Music/Popular Culture

30-Day Song Challenge, day 3: a song that makes me happy

At so many points along the way I have felt like music was life. There is music on most of the day when I’m working. There’s music when I’m driving around. Music when I’m riding my bike or working out. Music when I go to sleep. Music in my best and worst moments.

I was a club DJ and I DJed at a college station (as well as pulling a shift or two at a rock station where I worked shortly after graduating from college). Picking a song that makes me happy, well, as with the last couple of days, the hard part is picking just one. So I thought back to a time when I wasn’t generally happy. Thanks to a personal crisis (yes, involving a woman) I endured some very dark days during the two years I spent getting my MA. I tried to think about music that lifted me out of the blackness. And a memory came to me.

I was a senior DJ and music director at Top ‘o the Town and That Place, sort of a two-clubs-in-one complex in downtown Ames, Iowa. TotT was voted best club in Ames by Iowa State students, so on Friday and Saturday nights, I was frequently spinning for the best party around. Part of the job, of course, was buying music, and one day I was at a local music store (if you’re old, you might remember music stores) with another DJ selecting some new stuff. Flipping through the new releases bin, talking back and forth with the other guy about who might like what and so on.

Then I realized that I was dancing. Not Gene Kelly/Singin’ in the Rain show dancing, but my body was moving to something that my consciousness hadn’t noticed yet. I stopped, listened closely to what the clerk was playing in-store for a second, and had no idea what the tune was. But it was energetic, rhythmic, melodic and up. I headed up to the front and asked what it was.

What it was turned out to be was Shadow Man, the new album from a South African band I hadn’t heard of, Johnny Clegg & Savuka. It was sort of like Paul Simon’s Graceland, I discovered, only 100 times better in every way imaginable.

We bought a copy for the club and I got a copy for me. And that CD has made me more happy through the years than just about any collection of music I can think of. If I’m down it picks me up. If I’m up it blows me through the roof. And always, always, it makes my body want to dance, even when it makes me cry over the tragic death of a guy I only met one time, but who turned out to be a big fan of Johnny Clegg & Savuka.

“I Call Your Name” makes me happy, and this one is dedicated to the late Bobby Lewis.

9 replies »

  1. Well, I was going to use Johnny’s “Cruel, Crazy, Beautiful World,” but I grant you that ground since you introduced me to Clegg’s work.

    As for happy, Motown always does me good, and this one by the Temptations brings the sunshine:

  2. Good one. And “CCBW” is an absolutely awesome choice, too. There are several songs from Clegg I could have used, including “Scatterlings of Africa” and “Siyayilanda.”

  3. (Risking censure for bubble gum cliche pop reference).

    “Pretty Woman,” Roy Orbison.

    It makes me smile for a number of reasons. I got to see Roy Orbison (just pre-Traveling Wilburys) when he opened for the Beach Boys in 1987 (I almost picked “Surfin’ USA, but I resisted) at Blossom Music Center near Cleveland–the BEST place in NEO to hear live music in the summer (grass amphitheater with pavilion, seats 20K+). I always like the song and was with a great date and we were dancing and I was suddenly seized by my Inner Blonde (I used to collect Dumb Blonde jokes–since I wasn’t dumb, they did not refer to me). I JOKINGLY (I swear) said as the opening chords sounded, “O my god, someone did this BEFORE David Lee Roth?!?!” in my best don’t-have-a-brain voice. He was mortified. I laughed hysterically at his expression, which didn’t help.

    I always loved (another guilty pleasure) how the song was used in the movie for the fashion montage ending in the iconic Jackie O-inspired pink and white dress. The scene when she returns to the dress shop that she was kicked out of the day before and says, “Remember me? You were mean to me. You work on commission, don’t you? Big mistake. Huge. I have to go shopping now.” was priceless for me (and probably secretly for other victims of Mean Girls). It was a wonderful vicarious moment.

  4. My happiest song used to be Oingo Boingo, “Dead Man’s Party,” and given a little time it may well be again. But right now, I have to go with “Istanbul (not Constantinople)” by They Might Be Giants.

  5. Cat, one of the most celebrated singers and songwriters of all time is NOT bubble gum.

    There are several (including those mentioned already) that would work, Motown, Stax/Volt of the mid-to-late 1960s, lots of disco (sorry Sam), several early 80s new wave songs, but I’m going to go with The Clash Should I Stay or Should I Go?

  6. @ Retro Hound: I agree about Roy Orbison, but one never knows about Scrogues. 🙂

    Love the Clash–saw them on the Combat Rock tour. I thought I had dressed in a (for me) somewhat outlandish fashion. Then I saw the 2 guys in gas masks.

  7. Mike: Yeah, Eels manage to find a smile, even in the dark moments. There’s an eternal melancholy about E’s work that has always hooked me.

    Cat: One knows that scrogues have good taste in music. Hating on Orbison would be very unscroguelike.