Dancing to the Decades

So I’m spinning records at WORN’s Decades Dance, and I’ve been contemplating what I’m going to play and thinking about “vintage music” in general.

I’m starting to wonder if there might be two completely different ways of listening to music. A lot of people tell me that they really like a specific song because it reminds them of a specific point in time… “My Prayer” by the Platters was playing on the radio when Laurie had her first kiss at the drive-in… The Fifth Dimension’s “Wedding Bell Blues” was all over the radio the week Emily’s daughter was born… Sam’s first slow dance was to Styx’s “Come Sail Away”

Certainly, I have associations with some of my favourite music. I have a fond and vivid image in my mind of Matias’s first girlfriend screaming, “I’m not no limburger!” along with the B-52s’ “Dance this Mess Around” at the first real teenager party I attended. But that’s not even my earliest memory of it. When I was nine, my cousin Donny showed me the first B-52s album and said “This is New Wave. I’m not crazy about it, but it’s future music. It’s what you’ll be listening to when you’re a teenager.”

And he was right. But the crappy BASF tape I had copied his album on wore out a few years later. So I exchanged the Corey Hart record I had won from MuchMusic (I correctly identified all the celebrity cameos in the Ghostbusters video) at my favourite used record store for a genuine vinyl copy of the album. It sounded so much better than the crappy tape.

In the early 2000s, I had to go a while without a turntable. I remember being at the now-defunct Virgin Megastore at 14th and Broadway in New York and seeing the B-52s CD on sale for $5! I bought it and got back to the place I was staying, and listened to it on a DVD player through a crappy TV’s speakers. And it sounded damned good after going so long without hearing it.

A couple of years ago, I was managing a book warehouse, and we had a bunch of punk kids working there. They only had about six different tapes, but the one we’d agree to play the most was the B-52s.

My point is that I have MANY associations with “Dance this Mess Around” and the first B-52s album. Sometimes when I listen to it, I think about one old time or another. But sometimes I think about Kate Pierson’s amazing voice, and how I’d like to stay at her bed & breakfast. Sometimes I think that guitarist Ricky Wilson died way too soon. Sometimes I think about what I’m going to cook for dinner. The music seems to grow with me and adapt to what’s going on in my life.

But I recently attended a bazaar in a church basement, and as I walked in, A-HA’s “Take on Me” was blasting over the crappy sound system. Something about hearing that song while walking into a large room with stale air and a couple of hundred people put me into a time machine. It was like being 15 and crashing the dance at Northern Collegiate.

But let me make this clear, I HATED that song when I was 15. I found the lyrics insipid (and not just because English is A-HA’s second language). The singer’s performance is equal parts pretension and melodrama (with no hint of wit). The melody is crude and broad and the arrangement is unbearably eager but without any edges or solidity.

Alright I guess I still hate it. But something about hearing it…every once in a while…under the right circumstances…in the right environment…makes me feel good.

It seems odd that music I liked doesn’t particularly make me nostalgic, but music I hated does. I guess that I have associations with “Dance this Mess Around” because I like it, but I like “Take on Me” because I have associations with it.

I’d like some input on what songs WORN readers have associations with. I’m especially interested to hear what vintage music from the nineties really “takes you back.”

- Ted Kulczycky