"I used to be disgusted and now I try to be amused." - Elvis Costello
[This is one of my favourite lines from any song; it comes from Costello's (The Angels Wanna Wear My) Red Shoes, from his debut album. I knew my friend Lisa and I would get along fine when I saw her wearing a button with the above!]
There are lots and lots of songs about the radio; so many, I had no trouble finding a list from what's on my hard drive. I usually put up a list of five; unable to make clean choices, I this week picked 10.
Van Morrison: Caravan. You could make a list alone around Van Morrison songs about radio; an alternate is the Enlightenment track In the Days Before Rock and Roll, one of several about his adolescent obsession with tuning in U.S. R&B ("Fats did not come in/ Without those wireless knobs"). Caravan is about the joy that comes with letting the radio set the scene for a party.
Reunion: Life Is A Rock (But The Radio Rolled Me). A chestnut from the AM era ... about AM-era chestnuts. The lyrics are one namecheck after another, sung at a frenetic pace: "B.B. Bumble and the Stingers, Mott the Hoople, Ray Charles Singers..." One of my friends at school could actually rattle off these words, even though I'm pretty sure none of us knew much about the names in the song.
Talking Heads: Radio Head. A track from True Stories that may be best known for giving Radiohead its name ... even though the Texan accordion swing sounds nothing like Radiohead at all. And it's fun.
Elvis Costello: Radio, Radio. The other side of the coin to the tributes to radio, Costello ripped into the vapid programming of the late 1970s. It was also, famously, the song Costello played without approval on Saturday Night Live after a false start of another tune; you can watch it here. (It pissed off NBC, although it's been anthologized and taken as a proof of SNL's iconoclastic tone ever since.)
Wilco: Radio Cure. I love the sombre tone of this song, which seems to be about the healing power of radio, even though it is so downbeat.
Donald Fagen: The Nightfly. With Steely Dan, Fagen made FM, which gave the concept of grapefruit wine to the masses. But I like this song, and the fantasy of late-late-night radio that filled Fagen's imagination in the early 1960s.
Everclear: A.M. Radio. I'm not an Everclear fan, but I got a kick out of A.M. Radio, and its attempts to explain things like transistor radios to kids brought up on CDs (which, ironically, are now themselves old-fashioned of kids today).
The Modern Lovers: Roadrunner. Jonathan Richman's breakthrough song is one of the great driving songs of them all, but it's also all about the radio. "Radio on," to be precise. Chant it now.
David Bowie: DJ. A slice of weirdness from the Lodger era. Y
Rush: The Spirit of Radio. On a positive note, a rare love song from a band that is happy to say what fans they were of a radio station, in this case the still-loved CFNY in Toronto.
Dot Dot Dot is Morse code for the letter 'S,' the full message Guglielmo Marconi claimed to have received atop Signal Hill in St. John's in 1901. It ushered in the age of telecommunications. My maternal grandfather worked as a telegraph operator for Canadian Marconi on Signal Hill for many years.
As well, I have a habit of overusing the ellipsis when I write ... as frequent readers might notice.