OK, readers, my “Soundtrack” series continues. I attended college from 1986 to 1990, and this post highlights some of my favorite songs from that time, as well as some songs that were influential to me during college.
New Musical Influences
In the fall of 1986, I left my small town in northeast Pennsylvania to attend college in the big city of Philadelphia. Surprisingly, although I was a fairly sheltered teen, I adapted to urban life pretty quickly. One exciting thing about starting school at the University of Pennsylvania and being in a city was that I met people from all over the country (and world), who were more ethnically, culturally, and economically diverse than I’d been used to. That said, a large number of the fellow frosh I met at Penn were from the Northeast/Mid-Atlantic: Many were from Pennsylvania, New York, and New Jersey. Although I liked a lot of the same music as my peers, those from urban and suburban locales who were able to see live music in city clubs often had a wider range of tastes than me.
One of my frosh dorm-mates who grew up in the New York City area was into some bands I didn’t know too well. He introduced me to bands like The Specials, The English Beat, and General Public. I also remember that he was in love with Spandau Ballet’s “True,” which had come out in 1983 but was still well-loved in 1986 when we started college.
Like many of my peers, I was in love with General Public’s song “Tenderness,” which had come out in 1984, a couple years before my freshman year. (R.I.P. Ranking Roger.) I had probably heard the song before college, but I remember listening to it a lot during my early Penn days. I got a copy of The English Beat’s 1983 greatest hits album What Is Beat? around that time and must have worn it out playing it so often. All their hits were amazing, but “Mirror in the Bathroom” was a top fave.
My freshman roommate had very different musical tastes than I did. To be honest, at the time, I didn’t really like much of the vinyl she spinned in our little dorm room. But, some of it did grow on me. One of her all-time favorite bands was The Allman Brothers. At the time, the Allmans seemed old-fashioned and not cool enough to me–I wasn’t much into classic rock. I can now appreciate great songs like “Layla” (released in 1970). I can also appreciate how my roommate stayed true to herself and her music loves. I was a lot more easily influenced by what my friends were listening to.
My sophomore year in college, I started dating the man I’d later marry (and even later, divorce). He also loved music that didn’t really do it for me. His fave band was Steely Dan (as well as Donald Fagen’s solo work). I tolerated listening to this music because I loved my boyfriend and wanted to be open minded about music I hadn’t listened to before, but I can’t say I ever really got into Steely Dan. I did love the fact that my ex was a musician himself. He played keyboards in several bands during college and sometimes sang. He had a surprisingly deep voice for a not-very-tall strawberry-blonde German. One of my ex’s best-loved Steely Dan songs was “Josie.” The music is pretty good if you like mellow rock, but I always thought the lyrics were rather silly. You can judge for yourself.
Freshman year, I got really into U2’s album The Unforgettable Fire. Although this album had come out in 1984, I hadn’t listened to it all the way through before. (I’d heard the singles, “Pride” and “The Unforgettable Fire” on MTV.) I hadn’t yet developed my obsession with U2. One of my freshman hallmates got me into this album: I’d hang out in his room chatting or studying, and he’d play the The Unforgettable Fire cassette on auto-repeat. Oh, Bono, you were so cool and also so full of yourself (see 2:34, for example).
In March of my freshman year, U2 released The Joshua Tree album, which was critically acclaimed and also massively popular. “With or Without You” was one of my all-time favorite songs from college. I was quite pleased with Bono’s ponytail and leather vest in the video as well. Watching the video now makes me realize that Bono was never a great dancer. But, the musical crescendo at 3:04 may be one of the best of all times! Admit it, you belted this out in the shower, car, and alone in your room. U2 remained one of my favorite bands through the ’80s and ’90s. I still like a lot of their music, although I have to admit I don’t play it too often.
Early in college, I also started to get really into The Cure and Depeche Mode. One of my all-time favorite songs by The Cure was “Just Like Heaven” from the 1987 Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me album. Lisa, one of my college best friends, and I would listen to that song over and over again.
I can’t remember now if Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me or The Head on the Door was my first Cure album. It was probably one or the other, since both came out in the mid-’80s, and that’s when I remember really getting into The Cure’s music. I collected many of their other albums my first few years at Penn. “In Between Days” from The Head on the Door was another favorite song of theirs.
Another fave song that always got me and Lisa dancing was Depeche Mode’s “Just Can’t Get Enough.” (Although the song came out in 1981, we were super into it in 1985 and 1986, probably because we had another D.M. album, Black Celebration, which had just come out, on heavy rotation.) “Just Can’t Get Enough” and Taylor Dayne’s “Tell It to My Heart” were our top dance songs. Every time “Tell It to My Heart” came on the radio, we started squealing and dancing.
