Rick Garman is a guy with cancer, but beyond that he is an award-winning playwright (rickgarman.com), a celebrated travel writer (Vegas4Visitors.com, Frommer's), and an Internet professional living in Los Angeles.
Today is Janet Jackson Appreciation Day. If you don’t know why, Google it. It has to do with the Super Bowl incident.
In honor of that, I have compiled a list and a YouTube playlist of my favorite Janet Jackson songs. It includes major hits that you know and love, some underappreciated gems that you may have forgotten about, some album cuts you may have never heard, and some dance remixes that were among my favorites to play back in the day. I couldn’t rank them – no one ranks Miss Jackson – so they’re in alphabetical order.
All For You
The lead single from the 2001 album of the same name, this playful song wants you to both get up and get down, with a bouncy bass line and naughty lyrics like “Got a nice package all right, guess I’m gonna have to ride it tonight.” You go, Janet. Go for the “Single Mix” (sometimes called the “Video Mix”) version of this song, which is mostly the same as the album track only with a breakdown in the middle that features samples of her own “Pleasure Principle” and “Go Deep” and “Let the Music Play” by Shannon.
There are several versions of this sultry, dance floor jam but the album cut and the Sander Kleinenberg remix are the two worth focusing on. The original has an infectious beat that just kind of makes you want to shake your hips, preferably with someone else close by. Meanwhile, the Sander mix is EDC ready, with a breakdown and build to a bass drop (starting at around 1 minute) that is best appreciated with the volume turned up to 11.
This is a great example of the infectious charm of a lot of Janet’s songs, especially her earlier work. If you don’t want to smile while listening to this, there’s something wrong with you. Don’t miss the Zoot Suit era video with a cameos from Cab Calloway, Cyd Charisse, and The Nicholas Brothers!
Because of Love
While some of Janet’s songs sound like products of their era, this one feels timeless to me and could be on the radio right now. It has shades of “Love Will Never Do Without You,” but the layered vocals and bouncy beat make it one of my favorites.
The Best Things In Life Are Free
Janet Jackson. Luther Vandross. I don’t know what else you need to know, but this song from the soundtrack of the Damon Wayans movie “Mo Money” is pure pop/dance pleasure and should be required listening at wedding receptions everywhere. And in what I’ve decided is a nod to “The Golden Girls,” they actually work in the word “thrice.” Check out the video version with vocal cameos from members of Bell Biv DiVoe.
Most of Janet’s work was straight ahead pop and dance, but every now and then she threw in some rock elements like the hard driving drums and guitars on this track from “Rhythm Nation.” While it may not reach the arena rock heights it aspires to, you can still do a little head banging without shame. Interesting trivia… this was Janet’s first solo song writing credit.
Come On Get Up
Although it was only released as a single in Japan, this track from 2001’s “All For You” remains one of my all time favorite Janet songs. I will be using the word infectious a lot in this list, but perhaps nowhere else is it as apt a descriptor. How do you not want to get up and dance when this comes on?
Every now and then a song and an artist come together to create a perfect statement, and this was one of those times. It not only helped to establish Janet’s identity as separate from her famous family, it solidified her position as a chart topper for decades to come. It’s hard to believe she was only 19 years old when this album came out! Even though the differences are subtle, I prefer the “Video Mix” (directed by Mary Lambert!) of the song, which strips out some of the spacy synth filigree heard on the album cut.
This single from Janet’s 2015 album “Unbreakable” did well on the R&B charts but didn’t really make much of an impact on pop radio, which is too bad. The stutter step beat, the popping bass line, and the urgent “Dammn Baby” shouts make it undeniable. The breakdown at about 2 minutes is divine, but make sure you stick around for her final “Dammmmmmmmn” at the end. It’s perfect.
Doesn’t Really Matter
This 2000 single from the “Nutty Professor” soundtrack is another that probably qualifies for the “infectious” moniker. The unconditional love lyrics are a little silly at times (“Doesn’t really matter what the eye is seeing, ‘cause I’m in love with the inner being”), but they come so fast and furious that it’s hard not to just groove along. Listen closely at the end for one of many times when Janet makes a mistake but they not only kept it, but called it out. The video is pretty cool, too, with a futuristic theme and a dance routine on a giant tilting platform that made it one of the most expensive videos ever made at the time.
Absolutely no road trip playlist is complete without this song, with its put-the-top-down, “leave your troubles behind” vibe. The official video was filmed at the Universal Studios Hollywood backlot and features a carnival theme but there’s another version that was done at LAX as a commercial for Japan Airlines.
The propulsive dance floor banger is driven by a drumline enhanced beat and literal feedback under her trademark layered vocals giving it a sexy, almost mysterious air. Check out the space vixen/leather queen video.
Feels So Right
This silky-smooth mid-tempo groove was never released as a single from the 2001 album “All For You,” but it probably should have been. The glistening production and effortless vocals make this a great jam that you’d want to play on a lazy summer afternoon.
We could probably start and stop with the song’s fun structure – a mellow, low-key verse that explodes into a funky, horn-fueled chorus. But the song’s real power is in its LGBT empowering lyrics that could have been the prototype for the “love is love is love” mantra that came many years later.
There are several remixes of this including a Masters at Work club workout and a Timabaland hip hop version that features a verse by Missy Elliott, but they don’t really compare to the original, a funky, sexy ode to partying all night. It’s one of the lighter songs from what is probably my favorite Janet album, “The Velvet Rope” (1997).
Got ‘Til It’s Gone
Riffing off of “Big Yellow Taxi,” the callouts of “Joni Mitchell never lies” set the beat for this fantastic R&B gem. The syncopated rhythm, the silky vocals, the stripped down production (complete with a scratchy vinyl sound), and the killer rap from Q-Tip make this one of my all time favorites.
I Get Lonely
The original album version is a gorgeous, sultry slow jam, but I have to tip my hat to the Jason Nevins remix, an uplifting, hands in the air, house classic that used to fill the dance floor when I was a DJ. If I was going to make a list of my top 100 club songs of all time, this one would be on it.
If (Single Version)
“If I was your girl, oh the things I’d do to you. I’d make you call out my name, I’d ask who it belongs to.” Those are some damn sexy lyrics right there. I’m including two versions of the song because they are so completely different and yet so fantastic that they deserve separate listings. The single version is a funky, dark, rock-influenced jam with a video that has one of the best dance breaks ever (at around 3:30). Play this version if you want to get lucky tonight.
If (Brothers in Rhythm House Mix)
Same song, yet completely different song. The whole thing is anchored by a driving, percussive piano accompaniment over a non-stop drum beat that made it wholly unique on the dance floor. While the original version makes you want to get down, this one make you want to get up and you can read that any old way you want to.
Just a Little While
This song is part of the reason we have Janet Jackson Appreciation Day. It was the lead single from her 2004 album “Damita Jo” and would probably have been a huge hit but it was released the day after her appearance on the Super Bowl. Yes, that one. She got blacklisted from most major radio stations and the single never reached the kind of heights it deserved. Just take a listen to the upbeat, kind of retro, buzzy bop and tell me it shouldn’t have been a smash.
Love Will Never Do (Without You)
Originally envisioned as a duet, Janet wound up singing both the low (male) and high (female) verses on this single from “Rhythm Nation 1814” that I’ve always believed is what love should feel like. It also has one of her best, sexiest videos, directed by Herb Ritts and featuring hot supporting roles for Djimon Hounsou and Antonio Sabato Jr. (before he went insane).
Made For Now
Although this 2018 single didn’t do a lot on mainstream radio, it hit the top of the dance charts making it her 20th number one. I have to admit when I first heard it I was a little underwhelmed, but it has wound up going on high repeat on the playlist I use when I need an uplift. The Caribbean influences and the Spanish language rap from Daddy Yankee are perfect for turning any dark day light.
The Post Disco genre was an evolution of the Disco era where songs had the same kinds of non-stop dance beats but replaced a lot of the 70s flourishes with synths and guitars. Janet never really did any true Post Disco songs but this 2009 single from her “Number Ones” greatest hits album comes close. Listen closely for the lyric and sonic nods to Michael’s “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough.”
Miss You Much
If I was ranking these songs, this would probably be a contender for the number one spot. The big production with its heavy drumbeat, massive synths, and “wocka wocka” guitar are practically perfect and the multi-layered vocals are pure joy. And of course that video… don’t tell me you didn’t try to learn the choreography at some point!
“My first name ain’t baby, it’s Janet – Miss Jackson if you’re nasty.” Iconic. I don’t know what else needs to be said about it other than the video, directed by Mary Lambert, features choreography and an appearance from Paula Abdul before she made it big on her own.
This is another Janet classic that would fight for a spot at or near the top of a ranked list. The driving beat and the funky bass line are fantastic, but the lyrics hit almost as hard: “I’m not here to feed your insecurities, I wanted you to love me.” I want to know who she was singing that to.
Another delight that was lost in the Super Bowl BS, this old-school jam features a sample from Evelyn Champagne King’s “I’m in Love” and a funky dance beat that sounds straight out of 1982… in a good way!
Following up on her groundbreaking, career-making “Control” album could have been a simple exercise in repeating the formula, but instead she took what she had done and turned it up a few thousand notches with hard hitting, rock-influenced songs like this plea for social justice. One of her best songs and one of her best music videos, too.
This is probably one of Janet’s most underrated songs. Released as a single from her 1995 “Design of a Decade” greatest hits package, it reached #3 on the Billboard charts but seems to have faded from most people’s memories. The delightful African/Indian influence and let’s leave it all behind lyrics make it a spiritual successor to “Escapade.” Dance music fans should check out the Junior Vasquez Factory mix.
I’m going to temporarily set aside my feelings about Janet’s brother and simply celebrate this song as the masterpiece that it is. Overflowing with anger and resentment, this was Michael’s response to his, um… “troubles” and while it could be viewed as a problematic, blame everyone but yourself screed, I’d prefer to just let it be one of Janet’s best. I have included two version of this on the playlist. The original space odyssey video, which was at the time the most expensive one ever filmed, features the iconic moments when Janet grabs her breasts and flips off the camera while the Flyte Time remix borrows Sly and the Family Stone’s “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf)” as a base for a funkier workout.
This cut from the “Damita Jo” album was likely going to be a single but then the idiotic Super Bowl controversy kept it from ever seeing the light of day. Yet another shame because it’s a fantastic slice of sexy production and vocals that deserved better.
Someone to Call My Lover
That familiar guitar riff is from America’s “Ventura Highway” and it underpins another one of her delightful, upbeat, falling in love songs. Add this one to your road trip playlist also.
Son of a Gun
The original version of this track features Missy Elliott and Carly Simon in a riff on her “You’re So Vain” complete with “I bet you think this song is about you” refrain. Check out the spacy spoken word from Simon, “If it wasn’t for that damn cream there’d be no clouds in my coffee…” It’s pure funky fun. The YouTube video is the music only – you have to go to Facebook to see the actual music video, which doesn’t have the Carly rap but is a fun revenge fantasy. Also worth seeking out is the P Diddy remix, a which turns the song into an even funkier exercise.
State of the World
Although some could see this is a lesser version of “Rhythm Nation,” this similar plea for the world to change stands on its own with more explicit call outs of the problems of its era (and today). Also check out “The Knowledge,” which is sort of like the second half of this song.
I know this horse has been pretty well beaten by now, but this is yet another song from “Damita Jo” that could have been a hit if the Super Bowl hadn’t happened. Well… maybe not on the radio, because its bouncy beat disguises some truly dirty lyrics. Google them while you listen if you dare.
That’s the Way Love Goes
I’m not always a fan of slow jam songs, but this one is so perfect that it’s impossible not to get swept away in the romanticism of the whole thing. “Like a moth to the flame, burned by the fire… my love is blind, can’t you see my desire?” That’s some sexy stuff right there. I’m also including the video to the 2018 Deeprule and DJ ADHD remix that turns up the BPM but doesn’t lose any of the sultry vibe somehow.
A lot of Janet’s songs were about sex, but few were quite as explicit as this one. There aren’t a lot of lyrics to it, but the ones that are there are straight out of a Pornhub video (not that I’d know what those sound like, I just read about it). But if you can get past the naughtiness, it’s a great dance floor jam.
Written about a friend she lost to AIDS, this song was originally envisioned as a ballad but was turned into an upbeat dance number and it is all the better for it. It turns what could have been a mawkish weeper into a joyful ode to the power of friendship.
As I said earlier, “The Velvet Rope” album is probably my favorite and the title track is just one of the reasons why. It’s got a great fuzzy bass line accentuated by bells and other sonic flourishes that give it an almost gothic feel.
What Have You Done for Me Lately?
“I know he used to do nice stuff for you, but what has he done for you lately?” Yes, Janet had other albums before “Control,” but this lead single put a stake in the ground for her musical direction and a stake through the heart of her former nice girl image. Heard now it feels very 80s, but in all the best ways.
What’ll I Do?
Janet hasn’t done a lot of covers, but her version of a fairly obscure 1968 song by Stax Records artist Johnny Daye shows that she could have done it more often. The syncopated drums, the lush guitars, and the “hey hey hey” callouts make this the kind of song you want to sing along with while you’re cooking dinner. Not that I’ve ever done that.
When I Think of You
Is the music video done in one long take? Well, no, but it was done in only five, with staging done by the legendary Michael Kidd. The song is another one of those bouncy, smile-inducing “I’m in love” jams enlivened by synth horns and a dreamy vocal.
Another example of why “The Velvet Rope” is one of her best albums, this track features a hypnotic trip-hop beat under a whispered/guttural vocal about demanding not blaming anybody for your problems except yourself. “Check in the mirror my friend, no lies will be told then, pointing the finger again, you can’t blame nobody but you.”
You Ain’t Right
A lesser-known album track from “All For You,” this stands out for its insistent, fuzzy bass beat, spacy flourishes, and tight, multi-layered harmonies. If you’re looking for a good “F-you” song, this one will suit the bill just fine.
You Want This (Video Mix)
Another woefully underrated gem, this one would absolutely be near the top of my all-time favorites list. Featuring samples from The Supremes’ “Love Child” and Kool & the Gang’s “Jungle Boogie,” it’s got lush vocals over a driving dance beat that makes you want to move. The cheeky lyrics are a delight – “By the time I’m through with you, you’ll be begging me for more.” Check out the video version which has a rap throwdown from MC Lyte that isn’t featured in the album track.
The Top 100 Disco Songs of All Time
by Rick Garman
I’m turning 54 this year, so in honor of the legendary Studio 54 nightclub, I’m hereby present to you my list of the Top 100 Disco Songs of all time. Why? Well, mostly because I’m coronabored, but also why not?
I am an unabashed fan of Disco. Its unofficial “era” was 1974 to 1980 or 1981 depending on who you ask, so roughly from when I was 8 until I was 14, some pretty formative years I think you’d agree. Yes, a lot of it was inane, but I would argue that a fair chunk of just about any musical genre is inane. For every great country, rock, or rap song, there are 12 others right behind it that are just terrible and you know it. So, just because some Disco was bad doesn’t mean all Disco was bad. In fact, there were some pretty amazing songs along the way and that’s what my list is about.
It’s impossible to deny that the genre had a huge impact, not only on our culture (in ways both good and bad) but on music since then. You can draw a straight line from Disco to Madonna to Britney to Gaga and to Ariana with all sorts of off-shoots into house, EDM, rap, soul, and even some modern rock.
So, what makes a song “Disco?” There are markers like a four-on-the-floor beat, layered harmonies, and lots of instruments beyond just guitars and drums (synths to full orchestras). You also will hear some some signature sounds like the hi-hat (oontz, oontz, oontz, oontz), the chicken scratch guitar (wocka wocka), whistles, and the “ooh-ah, ooh-ah” chant. But not all Disco songs have all of those things so identifying one is more of an ear thing. You know it when you hear it.
There are also many sub-genres of Disco including Disco funk (think Gap Band) and Euro-Disco (Giorgio Moroder), plus offshoots like Hi-NRG and even Post Disco, which were mostly just Disco songs that came out after Disco was declared “dead.” While some would argue they aren’t “true” Disco, this is my list and if I feel like including them, I’m going to, so there, nyah.
I’m also going to be leaving some fairly obvious songs off the list. “Stayin’ Alive” by the Bee Gees was picked by Rolling Stone readers as the best Disco song of all time. I think it’s a calculated impersonation of a Disco song that only got big because of John Travolta’s white suit. You also won’t see “YMCA” or “Macho Man” from the Village People either because they were more novelty songs like Rick Dees’ “Disco Duck” than good music.
Okay, so enough pontificating, let’s get to listifying. Each video is featured separately as you scroll down the list, but at the very end the entire playlist with all 100 songs is embedded.
100) “You Should be Dancing” by the Bee Gees
The Bee Gees were Disco royalty, but most of their music left me feeling a little cold. I always felt it was more manufactured than crafted, with a bit of an assembly line quality. But of all their hits, this one has the grooviest hook that speaks to the era better than anything else they ever did. Why yes, I should be dancing.
99) “Lovin’ is Really My Game – Brainstorm
One of several more obscure tunes on this list, Brainstorm really only had this one hit and it was not a huge one, but it is an undeniable classic about a woman’s fruitless search for love at a discotheque. How can you deny a lyric like “I believe in the boogie, but the boogie don’t believe in me”? Girl, I feel you.
98) “Let’s All Chant” by The Michael Zager Band
Is there anything that identifies a Disco song more than backup singers doing that high-pitched “ooh-ah, ooh-ah?” Yes, it’s classic, but then they layer in the classical-adjacent breakdown in the middle and the whole thing becomes something almost baroque in presentation. Weird and wonderful at the same time.
97) “Lay All Your Love On Me” by ABBA
Everything I said about the Bee Gees applies to my feelings about ABBA. It wasn’t until “Mamma Mia!” came to a stage and a movie theater near you that I finally understood why. To me, their music felt more suited to Broadway than the dance floor, expertly “arranged” but without a deep well of emotion behind it. Having said that, this song has a darker atmosphere that takes out some of the bubble gum overload and practically demands that you strap on your dancing shoes.
96) “There’s No Business Like Show Business” by Ethel Merman
Okay, here’s the deal… yes, it’s kind of awful. There was no reason for Ethel Merman to turn the classic Broadway hit she performed in “Annie Get Your Gun” into a Disco song. None. And yet, the song itself is about the shiny, glossy lure of the business of show and what speaks more to shiny and glossy than Disco? It shouldn’t work and yet somehow it does. Great, silly fun.
95) “The Love I Lost” by Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes
Released in late 1973, it would be easy to argue this song falls more into the soul or R&B categories than Disco but take a good listen and you’ll hear things that became hallmarks of the Disco sound including lush orchestrations, multi-layered vocals, a thumping drum, and the hi-hat cymbal on the off beats. All that and a flawless, aching vocal from Melvin makes this a must on this list.
94) “Car Wash” by Rose Royce
It’s easy to dismiss this as a craven bit of fluff designed to sell soundtracks for the movie of the same name, but it was actually the other way around. The score and soundtrack were written before the move was made and this song became such a huge hit that it drove people to the theaters. Easy to hear why, with its hooky beat and funky bass.
93) “Instant Replay” by Dan Hartman
Probably more well known for his 1984 hit “I Can Dream About You,” Hartman had several Disco era hits including this 1978 high energy classic that topped the dance charts for five weeks. Heard now, there’s a bit of a cheese factor to it but for its time it was dancefloor gold and deserves a spot in the Top 100. Sad side note, Hartman died of AIDS in 1994.
92) “Dance With Me” by Peter Brown
I love the funky feeling of this 1978 hit with its repeated lyric riff, “You gotta keep on makin’ me high, you gotta keep on makin’ me high.” Backup vocals were done by no less than the inimitable Betty Wright, a bit of stunt casting of R&B divas that became signature for Disco songs of the era. Brown had a few other Disco hits but his biggest success came as a songwriter – he cowrote “Material Girl” by Madonna.
91) “I’m in Love” by Evelyn ”Champagne” King
This is the first of three Disco classics on this list from King, a powerful singer who probably deserved the kind of fame that Donna Summer achieved. This one was released in 1981 at the tail end of Disco dominance and could arguably be put in the R&B category – Janet Jackson sampled the main hook for her song “R&B Junkie” – but the Disco trappings are still there if you listen closely and it would have probably been a much bigger hit had it been released a few years earlier.
90) “If My Friends Could See Me Now” by Linda Clifford
Remaking Broadway songs into Disco songs was a thing back then and several of them show up on this list including this dancefloor version of the Cy Coleman classic from “Sweet Charity.” Clifford was an extra on the film version of the musical and originally resisted the concept, but it wound up being popular in the clubs with its retro, flapper-era horns. Coleman himself reportedly liked the updated version!
