Sunday, 28 May 2017
At some point in my teens, I made the switch from Radio 2 to Radio 1. Perhaps it happened when Terry Wogan left radio for his TV chatshow... which was never the ideal medium for him, though I watched it regularly from the age of 10. You did back then. 7 - 9pm, you watched whatever your parents were watching. Wogan. Corrie. Dallas. Blankety Blank. The Two Ronnies. They say kids these days watch too much TV, but we watched a hell of a lot of it when I was growing up. Yet I still found time to read - lots of books and comics. And play computer games. Atari. Spectrum 48K. And play out too. Maybe there really was more time back then. We managed to cram so much in...
Anyway, Radio 1, when I started listening to it... I couldn't tell you who was on the Breakfast Show, because I never listened to that. But I do remember Simon 'Our Tune' Bates, 'Ooh' Gary Davis and his Bit In The Middle, Janis Long (particularly her Friday Night Selectadisc show, which I've mentioned here before) and Steve Wright.
I loved Steve Wright when I was a kid. Mr. Angry from Purley. Sid The Manager. Gervais The Hairdresser. (Different times.) The Perv. Dave Doubledecks. God, I loved Steve Wright In The Afternoon. I used to tape it while I was at school so I could listen to it when I got home. More than anything else, that was the show that made me want to be on the radio.
I can't listen to Steve Wright today. Of all the current Radio 2 DJs, I find his self-aggrandising "Big Show" the most switch-offable. Even Evans, who I've loathed since the days of TFI Fridays... I can even listen to him, in small doses, without wanting to chuck the radio out of the window. But Steve Wright...
Has Steve Wright changed or have I changed? I think a lot of both, actually. His current show isn't the one I grew up with. Arguably that "zoo format" became old hat and needed to be retired. I think there's still potential in it, but not for someone as smug as Wrighty. Nowadays, the DJs I gravitate towards are the ones who love their music and let that show. Music has always seemed like an unnecessary interruption for Steve Wright... and let's not even get started on Panic again. (I wonder if Steve Wright was one of the reasons I was so against The Smiths back then? He obviously hated them, and like all impressionable teenagers, I went along with the opinions of my heroes.)
Back then, I used to dream about being part of Steve Wright's "Posse". We'll come back to that another time, because there's a rather embarrassing story connected to it.
8. The Sports - Who Listens To The Radio?
I don't know where I came across this song. Somewhere on the blogosphere. Possibly The Dude... or maybe Brian. It strikes me as the kind of thing Brian would dig. I love it, anyway, and really want to track down more by the band, Aussie New Wavers from the late 70s and early 80s. Very reminiscent of early Elvis Costello, who obvious has a few radio songs of his own which we'll get to eventually.
Friday, 26 May 2017
The best tribute I've read to Sir Roger Moore came from The Guardian's Peter Bradshaw, who concluded: "The Connery Bond was feared and admired... but the Roger Moore Bond was loved."
Roger Moore was the Bond of my childhood, and he will always be my Bond. Yes, those films might seem cheesy and corny now, they certainly don't have the grit of Connery, but they have a lot more warmth. And let's face it: Bond is essentially a ludicrous character. He works if you play him with a raised eyebrow (and no one had better eyebrows than Roger Moore), but take him too seriously and he becomes an unpleasantly violent, misogynist killer with little regard for the lives of innocents... which pretty much sums up the last two Daniel Craig films for me.
10. ELO - Can't Get It Out Of My Head
Sir Roger's first starring role on TV was in a BBC children's series based on Sir Walter Scott's Ivanhoe. Way before my time, but probably not before Jeff Lynne's...
Bank job in the cityApparently, Roger felt "a complete Charlie riding around in all that armour and damned stupid plumed helmet".
Robin Hood and William Tell
And Ivanhoe and Lancelot
They don't envy me...
9. Robbie Williams - The World's Most Handsome Man
I know lots of people can't do with Robbie's cheeky chappie routine, or his humongous ego... but I find both quite endearing... in small doses... because I really don't think he takes himself at all seriously. Just like Sir Roger...
