For example, when I was 4 years old, one of my favorite things to do was to dance around my living room to the soundtrack from The Big Chill (on cassette tape, naturally). My least favorite song was "A Whiter Shade of Pale," because it was slow and sad and talked about virgins. My most favorite song was definitely "Good Lovin'" by The Young Rascals. It is the stuff spastic underpants dance parties are made of.
(I didn't know they had a Pilgrim tambourine player, did you? What is going on here?)
Fun fact: Years later, I would finally watch The Big Chill expecting an energetic romp set to Motown classics. I would be depressed for weeks afterwards.
When I was ten, like every other girl in America, I purchased Madonna's Immaculate Collection, which I would listen to over and over on my Walkman, pretending I was performing for my entire elementary school. My favorite track was "Like a Prayer," because it required the most elaborate staging in my imaginary show. There was the gospel choir, obviously, who I generally hid behind a curtain until their big reveal a few minutes in, dressed in sparkling silver robes and making furious jazz hands. Then there was the lighting: it started with a single spotlight on me, but as the tempo picked up lasers got involved. And finally there was the question of a small platform that would rise up as the song reached its climax, lifting me above the gospel choir in all of my fifth grade splendor. (YouTube won't let me embed the video, but you know you want to watch it again.)
Sometimes I would practice singing "Like a Prayer" in my bedroom--practicing, I guess, for the day that the imaginary concert became real, as if my glee club teacher would turn to me out of the blue and say "You know what? Fuck Pablo the Reindeer. I want you to do a revue of Madonna's entire musical canon!" I used to tape record myself, and once the recorder caught a moment when my sister, then four, interrupted me. I yelled at her in perfect pitch, without stopping the song: "Life is a mystery--get out of my room!--everyone must stand alone..."
Summers of my youth were defined by Billy Joel's Storm Front album, which my parents always played during our annual vacations in Block Island, Rhode Island. I can't talk about my love for this album in front of Jeff, because he hates Billy Joel with the burning passion of a thousand suns.
Luckily I know all the lyrics to "We Didn't Start the Fire," and so can torment him easily whenever I want.
Puberty was all about early 90s rap and hip-hop (which offends Jeff only slightly less), and no song sticks in my memory more than "Informer" by white Canadian reggae rapper Snow (who, judging by this video, looks like Skippy from Family Ties if he had grown up to become a classics professor. WTF? I for one always imagined a badass Jamaican guy.)
There's a line in the song about where Snow comes from, but since he raps in what sounds like pig latin it's impossible to decipher. The general consensus in 7th grade was the he was "born and raised in Connecticut," although internet searches present alternative translations: "Etobicoke," which apparently is someplace in Toronto; and "the ghetto." Nowadays of course the question isn't "Where is he from?" but "Where did he go?" If this song is a clue, he is probably licking someone's boom boom down.
This next one is kind of sad. My grandfather died when I was seventeen. He was my first major death but I couldn't cry--not when I heard, not at the wake, not at the funeral (In restrospect it didn't help that my great uncle made jokes throughout. When we lowered my grandfather's body into the ground, into one half of a shared plot reserved for his extremely Catholic spinster girlfriend, Uncle Jerry muttered, "Phil's finally gonna get laid by Claire.") Anyway, eight months later, packing for college, I finally cried. I was listening to, of all things, the soundtrack to Boogie Nights, and “Sister Christian” by Night Ranger came on. Something about the lyrics and the sad, slow melody flipped a switch and I started to sob, collapsing onto my half-packed suitcase. Now, whenever I listen to that song I well up, not just because of grandpa but also because fucking Night Ranger makes me cry, which is so incredibly lame.
Then of course came college and Liz Phair, Lauryn Hill, Radiohead and existential crises, but that's a blog for another day.