89) “Heaven Must Have Sent You” by Bonnie Pointer
A remake of a 1966 Motown hit by The Elgins, this arrangement of this version was reportedly patterned after “YMCA” by the Village People, but with extra flourishes like strings and tubular bells. It was Bonnie’s biggest hit after leaving the Pointer Sisters, reaching #8 on the dance floor charts. She just passed away recently, in June 2020, from cardiac arrest.
88) “Could it be Magic” by Donna Summer
When this Barry Manilow song was first recorded it used an arrangement by Tony Orlando that was upbeat and pop. Manilow re-recorded it in his signature slow version and had a huge hit with it in 1975. Donna Summer released this version only seven months later, her second major label single behind “Love to Love You Baby” and it helped to kick off her reign as the undisputed Queen of Disco.
87) “So Many Men, So Little Time” by Miquel Brown
Disco had been declared dead by 1983 when this came out, with uptempo dance songs being rebranded as Hi-NRG even though at least some of it was just Disco with better PR. Want to hear the difference? Listen to a few moments of this and then listen to pretty much anything by Frankie Goes to Hollywood or Bronski Beat and it becomes clear that “So Many Men” owes more to Disco than Hi-NRG. This camp classic was written by a DJ in the London gay nightclub scene and has become an enduring gay anthem.
86) “Fame” by Irene Cara
This title track from the hit 1980 movie of the same name is probably put into the Disco category more because of when it was released than the actual attributes of the song. Although it has the driving beat, vocal queues, and other trappings of Disco, it has a harder edge with lots of electric guitar work that you really didn’t hear too much on the dance floor. Still, it went to #1 on the dance charts right in between “Upside Down” by Diana Ross and “Love Sensation” by Loleatta Holloway, so you do the math.
85) “Gimme Gimme Gimme” by ABBA
Again, not a huge ABBA fan, but this is another one of their classics that has a bit more of an edge than most of their pop-overload hits. The pounding beat and the lusty subject matter are what sell it for me and even though its darker tonally than most Disco of the era, it still works on the dance floor. Interestingly, while it was a hit around the globe, it never charted in the US.
84) “Love to Love You Baby” by Donna Summer
This was the first major-label single from Donna Summer and it immediately established her as a dance floor force to be reckoned with. Co-written by legendary writer/producer Giorgio Moroder, it’s significantly slower than most Disco songs (96 BPM vs. 128 for “I Feel Love”), but it spent four weeks atop the dance chart, so people obviously didn’t mind. If you have the endurance, listen to the 17-minute version here, an orchestral bit of overkill that almost singlehandedly created the need for the 12-inch single.
83) “Celebration” by Kool & the Gang
Hard to believe but this was Kool & the Gang’s only #1 hit. Co-opted by sporting events and weddings, it has become synonymous with the cheesy overindulgence of the Disco era, but it’s really hard to deny the infectious rhythm and upbeat spirit of the whole thing. And it’s perfect for a kick-ball-change if you’re in swing choir (an in-joke for my high school peeps).
82) “Blame it on the Boogie” by The Jacksons
Originally written for Stevie Wonder, The Jacksons hoped this bopping bit of boogie fever would return them to the top of the charts after a string of failed singles. It didn’t really work, peaking at #61 on the US charts. It should have been bigger and probably would have been if it had been released after mega-hit “Shake Your Body” instead of before it. It’s interesting to hear the MJ inflections that would become part of his signature sound.
81) “Xanadu” by Olivia Newton-John and the Electric Light Orchestra
I think we can all agree that the movie is deliriously awful, a fever dream of roller-skating nymphs and Gene Kelly almost destroying his own legacy. Really, the only way it should be watched is in a big gay singalong setting, but you have to give the title track its due. The soaring synths, the strings, the driving drumbeat… Olivia freakin’ Newton John! Come on. What more do you want?
80) “Le Freak” by Chic
This song dominated 1979, hitting #1 on the singles chart, the R&B chart, and the dance chart where it sat on top for an astounding seven weeks! “Awww freak out!” became a rallying cry for the anything goes ethos of the Disco era although a bit of trivia – it was originally “Awww f**k off!” and intended for the doormen at Studio 54 who wouldn’t let members of the band in to meet Grace Jones.
79) “Can’t Get Enough of Your Love” by Barry White
This classic was released in 1974, early for the Disco era and really only categorized as such in hindsight probably. But while the soul/R&B influences dominate the track, you can hear elements that would later come to define Disco, especially the build to the chorus which you can link directly to the EDM “drop” you can still hear in clubs today.
78) “I Am What I Am” by Gloria Gaynor
Again with the Broadway covers! Originally a showstopper in “La Cage aux Folles,” it was already a gay anthem before dancefloor diva Gaynor put a Disco spin on it. Even though it came out in 1983, well after Disco was declared dead, this has glitter ball written all over it from the slow open to the synth-driven beat and beyond. And that vocal!
77) “Born to be Alive” by Patrick Hernandez
The Disco era is littered with one-hit wonders and French singer Patrick Hernandez is a prime example. This was his solo debut and it conquered the globe, going gold or platinum in more than 50 countries and hitting number one on the charts in many of them. His follow-ups tanked and he pretty much stopped recording by 1981. But in 1979 the “mmm-chck, mmm-chck” beat, the horn flourishes, and, of course, the basso “born to be alive” hook made it definitive Disco.
76) “Back in Love Again” by LTD
Was it R&B? Was it funk or soul? Was it Disco? Let’s say it was all of the above and deserves a spot on this list since it made into the Top 20 on Billboard’s Dance/Disco chart of 1977. With vocals by Jeffrey Osborne, a chicken-scratch guitar, horn flourishes, and those on-the-four hand claps, it certainly has Disco influences but no matter what you call, it’s just a great song.
75) “And the Beat Goes On” by The Whispers
The Whispers had been making music for a decade before they turned to the dancefloor in 1979 and scored the biggest hit of their career. This is another genre edge case, with a lot of R&B, soul, and even funk elements in it, but this is at least a first cousin to Disco classics like “Shake Your Body” by the Jacksons or “Boogie Nights” by Heatwave, so it belongs on this list.
74) “Boogie Shoes” by KC & The Sunshine Band
This is the first of many times you’re going to see KC&TSB on this list. Let’s face it, they were one of the biggest bands of the Disco era and for good reason. Their super danceable mix of funky rhythms, sing-along choruses, and party all the time lyrics made them perfect for the times but beyond all that they made really good pop songs. This one was fairly obscure upon its release in 1976 but found glory when it was included on the “Saturday Night Fever” soundtrack the following year.
73) “Never Knew Love Like This Before” by Stephanie Mills
Mills gained fame by playing Dorothy in the original Broadway run of “The Wiz” in the mid-1970s, but radio hits eluded her until she turned to Disco a few years later. Despite it being more sweetly romantic than most of the “get down and boogie” tunes that were ruling the airwaves, this particular song was her biggest hit and won Grammys for Best R&B Song and Best Female R&B Vocal Performance in 1981.
72) “Ain’t No Stoppin’ Us Now” by McFadden & Whitehead
As songwriters and producers, McFadden & Whitehead were huge forces in the music industry, writing classics such as “Wake Up Everybody” and producing hits for Stevie Wonder, James Brown, and more. As a performing duo, this was their only serious hit but what a hit it was. Those harmonies, that orchestration, the “Let’s do the hustle” hand claps. A dance classic.
71) “Boogie Fever” by The Sylvers
Family act The Sylvers had the biggest hit of their career in 1975 with this classic about a guy who took his girlfriend to a drive-in movie, only to discover that she had come down with a serious case of Boogie Fever. Lyrically, it’s silly fun, but that synth-driven bass line, the nine-sibling harmonies, and the horn flourishes make this more compelling than it has any right to be.
70) “Take Your Time (Do It Right)” by The SOS Band
This Atlanta-based group hit it big with this, their debut single from their debut album in 1980. The song hit #1 in the US and was a smash worldwide, but they were never able to replicate that success, putting them in the one-hit wonder category. BTW, SOS = Sounds of Success.
69) “Love Rollercoaster” by Ohio Players
While “Fire” by Ohio Players is undoubtedly a superior song, it’s not really Disco even though it sometimes gets lumped into the Disco Funk category. This one also embraces the funk, but you can hear the glitter ball all over it and that’s why it makes it onto the list while “Fire” does not. Listen closely at 2:32 on the YouTube track and you’ll hear a scream in the background. This is the subject of an enduring urban legend saying that it is the scream of someone who was murdered, perhaps even in the adjacent studio. It was really keyboardist Billy Beck, but the band let the legend persist because it sold more records.
68) “Best of My Love” by The Emotions
I think it’s impossible to listen to this song and not immediately be happier. It’s pure joy in musical form written by Maurice White and Al McKay of Earth, Wind & Fire (further cementing its Disco roots). After this chart-topping hit in 1977, The Emotions never really had another radio success until 1980 when they teamed up with EWF for “Boogie Wonderland.”
67) “Take Me Home” by Cher
Cher reportedly wanted to do a rock album in 1979 when she moved to Casablanca Records, but the head of the label told her to go Disco and it resulted in this, her biggest hit since “Dark Lady” in 1974. This burst of pure dance floor bliss was co-written and produced by Bob Etsy, who was responsible for some of Donna Summer’s biggest hits. The follow-up singles didn’t do as well, and it wouldn’t be until the late 1980s that she would reinvent herself again as a rock diva.
66) “Never Too Much” by Luther Vandross
I was surprised to find out that this was the first single off Luther Vandross’ solo debut album. Released in 1981, it’s now categorized in the Post-Disco genre, but all that really means is it was released after Disco was considered dead but still had a lot of the same musical elements. Put it in whatever box you want, this was the song that helped establish Vandross as a star.
65) “Forget Me Nots” by Patrice Rushen
Come on… that double hand clap every 8 beats? If you don’t have at least a little part of you wanting to join in, you’re not human. Patrice Rushen was a prolific jazz musician before she went Disco/R&B with this record in 1982, and while it was by far her biggest popular hit she’s still going strong at 65, performing, composing, and mentoring as Ambassador for Artistry in Education at Berklee College of Music.
64) “He’s the Greatest Dancer” by Sister Sledge
Sisters Debbie, Joni, Kim, and Kathy Sledge had been recording for years without much success until they partnered with Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards of Chic in 1979. This was the first of two massive Disco hits that the sisters had that year and probably would’ve been bigger had the label not rushed to release the follow up… a little ditty about family that we’ll get to shortly.
63) “I May Not Be There When You Want Me (But I’m Right on Time)” by Loleatta Holloway
I’d wager that most of you have probably never heard of this song, but you can thank me later after you listen to it. With a fiery vocal from the inimitable Holloway and a church revival spirit, this laid the groundwork for a fusion of dance and gospel that would carry forward into following decades with huge house music hits like “The Pressure” from Sounds of Blackness, “This Joy” by Vernessa Mitchell, “Unspeakable Joy” from Kim English, and even more recent songs like Alex Newell’s “Mama Told Me.”
62) “The Boss” by Diana Ross
Although the supreme Ms. Ross had been playing in the Disco pool for several years with songs like “Love Hangover” and even, some could argue, “Ease on Down the Road” from The Wiz, this song kicked off a string of dance floor hits that would catapult her back onto the radio in a big way. Proving its status as a dance classic, a remix by DJ/Producer Eric Kupper hit #1 on the Billboard Dance Music charts in 2019.
61) “Makin’ It” by David Naughton
Does anybody else remember the 1979 TV show of the same name, which starred Naughton as Italian-American Billy Manucci, a young man who went to the Disco a lot? Yes, it was a blatant rip-off of “Saturday Night Fever” and it only lasted nine episodes, but the show’s theme song made it to the top 5 on the US pop charts. Its optimistic, “the top of the ladder is waiting for me” vibe was infectious, especially to overweight, unpopular junior high kids who lip-synced and danced to it endlessly in their bedrooms. Just a theory.
60) “I Want Your Love” by Chic
Released as a follow-up single to “Le Freak,” this was one of many dance floor anthems by the group Chic that established them as Disco royalty. Something to listen for are the tubular bells that mimic the melody of the chorus. It was one of two big hits of 1979 to use them, the other being “Heaven Must Have Sent You” by Bonnie Pointer.
59) “Dazz” by Brick
This feels like straight ahead funk or R&B, but who am I to argue with the title of the song, which is short for Disco Jazz. And yes, if you pay attention you can hear the Disco flourishes, especially behind the frequent saxophone solos. Just in case you’re confused, this song is “Dazz” by Brick but there was also a group called The Dazz Band that had a big funk hit with “Let it Whip.” No relation.
58) “Disco Nights” by GQ
Most of GQ’s success was on the Dance/Disco charts, but this was their one of only a couple of crossover hits, reaching #12 on the pop charts. With a four-on-the-floor beat, lush harmonies and strings, and a non-stop funky bass, this is quintessential Disco. Love the “So get up!” moment – iconic.
57) “Up to the Ladder to the Roof” by Bette Midler
I’m totally cheating with this one since this was never released as a single and only appeared on the Bette Midler Live at Last album, not as a regular studio album cut. But had it been, I think this Disco-licious remake of the classic Supremes song probably would have been a massive hit on the dance floor. It’s got it all – a driving beat, wocka-wocka guitars, and delirious harmonies from the Harlettes. Cap it all off with a typically energetic, balls-to-the-wall vocal from Bette and this could have been a contender!
56) “Hot Stuff” by Donna Summer
Because this particular hit has some guitar work, including a meaty solo toward the end performed by a former Doobie Brother/Steely Dan guitarist, it is sometimes put into the “rock” category, but come on… there’s a reason why Summer was known as the Queen of Disco. This is a companion piece to “Bad Girls” and there was a non-stop remix of the two songs on 12” vinyl (I think I still have it somewhere). By the way, in case you’re wondering why this classic ranked relatively low at 56, it’s only because of an embarrassment of Donna Summer riches – there are 12 of her songs on this list!
55) “Do You Wanna Funk” by Sylvester and Patrick Cowley
Why hasn’t anyone done a biopic of Sylvester? The other “Queen of Disco” had a huge influence on the genre including with this late in the game, 1982 entry that was produced by Patrick Cowley, who had his own hits with songs like “Menergy.” Although a little more post-Disco/Hi-NRG in tone, this still has Disco written all over it and is the first of several Sylvester songs on this list. Both artists died from complications due to AIDS, Cowley at 32 in 1982 shortly after this song was released, and Sylvester in 1988 at the age of 41.
54) “Everybody Dance” by Chic
Released before their big hit “Le Freak,” this song helped lay the groundwork for Chic’s dominance of the dance floor for the next few years. Written by hitmakers Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards, it features a simple, yet insanely catchy, lyric hook – “Everybody dance. Ooo, clap your hands, clap your hands.” It was a love letter to the discotheques, so it wasn’t surprising that it was so popular in them.
53) “Get Down on It” by Kool & the Gang
“Whatcha gonna do? Do you wanna get down?” Iconic opening lines of another Kool & the Gang classic that is a much better song – lyrically, musically, sonically – than “Celebration.” At least I think it is and this is my list, so to repeat I say, nyah. This is one of those that’s makes it hard to not move to when you hear it.
52) “Get Off” by Foxy
Since this was Foxy’s only really notable hit, I never paid that much attention to the group, so I have to say I was surprised when I saw the music video. Not what I was expecting. Having said that, this is classic Disco Funk, complete with “whoo whoo” background chants. Interesting Foxy trivia: the percussionist of the group was Richie Puente, Tito Puente’s son, and one of the lead singers, Carlo Driggs, left the group and became the lead singer of Paul Revere & the Raiders.
51) “We Are Family” by Sister Sledge
Another Nile Rodgers/Bernard Edwards jam, my initial instinct was put this a lot lower on the list (like 85 or so), but then I realized it was just because it has gotten so overplayed over the years. Save me from another pride celebration sing-along of this, please. But then I gave it another listen, and I had to move it up. There’s a reason that it became such a huge and enduring hit.
50) “Sunset People” by Donna Summer
Wait, wait, wait… this is a better Donna Summer song than “Hot Stuff?” Well, yes. From its spacy electronic tweets, whistles, and flourishes to the dreamy vocal to the insistent, pounding beat, it feels like it’s about to explode at any moment. It’s one of those lose yourself on the dance floor songs that is reminiscent of another Summer hit, “I Feel Love,” which you’ll see much higher on this list. A tidbit… because of a label dispute, this song was never released as a single in the US but became a big hit in the discotheques anyway.
49) “Love Hangover” by Diana Ross
Such an interesting song structure. For the first roughly 2 minutes and 45 seconds, it’s a groovy jam with a delicious Diana croon, but then it speeds up as it kicks into full on Disco mode with every bell and glittery whistle thrown at it. The 8 minute long extended track is a dreamy, get lost on the dance floor classic, so much so that DJ Eric Kupper had a #1 hit with a remixed version in 2020.
48) “I Love Music” by The O’Jays
I have to admit that I’m actually partial to the 1993 remake by Rozalla, but the original is fun and probably The O’Jays most purely Disco hit, spending 8 weeks atop the dance chart in 1976. You have to give it up for those perfectly balanced harmonies.
47) “If You Could Read My Mind” by Viola Wills
Originally a hit for Gordon Lightfoot, this makes two in a row where I prefer an even later remake, this time a 1998 version done by a supergroup of dance divas Amber, Jocelyn Enriquez, and Ultra Nate who put a modern spin on the song for the movie “54.” Still, the original is hard to resist, especially when you notice the vaguely Latin flourishes (listen to the horns at the end of the chorus).
46) “Good Times” by Chic
Of course, you can’t hear this without thinking of the Sugarhill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight,” which liberally sampled this for its hook and was released only a few months later in 1979. Niles Rodgers sued and was eventually credited as a co-writer, although later he said that the rap version was a much more important song than his original with Chic. Maybe, but we’re talking about Disco and “Good Times” was a perfect ode to the era.
45) “Outside” by George Michael
Wait… a song released almost two decades after the end of the Disco era is still a Disco song? Listen for 20 seconds to be convinced. Wocka-wocka guitars, hand claps, strings, and even a Disco whistle! Need more proof? Watch the video, which is probably the best George Michael ever did, a two-middle-fingered “F-you” after he got arrested for lewd conduct in a bathroom in Beverly Hills. Not only is the video very funny, it has Disco balls, a “Saturday Night Fever” light up dance floor, and mirrored urinals. Genius and totally Disco in all the best ways.
44) “I Love the Nightlife” by Alicia Bridges
“I love the nightlife, I’ve got to boogie on the Disco round, oh yeah.” Does any lyric encapsulate the Disco ethos better than that? Alicia Bridges co-wrote this song and while it really was her only serious hit, it has had a number of lives. It made it onto the charts again in several countries after being featured in the 1994 movie “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert” and is now included in the musical stage version.
43) “Boogie Ooogie Oogie” by A Taste of Honey
Although Taste of Honey was not exactly a “one-hit-wonder” – does anyone remember “Sukyiaki”? – this was by far their biggest success and the song that would not only define them but become a signature piece of the Disco era. Apparently lead singers Janice-Marie Johnson and Carlita Dorhan had to fight to prove that it was really them playing bass and guitar respectively. Ah, sexism. How very 1978… and beyond.
42) “Dancing Queen” by ABBA
Okay, let’s talk about ABBA. As I have mentioned, not a huge fan but it is impossible to not give this song its due. It was the group’s only #1 hit in the US and eventually went on to launch a musical and movie franchise that became a global phenomenon. But all that distracts from the classic Disco mood the song creates, even though it is a little light on the usual genre trappings. This is the type of song they invented dance floors for.
41) “Stomp” by The Brothers Johnson
I love this song. It’s pure dance energy with just enough Disco flourishes to give it a groovy vibe. And that breakdown at 2:21?! Slapping bass and a jazzy synth solo? Come on! An interesting bit of trivia… The Brothers Johnson were one of many acts whose master tapes, including the original recording of this song, were lost in a 2008 fire at Universal Studios.
40) “MacArthur Park” by Donna Summer
The audacity of this song is almost breathtaking. Originally a hit for Broadway and film star Richard Harris in 1968, the lyrics are nonsensical – why would someone leave a cake out in the rain? – but it’s the production by Giorgio Moroder that turned this on its head. The version released to radio is 4 minutes long, the version on the album is over 8 minutes long, the dance single version was 11 minutes long, and there’s an 18-minute-long version that incorporates two other songs that hit #1 on the dance charts and stayed there for five weeks in 1978. Can you imagine anyone paying attention to anything for 18 minutes these days?