Y'all know who I am8. The Toy Dolls - James Bond Lives Down Our Street
I'm still the boy next door
That's if you're Lord Litchfield and Roger Moore...
I tried to avoid songs that just reference James Bond for this chart: there are loads of them and I wanted my tribute to be more about Roger than his most famous role. However, The Toy Dolls do mention Roger (and Sean) in this ridiculous cartoon punk song, so...
7. Mansun - Moronica
Roger wasn't just Bond. Here's Paul Draper name-dropping the role that made him famous... The Saint.
You've got more halos than Simon Templar6. Scouting For Girls - I Wish I Was James Bond
You've said more Betty's than Frankie Spencer
Your gun is bigger than Captain Scarlet's
Your face is covered in cheap mascara
As if Robbie Williams wasn't bad enough, let's further irk the musos with a pure slice of noughties piano pop. In my defence, Scouting For Girls may be annoyingly catchy, but they don't really sound like anything else that's been successful in the 21st Century. In fact, they remind me of Gerard Kenny...
Since I was a boy I wanted to be like Roger Moore5. Supergrass - Prophet 15
A girl in every port, and gadgets up my sleeve
In which Gaz Coombes gets trapped in a cloud with an eclectic selection of heroes, including Peter Cooke, Oscar Wilde, Marvin Gay, Joan Of Arc, David Banner... and good old Rog.
4. The Kinks - Daylight
Being one of the greatest chroniclers of the English disease, it's inevitable that Ray Davies should namedrop Roger at some point...
Middle-aged bankers crack their backs and wish they were young and in their teens,3. Amy Winehouse - You Know I'm No Good
Lonely spinsters dream of dating Roger Moore or Steve McQueen.
When asked why he thought Amy had included him in the lyrics of her hit single, Roger quipped that she must have wanted a word that rhymed with 'door'... or couldn't think of one that rhymed with 'Connery'.
By the time I'm out the door,2. Pulp - 97 Lovers
You tear men down like Roger Moore...
Originally released in 1986 (yes, Pulp were around back then: this was just before their second album), just after my Bond hung up his Walther PPK for good. Roger Moore apparently hated guns and was often quoted, post-Bond, saying how he hated the way the franchise glamorised "men with guns". Maybe that's why he played up the comedic elements of the character. And I'm sure that's why he appealed to Jarvis, who always likes a good Roger...
I know a woman with a picture of Roger Moore1. Wings - Live & Let Die / Carly Simon - Nobody Does It Better
In a short towel and dressing-gown pinned to her bedroom wall
She married a man who works on a building site
Now they make love beneath Roger every Friday night... oh!
The two best Bond themes of the Moore era, from the band The Beatles could have been and the lady who found clouds in her coffee...
Now put your clothes on and I’ll buy you an ice cream.
Thursday, 25 May 2017
First off, I know: that is one freakin' awful album cover. I mean, you already decided not to bother with this post, right? And if that wasn't enough... this is Brad Paisley. The current king of Nashville. Glossy, corporate country music with not a drop of authentic Americana in sight. I should stop right here...
I love Brad Paisley. He's not only my favourite contemporary country star, he's also become one of my favourite recording artists of the 21st Century. He seems like a genuine bloke, not a spangly Stetson poster boy; a singer who's got where he is by playing all the obvious country cards... then opening up a second pack and dealing out songs about subjects country music rarely covers. The internet. The environment. Workplace sexism. Near death experiences. Bad people winning lotteries. Searching each other for ticks as a prelude to getting it on...
Brad regularly manages to make me laugh... and cry. Big, genuine, monster pipette tears. Yeah, I know, I cry a lot these days. At the stupidest things. I keep meaning to do a Top Ten Songs That Make Me Bawl Every Time I Hear Them... but I'm worried it would be too traumatic to listen to them all back-to-back.
Anyway, here's a song that has managed to evoke both those reactions... which you've got to admit is pretty rare. But it's probably just me...
2. Brad Paisley - Last Time For Everything
The tears came first. I was driving to work when I first listened to this song. And here was Brad - who's exactly the same age as me, minus six months - listing all the great experiences in his life that he'll never have again. That's what this song is about, beginning with the big teenage experiences that you quickly grow out of... or no longer need to worry about...
