For Steve Perry, selecting five songs that inspired him as a young singer required making some difficult choices. “This is such a tough question,” he says when we spring the task on him. “That’s because five is just not enough.” But he eventually took out his iPhone, began scrolling through songs and excitedly telling stories from his past. He contemplated “For Once in My Life” by Tony Bennett and “Sally, Go Round the Roses” by the Jaynetts, but ultimately went with these five songs.
Sam Cooke, “Cupid”
I was in a ’56 Thunderbird that my mother had at the time. I was really young, maybe 10 years old. We were in the coastal town of Pismo Beach, California, where we would spend our summers occasionally. And all of a sudden this song came on the radio, and that opening line with the French horn comes on. And then Sam comes in with his opening line, “Cupid …” And I just went like, “What?” The world got really small. And I remember staring at the six-by-nine oval speaker on the dashboard of her car, and I couldn’t get out of it. I was just captivated with every single thing that I was hearing. It was tunnel vision, and tunnel listening, on that song. Sam Cooke just completely captivated me.
The Flamingos, “I Only Have Eyes for You”
At the time this came out, when I was just a kid, it was like another landscape of sound to me. Do you realize how old this song is? But somehow, charged in that songwriting, in the performance, and in the production of it, with the echoes, old-school as it may sound, it still evokes emotions when you hear it on the radio. That’s magic.
The Drifters, “Under the Boardwalk”
This is a song where it doesn’t really matter what they’re saying. What matters is how they’re saying it. “You can almost taste the hot dogs, French fries they sell.” Excuse me? It’s not exactly one of the best lyrics ever written, but the way he says it kills me. Kills me! He sings it with soul and emotion. You’re actually smelling hotdogs and French fries. That’s the beauty of music, the magic of music.
The Beach Boys, “In My Room”
This was an anthem to my teenage isolation. I just wanted to be left alone in my room where I could find my peace of mind, and listen to my music, and start to cultivate my own world that I wanted to live in.
Led Zeppelin, “Good Times Bad Times”
The first time it came on the radio, I nearly pulled my car over and pooped my pants. Nobody had ever heard that kind of a song, with those kind of rhythms, with that kind of songwriting, with those kind of harmonies, those kind of chord changes, that arrangement. Nobody had ever heard anything like any of it.