39) “If I Can’t Have You” by Yvonne Elliman
Elliman got her start singing the part of Mary Magdalene in the original recording of “Jesus Christ Superstar” and eventually played the part in the film, gaining her a Golden Globe nomination. But it was this Disco era hit, written by the Bee Gees and featured on the “Saturday Night Fever” soundtrack that gave her the biggest hit of her career. A lush arrangement and layered Bee Gees style harmonies really make this one stand out.
38) “Boogie Nights” by Heatwave
With a few notable exceptions (ABBA, for one), Disco was mostly driven by American acts but this UK group had one of the biggest hits of the genre with this funky, dance floor groove. I love the harmonies and dreamy orchestration of the opening before it settles into the danceable part. Notably, the song was not included on the soundtrack for the 1997 Mark Wahlberg film “Boogie Nights” because the lead singer of the group is a born-again Christian and wouldn’t license it for a film about pornography.
37) “I’m Coming Out” by Diana Ross
This is a fun, throw-your-hands-in the-air and dance Disco classic, but it’s the story behind it that takes it to the next level. Fresh of her Disco-fueled success of “The Boss,” Ross asked Chic members Niles Rodgers and Bernard Edwards to write a song for her follow-up album. Inspired by drag queens dressed like Diana Ross at a NYC club, they wrote the song but didn’t mention the inspiration to the former Supreme. She loved it, relating it to her exit from Motown Records, but didn’t know the song’s origins and that the title was a phrase used by the gay community. She was so upset that she tearfully confronted Rodgers, convinced it would ruin her career. Instead it went on to become a massive hit, one of her signature songs, and an anthem for LGBT people everywhere.
36) “Take a Chance on Me” by Abba
Part of me wants to say that the version by Alvin and the Chipmunks is better than the original, but I have a feeling I’d be chased down with pitchforks and torches. This song is a great example of me setting aside my personal tastes to admit that it deserves a spot on the Top 100 Disco songs and in a higher position that some of ABBA’s other, bigger hits. Most ABBA songs are pretty lightweight but this one has a celebratory air to it that is admittedly infectious and was perfect for the dance floors.
35) “I’m Your Boogie Man” by KC & The Sunshine Band
This is another one that’s easy to dismiss as fluffy Disco silliness because, let’s face it, the lyrics are idiotic. “I want to be your rubber ball?” What? But forget all that and listen to the music. Those classic R&B horns, the propulsive piano, the non-stop chugging cymbal. Sure, we need to look at songs as the whole package, so the words knock it down into the 30s on this list, but otherwise this would have been in my Top 20 easily.
34) “Bad Girls” by Donna Summer
“Toot, toot, heeeyyy, beep beep!” If that doesn’t get you in the Disco mood, nothing will. One of Summer’s biggest hits, this song was co-written by the Disco Queen herself after a run-in with police officers who thought she was a prostitute. Casablanca Records wanted to give it to Cher, but Summer refused and recorded it herself. It went on to be a global smash, sitting at #1 on the charts in the US for five consecutive weeks in 1979.
33) “Kill the Lights” by Alex Newell & DJ Cassidy with Niles Rodgers
More proof that Disco is not dead comes in this 2016 track from the soundtrack to the short-lived HBO series “Vinyl.” With a soaring vocal by Alex Newell and guitar work from Chic’s Niles Rodgers, a musician songwriter, and producer behind some of the biggest Disco hits of the era, this glitter ball confection is both classic Disco and perfectly modern at the same time. There are multiple versions of this including one with Jess Glynne handling half of the vocals.
32) “Shake Your Groove Thing” by Peaches & Herb
In the “you learn something new every damn day of your life” category is the fact that while there was only ever one “Herb” (Herb Fame), there were seven (!?!) different “Peaches.” I’m shook. Linda Greene was the Peaches on this particular song and the part of the duo’s biggest hits including this and “Reunited.” Now, if someone could just show me how to find my groove thing, I’d be set.
31) “The Main Event” by Barbra Streisand
Babs doing Disco probably wasn’t the most earth-shaking event of 1979, but it was a pretty big deal especially when it came in the form of this non-stop boogie fever dream from the hit film of the same name. It’s so Disco it almost hurts but still has La Streisand all over it, making it feel almost like one of the many Broadway hits that got converted to dance floor tunes during the era. Admission… the nearly 12-minute-long extended version got a LOT of play in my bedroom as a kid. There was dancing and lip-syncing. Why the fact that I’m gay came as a surprise to anyone is a mystery.
30) “It’s Raining Men” by The Weather Girls
Speaking of gay, this was released in 1982 so it was technically not a part of the official Disco era but there are few songs that represent the genre better. The vocals are provided by Martha Wash and Izora Armstead, who got their start as a duo known as Two Tons O’Fun, backup singers for Sylvester. It’s big, silly fun and was a huge hit on the radio and in the clubs, especially the LGBT variety where this has become an enduring anthem. Check out the beefcake video!
29) “Dim All the Lights” by Donna Summer
Summer was a prolific songwriter but this is one of the few that she wrote entirely on her own. She originally wanted to give it to Rod Stewart but kept it for herself and turned it into another smash hit. Note the slow open, which is a staple of Disco tunes from the era and found on several Donna Summer songs including “Last Dance.” This extended version of “Dim all the Lights” returns to that slow section before building back up into a fiery finish.
28) “Young Hearts Run Free” by Candi Staton
Although it has a fun, almost celebratory arrangement, this is actually a really dark song. It was written for Candi Staton by songwriter David Crawford after she told him about an abusive relationship she had recently ended. Just check those lyrics… “Say “I’m gonna leave” a hundred times a day/It’s easier said than done/When you just can’t break away.” Wow. I’m willing to bet you that most of the people who packed the dance floors in 1976 when this was a hit had no idea what it was really about.
27) “Love Come Down” by Evelyn”Champagne” King
Released in 1982, this is another one that is technically categorized as “Post Disco,” but screw that. It’s got most of the hallmarks of a great Disco song with a little bit of grooviness thrown in that makes it feel like it could’ve been a hit for The Jacksons. Plus there’s the fact that it’s from Evelyn “Champagne” King, one of the biggest stars of the genre.
26) “Love is in The Air” by John Paul Young
I freely admit that my love of this song is mostly driven from its use in “Strictly Ballroom,” but even absent that it’s a great song. The chugga-chugga beat, the lush orchestration, and that build to the chorus… it’s almost cinematic, which is why it worked so well in the movie. This is a song I want played at my wedding. Stop laughing. It could happen.
25) “Last Night a D.J. Saved My Life” by Indeep
Another 1982 song, this one is admittedly a little more “Post Disco” than most of the songs on this list, but it’s such an enduring classic that not including it here would be almost criminal. That percolating bass-line drives the beat and makes up for the ridiculous white-guy rap toward the end, which is probably more embarrassing nearly 40 years later than it was then.
24) “On the Radio” by Donna Summer
No other artist has as many songs on this last as Donna Summer. And why not when you have great songs like this one? It was written by Summer and Giorgio Moroder for the 1980 film “Foxes” with Jodie Foster and Scott Baio. To say that this song was the only good thing from the movie is probably an understatement. Lush and romantic to start and non-stop movement once it kicks into gear, this is peak Disco.
23) “Upside Down” by Diana Ross
Another jam from Chic’s Niles Rodgers and Bernard Edwards, this was another massive hit for Ms. Ross, hitting number one in the US and in countries around the world. According to published accounts, the original version was much funkier and Ross didn’t like it, eventually hiring new producers to rework the track into the Disco glory that we all know and love.
22) “Love Sensation” by Loleatta Holloway
Remember Dan Hartman, whose “Instant Replay” came in at #93 on this list? He wrote this song that has gone on to be such a classic that samples (or entire pieces) have been used in dozens of songs since then, most notably “Good Vibrations” by Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch and “Ride on Time” by Black Box. And why not? The boogie fever is strong and that vocal by Holloway? It’s rattle the rooftops power that makes you want to get up and move.
21) “I Will Survive” by Gloria Gaynor
If not for a DJ with a good ear, this song could have never become the enduring hit it is. It was never intended to be released as a single, going out as the B-side to another song that Gaynor and the label liked better. But Studio 54 DJ Richie Kaczor reportedly took one listen to the female-empowerment anthem and put it into rotation in the club in 1978, and before you could say “At first I was afraid” it had become a phenomenon and was released as a proper single that topped the charts around the globe.
20) “Disco Inferno” by The Trammps
This is another song that almost missed its shot at glory. It was originally included on a 1976 album from The Trammps but it never gained any momentum. Two years later, producers decided to include it on the soundtrack to “Saturday Night Fever” and the song blew up, dominating the dance floors and the pop charts alike.
19) “That’s the Way (I Like It)” by KC & The Sunshine Band
Quick – what does the KC in the band’s name stand for? Trick question, it doesn’t stand for anything. The lead singer’s name was Harry Wayne Casey… KC. Get it? Whatever the origins, KC&TSB was one of the most influential groups of the Disco era and this was one of their biggest hits, a funky dance floor workout with their signature wall of sound horns and sing-along lyrics.
18) “I Wanna be Your Lover” by Prince
Prince actually made several songs that would qualify as disco, but this was far and away the best of the bunch and would become his first significant hit, reaching #11 on the pop chart and #1 on the soul chart. With its signature falsetto and percussive guitar work, it is signature Prince and as was often the case he wrote, produced, and performed every part of the song including playing all the instruments.
17) “Last Dance” by Donna Summer
This is one of two Disco songs on this list that won the Academy Award for Best Original Song (the other being “Fame”). Released as part of the soundtrack for “Thank God It’s Friday,” in which Donna Summer had a role, this went on to become one of her most beloved songs and a staple in the Disco pantheon. “Yes, it’s my last chance, for romance tonight.” Who hasn’t felt like that at some point in their life?
16) “Shake Your Body Down to The Ground” by The Jacksons
Although it’s plenty Disco in the single version we all know and love, check out the 12” “Disco” remix, which is one of the few of the era that qualifies as an actual remix instead of just an extended version of the original song. It’s got a more driven dance floor beat and a three-octave glissando that isn’t heard on the album version, giving it just a bit more Disco ball stardust.
15) “Let’s Groove” by Earth, Wind & Fire
This is a great example of a song where you can hear the influences that make it, technically, “Post Disco” – the more overtly electronic synthesizer tones are a dead giveaway. But forget the genre rules for a moment and “just moooove yourself” to that non-stop dance floor beat and the lush EWF harmonies. They really knew how to do Disco.
14) “You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)” by Sylvester
Frequent collaborator Patrick Cowley heard the original version of this song, done with a mid-tempo gospel arrangement, and thought it would be perfect to remix into a high-energy Disco stomper. His instincts proved right and the song stayed at the top of the Billboard dance charts for six weeks in 1978. You have to watch the video for this – it’s pure 1970s Disco deliciousness.
13) “Was That All It Was?” by Jean Carn
This relatively obscure song may come as a surprise coming in this high on the list, but if you’ve never heard it go take a listen. It’s a definitely a cut above of most of the songs of the era, both melodically and lyrically, a plaintive examination of a love affair gone wrong. With an almost aching vocal from jazz vocalist Carn (she changed it to Carne later), it upends the usual Disco party-all-the-time ethos in memorable ways. Check out the 1999 remake of the song by fiery vocalist Hannah Jones and remixes by Razor N Guido.
12) “Enough Is Enough (No More Tears)” by Donna Summer with Barbra Streisand
Put two of the world’s best vocalists (of any gender) on an empowering, take-no-prisoners anthem about standing up for yourself and the results are going to be enduring. Really listen to that slow open – the vocal dynamics are incredible and way beyond what most of the songs in the Disco landscape offered. Sadly, Summer and Streisand never performed the song together.
11) “Boogie Wonderland” by Earth, Wind and Fire with The Emotions
Those horns! It was a part of EWF’s signature sound, but they were used here in a way that went above and beyond even what they usually accomplished, bolstering the staccato, syncopated rhythm in luscious ways. Then add in a fierce vocal back and forth with Phillip Bailey and guest stars The Emotions and you have a recipe for one of the best songs of the era, only missing the Top 10 by one spot!
10) “Knock on Wood” by Ami Stewart
This song had already been done twice, first by Eddie Floyd who had a #1 hit with it in 1966 and then by none other than David Bowie in 1974. But it is Stewart’s 1979 cover that became the definitive version, a drum-fueled dance floor rager that is sent into the stratosphere by a belting, growling, soaring lead vocal. Listen for the beat of silence before the chorus… “You better knock… on wood!” That hook alone makes it top 10 material to me. Interesting side note: Stewart’s step-brother is Miquel Brown, whose “So Many Men” came in at #87 on this list.
9) “Never Can Say Goodbye” by Gloria Gaynor
Although it had just been a major hit for the Jackson 5 a few years earlier, Disco royalty Gloria Gaynor decided to upend the mid-tempo original and turn into a dance floor celebration, and to great effect. In fact, it was the #1 song on the very first Dance/Disco chart published by Billboard. “I Will Survive” was a bigger hit for Gaynor but from a writing and production standpoint, this is simply a better song.
8) “Shame” by Evelyn ”Champagne” King
1977 was the year of “Saturday Night Fever,” so the airwaves were already primed for Disco glory and King’s funky, groovy, in-your-face belter was a perfect antidote to the more tightly arranged Bee Gees and ABBA hits that were dominating the era. Full of spunky flourishes and a driving, get on the floor beat, “Shame” became King’s signature song and helped expand the boundaries of the Disco genre.
7) “Turn the Beat Around” by Vicki Sue Robinson
“Love to hear percussion!” Yes, we do, and it’s that “syncopated rhythm with the rat tat tat tat on the drums” that sends this song to a totally different level than most Disco tunes. Latin rhythms infuse this with an energy that is undeniable and unique amongst its dance floor peers. Staccato bursts of strings, dramatic harmonies, and the unmistakable “scratch” of the guitar makes it signature Disco and the impassioned vocal from Robinson, who had been a Broadway star before recording this, completes the package.
6) “Heaven Knows” by Donna Summer
Although certainly not Summer’s biggest hit, this 1979 classic is one of the best songs she ever wrote, with an aching lyric that is highlighted by the co-vocal with R&B group Brooklyn Dreams (who also co-wrote “Bad Girls”). Lead singer Joe Esposito’s rich baritone is the perfect counterpoint to Summer’s melodic alto and then it all comes together in the chorus with a perfectly effortless harmony that soars. Check out the alternate version that was on Brooklyn Dreams 1979 album, which flips the vocal duties, giving Esposito the lead and Summer the backup.
5) “Get Down Tonight” by KC & The Sunshine Band
Few lyrics encapsulate the Disco era better than “Do a little dance, make a little love, get down tonight.” KC&TSB’s signature funky flourishes give this one life (listen closely for the white guy growl, “woo,” and approximation of a James Brown “huh!”), but it’s the spacy guitar and synth that drive it home and help make it the band’s best song and one of the best Disco songs ever made. The version I have on the YouTube playlist is from the album, but go check out the live versions, which kick up the tempo and make it even more of a dance floor classic.
4) “Got to be Real” by Cheryl Lynn
This song has it all – a funky bass line, killer vocals, hand claps, percussive horns, a singalong chorus, and one of the greatest key changes in musical history. That’s not just my opinion – ShortList magazine said it, too. This song is one of those enduring hits that seems to transcend generations. Put it on in any club and it’ll get people on their feet and dancing from the first brass flourishes to the “soo hoo, soo hoo, soo hoo, I’ve got to have you baby” refrain. Put this back on whatever playlist you listen to often and I guarantee it’ll put a smile on your face and a groove in your step every time.
3) “September” by Earth, Wind & Fire
I’m pretty convinced that if they were to create a musical dictionary, where songs are associated with the words they evoke, “September” would be used for words like “celebratory,” “uplifting,” and “joy.” It’s three and a half minutes of pure sunshine, with an infectious beat, intricate and in-your-face horns, and a sing-along “ba-dee-ya!” chorus that is virtually impossible to resist. This is one of those songs that practically dares you to not move, smile, or enjoy yourself.
2) “I Feel Love” by Donna Summer
Simply put, this is one of the most important songs ever written and produced. Released in 1977, Summer and longtime producer Giorgio Moroder set out to create a concept album in which each track would represent a different decade, and this is what they came up with for “the future.” Almost entirely electronic (other than Summer’s vocals and the kick drum), this was revolutionary for the time and quite literally changed the course of music, fueling everything from house and techno to new wave and beyond, even providing the DNA for modern EDM today. It is the foundation on which most of the popular music of the 1980s was made and has been said to be a major influence on artists like David Bowie, Madonna, and more. But even if you feel like arguing about the song’s cultural relevance, there is no denying that it is one of the most perfect dance music songs ever written. One of the reasons the genre became (and remains) so popular is its almost hypnotic effect, allowing people to stop thinking about whatever personal or global problems are out there and just get lost in the beat. Think of the socio-political landscape of the 1970s and early 1980s, from Watergate to AIDS – or maybe even just look at the news today – and then put on this song and bliss out to the nonstop, driving energy of the synthesizers and Summer’s dreamy vocals. This is what dance music is supposed to be and it the only reason it doesn’t take the top spot is because there is one song that embraces Disco just a little bit better and I’ll tell you what it is, tomorrow. Thank you for coming to my Ted Talk.
1) “Don’t Leave Me This Way” by Thelma Houston
Choosing between this and “I Feel Love” by Donna Summer for the top spot on this list was an unexpectedly hard decision that I went back and forth on at least a dozen times. Yes, “I Feel Love” is, without a doubt, the most important Disco song ever made but the reasons that it is important – it’s groundbreaking use of synthesizers – is what makes it a little, tiny bit less of a pure Disco song. “Don’t Leave Me This Way,” on the other hand, is about as pure Disco as it gets. The nonstop kickdrum beat, the high hat, the orchestration, the harmonies, the bell-like flourishes, and the stairstep bassline that kicks in toward the end… it has all the ingredients you need for glitter ball glory. But it’s so much more than just the sum of its parts. Originally a hit for Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes, Houston’s fiery, gospel-tinged vocal on the deeply yearning lyrics give this a fierce emotional heft – an almost palpable sense of “need” – that is missing from a lot of Disco songs. “I Feel Love” was designed to get you on the dance floor and forget everything. “Don’t Leave Me This Way” is designed to make you feel everything and if you aren’t moved by that volcanic build to the chorus… “Awwwwwww, BABY!”… then I’m pretty sure you might just be dead. It is the definition of a “throw your hands in the air” moment and if Disco taught us anything, it is that we need more of those types of moments. Put all that together and you have what I think is the Best Disco song of all time.
Here’s the full video playlist of all 100 songs from #100 to #1.
I didn’t go because I was gay, of course. I went because a friend identified as gay and they would let us in to drink, or at least that’s why my 15-year-old “I’m not gay!” brain told me.
The people at the bar knew better. They didn’t let us in because they believed we were 19 (the legal drinking age at the time). I mean, come on. I’ve seen pictures of myself when I was 15 and I looked 15. But they knew what was really going on and they let us in because in Cedar Rapids, Iowa in the early 1980s, there weren’t many safe havens for gay people. There was no internet or location dating apps. There were no gay-straight alliances in the local schools. There weren’t any positive representations of gay people on TV unless you count Paul Lynde.
The bar was the place where people could go and feel safe. It was a sanctuary. It was a refuge. Where you could be who you were, as feminine or as butch as you wanted to be, and dance and chat and be catty and gossip about who did what to whom and where or you could be serious and talk about the whisperings of some “gay disease” that was killing people in the big cities.
Even if the darkest of times – sometimes despite them – the gay bar was the only safe haven that existed for people like us, even if we didn’t recognize it at the time. The staff and the regulars protected us, especially when an older “chicken hawk” would try to move in on the young guys out on the dance floor. Inevitably, someone who worked there or one of the regulars would come over and chase them away so we could just have fun.
When I moved to California when I was 18, it wasn’t as easy to get into the bars, but I made it a few times. Long gone neighborhood places like the Apache, Job Site, and the Detour were usually easier than the big clubs in West Hollywood and they became my semi-regular haunts. I knew the bartenders and the DJs, and the doormen and they knew me. It was a great place to meet people. It was the only place to meet gay people.
When I turned 21 I got a job as a bouncer at a bar in West Hollywood. Over the next 15 years or so, I would graduate to bartender and then DJ, spinning in clubs all over town. The people I worked with became an extended family and while many of them, sadly, did not survive that particularly brutal era (the late 1980s especially), the ones that did are still special to me. I met one of my best friends there and we still go out to bars on occasion, although not as frequently and often with greater consequences the next morning.
Leaving at 2 or 3 in the morning sometimes made me a little unsettled. I didn’t always feel safe going to my car. But inside the bar was different. The angry, confusing, often hateful world stopped at the door and it was a relief.
