Music I listened to obsessively while writing this book:
Billy Joel — various albums, but especially The Stranger, Glass Houses, Songs in the Attic, and The Bridge — Billy Joel’s The Stranger was the second LP I ever bought (the first was Olivia Newton John’s Totally Hot; more about that shortly). Though I don’t listen to him as often as I did back in the day, he’s still my all-time favorite musician, and it’s always fun to crank up “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant” and play air-piano during the bridge between the second and third sections.
Elton John — various albums, but especially Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, Madman Across the Water, and Don’t Shoot Me, I’m Only the Piano Player — My second all-time favorite musician.
ABBA — various albums — The great happy pop band of my youth; plus, I thought Frida was a babe. Although the greatest hits album is more than enough ABBA for most people, there are a number of good songs—like “Hole in Your Soul” from ABBA: the Album, and the title track from Arrival—that never make it into compilations.
Elvis Costello — various albums, but especially Blood & Chocolate, King of America, Imperial Bedroom, and Punch the Clock — He appeared live with Nick Lowe at Cornell my senior year, and I’ve been a die-hard fan ever since…though I still don’t know what to make of The Juliet Letters.
Olivia Newton-John — the Grease and Xanadu movie soundtracks — She was the first pop star I ever had a crush on. Although I genuinely liked her singing (and still do), I probably wouldn’t have paid nearly as much attention to her if she hadn’t been so damn cute. When Grease opened at the Elmhurst theater in Queens, my friends and I went to see it every weekend for a month (we’d go out to the lobby and play video games during the slow parts, and come running back in to catch “Greased Lightning” and the big finale). Then in 1980 Olivia appeared in another musical, Xanadu, playing a muse who falls in love with a down-on-his-luck artist…yes, that’s right, Olivia Newton-John was the earliest inspiration for Fool on the Hill’s Calliope. Sorry if that ruins the novel for you. (P.S., the movie is now available on widescreen DVD; for a seriously scary ‘80s flashback, try watching it as a double feature with Can’t Stop the Music.)
Electric Light Orchestra — Discovery — Featuring the immortal “Diary of Horace Wimp.” File next to the Xanadu soundtrack.
Kansas — various albums, but especially Point of Know Return, Leftoverture, Audio-Visions, Drastic Measures, and Two for the Show — I used a quote from “Portrait (He Knew)” as the caption for my high school yearbook photo. Also worth checking out is the solo album Schemer-Dreamer by Kansas lead singer Steve Walsh.
Rush — Moving Pictures — Before starting Fool on the Hill, I wrote two other (unpublished) novels, one of which, Today’s Tom Sawyer, got its title from the Rush song. “Red Barchetta” would have made an interesting novel, too, I think.
Meat Loaf — Bat out of Hell — Standard equipment. It’s well known that Meat Loaf’s other albums suck, but I’m also partial to the title duet (with Cher) from Dead Ringer, mainly because I thought the video was cool.
Squeeze — Singles: 45’s and Under and Argybargy — Given the number of great songs they had, I really expected these guys to last, but they seem to have completely dropped off the cultural radar.
The Police — Outlandos d’Amour, Reggatta De Blanc, and Synchronicity — One of the signature memories of my college years is watching my best friend Jeff Schwaner jumping up and down as he lip-synched “Peanuts.”
The Who — Who’s Next — One of the classics. Pete Townshend’s first two solo albums, Empty Glass and All the Best Cowboys Have Chinese Eyes, were also big faves.
Aerosmith — Toys in the Attic — More standard equipment.
Simon & Garfunkel/Paul Simon — Simon & Garfunkel Greatest Hits, The Concert in Central Park, and Graceland — Background music to my childhood in NYC, but I don’t think I fully appreciated them until the Central Park concert.
