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Sunday, December 11, 2011

Sunday Jukebox - Same Old Lang Syne by Dan Fogelberg

I always loved songs that told a story.

It didn't have to be one that was a true story either. Just a simple song where the lyrics illustrate a tale with a beginning, a middle, and an end. Some of these story songs can have a happy ending. Others can be more melancholic.

Whatever the case, I always get fascinated by story songs, and am a bit jaded in the fact that the music industry seems to be ignoring them now more than ever in favour of songs that look like they were written by a sixteen-year-old text messaging to her boyfriend. It's kind of depressing to see the state of music the way it is now. Sure, some of the songs out there nowadays have a steady beat, and could get you on the dance floor about a couple of shots of alcohol or Jell-O shooters, but that's all they're good for. They lack the warmth, and the intelligence, and thought-provoking discussion that the songs of yesteryear seemed to embrace.

I don't know...maybe I tend to look back at things rather than ahead. Maybe I've always been one to dwell on the past than focusing on the future. I realize that this might not be the healthiest thing to do, but in the world of music, and losing my interest in the Grammy Awards year after year, sometimes it's good to go back to the way things were. When things were much simpler.

And when songs actually had a powerful meaning behind them and had lyrics that made sense as opposed to having every third word bleeped out in radio edits. That's not to say that the whole idea of telling stories through music is a lost art. Country music still accounts for quite a few story songs out there, as well as some independent label artists. But in the world of Top 40 music, these songs are few and far between these days.

Heck, if it wasn't for the fact that my singing voice sounded like William Hung's on a good day and if it wasn't for the fact that I can't play most musical instruments, I reckon that I would have gone into a career as a songwriter.

Today's song happens to be by an artist who sadly lost a battle with prostate cancer on December 16, 2007 at the age of 56. He spent years perfecting his craft, and managed to have his biggest selling album thirty years ago.

That artist was Dan Fogelberg.

Some of you younger readers might not know who Dan Fogelberg is, so I'll give a brief summary of who he was. He was born in 1951 in the city of Peoria, Illinois.    Having a mother who was a classically trained pianist and a father who worked at a high school as a band director, Fogelberg had always been around music. It became natural for him to want to pursue it as a career. In his teen years, he learned how to play a Hawaiian slide guitar that his grandfather had given him as a gift, and by 1967, he had been a part of two bands. Not bad for a sixteen year old boy, don't you think?

Fogelberg graduated from high school in 1969, and studied theater arts and painting at the University of Illinois, and started singing at coffeehouses in his spare time. Some of Fogelberg's first recording stemmed from this period, and in 1971, when Fogelberg was just entering his twenties, he was discovered by agent Irving Azoff. Azoff liked what he had heard, and he and Fogelberg moved to California together to seek out their fame, along with another band that Azoff was promoting at the time...REO Speedwagon.

It wasn't until Dan did some training in Nashville that he developed the skills needed to record and release his debut album, a 1972 offering called 'Home Free'. The album didn't do as well as he had hoped, but at least it did put him on the music map, and lead to him opening up for Van Morrison.

But then in 1974, Fogelberg released his second album 'Souvenirs', and it sold much better, as did the next four albums that he released during the remainder of the 1970s.

But it wasn't until 1981 that he would end up hitting his commercial peak, as well as his personal best. The album was called 'The Innocent Age', and although it didn't hit stores until October 1981, many of the singles from that album were released months beforehand. The album spawned four singles, each of them becoming some of his biggest hits in his career; 'Hard To Say', 'Run For The Roses', and 'Leader Of The Band' (a song that Fogelberg wrote based on his father) all hit the charts in some manner, with the latter hitting the top of the adult contemporary charts in early 1982.

What about the fourth hit single? Well, that's the subject for today's blog. It also happened to be the first single released from 'The Innocent Age'.

And it's a story song that was based off of a real life event!

But first, let's hear the song in question.

ARTIST: Dan Fogelberg
SONG: Same Old Lang Syne
ALBUM: The Innocent Age
DATE RELEASED: December 13, 1980

The first thing that I should talk about is that this is one of those songs that tends to only get played during the holidays. No other time of year do you hear it. I suppose this makes sense, given all the references to Christmas Eve and the New Years Eve song Auld Lang Syne, but it was still a good enough song to hear at any given time of year.

The song takes place on a snowy Christmas Eve at a mini-mart near the frozen food section. The subject of the song happens to be inside the store when he bumps into a girl that he used to date from years ago. At first she doesn't recognize him, but eventually she does, and when she tries to greet him, the klutz drops her purse, spilling its contents all over the floor of the frozen foods section.

