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Summer of 1984: A Musical Trip Down Memory Lane
I fell in love with music in the summer of 1984. I was seven years old and had just been introduced to Prince by my neighbor. More on that story in just a moment...
I’m also “RainMandy” with dates, so yesterday morning, August 4, when I asked Alexa for the news, she reported that Prince’s album Purple Rain reached Number 1 on the Billboard charts that day in 1984 and stayed there for 24 weeks. My mind immediately went back to that summer when I first heard the album’s title song in my neighbor’s living room. A simple Google search launched me on a trip down Memory Lane and I revisited so many albums that released in the summer of ‘84, many songs of which became my own iconic childhood anthems.
Although this stroll through a single summer started as an idea for an Instagram post, it expanded into a collection of stories that I’m as pumped as a pair of legwarmers to share with you.
The week after my Mama and I watched Footloose on HBO the summer of ‘84, my friend group and I choreographed a dance routine to Let’s Hear It for the Boy. The movie, the routine, the entire experience was complete and total validation that I was meant to be a dancer. I mean, Mama and I had also seen Flashdance the previous year, so Kevin Bacon’s moves set to Kenny Loggins’ vocals only cemented the idea for me. Fast forward 39 years and, no, I am NOT a dancer, not with these two left feet.
The summer of ‘84, Mama, Daddy, and I lived in a sketchy apartment complex in Montgomery, Alabama. I remember a group of teenaged boys stowing refrigerator boxes beside the dumpster at the end of the parking lot beside our building. They would gather on the spacious stretch of asphalt in front of the dumpster, each with a tracksuit, beat-up Shell Toes or Chucks, sweatbands, and fuzzy Kangols (probably knockoffs, considering that we were all dirt-poor). One of the boys held a double-tape-decker boombox on his shoulder, as was requisite for breakers at that time, which blasted hip-hop into the parking lot and adjacent sidewalks and yards. The movie Breakin’ had just released that spring, so when Run-D.M.C.’s debut album dropped that summer, boomboxes everywhere played Rock Box on repeat. While I don’t remember any of those guys being very good breakdancers, they were ambitious, bless their hearts, and their music was absolutely infectious.
I’m not exaggerating when I say that Billy Ocean’s song Caribbean Queen (No More Love on the Run) played through the mall’s speakers every single time Mama and I went shopping. Although the album Suddenly had released the summer of 1984, that following summer Caribbean Queen was still heating up radio waves and mall corridors everywhere we went. That same year, my mother bought me my first diary, a primary colored Hello Kitty diary from a store called “Spoiled Rotten.” During my Google search yesterday morning, I pulled that sweet little book from my shelf and opened it to the first entry: August 3, 1985, which was 38 years ago the day prior.
New Edition’s second studio album with the same title debuted summer of ‘84. At that time, my mother was a teacher at KinderCare Learning Center on Eastern Boulevard in Montgomery. It’s now a private child care center, but you can still see the playgrounds and basketball court (the same one where my friends and I choreographed our dance routines) from Google Maps. Anyway, during the summertime when I was out of school, I would go to work with my mother. Because I was a “big kid,” I was in the “ClubMates” room with the other after-schoolers. The summer calendar was packed with activities, including Looney’s Skating Rink, which is still in operation today, and according to Google Maps seems as though it still has the same carpet and paint. When I hear songs like Cool It Now and Mr. Telephone Man, I immediately think of summer days spent learning how to skate on Looney’s slick floors. I remember this one girl named Kirsten who had blonde hair down to her butt, her own hot pink speed skates, and was always chewing bubblegum. One of the oldest ClubMates, she would whiz past the other young’uns and me, skating backwards while sashaying her hips, arms linked with the girl she’d claimed as her best friend that day. I was never her best friend. Skate backwards? Are you kidding me? I couldn’t skate forward without “tripping” over the strobe lights glittering and swirling beneath my dusty brown rented skates.
I first discovered the Purple One’s music that same summer. I had been invited into the apartment of the lady who lived below us. Her name was Jody. She made papier-mâché earrings and when I’d complemented hers she offered me a pair. “Let me go grab my box,” Jody said, and as I waited in her living room, admiring her chunky wood furniture and stained-glass lamp, a song played on a bookshelf turntable. The singer’s voice didn’t sound like a man or a woman’s—it was delicious and sexy and felt like something my seven-year-old ears didn’t have any business listening to. But I was neither scared nor ashamed. At that very moment, my Mama could’ve walked through Jody’s front door, and I wouldn’t have been able to pry my attention away from that music. I. LOVED. IT. When Jody returned with her box of earrings and saw me standing there spellbound, I remember her giggling. “Purple Rain,” she commented, nudging her chin toward the record. “His new album. And I thought 1999 was good!” I walked away from Jody’s apartment that day with a funky new pair of earrings and an obsession with Prince Rogers Nelson.
