Welcome to Flashback Friday, a weekly feature devoted to the 20th anniversary of the 1986 World Champion New York Mets.
Twenty years. Forty-three Fridays. This is one of them.
Over these past 40 (as in American Top 40) Fridays, including this one, nobody has mentioned it to me. I can only assume it’s so obvious that it requires no comment or that time has rendered it too obscure to elicit instant recognition. Perhaps it was never up your alley at all. But for the record — or cassette or newfangled compact disc — every headline in this Flashback Friday series since the second entry has been borrowed from a song that charted (or attempted to chart) on the Billboard Hot 100 between the beginning of 1986 and the end of that year’s baseball postseason.
Of course you knew that.
Or now it all makes sense.
It’s not a particularly unique claim to note that music has always been a big part of my life, dating back to when I was 9 and heard “American Pie” for the first time. As with seeing Tom Seaver when I was 6, I instantly had my all-time favorite…and music joined baseball as my dual obsession.
A lot of people say that about music, so allow me to digress and explain what I mean. “Music” is such a big subject, so I want to be clear on what I am and what I am not talking about.
I don’t play an instrument. My mother yeckled me into piano lessons between the ages of 11 and 14. She insisted that when I grew up, I’d be glad I took them because I’d be able to play at parties. Except for trotting out that anecdote from time to time, I take no pleasure from having attempted lamely to play the piano. And I don’t go to parties.
I know nothing technical about music. I have only the most passing vocabulary about what those italicized, Italian terms on the sheet music mean. Furthermore, I don’t worry too much about individual musicians. I know from “acts” and “artists” but I couldn’t tell you who played what kind of horn on any given album and, for that matter, I’m not sure I keep bass and guitar straight in any given quartet.
But I love music as I came into it when I was 9. I loved the radio with their jingles and their identities. I loved the charts with their stats that were just like standings. I loved record stores with their categories for LPs and the slotted shelves for 45s.
Most of all, I loved pop songs. To me, everything I heard was a pop song. I knew there was soul and there was country and there was hard rock and there was easy listening, but I heard it all from the same place. I heard it on what was called Top 40 radio. That’s where Don McLean explained what happened the day the music died (an awful lot), where America warned what was missing in the desert (someone to remember your name), where Paul Simon estimated the distance to the mother and child reunion (only a motion away). Johnny Nash could see clearly now, Helen Reddy was woman, a very high-pitched man in the Stylistics was stone in love with you and Chicago spent their Saturday in the park.
I don’t know if you like those songs or hate those songs. Furthermore, I don’t care. I never cared what anybody else thought, except perhaps for the idea that by definition pop songs were popular. As with baseball when I was 6, discovering music when I was 9 was a way of connecting to something bigger than myself, something that I’d heard about, something that was out there, something that if I enjoyed it must mean that I was somehow more normal than I felt.
Like Gallery, I…I believed in music. I always have. I still do.
This is a topic that could go off in many directions, which is why I’ve only winked at it here and there in the course of baseball blogging. Me writing about my personal relationship to music — songs, really — is like trying to cover center at Petco Park. There’s a lot of ground. I think we’d be best served if I keep the conversation confined to the year a group called The Outfield peaked at No. 6 on the singles chart.
The year was 1986. I was 23. And I was convinced every other song I heard was somehow describing some aspect of my post-collegiate life.
One year before, we got cable, so I was only just immersing myself in MTV and VH-1. One year later, WHN would become WFAN, meaning hours of sports talk would eat into my Z-100, Power 95, Hot 103, Mix 105 and WPIX-FM (“the ballads and the beat of New York”) habits. For the balance of 1986, except for those three or so hours a day devoted otherwise between early April and late October, I listened to music constantly. It’s no wonder I thought most of it was written for me. Me and nascent romances that never got off the launching pad mostly.
“Something About You.” I’m sure of it.
“Invisible Touch.” That’s exactly how I’d describe it.
“Why Can’t This Be Love?” Yeah, why not?
“When I Think Of You.” Wait! I have a whole bunch of emotions I want to share!
“No One Is To Blame.” Aw, don’t tell me that.
“The Captain Of Her Heart.” You mean him, not me?
“Taken In.” Whether that was your intention or not, that’s how I feel.
It was a little dopey for a 23-year-old to entwine himself with lover’s lament crap coming out of a radio or a video, but my development was stunted in a lot of ways. I didn’t even own a proper stereo until I was 22. And I still took baseball ridiculously seriously.
There, music worked better for me. Where the Mets and music were concerned in 1986, I wasn’t so literal-minded. I just enjoyed having a backbeat to this season of seasons.
“West End Girls” does not get me to thinking of girls from the West End. Instead, I hear the season beginning and the Mets winning those 18 of 19.
“Digging Your Scene” places me midyear into the scene the Mets created atop the N.L. East.
“Two Of Hearts,” “Typical Male” and “We Don’t Have To Take Our Clothes Off” are still playing on my car radio as Fred and I barrel down the Jersey Turnpike in August to see the Mets in Philadelphia. (Fred thought Jermaine Stewart an atypical male for discouraging ladies from disrobing.)
“Dreamtime” came out in time for playoff time.