No offense to straight people or their bars, but they aren’t the same. You may have a little neighborhood pub where “everybody knows your name” and you know theirs. The kind of place where they have your drink ready before you sit down, and they ask you how Mary or Bob is doing and commiserate with you about the grief your kids or your boss is giving you.
But it isn’t the same.
A gay bar is a safe harbor. It is a sanctuary. It is a refuge.
When the shooting at Pulse Nightclub in Orlando happened on June 12, 2016 it hit me hard. I was in Jamba Juice, getting my usual morning smoothie, and I checked the news while I was waiting. I read the story and burst into tears.
I knew that place.
I had never been to Pulse Nightclub in Orlando. I didn’t know any of the people who died or the people who survived. I didn’t know any of the first responders or the community leaders or anyone else directly affected by the shooting.
But I knew that place. I knew the people. I knew what it was like inside and I could practically hear the music and the laughter and the dizzying tumble of conversations. I could feel the pounding bass of the sound system and see the DJ’s head bopping along to the tempo and their patient smile when someone requested whatever song was the most popular for the tenth time that night. I could smell the cologne – people often wore too much of it in the clubs, probably to drown out the other smell, which everyone who has ever worked at a bar knows. It’s sort of a sickly-sweet smell, a little sour and yet clean, too, like bleach trying to remove a stain that just won’t quite go away. I could taste the drinks – they were strong. You always get a bigger pour at neighborhood spots. I could see the bartenders trying to keep up with the orders and trying not to let their annoyance show when someone ordered anything more complicated, and therefore time consuming, than a gin and tonic. I could see the smiles and feel the embraces and taste the kisses, from friends and from lovers and sometimes – a first time – from someone that you wanted to be one or the other. And most importantly I felt what it was like once you walked through the doors.
It felt safe. It felt like a sanctuary. It felt like a refuge.
Standing there today, looking through a pane of glass at a waterfall that has been installed on the side of the building I sort of felt like I could still hear the music and taste the drinks and feel the feeling of what it must have been like there that night, before it all went to hell.
Then I looked through another pane of glass at the spot where the police used a battering ram to break through the wall, so people could escape the hail of gunfire. Then I looked through another and saw the names of the dead. The list went on… and on… and on…
The interim memorial that is there today starts with a message board of translucent panels that wrap around the base of the sign out in front. On it people can write messages of hope, sadness, grief, consolation, or, in some cases I saw, just their name – a statement, I believe, that they paid witness to this hallowed ground.
A tall wall has been put up around the building on three sides, covered with photographs sent in from around the globe. There are none of the night of the shooting. These are all of people coming together, mourning, grieving, and, ultimately, hoping and praying and taking action that will try to ensure something like this doesn’t happen again.
There are several windows in the wall allowing people to see the building itself, but they are done tastefully and always with an eye toward honoring those that lost their life – their names, the waterfall, the breach wall.
In front is a smaller fence that people can leave notes, photos, or tributes. All of them are collected and saved.
Finally, an electronic kiosk allows visitors to sign a guest book and learn more about the “Pulse 49.”
At first, I was a bothered by the rush of traffic whizzing by on the street a few feet away. Not only was it noisy, but it felt offensive somehow. “How dare you go on with your lives when something like this exists.” There should be a stop sign out front and everyone should be required to come to a complete halt, look at the place, and recognize its importance and only then will they be allowed to drive away.
But eventually that faded away and I could hear the music again.
The One Pulse Foundation was created by the owner of the club, Barbara Poma, to support construction and maintenance of the memorial, community grants to care for the survivors and victims’ families, endowed scholarships in the names of each of the 49 angels, educational programs to promote amity among all segments of society and, ultimately, a museum highlighting historic artifacts and stories from the tragedy.
The interim memorial was unveiled in the spring of 2018 and they are hoping to have the permanent facility finished by summer of 2020. They are currently working with the families, the community, and the local government to go through the design phase and are actively working on the capital campaign. They are negotiating to buy two adjacent lots, so it will take up a big chunk of a city block and are looking to places like the 9/11 Memorial and the Oklahoma City National Memorial as blueprints for what to do. This is not a government led effort – it is the owner of the bar putting together a world-class organization that is drawing support from everyone from major corporations like Disney to anyone who wants to contribute in whatever way, big or small, they can.
When I asked what I could do to help, other than write checks, I was asked to share my story since that was the most effective tool anyone has to create connections to tragedy.
Recently, a friend of mine posted a meme on her Facebook feed with a list of what gun control advocates believe are common sense measures that could reduce gun violence. Predictably, gun rights advocates attacked it with arguments that were, for the most part, filled with inaccuracies, distortions, name-calling, and outright lies. Usually, I let this kind of thing go by because these are people that you can’t really debate with regardless of how many facts or how much logic you throw at them.
This time, however, I thought it was important to look at the comments one particular gun rights advocate made on my friend’s post because they are arguments that have become talking points, used by both passionate and casual people alike, to suggest that gun control measures aren’t effective. My hope is that by dissecting them point by point, it will arm you (pun intended) with knowledge you can use should you ever encounter someone who says these things less because they believe or understand what they are saying but because they heard it somewhere and are parroting it back. You may not be able to change their mind, but you can stand firm in the knowledge that you know what you’re talking about and have the facts to back up your position.
Below are some of the points the meme made and the comments a gun rights advocate made against them followed by my analysis.
Point: Ban assault-style weapons Comment: The “style” of a weapon has absolutely NOTHING to do with lethality. Analysis: This is a commonly used tactic by gun rights supporters, using semantics to attack the words used as opposed to the actual point that is being made. They believe that by saying you are using the “wrong” words it somehow proves you don’t know enough about guns to have an intelligent discussion about them.
What I find most interesting about this is the pivot that has occurred in this specific argument. Gun control advocates were using the term “assault weapon” or “assault rifle” to describe guns like the AR-15 and gun rights advocates were saying that was incorrect. They say that an assault weapon is something that is fully automatic, meaning that you can hold down the trigger once and it will continue shooting bullets until you let go (a machine gun in old timey parlance). Guns like the AR-15 are semi-automatic, meaning that you have to pull the trigger every time you want to shoot a bullet, but the chamber reloads itself after each firing. This differs from older shotguns for instance because they required the shooter to “cock” the weapon – or move the bullet into the chamber – after each firing.
Fully automatic weapons have been largely banned in this country since the 1930s, so gun rights advocates said that there already is a ban on “assault weapons.” So, gun control advocates pivoted and started using the phrase “assault-style weapon,” but now the other side has pivoted and say things like “the style of the weapon has nothing to do with lethality.”
Fair point. It’s a semantic one designed to distract from the true issue, but it is a fair point. A gun’s “style,” or the way it looks, has nothing to do with how much damage it can do. But they know as well as we do that when we are talking about “style” we are talking about its industrial design and capabilities, not the way it looks.
Weapons like the AR-15 are more lethal than most hand guns for four reasons – they hold more bullets, they are capable of firing bullets faster, they have greater accuracy at longer distances, they fire bullets at a higher velocity. It is that last point that is the most crucial. An AR-15 fires bullets at a velocity nearly three-times that of a standard handgun. After that it’s simple physics – the higher the rate of speed an object is traveling, the more damage an object will make when it hits something. Need proof? Run your car into a wall at ten miles per hour and then do it again at thirty.
This article from a radiologist is worth a read but I’ll sum up the salient point. He was on call after both the Ft. Lauderdale airport shooting and the Parkland High School shooting. The damage evident on the scans from victims of the Parkland shooting showed far greater damage than those from the airport shooting. Why? Because the shooter used a handgun in Ft. Lauderdale and an AR-15 in Parkland. All six victims that were transported to the hospital after the airport shooting survived. Many of the victims of Parkland did not.
So, instead of “assault weapon” or “assault style weapon,” let’s use the term “high powered rifle” and know that what you’re talking about are guns that fire more bullets at higher velocities than most handguns. It’s likely that gun rights advocates will pivot again and come up with some reason why that’s not correct terminology either, but you can be safe in the knowledge that they are just playing a semantics game.
Point: Stop sales at gun shows. Comment: Sales at most gun shows require a background check. Analysis: The commenter bungled this one a bit. What he meant to say was, “most sales at gun shows require a background check” and if he had gotten it right, he would have been technically correct.
Most gun dealers are federally licensed and are required to perform background checks on every sale regardless of if they are in a store or a gun show. Since most vendors at gun shows are federally licensed, most guns sold at gun shows are subject to a background check.
But this, again, is a semantics game. “Most” is not “all” or even “a vast majority.” And this is where the so-called “gun show loophole” comes in. (BTW, gun show loophole is another phrase gun rights advocates will try to use semantics against, but everyone knows what we’re talking about here)
In all but six states (California, Colorado, Illinois, New York, Oregon, and Rhode Island), anyone can by any type of gun through a private sale and not be subject to a background check. In three other states (Connecticut, Maryland, and Pennsylvania), only handguns are subject to background checks for private sales. That means in 41 states, any person can buy a gun from any other person and not have to undergo a background check.
To reiterate, in these 41 states, any person – a felon, a terrorist, a convicted domestic abuser – anyone can buy a gun (or a lot of them) through a private sale (at a gun show, for instance) and not have to undergo a background check.
So, let’s go back to those gun shows. Yes, most vendors at gun shows are federally licensed and require background checks for gun sales, but many vendors are not federally licensed and therefore don’t have to perform a background check. They will usually call themselves “collectors” but in many instances these are people who are making a living by buying a bunch of guns from licensed gun dealers (and going through the requisite background checks when doing so) and then turning around and selling them through so-called “private sales” without a background check.
Although there isn’t a lot of research on the topic, a 1999 study by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms found that licensed dealers make up anywhere from 50-75% of vendors at gun shows, meaning that 25-50% are not licensed. A Harvard study found that as many as 15% of gun sales in this country were not subject to background checks. That equates to more than 5 million gun owners and who knows how many actual guns.
So yes, most sales at gun shows are subject to background checks. What gun control advocates are saying is that they should all be.
Point: Limit magazines to 5 rounds Comment: 5 round magazine limit? What jackwagon arbitrarily decided 5 rounds is all we need? The public should have the same capacity magazines as law enforcement. Analysis: This is a dog whistle argument, using language that is specifically designed to appeal to a segment of the population that most people will miss the meaning of. In this case, what the commenter is really saying is that someday, the police, the military, or some other jack-booted thug is going to come to take your guns and you need to be as well armed as they are, so you can fight back.
First, let’s take a look at the idea of equity with law enforcement. There are all sorts of things that police officers have access to that private citizens don’t including types of weapons, tactical assault vehicles, communication devices, specially equipped cars, lock picking devices, and on and on. The idea that average citizens have some sort of “right” to everything the police have is not only ludicrous but not supported in the constitution anywhere.
Second, it has already been determined that limiting rights granted by the constitution is constitutional. This is why the second amendment can exist alongside a ban on fully automatic weapons and the first amendment can exist alongside the idea that if you yell fire in a crowded theater with the intention of inciting panic, you can go to jail for it. There is nothing in the constitution that says you should have unlimited access to as many guns and as many bullets and as big of magazines as you want. A five bullet limit may seem arbitrary but it is simple math designed to limit the number of bullets a gun can fire without reloading. When a shooter needs to stop to reload, people have a better chance at survival.
But third, and more importantly, let’s dissect the concept behind the argument. At its core, what that is saying is that if the city, state, or country that you live in passes a law that you don’t agree with, you have the right to not obey it and to use deadly force to resist anyone trying to enforce it. We could be ridiculous and say that means if you don’t feel like the speed limit is too low, you have the right to shoot any cop that pulls you over for exceeding it, but that won’t really get us anywhere.
Instead, let’s apply it to the scenario that they are warning against. If two-thirds of both houses of Congress proposed an amendment to the constitution banning all guns in the United Sates and that amendment was ratified by three-fourths of the state legislatures and it became constitutional law in this country that owning a gun was illegal, these people would feel like they had the right to murder anyone coming to enforce that law. If that doesn’t chill you to the bone, something is wrong.
Point: Ban bump stocks and all other rapid-fire technology. Comment: Banning bump stocks leads to banning other firearm parts and some people can fire a rifle almost as fast WITHOUT them anyway. Analysis: This comment employs a type of intellectually lazy argument that need to be called out.
It’s called the slippery slope – if we do one thing it could lead to all these other things. That’s like saying because we impose a 55mph speed limit that it could one day lead to a 45mph speed limit and eventually to banning cars all together. Or, if you want to turn it back the other way, it’s like saying that if we allow bump stocks it could lead to allowing fully automatic weapons.
Debate the point being made, not some mythical future that “could” happen because of it. In this case, it is talking about bump stocks, devices that when used with a semi-automatic rifle, can make it act like a fully automatic one. What it does is moves the gun back and forth (bumping it) so that instead of needing to squeeze the trigger once for every bullet, a shooter can simply press the trigger and the gun moves instead, increasing the number of bullets that can be fired at any one time and therefore making them more lethal.
If, at some point in the future, we want to talk about banning other firearm parts then we can do that, but for now we’re only talking about bump stocks.
But the bigger point here is the part of the comment that says that some people can fire a rifle almost as fast without a bump stock as those that have them. This is, put simply, not true.
The average person can fire between 2-3 bullets per second using a standard semi-automatic weapon. This is obviously dependent upon how fast the shooter can pull the trigger and can vary, but analysis of the recordings of gunfire at mass shooting events has shown that the 2-3 per second is typical.
In the October 2017 mass shooting in Las Vegas, the gunman employed a bump stock and analysis of those recordings showed that he was firing off about 9 bullets per second. There is no way that a human being could pull a trigger nine times in a second – it isn’t physically possible – and 2-3 is not “almost as fast” as 9.
Point: Require licenses for all firearms, just like cars. Comment: Some states already require licenses to purchase/own firearms yet criminals still have them. Analysis: There are a lot of ways to counter this argument, the easiest of which is to say that what the commenter is suggesting is that because people break laws we shouldn’t have any laws. But that’s kind of a slippery slope style argument and we shouldn’t use it. Instead, let’s talk about the basis of the argument and refute it with facts.
I’m surprised the commenter didn’t use “Chicago,” another dog whistle word that gun rights advocates will bring up all the time. What they usually say is some derivation on this: “Chicago has some of the strictest gun control laws in the nation and yet gun violence there is among the highest.” This is a more specific way of saying what the commenter did, which is gun control doesn’t work.
But let’s examine Chicago and why its in the situation it is in and to do that, let’s start by asking a simple question: where do illegal guns come from? The answer is fundamental and yet somehow shocking to people – every illegal gun started out as a legal one.
Yes, it is true that Illinois has gun laws that are stricter than many other states. There are bunch of things they do differently like banning people from openly carrying guns, requiring waiting periods, and so on but the primary thing that critics point to is the FOID. This is the Firearm Owners Identification and anyone who wants to own a gun must have one before they purchase a weapon. This requires them to apply to the Illinois state police with small fee and subjects them to background check. So, in order to buy a gun anywhere in Illinois – at a gun dealer, a gun show, or a private sale – you are supposed to have the FOID card ahead of time. This differs from other states who run the background checks at the point of sale and, as we have discussed, often don’t require background checks at all for private sales.
When people talk about how strict the gun laws are, they want you to believe that it is virtually impossible to buy a gun when in fact it isn’t. It’s a little harder and takes a little bit more time, but if you want a gun and you’re not legally restricted from owning one, you can get as many as you like.
Now, let’s talk about gun violence in Chicago. Yes, it is a problem, but when looking at national statistics, Illinois usually rates around 40th in terms of per capita gun deaths. That’s a little misleading because the rest of the state waters down the overall numbers that are primarily recorded in the south side of Chicago. If you were to compare metropolitan areas, Chicago would be pretty high up on the list.
States like Connecticut and Massachusetts also have strict gun laws (in some cases stricter than Illinois) and their gun violence stats are lower even when comparing metropolitan areas. So why do the gun control laws in Illinois seem to have less of an effect than they do those states? It all boils down to simple geography.
Connecticut is surrounded by other states that have strict gun laws. Illinois, on the other hand, is not. And if you look at a map, pay special attention to where the south side of Chicago is. It’s a quick drive – and sometimes just a quick walk – to Indiana, where gun laws are among the most lax in the United States. Indiana does not require background checks by private sellers at gun shows, so anyone – and I do mean anyone from felons to terrorists and beyond – could take a quick jaunt from Chicago into Indiana to buy as many guns as they want and then bring them back to the city to sell them out of the trunk of their car.
There is not some secret manufacturing facility where people are making illegal guns. They don’t come here from other countries. They are made and sold right here in the United States. As I said, every illegal gun starts out as a legal gun but if every state had laws like Illinois, it would be harder for that legal gun to become and illegal one.
Point: Raise the minimum age to buy guns to 21. Comment: Raising the age to purchase firearms to 21? Sure, as soon as the same age is required to use every other Constitutionally protected right along with joining the military, voting and driving. Analysis: Up until 1971 you had to be 21 to vote. That’s what the constitution – you know, that document you consider so sacrosanct – called for until the 26th amendment was passed lowering it to 18.
I’m not sure what amendment made driving a constitutionally protected right.
If we can limit the sale of alcohol, the sale of marijuana (in the states in which it is legal), and gambling in a casino to people 21 and older, I see no reason why gun sales can’t be restricted as well.
Point: Ban sales to domestic abusers. Comment: Background checks are already run and domestic abusers are already prohibited from owning firearms. Analysis: We’ve already covered the background check comment, but let’s look at the domestic abuser prohibition.
In 1997, Congress passed the Domestic Violence Offender Gun Ban, which blocked anyone who has been convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence from being able to own or buy a gun. But there are enough loopholes in the law that it is not as effective as it could be. It does not prevent sales to people who have been convicted of beating a girlfriend, boyfriend, father, sister, or anyone other than a legally married spouse or child. It doesn’t apply to people who are convicted of stalking. And most importantly, it does not require a person who is convicted of domestic abuse to surrender their weapons, it just prevents them from buying more.
Additional laws have been passed in many states that add more teeth to the domestic violence statute, but it is still a patchwork of laws that allow people to go to neighboring states to buy guns and, in most cases, allow people who already own guns to keep them even after they have been convicted of beating a spouse or child.
The most powerful thing you can do to prevent gun violence is to be educated about the issues surrounding them. The more people that know the kinds of facts I have talked about here, the more chances we will have in winning the argument for gun control in the future.
Not long after Prince faked his death and moved to a tropical island to live with a couple of hot models who follow him around all day striking random poses (you believe what you want to believe, I’ll believe what I want to believe), I culled a list of what I felt were the best songs Prince ever did. At the time I just did a simple alphabetical list, saying there was no way I could rank them. Well, it has taken me two years and a lot of arguing with myself, but I have finally done it. There is an audio player of the song under each entry.
50. Adore from Sign o’ the Times (1987)
I will admit that I was not always a fan of the Prince slow jams but this one gets me every time. “Until the end of time, I’ll be there 4 U.” Come on. And that breakdown at 2:30 that leads to a classic Prince line: “You could burn up my clothes, smash up my ride… well, maybe not the ride…” A perfect mix of love and seduction.
49. Bambi from Prince (1979)
It was a track from his second album but it announced him in ways that would come to define his sound for years to come. That fuzzy, dirty guitar; the screaming falsetto; the rock God trappings. It’s all there and remember he was only 20 years old when he recorded it. Evidence, if you really needed it, that he was a prodigy.
48. Good Love from Bright Lights, Big City Soundtrack (1988)
This song has a bit of a tortured history. It was originally recorded by Prince with the Revolution for an album that was to be called Dream Factory, which was going to be the follow up to Around the World in a Day. When the band broke up in 1986, Prince put many of the songs on another unreleased multi-disc album Crystal Ball and then eventually put many of them on Sign o’ the Times, after taking out much of the Revolution’s contributions to the songs. This one, a funky pop ditty that gets in your ear and won’t let go, was included on the Michael J. Fox movie soundtrack but never released on an official Prince album or b-side (that I know of).
47. Alphabet Street from LoveSexy (1988)
The short, radio version of this is fun, funky, and get yo ass on the dance floor groovy but the longer version with the rap from Cat is where it really throws down… “Talk to me lover/Come and tell me what you taste/Didn’t your mama tell you/Life is too good to waste?”
46. Lolita from 3121 (2006)
I will freely admit that by the early 2000s I had pretty much stopped paying attention to Prince. For the better part of the previous decade or so I felt like he had gotten a little too myopic, doing music that was much more interesting to him than to anyone else. But then he released this album, certainly the closest thing he did to his old sound in years, and then really got my attention by doing a residency in Vegas. This song, while never released as a single, is classic Prince fun with a danceable beat, a vaguely naughty lyric that evokes his peak period during the 1980s and 1990s.
