Songs embedded in my earliest memories

I was listening to a special episode of the podcast “Conan O’Brien Needs a Friend” during my Saturday walk a couple of weeks ago. The guest was 77-year-old Canadian-American singer-songwriter Neil Young.

I almost skipped it, but I’ve learned that anytime a podcast lands in my feed that I don’t think I’ll care much about, if I give it a few minutes, I’ll usually take away something that is meaningful and thought provoking.

Sure enough, Conan’s interview with Neil Young eventually evoked the question for me, “What are your earliest memories of songs?”

With each one Neil Young listed, I paused the podcast, switched over to Spotify and played the song. It was fascinating. “Four Strong Winds” by Ian and Sylvia, “The Wayward Wind” by Gogi Grant, Johnny Cash’s “Ballad of a Teenage Queen,” Jimmy Reed’s “Baby What You Want Me to Do” and “Bop-A-Lena” by Ronnie Self all influenced him as a young boy.

The interview inevitably prompted me to think about my earliest memories of music. As has been well-documented on this and my other blog, “View From the Pew,” I grew up in church, and my earliest memories of live music are hymns like “How Great Thou Art” and sacred choral works like Handel’s “Messiah.”

I have been hearing and singing those songs so much over the years that it’s truly hard to tell what I remember from childhood vs. what I sang in church last month. I decided for this exercise, I would focus on my earliest memories of recordings, either from my families’ collection or radio play.

Here are the 15 songs by 10 artists that came back to me after giving it some thought. It’s almost exclusively country:

Young Mac Davis in a cowboy hat with a red pickup truck
Be careful what eight tracks you leave laying around because they may just end up becoming your children’s earliest musical memories like a young Mac Davis here. Photo courtesy of
  1. “Baby, Don’t Get Hooked on Me,” “I Believe in Music” and “It’s Hard to be Humble” by Mac Davis
  2. “Another Somebody Done Somebody Wrong Song” and “Raindrops Keep Falling my Head” by B.J. Thomas
  3. “You Needed Me” by by Anne Murray
  4. “Big Iron” by Marty Robbins
  5. “Rhinestone Cowboy” by Glen Campbell
  6. “Take Me Home, Country Roads” and “Thank God I’m a Country Boy” by John Denver
  7. “The Most Beautiful Girl” by Charlie Rich
  8. “Delta Dawn” by Tanya Tucker
  9. “Don’t it Make My Brown Eyes Blue” by Crystal Gayle
  10. “Bed of Rose’s” and “Whatever Happened to Randolph Scott” by the Statler Brothers

Memory is a tricky thing. It’s hard for me to know with some of these if I remember their original radio play or those ubiquitous TV commercials in the 1980s for Time-Life collections of country music. One outlier on my list is Marty Robbins’ 1960 recording of “Big Iron” from his album, “Gunfighter Ballads and Trail Songs.” My brother Lee and I would sneak into the living room and listen to my dad’s albums on our stereo occasionally, and we liked the ones about cowboys shooting each other.

Beyond a shadow of doubt the songs of Mac Davis are among  my earliest memories. I clearly recall our light brown Chevrolet station wagon and the eight-track player with the red Mac Davis tape. Even without much comprehension, Mac Davis imprinted on me so strongly that I conjured an imaginary friend named “Davis.”

My parents love to tell stories of me saving a place at the supper table for Davis and blaming him for all my misdeeds. “Davis did it” is a common punch line in those tales. Unfortunately, Davis ran away from our home sometime around March 1974 when my brother Lee was born. Weird.

Some of these songs evoke specific memories. In the case of “You Needed Me” by Anne Murray, I clearly remember hearing it at the home of our babysitter, Mrs. Sandra Smith, on a snow day off of school. And “Thank God I’m a Country Boy” was forbidden in our home because it took the Lord’s name in vain, but I remember it being played at a Texas Rangers baseball game I went to as a young boy.

I’m a Spotify subscriber, so I compiled these songs into a playlist, which you are welcome to enjoy if you have a Spotify account. If you are about my age – early 50s – then you may have a similar “earliest memories” playlist. I encourage you to at least jot down your own playlist even if you don’t have a streaming music subscription service.

screenshot of Spotify playlist titled "Lance's Earliest Memories"
Obviously I was exposed to a lot of country music back in the day. Maybe that’s why I gravitated toward country in the ’90s.

Not all of these songs are great music, but they are evocative of an era. Whenever I hear one, it transports me to the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex in the early 1970s. It’s fun to revisit those earliest memories from time-to-time, especially as age catches up with me.

Besides, I know these are some of Davis’ favorites, and ever since he came back, he and I like to listen to them together.

What are your earliest song memories? Leave a comment below and share what you remember. You can even leave a link to your own Spotify playlist.

Even better than expected – part 4

(This is the final installment in a series about my career’s twists and turns. If you missed the previous three posts, I encourage you to go back and catch up: Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3. Now, for the final chapter… so far:)

When I left GTRI for Institute Communications at Georgia Tech, I didn’t just move across campus. I traded a 7 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Friday, schedule for being on call 24-7, nights, and weekends.

I was the Institute’s media spokesperson and the public information officer for the Georgia Tech Police Department. Tethered to a mobile phone, I was never completely off work, and I endured some of the most difficult circumstances of my career, including the night a Georgia Tech police officer shot and killed a student.

That tragedy took a toll, and invigoration turned to exhaustion. By the time ethics complaints had me on local television once a month explaining the latest violations and firings, I was ready for a change. My great boss, Associate Vice President Lisa Grovenstein, retired, and I decided my performance in the job for three years would be enough evidence that I was capable of moving up into her job.

