When I was about twelve, in 1974, I got a bright blue handheld transistor radio as a gift. I started at the bottom of the AM dial and the first station I found was KXOK, back in the day when it was a pop rock station, and the very first song I heard was Billy Don’t Be A Hero.
Dad only listened to KMOX conservative talk radio, and Mom came to their marriage with four Pete Seeger records, so I believe this was the first pop song I ever heard.
I’ve been thinking of this lately, because I requested hounded piano-playing friend Dave to play it during one of his Facebook concerts. I was as obnoxious as the guy who yells “Free Bird.” So obnoxious that he eventually played it.
Of course, I haven’t heard the song in decades. Hearing it again made me wonder how much influence this song had over my opinions. Here are some of my personal preferences that may have been established by my first pop song.
Preference #1 - Anti-war. Billy Don’t Be a Hero has a strong anti-war message. I don’t know if twelve year old me had any opinions on war or peace. My Dad had been in Korea, and Mom didn’t play her Pete Seeger albums when he was around. Perhaps BDBAH inspired me to begin challenging Dad’s view on the military.
Preference #2 - Pro key changes. I am just barely able to recognize a key change, but I like them. I like them a lot. I think that must be why the ends of musicals always, always make me cry. They must double down on the key changes at the finale.
Preference #3 - Pro-plot progression. Billy’s alive, Billy ignores his fiancé’s advice, [spoilers!] Billy’s dead. There’s a tidy plot in there. I still like a song with a plot.
Preference #4 - (Barenaked Ladies foreshadowing) Peppy music with tragic lyrics. I don’t know why I find it so satisfying to have an upbeat catchy hook paired with subjects like clinical depression or addiction.
So, did the song influence me, or was I already formed and that’s why I liked the song? Was there some baby-duck level of bonding that happened here? Did I imprint on Bo Donaldson and the Heywoods? What if I’d heard Don’t Rock the Boat first instead of second? Because I’d like to know where I got these notions.