They then laugh until they cry. Strange things they did back in the late 1970s/early 1980s, huh?

The two of them decide to go out for a drink to catch up on old times, but seeing as how it was Christmas Eve, finding an open bar was a bit of an impossible dream. Their plan B? Buying a six-pack of beer from the store, and drinking them inside her car.

They propose a toast to the innocence of the past, as well as their lives now, and they talk about what they've been up to since high school graduation. The lover is apparently married to an architect, and she gives off the facade that everything is hunky-dory in domestic bliss, yet gives off hints that she married for security and not for love. She also brings up the fact that she saw his album in a record store, and was happy that he was doing well. The man confirms that he loves to perform for crowds, but finds touring to be something he doesn't enjoy.

The two decide to toast again, and soon after, the conversation dries up as quickly as the beer in their cans, and the woman has to go back home to her family. They exchange pleasantries as well as a kiss before the man leaves the car. Watching her drive off down the road, the snow changes to rain, and the man is left feeling the same way he felt when the relationship between the two ended all those years ago.

Same Old Lang Syne. And, we cue the saxophone solo by Michael Brecker.

It's a wonderful example of these story songs that I was talking about earlier in this blog entry though. It's a song that had a beginning, middle, and an end. And sadly for the man, it started off happily, but ended up concluding in a melancholic manner.

For years though, nobody knew who the song was about. Some people even wondered if the song was based on a real event, or if it was fictional. Dan eventually conceded on his website that the song 'Same Old Lang Syne' was based on a real encounter that he experienced, but never named names, and it was a secret that Dan himself took with him to the grave.

Shortly after Dan passed away in December 2007, a woman named Jill Greulich (she's the woman on the far right) came forward, saying that she was the woman who was featured in 'Same Old Lang Syne'. Just one week after Dan passed away, she revealed that she had dated Dan when they were both in high school together, only back then, she was known as Jill Anderson. They graduated together, but broke up when they attended different colleges. By the time both were done with school, Jill had gotten married, and Dan had moved to Colorado.

They had stayed apart for several years until one fateful Christmas Eve.

The Christmas Eve that was described in 'Same Old Lang Syne'.

It was December 24, 1976. The location was a convenience store, which at the time was the only store open on the street. It was located at 1302 East Frye Avenue, and as of 2011, the store still exists, only under a different name. Jill was at the store buying eggnog, and it was here that she ran into Fogelberg, who was also at the store buying a carton of whipping cream. Everything that happened in the song happened as the song said it had, from the buying of the beer, to the toast, to the rain switching to snow, and everything in between.

Despite the accuracies between the song and the events of Christmas Eve 1976 through the eyes of Jill and Dan, Jill did reveal that there were a couple of things where the truth got blurred. For one, when Dan sings about her having eyes of blue, Jill's eyes were really green. Also, her husband at the time wasn't an architect. Instead, he was a physical education teacher. But Jill also revealed that it was highly unlikely that Dan knew what her husband did for a living as it had not come up during their conversation. Jill would reveal that as Dan had wrote about in his song, the marriage wasn't exactly Brady Bunch like. She wouldn't reveal just how bad it was, but she had said that by the time the song was released in December 1980, the marriage had dissolved.

The first time Jill had heard the song, she was on her way to work when the song came on her car radio. Upon listening to the song, Jill knew that the couple being referenced in 'Same Old Lang Syne' were her and Dan. But she didn't come forward for a couple of reasons. One, she knew that Dan had wanted to keep her identity a secret as whenever Dan was asked in interviews about it, he'd change the subject. Mainly, Jill didn't come forward because at the time, Dan was married himself, and the last thing she wanted to do was disrupt his marriage.

So there you have it...the story behind the story song 'Same Old Lang Syne'. And what a fascinating story it is, don't you think?

I think that's why I have a bit of a soft spot for songs that tell a story. As someone who wants to make a dent in the world of writing himself, I appreciate someone who can tell a great story. I especially give a lot of accolades to anyone who can take that story and set it to music.

That's why I wanted to feature this song for today's blog. It's a great song, made even more memorable by the fact that it was a true tale.

Dan Fogelberg really knew how to write 'em, didn't he?


  1. Very well-written. I just discovered this song today (heard it on the radio on Christmas Day!) and I am so glad I did. I completely agree with your thoughts on the songs which are popular nowadays. They lack this kind of depth and these hidden metaphors and beauty, really. It does sound like a text message from a sixteen year old girl. This, on the other hand, is so picturesque, beautiful, and timeless.

  2. I believe it was Christmas Eve 1975, not 1976 as written .