i left my wallet in el segundo or 7 songs that shaped my life

In January of this year, I was a little frustrated with all the backwards thinking being done on the internet.  Everyone was publishing their top posts of 2010 — those were LAST year’s top posts!  I never want to be one who rests on my laurels, so instead I predicted my top posts of 2011, even though they’d not yet been written.  This post is one of them.

So please join me, if you will.  Let’s go back in time — yeah, yeah, I just said a bunch of crap about not looking back (I also posted a link to my top posts of 2010, but you were probably too busy reading to notice) — and explore 7 songs from my childhood that made me who I am today.

(above image courtesy of the city of el segundo)



“We Built This City,” Starship (1985)

My most vivid memory of this song:

Having recorded “We Built This City” onto a cassette tape directly from the radio, and having placed that tape in my new Walkman, I remember riding my bike around the neighborhood for hours listening to the best song in the world (this one) through my earphones.  I was wearing sweat pants and Eastlands.  Of course I stopped every 3 minutes to rewind the song so I could listen to it again.  And whenever the pretty girl across the street was in view, I sang out loud so she would know how cool the music I was listening to was.

Did everyone like the song as much as I did?

No.  Blender magazine called it the worst song in history.  “We Built This City” also made VH1’s list of The 50 Most Awesomely Bad Songs… Ever.

Do those people know anything at all about music?

Apparently not.

Are there any cities in the world that were actually built on rock ‘n’ roll?

Maybe Detroit or Cleveland?  Though I feel no city built on rock ‘n’ roll could ever be structurally sound.  Also, nothing would open before 11 in the morning, and I fear the city would likely be taken over by struggling musicians delivering pizzas to other struggling musicians.

What this song taught me about life:

I learned that just as cities cannot actually be built on rock ‘n’ roll, neither can love relationships blossom while admiring beauty from a distance (and wearing headphones on a bicycle).  I never got the girl.  Her family moved away a few months later.  Probably to Detroit or Cleveland.


“It’s the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine),” REM (1987)

Interesting “End of the World” trivia:

  • Four people with the initials L.B. are mentioned in the song.  In order, they are Leonard Bernstein, Leonid Brezhnev, Lenny Bruce, and Lester Bangs.
  • Fox played this song after the Red Sox won the 2004 World Series.  Classic.
  • Most people believe this song is actually about giant perky rhinoceroses who will take over the United States in 2014 and turn it into a really, really big pinball machine. Uhm… many people believe that?  Some people?  Okay yeah, it’s just me….

All of the lyrics to this song that I actually know (though I mumble along as if I know all of them):

  • That’s great, it starts with an earthquake, birds and snakes, an aeroplane – Lenny Bruce is not afraid.  Eye of a hurricane, listen to yourself churn…
  • It’s the end of the world as we know it.  It’s the end of the world as we know it.  It’s the end of the world as we know it and I feel fine.
  • Six o’clock – TV hour.
  • Leonard Bernstein.
  • You symbiotic, patriotic, (blah, blah, blah…) right? Right.

What this song taught me about life:

I realized it doesn’t really matter what you say as long as it sounds nice.  Delivery is crucial, while substance is of little consequence.  Apparently my current favorite artist, Bon Iver, also realizes this.


“I Left My Wallet in El Segundo,” A Tribe Called Quest (1990)


Q-Tip and Ali go on a cross-country trip (in Q-Tip’s mother’s car) and stop to eat at a little fast food joint in El Segundo.  Q-Tip pays for the meal and, distracted by a hot chick, mistakenly forgets his wallet.  He doesn’t realize this until they get home, though, so they have to go all the way back to wonderful El Segundo to get it.  The entire story is narrated from a police station.

A few of the creative and brilliant lyrics contained within:

‘Cause I left my wallet in El Segundo
Yeah, I left my wallet in El Segundo
Left my wallet in El Segundo
Left my wallet in El Segundo
I gotta get, got-got ta get it

What this song taught me about life:

I’ve found that if I never pay for meals, I will be far less likely to lose my wallet.  Actually, if I never pay for meals, I don’t even need a wallet.  

