This blog is an anniversary present for my wife. (See details on the page above titled, “Who is Joanna, and why all the songs?”) If you’d like to share a song title, along with a short explanation of why the song is important to you, please join the dozens of folks who have already done so in the response section of the “Readers’ songs” page.
(Happy Anniversary, Sweetheart. Despite the fact that you normally try to avoid putting yourself in the spotlight, I hope you like this gift more than that blouse I gave you in our first year of marriage — which demonstrated why color-blind men should not buy clothing for their wives.)
When I started this project back in June, I had a partial list of the songs that would appear on the blog, but no particular order for most of them. I knew that “Coal Miner’s Daughter” would be first, and that Shania Twain’s “You’re Still the One” would be last (for reasons explained below). Both are country songs, though the list of songs on the blog includes more old standards and 1970s rock songs than country music.
I originally intended to produce a blog with 100 songs, and I figured that I’d release a post every two or three days to meet that. But the list of songs I wanted to include kept growing, so I expanded the planned total to 125; that seemed like a nice, round number. Yet even that wasn’t quite enough. So with this final post, the blog features 132 songs — four for each of the 33 years we have been married. I could have included even more, of course. A lot of great songs shared by readers didn’t make my personal list. Nor did a lot of other wonderful love songs, including many on this “top 100” list.
I had no idea who might see the blog, let alone contribute to it. (Several dozen friends, family and complete strangers have shared their songs.) I didn’t know what readers’ motivations might be, and having some experience with the lunacy of some folks who read blogs, I blocked comments for the individual posts. My own motivations (and a bit about how I chose the songs shared on the blog) are explained here.
The final song here is the fourth one (others at #42, #59 and #83) from the first tape Joanna ever gave me. She snuck it into my suitcase before I went to a conference, and then told me to listen to it while I was on the road. She had forwarded the tape to this then-new song — what we have since considered to be “our song.” More than a decade later, we’re “still together, still going strong.”
I’ve noted previously that Joanna and I weren’t guaranteed to make it — but then, who is? As I noted on a former student’s blog a while back, we have had several friends and some family members who married their high school or college sweethearts; some of those later divorced. My parents celebrated their 56th anniversary the day before my first post on this blog. Several of our best friends are in happy long-term same-sex relationships (we’ve each attended same-sex weddings during the past year), and at least two friends over the age of 45 have never married (and seem happy and fulfilled). We’ve seen some folks try repeatedly without success, while others have apparently given up.
There may be good predictors of whether a marriage will succeed, but I certainly have no particular wisdom to offer other than these two things: Marriage, like almost anything else — your car, your house, your familial relationships, your career, etc. — should bring much more happiness than pain. And, again like almost anything else, a marriage needs regular attention and care.
To anyone else who happens to read this blog, I wish you luck and much love. To my wife, I simply say this: Happy Anniversary, Sweetheart. Thank you for sharing the past 33 years with me. You are still the one I want for life. I love you.
“You’re Still the One” lyrics here, with video below.
The second Dan Seals song (first here) on this blog has the shortest title. “Bop” might capture the feelings of many people in long-time marriages. Joanna and I obviously never knew each other as teens, and though neither of us has ever owned a car nearly as cool as a 1955 Thunderbird the song’s focus on dancing seems appropriate for our relationship.
I showed the video below to Joanna a few weeks ago, and she suggested that I share it with my parents on their next anniversary (which will be their 57th). Little did she know that I already had plans for it.
Lyrics here, with a fun and touching video below.
I can’t claim that in the case of my wife and me, “Like a rose under the April snow, I was always certain love would grow.” After all, both of us had been in good relationships that crumbled, and we knew that life was unpredictable.
But now, 33 years later, Joanna and I can truly say that in our case we have seemingly been blessed with “love ageless and evergreen, seldom seen by two.” In fact, our relationship has been far, far better than the one portrayed in the film where those quoted lines were heard.
