AN OLD SONG BRINGS BACK MEMORIES OF FIRST LOVE

I’m going to sing a song now and I’m not going to say the name, I’m just going to sing it. And if it doesn’t mean anything then you might not get the rest of this column. At least I’ve given you fair warning. Here it is:

I don’t wanna say good-bye

for the summer

but darling, I promise you this

I’ll send you all my love,

every day in a let-ter

sealed with a kiss.

Those of you who are thinking, uh-oh, he’s lost his mind, he’s singing into his columns now, well, come back next week and we’ll make more sense. But those of you who read those lyrics and hear the soft, plaintive voice of Bryan Hyland and are transported back to a warm night at summer camp when you kissed your first girlfriend or boyfriend good-bye, well, I’m talking to you.

I’m talking about music that we slow-danced to, music that we kissed to, music that we — kids, cover your eyes — “made out” to. I don’t mean sex. No, no. That came much later, and carried many more complications.

I’m talking about the awkward kisses and gropes of our teenage years. There was almost always music playing, I recall. I think it relaxed us. Or gave us an excuse to tap our feet while we worked up our courage. These are songs that come across the oldies station now and instantly warm us, even on our coldest, most grown-up days.

No music can ever match these songs. They are magical. Remember that movie,
“Witness,” when Harrison Ford is hiding among the Amish people, and he’s in a barn with Kelly McGillis when “What A Wonderful World” by Sam Cooke comes over the transistor radio and he can’t help it, he starts dancing with her, right there in the barn. And people are trying to kill him! And he still has to dance!

That’s what I’m talking about.

It’s a matter of age

“Sealed With A Kiss,” the song above, is a classic of this genre. So, too, is
“So Far Away” by Carole King. And “Just My Imagination” by the Temptations.

Each day through my window

I watch as she passes by

I say to myself, you’re such a lucky guy

Of course, it all depends on how old you are. Many readers have told me that
“Chances Are” by Johnny Mathis was the soundtrack to their first romantic tussle. Or “In The Still Of The Night” by the Five Satins. Or “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes” by the Platters.

These would be people who found first loves in the 1950s. Those who found it in the ’70s might get goose bumps at “Bridge Over Troubled Waters” by Simon and Garfunkel, or Chicago’s “Color My World” (a very big prom song).

Those even younger might tingle at “The Closer I Get to You” by Roberta Flack and Donny Hathaway, or “Babe” by Styx, both big songs in the late ’70s, or
“Saving All My Love For You” by Whitney Houston in the mid-’80s.

Any one of these can transport you back to a front porch, a camp fire, a school dance, or the backseat of a Chevy.

Which brings me to an anecdote.

The lyrics don’t matter

Last week, I got to meet Philip Bailey, the high-voiced lead singer from Earth, Wind and Fire. I asked him about a song that was a definite “make-out” favorite in the ’70s, a song called “Reasons.” I asked him, teasingly, whether he knew how many couples got together to that song.

He laughed and said, “What’s funny is, if you listen to the words, that song is the last thing you’d want to hear when you’re in a romantic mood. It basically says the love affair is a lie.”

And when I re-examined the words, I realized he was right:

In the morning when I rise,

no longer feeling hypnotized

I find my reasons had no rhyme

And you know what? It didn’t make one bit of difference.

It’s the music, and it’s the moment. Which is why I can still hear “Leaving On A Jet Plane” by Peter, Paul and Mary, and go hurtling back to Camp Arthur in the Pennsylvania Poconos, where the boys’ camp was across the river from the girls’ camp, and that last night we all got together and air was warm and filled with the smell of pine trees, and the campfire crackled into marshmallows on sticks, and I combed my hair and wore my best checkered shirt and she wore a pink cotton dress and we danced and sneaked kisses and promised we’d write …

And I’d never taken a jet in my life.

Doesn’t matter. When I hear those songs, no matter what important adult task I’m doing, I stop. And part of me wants to go back.

To be honest, part of me always does.

Mitch Albom will sign copies of his new book, “Tuesdays With Morrie,” Tuesday, 7-8 p.m. at Barnes & Noble, Grosse Pointe; Thursday, 12:45-1:45 p.m., B. Dalton, Tel-Twelve Mall, Southfield; Friday, 7-8 p.m., Media Play, Mt. Clemens; and Saturday, 11 a.m-noon, Webster’s Bookstore, Okemos.

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