In Hear This, A.V. Club writers sing the praises of songs they know well. This week: the first “cool” songs we ever liked.
I grew up in a land of strip malls and chain restaurants, at a dark, mulleted time in our nation’s history, where the AOR FM radio stations didn’t feature anything edgier than “Mr. Roboto.” Journey was my first concert, with Bryan Adams as an opener. Billy Squier, Foreigner, and Def Leppard comprised my never-ending teenage soundtrack. Some of this music still stands up (“Lonely Is The Night”); some does not (“The Stroke”).
There’s a reason alternative radio used to be called college radio. As I fled suburbia for my Big 10 university, cut my hair off, and used Ally Sheedy’s character from The Breakfast Club as a model for my fashion choices, I was more than ready to finally open my ears to music almost too edgy for MTV. And at the time, it was universally acknowledged that Yaz (to the English: Yazoo), was about the best band there was, cresting the peak of the electronic pop wave.
Upstairs At Eric’s was an excellent gateway for American wanna-be-alternative kids, offering irrepressible synthesizer pop hooks to background Alison Moyet, an elegant, torchy songstress decades before Adele. Years later, it’s amazing how well this album still holds up (much better than Squier does)—there’s not a clunker on it. The singles “Don’t Go” (which did get an MTV video), “Only You,” and “Situation”; the somber “Winter Kills”; mournful “Midnight”; and “Bad Connection,” as poppy and friendly as any Motown girl-group song. It even had a track called “Goodbye Seventies,” officially ushering in a new, better era, with grunts that sounded like the band was literally throwing the old decade away.
I spent a lot of time in my dorm room listening to this record on a new-fangled Walkman, so as not to disturb my sorority-girl roommates. Maybe it was this sense of isolation—as a punk wannabe on an extremely Greek campus—that gravitated me toward “In My Room.” The last track on side one of my Eric’s cassette is one of few songs on the record to feature vocals in addition to Moyet’s, as a series of vocal and synth tracks are layered over each other, with a random electronic drum as affecting as any real kit. The vocal scraps by Moyet’s bandmate, former Depeche Mode member Vince Clarke, include The Lord’s Prayer, which appealed to the lapsed Catholic in me, alongside super-heavy English accents asking questions like “Where are you?” The song sounds like someone hiding in a room, like I was, dreaming of a better room, somewhere. “In My Room,” like the album overall, single-handedly erased any fears that electronic music would be soulless and bloodless, proving that this new musical breed could still offer heartfelt emotional depth.
From today’s viewpoint, “In My Room” may resemble a dated synthpop scrapbook. But for a solitary teen navigating a brave new world, it sounded like a doorway into a cooler, better life.