Writing 101-3: Off Da Top!

Write about the three most important songs in your life — what do they mean to you?

Hmmm, I’m not entirely sure about three important songs. I would say though that it isn’;t a stretch to think that all of my favorite stuff came during the best musical decade ever, the 1990s. And one of my favorite things about the Internet is that it allows me to live in that decade continuously, the same way that adults listened to their oldies stations as I grew up.

I can think of at least one song that defined my life for a stretch: In The Still of the Night, by Boyz II Men. This is because its random singing led my two cousins and I to create a singing group. Remember that concept? I don’t think many of those exist these days, as most are solo artists. But, I suspect that history will bring it back in eventually.

I’d told this story in my other blog, the one that has since met its end, on the day Soul Train’s Don Cornelius passed. Perhaps it’s appropriate to try capturing it again on the day we lose another major music icon: Casey Kasem. If you didn’t grow up listening to his distinct voice deal out the top 40 songs of each week, well you missed a treat. I always looked forward to either his countdowns or Walt Babylove on the R&B side, which he did until deciding to emphasize gospel more.

Anyway, back to the formation of our little group. My cousins and I had just completed a rousing game of basketball with an adult, one of my cousin’s fathers in fact. How appropriate for Father’s Day? We then piled into his car to go and find some delicious, refreshing ice cream, probably at Dairy Queen.

Said song came onto the radio, and for some reason we don’t entirely recall we just began singing it. My youngest cousin took the lead vocal, I sang bass and my other cousin did the “shoo-wops”.

“Hey, that was fun!” we said once the song concluded.

It really surprised me that I was even able to do this. All of my life, I’d been told by many that I couldn’t really sing, or play instruments, (have tried to learn the piano from time to time and had gotten decent at the trumpet when in elementary band) so I’d largely become discouraged from even trying. My cousins told me more than once to stick with it though, and working with some fantastic choral instructors and singing in a couple church choirs, I began to expand my range.

RELATED: Sang With The Choir!

Due to our group’s origins, my dad suggested that we should’ve called ourselves the Backseat Boys. Lawsuit, anyone? We instead went with the name Off Da Top, because of course we wrote songs off da top of our heads! My Aunt chided us for the less-than-professional spelling, but hey why can’t we have a little fun. Like Musiq. Or Xscape.

Over the years, we continued to develop. Naturally, many of our initial favorites were Boyz II Men tunes. I especially remember singing It’s So Hard To Say Goodbye to Yesterday onboard the Catawba Queen as we cruised Lake Norman while at a summer camp sponsored by the Metrolina Association for the Blind (MAB). The restaurant area was staffed by college-age women, and one each came to rub on our backs as we sang. I nearly lost the ability to stay on the correct notes. Haha. They also shut down the PA music, so that everyone onboard could hear.

There was another time at a Raleigh ice skating rink. My cousins and I weren’t particularly big fans of this recreational activity, so we sat at the table with drinks in front of us and worked on Chi’s Baby I’m Yours. We’d made an error, and as we stopped to retry that spot we suddenly heard a loud burst of clapping. There had appeared a rather large contingent of young women, traveling with some kind of youth center. They opted to join us in singing Kirk Franklin’s Stomp. The preacher and leader of God’s Property? I think many members of that group came from Charlotte’s Friendship Missionary Baptist Church, our family’s original home church.

Our dream, like anyone who would have been doing such a thing, was to achieve stardom. I think in retrospect that it is quite fortunate we did not, as we had no idea what that would have actually entailed. The great memories we do have though, like winning a talent show at UNC Charlotte, performing to an incredibly excited congregation at First Missionary Baptist in Southern Pines with our own rendition of We Shall Overcome in celebration of Black History Month, and the like may in fact never be surpassed.

Even as my disorder continues to take away my hearing and make singing more of a chore than a joy, I will always continue to enjoy music. So, if I’m a bit flat or sharp or slightly off rhythm, try not to be too harsh! Off Da Top hasn’t performed in many years, but we have floated the idea of giving it a shot again someday. Who knows.

What about you? Can you sing, at least as we define it? Heck, to me anyone who sings just to feel that passion flow is good enough in my book.

3 Responses to Writing 101-3: Off Da Top!

  1. Cool, thanks. I’m always looking for people I’ve not heard of, and especially like that kind of music. And, yeah sing for singing’s sake!

  2. I attended Camp Dogwood last week, and I sang in a talent show that took place this past Friday. The song I chose was Alison Krauss and Union Station’s “Down to the River.” Up until that point, I hadn’t sang in public for six years. It felt good to finally sing again. Now I’ll just have to keep singing.

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