Most summers, from the time I was a small child until I left for college, there was a week, sometimes two, spent in western Pennsylvania, visiting grandparents, aunts, uncles and such.
And as this was the ’70s and ’80s, long before humans had the ability to teleport, there was an eight-hour trip in the car to reach our destination.
These ventures usually took place in the waning weeks of summer break, the hottest time of the year and in a a car without air conditioning.
(hell, maybe we did have air conditioning, but I wouldn’t know as it was never used)
It was eight hours rolling through the blandness of Ohio, sweating, without television, jockeying with my brother for back seat terrain like nations squabbling over a few miles of dirt.
The journey there had an undercurrent of anticipation to sustain us through the dullness. As the grandchildren who were not local, heard of but seldom seen, we were rock stars.
On the way home, the road went on forever. Often, we were returning home to the start of school within days. It would be on that interminable slog that the grim truth was undeniable.
Summer was cooked as surely as I was being being cooked in the backseat of the car, some of those precious, final hours of the glorious, sun-drenched bliss of summer break were slipping away.
As this annual ritual played out in late August, 1981, I was thirteen.
For the first time, I sought refuge in the radio to cope with the ceaseless boredom and it was on that return trip that I first heard Journey’s Who’s Crying Now?
I must have heard the song a dozen times during those eight hours, becoming more enthralled with each listen.
We pulled into the driveway at home and the first thing I did as I settled in my bedroom was turn on the radio, wanting to hear Who’s Crying Now? one more time.
Here are four songs that I might have heard while trying to get one more Journey fix…
Foreigner – Urgent
from Foreigner 4 (1981)
You’ve got Junior Walker adding sax and Thomas Dolby playing synthesizer – on a Foreigner record. It’s lots of fun.
Personally, I never really understood the critical angst over Foreigner. Foreigner 4 – like much of the band’s output up to that point – is some fantastic, straight-ahead rock.
(of course, I grew up in the Midwest and, during the late ’70s and early ’80s, Foreigner was inescapable)
Billy Squier – The Stroke
from Don’t Say No (1981)
For a few years, Billy Squier was a rock god amongst my classmates in junior high and high school. Don’t Say No and Emotions In Motion must have resided in everyone’s collections and songs like In The Dark, My Kinda Lover, and Everybody Wants You were staples on the rock radio stations.
It was The Stroke, though, with its anthemic sturm und drang, singalong chorus, and martial cadence that was everyone’s favorite.
Electric Light Orchestra – Hold On Tight
from Time (1981)
My childhood buddy Will loved ELO. At least he loved the song Don’t Bring Me Down enough to own the 45 and, if I had a dime for every time he played it during those years, I would be writing this from a hammock…on the beach…of an island…that I owned.
Hold On Tight is effortlessly infectious like so much of ELO’s stuff. One day I truly need to delve into their catalog as any band that churned out as many catchy songs as they did likely has some equally worthwhile tracks that didn’t make it to radio.
Don Felder – Heavy Metal (Takin’ a Ride)
from Heavy Metal soundtrack (1981)
It was mostly Top 40 that I was listening to as that summer ended in ’81. I might have known the term heavy metal, but I doubt that I could have named a band within the genre or described it.
Don Felder’s Heavy Metal (Takin’ a Ride) was hardly metal, but it rocked harder than a lot of the music I was hearing and, as it came from the soundtrack to an R-rated cartoon that none of us were allowed to see, it had added cachet at the time.
Thirty years later, I still think it’s a wickedly cool song.