Also during this stage of my life, I learned that bizarre nicknames contribute to success  — even if your moniker is nothing more than a genericized trademark for a cotton swab (Q-Tip), your own name used as an adjective to describe itself (Marky Mark), or some adaptation of the word “ice” (Ice-T, Vanilla Ice, Ice Cube).


“I Melt With You,” Modern English (1982)

Just how good was this song?

  • VH1 ranked it #39 on their list of the 100 greatest songs of the 80s.
  • But they ranked it #7 on their 100 Greatest One Hit Wonders of the 80s.
  • Sometimes I get this song stuck in my head and can’t get it out.
  • Also, “I Melt With You” was the theme of a pretty awesome girls’ social club function I went to during college.  We roasted marshmallows and carved pumpkins.
Let’s say I was spending my summer in the U.K. and really wanted to see Modern English in concert.  They’re not still around, are they?

Why, it’s funny that you ask.  It just so happens there is indeed a 2011 UK tour with the original band members from the 80s.  You can find tour information here.  There’s also a movie — I Melt With You— starring Rob Lowe, which includes three songs by Modern English.

What this song taught me about life:

When it comes to love, it’s not a big deal if you make promises you can’t possibly keep.  No one can stop the world.  And it’s very unlikely that any human being would ever be willing to actually melt with another. 


“At This Moment,” Billy Vera and The Beaters (1981)

If you don’t recognize this song, let me refresh your memory:

What did you think
I would do at this moment?

And you just don’t love me no more.

Still haven’t placed it?  Try this:

The year is 1985.  The show is Family Ties (quite possibly one of the best shows ever created).  Ellen is leaving on a train to marry a man who is not Alex P. Keaton (season 4, episode 6).  Alex desperately has to make his feelings known.

What this song taught me about life:

Even girls with glasses can be pretty.  [Well, ok, I guess I learned this more from Tracy Pollan’s portrayal of Ellen Reed than from the song itself.  But still, it counts.]

Other important lessons I learned from Family Ties:

  • It’s cool to be Republican.
  • Scuba is actually an acronym for “self-contained underwater breathing apparatus.”
  • Alex P. Keaton is the ultimate TV role model — at least chronologically speaking.  “The P” came before Mike Seaver, Zack Morris, Louis Stevens, AND Hannah Montana.


“That’s What Friends Are For,” Dionne Warwick and Friends (1985)

Who exactly are Dionne Warwick’s friends:

  • Gladys Knight
  • Elton John
  • Stevie Wonder

Worst post-1985 decision made by Warwick or any of her friends:

The nominees are…

  • Dionne Warwick with infomercials for the Psychic Friends Network.
  • Gladys Knight with joining the Mormon Church in 1998.
  • Elton John with moving to Atlanta and becoming a Braves fan in 1991 (post- Dale Murphy).
  • Stevie Wonder with — eh, it’s considered really bad form to make jokes about blind people.

And the Winner is…

Dionne Warwick with her work in psychic infomercials for what seemed like the entire decade of the 90’s.  [Gladys Knight was a close second, but redeemed herself by opening a chain of chicken and waffles restaurants in (none other than) Atlanta.  I wonder if they serve caffeinated beverages?]

What made this song so great:

  • It was a benefit for the American Foundation for AIDS Research.
  • Two words: the harmonica.
  • Because what would already have been an extremely catchy song was made more so by consisting of only a chorus (basically).
  • It beat Michael W. Smith to the punch as far as go feel-good songs about friends.  Otherwise “If Friends are Friends Forever” might have made this list.  Uhm… wait… no it wouldn’t have.

What this song taught me about life:

Friends exist so that I can keep smiling and keep shining.  That’s what friends are for.


“Islands In the Stream,” Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton (1983)

How we know the song was successful:

  • It was written by the Bee Gees.
  • It made this list.
  • In addition to being the year’s #1 song (in the U.S.), “Islands In the Stream” topped the charts at #1 in Canada, Australia, and Austria.  It also reached #2 in Switzerland and Norway, #3 in Sweden, and #5 in Holland.  [Did anyone else notice this song did really well in especially cold countries — where they don’t speak English?  I bet they just heard “islands” and thought the song was about sunny and tropical locales….]

Lyrics which non-English speakers might have found more impressive than did other listeners like… say… me.*

Baby when I met you 
There was peace unknown.
I set out to get you 
With a fine tooth comb.
I was soft inside; 
There was somethin’ going on.

