Snow Day

One of the biggest winter storms in several years is slamming a huge portion of the United States today. Kids are praying for snow days, businesses are closing early—and media outlets are overreacting. It’s a mystery to me why, up here in the snow belt, where winter comes shortly after Halloween every year, the local TV take on every big storm is one click north of panic. I tried summing it up on Twitter last night: “Snow snow snow oh my god snow everybody go out buy food stay home it’s the end snowstorm blizzard frozen death snow aggggggggh.”

Whenever I hear an anchor or reporter say, “If you don’t have to travel tonight, please don’t,” I remember a wise old newsman who said, “It’s not our job to tell people to stay home. If the cops or the weather service say that people should stay home, we’ll report it, but we don’t make the call on our own.” Our job was to tell people what was happening (or not happening), and not to take on responsibilities above our pay grade. We weren’t rigid about it, though—if you’d just spent an hour on your typically-10-minute commute to work, it was perfectly acceptable to say that on the air and let people draw their own conclusions. On that score, I’d take the word of a wise old newsman more seriously than that of a callow young local TV reporter who was in the sixth grade the last time there was a storm this big.

Looking over my Desert Island list, I find a couple of songs that remind me of the giant snowstorms of youth, the kind we always say we don’t get anymore. There’s Badfinger’s beautiful “Day After Day,” featuring George Harrison’s indescribably sweet guitar, Leon Russell on piano, and one of the greatest singalong lyrics the English language has ever known, which rode the charts in the winter of 1972. On snowy mornings back then, we were never allowed to stay in bed on spec, gambling that school would be called off—we had to get up and get ready. When the word came that school was closed, we were already prepared for the world of adventure that opened before us. We might go sledding, or play in the barn, or surround ourselves with toys in the bedroom or the living room. By 1972, I’d have spent a lot of time listening to WLS, because I never got to hear the midday jocks when I was in school.

“Can’t Get It Out of My Head” by ELO ran the charts at the very end of winter and into the early spring of 1975. I was a freshman in high school by then, and home life would not have been quite so idyllic as it might have been three years before. On a snow day, I would have been less inclined to go sledding by then, and not at all inclined to build hay forts in the barn. But I would have had the radio on through the middle of that winter’s snow days too, often the big console stereo in the room we called the sunporch, where the FM station I liked sounded so much better than it did on my little bedroom portable.

We love the songs we love because of the constellation of associations that accompany them. Snow-covered winter mornings home from school are not my only associations with “Day After Day” and “Can’t Get It Out of My Head,” and not even the primary ones that make them Desert Island essential. But on this particular snowy morning, they’re the ones that matter.

Whole World Misty Blue

Everybody’s got one magic season in their lives, and as I’ve noted here a million times before, the summer of 1976 is mine. It’s no surprise, then, that the summer of ’76 is well represented on my Desert Island list, with eight singles that rode the charts between the end of May and the end of August. One of them I mentioned in the previous installment, “Fool to Cry” by the Rolling Stones. Here are the others, in chronological order:

“Strange Magic”/Electric Light Orchestra. More than most of the songs on this list, “Strange Magic” is associated with a single strong image. It’s morning, one of those days that’s going to be hotter than hell, and you know it the moment you wake up in your house without air conditioning. It’s the kind of day on which you can see heat rising from the cornfields, and every time I hear that humid opening guitar lick of “Strange Magic,” I can see it again.

“Misty Blue”/Dorothy Moore. I grew up with a healthy respect for soul music, and although I wouldn’t have fully understood the genre’s historical arc in 1976, I knew enough to understand that this was old-school, and breathtaking besides.

“I’ll Be Good to You”/Brothers Johnson. A different kind of soul, smooth and funky. My local radio stations didn’t play this enough to suit me. No radio station could, so I bought the album, Look Out for #1, but it ain’t going to the island with me, as it was one of the most disappointing albums I ever bought. “I’ll Be Good to You,” however—can’t leave home without it.

“I’ll Get Over You”/Crystal Gayle. I probably heard this on my parents’ country station that summer, but it didn’t register until I got into country radio myself a few years later. It’s for anybody who ever thought, “Think I can’t do it? Just watch me”—and then, with everybody watching, failed to do it.

“Kiss and Say Goodbye”/Manhattans. From the same emotional place “Misty Blue” originated, and “Me and Mrs. Jones,” too. That spoken opening—“this has got to be the saddest day of my life”—still kills me. Dig the Manhattans’ choreography.

“Get Closer”/Seals and Crofts. Another strong image: Sometime in the 80s or early 90s, I am driving on a late-summer day when “Get Closer” comes on, and I’m suddenly struck with the certainty that the portal back to the summer of 1976 is very, very near—only I can’t tell where it is. The song was nothing special to me in 1976, but since that weird moment in the car has it become an essential—in case it opens the portal again.

“Moonlight Feels Right”/Starbuck. No record better sums up the sound of the summer of 1976 as I heard it back then.

I said when I started this series that I might write about some songs that could be added to the list, but I’m reluctant to start adding songs from the summer of 1976, because I might never stop. Although that would be more of a problem for you than it would be for me.