The Evil Empire: Radio
Radio stations (for as long as I’ve listened to them) have bastardized what used to be a legitimate method of tracking what is popular, into an impersonal database collection of ‘most popular/all-time top/greatest hits’ that is nothing representative of the title they’ve bestowed upon themselves. What used to be a breathlessly anticipated Top Forty is now the ‘100 Greatest of Rock And Roll’. The very vessel that promoted a nascent art form in the early/mid fifties has now not only bitten the hand that has fed it, but one can argue, has chewed it off leaving behind only dry and brittle bone.
Radio has long overexposed the heady and highest pinnacles of rock and thusly reduced their achievements to mere pedestrian mortal feats. This is their way of patting us on the top of our heads and telling us that it’s for our own good. The musicians struggling to mold an original idea, the precious time and bloody effort in the studio, the reactions of stunned and awed peers of the time who were shaken to their core and the general publics central notion of what constitutes a masterpiece for our generations – all these need to be remembered in the context of their revolutionary time and place as we listen to a track. Overplaying and making ordinary the true titans of rock, or the tracks that laughed at and laid waste to our notion of what is Top ‘n’, is similar to nullifying climbing Everest and making it seem as if it were as easily done as pushing junior in his stroller up the neighborhood hill.
I began this debate (again) within myself just a few short days ago when I went over to splash myself with a daily dose of The Hits Just Keep On Comin'. The good DJ has a column about Beatle songs that he doesn’t need to hear again. And, you know what? He makes an articulate and solid point. Much as the Beatles are to me the ‘Big Bang’ of rock, and as hard as it is for me to hold back my impulse to snip and snipe like a jackal at an affront to the Beatles, I have to agree with the basic argument. That is, to a certain point. And I have him to thank when I yet again find myself thinking about what is wrong with radio and why we don't seem to care about it, or even listen to it, except as a means of white noise distraction.
I’m not going to debate ones freedom of opinion in deciding what tracks or albums may seem aged. It’s an objective call either way. No, that’s an opinion that if debated is like trying to box on a floating, splintered chunk of ice – no one is going to rightfully win.
What I am debating though is I feel that the central reason why the hoi polli dismiss so many classics so casually and cavalierly is because the tracks themselves have been beaten into our heads with a dull jackhammer called format radio and have lost the crystallized crown that should so proudly still be in place.
Some examples: how stunning an achievement was Bruce Springsteen’s “Born To Run?” There is no debating this point of musical history whatsoever. But, Bruce has issued over two dozen albums (I’m guessing more) and out of all those tracks on all those albums, what is the only track that we hear on the radio? “Born To Run.” I swear if I hear this again I will take hostages! Does Bruce deserve a collective groan from everyone when they hear it again? Certainly not, but don’t blame him, blame radio and those who think we NEED to hear ONLY that track.
Same again for the Rolling Stone’s “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction.” I would rather lop off a body part that to hear that again! Once more, radio’s perception of what we NEED to hear. Led Zeppelin and “Stairway To Heaven”, the Who and “Won’t Get Fooled Again”, the Beatles and “Hey Jude”, Elton John and “Candle In The Wind”, Aretha Franklin “Respect” … name the decade or the artist, and it’s cookie cutter simplistic – only play the ONE hit they think we NEED to hear based on a silly survey.
These beaten down and worn out grooves are the result of a distillation process that radio has forced upon us. Thankfully, I’m sure the good DJ (who will speak of this in a much more knowledgeable manner that I could ever hope to) will note that these tracks that are forced upon us are based on those surveys I mention. The age of the greatest common denominator in radio has been with us for a long, long time. And so have the same 100 songs been with us for a long, long time. Which is why we are bored of the same 100 songs year after year, despit their lofty achivements.
Which is why the radio is pretty much irrelevant to anyone born in the mid 60’s or afterward. Those born right when radio still had its mightiest impact were only around ten in the mid 70’s, but never really knew or held stock in any type of Top 40.
The same tunes that were played by our parents are the same ones that we are forced to hear on those stations. What? Did time stand still for those managers and jocks? Did they not realize that bands like the Ramones were popular (to name and stop at only one glaring omission on present day radio formats)? It wouldn’t be so bad to play the same artists that have been around for years, but to continue playing the very same songs?
It has been noted that we are a consumer nation. So, by default shouldn't the marketing departments in the radio conglomerates realize that we bought the albums that those overplayed tracks came off of? Instead of “Born To Run” don’t they realize that we’d rather hear “Tenth Avenue Freeze Out?”
Instead of “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction,” Wouldn’t they get more advertising revenue knowing that we tune into a station that would mix it up and play “Beast Of Burden” instead? How about playing “When The Levee Breaks” in place of “Stairway To Heaven”, “Love Ain’t For Keeping” for “Won’t Get Fooled Again”, “For You Blue” and not “Hey Jude”, “Danny Bailey” over “Candle In The Wind”, and “Baby, Baby Sweet Baby” over another round of “Respect.” Fill in your personal favorites, but the point is the same.
Now, THAT would be radio worth listening to. Or, a station to be loyal to. Imagine that?
Let’s end here. Alright, I’ve touched on
1) How radio debases and trivializes rock and roll
2) How the 'Top 100' of 'All-Time' are neither
3) How radio is truly irrelevant and has been for a while
While I have ranted, I have not gone into a greater detail that others who are more qualified and versed could do. What I’ve done is provoke thought and given opinion that has long been forming as a result of observation through the years. Let me know what your opinions are.
And turn off that old school radio station!
As for the DJ - the Beatles article you wrote gives me cause for another rant. I don't have it yet, but it's coming!