Richard Fariña & Mimi Baez — The Best of Mimi and Richard Fariña — Richard Fariña is the author of Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up to Me, another Cornell cult novel that was a big inspiration to me when I was writing Fool on the Hill. Before dying tragically in a motorcycle accident, he also recorded a couple of albums with Joan Baez’s sister. Irish- and Cuban-influenced folk music isn’t usually my thing, but it’s very good if you’re in the mood for it. My favorite tracks include “Bold Marauder,” “Michael, Andrew and James,” “Mainline Prosperity Blues,” “House un-American Blues Activity Dream,” and “Children of Darkness.”
Bruce Springsteen — Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J. — If you’re from the New York/New Jersey area, the rule is you like either Billy Joel or Bruce Springsteen, but not both. I’m firmly in the Billy camp—Born to Run doesn’t do squat for me—but this album was an exception. After years of listening to the Manfred Mann cover of “Blinded by the Light,” it was a revelation to finally understand the lyrics (e.g., “cut loose like a deuce,” not “wrapped up like a douche”).
Eurythmics — Be Yourself Tonight and Revenge — So does anybody know whether Annie Lennox and Dave Stewart were actually sleeping together at some point?
Heart — Dog & Butterfly and Heart — “Dog & Butterfly” was a favorite song of a girl I kinda sorta was involved with for ten minutes during freshman year at Cornell, so I have a sentimental attachment to it; other than that, the only Heart songs I was ever crazy about were the rock power ballads from their 1985 album. Now that I live in the Wilson sisters’ home town, I should probably give Dreamboat Annie another listen.
Alice Cooper — From the Inside — I don’t remember who turned me on to this bit of weirdness, but it’s a hoot: a mini-rock opera set inside a mental asylum. Highlights include “For Veronica’s Sake,” about a patient who wants to escape so he can save his pet dog from being put to sleep, and the climactic anthem “Inmates (We’re All Crazy).” Bernie Taupin wrote all the lyrics, which helps explain why it’s so good.
Weird Al Yankovic — Weird Al Yankovic, In 3-D, and Dare to be Stupid — You saw this coming a mile away, right?
Allan Sherman — My Son, the Greatest: The Best of Allan Sherman — Allan Sherman was Weird Al to my parents’ generation. He’s the guy who did “Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah,” and numerous other forgotten song parodies.
10,000 Maniacs — In My Tribe — Featuring Natalie Merchant, before she went solo and became annoying. If you live near a good used CD and record store, try to find the original version of the album that includes the Maniacs’ cover of Cat Stevens’ “Peace Train.”
Prince — 1999, Purple Rain soundtrack, and Around the World in a Day — He was never a favorite, but there were always at least one or two songs on each of his albums that I had to listen to repeatedly.
REM — Lifes Rich Pageant and Document — I didn’t like their early albums, but once Michael Stipe started enunciating I realized they were actually pretty good.
Genesis — Genesis and Abacab — More happy pop. I liked all of Peter Gabriel’s solo albums, too, including the German versions of his third and fourth LPs, Ein Deutsches Album and Deutsches Album, which somebody in Risley had bootlegs of.
Talking Heads — Stop Making Sense, Little Creatures, and True Stories — I have this pet theory that “And She Was” from Little Creatures is about the Virgin Mary getting pregnant with Jesus. Keep it in mind next time you listen to the song.
The Rainmakers — The Rainmakers — I think their only hit was “Let My People Go-Go,” but this whole album was fun. You can order copies through the band’s website at www.rainmakers.com.
ZZ Top — Eliminator — All the songs on this album sounded pretty much the same, just played at different speeds, but it didn’t matter.
AC/DC — Highway to Hell, Back in Black, and Who Made Who — Another band often accused of playing the same song over and over with slight variations, but again, who cares? They rocked.
The Ramones — Ramones, Road to Ruin, End of the Century, and Pleasant Dreams — See previous comments about ZZ Top and AC/DC.
Joan Jett (& the Blackhearts) — Bad Reputation, Album, and I Love Rock & Roll — Another crush-object, but unlike Olivia Newton-John, she was just way, way too cool for me, and I knew it.
Pat Benatar — Seven the Hard Way — Crimes of Passion and In the Heat of the Night were fun to look at, but Seven is the P.B. album I most often listened to, at least until Wide Awake in Dreamland was released.
