Chart Week: September 18, 1982
Song: “Somebody’s Baby” – Jackson Browne
Chart Position: #18, 8th week on the chart. Peaked at #7 for three weeks in October.

I loved this song when I was 11. It wasn’t because I was a big Jackson Browne fan, or because it was a fantastic song. No, it was solely because it was the lead single off the soundtrack for Fast Times at Ridgemont High, arguably the greatest movie ever made about being in high school.

There was a long stretch of time when I could probably have quoted 90% of Fast Time’s dialogue back to you. But that wasn’t until 1987 or so.

Why did it take that long? Because I was not allowed to see R-rated movies in 1982.

Still, I got sucked into the cultural vortex Fast Times created when I started six grade in September 1982. Enough of my friends had seen it – or more likely had older siblings that had seen it – that you couldn’t not hear quotes from the film throughout the school day. Like most kids I was a social opportunist, and if quoting a movie I hadn’t actually seen could get me some cred in hallways and locker room of Pittman Hills Middle School, I was all in. I had no idea who Jeff Spicoli was, but I going to say “Hey Bud, let’s party,” anytime I had the chance.

My mom could stop me from seeing the movie, but she couldn’t keep me from hearing its music. Thus I fell in love with the biggest hit of Jackson Browne’s career. I didn’t consider it odd for a 34-year-old, widowed, soon-to-be divorced, father who was several years removed from his most recent, biggest hit to be singing about the lives of high schoolers. All I knew was that his song was from a movie that the cool kids were talking about, which meant the song must be cool.

I still think it’s a pretty good track. It tells a pretty standard story of wanting to be with someone, but thinking that they are unattainable. There are probably a million songs that tell the same story. So just because it’s an old dude singing doesn’t mean it isn’t also applicable to teens.

As I aged, Browne’s presence on the soundtrack made less sense to me. This was a movie about kids in Southern California. Shouldn’t Spicoli and his buddies have been listening to surf punk?[1] Half the girls at Ridgemont High dressed like Pat Benatar, but there are none of her songs in the movie or on the album. While the Go Go’s “We Got the Beat” plays over the opening montage,[2] there are no other examples of SoCal New Wave nor any of the hair metal that was developing in LA.

Instead we got Jackson Browne and a bunch of other odd choices.

The double-album soundtrack also features songs by four former Eagles,[3] Stevie Nicks, Donna Summer, Jimmy Buffet, Graham Nash, and Poco. Not exactly artists who were on the cutting edge or whose prime audience was teenagers. It smacks of a collection put together by label executives nervous about filling it with unproven artists, and instead chose to go with established names who would give it more mainstream appeal.

They had to sell albums, I get it. But those choices keep the Fast Times soundtrack from being a cultural signpost for Gen X the way the movie was.

I will never be able to listen to this song without thinking of the fall of 1982, starting middle school, and Fast Times. Sometimes nostalgia can elevate an otherwise unremarkable song into one that is timeless. 7/10

  1. Or Van Halen, who the closing credits say Spicoli hired with the reward money earned from saving Brooke Shields from drowning.  ↩

  2. “We Got the Beat” is not on the soundtrack. Instead the Go Go’s “Speeding,” a B-side from the Vacation album, was included.  ↩

  3. Don Henley, Joe Walsh, Timothy B. Schmit, and Don Felder. Glenn Frey must have been busy.  ↩