On an old episode of “The Simpsons,” singer-songwriter Jackson Browne tells an eager Springfield audience, “I’m here to serenade you with a song ...” prompting boisterous cheers from the crowd. But when he adds, “... from my latest album,” the cheers turn to groans.
“Just kidding,” Browne adds, ending the cruel joke. “Here’s one of my many classics.”
As Simpsons character Fat Tony would say, “It’s funny because it’s true.”
“All they want to hear is the hits, and I don’t blame ’em,” Loverboy drummer Mike Reno told a reporter in 2003. “I mean, a friend of mine went to see Nazareth a couple of weeks ago and they played all new songs. He walked out and he said ‘I’ll never go see those guys again’.”
You hear that, Pat Benatar?
That’ll make sense later. But the point here is, when we attend this year’s music acts at the Mid-State Fair, we have expectations. We’ll indulge artists who want to feel currently relevant by listening to their new material, but dang it — we want hits. The songs we recognize, the songs we can sing to.
The songs that help us relive and reinvent our pasts.
With that in mind, here are the top 10 hits of this year’s fair acts.
10. “You Light Up My Life,” Debby Boone (July 25, free)
Boone was just 21 when a Warner Bros. producer had her record this 1977 single, written by Joseph Brooks for the movie of the same name. Brooks was still earning $5,000 a month in royalties from the song when he committed suicide last year. At the same time his son was facing unrelated charges in a high-profile New York murder case, Brooks was charged with drugging and raping 13 women who thought they were auditioning for a movie. “I will continue to sing (‘You Light Up My Life’) proudly and hope that people will be able to separate the song from Joe’s severely troubled life,” Boone said in a statement.
9. “Eastwood,” Brad Paisley (July 25, $40-65)
Wanting to write a song that recalled old films, Paisley penned this Spaghetti Western instrumental track. Then he emailed Clint Eastwood’s wife to see if the actor would add a “Good, Bad and the Ugly”- style whistling part. “I asked, ‘Can he do that?’ ” Paisley said to The Boot. “She wrote back and said, ‘He’d love to.’ ”
8. “Slow Ride,” Foghat (July 27, free)
While Foghat never had a top-10 hit, this song is a staple of classic rock radio. “Oh, no, we’re not tired of playing ‘Slow Ride,’ singer Dave Peverett told the Los Angeles Times a few years ago. “That’s the one that gets the crowd worked up, and from a live point of view, that’s the one that gets them up to party.” The party, however, continues without Peverett, who died of kidney cancer in 1996.
7. “Working for the Weekend,” Loverboy (with Journey and Pat Benatar, July 24, $35-$65)
This working-class anthem began when guitarist Paul Dean took a walk in his hometown. While he strolled through a heavily populated area, everyone was inside working at the time. “So I’m out on the beach and wondering, ‘Where is everybody?’ ” he told Songfacts.com. “ ‘Well, I guess they’re all waiting for the weekend.’ ” Dean told MSNBC the song still pays off. “We go to the mailbox, it’s still a good part of our lives, opening those checks.”
6. “Blue on Black,” Kenny Wayne Shepherd (July 27, free)
While the song was written about a broken relationship, Shepherd said its title was inspired by something much simpler. “It actually all stemmed from a shirt I was wearing,” he told The Tribune. “That day we wrote the song, I was wearing a shirt that was blue and black, and we just kind of built off of that.”
5. “Lightning Crashes,” Live (Ed Kowalczyk, solo show, July 28, free)
While the song was dedicated to Barbara Lewis, a high school friend of the band killed by a drunk driver, the song itself was written before the accident. Ironically, the song is about the cycle of life, and a man in need of a heart transplant was able to live thanks to Lewis’s donated organ.
4. “Bad Company,” Bad Company (Paul Rodgers solo show, with Joan Jett, July 26 $25-$55)
Paul Rodgers came up with this title after seeing a photo in an old book about Victorian morals. The photo featured a shady-looking character and a caption that warned: “Beware of bad company.” Not only did it inspire the title of this song, but also the band’s name. “I thought it was interesting to come out as a brand new band with its own theme song,” Rodgers told Spinner.com.
3. “Hit Me With Your Best Shot,” Pat Benatar (July 24, $35-$65)
In 1997, Benatar told the Florida Times-Union she was no longer performing this—her signature song. “It’s probably the first time in 18 years I haven’t sung it, but I just can’t. I need the room.” A regular on ’80s compilation albums, fans probably weren’t too thrilled when this rocker was ditched. But Benatar resumed singing it a while later. “I hate singing that song,” she told the Poughkeepsie Journal in 2006, but added, “I am forever grateful for what that song did to my life.”
2. “Shining Star,” Earth, Wind & Fire (July 27, $40)
During recording sessions for “That’s the Way of the World,” Maurice White took a walk outside, stared up at the sky and found inspiration from the stars. The band’s first big hit, it also inspired other acts. “When I heard ‘Shining Star,’ I went right into the studio to write ‘I Wish,’ ” Stevie Wonder said at a tribute to Earth, Wind & Fire.
1. “Don’t Stop Believin’,” Journey (with Pat Benatar and Loverboy, July 24, $35-$65)
Before he joined the Babys and later Journey, keyboardist Jonathan Cain was a struggling musician who had to borrow money from his father to stay in Los Angeles. “He sent me the money and told me, ‘Stick to your guns,’ ” Cain told Spinner.com. “ ‘Don’t stop believing and things will look up.’ ” Years later, after Cain and Journey wrote this song, Cain’s father heard them performing it in front of 10,000 people. “When I came off the stage, he just looked at me and went, ‘That’s what I’ve been talking about.’ ”
Reach Patrick S. Pemberton at 781-7903.