Using a fake ID at a college barYes, they're very American experiences. But I grew up in the 80s, my teenage years were filtered through over-exposure to American TV shows and teen movies. I can relate. Things get more universally emotive in verse three when Brad evokes memories of your grandparents and first pet you'll never see again. But it's the last verse when he really kicked me in the gut...
Getting caught with a girl in the backseat of a car
Running out on the field for the senior game wearing number 17
There's a last time for everything
Kissing goodbye on her porch and driving awayThroughout the song he namedrops a couple of artists no longer with us - Glen Frey and Little Jimmy Dickens - remembering the last time he saw them perform live. We're reminded that any time could be our last time, for anything. Something I guess we've all thought about this week. So the song's final line... well, I won't spoil it, but by then I was blubbing. (And remember: this guy is called Brad Paisley...)
Introducing her as your fiancee
Getting woke up at 5 am to see if Santa came
There's a last time for everything
OK, so here's the song. I'm sure you won't end up a quivering mess like I did, but give it a try...
Then... prepare yourself for the actual video. Which turned the song on its head for me and actually had me grinning, even laughing by the end. Again, I'm the same age as Brad, so the cultural references he chooses to pepper the visuals with are right up my street. Knight Rider. Ghostbusters. Back To The Future. Raleigh Choppers and Sony Walkmans. Even a bit of Huey Lewis & The News. (Plus, as you may have already noticed, the song is built round a guitar riff which melds Run To You with Every Breath You Take.) But this time the kicker comes with the video's wonderfully timed celebrity cameo - a fluke, as it turns out, since the celeb in question apparently just turned up when he heard Paisley was filming because he's a big fan. It'll only make you really smile if you're the same age as me and Brad... but I watched the video four times in a row the day I discovered it. (If you dig it, make you sure watch right to the very end.)
Nostalgia's weird. It can make you laugh and cry in the same song. Enjoy it while you can.
This could be the last time... I don't know.
Wednesday, 24 May 2017
3. Sun Kil Moon - Seventies TV Show Theme Song
I gave this post that title as a jokey reference to the fact that Mark Kozelek has now stolen Prince's crown as the most (over?)-productive songwriter / musician in the music business. I mean, this guy makes Ryan Adams look like Evan Dando. (That's a muso joke. I figure I can get away with a muso joke on a Sun Kil Moon post.) Ironically though, as I sat down to write about the new Sun Kil Moon album - which, to be fair, came out in February, so I admit to being behind the curve - I discovered Kozelek had actually released another new record that very day (a second collaboration with ex-Godflesh rocker Jesu). Keeping up with Mark Kozelek is becoming a full time occupation: I may have to quit my job.
The weird thing is, I only really got into Kozelek a couple of years back when Steve recommended Benji as one of his favourite albums of 2014. I fell in love with that album and MK's rambling, stream of consciousness narratives about all the people who'd died in his life in the last few years. For an album centred around death it was both very funny and packed with honest human detail. It sounded real. Realer than Richie Manic carving '4 Real' into his arm, albeit not quite as rock 'n' roll.
Since then, I've gobbled up anything I could get my hands on from Kozelek, some of which has left me cool (Benji's immediate follow-up, Universal Themes), some of which left me more than pleasantly surprised (Mark Kozelek Sings Favourites, last year's piano-based covers album which I listened to for about 6 months).
Which brings us to Common As Light And Love Are Red Valleys Of Blood, which could well be as good as Benji, though in a very different way. It's a lot funnier than Benji, for a start. Kozelek has refined the rambling to the point it sounds like a well-planned stand up routine in places. Elsewhere, it's as dark and angry and personal as you'd expect. All human life is here, from hometown nostalgia to true crime to Donald Trump to transgender bathrooms to the nice letter a promoter sent Mark one time after a show. Whatever Kozelek wants to sing / talk / rap about, he does... often in the same song. Because he does not have an off button. This album has 16 tracks, the shortest of which is just over 5 minutes in duration. The longest, almost three times that. Listen to the whole album in one go and... well, I've been on shorter holidays. If Mark Kozelek hadn't become a songwriter, he'd have been an excellent blogger.
