Songs in the Key of (My) Life

The Cowsills

I recently went through a difficult life transition that, like most transitions, led me to a reflective place. This time around, I was drawn to music to help me process — as Stevie Wonder might say, “Songs in the Key of Life” except they were the keys of my life.

I began YouTubing everything from one-hit wonders like “The Rain, the Park, and Other Things,” by The Cowsills, a family band that predated the Jackson 5 and the Osmond Brothers; to smash hits like Elton John’s “Tiny Dancer,” “Goodbye Norma Jean,” and everything else he’s ever recorded; to full albums, including “Déjà Vu” and “Tapestry,” titles that need no explanations. I also had days of listening to certain genres like folk, southern rock, rock and roll, and my all-time favorite, Motown.

I recalled the first single I ever owned — “Sugar, Sugar,” by the Archies — a gift from my oldest brother. I remembered being in junior high and saving money to buy “I’ll Be There” at a little record store next to my dad’s candy store that once was a fish market. They, along with so many others, now sit in a silver and white box of coveted records that I still own, complete with an index.

I smiled, thinking about where my friends and I were when we found out that it was Warren Beatty who was so vain, Judy Collins who had suite blue eyes, and who Suzanne of “Fire and Rain” fame was and what happened to her. Or when we virtually checked in to the “Hotel California,” stood on the corner in Winslow, Arizona, or crossed to the other side of Abbey Road and Penny Lane.

The early 70s were particularly memorable. Whether the music came in the form of a 45, 78, or LP, I was playing it on my red Panasonic Close-n-Play record player. During those teenage-year summers, I would pack that portable, battery-powered “stereo” on camp trips to the White Mountains of New Hampshire, the Hershey Factory in Pennsylvania, Miami Beach in Florida, and everywhere in between. Truth be told, I remember the music more than the places, especially The Beatles: “Let It Be,” “Here Comes the Sun,” and “Hey Jude.” If I close my eyes and open my ears, I can still hear a busload of 14-year-olds belting out ‘na, na, na, nanana, nananana, heyey Jude.” It is music to my ears, pun completely intended.

I wandered over the comment sections of these classic videos. Fellow Baby Boomers wrote nostalgically about falling in love over a song, or reminisced about what was playing at their prom or sadly, a funeral. Young adults chimed in, recalling the day their parents replaced their boy band music with Bob Dylan or Peter, Paul, and Mary. (We didn’t have “girl bands” until Pat Benatar broke the acoustic glass ceiling. We had something better: Joan Baez, Judy Collins, Carole King, and Carly Simon.) No matter the age, everyone was in agreement. These songs were poetry in motion, stories of love and loss and dreams and pain. Simon and Garfunkel, The Eagles, Bruce Springsteen, and Jackson Browne gave us the words to say how we felt when we couldn’t find them ourselves, when all we heard were the “Sounds of Silence” and needed a “Bridge Over Troubled Waters.”

It was true then and it is still true today. I’ve lived long enough to have accumulated infinite song memories. The keepers, for me, the “Let’s Stay Together,” the “Hello, It’s Me,” the “When I Get It Right,” the “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” the “Ooh, Child,” among thousands upon thousands of others, still compel me to close my eyes and slowly sway or dance until I am breathless. They do what music has always done and that is transport me to another space in time when I need to escape the space I’m in.

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