The phrases come from “Evergreen,” the “love theme” from the 1976 version of “A Star is Born” starring Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson. (I’ve never seen the 1954 version starring Judy Garland and James Mason or the 1937 version starring Janet Gaynor and Fredric March, though all three films won Academy Awards. Supposedly a new version of the film is “in development.”)
“Evergreen” beautifully expresses much of how I feel about our marriage, Streisand has an amazing voice, we’ve long been fans of Kristofferson, and we live in the “Evergreen State.” So despite the sad nature of the film that featured the song, “Evergreen” belongs on this blog.
Lyrics here, with video (from a scene in the film, supposedly done in a single take) below.
Tough decision: Whether to make “Have I Told You Lately” the third Van Morrison song on this blog (others here and here), or the second Rod Stewart song (first here). Morrison wrote it, sang it well and made it a hit, but I like Stewart’s version better (and it did even better on the charts) so that’s the one I’ll post below.
Chances are, some people would be confused by the Morrison-versus-Stewart issue, thinking I’m writing about another once-popular song with an almost identical name and with some identical words. “Have I Told You Lately that I Love You?” was written in the 1940s and became a hit a decade later when sung by Lulu Belle and Scotty. It was also sung by “Gentleman Jim” Reeves, among others.
And I debated the inclusion of either song, since that particular question has always bugged me, in the same way that I’ve always been irritated by the birthday and anniversary cards intended for a loved one — usually a wife, sometimes a parent — saying some version of, “I know I don’t tell you often [or often enough] that I love you, but…” My mental reaction, as I’ve suggested previously, typically is something along the lines of: “Well, why haven’t you said it, you idiotic schmuck? And you think some five-dollar card is going to make up for that? Geez, I hope you don’t expect not to be poisoned if that person ever cooks for you.”
OK, so maybe I sometimes overreact to what I read in supermarkets.
Joanna and I tell each other “I love you” often — typically multiple times a day. It has been the last thing each of us said to the other almost every night for 33 years (well, excluding when we’re talking in our sleep). Of course, saying something can be easier than showing it: While I tell my wife that I love her, I sometimes fail to do the sample things that mean a lot, such as keeping things neater than at home than I do my office.
I do notice if she gets a haircut, but sometimes fail to notice that she has cleaned or decorated some part of the house, how nice she looks before we go out, or what earrings she is wearing. That last item is more relevant for us than it might be for some couples, since I have bought Joanna most of her earrings. She seemed to be one of the last women in American without pierced ears when we met, and had them pierced shortly thereafter. Since then, I’ve been adding to her collection. Almost every time I travel out of town, I bring back earrings as a souvenir.
Back to “Have I Told You Lately”: Though the first question it asks is silly in our case, some of the other lines ring deeply true. Joanna does “fill my life with laughter” — even after 33 years, we crack each other up, and we laugh together more than any other couple I know. My wife virtually always knows how to “take away my sadness, fill my life with gladness [and] ease my troubles” whether with the right words, a simple smile, or one of her amazing pies.
Lyrics here, with video of a live Stewart performance below.
Perhaps it’s too late to ask my wife to “grow old with me” — since anyone under the age of 30 might say we’ve already done that. But we remain young in our togetherness — constantly trying to believe that, as blessed as our lives have been, “the best is yet to be.” And if instead, the worst is yet to come, “whatever fate decrees, we will see it through — cuz our love is true.”
John Lennon’s “Grow Old with Me,” as sung by Mary Chapin Carpenter, expresses beautifully the desire that we have to spend the rest of our lives together. (We have a verbal agreement to die at the same time — perhaps 50 years from now — so that neither of us is left alone.) Neither Lennon nor Carpenter released the song as a single, which might be surprising considering that it has apparently become popular as a wedding/relationship song. Lennon’s version was released on the “Milk and Honey” album that came out after he died.
