Monday, April 21, 2008

Top Five Songs My Mom Used To Play In The Car When I Was A Young Child That Made Me Sad

I lived in Dallas, Texas until I was eight. I don’t remember much about it, other than a few scattered things, but I’ve got very strong memories of sitting in the back seat of my mother’s car and listening to the cassettes she’d play. Mostly 60s rock and Motown and 70s singer-songwriter stuff; I must’ve heard Sgt. Pepper’s a thousand times before I turned six years old. I’m glad my mom wasn’t a Phil Collins fan. Anyway, here are five songs I remember from those days that made me sad:

1. “The Needle and the Damage Done” by Neil Young and Crazy Horse (from Live Rust): I was a very curious child, and a lot of the time I would ask my mom what a song was about, or what the words meant. I guess explaining what heroin addiction is to your five year old is kind of awkward, but if my mom wasn’t willing to go down that road she shouldn’t have been listening to this album. The upside is, I will never in a million years try heroin thanks to this song.

2. “The Partisan” by Leonard Cohen (from Songs From a Room): I mean, pretty much any Leonard Cohen song I’ve ever heard is sad, but this one really stood out. My mom said it was about being in the French Resistance during World War Two and fighting the Nazis. Being in the French Resistance sounded like a total bummer: “There were three of us this morning / I’m the only one this evening / But I still go on / The frontier is my prison” is heavy stuff for a little kid. And then there’d be a part with a children’s choir backing him up on a verse, in French… I mean, damn.

3. “Walking After Midnight” by Patsy Cline (from the Sweet Dreams soundtrack): My mom played the hell out of this cassette after Sweet Dreams, the Patsy Cline biopic starring Jessica Lange, came out. This song always got to me; it’s more upbeat musically than the rest of the songs on this list, but even a preschooler can hear a lady singing about wandering around in the middle of the night being as lonely as it’s possible for a human to be lonely and get kind of depressed. Also, my mom told me the plot of the movie, and how Patsy Cline’s plane smashed into a mountain when she was still relatively young, and that didn’t make things much cheerier.

4. “She’s Leaving Home” by the Beatles (from Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band): This song is probably my least favorite on the album, listening to it now; it’s actually pretty maudlin and heavy-handed. But when I was in short pants, that harp and those harmonies tugged at my heartstrings until they were ready to pop. Also it’s a song about running away from home forever, which seems scary as hell if you think about it in a practical sense when you’re half a decade old.

5. “96 Tears” by ? and the Mysterians (from the radio): Not actually from a cassette, but I remember this song coming on the radio one night really really late when my mom was driving my sister and I home from visiting some relatives, and it really freaked my shit out. The organ sounded like it wanted to kill me, or at least sneak up on me while I was sleeping and give me bad dreams. And it was a dude singing about crying! A really unhinged-sounding dude… It wasn’t even that it was sad, it was disturbing. I was like four years old. I asked my mom what the song was called, and when she told me I asked her why he was crying exactly that amount tears. She said she didn’t know, and when my mom didn’t know the answer to a question I asked her it just made me all that much more unsettled. Thanks a lot, Question Mark, you creepy unstable bastard.

My family moved to Houston sometime around my eighth birthday. Sometime after that, my mom sold her car and got one with a CD player and mostly just played Carly Simon albums. And listening to Carly Simon all the time made me sad too, but that’s a different story.


Colinski said...


It's not "? Mark and the Mysterians" because that would be redundant. It's "Question Mark and the Mysterians" or "? and the Mysterians". What you wrote would be read "Question Mark Mark and the Mysterians".

This notice brought to you by the Department of Redundancy Department.

I love that song, but it definitely made me sad when I was a little kid too.

Reluctant Kerry said...

Quite sad, but I do envy the variety of music played in your family vehicle. My father had four tapes in his truck. F-O-U-R:

1. Simon and Garfunkel's Greatest Hits

2. Dan Fogelberg Greatest Hits

3. The Soundtrack from "The Man from Snowy River"


4. The Soundtrack from "Paint Your Wagon"

I can't hear "The Boxer" without thinking about hauling leaves to the municipal landfill. My childhood was rich, indeed.

Adam said...

Try having an alcoholic father drunkenly (and repeatedly) explain how Joe Walsh's life story is more compelling than Jesus' while driving around Galveston looking for a donut shop listening to 'Hotel California' for the two-hundred-thousandth time. God bless Texas.

Joe Mathlete said...

That is a very astute observation, Colinski... You've shamed me into editing. Though "Question Mark Mark" would've been just a butt-stupid enough name for the leader of a band as awesomely butt-stupid as ? and the Mysterians.

Kerry: I'm so sorry you had to live through Dan Fogelberg.

Adam: I'm so sorry you had to live through familial alcoholism, the Eagles, and Galveston (not necessarily in that order, but I wouldn't wish any of that on my worst enemy).

Steve D. said...

Joe - This is a great post. I worked in a place during my late teens that played an 'easy listening' portfolio...and Ethel Merman singing God Bless America at noon. Songs that were already easy listening in the late 80's are pretty rare now, but I still get nostalgic when I hear 'em.

Ricky Bush said...

Might be a good thing that your mom didn't get off into the blues like I did at a young age, but then again it didn't warp my kids too much and they are beginning to show signs of success. They even admit to liking the music a bit nowadays. Anyway-- said...

96 Tears ---the 60's hit was by a group called "? and the Mysterians". Yes the question mark was part of the band's name. No wonder they only had one hit come out of that Latin Garage in Detroit.

ParaTed2k said...

I guess you're mom never graduated from AM "top 40". Sorry to hear that. ;~D

mamie said...

Boo and a now, you probably have huge issues about women not talking to you properly, giving you their undivided attention...and depression AAAAAAAAND feeling all alone in back seats?

Gina Alfani said...

OMG . . . 96 Tears!!! I loved that song, although it was a bit bizarre.

You were lucky . . . my parents loved "back in the day" country music . . . I still can't stand the sound of fiddles.

:) Awesome post . . .

dana wyzard said...

96 tears....I'm a child of the 60's and I remember the time when I had such a high fever and in my head, repeatedly...........three words....NINETY SIX TEARS. NINETY SIX TEARS. on and on. WHAT a memory I'd rather forget.

Day Dreamer said...

Ironically, this post made me crack my ass-crack off. But the accurancy's pretty astute. My dad's into those kinds of songs and I actually heard it a few times as a kid, and yep I agree those songs kind of give off that morbid vibe. Some of those songs are sort of strange though,And at the age of 7 I learned that Patsy's one depressed chick. (sorry, I didnt hear that organ, serial killer song by the mysterians, but it sounds pretty hostile.)One song that sort of makes me really depressed is Hallelujah by a band I completely forgot. Funny, its title sounds cheery, but I felt like the world drowned after I heard it.

Jelly said...

my mom listens to the same songs - that in a weird way relate to her life:
Don't Ask Me - OK go (about my dad)
Mr Brightside- The Killers (So about her Ex boyfriend)
We're A Happy Family - The Ramones (our family - neraly littrally.)

namrata achowe said...

top five songs your mom used to play in the car when you were a young child doesnt make me all that sad!! but hey great post!

joanna said...

this is really cute. I also grew up listening to pasty cline and roy orbinson (and I was born in 82 so this is seriously anachronistic) and roamed around the house feeling 'blue' without knowing precisely why... the power of a great artist I guess

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The Duncan said...

The thing that gets me about this post is wondering what I have been doing to my kids with the music in the car. 96 tears being nightmare inducing, I shudder to glimpse the subconcious of a 7 year old King Crimson listener!

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