Song #46: The 65’s – “Pretty In Pink”

October 8, 2020
Song #46: The 65’s – “Pretty in Pink”

My first car was a 1977 Volvo 242 GL that was given to me by my mother. It had been her car, she bought it new in 1977 for $7000; I remember the day we got it (and the price) like it was yesterday. It had an AM radio only, with a single, mono speaker in the dashboard. My mom bought it because it was safe, and she was carting two kids around all the time. I remember even at the time, at eight years old, thinking it was odd that my father got the cool car and my mother got the boring, square, safe one.

Nearly ten years, one rebuilt engine, and a host of mechanical maladies later, I was approaching driving age – 16 in New York at the time. I had visions of maybe a restored Corvette, a beat-up Jeep Wrangler, maybe a Ford Bronco, paid for with savings from my job as a porter in a dress shop. My mother, newly remarried, had other ideas.

My new and very temporary stepbrothers attended school in the Southwest, and were the owners of a 1967 Ford Mustang that they drove all the way back to the home we all shared in Rockland County, New York. The car was a shitbox, for sure, but it was a cool shitbox, one that had the body and engine of a classic muscle car, if not the appearance – it was sort of a mottled greenish-gray, and made a sort of ominous rattling sound when it idled. But they wanted to sell it, and I wanted to buy it, and-

“No,” my mother emphatically interrupted the fantasy.

“Why? I’m going to pay for it with my money,” I replied, equally emphatically.

“And I’m going to pay for the insurance,” she countered. “And I will not pay the premium for the insurance on a sports car.”

“So I’ll pay the premium,” I sneered.

“You won’t need to,” she responded, “Because you’ll be grounded.”

Grounding was sort of the answer to a lot of our disagreements, the final threat that ended discussions my mother refused to lose. She usually listened to logic; I could be persuasive (she used to tell me I should become a lawyer), but sometimes I wasn’t going to win the argument, no matter how persuasive I was. I was physically bigger than my mother by then, certainly snotty enough to occasionally rebel and intelligent enough to put together a cogent argument, but if it was one my mother really wanted to win, the last word would also involve the threat of a grounding. Regardless of how big I physically grew (I’m 6′ 3″), if my mom said “You’re grounded,” you bet your ass I stayed home. She still grounds me sometimes.

Her “compromise” was that if I didn’t buy the Mustang that would rot in the driveway since I would be grounded until I was emancipated, she would give me her Volvo, which, she reasoned, wasn’t really a nine-year-old car since it had a rebuilt engine. It was a new car in an old body, kinda like I am today.

Begrudgingly, I took the offer, knowing full well that most of my friends did not get a free car of any kind, and also knowing that of my friends who owned their own cars, all of them were shitboxes – a 1984 Chevy Chevette, a 1980s Plymouth Reliant K, a crappy 1980s Mustang, a 1970s Nova that required a screwdriver to start. The driver’s side window in my Volvo didn’t roll up all the way, there were rust spots all over the back that my stepfather spray-painted with giant bursts of rust-colored primer (the car was beige), it began to shimmy at 50 MPH. But it was mine, and I wound up loving it.

The first thing I did was Frankenstein a stereo. My stepbrothers gave me the aftermarket cassette player they’d ripped out of their Mustang before selling it (a sad day), and I bought a power booster from a vendor at the Spring Valley Flea Market. I picked up a pair of 12″ bookshelf stereo speakers from a home stereo – eight-inch woofers, two-inch tweeters inside wooden cabinets, and placed them on the back deck, under the window. I mounted the power booster inside the glove compartment, and hid the wires under the carpet as best I could. For my birthday, my buddy bought me a cassette tape case that would house 24 cassettes, which meant that if I filled it up with 90-minute tapes with a full-length album on each side, I could travel with forty-eight albums at all times. With 48 albums in my car, I was a rolling fucking encyclopedia of music. I had Metallica’s Kill ‘Em All for when we jammed as many guys into the car as possible, windows down in the middle of winter, going to see the New Jersey Saints of the Eagle Pro Box Lacrosse league of 1987. I had Bob Marley’s Legend, Jimmy Cliff’s Special and Van Halen’s 5150 (RIP, Eddie) for when we headed to the beach. I had Dire Straits’ Alchemy for dates (and a mixtape of hair metal ballads for special dates). I had The Replacements’ Let It Be and Husker Du’s Flip Your Wig and the Sex Pistols’ Never Mind The Bollocks and Echo & the Bunnymen’s Ocean Rain and New Order’s Low/Life and really important records like Wish You Were Here, Houses Of The Holy, Paranoid, The Number of the Beast, Back In Black, Fair Warning, and all the records that a metal kid in 1986/87 needed to have in order to be cool in his 1977 Volvo 242 GL.

And I had Talk Talk Talk, by the Psychedelic Furs. I don’t know why I bought it, they didn’t fall into the category of slick commercial rock that was popular among high school boys in the late 80s, nor did they fall into the category of edgy punk, metal or college rock that were the hallmarks of cooler suburban music kids of that era. It wasn’t classic rock, it wasn’t the music that the stoners liked, the people discovering hip hop didn’t get it, nor did the trendy synth pop kids. But I bought it nonetheless, and it became part of the heavy rotation of tapes I’d listen to not when I was on a date, or driving around with a carload of guys, but when I was alone, enjoying the solitude and the excitement of the road.

The album was filled with moods. It was aggressive in spots, angry in others, melancholy in places – but also in there was the song that became the title of a John Hughes film, “Pretty in Pink.” It seemed out of place on the album, likely because by the time I was driving around in my car, listening to it, Molly Ringwald had already hijacked the title, the “Brat Pack” already gathering headlines as the stars of teen movies, characters with which I tried unsuccessfully to identify. Sometimes if I wanted to let somebody into that world where I had records that were just mine, I’d start with “Pretty in Pink,” which was invariably met with “Oh, I love this song!”

The people in The 65’s are no stranger to what makes a great song, and have never been afraid to cover one they liked. Much like the Psychedelic Furs album from which it was lifted, The 65’s cover of “Pretty in Pink” threatened to overwhelm the album, a record which had three or four songs that I’d qualify as “great” pop songs, and a few others that are quite good. “Pretty in Pink,” though, is a classic, a monster song that appeals to a wide range of people, and for this reason I was glad the band left it at the end of the Strike Hard! album. Despite that, it tended to be the song to which a lot of people gravitated, partially because of people’s familiarity with the song and partially because it’s a really good, if faithful, cover. This one worked particularly well because of the interplay between Dan and Joe’s vocals, with Dan handling the verses, the roughness of Richard Butler’s voice handled more deftly by Joe in the chorus.

Over the years, we’ve put out a shit ton of covers. Including the Juicy Fruit gum commercial, I count 26, but this one might be my favorite, because when I hear it, I’m back in my Volvo, wind blowing in my hair through the driver’s side window, dashboard shaking, as I push the car to its 60 MPH limit on Route 17 in Paramus, the whole world ahead of me.

Buy it today, or any other download on our website, and all the profit goes to Swing Left. Twenty-six days til the election, or one for every cover we’ve released…so far.

~ by Al on October 8, 2020.

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