Carpenter sang a better version of “Grow Old with Me” for a Lennon tribute album, which also included songs by the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Candlebox, the Flaming Lips, Toad the Wet Sprocket, Blues Traveler, Cheap Trick, George Clinton and Collective Soul. Joanna and I have been Carpenter fans since someone gave us her album “Shooting Straight in the Dark.” (The most popular song from that album: “Down at the Twist and Shout,” featuring the Cajun band BeauSoleil, which will perform in Spokane later this month.) Our pastor recently suggested that perhaps another wonderful Carpenter song, “Why Shouldn’t We?” might be a theme song for our church.
Carpenter sang “Grow Old with Me” for a Lennon tribute album, which also included songs by the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Candlebox, the Flaming Lips, Toad the Wet Sprocket, Blues Traveler, Cheap Trick, George Clinton and Collective Soul.
The song apparently originated with a Robert Browning poem titled, “Rabbi Ben Ezra” and the Elizabeth Barrett Browning sonnet titled, “How Do I Love Thee? Let Me Count the Ways” (which Lennon’s wife, Yoko Ono, turned into a song). The most-repeated line in the Lennon song is “God bless our love,” perhaps especially interesting coming from the man whose most popular song asks us to “Imagine” no heaven, no hell and “no religion, too.”
Still, I agree with the sentiment: “Spending our lives together, man and wife together … God bless our love”
“Grow Old with Me” lyrics here, with video (that includes some nice garden photos and a bit of song history) below.
Supposedly women love shoes. “The average woman owns 20 pairs of shoes and more than half of them … are never worn,” reports the Daily Mail. But Joanna doesn’t own that many, and I suspect she wears all that she owns — otherwise, they’re thrown away or passed on to the Arc.
On the other hand, I do have more than 20 pairs, each with a supposed purpose. The oldest are bowling shoes that I bought when in college about 35 years ago. The newest are a pair of basketball shoes bought last month. Here’s a list of the footwear I now own:
- Bowling shoes.
- New basketball shoes.
- Old basketball shoes, too worn for court play but fine for wearing to the gym.
- Black dress shoes.
- Brown dress shoes.
- Walking shoes, which I often wear when teaching.
- Older walking shoes, which I used to wear for teaching and now usually wear elsewhere.
- Leather work boots.
- Rubber work boots.
- Sorel Pac boots, good for deep snow or attending November football games.
- High-topped brown leather Converse Chuck Taylors, bought at a going-out-of business sale.
- Low-topped brown leather Converse Chuck Taylors, bought at the same time.
- Hiking shoes (like low-topped hiking boots).
- Black sandals.
- Brown sandals.
- Golf shoes.
- Cleated softball shoes.
- Water shoes, worn at the lake when canoeing or swimming in non-sandy areas.
- Wading boots for fly-fishing.
- Leather slippers, which I sometimes wear outside.
- Boogie shoes.
OK, so I don’t call that last pair “boogie shoes,” but I do wear flashy black-and-white footwear when we go swing dancing — or occasionally to class, when I want to see students smile. (Sometimes I wear Wile E. Coyote slippers during final exams for the same reason, a holdover from when I taught at a women’s college where students typically showed up for class in pajamas and slippers.)
KC & the Sunshine Band undoubtedly would call my dancing footwear “Boogie Shoes.” The band’s song by that name was featured in “Saturday Night Fever,” which came out while I was in college. When I’m ready for my students to give up any remaining respect they may have for me, I admit that when I was their age, I competed in disco dance contests. (Come to think of it, I could probably achieve the same result by mentioning my college bowling team.) Unlike the students of today, though, I didn’t have to worry about any embarrassing activities being filmed on a cell phone and showing up on YouTube.
And when it comes to my wife — who must be nearly beyond embarrassment caused by my actions at this point, I’ll happily tell her: “To be with you is my fav’rite thing … Uh huh … I want to put on my my my my my boogie shoes. Just to boogie with you.”
