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Kevin Arnold and Winnie Cooper may be pure Hollywood fiction. But to the millions of baby boomers still in their early 30s (myself included), those early adolescent wonder years remain a very important part of our collective psyche.

The bottom line is it was a great time to grow up. The entire world was changing around us at a breathtaking pace. There was social unrest at home and abroad. We had Richard Nixon. We had grim body counts on the nightly news. Woodstock. Drugs. Kent State. The breakup of the Beatles.But to most teenagers still on the innocent side of 15, those kinds of things remained a distant and unreal world away. It was still a time of baseball, fantasy and transistor radios tuned to a fast-talking Top 40 deejay.

To boys stumbling through an unrelenting onslaught of puberty, we were much more interested in the mystery of rapid female physical development than, say, why America was losing a war in Vietnam.

All of which made junior high school dances the most important events on our otherwise empty social calendars. Those were the kind of events where the girls all sat on one side of the gym and the boys on the other and everyone stared stupidly at each other, afraid to be the first - and maybe the only? - one to walk across the not-dark-enough dance floor to the other side.

Meanwhile, strategies were carefully planned.

"Who you gonna ask?"

"I dunno. Who you gonna ask?"

"I dunno."

Even the prospect of slow songs and bunny-hugging with a cute pep-club blond who smiled at me in math class is not enough to dislodge me.

In the meantime, the antiquated speaker system blares all the hit songs. We're not talking songs by Hendrix or the Doors or CSN&Y or any of the others now hailed as "great."

We're talking Top 40, Paul Revere and the Raiders stuff, which, compared to the Dean Martin-Frank Sinatra stuff our parents were listening to, was still pretty radical.

It was rock 'n' roll. Well, maybe it wasn't real rock 'n' roll. It was Top 40, sugar-coated, stupidly silly, love-you-ya-ya-ya pop. But we loved it anyway.

Critics may look fondly at the late 1960s/early 1970s as the fluorescence of great rock music. Not only were legends like Lennon and Dylan still in their primes, but there were emerging stars on the horizon: Led Zeppelin, Elton John, Neil Young.

But what tickles a critic's fancy today is rarely what appealed to the teenage masses at that time. Particularly those weaned on a daily diet of Top 40.

All of which makes a recently released 10-volume compilation of music from 1969-1973 all the more intriguing. For the most part, it shuns the "great" music of the period in favor of the all-but-forgotten pop gems that stormed onto the charts and quickly back off again, only to be tucked away in the furthest recesses of our collective memories.

Most are fluffy tunes that were once staples of Top 40 radio, but which no serious aficionado of rock 'n' roll would now admit to liking. Rolling Stone magazine even referred to the collection as compiled by someone with "a very sick mind."

That review was obviously written by someone who didn't bother to go to a junior high dance.

Agreed, none of the 10 volumes of "Super Hits of the '70s: Have a Nice Day" stand alone as "great" or as "musts" for the record collection. And it's doubtful whether you need TEN volumes or ONE HUNDRED TWENTY songs to to recreate the spirit of a mere four years.

Add to that the fact there's enough collective bubblegum to make even the most ardent fan of '70s pop go into diabetic shock, and it makes you wonder if Rhino Records hasn't hatched a giant blooper.

Not so. There are also a lot of wonderful tunes that are sinfully ignored by today's classic rock stations, songs like Mountain's "Mississippi Queen" and Melanie's "Lay Down" and Smith's "Baby, It's You" and Alive & Kicking's "Tighter and Tighter" and Argent's "Hold Your Head Up" and Lee Michaels' "Do You Know What I Mean" plus a dozen others.

Each volume includes three or four great songs, three or four "gee, it was nice to hear that again" songs and three or four totally forgetable songs, usually by the likes of Bobby Sherman or the Partridge Family. All of which makes each volume an interesting musical menagerie, to say the least.

Nevertheless, each collection manages to capture the carefree, everything-is-beautiful spirit of mainstream pop music caught in the middle of '60s social consciousness and the mid-'70s disco wasteland that followed.

Few of these were ever great songs. But they did provide a daily soundtrack to millions just beginning to shed their innocence in an ongoing pursuit of identity - our own "wonder years."

Which is one reason why this compilation just may be the guiltiest of guilty pleasures on store shelves today. It's unqualified nostalgia, but with each song comes a flood of bittersweet memories.

Like the ache of regret for never having the courage to ask the blond in the pep club to dance. What was her name anyway?



VARIOUS ARTISTS; "Super Hits of the '70s: Have a Nice Day" (Rhino Records), Volumes 1-10.

Volume 1: "Smile a Little Smile for Me" (The Flying Machine), "Na Na Hey Hey" (Steam), "Venus" (The Shocking Blue), "More Today Than Yesterday" (Spiral Staircase), "Baby It's You" (Smith), "Cherry Hill Park" (Billy Joe Royal), six others.

Volume 2: "Love Grows Where My Rosemary Goes" (Edison Lighthouse), "Ma Belle Amie" (Tee Set), "Reflections of My Life" (Marmalade), "My Baby Loves Lovin' " (White Plains), "United We Stand" (Brotherhood of Man), seven others.

Volume 3: "Lay Down" (Melanie), "Green-eyed Lady" (Sugarloaf), "Tighter, Tighter" (Alive & Kicking), "In the Summertime" (Mungo Jerry), "Julie, Do Ya Love Me" (Bobby Sherman), seven others.

Volume 4: "Help Me Make It Through the Night" (Sammi Smith), "One Toke Over the Line" (Brewer and Shipley), "Mr. Bojangles" (Nitty Gritty Dirt Band), "Stay Awhile" (the Belles), eight others.

Volume 5: "Me and You and a Dog Named Boo" (Lobo) "Here Comes the Sun" (Richie Havens), "Don't Pull Your Love" (Hamilton, Joe Frank & Reynolds), "Draggin' the Line" (Tommy James), eight others.

Volume 6: "Timothy," (the Bouys), "Signs" (Five Man Electrical Band), "Sweet City Woman" (Stampeders), "One Fine Morning" (Lighthouse), eight others.

Volume 7: "Do You Know What I Mean" (Lee Michaels), "One Tin Soldier" (Coven), "Brand New Key" (Melanie), "Sunshine" (Jonathan Edwards), "Precious and Few" (Climax), seven others.

Volume 8: "Hot Rod Lincoln" (Commander Cody), "Sylvia's Mother" (Dr. Hook & the Medicine Show), "Alone Again, Naturally" (Gilbert O'Sullivan), "Hold Your Head Up" (Argent), eight others.

Volume 9: "Brandy" (Looking Glass), "Rock and Roll Part 2" (Gary Glitter), "I'd Love You to Want Me" (Lobo), "Frankenstein" (Edgar Winter Group), eight others.

Volume 10: "It Never Rains in Southern California" (Albert Hammond), "Dead Skunk" (Loudon Wainwright III), "Stuck in the Middle With You" (Steeler's Wheel), "Drift Away" (Dobie Gray), eight others.