Lisa and I had so much fun dancing together at frat parties freshman year (“Blister in the Sun” by Violent Femmes, released in 1983, was always a crowd-pleaser) and at Korean Cultural Club parties frosh and sophomore years (Lisa, a Korean-American, was a member; at these parties, we always loved “Happy Song” by Baby’s Gang, from 1984, the appeal of which was that the lyrics and laughing child were so dumb). We also danced a lot in our room when we lived together sophomore and junior years. Depeche Mode’s name (which means “fashion update” in French) was fitting–they were a stylish band! But, Taylor Dayne, what the f is going on with your hair in that video?!?
Lisa and I were also both obsessed with New Order. We had so many faves. One was “Bizarre Love Triangle.” Another was “Blue Monday.” I loved all their songs and probably had all their albums. It was so disappointing to see them live on campus at U Penn’s Irvine Auditorium: They barely spoke to the audience and seemed surly and pissed off. Not sure if this was typical for them–I don’t remember seeing them perform any other time.
Another album that was very popular with me and many of my college friends freshman year was Singles–45’s and Under by Squeeze. Although that “greatest hits” album had come out in 1982, the reformation of the band in 1985 and release of a new album, Cosi Fan Tutti Frutti, also in 1985 had brought them a resurgence in popularity in the mid-’80s. I had the Singles album and played it over and over. I loved many tracks by Squeeze (such as “Tempted,” “Annie, Get Your Gun,” and “Pulling Muscles”), but “Black Coffee in Bed” (released in 1982) was one fave. However, unlike U2, Squeeze was a passing fancy.
Another band I briefly loved was Crowded House. Their hits “Don’t Dream It’s Over” and “Something So Strong” (both from 1986) were faves. You can hear some of the same influences in their songs as in Squeeze (organs, soul, new wave).
Although it had come out 6 months to a year before I started college, I got Mike + the Mechanics’ cassette Mike + The Mechanics my freshman year at Penn, and this was also on heavy rotation in my boombox. The song All I Need Is a Miracle, unlike U2’s hits, doesn’t really hold up for me today.
Around the same time I listened to Mike + the Mechanics, I got the album Play Deep by The Outfield, another heavy-rotation cassette that was a transient fave. Can’t really remember now which song I liked the best, but it may have been “Say It Isn’t So.” Geez, this album kinda sucked, now that I listen to some of these songs again.
Late College Faves
I continued liking New Wave and alternative music later in college, but I also got more into R&B, dance music, rock, and pop. Some of my favorite artists and bands in the late ’80s to early 1990 were fairly musically respectable, such as David Bowie, Sting, Janet Jackson, Prince, the B-52’s, Tracy Chapman, and U2. Others now make me cringe (e.g., Milli Vanilli). I also got into the Grateful Dead and The Sugarcubes, two bands I learned about from one of my close friends. A few favorite songs from this era were “Desire” by U2 (1988), “Nasty” and “Control” by Janet Jackson, “Love Shack” by the B-52’s, “Fast Car” by Tracy Chapman, and “Tomorrow People” by Ziggy Marley & The Melody Makers. “Birthday” may or may not have been one of my favorite Sugarcubes songs, but I do enjoy the video. Sadly, I did indeed have Milli Vanilli’s album Girl You Know It’s True and was a big fan of both their music and their model-handsome looks (they were models and dancers, not singers, after all). It wasn’t just me: M.V. was extremely popular until the whole lip-syncing scandal occurred.
Throughout college, I continued to like dancing and dance music. Neneh Cherry’s “Buffalo Stance,” Technotronic’s “Pump Up the Jam,” De La Soul’s “Me Myself and I,” Madonna’s “Vogue,” and Prince’s “Alphabet Street” were some fave dance grooves.
College was also a time I started to be able to see more live bands. Living in a major city for the first time, I got to go to concerts around Philadelphia (at venues such as The Spectrum, JFK Stadium, The Mann Music Center, and The Chestnut Cabaret), as well as a few on campus. Favorite live shows from that era included U2, Big Audio Dynamite, New Order (despite their afore-mentioned bad attitude), Sting, Ziggy Marley, David Bowie, The Cure, and Depeche Mode.
I could go on, but that’s enough for today! You all may be tired of these “Soundtrack” posts, but, like an amateur guitar soloist, I enjoy this navel-gazing and metaphoric noodling, so I may continue with a post-college music post (or two). Stay tuned.