Scene from Wet Hot American Summer (Photo: Eureka Pictures)
I’ll be the first to admit my obsession with all things camp is a wee bit weird.
I watch informational videos about other camps. I troll camp websites. I’m hooked on movies about camp. (Meatballs is one of my all-time favorites. But I also recommend Wet Hot American Summer, Camp, Indian Summer and Little Darlings.)
Yet music is the art form I associate most closely with camp. I hear songs on the radio, at a wedding or in an elevator, and I am immediately transported back to my summers in Schwenksville at Camp Kweebec. (Also included in this group of memories: the one summer I spent on an all-camping teen tour out West with one of my bunkmates, and the summer she and I don’t like to discuss because my parents sent me to a “nicer” camp under duress.)
So here is my camp playlist timeline, starting the summer when I was a junior camper and ending when I was a group leader and counselor. Ah, the memories.
1977: “I Just Want to Be Your Everything” by Andy Gibb. I listened to this poetic classic on a Panasonic Toot-a-Loop Radio, which only played AM stations.
Wasn’t Andy Gibb hot?
1978: That summer was both a Saturday night dance party and a sock hop. Every camp dance featured hits from Saturday Night Fever. But Grease was the word after the entire camp saw the movie on a field trip. That summer, I also went to my very first concert: Linda Ronstadt at the Mann Music Center. It smelled funny.
1979: Our bunk had a genuine stereo, thanks to our ingenious counselor Tina, who also hung tapestries on the bunk walls. She played Bruce Springsteen’s “Born to Run” on a constant loop.
1980: Genesis’ “Turn It On Again” plus the entirety of Duke was my personal touchstone that year. But I heard “Emotional Rescue” by The Rolling Stones so many times that I needed an emotional rescue of my own. I still have a hard time listening to that one.
1981: Dancing like a lunatic to Elvis Costello’s “Pump it Up” and using a tennis racquet as an air guitar. The wooden floors of the Mansion House, which is where the oldest girls at camp lived, felt like they would collapse under our weight.
1982: “Eye of the Tiger” by Survivor. So inspirational. So corny. So…campy.
1983: Irene Cara’s “What a Feeling from the movie Flashdance. Terrible fashion choices, great early-80s moves.
1984: I went out one night with my hot camp counselor boyfriend to see Stevie Wonder play at the Valley Forge Music Center. Whitney Houston opened for him. I had no clue who she was and was completely blown away by the velocity and magnitude of such a big voice from such a small person. I bought her self-titled debut album, Whitney Houston, the next day.
1985: I took a day off from camp with another counselor and a childhood friend to attend Live Aid in Philly. A friend taped the entire concert on cassette for me. Phil Collins wowed the crowd. It was very hot.
1986: “Stay” by Jackson Browne. I wrote a Color War friendship song to this one. (“Why can’t we stay, for another eight weeks?”)
And some honorable mentions that span all camp years:
“American Pie” by Don McLean. I still know all the words!
“Bat Out of Hell” by Meatloaf. Summer after summer, we jammed out to this one in our bunk, using a broom as a microphone.
Every early song from Neil Young, but especially “After the Gold Rush,” which I sang at a camp talent show with another bunkmate and our counselor playing guitar.
“Cats in the Cradle” by Harry Chapin. Sappy campfire song.
“Moondance” by Van Morrison, which set me on a long journey with Van the Man.
And, of course, “You’ve Got a Friend” (either the Carole King or James Taylor versions), which we sang at the close of every campfire.
(Videos via YouTube)