“Radio is a sound salvation. Radio is cleaning up the nation. They say you better listen to the voice of reason. But they don’t give you any choice ’cause they think that it’s treason. So you had better do as you are told. You better listen to the radio.”Elvis Costello (famously protesting commercialization of radio broadcasts)

Since moving west, eight or so years ago, I’ve spent a good bit of time driving around the country–both for work and a general love of the road-trip.  With those experiences comes the radio, and plenty of time to think about it.  Here at the end of the first decade of the 21st century, I’m not entirely sure I can easily define what mainstream “pop” music is anymore.  Or at least what it means to me.  If  defined as “popular,” meaning what is played on terrestrial FM radio, than it apparently consists mainly of slick, overproduced, “country” and “hip hop.”  Note the use of parentheses, as I imagine one would be hard pressed to find the genre’s progenitors readily identifying with either.  And of course American Idol has to fit in to the equation–not to mention the latest version of Menudo, the Jonas Brothers.  I’m not hearing too much rock ‘n roll.  But this wasn’t always the case.

The other night while at a friend’s birthday party (happy 30th, Ross) Tom Petty came on the stereo (I think it was “I Need To Know“).   Sparked by the track, the conversation soon turned to one of lamenting the days of yore, the days of terrestrial radio when it played the likes Petty, The Pretenders, R.E.M., U2, The Replacements, The Police, Joe Jackson, Crowded House, Bruce Springsteen, etc.  And guess what…you can dial in your local Classic Rock station right now and within the span of an hour hear at least one of the aforementioned artists.  But here is the thing, those were the contemporary “pop” artists of the day; that was what was on the mainstream radio when I was a kid, being driven to school or baseball practice.  This was “pop” music — popular music, rock music.  Hearing a “rock based” artist of that caliber,  on a 2009 programmed “pop” channel,  just isn’t happening — and hasn’t for some time now.

Curmudgeonry aside, it leaves me wondering, among other things, what the hell is going to be on these “classic rock” radio stations in the next 10 or 20 years.  What will they pull from?   On those road trips, searching through the static, I think about some of the bands I first heard as a kid through the (free) “pop” radio — R.E.M. and U2 come immediately to mind.  I suppose if I was ten years old in Clear Channel controlled 2009 this wouldn’t be the case.  Sure there is Satellite radio, and iPods, but those are luxuries.  Culturally, personally, it’s something to think about.

Occasionally a Men At Work tune will come across the radiowaves or on shuffle, and sometimes, for a small fleeting moment, I’ll imagine what if their career had followed a trajectory similar to that of the Police. Two bands I first heard on the radio.

MP3: Colin Hay :: I Just Don’t Think I’ll Ever Get Over You
MP3: Colin Hay :: Overkill (acoustic)
Amazon: Colin Hay – Transcendental Highway

+ Download DRM free digital tunes via eMusic’s no risk 25 Free MP3 trial offer.

7 Responses to “Radio, I Just Don’t Think I’ll Ever Get Over You”

  1. You’re a little older than I am, so when I think of the music I grew up listening to on radio, it was a hodge-podge of the then fashionable “alternative”music. Nirvana, et al. But I also remember that commercial radio was the first place I heard bands like Semisonic, Teenage Fanclub, Matthew Sweet, Toad the Wet Sprocket and many “one-hit wonders” that I’m fond of for various reasons (Super Deluxe, Del Amitri, Tripping Daisy, etc.).

    It could just be a case of growing up and our tastes getting narrower or more curmudgeonly, as you say, but it really does seem like music has changed over the past decade(s). So it is interesting to wonder what sort of “racket” we might tell our kids to turn down – or what will be played on “classic rock” radio.

  2. Thank jeebus I live in Minneapolis and have the eclectic options of the Current to listen to.

  3. I do think it’s the Andy Rooney in us all, but this argument / lament has been going on since the first radio generation gave way to the second.

    I wouldn’t worry too much about what will get played on classic rock radio 20 years from now. It isn’t likely to exist, at least not in the same 300 song format that we have all come to know and love…

    But even if it does, by then the alternative “luxuries” will be considered standard proletariat fare.

  4. What I think is sad is how formulaic radio music has become. Its not even remotely intact with the roots of music as a means of expression. I can’t even listen to the sorry excuses for songs that come over radio waves anymore. I don’t think of myself as some sort of elitist, but the shit being played is just so terrible and it is so obvious that money is the driving force behind its being played. Sometimes I wonder just how many people are listening to and buying this garbage only because it is what they have perceived as being their only option; forcefeeding to the point of complacency. I just think it is unfortunate and sad. Please feel free to rebuke.

  5. @Hermann – I’ve often thought about the idea of radio becoming more ‘formulaic,’ as you say, and that’s a common complaint. But I also have to wonder how much of this is truth and how much is just a really biased perspective of art? How can you quantify something like art? Obviously, here at this blog, and in the field of criticism in general, we have to flat out ignore that idea for us to even begin what we do.

    That being said, someone is buying these records, someone is downloading these songs on commercial radio. If you’re even reading this blog to begin with, you have an above average interest in pop music as an artistic entity and are probably outside the realm of targeted commercial art. So, yes, the music that the corporate music industry puts out there on radio, mainstream viral media, television commercials, MySpace and other social networks, etc. are designed to a lowest-common denominator appeal factor. They succeed based on reaching for an audience that doesn’t have time for or interest in researching music further. It’s just not on their radar.

    Would these types of listeners like the more creative art that flies below the radar if they heard it? Probably. I had a student a few years ago who was always wearing Lynyrd Skynard t-shirts. So I told him one day to check out the Drive-by Truckers, a band he might not have heard otherwise. He became a really big fan. But would he have sought them out on his own? Not likely.

    I don’t know that I really focused on any one point there, but this is an endless conversation – an interesting one – but endless. 🙂

  6. Let ME go all Andy Roony on you kids…when I was growing up we would hear The Beatles, The Stones, Elton John, The Commodores, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, The Who, The Guess Who, The Raspberries, ELO, Kool and the Gang, Barry White, Fleetwood Mac, Styx, The Hollies, Harry Chapin, Aerosmith, Jefferson Airplane/Starship, Marvin Gaye, David Bowie, Joe Tex, James Taylor, Carly Simon, Edgar Winter, Todd Rundgren, etc…and we didn’t have to change radio stations…today, I’d have to twist the knob between about 40 different satellite stations to have an experience that eclectic. And I didn’t even mention all the one hit wonders (Carl Douglas, anyone?)!

  7. I used to be a big proponent of the today’s-music-sucks snobbery until I realized what little I actually knew about “today’s” music. While I agree that typical commercial radio stations do play mostly crap and do not provide the same aural experience I grew up with, it’s also true that in 2009 it’s actually much easier to customize the experience to be virtually anything you want it to be. Now that’s real freedom.

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