When I was 14-15 years old in the mid 80’s, most my friends idolized various athletes and celebrities. Generally they ranged from Larry Bird, Wayne Gretzky, Don Mattingly, Michael Jackson and Eddie Murphy. Not me. I desperately wanted to be Alex P. Keaton from Family Ties—I’m talking to the point that as a seventh and eighth grader I often wore dress shirts and ties to public elementary school in a neighborhood where that attired I’ll generously say wasn’t the norm. Hell, I declared myself a Republican when literally having no idea what the political distinction even meant.
Never underestimate the power of television.
Billy Vera (and the Beaters) first recorded At This Moment in 1981. I’m sure I would’ve loved the song then—had I ever heard it. I didn’t know the song even existed back in those days and to be fair neither did most music enthusiasts. It wasn’t a pop hit by any stretch.
Fast forward a handful of years later, when I was hooked on the NBC Thursday night hit sitcom show Family Ties. The Alex Keaton character, played by Michael J. Fox was someone I desperately was trying to emulate—whether it was his quick wit, condescending know-it-all attitude or dressing in company CEO attire despite still being a teenager in school.
I’ll never forget the time Alex met the first true love of his life, Ellen. They were smitten with each other and the first time they slow danced it was to Vera’s At This Moment. The episode titled “Alex Loves Ellen” was like nothing viewed on TV previous to that time — a complete crossover of sitcom TV and music, the very first of its kind.
The song would be featured on the show multiple times after that because of its increasing popularity, including their gut-wrenching breakup that literally had me in tears and still does today thinking about her leaving for Paris. Ugh.
Family Ties subject matter aside, At This Moment is a depressingly luminous work of music by Vera.
On a podcast, Vera described the process of the song’s origin.
“I was living still in New York, and I met a young college girl, about 20 years old,” he said. “We started dating – she told me she had just broken up with her boyfriend, and she described what he went through when she gave him the bad news. And she was very descriptive.
So I went home and I was impressed by what he must have been feeling. I wrote the first two-thirds of the song based on my imagination of what this guy was feeling. And I couldn’t finish it, I just couldn’t figure out how it ended. And then about 9-10 months later, when she broke up with me, I had gotten very emotionally involved with her, and then I knew how the song ended. And that was the famous line that everybody remembers: ‘I’d subtract 20 years of my life.’ We stayed in touch for a long time. She was one of these sort of narcissistic girls that like the idea of somebody mooning over her for years, and I did.”
Thank God Family Ties put this song in my life. I can’t think of a ditty that makes me want emotionally torture myself more and oddly enough, I’m kinda thankful for it.
It’s my second-favorite despondent tune of the 80’s. You’ll see who reigns supreme in that genre soon enough.
Chart Success: When originally released in 1981 the song only maxed out at 79 on the charts, but thanks to the Family Ties exposure it would rise to number-one on the Billboard Hot 100 six years later. It remained number-one for two weeks before getting knocked off by Madonna’s Open Your Heart. At This Moment remained on the charts for 21 weeks and finished 1987 ranked 20th on the year-end Billboard Hot 100.
Great Lyrics: I mean, your love for someone needs to be unworldly if you’re willing to potentially sacrifice 20 years of your life to be with them.
“What do you think
I would give at this moment
If you’d stay, I’d subtract
Twenty years from my life
I’d fall down on my knees
I’d kiss the ground that you walk on
If I could just hold you again”
Fun Facts: Alex and Ellen became far more than a TV love. Fox and Tracy Pollan fell in love in real life and got married in 1988. Prior to meeting and hooking up with Fox, Pollan had a five-year relationship with Kevin Bacon. Pollan and Fox have been married for 29 years (a rarity in Hollywood) and have four children. Fox has said in many interviews the couple can’t get on a dance floor without the DJ playing Vera’s song.
100. Hall & Oates – I Can’t Go For That (No Can Do)
99. Michael McDonald – I Keep Forgetting
97. The Police – Every Little Thing She Does Does Is Magic
96. Madonna – Papa Don’t Preach
94. Cyndi Lauper – Time After Time
93. Kenny Loggins – Danger Zone
92. Peter Gabriel – In Your Eyes
89. Journey – Don’t Stop Believing
87. Debbie Gibson – Foolish Beat
86. Glen Mederios – Nothing’s Going To Change My Love For You
85. John Cougar – Jack and Diane
81. Billy Squier – Everybody Wants You
79. Shelia E. – The Glamorous Life
77. Whitney Houston – Greatest Love Of All
76. Paul McCartney & Michael Jackson – Say Say Say
75. Flock of Seagulls – I Ran (So Far Away)
74. Twisted Sister – We’re Not Gonna Take It
73. Musical Youth – Pass The Dutchie
72. The Police – Every Breathe You Take
71. Survivor – The Search Is Over
70. REO Speedwagon – Keep On Loving You
68. Bobby Brown – Don’t Be Cruel
67. Kenny Loggins – Meet Me Halfway
66. Irene Cara – Flashdance…What A Feeling
65. Tina Turner – What’s Love Got To Do With It
64. Phil Collins – One More Night
63. Europe – The Final Countdown
62. Patrick Swazye – She’s Like The Wind
61. Matthew Wilder – Break My Stride
60. Men Without Hats – Safety Dance
59. Duran Duran – Hungry Like The Wolf
58. Huey Lewis & The News – Power Of Love
55. Styx – Too Much Time On My Hands
53. Olivia Newton John – Physical
49. Marvin Gaye- Sexual Healing
48. Huey Lewis & The News – Do You Believe In Love
44. New Edition – Mr. Telephone Man
43. Bruce Springsteen – Born in the USA
42. Tears For Fears – Everybody Wants To Rule The World
41. Whitney Houston – I Wanna Dance With Somebody
39. Bruce Springsteen – Dancing In The Dark
38. Culture Club – Karma Chameleon
37. Christopher Cross – Sailing
34. Foreigner – I Want To Know What Love Is
33. Pat Benatar – Love Is A Battlefield
32. USA For Africa- We Are The World
30. Kenny Loggins – I’m Free (Heaven Helps The Man)
29. Dexys Midnite Runners – Come On Eileen
28. J. Geils Band – Centerfold
27. Hall & Oates – Private Eyes
24. Men At Work – Who Can It Be Now
23. Eddie Murphy – Party All The Time
22. Jermaine Stewart – We Don’t Have To Take Our Clothes Off
21. Don Henley – Dirty Laundry
20. Scorpions – Still Loving You