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Raised on Radio

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I've blathered before about how music is an emotional experience and how, for better or worse, songs have a way of attaching themselves to the pivotal moments in our lives. I'm convinced this is especially true of our formative years, that small window of time when we're the de facto passengers and other people are controlling the radio and creating the soundtrack of our lives. The music they played permeated our beings and ultimately informed our sensibilities. Whether we liked it or not, it chose us more than we chose it.

Hearing that music now is like looking at faded old photographs of ourselves as kids: We've progressed to the point where we only vaguely resemble those earlier incarnations. But while such photos serve mostly to shame us, there's also a comforting familiarity inherent in those images and memories.

For those weaned on classics from inimitable artists, time has been kind. For others — like me, for instance — the music of our childhood memories is some of the most shlocky treacle ever recorded, the type of lite-rock drivel that inspired the whole concept of guilty pleasures. I should be mortified to admit that I dig such dreck. But I'm not.

Although I eventually went on to blaze a trail apart from those of my folks and my siblings, this music is my roots. Fact is, these songs left an indelible imprint on me, one that I don't expect anyone else to understand. Why should they? It's my life, my backstory. So when I hear songs like "Just Remember I Love You," by Firefall, or "Baby Come Back," by Player, I'm instantly transported to the back seat of my sister's Vega in the mid-'70s and, just like that, we're listening to Q-103 and I'm staring out the window at a version of my home town that hasn't existed since before the Carter administration.

Through the years, I've managed to collect many of the tunes from back then. But while I know them when I hear them, I don't know many by their titles, and I only vaguely recall who sang what. I was just a kid, and more invested in the songs than the artists, anyway. Today those acts still seem fairly interchangeable, which has made the process of tracking them down all the more tedious.

One night, just before heading off to bed, I was listening to this brilliant album from one of my favorite bands during high school, the 77s. Mike Roe and company put out a number of great records over the years, but the Seventy Sevens — or the Island release, as it's more commonly known these days — was their definitive work. I was marveling at how songs such as "The Lust, the Flesh, the Eyes & the Pride of Life" and "Don't Say Goodbye" — with lines like "You're arrogant to pre-suppose there's bliss (somewhere over the abyss)" — still sound so good almost twenty years later. Most stuff from that era is dated, but this record is every bit as vital as the first time I heard it.

As the last song was ending, I turned on the TV in hopes of catching a bit of the late news before crashing — and stumbled on an infomercial hosted by the dudes from Air Supply. As they scrolled through the songs, I feebly tried to write them down before giving up and just taking note of the URL for the Time-Life comp they were shilling, hoping that it would list the names of all those sappy AM Gold hits from the '70s.

It did, and as I sat in front of my keyboard the next morning, I fired up Rhapsody and re-created Q-103's playlist as best as I could from memory — 140 songs so far. "Into the Night," "It's Sad to Belong," "Lonesome Loser," "Sentimental Lady," some "Ooh Baby Baby" and "Everybody's Got to Learn Sometime"...well, you get the picture.

I was fully prepared to get clowned, and I was when Janie, a co-worker who came of age just before these tracks were touted as "today's hits," walked by. But then Janet, another office mate, came rushing in after hearing the sap pouring out of my speakers. Janet grew up listening to these songs, too, except that she was in the back seat while her parents drove around New York City. In explaining our affinity for the music, Janet put everything in perspective: For Janie, hearing us go on and on about all these craptacular tunes is a lot like what it would be for Janet and me to hear someone a little younger extolling the virtues of Celine Dion.

Now, that's just gross.

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