LargeHearted Boy invited me to write a playlist for MIDSTREAM for Book Notes. I chose to write about how Polly Wainwright, my character, connected to music. The era is 1974.
Between the summer of 1974, when Midstream opens and Polly Wainwright enters a crowded corporate elevator and the year 1962 when her story begins, a revolution invaded pop music. The Beatles burst onto the world stage, became a phenom, and imploded, but in those years, little changed on the radio in Chicago. Top Forty dominated the AM air waves and provided the background musical score for people like Polly, twenty-somethings striving to find their place in the ground-shifting culture.
“Mash Potato Time,” Dee Dee Sharp
“Roses are Red (My Love),” Bobby Vinton
In 1962 the top of the Top Forty included Dee Dee Sharp’s “Mash Potato Time” and Bobby Vinton’s “Roses are Red (My Love),” which Polly loathed.
“It’s Only Rock and Roll (But I Like It)” the Rolling Stones.
“Sweet Home Alabama” Lynyrd Skynyrd
In 1974, the biggest hits included the Rolling Stones, “It’s Only Rock and Roll (But I Like It),” which Polly likes, and Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Sweet Home Alabama,” which she doesn’t. This is the music Polly hears on the static-y plastic radio on her kitchen shelf as she waits for the weather forecast, or drifting from the open windows of passing cars, or throbbing from the portable radio someone can be counted on to bring to parties at North Avenue Beach. It’s not music to listen to. It’s elevator music before it became actual elevator music.
“City of New Orleans” Steve Goodman
“Far from Me” John Prine
“Angel from Montgomery” John Prine
Polly listens, really listens, to music late at night, in her apartment or when she hits the Northside Chicago bars with her friends to hear great musicians like Steve Goodman, Jim Croce, and John Prine who perform at places like The Earl of Old Town and The Quiet Knight. Sometimes, not always, a two-dollar cover and a two-drink minimum, but always an overturned hat for tips. Steve Goodman’s “City of New Orleans” makes Polly feel nostalgic for places she’s never been and doesn’t want to go to. That’s the only song of his that sticks with her. John Prine, a mailman from Maywood, is another regular at The Earl. Just about everything he sings makes her feel for two minutes or four or maybe forever that she has lived an existence in an alternate America. “Far from Me” is one of many, but her favorite, entirely different, is “Angel from Montgomery.”
“Bad, Bad Leroy Brown” Jim Croce
“Operator” Jim Croce
Less frequently, she and her friends catch Jim Croce. His “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown” will have them pounding their beer mugs on the table, and, if there’s room enough between those tables, dancing. What Polly really loves is his ballad “Operator” that never not-makes her cry.
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