Love Song Yearbook: Ten Songs That Shaped My Idea of Love

Olivia Newton-John has a lot to answer for.

By Jennifer Keishin Armstrong

The music we like when we're young shapes us in a lot of ways. It might give you a lifelong disrespect for The Man, or it might make you a hopeless romantic. In Love Song Yearbook, we're interested in what songs shaped your idea of love at different ages. Want to submit your own Love Song Yearbook? Email with "Love Song Yearbook" in the subject line.

1. Age four-ish - "Hopelessly Devoted to You," Olivia Newton-John

I saw Grease approximately 7.9 million times after it came out in 1978, and I wore out the soundtrack record with my friends. We liked to "play Grease," and I always insisted on being Sandy. I wish that the ironic storytelling of "Summer Nights" or the playful sexiness of "You're the One That I Want" had caught my budding romantic imagination, but the sappy "Hopelessly Devoted" got to me instead. All three of these songs present, let's say, problematic readings of gender roles, but at least the snappier tunes were a fun version of love. This ballad is sung to an imaginary (and idealized) version of Danny shimmering in a kiddie pool as Sandy mourns her humiliation at the hands of Rizzo at a sleepover. She swings around the pillar of a gazebo in angst at one point, a move I copied endlessly by swaying around and around my canopy-bed pole until I was dizzy. I blame this song for all the desperate pining I'd do in my teens and early twenties for boys who had no idea how to love me.

2. Age six - "Escape (The Pina Colada Song)," Rupert Holmes

This song gave me my first hint of the more complicated, realistic side of love: the married narrator places a personal ad, and who answers it? (O. Henry alert!) His own wife! And then they just sort of laugh it off and revive the old magic when they learn something new about each other: yes, they both like pina coladas... and getting caught in the rain. This is a surprisingly open view of near-infidelity for a pop song, and I dig it. I swear that I got it even back then, as my mother sang along with this song every time it came on the car radio. I would later use a play on this as a headline on my online-dating profile — which happened to snag me my current domestic partner. (Thanks, Nerve!) And thanks, Rupert Holmes, wherever you're sipping pina coladas now.

3. Age nine - "Careless Whisper," George Michael

Oh, good lord, George Michael. I was very much going to marry him, and the fact that he would later come out makes my attraction even more prescient. In high school, I would fall in love with several gay men, one of them the first truly mature love of my life. This song, though: so forlorn! So riveting! "I'm never gonna dance again/Guilty feet have got no rhythm!" I was developing a flair for making my relationships dramatic in my own head that would serve me poorly through my twenties.

4. Age ten - "Broken Wings," Mister Mister

This song came out not too long after "Careless Whisper" — and, in fact, looking at the charts from 1985, I see that almost every song there tugs at some primal emotional center in my heart. This song, in particular, evokes skating parties at the Tinley Park Roller Rink and the prospect that Mark Corte or Tim Wilson would ask me to couples-skate. Both did, at one point or another, but Tim Wilson owns this song for me; I think I thought it expressed how he was going to take my broken wings so I could learn to fly again after the heartbreak of Mark Corte no longer liking me. Or something like that.

5. Age twelve - "Alone," Heart

Two things about this one: first, it's all about the tumultuous relationship I was having, again mostly in my head, with Greg Blakely. I was "going out" with him, but in reality this mainly consisted of us nodding "hi" to each other in the halls and sometimes watching MTV for hours "together" on the phone, saying very little. Second, I sang it at an eighth-grade graduation party with my best friend Katie Janeczek while we wore bathing suits and cover-ups (it was a pool party), backed by a band called Chili Man and the Crackers. (The lead guy was Keith Homel, which is kind of like Hormel, which is a brand of chili.) Yeah, that happened.

NEXT: "We would totally have played this song at our wedding if he hadn't been gay."


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