It seems that every time I’ve gone out recently, I’ve had a version of the same conversation. Regardless of who I’m talking to, the conversation has turned to music. And not just any music, but the music that most of us know all the words to but wouldn’t brag about listening to. Except that now, for those of us who are either 1.) in our late twenties or thirties, 2.) in grad school or 3.) have figured out that no matter how hard we try, “cool” is not the first word that springs to people’s minds when thinking about us, uncool music has become sort of cool. For example, during the week of the ritual interviewing torture for graduate students in the humanities and languages known as the MLA Convention, I went to a dinner with a large group that included a few people who had just finished their interviews. Aside from my boyfriend, I had never met any of these people before. As things turned out, I ended up sitting in a spot that was convenient for having a conversation with the guys who were working on a healthy post-interview buzz about the bar’s strange music selection. And after several songs, talk turned to Billy Joel and Elton John. We discussed the Chuck Klosterman essay about Billy Joel from Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs, the general respect it is possible to give Glass Houses, and then I maneuvered the conversation in the direction I wanted it to go: a discussion of the fact that EVERYONE knows the words to “River of Dreams,” and, in situations where people have their guard down or are distracted, you can catch other people singing along. For example, I often catch myself singing along to the light rock playing in my supermarket. And I’m usually not the only person in the store doing this. So, for your listening and singing pleasure (and in the hope that you’ll sing along, too):
I should mention that I received this particular album (cover artwork and video cameo by Christie Brinkley) on cassette for Christmas 1993, along with with Mariah Carey’s Music Box. Oh, to grow up in the 1990s. This video also premiered the year we got cable, so I saw it no fewer than 7 million times. But really, “River of Dreams” has the same power as this one:
The only difference is that Wilson Phillips’s “Hold On” has that really singable quality that lends itself to being featured in movies where it’s appropriate for the main characters to belt out a cheesy power ballad to each other in a car, like Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle. But the emphasis is – and always will be – on the fact that this song has a high cheese factor and is imprinted on the cultural DNA of a particular segment of the population. As you can see, we can even sing the background parts:
But why this topic? You might ask. And why now? Well, at yoga class tonight, my teacher put on this song:
And I laughed. And not just because the song is kind of goofy – because it is – but because I really, really like it and always want to sing along to it. And it’s not because there was a fun version of it in American Pie and that came out the year I graduated high school. I own BOTH discs of James Taylor’s Greatest Hits and used to write my papers to those CDs in college. I really don’t know why I like “How Sweet it is,” or any James Taylor song, though I’m told that my enjoyment of this particular performance on Sesame Street in my toddler years might have something to do with it:
My whole family loves that version of “Up on the Roof.” And it just goes to prove something an adult once said to me when I was in middle school – Sesame Street is the best place for parents who are home with their kids to see solid performances by musicians they personally enjoy.
To play us out, I leave you with a song everyone knows (and a song that once prompted this conversation in a different bar):
Oh, yeah, and I have the 2-CD “Essential Neil Diamond,” too. I keep it with my “Essential Simon and Garfunkel,” because every day is a party at my house.