t really get into their catalog until “Got to Get You Into My Life” in 1976 reignited U.S. fervor for the Fab Four. Like “Fingertips,” “I Want to Hold Your Hand” is both itself thrilling and a signifier of a major talent.


1965:

When my parents divorced in 1972, their music also divided into two households. I don’t remember which parent got the “64 Greatest Motown Hits” collection. All I know is, I have it now. And what a collection it is! Of the 64, I would listen to 62 anytime (the Marvelettes’ “Don’t Mess With Bill” and the Miracles’ “Ooh, Baby Baby” are the two that leave me cold).

When it comes to “I Can’t Help Myself,” I don’t know what gets me first – the piano, the bass, the sexy voice of Levi Stubbs. All I know is I’m glad to be there.

1965 Flashback:
First music toy – and chance to irritate my brother Tom.


1966:

Summer in the City
The Lovin’ Spoonful

This is one of the first songs I remember as a child. I remember the stop-and-start beginning, the jackhammer sounds midway through, and the coolness throughout. It sounded urban even if I was way too young to know that word.

Later, hearing hits like “Did You Ever Have to Make Up Your Mind?” or “Do You Believe in Magic?” I was confused. They sounded so white, and this didn’t. (As a kid, I probably would have been chastened by my dad for saying that. Today, I might be less blunt, but I’d stand by the impression.) 


1967:

Respect
Aretha Franklin

This, and the Association’s “Windy” are the songs I most connect with the foundational experiences of a Chicago kid’s childhood: going to the Lincoln Park Zoo; taking in that first Cubs game; and, best of all, the WIND Kite Fly at Grant Park.

No matter what time of year it is, when I hear the opening notes of “Respect,” I immediately feel the humid winds of Memorial Day weekend.

1967 Flashback#1:
They weren’t kidding about that “worst winter ever” … well, until a dozen years later.

1967 Flashback #2:
The Lincoln Park Zoo was the only place you’d get a horse ride in the city.


1968:

And this song connotes the opposite. There’s a chill in the air whenever I hear it, even if it’s playing in mid-July. Gaye’s wounded lover sounds both raw and coolly detached, a truly difficult feat to pull off. The song became a hit at the tail end of 1968, so maybe that’s why my mind associates winter with it.


1969:

This one is a Chicago memory. Not just because of its long association with the White Sox at Comiskey Park but also because AM and FM stations (WLS, WCFL and WDHF/WMET, for starters) would not let go of it – it got as much play as an oldie as many current songs.

That led me to think Steam had to have some connection to the Windy City (a la Ides of March or the Buckinghams). Nope – the musicians who put the song together were based on the East Coast.   

1969 Flashback:
Christmas with Cuddly Dudley (a stuffed animal character from WGN’s “Ray Raynor Show”) and his Super-Jet.


1970:

The Beatles weren’t the only ‘60s superstars to dominate 1976. Diana Ross had two chart-toppers – “Theme from ‘Mahogany’” and “Love Hangover” – and on the strength of those, Motown released her “Greatest Hits” set. That’s where I heard the glorious 6:16 version of “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” and realized Ross’ truest strength as a song interpreter.

Like Beyoncé a generation later, Ross does not have the pipes of a Franklin, Houston, Carey or Blige. But on this song, whose verses she does not sing but rather declaims in an intimate, affecting way, Ross shows what distinguished her from the Supremes and solo singers of the ’70s and ’80s.  


1971:

Sooner or Later
The Grass Roots:

A song doesn’t have to hit No. 1 in Billboard to make an impression. (True, most of this week’s set did, though future weeks will show a shift away from that.) As a kid, the songs that made the greatest impact had catchy choruses, easy-to-understand lyrics, and bright instrumentation (often horn-packed).

Lots of Grass Roots songs did that – “Midnight Confessions,” “Temptation Eyes,” “Two Divided by Love.” But “Sooner or Later” did it best. To this day, if I’m in a rotten mood and need a pick-me-up, I’ll turn to this song.

1971 Flashback:
First communion cake.
(I’d share the picture from the first communion, but it looks like I’m getting married to my 8-year-old classmate Maria).


1972:

This song drives some folks nuts. Because its precursor-to-yacht-rock sound ensured generations of oldies station airplay long after it hit Number One.

The only thing about it that drives me nuts are those who refer to Looking Glass as a one-hit wonder. I well recall 1973’s “Jimmy Loves Mary-anne.” If “Brandy” is a 10 (and it is), “JLM” is a solid 8 or 9.

Next week: The Bicentennial…

… disco,

and the high school years. See you then!

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Chuck Small

Journalist-turned-high school counselor. Happily ensconced in Raleigh, N.C., with hubby of 31 years (9 legal).

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Virgindog
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July 10, 2023 7:09 am

Great choices, Chuck. With the possible exception of “Brandy,” these are all road trip playlist.

mt58
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July 10, 2023 8:07 am
Reply to  Virgindog

We always used to think that Brandy was wimpy and too fluffy; not cool at all.

Then I noticed a weird thing a few years ago: people began to cite Elliot Laurie as some sort of a New Jersey rocker. I’m all for inclusivity, but I’m not so sure about the fit.

I’m not saying I agree or disagree, it was just an odd, revamped narrative to the band and the song.
As I’ve related before, the oldies stations in the 80s and 90s really played this thing to death.

rollerboogie
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July 10, 2023 8:18 am
Reply to  mt58

Reassessment of old songs and bands seems to be happening at an increasingly dizzying level. Sometimes it makes sense to me, but other times not so much.