My wife and I were blessed to have our granddaughter spend much of her first eight years with us. She and her mother lived with us for a while and then nearby for a few years. Among many wonderful experiences, we also got to be reminded that once a young child falls in love with a movie, she wants to watch it again and again.
Brooke and I nearly memorized two Disney films, “Pinocchio” and “Beauty and the Beast.” That wasn’t all bad; as I mentioned way back in June, Joanna and I like cartoons. Besides, “Beauty and the Beast” has a great theme song, which won an Academy Award, a Golden Globe and a Grammy. “When You Wish Upon a Star” from “Pinocchio” (video here) isn’t bad, either, though it bugs me that the song has become the theme music for a corporate media empire.)
Especially in the early days of my marriage, I may have been a bit of a beast at times. At the very least, my wife and I were very different, with good reasons not to enter a serious relationship. In the words of the “Beauty and the Beast” theme song, Joanna and I were “both a little scared, neither one prepared.” And 33 years later, we still find that a big part of an ongoing relationship is “finding you can change, learning you were wrong.”
Angela Lansbury sang “Beauty and the Beast” for the film; the soundtrack included both that version and a nice one by Celine Dion and Peabo Bryson (for which you can see the video here). I’ve chosen to post the original video version below, with Lansbury providing the voice for a singing teapot.
Dion may have the better voice, but we have a soft spot for Lansbury. Her “Murder She Wrote” was for years one of our favorite television programs, and we still watch the occasional rerun. We also joke that the true genius of “Jessica Fletcher” was how she managed to not only free every friend and relative ever accused of murder (and if you were friends with Jessica, at some point your were going to be accused of homicide) but she also apparently killed numerous people and framed others for the crimes — after all, there’s no way that the quaint little town of Cabot Cove could have so many killers. (Lansbury herself may also have just helped kill a new version of the series planned by NBC.)
“Beauty and the Beast” lyrics here, with video below.
Elvis Presley — “the King” — became a cult hero as well as a famed performer, yet despite his short, interesting life, neither Joanna nor I ever understood what turned so many people into Elvis fanatics. As we have with many performers, we appreciated the talent far more than everything else that came along with it.
Still, there’s no doubt that the talent was there; the man could sing, and turned out a multitude of hits. My favorite is probably “Love Me Tender,” boasting the same title as the first of 31 films in Elvis’ 14-year film career. The black-and-white 1956 Western was originally to be titled, “The Reno Brothers,” but sales of the song “Love Me Tender” had taken off — so despite the fact that Elvis didn’t receive top billing (Richard Egan and Debra Paget were credited ahead of him), his song did.
The song itself — written for the film — is a revision of an old Civil War tune, “Aura Lee” (cool video of that song, performed by Tom Roush, here). Each verse is simple and straightforward, lacking the kind of literary embellishment that we might normally think of as creative writing. Until the final parenthetical verse, each starts with the same three words and has an interesting five-line cadence. Most of the words have only one syllable. Until the final verse, no word has more than two syllables — but the simple sentences are nearly perfect expressions of what I feel.
From the first verse: “You have made my life complete, and I love you so.”
From the second: “For my darlin’ I love you, and I always will.”
From the third: “I’ll be yours through all the years, till the end of time.”
“Love Me Tender” has been recorded by dozens of artists from a variety of genres, including Julie Andrews & Johnny Cash, Tony Bennett, Pat Boone, James Brown, Connie Francis, Engelbert Humperdinck, Norah Jones, B.B. King, Barry Manilow, Johnny Mathis, Jim Morrison, Ricky Nelson, Willie Nelson, the Platters, Linda Ronstadt, and Katie Waissel.
Like many young future reporters, I once envisioned working for the New York Times. That wasn’t ever likely, and though Joanna and I love to visit New York, today I have no desire to ever live there or to again work as a journalist. Still, the Times probably remains the best American newspaper, and I’ve enjoyed taking students to visit. I appreciated being quoted in a Times story about Andrew Breitbart, and having a post (about profanity in Newsweek) from my media and politics blog cited in another story (and then elsewhere).
