I turned 36 yesterday and I’m still not sure how to celebrate. I know — 36 isn’t exactly a milestone birthday. Not like 30, which I managed to stretch into two weeks of cupcakes and karaoke, and not like the big 4-0 that’s looming a few years in front of me. But 35 was a hard year for me, and I want to celebrate the fact that it’s over, but, at the same time, 35 was hard enough that “celebrating” isn’t something I’m quite ready to do yet. 

No matter what the previous year has been like, I try to use birthdays as an opportunity to look back and forward — to remember where I’ve been and try to figure out where I’m going next. So, in this week’s JUKEBOX, we’ll look back together to 1978, and take a listen to some songs that are also celebrating 36 this year.

In 1978, Jimmy Carter may have been the president, but John Travolta was the king. He dominated the box office in both Saturday Night Fever and Grease; the songs from those movies populated the American Top 40 all year long. The week I was born, two of the top five songs in the country were from Grease: “Hopelessly Devoted to You” at #3, and “Summer Nights” at #5. The film’s title song had just slipped down to #45, but “Greased Lightnin'” was making its chart debut. The Gibb family was still hanging on, with Andy’s “An Everlasting Love” at #10 and Robin’s “Oh! Darling” at #16, and, of course, there were plenty of other disco hits on the charts, from “Boogie Oogie Oogie” by A Taste of Honey to Donna Summer’s 17-minute rendition of “MacArthur Park.”

But 1978 wasn’t only about loving the nightlife and loving to boogie. There were badass rocker chicks like Patti Smith and Debbie Harry, and angry young men like Elvis Costello and Nick Lowe. There were one-of-a-kind songwriters like Warren Zevon and Elvis Costello, and gifted interpreters like Emmylou Harris.

There were lovely little pop gems like “Rosalinda’s Eyes,” singalong power ballads like “Lights,” and larynx-shredding rockers like “Don’t Stop Me Now” and “Blue Collar Man (Long Nights).” The Beatles had long since gone their separate ways (though Paul and Ringo each released a record that year), but Neil Innes and Eric Idle affectionately parodied the Fab Four with the Rutles — “a legend that would last a lunchtime.”

It was the kind of year where Talking Heads could cover Al Green, Tom Waits could take on show tunes, Rush could sing about anthropomorphic trees, and it all seemed perfectly normal. And even though I was only around for a few months of it, and I wasn’t quite ready to rock out to anything harder than my mom singing me to sleep with “Edelweiss,” it was the kind of year I’m proud to call “mine.”

About Carey Farrell 40 Articles
Carey Farrell is a writer, musician, and teacher from Chicago. She enjoys collecting vintage books and records, watching terrible movies, and telling people about the time her band opened for Peter Tork. Find her on YouTube or Bandcamp.
  • ajobo

    Between ‘Saturday Night Fever’ and ‘The Rutles,’ I think you have a pretty compelling case for “Best Birthyear Ever.”