Classic Songs of My Youth Revisited #10

Shaun Cassidy – That’s Rock ‘N’ Roll

The school year of 1976-77 was a difficult one in our family, and for me personally. An uncle died at a horrifically young age. My parents’ marriage was imploding, resulting in a separation that was soon followed by an even more unfortunate reconciliation as they clearly were not done punishing each other for the mistake of having once been madly in love.  And I endured for a time what we would today likely call bullying but back then (had I told anyone) would have been characterised as just boys being boys.

As has been true for much of my life, a major place for me to escape to during difficult times was into books. (Also hockey – I will never be able to overstate how important the success of the 1970s Montreal Canadiens was to my self-image and overall mental health.) A critical part of this were the not-very-mysterious Hardy Boys mysteries. Frank and Joe were nothing special as detectives: typically they were (1) lucky or (2) bailed out by dad Fenton. But as exemplars of late-teen cool, at least from the perspective of someone much younger, they could not be matched.

My attachment was such that during that winter of 1976-77, I went so far as to read the autobiography of Leslie McFarlane, the Canadian ghost writer of many Hardy Boys titles. A few years before, I had done a book report on “What Happened at Midnight!” (scored as a five-star book on my Goodreads). Also during that 1976-77 season, my mother took me along on a visit to a friend one day. On doing my usual (a habit that continues to this day) scan of his bookshelves, I found a Hardy Boys title and was fine for the next few hours, caring not what the adults were up to.

On January 30, 1977, my fandom went to the next level, with the debut of “The Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries”. The Nancy part was fine (I had read a few of the books, and Pamela Sue Martin was adorable), but the real draw was the cool guys on the male half, with Parker Stevenson as Frank and Shaun Cassidy as Joe. Cassidy was the younger brother of a past teen heartthrob and had some musical skill of his own, so it was inevitable that it would become part of the show, despite the books’ utter lack of commentary on Joe’s musical talents.

Written by the odious Trump-loving Eric Carmen, “That’s Rock ‘N’ Roll” is a joyous piece of bubblegum. (The song’s excellence justifies the pennies due Carmen from Spotify for my repeated listens in writing this.) It feels like an update of a hit from an earlier age, as Carmen – savant that he was – seemed able to tap into the entire history of popular music in concocting his powerpop delicacies. It’s about teen malaise and insecurity, and the release that comes from discovering that music can be the path out of the woods: you need only to give in to the music and embrace the freedom, with no consideration of consequences. It celebrates that feeling of youthful invincibility, something they never seem to be in short supply of. It is unpretentious, while at the same time being incredibly pretentious about the power of pop music. So, of course, I’m a sucker for what it has to offer.

Cassidy’s voice is fine though not exactly tested here, and he was, of course, a first rank cutie. The song opens with a solid drumbeat. Pseudo chugging guitars follow, then horns, joined by piano on the chorus. And that’s it. Nothing fancy, just a heap of joyful noise packed tight with every pop music cliche you can imagine in under three glorious minutes.

It’s been a long time since I’ve read a Hardy Boys book, though I still own a large collection in the blue covers that will be familiar to anyone of my generation. Sometimes, I think I might like to crack one open, but I know it will never happen, at least not in my present state of sentience. There is no need to sully my memory of them as literary masterpieces.

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