45. Feel U Up, b-side of Partyman (1989)
Interesting back story to this bass heavy jam – it was originally recorded in 1981 but then redone in 1986 for a project that never got released. It was used as the b-side of the single from the Batman album.
44. Gett Off from Diamonds and Pearls (1991)
Prince did a lot of dirty jams in his time but this one grinds in a way that practically demanded he wear pants with no butt cheeks on the Video Music Awards in 1991. Although he was certainly influenced by the music of his soul/R&B/funk godfathers, he rarely did what he did here, sampling a little bit of a James Brown and adopting the lyrics… “Remind me of something James used to say, I like ‘em fat, I like ‘em proud… ”
43. Private Joy from Controversy (1981)
I love the stacatto delivery of the lyric, which perfectly matches the propulsive drum beat and digital hand claps. Listen close for the occasional tamborine flourish in the background, like a accent mark. But my favorite part of the song is at the end, “Come on honey, baby get up!” as it strips down so you can really hear the intricate bass and the line “If anybody asks you belong to Prince.” Oh yeah. Then it fades into apocalyptic guitar and synth screeching as the album segues into Ronnie Talk to Russia, an ode to the cold war fears of the era.
42. Darling Nikki from Purple Rain (1984)
“I knew a girl named Nikki, I guess you could say she was a sex fiend.” Talk about an opening line setting the mood. But don’t let the lyrics distract you too much – the thing that makes this song truly dirty is the fierce, fuzzy guitar work in the background. And for the record, the backwards recording at the end says, “Hello. How are you? I am fine because I know the lord is coming soon. I know the lord is coming soon.”
41. If I Was Your Girlfriend from Sign ‘o the Times (1987)
The track itself is spare and evocative but to me it’s the lyrics that really sell this one. “If I was your one and only friend / Would you run to me if somebody hurt you even if that somebody was me?” That’s almost as meta as the closing lines of the longer album version, “We’ll try to imagine what silence looks like.”
40. Shockadelica, the b-side of the If I Was Your Girlfriend single (1987)
Another funk workout with stunning, screechy guitar work and a (purposely) tinny vocal from Prince that works perfect with the taunting lyrics.
39. Cream from Diamonds and Pearls (1991)
How can you not love a song that starts with overtly sexual moaning? But then you add in the church organ doing a pop beat and Rosie Gaines providing background and it turns the whole thing up a notch. A decidedly sexy song.
38. The Beautiful Ones from Purple Rain (1984)
Back in 1985 I took a sign language class and the final project had us sign a song. I picked this one for its expressive lyrics that matched the beautifully expressive nature of signing. That moment at around 3:20 where the drum beat goes into hyperdrive and he starts screaming “Do you want him? Or do you want me? Because I want you!” is the definition of yearning.
37. The Most Beautiful Girl in the World (Mustang Remix) from The Gold Experience (1995)
This is one that I’m going to toss to a remix as being superior to the original. While the radio version is a sweet ode with a classic Prince falsetto, the Mustang Remix I have on a German EP called The Beautiful Experience is the one I really like. This is less a remix than a completely different recording of the song with Prince singing in his chest voice over a sultry lounge beat that adds a funk, heat, and sex to the song.
36. Sexy Motherfucker from the o+> album (1992)
This was Prince at his all time coolest. Nobody else could get away with a song like this that seemed dirty but was really all about respect and love. Prince made it the epitome of suave.
35. Diamonds and Pearls from Diamonds and Pearls (1991)
Probably the most traditional love song he ever wrote, enhanced by the simplicity of the lyrics (“All I can do is just offer you my love”) and a soaring co-vocal with Rosie Gaines.
34. Controversy from Controversy (1981)
“Am I black or white? Am I straight or gay? Do I believe in God? Do I believe in me?” Prince answers the critics of his androgynous sexuality with a resounding middle finger of song that pulses like an angry heartbeat. And then the audacity of putting the Lord’s Prayer in the middle of it? That’s some balls, right there ladies and gentlemen. My favorite line: “Was it good for you? Was I what you wanted me to be?”
33. Do Me, Baby from Controversy (1981)
Pure sex in the form of a falsetto slow jam. I’m guessing there were quite a few babies conceived while this song was playing.
32. Sexuality from Controversy (1981)
The main part of this rollicking ode to letting your body be free is great fun but it’s the spoken word part at the end that really sells it. “Reproduction of a new breed – Leaders, stand up! Organize!” with the up hitting perfectly on the smash beat every time is addictive as hell. And his tourist-bashing – something that would pop up again on 1982’s 1999 is just plain old funny: “Tourists – 89 flowers on their back…inventors of the Accu-jack. They look at life through a pocket camera… What? No flash again?”
31. Head from Dirty Mind (1980)
For this classic Prince funk jam you should go read the lyrics sometime to get the full effect of just how classically dirty of a song it is. Um… he did what on the wedding gown? And love the Star Wars synth work in the break.
30. Raspberry Beret from Around the World in a Day (1985)
Cheeky is the word I think of when I hear this song. The lyrics are kind of lacivious but it is done with such a bouncy, flirty delivery that elevates this beyond just a randy story of a couple doing it in a barn. Check out the extended version with its finger cymbal intro and Prince coughing at random places. What does it mean? Who knows, but it’s exactly the kind of thing that he did that made him and his music so unique.
29. Strange Relationship from Sign o’ the Times (1987)
The driving four on the floor beat plays an interesting counterpoint to the swinging melody that dances around playfully. It’s a great song and I always wondered why he didn’t release this as a single.
28. U Got the Look from Sign o’ the Times (1987)
Sheena Easton’s induction into the Prince family is a barn burner of a song about a guy trying every bit of flattery he can muster to get the girl.
27. Automatic from 1999 (1982)
Here he not only manipulates the instrumentation to sound vaguely robotic (if robots were funky dancing machines), but he does the same thing with the vocals. The stacatto delivery occasionally chirps up into the stratosphere like a machine coming to life. Be sure to listen to the full length album version with headphones so you can hear the freaky, fade in/out, left/right execution of the the spoken word part (“stop me if I’m boring you”). It’s simple but effective.
26. 17 Days, the b-side of When Doves Cry (1984)
I named my first play after this song, not because it inspired me to write the play, but rather that it’s spare, fuzzy guitar opening and bleak let the rain come down sing-songy chorus were what I pictured the main character, a man dying of AIDS, was hearing in his head every day. One of the many great examples of Prince’s music brilliantly setting a mood.
25. Let’s Work from Controversy (1981)
That slapping bass line is enough to sell me but add in the early 80s synth work and the multi-tracked vocals turn this into a perfect bit of funk fun.
24. Mountains from Parade (1986)
Another song that I stole the title of for a play, this upbeat shuffle has the full Revolution-era treatment including Wendy & Lisa backing vocals, horns, and more. And that breakdown! “Guitars and drums on the 1, huh!” Classic.
23. Girls and Boys from Parade, (1986)
Irresistibly groovy from start to finish with a sax hook that won’t quit and breathy backup vocals from Wendy & Lisa. This is one that loves to stick around in the corners of your brain for days – “Vous etes tres belle, mamma, girls and boys.”
22. Lady Cab Driver from 1999 (1982)
I used to think of this song almost every day while sitting on the 101 freeway behind somebody who isn’t paying attention to the fact that traffic ahead of them is moving. “Put your foot on the gas, let’s drive” pops into my head and then it’s all there – the funky kickdrum/hand clap beat, the twangy bass, and the intricate keyboard work. The extended spoken part on the album version (“This one’s for Yosemite Sam and the tourists at Disneyland:) is both dirty and a little disturbing as a woman moans in the background. Is it love or anger?
21. I Would Die 4U from Purple Rain (1984)
I love the original on the album but check out this 10 minute version (only ever available on vinyl and as an album only cut on the remaster), which isn’t just an extended remix but a live, full band studio recording and a complete rework of the song with shoutouts to Wendy and Lisa, horn players Eddie M and Miko Weaver, and drums by Sheila E. It keeps the driving forward motion of the original but adds depth with intricate synth and percussion work.
20. I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man from Sign o’ the Times (1987)
The poppy, kicky beat could distract you from the lyrics but don’t let it – they are profoundly self-aware and heartbreaking. “She asked me if we could be friends/And I said, oh, honey baby that’s a dead end.” This is the long version, which I recommend because the song goes from upbeat pop to dark, tortured guitar at around 3:45 and in just a few bars adds a layer of complexity that is almost heartbreaking.
19. Irresistible Bitch, the b-side of Let’s Pretend We’re Married (1982)
A bass-heavy, stacatto beat works perfectly with the spoken word lament about a woman that did him wrong that he can’t stay away from. Come on… who else would do a song called Irresistible Bitch? No one.
18. Purple Rain from Purple Rain (1984)
A lot of people don’t know this but Prince’s signature song from his breakthrough album was recorded live in 1983 at a benefit concert along with Baby I’m a Star and I Would Die 4U. That the track reportedly required minimal remastering speaks to not only his genius as a musician and performer but as a storyteller. Interestingly the iconic guitar chords at the beginning do not come from Prince, but Wendy. His solo work comes in around the 3:45 mark and is heartache, heartbreak, and heart pounding in aural form.
17. Willing and Able from Diamonds and Pearls (1991)
An upbeat, almost acoustic jam with overt gospel influences including a full choir doing back up. Perfect if you need a mood boost.
16. I Wanna Be Your Lover from Prince (1979)
One of the few songs by Prince that you could put into a disco playlist and not look like an idiot. The wocka-wocka guitars and Prince’s perfect falsetto make this an irresistable dance floor groove.
15. How Come U Don’t Call Me Anymore, the b-side to 1999 (1982)
With all due respect to Alica Keys’ remake, Prince’s original version of this bluesy piano ballad destroys not only with its emotion but with its simplicity. From falsetto to chest voice to screaming and back again, this song may have a languid tempo but it feels filled with urgency.
14. Joy in Repetition from Graffiti Bridge (1990)
If you are looking for evidence of Prince’s musical genius, you must listen to this track about a woman in a club on the mic “repeating these 2 words, over and over again” but you really have to pay attention. On the surface it sounds like the same four bars repeated over and over again, which is kinda the point, but it’s what he does with the lyric and its relation to the music that is so subtly incredible. This line: “These 2 words, a little bit behind the beat. I mean just enough 2 turn u on.” He sings the line just a little bit behind the beat and when he gets to those 2 words he sings THOSE a little bit behind the beat. It’s stunningly simple and yet complex at the same time.
13. Anotherloverholenyohead from Parade (1986)
The vaguely Indian intro segues into a piano driven monster with a dirty guitar line and itricately weaving vocals that wraps up (on the short version) with “There’s gonna be a riot if you don’t clap your hands.” I saw him do this live at one of his shows and I nearly lost my mind. This is the extended version with a lot of additional funky horn and piano work.
12. Kiss from Parade (1986)
There are few songs that are so instantly recognizeable with their first two seconds but that guitar lick makes this one of them, announcing the falsetto masterpiece that follows. I loved how, in later years, he updated the references when performing this song. I saw him once change “You don’t have to watch Dynasty” to “You don’t have to watch Desperate Housewives.” This is the extended dance mix, which adds horn flourishes and ends with an argument between “Saul” and his wife over seeing Prince on TV.
11. 1999 from 1999 (1982)
“Don’t worry… I won’t hurt you… I only want you to have some fun.” We did, Prince. Thank you.
10. Let’s Go Crazy from Purple Rain (1984)
“Dearly Beloved, we are gathered here today to get through this thing called life.” If songs like this dance/rock jam were part of our daily soundtrack, it would be a lot easier to get through life. Note the fuzzy guitar work in the beginning that is a direct descendant of Bambi and see how it leads you to the epic solo that closes the track. Bonus points to this extended version that includes an insane asylum meets Bugs Bunny cartoon mashup of what, from any other artist, would just be noise.
9. Erotic City, the b-side of the Let’s Go Crazy single (1984)
If this naughty, pulsating, highly danceable song featuring breathy backup vocals from Sheila E doesn’t put you and your significant other in the mood, something’s wrong. It’s classic “dirty era” Prince that is remarkable if for no other reason than so many people know it but it never got any mainstream radio airplay because of its lyrics. And this was before satellite radio and social media gave platforms to songs that no one would touch.
8. Something in the Water from 1999 (1982)
Prince did a techno song? Well, no, but this one has the kind of strange alien beeps and a languid synthesizer background on top of a hyperactive drum beat that perfectly underscores the heartbreak of the song’s lyrics. When he gets screams “I’d buy you clothing… I’d buy you fancy cars” it sends a chill up my spine every time.
7. Housequake from Sign o’ the Times (1987)
“Shut up, already, damn!” Okay, I will and just let this delirious house party classic speak for itself.
6. Nothing Compares 2 U from The Hits/B-Sides (1993)
Originally (formally) recorded by the Prince offshoot band The Family and later made famous by Sinead O’Connor, Prince finally took back his song and did it as a stunning, heartbreaking duet with Rosie Gaines and pretty much made every other version look like child’s play. Yes, I have heard the new/old version from the vault of Prince doing it by himself but I still prefer this version.
5. Little Red Corvette from 1999 (1982)
The dirtiest song ever written that doesn’t contain any explicit lyrics. It’s about a car, isn’t it? And something about horses? I love the video as he works the camera with a “You know what I’m talking about” smirk. Check out this Dance Remix that inserts some moody interludes and rattling synthesizer bass lines that aren’t in the original.
4. Baby I’m a Star from Purple Rain (1984)
If you need a party to kick into high gear, put on this song. It’s a clap your hands, jump up and down dose of adrenaline with classic Prince squeals that announced to the world exactly what he was and who he intended to be. “You might not know it now, but baby what I are is I’m a star.” Damn right.
3. Forever in my Life from Sign o’ the Times (1987)
One of his rare non-falsetto slow songs, this reflective work uses overlapping vocals and an overarching feeling of melancholy to perfectly convey the yearning of a man reaching a crossroads. Listening to this song now breaks my heart.
2. When Doves Cry from Purple Rain (1984)
This song literally made me change the way I thought of music, opening me up to a world of possibilities that my limited, Iowa 1970s and 1980s upbringing couldn’t have imagined. Step back and really listen to it. There’s no bass line in the entire track, which is revolutionary on its own, but after the intro it gets stripped down to just drums and Prince’s vocal. Then it slowly layers in a dash of keyboards and then more and more, and finally pushing into a rush of guitars and that makes it feel like the whole thing is going to explode. After more than three decades it might be easy to take this song for granted, but it remains probably his most stunning musical achievement. So why isn’t it my number one?
1. DMSR from 1999 (1982)
Dance, Music, Sex, Romance. What else do you need? According to this classic funk masterpiece, absolutely nothing. Musically, it seems pretty simple on the surface – slapping bass, dirty keys, and a drumbeat that makes you want to move – but take a minute and really listen to the way the music seems to weave in and out of itself, almost like the call and answer vocals (“Somebody say DANCE!”). But in the end, it is less about the music and more about the spirit of this song that gets me. Nothing else he did ever encapsulated as much of the prime years Prince ethos as this song did. I’d like to think this is the spirit of how he’d like to be remembered.
I still can’t quite put my finger on what it is about Savannah but whenever I get here I sort feel like I’m home. There’s something about the history, the people, the scenery, and the general laid back attitude mixed with a healthy dose of mystery in the air – like there’s something going on behind the proper facades of those stately manors and the genteel manners of their owners.
I got here Thursday and I’m staying at the Andaz, the hipper Hyatt if you will, right on Ellis Square in the heart of the Landmark Historic District. Unlike many of the hotels in town this is a newer building so it doesn’t have the history but it’s a nice place and I’ve got a generously proportioned two-room suite that comes with free beverages and snacks in the mini-bar so I’m a fan.
I almost immediately headed down to Rocks on the River to have my favorite Georgia Peach drink made with Fruitland Georgia Peach vodka, peach schnapps, orange juice, fresh lemon, and simple syrup, which sounds cloyingly sweet to most but is absolutely perfect for my taste buds. Sitting on the cobblestone River Street looking out at the Savannah River with a peach drink – well, it don’t get more Georgia than that.
For dinner I went to the Five Oaks Taproom on Bay Street, a gastropub in the historic Guckenheimer building (built in 1855) that prides itself on serving only locally grown ingredients and Georgia-only brews. It was on the early side but I was literally the only person in the dining room even though I’ve heard that it is usually pretty busy. I started with the Bacon Brown Sugar Lollis, which is thick cut bacon on skewers coated in a cinnamon brown sugar glaze. Yeah. I’m in the south, bitches, I’m not messing around when it comes to food. The cinnamon was a really interesting twist that I approve of.
For the main I did the appetizer section Brisket Sliders, which came with so-tender-it-almost-melts-in-your-mouth brisket, smoked gouda, crispy onions, and bacon jam, because the big ass plate of bacon sitting next to it just wasn’t enough. Anyone got a problem with that? Didn’t think so.
Thursday evening was the kick-off even for Savannah’s Gay Pride festivities, a masquerade ball at the historic (yeah, everything is historic) Mansion on Forsyth, where I had my 50th birthday dinner and cooking class last year. It’s a gorgeous mansion-turned-hotel and was the perfect setting for the eclectic crowd that included men in tuxedos and top hats, women in Victorian dresses, men in Victorian dresses, and women in top hats. It was a little bit drag queen meets high society meets disco but it was fun and they went all out with several bar spaces, a dance floor, makeup artists doing free Day of the Dead style face paintings (sponsored by MAC cosmetics), drag dance crew performances, and more.
Friday I had a crap ton of work to do so mostly stayed in the room working on Hallmark projects but did manage to get out to eat. Lunch was at the highly regarded Ordinary Pub, located in the basement of a (yes) historic building on Broughton Street, the main shopping drag in Downtown. The menu is pub grub on steroids and their daily brunch has lots of interesting options but I finally settled on the Mac & Cheese Morning which comes with ham, diced tomatoes, green bell peppers, bacon, gouda cheese sauce, and a fried egg on top just in case your cholesterol levels weren’t already pinging like a radiation detector outside of Chernobyl. This was a case of how something that sounds so wrong can be so good – breakfast mac and cheese? Yes, please! It was fantastic, especially the chunks of brilliantly smoky ham.
Dinner was at a newer restaurant, Little Duck Diner, located in a… no, got you this time, newer building right next door to the hotel. It’s a cute space done to look like a old-school diner but without all the kitschy theme restaurant silliness – think upscale fifties. The menu is eclectic with American breakfasts and sandwiches alongside Asian bowls and milkshakes. Apparently eager to test the limits of my blood pressure medication, I went with a variation on what I had for lunch known as the Trainwreck, with several kinds of cheese, bacon, house-made sausage patties, and another fried egg on thick sourdough bread. It was fantastic – kudos to whomever is making the zesty sausage – but the bread was a little on the heavy side for my stomach and so I wasn’t able to each as much of it as I’d have liked.
Friday night there were two events for Pride but I decided not to go because I’m lazy and didn’t feel like dressing up. Instead I went to Club One and caught a few of the drag shows and caught up with some of the locals that now recognize me when I come in. I’m like “Norm!” if he only came into the bar once a year.
Saturday was both the Pride festival and the start of the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) Film Festival. I sampled a bit of both.
As mentioned above the Pride celebration was in Ellis Square, one of 23 in the city and both one of the oldest and newest at the same time. It was the third square laid out by the town’s founders in 1733 and served as a central meeting place and city market. All of that was demolished in 1954 and they built a parking garage in its place, a horrible thing that had a good outcome in that it kicked off the modern city preservation efforts that have resulted in all of the remaining squares being spiffed up and protected. The parking garage was torn down in 2006 and a new Ellis Square was erected in its place, that doesn’t quite have the charm of the other historic ones but is still a good place for a Pride festival.
There were the obligatory sponsor tents, community action tables, merchandise, and food vendors although not a lot of any of them – this is still a relatively small town event, which definitely has its charms. They also had an LGBT art and history display, a self-guided pub crawl with several of the local straight bars offering pride specials, and the drag queen trolley tours.
Trolley tours are big in Savannah and having a drag queen host one is genius if you ask me. Our cruise director, Influenza Miller, was delightfully catty as all good drag queens should be and came up with some interesting revisionist history for the city. Joni Mitchell’s “Big Yellow Taxi”? Written about Ellis Square (“they paved paradise and put up a parking lot”). Jones Street? Named after Grace Jones. You get the idea. I now want to start my own trolley tour company here in Savannah with all drag queen hostesses.
