When I think back to high school, there are people and sounds that I will never forget. I may be driving down the road listening to XM/Sirius when a song comes on that immediately transports me back to that time, that place, that person. Music is not just background, it is an indelible marker which taps into our emotions like a living, breathing person. When I think back, I think of my high school job, the phenomenally talented musicians at my high school, and of course, the parties.
I worked at a a lunch counter/ice cream shop that was walking distance from my house. Most of the other girls who worked there were from our rival school, Pontiac Northern – I went to Pontiac Central. Our polyester uniforms were orange with a yellow collar, very short and zipped up the front. The only good thing about them was that if I spilled bittersweet hot fudge sauce on it, I rocked our high school colors – orange and black. I also realized that if I was in back on dish detail, “Strawberry Letter 23” by The Brothers Johnson was gonna play on the radio no less than twice. It was at this lunch counter where I met and fell into fast friendship with Shirley.
- Click to hear Strawberry Letter 23: The Brothers Johnson – Strawberry Letter 23
Shirley was loud, funny, REALLY blonde and had a heart of gold. (She’s still all those things!) Although I was more into R & B, Funk and Jazz, when I hear “Anytime” by Journey or “Hot Child in the City” by Nick Gilder, I ALWAYS think of Shirley. I remember driving for hours in her car, radio or cassette blaring, she smoking Kool longs, me perhaps smoking another herb and her yelling at me to “Blow that shit out the window – you’re gonna get us arrested!” She introduced me to Patti Smith – Godmother of Punk Rock – which lead us to a Patti Smith concert. Both of us went punked and hair dyed. Unfortunately for Shirley, the blue dye stuck to her blond and her hair turned green when she washed it. She looked like the Lucky Charms leprechaun for at least a week. But it was worth it since we got to see Patti preform “Because the Night” live.
- Click to hear “Anytime”: Anytime JOURNEY – (Steve & Gregg)
- Click to hear “Hot Child”: Nick Gilder – Hot Child In The City (full version)
- Click to hear “Because the Night”: Patti Smith Group – Because the night 1978
There were some incredibly talented musicians at Pontiac Central. Rob, John, brothers Mike and Darryl, Robert, Gil,Vance, and many others, performed in Jazz band and Marching band, competed in Solo and Ensemble. Most are pretty much rocking their talents as professional musicians or are still playing and performing. Whether playing an all musical arrangement of Chicago’s “25 or 6 to 4 , Average White Band’s “Pick Up the Pieces”, Duke Ellington’s “Harlem Nocturne”, or Glenn Miller’s “St. Louis Blues March”, the sound of the brass, woodwind and percussion exploded in talent and technique far beyond their years. If I haven’t said it…thank you for the great memories!
- Click to hear “25 or 6 to 4”: 01 25 or 6 to 4
- Click to hear “Pick Up the Pieces”: 06 Pick Up The Pieces
- Click to hear “Harlem Nocturne”: 15 Harlem Nocturne
- Click to hear “St. Louis Blues March”: St. Louis Blues March
And then there were the parties. The drinking age was still 18, and although most of us weren’t, there was a bit of that – Blue Motorcycles as I recall; games of spades and hearts, and dancing…lots of dancing. It was the ’70’s so there was never a time when Van McCoy’s “The Hustle” didn’t rear its head. Earth, Wind and Fire was a constant with “Got to Get You into My Life,” “Shining Star,” “Fantasy,” and my personal favorite, “September.” I still play it LOUD LOUD LOUD in the car and my office…
- Click to hear “The Hustle”: The Hustle
- Click to hear “September”: 07 September 1
As the night would wear on, the music would lean toward disco and funk: “Le Freak” by Chic – complete with accompaning freak dance, Ohio Players “Fire”, Average White Band’s “Cut the Cake”, and Wild Cherry’s “Play That Funky Music White Boy.”
- Click to hear “Le Freak”: Chic- Le Freak
- Click to hear “Fire”: 06 Fire
- Click to hear “Cut the Cake”: Average White Band – Cut The Cake (vinyl audio)
- Click to hear “Play that Funky Music”: Wild Cherry – Play That Funky Music White Boy
Our school, our friends and our music reflected the diversity of our lives. We cheered, danced, sang to the beat of different drummers. We were – are – a community of students bonded with friendships and the music shared throughout our high school years. Not everybody had the opportunities we did, and many may forget the memories we carry with us. I think of many people from high school at different times, and usually, it is triggered by music. I hope I jogged your memory a bit and hope that you, too, have your own musical triggers that send you thinking about that time, that place, that person.
What kind of music did YOU listen to in high school? Who were your favorites and what do they mean to you?
In case you’re jonesing for any of the music featured here, it is available for download from iTunes with the links below:
“Strawberry Letter 23” – The Brothers Johnson
“Anytime You Want Me” – Journey
“Hot Child in the City” – Nick Gilder
“Because the Night” – Patti Smith
“Pick up the Pieces” – Average White Band
“Harlem Nocturne” – Duke Ellington
“St. Louis Blues March” – Glenn Miller
“September” – Earth, Wind & Fire
“Cut the Cake” – Average White Band
“Play that Funky Music” – Wild Cherry