Elton John is one of those recording artists I didn’t fully appreciate until I became an adult, and my reasoning is two-fold: 1) I’ve always been a rebel, especially when people try and make me do things I don’t want to do. As a kid, I rebelled against my parents when they tried to make me believe ideas I knew in my heart were wrong, or when they tried to make me like something I just did not like. Case in point: Elton John. Mama loved him, but I did not. He was “old.” But Mama was relentless because most of the time it was just she and I, as my Daddy travelled a lot for work. Mama didn’t have any friends when I was a kid, so if she wanted to go somewhere, she had to take me with her. She’s a young soul and I’m an old soul, so a lot of times it felt as though she was more a friend than a mother. Plus, she was a teenager when she had me, so the age difference was slimmer than most parent-children relationships. 2) Mama liked to watch sad movies and listen to sad songs over and over again. She’d get herself worked up and cry about them to me, and then when I became sad because she was sad, she’d change the channel or put on a different album. Always something upbeat, like Elton John. She’d sing to the top of her lungs, and then she’d laugh and make jokes until my tears dried up and I was laughing, too. Afterwards, she’d take me out for ice cream. If I’m being honest, it was an exhausting cycle. So, when Elton John’s song Sad Songs rose up the charts the summer of ’84, it felt as if he and Bernie Taupin had written the song just for my Mama. And she played it over and over again until she’d nearly ruined Elton for me. Today, I appreciate Elton John because he’s my eldest son Jalan’s favorite recording artist. My best friend and I took Jalan to the Farewell Yellow Brick Road tour last year, which he always tells me is one of his “core memories.”
When Sade Adu crooned her way onto my newly burgeoning musical radar, I’d never seen anyone or heard anything like her. To me, she and her band sang the type of music you could enjoy the most at nighttime or on vacation. It was smooth and velvety and easy, and years later, when I joined my school’s band, I chose to play the saxophone specifically so I could learn to play her song Smooth Operator. I also wanted to look just like her—she was one of the prettiest women I’d ever seen, and she reminded me of my first Barbie, who had long black hair and gorgeous brown skin just like her.
When Bruce Springsteen’s album Born in the U.S.A. released in June of 1984, my Daddy came home from over the road with the cassette tape in his work van. Whenever he pulled into our apartment complex, if I was outside playing I could hear him before he ever reached our parking lot. He’d crank his rock ‘n roll and heavy metal music as loud as his speakers could handle, bobbing his head and whistling as he pulled into a parking space. He never immediately got out of his van, though—and I wonder if this is a guy thing, because my husband also does this—but he’d sit there in his seat and let the song (or two) finish before shutting off the van’s engine. I’d climb up into the passenger seat beside him, my face usually scrunched up. At the time, I thought his music was loud and weird. Until the day when he came home with Bruce’s new tape. “Now, Sugy,” I remember him saying. That was my nickname, like combining “Sugar” and “Baby,” and in my mind I can hear my father saying it just as if he were still here. “Give it a chance. Wait and listen to this...” “This” was I’m On Fire. I remember Daddy grinning as my face lit up in surprise. “Good, huh?” he asked. I nodded, and while I didn’t understand the meaning behind the lyrics, the melody transcended the words. Listening to music with my Daddy is one of my favorite memories. He and I couldn’t have been more different, yet we were each a side of the same coin. I miss him every single day but especially when I hear his favorite songs.
Careless Whisper by Wham! hit the top of the American music charts in the summer of 1984, and I remember pretending that Andrew and George wrote the song just for me. I may have only been seven at the time, but whatever sorcery Prince used to mesmerize me in Jody’s living room, George Michael seemed to cast that same spell. I had such a major crush on him. Looking back at Prince, George Michael, David Bowie as Jareth the Goblin King (Labyrinth, 1982), and Mikhail Baryshnikov (White Nights, 1985)—all my first crushes—I think the appeal, apart from the music, was the INTENSE eye contact... or maybe it was the tight pants.
In her more than thirty years as a storyteller and visual designer, Amanda “Mandy” Hughes has written and designed over a dozen works of literary, Southern Gothic, and women’s fiction under pen names A. Lee Hughes and Mandy Lee.
Mandy is the founder of Haint Blue Creative®, a space for readers and storytellers to explore, learn, and create. She holds a Bachelor and Master of Science in Psychology, and she has worked as an instructional designer for nearly twenty years.
When she’s not writing fiction, Mandy enjoys the movies, theater, music, traveling, nature walks, birdwatching, and binging The Office. She is a tarot enthusiast who uses the cards to enhance creativity and foster wellness. She lives in Georgia with her husband and four sons, two of whom are furrier than the others (but not by much). Visit her website at haintbluecreative.com and follow her on Instagram @haintbluecreative.