“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