Adventures in music

It happened again! At my desk last week, with TV “noise” in the background, my subconscious heard the introduction of a music group, the Goo Goo Dolls. My full attention did not kick in, however, until I heard male singing voices. Actually, I recognize the Goo Goo Dolls by name only, a name that has always led me to assume group members were female in gender.

Wrong. Again. The incident reminded me of the time in the 70’s when my students – amid snickers and rolling eyeballs – corrected my error: Molly Hatchet was not a female singer but an all-male rock band. Who knew? Who knew Pink Floyd was a group, not a person – and not one member was named Pink OR Floyd?

Oldie-but-goodie music groups seemed so much more identifiable. Can names be any clearer than the Everly Brothers, the McGuire Sisters, Simon and Garfunkel, the Beach Boys, Jan and Dean? The Jackson 5 and the Four Seasons provided numbers, for goodness sake. And although I was never quite sure who the Pips were, I knew they sang with Gladys Knight!

Eventually music group names veered off the rails as The Kinks, The Who, The Doors, and The Animals achieved Top 40 fame. And somewhere along the line, Jefferson Airplane morphed into Jefferson Starship!

So, I have officially thrown in the towel. When I saw the four guys of the group named Barenaked Ladies in a commercial for The Big Bang Theory, I knew it was over. Now I simply amuse myself by collecting weird music group names: The Smashing Pumpkins, Limp Biskit, Nine Inch Nails, Hootie & the Blowfish, and most recently – Insane Clown Posse.

September’s first Monday used to signal the official end to summer, back-to-school time. And “Summer Nights” from Grease sung by Olivia Newton-John and John Travolta seemed the perfect anthem for that magical time between Memorial Day and Labor Day: Summer lovin’, had me a blast / Summer lovin’, happened so fast / Met a girl crazy for me / Met a boy cute as can be / Summer days drifting away…

Summers back then were three-month-long routine interrupters, filled with new people, places, and things. Summer camps, summer jobs, vacations, unlimited “hanging out” all led to puppy love and crushes not meant to last past the first week of September.

Songs from those carefree days represented every aspect of a first love, as the Carpenters described in “Close to You.” Captain and Tennille assured us that “Love Will Keep Us Together,” while Sonny and Cher reminded each other, “I Got You, Babe.” The Supremes, sadly enough, asked, “Where Did Our Love Go?” and Gilbert O’Sullivan ended up “Alone Again Naturally.”

Two other songs, however, are the ones that conjure up my youthful summers. “The Lazy-Hazy-Crazy Days of Summer,” by crooner Nat King Cole and “Sweet Caroline” by Neil Diamond, still one of my favorite vocalists, bookended my high school years.

It was not so much their lyrics but the “singability” of these tunes that I fancied. In fact, I just now gave an impromptu concert right here at my desk. With lyrics on the screen and YouTube blaring, Nat and Neil and I sang our hearts out!

Deciding to reminisce a bit, I clicked on the music of the recently-departed Glen Campbell. Still at my desk, I karaoked “Gentle on My Mind,” immediately transporting myself back to the first-floor dorm room of my junior year at Otterbein Back then, I played that song and replayed it and played it again – until I knew every word by heart. Campbell’s guitar skills as well as his musical imagery of a vagabond’s love drew me to: You’re movin’ on the back roads / By the rivers of my memory / And for hours you’re just gentle on my mind.

And the other day I happened across the “We Are the World” video from 1985 that raised humanitarian funds for Africa. I nostalgically watched head-phoned singers from a mixed bag of musical genres step briefly to the microphone before melting back into the crowd of fellow vocalists.

Each was a star in his or her own right in 1985, and each has added to his or her own history in the intervening three decades. There was a young, gloved Michael Jackson vocalizing with Diana Ross with Cyndi Lauper jumping around in excitement. Unlikely duos of Paul Simon and Kenny Rogers, Tina Turner and Billy Joel, Willie Nelson and Dionne Warwick sang all-out with passion and heart, as did the versatile Stevie Wonder paired with gritty Bruce Springsteen. Quincy Jones directed, and Ray Charles at the piano cheered everyone on as they delivered a message we sorely need today:

We are the world / We are the children / We are the ones who make a brighter day / So, let’s start giving / There’s a choice we’re making / We’re saving our own lives / It’s true we’ll make a better day / Just you and me.

All this made me long for that Coca Cola video from 1971 – you know, when “on a hilltop in Italy, we assembled young people from all over the world.” True, it was a commercial, one totally saturated with the idealism of the time, but what they sang then is what we long for now:

I’d like to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony…

By Shirley Scott

Shirley Scott, a 1966 graduate of Graham High School, is a native of Champaign County. After receiving degrees in English and German from Otterbein College, she returned to GHS in 1970 where she taught until retiring in 2010. From 1976-2001 she coordinated the German Exchange Program with the Otto-Hahn-Gymnasium in Springe.