* In addition to the lyrics above, there was also the occasionally thrown in (but exceedingly well-timed), “ah-ah.”

What this song taught me about life:

No matter how silly or cliche the metaphors, or how poorly they are mixed, a country song by a man with a beard and a woman with large breasts can become hugely popular in our culture.  Islands in the stream… sail away with me?!?  Don’t those metaphors mean completely different things?! 


What music from your childhood made you who you are today?



Filed under slightly humorous or amusing?, top ten lists

22 responses to “i left my wallet in el segundo or 7 songs that shaped my life

  1. Pingback: looking forward — top 10 posts of 2011 | aliens and strangers

  2. “How we know the song was successful: It made this list”

    That’s funny! 🙂

  3. Tisha

    That was so, so funny Brett. As a child of the 80’s your list brought back many memories. Good stuff.

    I would definitely have to add some Chicago to my list, if I were making one. Couples skating to You’re the Inspiration was surely one of my childhood shaping highlights….

  4. brian

    great stuff, good songs.

  5. You would laugh if I told you.

  6. The first tape I bought was a Springteen tape. Still love to bust it out, with my bandana, and rock out every now and again. 🙂

    • thank you for your confession, dustin. and for coming by.

      i think the first tape i bought might have been janet jackson. fortunately i do not bust it out these days — she’s done enough of that for all of us, it seems.

  7. Love the style, this is funny stuff!
    Not sure you can recall great songs from the 80’s and leave out The Fixx, INXS, Flock of Seagulls, Duran Duran, Van Halen, Tom Petty, or Thomas Dolby? (OK, just kidding about Dolby, but it was as close as I ever got to liking “SCIENCE”!)
    As much as I loved the 80’s, it was the music that my mom, dad, brothers, and sister listened to that had more of an impact on my life. When I hear old country, it’s like goin’ home.
    By the way, Grace Slick singing back up in a group she started? Didn’t work for me… Besides, the whole hippie movement that started in San Fran that celebrated a lack of self discipline and really started the “me” generations would never get my vote. In addition, how do you ride a wrecking ball into a guitar? OH NO! I’ve tilted my hand!
    Nice job!
    My admiration and respect to you and your family to follow the call of God into the mission field.

    • good editions to the list, floyd. i need to make another one; that’s what i need to do. and i had enough fun making this list to want to make another.

  8. Milynda

    The fact that (a) I knew almost all of these songs AND have some sort of memory attached to them is one thing. But (b) that I looked up Family Ties, Season 4, Episode 6 and almost immediately remember that episode was a bit much. I soooo remember the episode with the Billy Vera song. Goodness, I am maturing quicker than I want.

    • i think that song actually played in several episodes. but that was THE episode. that might have been the first time i thought love between a boy and a girl seemed like a good idea.

  9. I thought you’d reached a low with “That’s What Friends are For” but then you pulled out “Islands In the Stream” wow…. Just wow!!!

  10. Jason Miller

    I’m like he who speaks of floppy disks in the BizHub commercial, for my first albums were actually vinyl: Michael Jackson’s Thriller and Hall and Oates’ Big Bam Boom. First memory of music: in our green boat of a 70’s vehicle with mom when it overheats to the song You Light Up My Life by Debbie Boone. Had to have been ’77, which was when the song was big, and I woulda been 3 (my wife not being born for another year).

    Of those three music experiences, only Thriller remains in my collection. We were listening to it in the Serengeti with interns two years ago and one of them had epiphany after epiphany. It seems her parents had based their parenting methodology on song titles and lyric lines from Thriller, i.e.: If she said something like, “But, why Mom?” Her mother and father would break into, “Why? Why?” from Human Nature. She went home thinking differently (better?) of her parents.

    I think her parents are blessed with pure genius.

  11. Rob

    NICE trip down memory lane! Oh yea, I remember taping stuff direclty from the radio…one finger on “play” and another on “record”! (Usually it was during Casey Casem’s top 40! Fun post.

    • i was right there with you, rob. except i didn’t have my fingers on both buttons. i had “record” already depressed and was only waiting to hit “play.” good memories.

  12. Pingback: top 12 list (of top 10 lists) on 12-12-12 | aliens and strangers

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