1986 wasn’t the greatest year ever for pop music. The greatest year ever for pop music, according to my very particular scientific survey, was 1974. In 2002, I completed my own Top 500 Songs of All Time, “all time” encompassing 1972 (the year I started listening) through 1999 (end of the century…and I had to stop somewhere). 1974 contributed 50 hits, exactly 10% of the list. 1986 was responsible for 17, somewhere in the middle of the pack. Though the songs that came out between Spring Training and the World Series afterglow all carry some Met meaning by association, only one is on the list because it was My Mets Song.
You can find it at No. 483, nestled between the best of Superdrag below it and John Parr above it.
During the week ending February 15, 1986, just as pitchers and catchers were returning to St. Petersburg, a duo far less recognizable than Gooden and Carter debuted in the Billboard Top 40. The 40th most popular song in the land, as Casey would have put it, was by two men, one who had been involved in one the seminal funk bands of the 1970s: Gary “Mudbone” Cooper, a part of the legendary Parliament/Funkadelic. Cooper teamed up with a vocalist named Michael Camacho, and together they became Sly Fox. Their first single — which if you needed to ghettoize it by genre could be described as a dance number — had nothing to do with the Mets and everything to do with the Mets.
It was called “Let’s Go All The Way”.
Come on! How could it not be about the Mets? I don’t remember the moment I first heard it, probably during exhibition season, but if that driving beat in the intro (zhub-ZHUB! zhub-ZHUB! zhub-ZHUB!) didn’t get me, the chorus did.
Let’s go all the way.
Let’s go all the way.
Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Let’s go all the way.
It’s March 1986. The near-miss of 1985 is still fresh. The promise of the season ahead tantalizes so. The Mets are a year wiser, a year stronger and enhanced. They’re loaded for Cardinal. Davey says we will dominate. This is no time for subtlety, none of the “let’s just worry about tonight’s game…no, just the first inning…make that the first pitch” caution of later adulthood. This coming year was gonna be our year. Why hide it?
Yeah, yeah, yeah. Let’s go all the way.
I started writing it down in my journal. It became my private rallying cry. I didn’t share it with anybody. I somehow thought it would take off on its own. Hell, it even mentioned where we were!
Living in New York.
Looks like an apple core.
Got to be a man of war.
Perhaps it peaked too soon. Sly Fox reached their chart apogee in the week ending April 12, climbing as high as No. 7 on Billboard, stalling there for a week and then tumbling out of the 40 in the May 24 survey. By then, the Mets didn’t need a song to rev up the Big Apple. And when it seemed like a great idea to have one in August, “Let’s Go Mets” was created with the blessing and participation of the club.
But “Let’s Go All The Way” remained My Mets Song. It stayed in my head all summer. When the playoffs approached, I thought it would be a good idea to actually own the single to play it outside my mind (and perhaps clear up the “traffic jam of the brain” that Sly Fox said “makes you want to scream and shout”). On the eve of the Houston series, I drove to TSS Record World in Oceanside to look for the 45 — I couldn’t imagine I needed an entire Sly Fox album. Since the song had been off the charts more than four months, I had to pick through the oldies section to find it, but couldn’t. I checked the 12-inch singles, and there it was. Well, I reasoned, five dollars for one song is a little steep, but it’s what I want. Still, I’d rather keep this thrifty. There was another record store in the strip mall next door, the Record Den (the one with the Haulin’ Ass poster in the window). Maybe they have the 45.
Here’s the Amazin’ thing from this particular October morning. I ran across the parking lot to the other store. They did not have “Let’s Go All The Way”. OK, I thought, I’ll ante up for the overpriced 12-inch. I get back to TSS…and it’s not there.
It’s not there! The Mets are about to play the Astros for the pennant and this song which I decided was MY song for MY Mets has disappeared. In a matter of maybe 20 minutes, somebody else must have come along and decided owning a copy of “Let’s Go All The Way” right this very minute was crucial.
Damn. So I bought the album. As I predicted, the seven other tracks made no impression on me (nor on the United States; Sly Fox’s only other hit was “Stay True,” which rose to No. 94 in June and quickly sank out of sight), but I didn’t care. I got my money’s worth out of playing “Let’s Go All The Way” to psych myself up, to send out good vibes, to fulfill whatever mission one assigns a song out of its original context.
The Mets won the pennant. They were one step closer to going all the way. And their opponent, if you listened to what Camacho was singing, was a lock.
California dreamers sinking in the sand.
The Hollywood squares are living in Disneyland.
Yes, obviously we were going to play the California Angels and our apple core-man of war toughness was going to dispatch them from our asphalt jungle. No doubt they were going home to Orange County emptyhanded. Sly Fox wouldn’t lie to me.
Except the Red Sox beat the Angels and we played Boston. Who knew?
The verses may have been failing me, but the chorus was still operative. Let’s Go All The Way.
I played it to mixed results as the World Series got underway. The Mets showed no signs of going anywhere but down in the first two at Shea. It wasn’t pleasant, but I honestly didn’t fear for our lives. You’re gonna tell me, I told myself, that this Mets team, this 108-win juggernaut, can’t take four of five from ANYBODY? I knew better. Games Three and Four proved me not crazy, and we tied it up at two. Game Five wasn’t so hot and we returned from Fenway with no margin for error.
Game Six was Saturday evening. I still thought/knew we’d win the World Series, but it was going to take all the exhortation I could muster. I kept my record by the turntable just in case I would need it.