Entertainment was from Estelle, she of “American Boy” fame, but I skipped out and went to find non-festival food. I stopped at Treylor Park, located on Bay Street in yet another historic building that features a small dining room and a big outdoor beer garden. This is the kind of place that usually requires waiting for a table on busy Saturdays like this but I lucked into a spot at the bar and ordered up the Southern Slopping Joe, made with ground venison in their traditional tomato-based sloppy sauce with onion crisp and American cheese served with a side of collard greens. Lots of tangy goodness here!
From there it was off to the film festival and the (say it with me) historic Trustees Theater. This Art Deco marvel was built in 1946 and purchased and restored by SCAD. They were having a screening of “The Big Sick” with a Q&A with Holly Hunter afterward. If you haven’t seen it, it’s a great movie based on a true story about Pakistani born stand-up comic Kumail Nanjiani and his relationship with his girlfriend Emily, who gets sick and slips into a coma shortly after they start dating. He finds himself stuck in between his disapproving Pakistani parents and her dysfunctional family, played by Hunter and Ray Romano. They say they don’t make romantic comedies anymore, but this is proof that they do – even if they’re a bit twisted – and they can still be a lot of fun.
Holly Hunter in person is exactly who you expect her to be – a tough southern woman who doesn’t take bullshit from anyone.
Dinner Saturday night was a rerun from last year at Alligator Soul, an upscale low-country restaurant that gets a lot of attention for its adventurous options that range from kangaroo to, well, alligator and beyond. I went for the bacon wrapped filet that I loved last year and was just as thrilled by it this time. Really, one of the best steaks I’ve ever eaten – tender, juicy, smoky, a little peppery, and a lot bacony. It is simply perfect.
Back to Club One I went and let me tell you, mix Gay Pride with Halloween with the already usually tipsy Savannah and it makes for a really, really, REALLY drunk crowd. But a fun one, too.
Sunday, I was going to go back to a couple of movies at the film festival but I had work and I’m a weather wimp. Saturday was as perfect a day as you can ask for here – low 80s, light breeze, no humidity, gorgeous. Today, 54 degrees and steady winds at 15 miles per hour with gusts up to 30. Went out to lunch and said, um, hell no, I’m not going to go stand in line in this for a movie, thank you very much. It’s supposed to be up into the 60s Monday with no wind so I’ll get back on my schedule then.
Lunch was at Vic’s on the River, another upscale low-country restaurant in a historic building built in 1859 and designed by famed New York architect John Norris. It was originally used as a warehouse and as the headquarters of a shipping company. An interesting bit of the history as told by the restaurant’s menu: “During the War Between The States, General Sherman’s lesser officers used this building’s empty offices for housing and planning space. Our main dining room showcases a map that was hand-drawn by Union soldiers detailing Sherman’s march from Tennessee through Georgia. The map was originally found in 1901 during a renovation of the building. Workers were removing the old finish and noticed lines drawn on the wall. A small portion of the map was preserved, while the rest was covered due to damage and wear.”
I went all the way southern with country biscuits, meatloaf, mashed potatoes, and mac and cheese and couldn’t have been happier.
For dinner I finally made it to The Grey, widely considered to be one of Savannah’s best restaurants. Usually when I come here around Labor Day it is closed for an annual vacation so I’ve never gotten to eat there.
It’s located in the former Greyhound Bus Terminal, another Art Deco space lovingly restored and converted into a bustling restaurant. The meal was an experience, starting with an amuse bouche of wee little southern biscuits in a raspberry coulis. The main event was the best pork chop I’ve ever had in my life and I’m not being hyperbolic about this. The cut was lean and perfectly seasoned with slow-roasted green and red peppers and fresh lime. The side was a bowl of mini-baked potatoes with sour cream and scallions. A palate cleanser of a lemony something that I wasn’t pay enough to when it was described but was still good. Desert, a heavenly caramel cheesecake. And then, just because, they give you a Tootsie Roll at the end of your meal. I love this place and may go back to try something else if I can get a table before I leave.
Monday it’s more movies, more work, and more good food hopefully!
Why do I write about the travels I take? Part of it is because I have been doing travel writing for nearly 20 years so even though I didn’t take this particular trip to write about it, not writing about it seems weird and incomplete.
But the bigger reason is that I don’t remember anything anymore. Seriously, it’s like a big void up there for anything that isn’t right in front of my face so writing about my travel helps me with my fading recall skills. I go back and read some of these posts from a few years ago and some of it surprising. I did that? Huh. Okay…
So with that in mind, my adventures in Minneapolis and Chicago, mostly for my own reading pleasure but for yours also if you are bored and there’s nothing on TV.
Every year I go to Chicago around Memorial Day but this year I decided to add a couple of days in Minneapolis, specifically to go see Paisley Park, the former home and creative epicenter for the genius that was Prince. Those who know me know that I am a huge Prince fan – kinda crazy about the whole thing – so I figured that coming to the Midwest and NOT going would be downright stupid.
The uneventful flight into the city was a little late and traffic around the core of Downtown, where every single street is undergoing some sort of road construction, seemed to be conspiring against me. I was worried that I wasn’t going to make it to a planned dinner on time but I managed to check into the hotel and rush back out again to St. Paul so I didn’t really get a chance to pay attention to Minneapolis yet. I hadn’t been there since I was a kid – I think we did a choir competition or something there? (Karla will know) – but my first impression is that it looks like every other Midwest Downtown. I’m sure it’ll be lovely when they finish putting back in all the streets and stuff that they have ripped out for whatever reason (this becomes important on Day 2).
In the end though, I was only a few minutes late to the Red Cow, where I was meeting high school friends Jill and Dawn. These two were part of my choir set of friends so they were the ones my parents approved of. (As opposed to the drama friends, who were the ones that I went to bars with when I was 15, who were always viewed with suspicion by Pauline and Vern).
I haven’t seen either one of them in a decade or more so there was a lot of catching up to do – children (graduating college, ouch), jobs, relationships (my part of that piece of the conversation was brief), and the usual musings on the nature of friendship. I didn’t have a lot of friends in high school but the ones I did have were deeply appreciated and we all slipped quickly back into familiar rhythms that erased the better part of the last 35-40 years since we roamed the halls of Linn-Mar High. Here we are, with them looking lovely and me looking like the Crypt Keeper.
The Red Cow is a fancy burger joint in a cute neighborhood that looked like the kind you’d see springing up around a college, even though there wasn’t one right there. Although we were tempted by the caramel-bacon “puffcorn” (like popcorn but without the husks, Dawn helpfully explained) and the tater tot stroganoff (don’t ask), we started with homemade potato chips and French Onion dressing, which were good but the chips had that homemade thing where they aren’t quite as crispy/crunchy as the heavily processed and preserved kind that you get in bags from the supermarket. So more like potato chews? But they were good and the dip was fantastic.
I considered the Royale (pork belly, brie, and tomato jam) and the Cowboy (cheddar, onion rings, and root beer pulled pork!) but ultimately went a little simpler with the Patty Melt, with caramelized onions and Swiss on sourdough. The burger was thick and juicy and the flavor of it melded well with the toppings. A success except that I forgot to get a picture. Oh well. You have seen hamburgers before.
After bidding the ladies adieu, along with promises not to wait another ten plus years to see each other again, I went back to the city, relaxed a bit, and then went out to a couple of gay bars that were near to my hotel. The Brass Rail is sort of a lounge type space with a bar, couches, a small stage (with a stripper pole natch) and that’s about it. Apparently Tuesday night in Downtown Minneapolis is not exactly a hotbed of activity so I was one of four people in there watching the final moments of The Voice.
Chris Blue? Really? No, really?
So I went next door to the Gay 90s (sure) and there were not many more people in there but it was an interesting place. Supposed there are 6 different bars in the building but only two were open – the “Happy Hour” bar, which was just a bar with a jukebox, and the “90s Bar,” which had a small dance floor and this, presented without comment.
No, I didn’t ride it. But I know some people who would.
I had a big day planned for Wednesday so I retired and then got up early-ish to go on a mini-road trip.
I was planning on starting at the Mary Tyler Moore statue, which is on the Nicollet Mall, a street of shops and restaurants. Well, that’s where it usually is. Where it is now was a mystery to the guys that had the entire street ripped up in the aforementioned construction nightmare. I’m sure it’ll be lovely.
Foiled there, I headed toward my second stop, the Mary Tyler Moore house – or at least the house that was used as the exterior in the show.
Actually it turns out I wasn’t heading there. I was heading in the opposite direction. See, I mentioned the road construction thing, which was EVERYWHERE, and apparently nobody bothered to notify Google Maps. So I head toward the on ramp to the freeway I needed to take and it was closed so I had no choice at that point but to get on a different freeway. No problem, Google Maps said, just go to the next exit about a mile down the road and turn around.
Except that exit was closed also.
The next exit is another two miles so Google Maps points me there and miracle of miracles it is open! Then Google Maps tells me to just get right back on the freeway in the opposite direction.
Except the on ramp wasn’t there anymore.
I got to see a lot of Minneapolis adjacent to the I-94. It’s nice.
What should have been a 12 minute drive took almost 45 but I eventually made it to the house and here is my photographic evidence.
And yes it’s for sale if you’re interested.
Next on the agenda was lunch, in which I drove 60 miles for a sandwich. But not just any sandwich, a Maid-Rite. This was a beloved part of my childhood, these Midwest-staples are loose meat sandwiches that have a unique taste that is hard to describe. Unfortunately St. Cloud, Minnesota is the closest place that had a restaurant so that’s where I went. It made me very happy – totally worth the drive.
Back south I went to the tiny town of Darwin to see the World’s Largest Twine Ball.
Now, there are many of these balls scattered around and all of them claim to be the largest in some way, shape, or form. Heck, the biggest twine ball in Branson, Missouri was the thing that inspired the original Plucky Survivors trips I took with Mary. While musing about what I would do for my birthday, I joking said, “Maybe I’ll just go see the biggest ball of twine” and Mary said, “Cool. Can I come?”
This one claims to be the biggest made by one man. Francis A. Johnson started it in 1950 and worked on it every day for four hours for 23 weeks. It is 13 feet in diameter, 40 feet in circumference, and weighs 17,400 pounds.
I love random roadside ephemera like this. I’m not sure why it makes me happy other than perhaps it is a comfort that my obsessive compulsions are nowhere near as crazy as other people’s. Then again, I have accomplished nothing as impressive as a giant ball of twine.
Next stop was in Jordan, home to Minnesota’s largest candy store, which is called… Minnesota’s Largest Candy Store. So not very original, but points for simplicity.
The place is a cavernous facility with what seems like acres of every type of candy you can imagine, from stuff they make there to name brands to retro confections to sweets from all over the world. It was a bit overwhelming, not just in its scope but in its overall je ne sais quoi, which took the candy colored theme, put a few sticks of dynamite in it, and exploded it all over the store. There was an Incredible Hulk statue, a phone booth from Dr. Who, random records that would start playing as you walked by, and more.
Then add in all the parents with all of their children. Parents… really? Is this really where you want to take your hyperactive four year old? An actual overheard conversation: Parent: “What do you want?” Child: “ALL OF IT! AIIIGHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH.” The latter was delivered at a volume and high-pitched frequency that made a heard of gazelle at a watering hole in Africa all raise their heads at once.
I’m not saying don’t give them candy – I’m not a monster – but maybe you go and pick out a few things and bring them home?
I had a headache within five minutes so I blindly reached out and grabbed a few things and left. I got mint-flavored malt balls, chocolate chews, and some chocolate/caramel fudge, all from the homemade section. I had a bite or two of most of it and none of it was all that great so I walked away disappointed.
Next stop was a nearby casino because I’m me. It was a casino. Not much else to say about it except they only had blackjack for table games so no three card poker for me.
For dinner I went to a place called Revival, which serves southern fried goodness. Now, I have been disappointed with southern restaurants in the Midwest before – a visit to one in Chicago almost brought me to tears once. And I’m a total fried chicken, BBQ, and southern cooking snob. But this place was great.
Appetizers include classics like pork rinds with cheese sauce, pickled shrimp and pigs feet, fried green tomatoes, and johnnycakes but I was sure I wouldn’t be able to get through any of that and have room for the main course so I just headed straight for the fried chicken.
It comes in a variety of heats, and I’m not talking temperature. The southern fried is regular with no heat and then you can step up to the Tennessee hot and if you’re feeling especially adventurous you can go with the poultrygeist, which uses ghost peppers to make it especially fiery. I went with the regular southern fried because I have already had problems with my esophagus and didn’t feel like burning it out of my body. That and sides of mashed potatoes and macaroni and cheese.
Again, southern food snob, but it was as close to perfect as you’re going to get in Minneapolis. The chicken had a thick fried coating on it, done crunchy, with succulent meat. The mac and cheese also had a crunch in its top and then gooey goodness underneath and the mashed potatoes had a thick chicken-fried gravy on top. Excellent all the way around and I ate way too much food.
That evening I went out to a couple more gay bars (there are a surprising number of them in Minneapolis). Lush is a loungy, trendy space with a big bar, low-slung couches, and a nice outdoor patio. The Eagle/Bolt is a pair of bars, both trending toward the butcher crowd but packed that evening with a group of youngish people celebrating someone’s birthday with drunken karaoke. It was surprisingly fun.
The final day in Minneapolis was the best because that’s when I finally made it to Paisley Park.
Located about 20 miles to the southwest of Minneapolis, the facility was built to Prince’s exact specifications in the late 1980s. It originally contained four recording studios, a TV production studio, office space, living quarters, and more. After Prince died, they kept most of it the way it was but have converted some of the spaces to a wide-ranging museum honoring his life and his work.
This is the place where nearly 30 years of his creative genius was brought to life. Diamonds and Pearls was recorded here. The Sign O’ The Times concert film was shot here as was most of the movie Graffiti Bridge. Pretty much everything he recorded from 1987 on was done here at Paisley Park. And it’s not just Prince. Everyone from James Brown to Aretha Franklin recorded here.
And of course at the end of his life, this is where he was living and where he died.
Although, to be clear, I am choosing to believe that he is still alive, living on an island somewhere being followed around by two hot dancers who just randomly strike poses behind him whenever he stops moving.
The building itself is pretty boring from the outside…
…and unfortunately they don’t let you take pictures of the inside, but as soon as you walk through the door you immediately see the kinds of detail that only Prince would think of. The walls of the lobby feature giant murals of him, multiple versions of his symbol, and a wall full of platinum and gold records.
I took the VIP tour (of course), which gets you more access and more cool stuff, but I’m not sure which parts of what I did were on the regular tour. Don’t risk it – it’s totally worth the $100 bucks.
Just beyond the lobby is the atrium, a sunny space with a giant Prince symbol on the floor underneath four pyramid shaped skylights. The walls are painted a fluffy blue with clouds and doves arching up toward the glass ceiling. In fact, on the second floor balcony overlooking the space are a pair of cages with Prince’s actual white doves in them. Right off of the atrium is a small kitchen with a lounge space, some tables, and a big TV.
This was one of Prince’s favorite spots in the building, where he would often sit, write, talk, or meditate and let the sunlight shine down on him. That’s why they chose this space for the urn that contains his ashes.
Or the ashes of whoever is in there because, Prince… living on an island.
Surrounding the atrium are a series of offices that have been turned into exhibit space themed around some of his albums. The Dirty Mind section has a guitar from the era and a hand-written notebook of lyrics. The Sign ‘O The Times room has costumes, instruments, and the concert video (which is amazing and I am hoping they are going to re-release it at some point).
Also along here is his private office, all done in rich gold tones with a surprisingly small desk in a corner. I know he wasn’t a big man physically but you think of Prince in outsized terms and so this seemed incongruous.
A black-light lit meditation room leads into an editing room, which has a giant purple couch and a full suite of equipment. They showed some clips of concerts, backstage stuff, and more and our guide told us that he recorded everything on video… every concert, every pre-show sound check, everything. I read recently that the people responsible for going through the vault of his unreleased material has barely made a dent in it in the year since he died. I got a little light-headed thinking about it.
Next was Studio B, which is still all analog, the way Prince preferred to record (he’d digitize it later). I lost track of which albums they said he did there, but it was a lot of them, although he hadn’t used it as much recently. Why? Because that’s where he kept one of his ping pong tables. He loved ping pong, which makes me happy. They even let you play if you are so inclined. I declined at first but the tour guide goaded me and I did surprisingly well. I’m sure Prince could’ve kicked my ass.
This is where they also let you get interactive. You can get a souvenir photo in front of one of his signature purple pianos and, if you go on Thursday, you can step into the control room and actually record yourself singing over one of Prince’s songs. I did Raspberry Beret. They give you the photos and the recording on a flash drive to take with you.
Then it’s on to the main studio A, much bigger, with lots of wood, tapestries on the wall, and isolation booths. Inside the control room are the synth and drum machine that created much of the sound for Purple Rain and a lot of his other signature songs. There’s a big boom mic hanging over the master control panel because Prince would often record by himself so he had to do everything. Interesting tidbit – he liked to sing sitting down when he recorded.
Outside the studio is a wall of influences, both artists that influenced him (James Brown, Santana, Jimi Hendrix, etc.) and those that he influenced (everyone from Sheila E. to The Time and beyond). It made happy for some reason that the closet people to him in the mural were Wendy and Lisa. I don’t know why.
Next was a big, high-ceilinged room that started its life as a basketball court. Later it became a dance studio and now is being used as the Purple Rain room. There are costumes, murals, the piano used in the movie (complete with scuff marks on top of it from his heels), a motorcycle, and more. Adjacent to that is another room that has been converted into spaces for his two other movies, Under the Cherry Moon and Graffiti Bridge.
The final stops are the cavernous sound stage and the adjacent night club. The stage has a huge projection of Prince performing live on one wall and various stages set up with memorabilia and information from his various concert tours. There’s also his powder blue Bentley and purple Prowler on display. This and the neighboring space, a lounge with a VIP area, mixing turntables, and lots of couches, was where he’s have his frequent dance parties that would sometimes go until dawn.
And of course the gift shop. I bought a bag, a hoodie, and two symbol necklaces. That I didn’t buy 12 t-shirts, a slouchy cap, posters, and coffee mugs is shocking.
Being as much of a Prince fan as I was, it shouldn’t be surprising that I thought this was a phenomenal experience. I only got teary eyed twice – once when they pointed out the urn and once when they showed the small selection of tributes fans left on the fence for Paisley Park after his (not true) death. Prince made me understand the possibility of music and I was blown away to see a little bit of how he lived and created.
They say more will be added over the coming years so I fully intend to go back someday.
I headed from there directly to the airport, blasting DMSR and Let’s Go Crazy at full volume.
Again, this is how I remember it – what happened seven years ago today.
But first, one of my favorite pictures of the two of us…
My ring tone is the sound of a duck quacking. I don’t know why except that I’m lazy and cheap and don’t feel like changing it or buying something more interesting to replace it with. When the alarm went off at 1am I thought that maybe I should take the time to find something more appropriate for the situation. Do they offer funeral dirges as ring tones?
Well, yes, they do. Mary had the opening organ notes of the Bach Toccata and Fugue in D Minor as hers for years.
I hadn’t really slept in the hour since I had crawled into the bed in the guest room. Under normal circumstances, considering the fact that I had only gotten a couple of hours the night before, I would’ve been out immediately but my brain was going a million miles an hour, reviewing every moment of the day past and anticipating the one coming up. Maybe dreading the one coming up. Part of it could’ve been a defense mechanism, I guess. When you go to sleep, the moment when you wake up seems to come faster than when you lay there, staring at the ceiling, pondering what is happening in the next room.
The lights were out in Mary and Steve’s room but Steve wasn’t asleep either when I came in. He turned on the lights and we checked on her. It was only notable in its complete lack of noteworthiness. Nothing had changed in the last hour. I’m not really sure what I was expecting.
Steve gave her the proper medications and I dutifully recorded it on my spreadsheet and then I set my alarm and crawled back into the guest bed.
The same thing happened at 2am; a carbon copy. Quacking, not really sleeping, waking Steve even though he wasn’t really asleep, medications, set the alarm for the next time.
I think I did sleep a little bit in the 90 minutes or so before the phone started quacking again at 3:30 in the morning. Steve may have as well, although he told me that he had spent at least some of the time talking to Mary, holding her hand, and occasionally singing to her.
While Steve was giving her the medications, I wandered upstairs to get something to drink and walked by the sideboard in the dining room. Sitting on it was a frame. I picked it up.
