One Sweet Day

(Pictured: the Old Capitol, the most iconic of buildings on the University of Iowa campus in Iowa City.)

Twenty years ago this week, I made the biggest life change I have ever made: at the age of 34, I re-enrolled in college.

I had been toying with the idea for a while. After losing my full-time radio gig at the beginning of 1994, I worked part-time radio for much of the year while trying to find a job in some other field. At the end of the year, I took a radio job and then gave it right back, and that sealed the decision. Instead of getting a master’s degree (which, in retrospect, I wish I had done), I decided to get a teaching certificate, with the goal of becoming a high-school social studies teacher. I enrolled at the University of Iowa in December, secured a large pile of student loans, and started my classes on what must have been January 17, 1995. And for the next two-and-a-half years, I lived the luxurious life of a full-time student.

I commuted to Iowa City from Davenport, an hour away on Interstate 80. The ride was great in the morning—listen to NPR, eat a donut, think about the day. It was less great on the way back, when I just wanted the day to be over, but I’d crank up Iowa City’s lone classic rock station and ride the wave home. I discovered that it’s immeasurably easier to be a student after you’ve been in the working world for a few years—you know how to prioritize work and manage projects, and you have a degree of responsibility that’s lacking in the average 19-year-old horndog. And what seemed like work to said horndog was actually quite enjoyable to a bookish dude in his mid 30s.

Because I was long removed from my days as a Top 40 listener, the Billboard Hot 100 from 20 years ago this week isn’t the time machine a 70s or early 80s chart can be. Still, there are a lot of records I’ve become quite familiar with in succeeding years: Sheryl Crow’s “All I Wanna Do,” “I’ll Stand by You” by the Pretenders, John Mellencamp’s “Wild Night.” And there are a few other noteworthy songs to be found.

1. “On Bended Knee”/Boyz II Men (holding at 1). Boyz II Men had nine top 10 hits between 1991 and 1997, and three of their #1s are among the longest-running #1 hits of all time. “End of the Road” ran 12 weeks in 1992. “I’ll Make Love to You” ran 14 weeks in 1994, and was replaced at the top by “On Bended Knee,” which would hold the top spot for six weeks. (“I’ll Make Love to You” was still in the Top 10 20 years ago this week.) Their collaboration with Mariah Carey, “One Sweet Day,” would be #1 for 16 weeks in 1995 and 1996, and is still the single longest-running Hot 100 #1 in history.

8. “Take a Bow”/Madonna (up from 12). A genuinely lovely record, “Take a Bow” is one of Madonna’s best performances, too. She hadn’t sung with this much sensitivity and soul since “Crazy for You” a decade before.

14. “Short Dick Man”/20 Fingers (holding at 14). A real song that lasted 18 weeks in the Top 40 and 30 on the Hot 100, “Short Dick Man” is about exactly what you think it’s about, done without charm or humor. The radio version was heavily expurgated (“Short Short Man”), but the audio at that link is not.

30. “December 1963 (Oh What a Night)”/Four Seasons (down from 29). This is a remix of the 1976 #1 hit by Dutch DJ Ben Liebrand, who remixed a number of 70s hits into substantial hits in Europe. It doesn’t add much to the original.

91. “Get Over It”/Eagles (down from 72). One of the four new studio tracks on Hell Freezes Over, “Get Over It” had reached #31 late in 1994. Its strident putdown of people trying to capitalize on victimhood would have fit better on one of Don Henley’s solo albums. Rush Limbaugh used to play it on his talk show, which tells you all you really need to know about it now, two decades later.

3 responses

  1. I concur: Going to school is far easier after you’ve been in the work world for a while. When I went to graduate school, I worked half-time as an editor at a newspaper while taking three classes a semester, and it was a snap. (Living alone, which allowed me to set my own schedule for everything, no doubt helped.) As to the tunes of the time, even though I wasn’t fully into the Top 40, I heard enough current music around me that many records from 1983-84 pull me happily back to Missouri.

  2. Didn’t know you’d done this, Jim – mucho respect! I also concur that being a “student” is so much easier after you’ve been out on your own in the world for a while. I got my first Master’s at UW-Oshkosh. I got an MST in Speech – the “T” was for teaching; they didn’t have a straightforward Master’s in Speech, so I wound up taking a lot of education courses which, at the time, I thought were completely useless. I was doing the morning show on radio – up at 4:30; “done” at 9; come back later to do production; and I was able to arrange the classes easily in the afternoon and evening. You really do, as whiteray above said, learn to balance your schedule and prioritize, so it’s a lot easier than the undergrad grind. A couple years later, the MST comes in handy, as I get hired to teach a couple night classes at UW-O (Broadcast Sales and Broadcast Law.)Fast forward a decade or so and Midwest cans me for the first time; my wife and I pack up and head to N’Awlins, where she has landed a great job. Again, the MST comes in handy, as I’m hired as Telecommunications Coordinator at Xavier University, with responsibility for teaching 6 credits and…well, not much real “coordination”. It also enabled me to work at one of the finest broadcast stations in the south, WWL-AM, on weekends, reading news. What a fabulous operation! The first year I worked there, the TV side (WWL-TV) won the Peabody award as best news operation in the nation. And – triple benefit – because I’m faculty at Xavier, I get FREE tuition at Tulane, pursuing an advanced degree not offered by Xavier – the vaunted MBA, which you CAN do in two years at Tulane. Suffice it to say I have no delusions that the Tulane MBA compares in any way to a “real” MBA from an honest-to-God academic institution, but then – it’s still an MBA. Next stop is L-A, where again, the MST gets me an adjunct job at Cal State Northridge, while also doing part-time work at various broadcast stations in the LA metro. The late 80’s take me to Madison, where you know the rest of the story.

  3. […] wrote back in January about how I re-enrolled in college 20 years ago this winter, and about my master plan to abandon […]

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