But the first time I ever “made the Times,” it was with my wife and came because a friend asked me to help out at an anti-nuclear rally in the Idaho desert; when organizers found out that I was a fairly big guy who had been through non-violence resistance training sponsored by a Spokane peace organization, they handed me an orange armband to “work security.” Joanna and I sat together during the speeches, and ended up in a photo later used to illustrate a story in the Times magazine. We were not identified in the photo, and found out about its existence only because someone who saw it later recognized Joanna on the street. (How do people do that?)
Shortly after the rally, we went back to school. I eventually wrote a doctoral dissertation about former journalist and anti-nuclear activist Sam Day, Jr. After helping his wife, Kathleen, pick Sam up at the federal prison where he had spent the previous several months, Joanna and I became friends with the couple. (Yeah, we like political activists.) We even spent a few nights in their home after a crazed Texan threatened to kill us with an axe in the campground where we had pitched our tent. After Sam’s 2001 death I attended his funeral, where the hundreds in attendance sang, “We Shall Overcome.”
“We Shall Overcome” (three words that might serve as a motto during to the inevitable tough times of any marriage) was an anthem for organized labor and for the Civil Rights Movement. Martin Luther King, Jr., cited the song in his final sermon, and just over 50 years ago Joan Baez sang it during the 1963 March on Washington. She also did so in the White House almost exactly four years ago.
The song also is closely tied to the career of another folk singer, the legendary Pete Seeger (whose sister also has a song on this blog). Seeger — whom the Los Angeles Times called “America’s conscience” after he died Monday — offers a short history of the song here.
One of the things I have learned is that resistance is easier as part of a group, and that unity-building activities such as locking arms, holding hands, chanting or singing can make civil disobedience even easier. It seems appropriate that one nice version of “We Shall Overcome” comes from a group that gathered to celebrate Seeger’s 90th birthday. Among the singers were Baez, Emmylou Harris, Toshi Reagon, Bernice Johnson Reagon, Tao Rodriguez-Seeger, Billy Bragg, Keller Williams, Ani DiFranco, Ruby Dee, the Preservation Hall Jazz Band and New York City Labor Choir.
“We Shall Overcome” lyrics here, with video of my favorite Joan Baez version (done for the BBC in 1965) below. And below that — because Seeger died this week — I’m posting a video with his voice from a 1963 concert.
As I’ve noted previously, Joanna has a problem with the whole “beauty thing.” So do I, in some ways. For example, I’m troubled by the number of women’s photos that I see on Facebook where the overwhelming majority of responses are something like, “so pretty,” or “beautiful.” However accurate the responses, they seem to be reflections of what I consider to be distorted values — and of a “selfie” generation that spends too much time fishing for compliments based on looks.
Still, my wife is and always has been beautiful — inside as well as outside. So to paraphrase Minnie Riperton, loving Joanna is easy, because she’s beautiful. The song “Lovin’ You” (complete with Riperton’s impressive vocal range and the sound of birds) also goes deeper than Facebook photo appearances, particularly expressing my feelings with this verse:
Stay with me while we grow old
And we will live each day in springtime
Cause lovin’ you has made my life so beautiful
And every day my life is filled with lovin’ you
To repeat, not only is my wife beautiful but she has also made the rest of my life beautiful. And even at this time of year, we try to find ways to “live each day in springtime.”
Today probably far fewer people know Riperton than know her daughter, and in some versions of the song (including the one below, if you pay close attention) the singer repeats the word “Maya” as a tribute to her young daughter — Maya Rudolph. Riperton only had this one hit and never got to grow old with anyone, dying of breast cancer at age 31. Her short life serves as a reminder of one of the reasons for this blog: We never know how long we have, or what we might leave behind.
“Lovin’ You” lyrics here, with video below.