Twisted Sister — Stay Hungry and Come Out and Play — I only liked three of their songs (“We’re Not Gonna Take It,” “I Wanna Rock,” and “Be Chrool to Your Scuel”), but I played them a lot. Stay Hungry had the ugliest cover of any album I ever owned, so I tended to keep it face down.
Suzanne Vega — Suzanne Vega and Solitude Standing — Also check out Tom’s Album, a compilation of cover versions of “Tom’s Diner.”
The Kinks — various albums, but especially State of Confusion and Low Budget — I lost interest in these guys after college. I’m still not sure why. They were great.
Ozzy Osbourne — Blizzard of Ozz and Ultimate Sin — Ozzy! Ozzy! Ozzy!
Duke Jupiter — Duke Jupiter 1 and Taste the Night — My buddy Jeff Schwaner once commented that Duke Jupiter’s songs were much better than their performances, and what they really needed was a lively cover band to steal their material. He had a point, but I still enjoyed listening to them, and I guess other folks must have felt the same way: though the group got lost in the switch from records to CDs, there was enough pent-up demand that their most popular albums have finally been rereleased in limited editions. Visit www.dukejupiter.com for details.
Katrina & The Waves — Katrina & The Waves — Most people only remember them for their hit “Walking on Sunshine,” but this band had a lot of great songs.
Steve Miller Band — Greatest Hits 1974-78 — Includes “Jungle Love,” “Take the Money and Run,” “The Joker,” and “Jet Airliner.”
Little River Band — Greatest Hits — Another great compilation album, with “Lonesome Loser,” “Cool Change,” and “Help is on its Way.”
Supertramp — Breakfast in America — A good album to listen to when you want to wallow in a depression.
Buckner & Garcia — Pac-Man Fever — Eight songs about eight different ‘80s video games. Better than you might think, although if you didn’t grow up playing Asteroids and Berserk it might not have the same resonance for you.
Men Without Hats — Collection — “S…A…F…E…T…Y…”
Men At Work — Business as Usual and Cargo — Great while they lasted.
David Bowie — Hunky Dory, The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust, and, especially, the soundtrack from Jim Henson’s Labyrinth — I liked him best when he was singing with muppets. I can’t explain or defend this, it’s just a fact.
REO Speedwagon — You Can Tune a Piano But You Can’t Tuna Fish and Hi Infidelity — I like the Little Rascals outtake that precedes “Tough Guys” on Hi Infidelity, but Tuna Fish was a better album overall.
Steve Winwood — Back in the High Life — “Higher Love” was the bigger hit off this album, and it had a great video, but I think I like the title track best.
Huey Lewis & The News — Picture This and Sports — Big fun for a while, but they haven’t aged well.
Bob Seger & The Silver Bullet Band — Stranger in Town — I bought this for the song “Feel Like a Number,” which was featured in the movie Body Heat, and ended up liking the whole album.
Valley Girl soundtrack — One of my favorite films, and the soundtrack was a blast. The Josie Cotton songs alone justify the purchase.
The Breakfast Club soundtrack — I liked the movie a lot, although I remember thinking at the time that I was probably about two or three years too old to fully appreciate it. Great soundtrack, though.
Fame (1980) soundtrack — “I Sing the Body Electric” still gets me.
Super Hits of the ‘70s: Have a Nice Day — Prior to the arrival of Rhapsody, this compilation series from Rhino Records was great for snagging hit songs from bands and albums that were otherwise long gone. I especially liked volumes 13 (“Midnight at the Oasis,” “Billy Don’t Be a Hero,” “The Night Chicago Died”), 18 (“Dream Weaver,” “Let Your Love Flow”), 19 (“Undercover Angel,” “Lonely Boy,” “Still the One”), 21 (“Thunder Island,” “Magnet and Steel”), and 22 (“Hot Child in the City,” “Lotta Love,” “Stumblin’ In,” “Driver’s Seat”).