The previous summer I had moved and in cleaning out the nearly 15 years of clutter I had accumulated since I had lived in that apartment I found the cartoon strip – THE cartoon strip. It was “Bloom County” about Gilda Radner, and I had it on the wall above my desk at a talent agency that I worked at. It was the thing that made Mary stop and talk to me that day some 20 years earlier. When I rediscovered it I put it in a frame and gave it to her. She told me that it was the best gift anyone had ever given her and she liked to carry it around with her, holding it tightly.
In it, Opus the Penguin is upset about the cartoon series coming to an end. He says, “Stop it! Everybody stop it! This is upsetting me!! Life’s getting to wish-washy! Comic strips aren’t supposed to end! Neither are good marriages! Or friendships. Or loyalties or happiness… happiness isn’t supposed to just end. Gilda Radner isn’t supposed to end.”
I put the frame back down carefully.
I went back downstairs and while Steve took I break I sat with her, quietly at first. It had been hours since she was responsive in any meaningful way, although occasionally she would seem to respond to direct questions by trying to move her body or with noises as if she wanted to say something but couldn’t. Whether this is true or not – whether she really was cognizant of her surroundings – is probably up for debate and yet not worth debating.
Although others were talking to her, I really hadn’t been all that much. For some reason just being in the room… being with her was enough. And on top of that I really couldn’t think of anything all that interesting to say.
But this time I managed to find my voice.
“This sucks,” I said as I sat next to her bed. “I mean really sucks. But you know it’s okay, right? It’s okay that you go. I mean it’s not okay. It’s about as far from okay as you can get, but it’s okay. And I’m going to be okay, too. I know you were worried that I wouldn’t be, but I will be. Okay might look different than it does now, but I’ll be okay. I’m saying okay a lot, aren’t I? I promise if I ever write this as a movie script or a book I’ll make this much more intelligent.”
I was quiet for a moment. So was she.
“I’ll be okay,” I said. “But I wanted to ask you… Can I have the ‘Bloom County’ cartoon strip back?”
She hadn’t moved or done anything in the entire time I was in there but as soon as I asked that question, she made a noise, like a low moan, and struggled a bit.
“Afterwards!” I said quickly. “After you’re gone. Not now!”
She calmed down.
Like I said, debatable. But not worth debating.
When the phone started quacking again at 5am it roused me from a dream. I don’t remember what it was but I remember being grateful that I was not dreaming it anymore. The lights were on this time when I went into the room, and Steve was sitting with Mary, the grief on his face like a mask. Sometime in the last hour he was awaked by her breathing, which had grown even more raspy and wet and labored. When he checked on her he found that she had opened her eyes. I’d heard of the term “thousand-yard stare” before but I hadn’t ever seen it until that moment. She wasn’t looking at anything. Or maybe she was. I hope it was something nice.
We knew that she had entered a new phase in the process and although neither one of us was exactly sure if it meant that the end was near or simply nearer, we decided it was time to start making phone calls again.
Steve called the hospice nurse and family. I called friends to have them come back, although fewer than had been there the day before. If this was the final phase I wanted to make sure that it remained as peaceful as humanly possible for her.
Within a couple of hours, the house was full of people again – about a dozen total. They all took a few minutes with her and I gave them their privacy. Each of us had our histories with Mary and I wasn’t going to intrude on theirs. But I still made sure that either Steve or myself was either in the room or close to it at all times.
The hospice nurse showed up around 8:30am and checked her out. She was a sturdy woman who spoke with a thick Ukrainian accent. I thought this would’ve pleased Mary for some reason. She liked the Baltics and people from them.
Steve was on the phone to Mary’s doctor and it was just me and the nurse in the room for a bit. After she examined Mary, she made her own phone call to the hospice to make a report. She talked about blood pressure and responsiveness and breathing.
“Patient is actively dying,” the nurse said.
After she finished, I asked her if that meant it would be soon and she said, “Could be hours. Could be days. You never know.”
Days, I thought. It can’t be days. There’s no way any of us can take this for days. I pulled Steve aside when he came back into the room and told him what the nurse had said. He nodded, looking a little pale. I think he thought the same thing. We can’t do this for days.
A second nurse arrived and they got to work on cleaning Mary up. While we all waited outside the room, they changed her bedding, her nightgown, and her diaper. They washed her and combed her thin, dark hair.
“You look beautiful,” Steve said when we walked back into the room. I agreed.
There was a bit of a lull after that and I sat in the room with Mary’s niece Bianca and we started chatting about Plucky Survivors. I brought it up on my phone and started reading aloud to Mary.
Believe it or not, we actually left pretty much exactly at the scheduled departure time of 8:30am. Oh, yes; Rick has it all plotted out in the Big Book O’ Fun, complete with detailed maps, car games, CD lists, and more, more, more! Why so early? Well, we had to be there right at the doors of the Britney Spears Museum in Kentwood as it opened, don’t you know.
I made it through the Britney Spears Museum, laughing about that ridiculous moment when the woman turned on the lights of the recreated stage and I swear… I absolutely swear on everything that I believe in that Mary had the faintest hint of a smile on her face. Maybe I was imagining it or maybe it was something else entirely but whatever was going on, she hadn’t looked that at ease in days.
People started coming in an out again for brief visits but this time I didn’t leave. At some point we realized that it was Fat Tuesday and this became quite a big deal in the house. Having spent many a Mardi Gras in New Orleans, Mary and Steve had plenty of beads so we broke them out and everyone put on a strand or two. We draped some on her hospital bed and talked of the big party happening in the Big Easy.
Other coincidences… it was also her father’s birthday and the day she got the signed copy of “To Kill a Mockingbird” in the mail from Harper Lee years earlier. I don’t know if there is such a thing as cosmic timing, but this seemed to have it.
A little after 11am, Steve, Nettie, and I were in the room when Mary’s mom Claudia came in. She sat with her for a few moments quietly, not saying anything, while the three of us chattered away. Claudia got up to leave but I stopped her for some reason. I don’t know why, but I did. We began talking about this and that and eventually worked our way around to the beads.
“I was saying earlier that we should just say to heck with this,” I began and then caught myself. We had promised Mary that we wouldn’t talk about her as if she wasn’t there – no “Steel Magnolias” moments for her. I turned to Mary and said, “We’re just going to say to heck with all of this and go get on a plane and go to Mardi Gras, right Mary?”
She turned her head slightly at that moment. It was the first time she had moved in hours. Her chin came up a bit as if she was looking up, and out. Away. It took me a moment to realize that she wasn’t breathing.
“You guys,” I said loudly as I jumped to my feet.
Everyone turned to Mary and began crowding around the bed. Pounding footsteps came down the stairs as everyone crowded into the room. Her mother. Her sister. Her brother and his family. Steve’s mom and brother and sister and their families. Bianca. Nettie. Robin. Me.
“We love you Mary,” someone said.
“So much,” I said, weeping openly, loudly.
I stood at the foot of the bed, my hands on her leg. I held onto her as she left. I watched as my best friend left.
I don’t care what you read or hear or even what you have experienced, but those who say that the moment when someone dies is beautiful are lying to you or perhaps to themselves. It is ugly and horrible. It is like the end of a war where you realize that everything is destroyed and in rubble. It is final and uncompromising. It is the hardest thing in the world, ever.
I stumbled out of the room onto the back deck, gulping in huge breaths of air in between sobs. It was bright and sunny, a blue sky and green trees, which was wrong, somehow. Steve came out shortly after and grabbed him tightly.
He was her husband and I was her best friend – we were both important to her in different ways. And more importantly, she was the love of both of our lives.
The next few hours were the classic and clichéd blur. I made some phone calls. I sat in the room with her body and sent some e-mails. I watched as a hospice nurse came to collect the medications. I watched as somber men came to put her body in a bag, then on a stretcher to carry her upstairs as the dogs barked madly. I watched as they put her body in a van. It had the name of a rental car agency on the license plate frame, which I thought was weird. I watched it drive away as all of stood at the edge of the driveway and waved. Then the van stopped as the driver realized that he was going the wrong way, turned around, and drove back by again while we all waved again.
Mary would’ve thought that was funny.
I stayed for a little while and made sure that someone was going to stay with Steve before I collected my stuff and headed home. I slept for a few hours as the emotional toll and the lack of real sleep for the last couple of days finally caught up with me.
When I woke up it was dark and I considered just staying in bed until the morning but I knew there was one more thing I needed to do.
I went on to the Plucky Survivors website and found six pictures of Mary and I together. The first from 2006 of us in front of the Biggest Ball of Twine; the second of us recreating “American Gothic” complete with costumes in front of the Grant Wood house in Iowa in 2007; a third was the two of us sitting next to a statue of Colonel Sanders at the Kentucky Fried Chicken Museum in Kentucky, 2008; fourth was Mary sitting on my lap in the Washington DC airport at the end of our trip in 2009; fifth was the picture we took in her foyer the morning of our Plucky Mini trip in 2010.
I removed everything from the home page of the site and replaced it with those photographs and this:
February 16, 2010
Dear Plucky Readers,
I’d like to ask you to take some time and go through the Plucky Survivors site… read our travels, look at the pictures, laugh with us, and remember our adventures and please, promise to have many, many more of your own.
But first, a note…
Mary and I often ruminated on the odd randomness of things; how one event, if it had happened differently or not at all, could change things so dramatically. If any of a billion tiny little events and coincidences and happenstances hadn’t, well, happened we never would’ve met. When Mary ruminated on this she got scared, as if an axe wielding maniac was hiding under the bed waiting to pounce.
I just remain in awe of it.
For more than 20 years, Mary was my best friend. We saw each other through the grand events and the minutiae that happen over the course of a life. For instance I remember when she started talking about this guy named Steve (which for the record would be one of the grand events although that wouldn’t become clear until sometime later when she married the guy).
I remember road trips to Vegas. In fact it was Mary that got me started writing about Vegas. We wrote our first travel guide together back in 1998 about Las Vegas and that led to more travel guides for the both of us, my Vegas website, and me looking like a dumbass on The Travel Channel.
I remember when I mentioned that for my 40th birthday, lacking anything else interesting to do, that I might go see the “Biggest Ball of Twine” in Branson, Missouri. Her response: “Cool. Can I go?” Four years later we had covered nearly 10,000 miles across the country in adventures that we called Plucky Survivors See America.
I remember when she called to tell me she had cancer and I remember her worrying about my own health issues. I remember how we kept each other alive in many ways, even before we both got sick.
To say my life would not have been the same without her is too small. I can’t find words that are big enough. Perhaps there aren’t any. Perhaps there are no words that can represent the bond, the love, the unbreakable solidity of a best friendship other than the knowledge that it will be there, always, even if we aren’t.
Earlier today, February 16, 2010, her house was filled with family and friends, and her husband Steve, her mom, her dear friend Nettie, and myself were in her room with her, talking about how today was Fat Tuesday. New Orleans has always been one of her favorite cities and it was there that our very first Plucky Survivors trip started.
I looked over at her and said, “We’re going to go get on a plane and go to Mardi Gras, right Mary?” And she raised her head slightly and then she was gone.
And so, a new Plucky Adventure has begun. Safe travels my friend. I love you.
At the bottom of the page, I put the photo of us sitting under the Friendship Oak in Mississippi at the end of our first Plucky Survivors trip in 2006. Its branches reach out around us as we sit smiling on a bench, a plaque at our feet. It reads:
“I am called the Friendship Oak. Those who enter my shadow are supposed to remain friends through their lifetime no matter where fate may take them…”
This is how I remember it. I could spend a lot of time talking about the difference between perceived reality and actual reality and the huge canyon that straddles the gap, but it’s been done before and better than I ever could. For now, let’s just say that this is my story and I’m sticking to it.
I wrote this a long time ago. I read it every year. This the first time I have felt like sharing it. I don’t know why other than it’s been seven years and that feels like long enough.
So this is what happened seven years ago today. Tomorrow I’ll post what happened seven years ago tomorrow.
Before we begin, one of her favorite pictures of the two of us…
That day, Monday, February 15, 2010 was Presidents’ Day. Looking back on it, it seems fitting that it started that day considering how many different ways presidents and their museums figured into our Plucky Survivors See America journeys. But the most important thing, in terms of the sequence of events is concerned, is that I didn’t have to go to work that day. When I don’t have to get up with an alarm clock and be presentable to anyone, I usually stay up late and the night before was no exception. I think I finally hit the bed around 4am.
I do not wake easily even when I have had a full night’s sleep. I have two alarm clocks, both at a volume level marked “cacophony,” and both set to incorrect times so that when they go off I have to do a little bit of math to figure out what time it actually is. For some reason math wakes me up. Mary knew this about me and so anytime she called and suspected that she had caught me before my eyes were fully open, she would speak loudly and occasionally give me simple arithmetic questions.
Steve, however, didn’t know this about me so when he called at around 8am on that Monday morning, not only did he not increase his speaking volume to a low shout or ask me to calculate pi to the tenth decimal, but he also didn’t come across as terribly urgent.
“Mary is not doing so great,” he said calmly. “I think you should come over.”
“Okay,” I said, “I’ll be over in a while.”
I hung up the phone and rolled over, thinking that I would sleep for another couple of hours and then head over around lunch time. That seemed perfectly reasonable at that moment. As I drifted back to sleep though, my brain did its own version of math and put two and two together. I realized what the phone call really meant and I jumped out of bed as if there was an earthquake, instantly wide awake despite the fact that I had only gotten a few hours of sleep.
I showered and dressed quickly, calling Steve back as I headed out the door to tell him that I was now officially awake and was on my way over. He sounded relieved.
About a week earlier, just a couple of days after our aborted Plucky Mini trip, Mary had begun in-home hospice care. A hospital bed was brought in and installed in their bedroom, facing the windows so she could have a view of the trees in the backyard. She was put on a schedule of heavy drugs – morphine for the pain, ativan to keep her calm, and more. A portable toilet sat in the corner, although she had stubbornly refused to use it up to that point. There was no in-home nurse so Steve tended to her most of the time, while a rotating cast of friends and family came in to give him a little time off now and then.
I had last seen her on Saturday, February 13, when friends from her school came for a special ceremony. Mary had worked hard over the years to earn her masters in theology. She had completed all her coursework and the dreaded German language requirement but she had never gotten to writing her dissertation. That final step loomed large, especially in light of her deteriorating health over the last year.
But her classmates, professors, and the Dean all got together and reviewed the work she had done, focusing specifically on a paper she had written and presented at a conference in late 2008. Although not specifically her dissertation, it contained many of the basic concepts she intended to present when she wrote it, so the school decided that would do just fine under the circumstances. Her God School friends, a professor, and the Dean all joined Steve, me, and a few other friends at her house on that Saturday to officially confer her master’s degree in theology.
I was one of the first to arrive and seeing her there in that hospital bed, oxygen making her breathing a little easier but not much, was nothing short of devastating. It had been only a week since I had seen her last – dropping her off at home after the abbreviated Plucky Mini – but the decline in that short amount of time was almost shocking. It wasn’t just her appearance although that was certainly a part of it; thin – too thin, and sallow, her skin a dishwater gray and her eyes rheumy and unfocused. It became obvious quickly that her mental state had declined a lot also.
She recognized and greeted me but that was about the extent of our conversation other than her responding to simple yes or no questions. There was a moment where she came around enough to ask for a very specific blue scarf – she wanted to look nice for the ceremony, of course – and I went on a quest that threatened to turn into an Abbott and Costello routine.
“This one?” I’d ask.
“No, blue,” she’d manage.
“This is blue,” I’d reply.
“Different blue,” she’d say.
And then we’d repeat the whole thing over and over again until she finally accepted the ninety-seventh or so blue scarf that I found. Whether or not this was the actual blue scarf she was looking for or that she had merely grown tired of humoring me is up for debate but I suspect it was the latter. Regardless, the scarf and a nice suede hat improved her mood.
The ceremony was necessarily short; both funny and sad, although more sad than funny, I think. She got her graduation sash that replaced the scarf and a tassel that Steve laid gently on the suede hat, flipping it to the appropriate side at the right moment. After the Dean finished his brief speech, that left everyone including himself in tears, Mary said a few words – disconnected and a bit rambling but we all got the point: she was happy.
It was obvious that even this 15 minute ceremony was exhausting for her so we left her to rest while we all went upstairs to the living room for snacks and conversation. I wasn’t exactly hungry or in a talkative mood, but there was chocolate and it would’ve been impolite to eat and sulk in a corner. It wasn’t long before there was a noise from the bedroom downstairs and I went to go investigate only to find Mary trying to get out of the hospital bed.
“Mary, where are you going?” I asked.
“Upstairs,” she said firmly.
“No,” I said, going to stop her, “You’re staying there.”
She gave me a look that was a clear as any look Mary ever gave me – and believe me she had given me many over the years. There were looks that said, “You’re being an idiot but I’m too kind to say it out loud.” There were looks that said, “I love you but you’re in between me and food.” This particular look said: “There is a party going on upstairs; a party that is happening in my honor. There are desserts at this party. There are people I want to talk to at this party. I am going upstairs to this party so you can either help me or get the hell out of my way.”
There are two things that I remember vividly from the experience of carrying her up the stairs. The first is that I bumped her arm on a low overhang. She said “ow” softly but I don’t think it really hurt all that much. Yet I still remember it and have enormous guilt about it. The second thing I remember is that she was heavier than I thought she’d be. She looked as if she’d be light as a feather but she still had weight. I thought, “She’s still here. She is still solid and present.” It meant something at that moment. It meant a lot.
I placed her carefully on the sofa as everyone gave me dirty looks, wondering why I had entertained the foolishness of her desire to come upstairs. I explained the look and everyone immediately understood. They had been on the receiving end of many of her looks over the years.
She ate a bit of a cupcake and engaged in theological discussions with her God School friends. Well, they mainly talked and she interjected here and there, but she was engaged – more engaged than I had seen her all day – and we could all tell it was good for her. At times when all thought and reason go out the window and we are reduced to the basest level of merely attempting to survive to the next moment, being amid high-minded conversation is soothing somehow. An intellectual salve if you will.
I had to go to an appointment to get some work done on a tattoo that was turning out to be more epic than I had really intended it to be, so I gathered my stuff and said goodbye to the group. Mary started to get up off the couch.
“What are you doing?” I asked.
“I want to hug you,” she said.
This time I gave her a look and she got it. She settled back down and I went to her for a kiss and a hug.
“I’ll see you on Thursday,” I said, as that was my day to take a hospice shift so Steve could run some errands.
“Yay,” she said.
The tattoo I was getting was a large tribal design on my arm, chest, shoulder, and back that was made up of words inside the design. So far I had gotten peace, tolerance, chance, family, passion, creativity, courage, integrity, and chance. The words I added that day, on my chest over my heart, were joy, devotion, and commitment.
I had committed to being there at the end for Mary, although to be honest I didn’t want to. I had done it before for other friends during the darkest days of the AIDS crisis, but this was different. This was my best friend. This was Mary. I wanted to be anywhere other than there and yet there was no place else I would’ve been, if that makes any sense.
“Hey dude,” I said as I walked in that Monday morning.
Her breathing was raspy and ragged; a dry rattle as she actively, as forcefully as she could, drew in as much oxygen as she could at a time. The simple act that we do unconsciously was a determined effort for her and the strain showed on every ounce of her. Her skin was clammy with a sheen of perspiration that felt warm and had a vaguely sweet scent to it. I inhaled as I leaned in to kiss her on the cheek and she smiled.
I sat with her as Steve went about calling family – hers and his – and other friends. We didn’t speak, really. She was only aware of her surroundings in momentary bursts at that point so mainly I just sat with her, looking at her, watching her fade as if the exhale of every one of those breaths she fought so hard for contained a little piece of her slipping away.
It was my turn to make some phone calls. I wrote an ugly script and tried to stick to it because anything else would’ve caused me to simply stop functioning.
“Hi, it’s Rick. I don’t think there’s much time. You should come.”
The house filled up rapidly with people. Mothers, brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, and in-laws. God School friends. The Marymount Girls. The Fat Pack. Back in my less than glorious youth I had been a bouncer at a nightclub and I wound up with that job description again, trying to control who was in the room and when and for how long.
Mary had been very clear who she wanted to be with her in her final moments and the list was short. It wasn’t because she didn’t want the people who loved her and whom she loved near, it was because she didn’t want to cause them any more pain. She knew how hard it would be for those dearest to her and it was obvious how much it took out of her every time someone came to the room. At times she’d recognize them and engage in a few words of conversation, but more often she would struggle both vocally and physically, as if it pained her that she couldn’t engage in witty banter with her friends and family.
So I kept the traffic moving and made sure that anyone who wanted to touch her did so in the right way. Holding her hand or stroking her hair seemed to cause her pain, so we tried to make sure that people only caressed her fingertips or gently put their hand on her arm or leg.