This is a record I've enjoyed a lot over the last few weeks, and I suspect I'll keep listening to it for a good long while because there's so much in it to discover. It's also a lot more immediate than some of his other albums. I didn't have to work at it; tracks like the one below, I loved the first time I heard them. Maybe you will too. I dunno... maybe not.
Tuesday, 23 May 2017
6. The Monkees - Alternative Title (Randy Scouse Git)
As has been previously established by Kenny Wednesdays, I can also feature songs with Randy in the title in this feature. So you may have been expecting this one... except that, of course, it wasn't called Randy Scouse Git on the radio as the record company thought the title might lose the song airplay in the UK. The irony being, of course, that Micky Dolenz stole the title from Alf Garnett in Til' Death Us Do Part, so British audiences were well used to hearing it.
I do like a bit of timpani...
Sunday, 21 May 2017
It should come as no surprise to me that last week's radio post drummed up a few memories. It made me happy to hear how radio reminded you all so much of growing up, of listening late at night under the covers, of your parents and families...
Me too. Here are a few of my earliest radio memories:
- Terry Wogan in the morning before school. I wrote about Tel last year on his untimely passing. He started on the Radio 2 breakfast show in 1972, the year I was born, so he was there all through my childhood. We were never a Radio 1 household, my parents being that much old and my brother and sister both having left home, so Terry's musical choices helped shaped my own in my formative years.
- Jimmy Young after Terry. I remember hearing the famous Terry / JY handovers a lot when I wasn't at school. I remember my dad had a radio in his shed and he listened to JY in there once he retired from the motor trade (when I was a teenager) and went back to being a joiner. JY's musical choices were a bit more old school than Terry's, so he was more likely to play my dad's favourite: Frank Sinatra. If the radio wasn't on in my dad's shed, you could place money on the chances of him whistling Strangers In The Night to himself... if the circular saw wasn't whirring.
- John Dunn and Ray Moore too. Oh my father had a rabbit and he thought it was a duck...
- Friday Night Is Music Night. My dad worked as an auctioneer for a big motor auction company before being made redundant when I was about 7. After that, he set up his own car auctions (with a couple of former colleagues), though it was a bit of a struggle to get that business off the ground at first. They couldn't even afford a cleaner, so dad, mum and me used to go over there after school on a Friday night and clean the offices, stopping off for fish and chips on the way home. Friday Night Is Music Night reminds me of that, and my dad's love of the big bands. He was a trombone player himself when he was a kid and I followed his footsteps into the local brass band as a teenager, playing tenor horn.
- Late night radio. I'm not sure I remember exactly who was on Radio 2 at nights when I was a kid (I should probably look it up), but I do know that from an early age I kept my bedside clock radio on all through the night. Not for me, hiding the pocket-sized tranny under the covers. Late night radio was legit in my house... maybe that explains why I still need music to help me get to sleep forty years later. More on that another time though...
7. Everclear - A.M. Radio
I'd be in bed with the radio on
I would listen to it all night long
Just to hear my favorite song
You'd have to wait till you could hear it on the
Friday, 19 May 2017
I never had a paper round when I was a kid. I did, however, have a special fascination with the newsagents where I bought my weekly Spider-Man comics... I even went and interviewed the owner, Mr. Hudson, about his job, for a school project.
Here are ten songs about getting your papers delivered... which, I guess, not many people do these days. Bloody internet.
Special mention to Eli 'Paperboy' Reed, someone who's definitely worthy of further investigation, if Name Calling is anything to go by.
10. Jilted John - The Paperboy Song
Graham Fellows never fails to make me laugh. I love his description of getting his papers from the newsagents...
I walk into the paper shop9. The Marvelettes - Paper Boy
And say good morning, Keith
"Good morning, Keith!"
"Good afternoon!" Keith would shout.
Keith marked the papers out
A boy called Gary helped him
But he just pissed about.
Not content with pestering the postman, The Marvelettes also went after the paper boy...
8. Soft Cell - Kitchen Sink Drama
A lonely housewife who imagines herself as Elizabeth Taylor has an eye on the paper boy while her husband's out at work. Does exactly what it says on the tin.
