We left off our series of posts about summer-defining songs a couple of weeks ago with 1975’s “Wildfire” and “I’m Not Lisa.” (The first two posts are here and here.) After that year, I spent two more summers at St. Cloud State before heading off to the world of work.
I wrote earlier this summer about how it felt to move away from Kilian Boulevard during the summer of 1976, and I noted in that post that Lou Rawls’ “You’ll Never Find Another Love Like Mine” was one of the defining sounds of that season. And it was, as its strains take me back to the creaky house on St. Cloud’s North Side where I spent the next nine months. But there are a few other songs – heard on radio and jukebox – that also pull me back to the summer of 1976.
Some of them are “Silly Love Songs” by Wings, “Afternoon Delight” by the Starland Vocal Band, “Moonlight Feels Right” by Starbuck, “I’d Really Love To See You Tonight” by England Dan & John Ford Coley and “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart” by Elton John & Kiki Dee. But the record that surprised me the most this morning with its visceral tug as I browsed the Billboard Hot 100 from July 10, 1976, was “This Masquerade” by George Benson.
Benson’s single doesn’t take to me any specific place or moment, but it feels like the summer of 1976: Moving away from home, taking graduate courses, taking an inventory of library equipment with my long-gone pal Murl, being delighted and confused by having a long-term relationship for the first time. It’s all there under the sound of Benson’s jazzy guitar and subdued vocal.
A year later, I was still spending my days on campus, now having changed my aim from graduate work to a minor in print journalism. My summer course load was all about writing: Writing stories for two editions in a newspaper workshop, writing a three-times a week newscast for a television workshop, writing a script by adapting a short story for a film workshop,* and writing and editing pieces for the arts section of the college paper, the University Chronicle.
By the time that season came around, I was living in a small mobile home that I rented from Murl. My social life was varied, as my girlfriend and I took a break from each other that year that began sometime around the beginning of May and ended in August, when we reunited. It was a busy summer, my last for some time as a student. So what songs take me back there?
Consulting once again the Billboard Hot 100 from mid-summer – this one from July 9, 1977 – I see some resonant titles: “Dreams” by Fleetwood Mac, “Gonna Fly Now” by Bill Conti (which I heard only at the theater and on the stereo in my home but not on the radio), “Easy” by the Commodores, another record by England Dan & John Ford Coley, “It’s Sad To Belong” and “Ariel” by Dean Friedman. (That last is an odd companion to the others, yes, but I heard it the other day on the Seventies channel offered by our cable company, and I was startled by how quickly it tugged me back to the summer of ’77. Maybe it was the “peasant blouse with nothing underneath.”)
The record that yanks me back hardest, however, to that summer of writing and dating and living by myself for the first time is one that’s been featured here in this space at least once and probably more than that: “Smoke From A Distant Fire” by the Sanford/Townsend Band:
I was going to rummage around in the memory chest and see if any of the thirty-five summers since 1977 had such an elemental connection with records, radio and song. But for most of my life after 1977, I was working for a living (in more recent years, being a househusband) and spent little enough time listening to radio. And not even a summer in graduate school in 1984 provides memories linked vividly enough with music. So it’s best to end this exercise here after looking at the ten summers from 1968 through 1977. I’ll be back later this week, possibly with “Yellow,” the next segment of Floyd’s Prism.
*The story I adapted, “The Chaser” by John Collier, was first published in 1940 and continues to be one of the best short stories I’ve ever read. I’d found it in an anthology I’d rescued one summer from the discard pile at St. Cloud State’s library, and because of its elegant use of language, I’d always thought that with the right production it would make a hell of a short film. From what I see online, it was adapted for Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone in 1960, which doesn’t surprise me. I do have two regrets about my adaptation and the rather good film that came out of it: First, miscommunication between me and the folks who did the credits resulted in Collier’s name being omitted from our film, and second, I have somehow managed to lose my copy of the film.