The hospice program had set up a very specific regiment of medication for her – morphine mostly but others as well that had to be put into an oral syringe and then fed to her slowly, drop by drop, like nursing a baby cub. Steve had been keeping track of the times and dosages on a random scrap of paper but I wasn’t having any of that. I went upstairs to Mary’s computer and created a detailed spreadsheet with spaces for the medicine names, exact amounts to be given, and schedules both past and future. In the face of chaos, I need order. Spreadsheets create order. Spreadsheets give me comfort.
For most of the morning and early afternoon I stayed in the room with her, leaving only briefly to use the bathroom or get something to drink. I had conversations with others in the house but I really don’t remember very many of them. I was too focused on what was going on in Mary’s bedroom. Anytime someone would stop me for some bit of chatter, my eyes would dart toward the stairs down to Mary, and while I was polite on the outside, on the inside I was screaming “Stop talking to me! I have more important things to do!!”
Sometime shortly after noon, Mary became more cognizant and when it was just her and Steve and I in the room, made it very clear that she was done. She wanted it to be over.
During her treatment, when things weren’t looking great, Mary had a conversation with her doctor about the end. He agreed to help her and the way she interpreted that statement was that he was agreeing to help her die. So she asked Steve to call the doctor and tell him that she was ready.
The doctor had a different interpretation for that conversation and while it took several phone calls to get to the crux of the matter, ultimately he stated clearly that he would not do anything to hasten her death. He would help her be as comfortable as possible and the end would come when it came.
Telling this to Mary, at least in terms that clearly, seemed cruel at that point, so instead we delayed her, we comforted her, we told her that we were working on it.
Thinking it would be over soon, Mary asked me to get a pen and paper so she could say a few things – some parting words. After struggling to form the words in her head and then trying to get her mouth to cooperate, she said this: “Thank you for taking care of me.”
And I wanted to. There was a moment that afternoon when she was crying, begging to be let out of the body that had betrayed her, that I almost walked over to the bottle of morphine sitting on the table near her bed. I had no idea how much I would have needed to give her but I figured it couldn’t be that hard. Take the dose she was getting every two hours and increase it to every hour, then every thirty minutes. It would be over sooner that way. I wouldn’t have told anybody, I would’ve just done it.
But I didn’t. I castigated myself for being selfish, wanting to keep her around for every moment I could even if she was in pain. I thought maybe I was just chickenshit, too afraid to actually take the kind of bold action that needed to be taken. In the end though, I figured out that it wasn’t something that Mary would’ve wanted me to do. She wouldn’t have wanted me to live with that. She wouldn’t have wanted anyone to live with that.
The house was becoming a bit of a circus with no fewer than two dozen people milling about. Built on a hill, Mary and Steve’s house had the main living room, kitchen, and dining room on the top floor, with the bedrooms underneath and so every footstep, every chair scrape, every voice carried down into Mary’s room. Any noise that was even slightly louder than normal caused her to stir and struggle. It was as if the noise was causing her actual discomfort.
Steve and I agreed that although the end was certainly coming, for some reason we didn’t think it was coming that night so we decided that all the people in the house were causing Mary too much anxiety. It was time for them to go.
“Don’t worry, Mary,” I said, “The Bouncer will take care of it.”
“Why is he doing it this way?” Mary asked groggily but plaintively.
“Because that’s the best way to do it,” I said, which seemed to satisfy her and she closed her eyes again. It wasn’t until later that I realized that she had an entirely different vision in her head of The Bouncer. The Bouncer was the one that was going to end it for her and she didn’t understand what was taking so damn long.
It wasn’t easy asking people to leave and I think more than a few of them weren’t very happy with me, but I didn’t really care. My mission at that moment was to give Mary as much peace as I possibly could. That’s what best friends do.
We got everyone cleared out by 9 or 10 that night and it was just the three of us – Steve, me, and Mary. Since the medications needed to be delivered on a consistent basis all night, we agreed that I would be the time keeper, setting my phone’s alarm to get up every hour or 90 minutes or so to wake Steve. It wasn’t a spreadsheet but it was something I could control.
At eleven o’clock that night, while Steve was in another room, I sat in a chair next to Mary’s bed and turned on the TV to watch “Friends.” Mary and I always joked that you could compare everything in life to an episode of “Friends” but I didn’t remember any that were analogous to this situation. None of the bright, shiny, happy people on that show ever died slowly and painfully.
I went into the guest bedroom shortly after the show ended, first reassuring Steve and Mary that I was there for the duration, whether that was a day or a week. I didn’t ask if that was okay but I knew it was. I knew it’s what she wanted. It was my commitment. I was devoted to her.
In between writing a second Hallmark Xmas movie with a lot of very earnest dialogue about the meaning of the holiday and a Lifetime movie with lots of single white female drama, I decided to take some time and write up my thoughts on the propositions as I do every year.
Now, as we have discussed, I hate the California ballot process. It is ridiculous that laws (or worse, constitutional amendments) are made by 50% plus one person of the fraction of people who actually vote, many of whom don’t take the time to do anything other than pay a little bit of attention to the misdirection and outright lies that most of the campaign TV commercials put out there. My default position is to vote “no” since most of them are put forth by extreme factions, often Republican, who can’t get things advanced legislatively in the state.
But every now and then there are some that come around that I think are worthy of attention. There are few this time around, including one I feel very passionate about. There are a lot of them this year so buckle in.
No on 51 (School Bonds)
No on 52 (Diverting Hospital Fee Revenue)
No on 53 (Voter Approval of Revenue Bonds)
No on 54 (Public Display of Bills)
No on 55 (Extension of Top Tax Rate)
No on 56 (Tobacco Tax)
No on 57 (Non-Violent Parole)
Yes on 58 (Allows Bi-Lingual Education)
Yes on 59 (Demand Action Against Citizens United)
No on 60 (Condoms in Adult Films)
No no 61 (Drug Price Standards)
Yes on 62 (Repeal the Death Penalty)
Yes on 63 (Gun and Ammunition Control)
Yes on 64 (Legalizes Marijuana)
No on 65 (Bag Fees for Wildlife Fund)
No on 66 (Changes to the Death Penalty Process)
Yes on 67 (Bans Plastic Bags)
Proposition 51: School Bonds. Funding for K-12 School and Community College Facilities. Initiative Statute
The short version:
Issues $9 billion in bonds to pay for schools and community colleges
Who is for it:
Almost everyone – Democrats, Republicans, teachers, and on and on
What the people for it say:
For God’s sake, won’t someone please think of the children! They are our future, you know?
Who is against it:
Governor Jerry Brown and the Libertarians
What the people against it say:
Nine BILLION dollars? What the fuck? Plus, it doesn’t have enough protections in it to ensure that the money is directed to low-income neighborhoods where it is truly needed.
What I say:
What the fuck? Sorry, kids. I’m with Governor Jerry.
NO on Prop 51
Proposition 52: Voter Approval to Divert Hospital Fee Revenue Dedicated to Medi-Cal
The Short Version:
Hospitals pay fees to the state to help them qualify for federal Medicaid funds – fees that are supposed to go into a fund that is matched by the state. However, legislators sometimes “redirect” those fees to other uses. Prop 52 is a constitutional amendment and state statute that would require any “redirection” of these fees to be approved by voters or by 2/3 of the legislature, which would effectively end the practice.
Who is for it:
Democrats, Republicans, the Health care industry – kind of everyone
What the people for it say:
Politicians are shady and they shouldn’t be allowed to use money for one thing on something else.
Who is against it:
What the people against it say:
This will effectively increase funding to hospitals, which means corporate health care companies and their greedy CEOs will profit from it.
What I say:
I had over $2 million in medical bills from my big fun with cancer a few years ago. I don’t feel sorry for hospitals AT ALL. But beyond that, I am very against constitutional amendments being done through the ballot process.
The Short Version:
Voters already get the right to approve the issuance of general obligation bonds, often done to pay for things like parks and schools, and repaid through tax revenue. But voters don’t have the right to approve revenue bonds, which often pay for things like roads and bridges, and are repaid through fees and other charges (like Highway tolls). This constitutional amendment would give voters the right to approve any revenue bond issuance valued above $2 billion.
Who is for it:
Republicans and Libertarians.
What people for it say:
Keep your damn dirty hands off my damn dirty money! Or… Politicians suck and they borrow money to pay for pork projects that we then have to pay for and we don’t have any say in the matter.
Who is against it:
Democrats and most progressive organizations
What people against it say:
Local and community projects would be negatively affected because it would require the approval of the entire state. Plus there is no exemption for natural disasters or other emergencies.
What I say:
Just like I don’t think 50% + 1 should make law, neither do I think they should be able to control state budgets. Plus it’s a constitutional amendment, so you know how I feel already.
NO on Prop 53
Proposition 54: Public Display of Legislative Bills Prior to Vote
The Short Version:
A constitutional amendment and state statute that would require that every bill under consideration in the state legislature be posted on the Internet for 72 hours prior to any vote. It also requires the legislature to record all their public proceedings and post them within 24 hours and allows anyone to record any public legislature session and post those recordings publicly.
Who is for it:
Republicans and Libertarians, plus lots of progressive groups like the NAACP, League of Women Voters, etc.
What the people for it say:
Politicians suck and this will help make them accountable.
Who is against it:
Democrats and their usual labor affiliates (nurses, teachers, etc.)
What the people against it say:
There is one billionaire behind this – a right wing nutjob who wants it so he can use the 72 hours to launch public outrage campaigns about pending votes by the Democratic-led legislature.
What I say:
This is one that sounds good on the surface – transparency is a good thing, right? But how many of you are going to check the website listing all the upcoming votes every day and then do something about the stuff that you don’t like? None of you. The ones that will do something are the extremists on both sides who will use it to try to slow down the process and advance their own agendas.
NO on Prop 54
Proposition 55: Extension of the Proposition 30 Income Tax Increase
The Short Version:
Constitutional amendment that would extend current tax rates on individual incomes over $250K from 2018 to 2030
Who is for it:
Democrats and most progressive organizations
What those for it say:
Rich people suck! Or at least they suck when it comes to paying their fair share of taxes. This doesn’t raise taxes, it just keeps the rate they are already paying.
Who is against it:
Republicans and Libertarians
What those against it say:
I’ve had it with all these motherfucking taxes on the motherfucking plane! Oh, and this is a bait and switch because voters approved this “temporary” tax increase with the 2018 expiration and now it’s going to stay forever.
What I say:
Full transparency – because of all the TV movie gigs I have been getting plus my full time job, this law will affect me. I have always said I don’t have any problem paying taxes and I support the idea of it in general. But this is a constitutional amendment, so that makes me inclined to oppose it from the get-go. Plus, I kind of agree with the LA Times, which says: “When a majority of people provide a substantial portion of the state’s revenue, there is a broader demand for accountability and a greater incentive to vote. But when only a few provide most of the revenue, the majority loses not only its incentive to demand results, but its leverage to do so.”
NO on Prop 55
Proposition 56: Tobacco Tax Increase
The Short Version:
Constitutional amendment and state statute that raises taxes on cigarettes, tobacco products, and e-cigarettes by $2.00 per pack (or equivalent) to pay for anti-smoking campaigns and health care.
Who is for it:
Democrats and progressive groups
What those for it say:
Smoking is evil. Smokers are bad people. Smokers should die but until they do they should pay for everything.
Who is against it:
Republicans, Libertarians, and evil smokers
What those against it say:
Taxes are bad and the money this raises won’t be used the way it should be.
What I say:
Full transparency – I’m a smoker. I quit when I got cancer in 2012 (which had nothing to do with the smoking, for the record) and then picked it back up again last year and then quit again last year and then picked it back up again this year. I have accepted that much like an alcoholic is always an alocholic even when they aren’t drinking, I will always be a smoker even when I’m not smoking. I’m totally with Bebe Glaser from this classic episode of Frasier:
Having said that, smoking is terrible and in general I support all efforts to keep people from doing it. But in the end this is a constitutional amendment that “punishes” one group of people for their addiction. Do we impose a $2 tax on every bottle of alcohol sold? Or every sugary Big Gulp soda?
No on Prop 56
Proposition 57: Parole for Non-Violent Criminals and Juvenile Court Trial Requirements
The Short Version:
Constitutional amendment and state statute that would increase parole chances for people convicted of non-violent crimes and give prosecutors more leeway in deciding whether to try juveniles as adults.
Who is for it:
What those for it say:
Prisons are overcrowded, often with people convicted of non-violent felonies (often drug possession violations)
Who is against it:
Republicans and law and order types
What those against it say:
They’re going to release horrible people from jail who will come to your home and KILL YOU!!
What I say:
This is another one that seems like a good idea, but I have a problem with it. State law identifies 23 specific felonies as “violent” and everything else is not officially “violent.” That includes things like, unbelievably, assault with a deadly weapon, domestic violence, gun possession violations, rape, arson, lewd acts against a child, hate crimes, and a lot more . This proposition does not further define what is a “violent” felony. While I generally hate siding with law and order types, I think that’s a problem.
NO on Prop 57
Proposition 58: Non-English Languages Allowed in Public Education
The Short Version:
State statute that repeals proposition 227, voted into law in 1998, that requires English-only education in public schools and allows bilingual education programs.
Who is for it:
Democrats and most progressive groups
What those for it say:
227 (the proposition, not the Jackee Harry sitcom) was a racist piece of shit and this repeals it.
Who is against it:
Republicans, Libertarians, and most racists
What those against it say:
Build a wall.
What I say:
I hate the California ballot proposition process because it allows bullshit laws like English only education to get put into place by racist and/or misinformed voters. But a proposition that repeals a proposition? I can get behind that.
YES on Prop 58
Proposition 59: Overturn of Citizens United Act Advisory Question
The Short Version:
This is neither a constitutional amendment nor a state statute. Instead, it’s an “advisory question” that would “encourage” the California legislature to find a way to overturn Citizens United, the US Supreme Court decision that effectively defined corporations as people and opened the floodgates for dark money into politics.
Who is for it:
Bernie and the Progressives (1960s Doo Wop Group, I believe)
What those for it say:
Corporations aren’t people and we need to get money out of politics. And something about hemp I think.
Who is against it:
What those against it say:
This is a feel good thing that doesn’t actually do anything.
What I say:
The legislature isn’t actually REQUIRED to do anything and what they could do is probably limited, but since this doesn’t change the constitution or make any laws, then why not?
YES on 59
Proposition 60: Condoms in Pornographic Films
The Short Version:
State statute requiring that all adult movies filmed in California require performers to wear condoms. If they don’t, the people who make, appear in, distribute, and display the films are subject to civil actions by anyone who feels as though they have been harmed by it.
Who is for it:
AIDS prevention groups, the Peace & Freedom party, prudes, people who say they are disgusted by porn but have pornhub.com bookmarked.
Who is against it:
Democrats, Republicans, Libertarians, sexual deviants, people who have pornhub.com bookmarked and don’t care who knows it
What those against it say:
It’s a poorly written law that will allow any whackjob (no pun intended) to file a lawsuit against porn companies because they feel as though they were somehow “harmed” by it.
What I say:
This is well-intentioned but stupid.
NO on 60
Proposition 61: Drug Price Standards
The Short Version:
State statute that requires state agencies to pay the same prices for prescription drugs that the US Veterans Administration pays.
Who is for it:
Bernie and the Progressives (who later became Hillary and the Progressives, a 60s girl group)
What those for it say:
Big pharma is evil and this will make drug prices more affordable for those on state programs who need it the most.
Who is against it:
Republicans, Libertarians, Big Pharma (big surprise), and several race groups like the NAACP and the California League of United Latin American Citizens (which actually is a surprise)
What those against it say:
Only helps those icky poor people and it could actually make drug prices go up for those heroic Americans who surved our country proudly. Glory, glory hallelujah! And I’m proud to be an American, where at least I know I’m free…
What I say:
Don’t get me started against Big Pharma but here’s the thing that troubles me about this. Drug manufacturers give discounts to the VA on medications, not because they are required to by law, but because not doing so would be disastrous PR. But if they are faced with the option of lowering their price on meds they sell to the state, they could very well just RAISE the price of the drugs they sell to the VA. Why? Because if this law works the way it is intended to, it will cost them billions and other states will rush to pass similar laws. Big Pharma has turned this proposition into the most expensive in history, dumping nearly $90 million into getting it defeated. They won’t take it laying down if it passes.
NO on Prop 61 (although a very tough call)
Proposition 62: Repeal of the Death Penalty
The Short Version:
It’s right there in the title – this state statute repeals the death penalty in California.
Who is for it:
Progressives, Bleeding Heart Liberals
What those for it say:
The death penalty is immoral – the state should not be involved in killing people
Who is against it:
Law and order types
What those against it say:
Kill the bastards!
What I say:
My opinion is as simple as the title – I am against the death penalty in all instances.
YES on Prop 62
Proposition 63: Background Checks for Ammunition Purchases and Large-Capacity Ammunition Magazine Ban Initiative
The Short Version:
A state statute that does a bunch of things related to the sale and ownership of guns and ammunition
Requires background checks and a permit for the purchase of ammunition
Requires a license for the sale of ammunition
Bans exemptions for large-capacity magazines (those purchased before 2000) and set penalties for anyone who possesses them
Puts into place a court process that attempts to ensure that people who aren’t supposed to have guns don’t have them. For instance, someone who has a domestic violence protection order against them is not supposed to own a gun, but currently there is no system in place to enforce that
Moves up the date on which out of state purchases of ammunition are banned from 2019 to 2018
Requires dealers and owners to report theft of ammunition within a few days
Makes stealing a gun a felony punishable by up to 3 years in prison
Who is for it:
Progressives, sane people
What people for it say:
We have to do something about gun violence.
Who is against it:
What those who are against it say:
Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition! We gots to go kill us some things!
What I say:
If it were up to me I’d round up all the guns, melt them down, and turn them into playground equipment. Since I can’t do that, I will do everything I can to add as many restrictions as I can to get in the way of people and their guns.
YES on Prop 63
Proposition 64: Marijuana Legalization
The Short Version:
Legalizes recreational marijuana and hemp and puts state taxes on its sale and cultivation.
Who is for it:
What those for it say:
Who is against it:
What those against it say:
Just say no.
What I say:
Yes on Prop 64
Proposition 65: Dedication of Revenue from Disposable Bag Sales to Wildlife Conservation Fund
The Short Version:
State statute that would redirect money from the sale of carry out and grocery bags to a fund for the Wildlife Conservation Board.
Who is for it:
What they say:
Who is against it:
People who hate baby seals.
What they say:
Why yes, I’d love to wear that baby seal as a fashionable hat.
What I say:
This is actually more complex than it seems because of Proposition 67, which would ban the use of plastic bags entirely. That ban was passed by the state legislature and 67 ratifies it with voters. If it passes, then a 10 cent per bag fee for the sale of any other reusable bag will go into place and that money goes to the retailer to pay for the cost of the bags and for environmental education programs. If 67 passes AND 65 passes, then that 10 cents will go to the state fund. If 67 passes and 65 fails, the money goes to the retailers. If 67 fails, it is all moot. Confusing? Yes, and intentionally so because Prop 65 was crafted by the same people trying to STOP the plastic bag ban, specifically the manufacturers of plastic bags. Sketchy much?
NO on Prop 65
Proposition 66: Death Penalty Procedures
The Short Version:
Puts a bunch of new stuff around how the death penalty is administered in the state including speeding up the appeals process and restitution for the victims’ families.
Who is for it:
Law and order types
What those for it say:
The death penalty is needed but can be improved. Oh… and KILL THE BASTARDS!!
Who is against it:
Bleeding heart liberals
What those against it say:
It sounds like they want to do something about the death penalty but its a ruse. Don’t believe it.
What I say:
If the state were to keep the death penalty, there are some good provisions in this that would make it a little less horrific. Not much, but a little. Here’s the important part about this proposition though… If Prop 62, which repeals the death penalty, passes AND this Prop 66 passes, the one with the most yes votes wins. So even if 62 passes, we could still have the death penalty if this one gets more votes. Sketchy much?
NO on Prop 66
Proposition 67: Plastic Bag Ban Veto Referendum
The Short Version:
The state legislature enacted a ban on plastic grocery bags. This measure ratifies that ban and institutes a 10 cent per bag fee on other bags that goes to the retailer.
Who is for it:
The same people who are against Prop 65.
What those for it say:
The same thing the people against Prop 65 say.
Who is against it:
The same people who are for Prop 65.
What those against it say:
I think you can see where this is going.
What I say:
This proposition does not create a new law. All this does is ratify a law enacted by the state legislature, the people who are supposed to be making laws in the first place. Since we already have a ban in LA it’s kinda moot to me. But while I miss plastic bags, this is a good thing in the long run.
YES on Prop 67
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