I made it to the final two candidates before losing out to a highly qualified external candidate. I was disappointed but not crushed, and I was staying busy serving as the chief intermediary between Georgia Tech and the University System of Georgia’s communications team. The USG lined up the television interviews, coached me on speaking points, and relied on me to carry the message they wanted delivered. There were times I felt like a double agent, trying to carry the message of Georgia Tech President Bud Peterson as well as the University System’s talking points. Then my own department at Georgia Tech was embroiled in a transition when our vice president was let go.

Lance Wallace appears on WSB-TV as a Georgia Tech spokesperson.
Friends would joyfully proclaim they saw me on TV. My response was always the same: “If I’m on TV, it’s a bad day.”

I was asked to attend the August Board of Regents meeting to facilitate media interactions for President Peterson. I showed up at 8 a.m. to meet with Charlie Sutlive, the USG’s vice chancellor of communications at the time. Instead of going over the details of the day, Charlie informed me he was leaving his job at the end of the week, and he wanted me to serve as the interim in his place. I would be on loan from Georgia Tech, and it would be a great opportunity to gain visibility with the USG leadership before his replacement, the out-going governor’s communications director, Jen Ryan, could return from maternity leave and take over the job on a permanent basis.

I had been deep in conversation with NCR about a position to serve as a university relations representative, building a program for the Atlanta-based financial technology company to interface with the institutions in the state. I decided to withdraw from that process and pursue the interim at the USG. President Peterson was understanding and glad for me to have the opportunity to look out for Georgia Tech from the USG headquarters. Dene Sheheane, Georgia Tech’s vice president for government relations, was put in charge of Institute Communications, and he blessed the arrangement as well, serving as a confidant and mentor throughout my tenure downtown.

It was an insightful experience, which I found challenging and exciting. Other than having to carry three mobile phones – one for USG, one for Georgia Tech, and my personal phone, I enjoyed it. Consulting with 26 institutions instead of just one was dizzying but enriching.

The four months flew by. Jen and I were originally scheduled to overlap the first week of November, but when she arrived, the decision was made to keep me on until the end of the calendar year. Those additional two months made Jen’s transition smoother and helped me land back at Tech with a new job on top of my old director of media relations position – interim associate vice president for creative strategy and brand management. 

I took on management duties for half of the Institute Communications operation and began interfacing with a new team of direct reports. I also applied for the vacant vice president of Institute Communications position, and although I felt like it was premature for me to ascend to that position, particularly after not getting the AVP job, it was an opportunity from which I knew I would learn and grow.

Winter and spring 2019 were difficult as I juggled the responsibilities at Georgia Tech, continued interfacing with the USG and went through interviews, presentations and project proposal drafts as a part of the VP search process. I was also able to participate in the USG’s Executive Leadership Institute, further allowing me to grow as a leader. 

But when the dust settled in the spring, I did not get the VP job, and I was feeling more and more burned out by the amount of work I was producing and the feeling that my profession was dominating my life. Jen Ryan kept in touch throughout my Georgia Tech VP candidacy, and when that fell through, she reached out and asked if I would be willing to come back to the USG as the associate vice chancellor for communications.

I needed a break from Tech, and working as the no. 2 to Jen seemed promising, particularly since she indicated she had a clear exit strategy she was planning over the next two years. I came back to the USG in August 2019, feeling relieved of the burden of 24-7 on-call work for Georgia Tech and its myriad, daily crises.

Jen announced her departure ahead of schedule, and I was not tapped to become the vice chancellor. Former WSB-TV investigative reporter Aaron Diamant, one of the people I had recently stood in front of cameras for explaining a Georgia Tech cybersecurity breach. I liked Aaron, but I was disappointed that my plans were not working out.

The full scale of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic became known in late winter, and I started working from home exclusively in mid-March. Not commuting two-plus hours a day gave me back time, and I began to write again for fun.

Lance Wallace wearing a suit and tie talks on a video about mental health for the University System of Georgia.
I’ve been told I have a face for radio. If I had possessed more foresight, I would have taken broadcast journalism classes back at Troy.

I re-launched this blog, and blew the dust off my novel manuscript, which I had set aside in 2012 after attempting a rewrite. In May, Carla gave me the StoryWorth online weekly memoir, and I began to carve out time each day to write. For nine months, I worked on my novel, wrote a series for the Reflections devotional book, wrote monthly View from the Pew and New South Essays blog posts and crafted responses to the StoryWorth weekly writing prompts. The time was a gift, and the opportunity to write reconnected me with the dream I had as a 7th grader writing short stories.

One month ago this week I accepted the position of vice president of marketing and communications at Oglethorpe University, leaving the USG after three years as associate vice chancellor. Joining the team at Oglethorpe, meeting new people, working on communications plans and engaging in pro-active media relations has been fun. And who wouldn’t want to go to work at Hogwarts. In fact, I learned this week that a former president from long ago in Oglethorpe’s history called the Gothic architecture on the Brookhaven campus “the silent faculty.”

Lance Wallace in a coat and tie and sunglasses stands in front of the Lupton Administration Building on the Oglethorpe University Campus with the sun peaking over the rooftop.
It’s all sunshine and smiles as I start a new adventure at Oglethorpe University, which has a distinct architectural look on its 100-acre campus in Brookhaven.

My career path has been winding, but so has everyone’s in the communications world as the analog era shifted into the digital age and communication became nonstop and ubiquitous. After 30 years of writing, editing, crafting stories and engaging with the media and the public, I don’t know what the future holds, but I am thankful for the experiences, the people and the successes along the way. I’m filled with gratitude and eager to make an impact, ready to embrace the next chapter.

Thanks for sticking with this winding story over these four posts, and if you missed one, feel free to revisit them. I appreciate you reading!