A few months ago, I scored a perfect condition Crosley Vinyl Record Player like the ones above for just $10 at a garage sale. I’ve been dying to get one for my niece Emmi so I could assemble her Eighties vinyl starter pack. Any excuse to pop a Zyrtec and prowl around dusty old record stores, right?
I’m really curious to see if the music of my teen years resonates with someone whose bangs aren’t locked in their full and upright position. I mean, can you even comprehend Robert Smith-level angst if you’ve actually had a car and a boyfriend in high school?
There’s only one way to find out.
Following are four Eighties vinyl must-haves I want to start Emmi out on:
Prince – Purple Rain
This is one of those rare albums where every single song is fantastic. Yes, even “Darling Nikki,” the song that helped get albums labeled with Parental Advisory stickers. Apparently the Vice President’s 11-year-old Karenna Gore, (daughter of Al and Tipper) wasn’t as fast as I was when flinging herself across the room to turn down “Darling Nikki” before her mom heard it. (Parental Advisory stickers = be advised, you’ll need to turn this off when your parents are around.) My gym teacher taught us a choreographed routine to Baby, I’m a Star and those daily dance numbers in fourth period were probably the most blissfully unselfconscious moments of my entire high school career. So much so, that when I found out my friend Courtney had been an actual back up dancer for Prince, I had to force myself not to squeal, “Me too!” Fun fact: the album’s music engineer was the ultra-cool Susan Rogers, one of the first female pioneers on the technical side of the business. #girlpower
The Smiths – The Queen is Dead
Compared to the raw exuberance of Purple Rain, The Queen is Dead might be a bit of a downer. And yeah, I guess with songs like “I Never Had No One Ever” (“I know I’m alone/ I’m alone, I’m alone, I’m alone”), it is a bit bleak. But sometimes bleak can be a great comfort. My senior year, when my family was about to move to Montgomery and I knew I’d be leaving all my friends behind, my friend Jennifer and I would blow off tennis practice to ride around listening to The Smiths (“Driving in your car/I never, never want to go home/Because I haven’t got one/Anymore”) and New Order, usually making our way to Taco Bell where our friend Everette would load us down with free nachos. (My Freshman 15 was the 15 el-bees I lost not doing that anymore.)
On the cover of my notebook, I wrote the lyrics to “I Know It’s Over” (“Oh Mother, I can feel the soil falling over my head/And as I climb into an empty bed/Oh well. Enough said’), which interpreted a certain way (say, in English), might sound like a cry for help. My creative writing teacher Ms. Crawford, also a fan of The Smiths, kept me after class to ask there was anything I wanted to talk about. I desperately wanted there to be, but really I wasn’t depressed or even sad – no matter how hard I tried. I simply wanted to be so much more complex and special than I was – deep enough not to care that I wasn’t pretty, angst-ridden enough to fool people into thinking I was talented. (“If you’re so funny/Then why are you on your own tonight?”) Ms. Crawford seemed to understand that yearning in me. She told me it was ok to feel my feelings, but to give myself time to become the version of myself that would better suit me. Oh, and to ask for help if I needed it – important advice that helped me later in life.
The Cure – Standing on a Beach
Choosing a compilation album for my Eighties vinyl starter pack is kind of a cheat, but this one has so many good songs. With “Boys Don’t Cry” and “In Between Days”, you’ve got late bloomer breakup ballads that nurse you through loss and regret. “Close to Me” is an infectious ode to yearning for something, anything, that’s different, better, more satisfying. And “Let’s Go To Bed” is a foreshadowing of how frustrating those endless text fights can be when you both need to just shut off your phone and go the eff to sleep.
I know The Cure’s 1989 album Disintegration gets all the love, but for me, Standing on The Beach shows the band’s potential, it bears the weight of all the expectations people have of what the Robert Smith is capable of – and that feels right for Emmi’s transition from high school to college.
Pretty in Pink soundtrack
Yes, my Eighties Vinyl Starter Pack has two soundtracks on it (Purple Rain being the other one.) But this one is SO good. It’s like a sampler platter of coming of age Eighties alternative music, with bands like Psychedelic Furs, OMD, Echo & the Bunnymen and INXS. Susanne Vega’s “Left of Center” (“But I’m only in the outskirts and in the fringes/On the edge and off the avenue/And if you want me you can find me/Left of center wondering about you.”) could pass for a page from my diary and with “Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want,” The Smiths pretty much summed up my whole high school experience in less than 2 minutes. (Spoiler alert: I never ever got what I wanted and that ended up being a good thing.)
What about your record player selections? Any Eighties music in there? What songs do you think will sum up your high school/college experience the way these do for me?