Classic Songs of My Youth Revisited #13

The Oak Ridge Boys – Elvira

Nostalgia can be very dangerous. It can easily lead you down a path where you greatly overstate the awesomeness of some past thing. But I don’t think it’s nostalgia when I say that I had more fun in the summer of 1981 than any other.

The linchpin of this was one Calvin Hood, who decided in the fall of 1980 that I was his friend, so I (after some brief hesitation) gladly jumped on for the ride. He was several years older, back in high school on a part-time basis to finish an aborted diploma now that he had figured out his path in life. Calvin might have been the most essentially decent person I ever met – and one of my aunts is a nun. He made decisions for his own life based in part on how they might impact YOUR immortal soul. He was unabashedly Christian, but never preachy or pushy – he just lived his life in a way that you couldn’t help but admire.

The highlight of that summer would come on Sunday nights. An ever-changing group of four to six of us would go to the drive-in for the midnight double feature, a carful of rowdy late teens and young adults who were usually too busy trying to crack each other up or visiting friends in other vehicles to pay much attention to the movie (mostly cheesy action or detective flix and soft core erotica (I think Calvin took a pass on those nights) from the 1960s and early 1970s – I (sort of) saw “Vixen!” and “Supervixens” in one night). After­wards, we would drive into the nearby city, play “spy” on the dark empty streets (basically, chasing each other around) or have Chinese fire drills, then head to Tim Hortons, where we would consume most of a large portion of Timbits before heading out to play tennis badly as the sun was coming up. We did this for several weeks, then Calvin left town for a new job and Doug Maxwell – the only decent tennis player among us (and I better not hear from anyone else who was there trying to defend their tennis game) – left to join the military, and the rest of us drifted off to other activities. As stupid as it all sounds now, it was a blast, and that was really more about who I was with than what we did. To paraphrase the narrator at the end of “Stand by Me“, I never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was 16.

On CJCB radio, lords of the soundtrack to our summer, the biggest song – or at least the one that seemed to always be playing that year – was “Elvira” by The Oak Ridge Boys. Sometimes, we would request it, timing our call so that it came on the air while we were at the coffee shop. But it was better if it played when you weren’t expecting it. You would be rolling along, laughing about something stupid or ragging one of the other guys (or being ragged on), and then you’d hear that intro and – boom! – a car full of idiots were singing along in full voice.

It’s such a fun song to sing along with. Maybe it’s a karaoke standard by now but I expect it’s better to have the Boys as your backing track. Those giddy ups and oom poppas are delightful – I defy you to sing along and not feel happy. It’s almost entirely corn, like good bourbon mash, and that’s also part of the fun. A lot of the best country music doesn’t take itself too seriously – think of people like Brad Paisley or Toby Keith, or consider a song like “I’m Gonna Hire a Wino to Decorate our Home” or “You’re the Reason our Kids Are Ugly” or “It’s Hard to Be Humble”. This makes them a buttload of fun to sing along with, to give in to the ridiculousness of the thing, and let loose and just have fun with it. “Elvira” tapped into that, and for a group of rock-loving boys – I was at a party on prom night that June where we kept playing the same Minglewood Band album over and over and over until we were too drunk to care anymore – The Oak Ridge Boys owned an awful lot of our aural real estate for that brief window in time. I’ll never be able to separate that song from the love I felt – never expressed, of course, because I was a male teenager of a certain generation – for the friends I sang along with. I’ve had a lot of great summers since, with a lot of great songs, but I don’t think any of them can compete with 1981 and “Elvira”.