If I could go back in time, say to my Boy At The Window years, what tunes would I take back with me? It’s not as simple as taking my iPod back to the ’80s. It would disrupt the time stream between that decade and now. But I could burn a CD, convert it to an audio tape, and take that back in time to the ’80s. At most, I could only record ten or twelve songs. Also, the music I take with me to the heart of the Reagan years can’t be from the ’90s, it’s too close in the time stream. So, what would I come up with, especially since I think much of the music from the ’00s kind of sucks.
1. U2 – “Beautiful Day”: For my days of puppy love and infatuation, or when I needed a pick-me-up. It would’ve been my favorite song in the spring of ’82, the three-month period of my first and greatest crush. It was all “sky falls, you feel it’s beautiful day” period at school and at home.
2. Coldplay – “Clocks”: This song’s right up there with “Beautiful Day.” It’s about infatuation, love, being in love, wanting someone to love you who probably doesn’t. That was ’82 and ’87 and ’88 for me. That sense of British male angst was closest to where I was in the mid to late-80s.
3. Mario – “Let Me Love You”: A rare R&B song in an era where three genres have integrated to the point where hip-hop, R&B and rap are often one, the same and stale. The song’s simple, romantic, and youthful — though I think “a dyme, plus ninety-nine” adds up to $1.09, and I’m not sure what that means.
4. Eminem – “Lose Yourself”: Whatever any of you think about Marshall Mathers, he has much in common with the late Tupac — he’s a poet using rap to communicate, not the other way around. My music collection in the ’80s lacked anger — John Mellencamp and Boogie Down Productions were about the angriest folks I heard before PE at the end of the decade. But even their anger was muted compared to Eminem. This would’ve been good for me on many a day at 616 to nod my head to.
5. Maxwell – “This Woman’s Work”: It’s a cover version of Kate Bush’s ’88 signature hit, but Maxwell kind of makes it his own. It’s … pretty, and the only artist in the ’80s who could’ve made a song so pretty was Prince.
6. Green Day – “Boulevard Of Broken Dreams”: Troubled White guys capture angst better than anybody, in this country at least. It would’ve been a perfect and dissonant response to Whitesnake’s “Here I Go Again” hit of ’87. For me, it encompasses my moodiness from the eighteen months between high school graduation and the middle of my sophomore year at Pitt.
7. U2 – “Walk On”: You can’t stay in angst forever, and if I needed a song to pull me out of a Green Day mood, this would be it. Plus, it sounds a bit like ’80s U2.
8. R. Kelly – “I Wish”: I generally don’t like R. Kelly, and his private life isn’t to be condoned. But we all have major issues in our lives that we struggle with. We all have weaknesses that we can’t quite overcome. We all have suffered loss, whether in the form of a loved one’s death or some other emotional trauma. It’s a good, cry-for-help song.
9. Celine Dion – “That’s The Way It Is”: This is borderline, and not just because the song came out in the last months of ’99. It sounds like pop music from the ’80s with a ’90s diva feel to it, not to mention it’s Celine Dion, right? Oh well. If my tape falls into the wrong hands, this song might fool some folks into thinks that this is an underground tape.
10. Anthony Hamilton – “Comin’ From Where I’m From”: This song is the story of my life. If this had come out in ’86 or ’87, I might’ve been the only person to buy it, as it borders between ’70s soul and neo-soul. If Groove Theory hadn’t done “Boy At The Window,” I might’ve used this song for the title of my book.
11. RENT Soundtrack – “Seasons of Love”: I picked this over John Legend’s “Ordinary People” for two reasons. One, between Mario, John Legend, Maxwell, and Anthony Hamilton, I’ve kind of privileged Black males here — oh well! Two, because Tracie Thoms knocks it out of the box with this song. It’s so ’00s and ’80s at the same time, and it puts a smile on my face every time I hear it.
12. Sting – “Desert Rose”: This last one was a tough one. I thought about picking Moby’s “One Of These Mornings,” symbolizing my leaving Mount Vernon for greener pastures in ’87. Or Moby’s “Extreme Ways,” but it felt too good for the decade of bad music from continental Europe. I thought about Ashanti’s “Rain On Me,” but her voice is so weak, too weak to take back to the ’80s. I wanted to pick another U2 song, like “Original Of The Species” from their ’04 album. But since twelve is the limit, picking the ever-eclectic Sting’s foray into world music seemed the proper choice.
I don’t know if my life would’ve been better if I had owned a tape like this. But I’m sure that my state of mind would’ve been better in my worst of the worst times with something like this in my Walkman. Now if I could only send some money back in time, too…