LinkCrawford
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July 11, 2023 9:55 am
Reply to  rollerboogie

It never makes sense, but the song becomes how people perceive it. I still can’t get over how an also-ran song from Journey’s escape album, the 4th best song on the album is now one of the biggest oldies of all time. “Don’t Stop Believing” is ok, but it’s like I’m in an alternate universe. But it makes me smile.

rollerboogie
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July 10, 2023 8:16 am

Cool idea. Lots of crossover here. I have seen pictures of me as a toddler, in a snow drift from that ’67 winter. As a White Sox fan, always glad to see a Na Na, Hey Hey reference. I got into a Grass Roots greatest hits album my brother lent me around the time my wife and I first started dating, and Sooner or Later became a significant song for us. We even went to see the band at the Taste of Joliet, in between two weddings one afternoon.

lovethisconcept
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July 10, 2023 1:46 pm
Reply to  rollerboogie

The Grass Roots had several top forty hits. A few made it to the top ten. And yet, they seem to have utterly disappeared from any classic rock playlists, while we get the same fifty songs played over and over.

Zeusaphone
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July 10, 2023 8:25 am

“Fingertips” has always struck me as more “impressive that this was done by a 12 year old” than actually good.

mt58
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July 10, 2023 8:34 am
Reply to  Zeusaphone

For years I was a little suspect that the “what key, what key” shout out was perhaps contrived.
.
Years later, I realized that when they play the outro just after Stevie finishes the song before his encore return, it’s in a different key. So I guess it makes sense that the rest of the musicians had to confirm where they were landing.

That’s a fun moment in the song: when the 12 year old is directing the adults.

Phylum of Alexandria
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July 10, 2023 8:36 am

Love the memory snapshots, Chuck. And it’s a great musical era to grow up in! Context changes so much. Because I grew up in the 80s, “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” will forever be associated with the fun claymation “California Raisin” characters rather anything serious. Kind of a shame in terms of the integrity of the art, but it remains a warm memory, so…still a plus?

It would be cool to select a bunch of songs from each year of one’s life. Like, 80 or so minutes each. Like a photo album…of sound…

Pauly Steyreen
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July 10, 2023 9:55 am

Chuck, this is such a wonderful idea for a column! And between the personal memories and photos, you really tie the music to that point in your life.

I think my challenge would be the time element… meaning the song that captures a year for me was rarely released in that year. May be weird to say my 1989 song was a Led Zeppelin song from 1971.

Really looking forward to how the next few decades shake out!!!

JJ Live At Leeds
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July 10, 2023 12:42 pm

Such a great idea, emphasising how music is entwined with our lives.

I was OK up to 1970 but I’ve never heard The Grassroots or Looking Glass. Although those names and song titles are starting to look familiar, this might not be the first time they’ve come up.

Other than the gap in my knowledge they’re some great songs. I was confused by the Lovin’ Spoonful as well. Summer In The City was the first song of theirs I heard just into my teens. I snapped up a very reasonably priced copy of their Greatest Hits at a record fair on the back of it and was surprised to find there was nothing else like it. And then I saw John Sebastian wide eyed and on another planet in the Woodstock movie.

lovethisconcept
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July 10, 2023 1:48 pm

Loved this piece. We are pretty close in age, so these hit for me as well.

Pauly Steyreen
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July 10, 2023 2:12 pm

According to Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2…

Ego ‘Brandy’ by Looking Glass. A favorite of your mom’s. One of Earth’s greatest musical compositions; perhaps its very greatest.

There you have it, if a living planet endorses this as Earth’s greatest musical composition, who are we mere mortals to disagree?

stobgopper
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July 10, 2023 3:21 pm

Hi Chuck. As a fellow denizen of living in one’s seventh decade, I’ll be following this series closely. I’m especially enjoying your personal photos.

DanceFever
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July 11, 2023 12:42 am

Chuck. what a wonderful idea.
But it imbues me with the idea that I’m one of those sitcom characters sitting
on a porch, rocking in his chair, stroking his beard and saying “Ayup, these youngsters have a right fine mind.”
Rather , I feel like more of an older brother (your my third sister’s age) nodding in time with your choices.
I wrote about Stevie Wonder on the Mothership (Stereogum Number Ones)
about Stevie and I being the same age and while I was playing Little League baseball in front of several dozen parents and friends, he was performing before thousands of paying patrons and hitting the top of the charts.
Looking forward to your next article.

cappiethedog
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July 11, 2023 1:50 am

One of the Stereogum OGs mentioned that “Up Where We Belong” was the number one song the week he was born. It’s a song I had liked unironically. And it used to summon up the pleasant memory of my schoolteacher trolling her students about how An Officer and a Gentleman was a much superior film to E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial. But now it makes me laugh a little.

Which brings us to “Brandy”.

I worked with a Brandy. When she came back from vacation, she told a group of our coworkers about her trip to a brothel(with her husband) in the middle of their Vegas trip. It was The Chicken Ranch. (It’s unclear to me if it’s a franchise, or just a stand-alone brothel.) Let’s just say that she overshared. So now, if I have control of not hearing it, I exercise that right. If not, unbidden, I see her naked in some Caligula-like situation.

mjevon6296
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July 11, 2023 7:05 pm

Thanks for this!

Just wanted to add: I am five years younger but also have a childhood memory of “Windy”. Clear as anything, sitting on my parents bed while my mom’s little AM/FM radio plays it while I think my mom was dusting in the room. I was not very old. My mom would play the “easy listening” station while cleaning.

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