7. The Courteeners - Take Over The World
He's only a paper boy from the north west, but he scrubs up pretty fine in his Sunday best.
Liam Fray may be a bit of an egomaniac, but he does know how to write a good song.
6. July Talk - Paper Girl
OK, here's my discovery of the week. While researching this post, even though I had loads of songs to go at from my own collection, I couldn't think of any that featured Paper Girls. So I did a little search and came up with this Canadian alt-rock band who are pretty amazing. In fact, I just bought their first album. Can't afford their second one (from last year) just yet, but it'll be on my wishlist if the tracks I've heard so far are anything to go by. Love the mix of vocals by Leah Fay and Peter Dreimanis, who sounds not unlike this next gentleman...
5. Tom Waits - Saving All My Love For You
Not the Whitney Houston song... but wouldn't it be cool if Tom covered that?
Anyway, here he gets up so early that everyone's sleeping but the paper boys... poor kids are gonna be scared out of their wits if they bump into Tom on their round.
4. Guillemots - Made Up Love Song #43
My favourite Guillemots song. I love its theme of finding magic in the everyday, even if it can't help but remind me of the end of American Beauty.
You got me off the paper round3. Morrissey - I Have Forgiven Jesus
Just sprang out of the air
The best things come from nowhere
I love you, I don't think you care
Much has been made lately of the fact that Morrissey is actually a bit of a dick. Even my (local) poetry hero Simon Armitage, on his recent 6Music show, after saying how Morrissey and Dylan were the two songwriters he felt were closest to being actual poets... then went on to remark, "Morrissey, who I had the great pleasure of meeting earlier this year... hmm." Never meet your heroes, Simon!
Anyway, despite all this, Moz will always be the second most important songwriter in my record collection, and I'll always love him for songs like this... which at the time of its release spoke to me more than just about any other song I'd ever heard.
I was a good kid,Don't worry, Moz. I'll always forgive you.
I wouldn't do you no harm,
I was a nice kid,
With a nice paper round
Forgive me any pain,
I may have brung to you,
With God's help I know,
I'll always be near to you...
2. Don McLean - American Pie
There are whole websites devoted to the lyrics of American Pie. I'm not sure why, its meaning seems pretty straightforward to me: the British Invasion stealing away the American monopoly on rock 'n' roll soon after Buddy Holly's death. It all begins though with a very young Don delivering the fateful headlines that mark "the day the music died". No wonder February made him shiver.
1. David Bowie - Modern Love
Of course, we should never take Bowie's lyrics literally. However, the intro to Modern Love always puts a very specific image in my head of the Dame chasing after his paper boy, presumably for chucking his copy of the Observer into the rose bushes outside Bowie Towers one time too many. He knows when to stay in; he knows when to go out... he definitely knows how to catch a paper boy.
If your paper round went past David Bowie's house, you'd have probably wished he would chase after you. That'd be the equivalent of having Prince turn up on your doorstep on a Sunday morning with a copy of Watchtower.
Which one gets ink on your fingers?
Thursday, 18 May 2017
4. Huey Lewis & The News - Naturally
These guys were one of my favourite bands when I was growing up, and the album Fore! remains one of my favourite albums of the 80s. There is no better feel good band than Huey Lewis & The News. They make me smile just thinking about them; Huey was and is a thoroughly likable, all-round decent bloke with zero pretensions.
I'm sure you know all the singles from the album, and love them as much as I do. If not, drink lots of water and seek medical assistance immediately. Hip To Be Square. Simple As That. Stuck With You. The Power Of Love. (If you don't love The Power Of Love, your doctor cannot help you. Try a shaman, visit Tibet or consult a ouija board.) You may, however, be unfamiliar with Naturally. You poor, poor thing.
When Sam was a tiny baby, just out of the hospital and trying to settle into a sleep pattern (we can't complain: compared to most babies, he's been pretty much a champion sleeper), I used to sing this to him at bed time. I probably didn't do it justice like Huey and the guys did. 80s doo wop doesn't come any finer than this...
Wednesday, 17 May 2017
5. Aimee Mann - Patient Zero
I'm proud to say I've been an Aimee Mann fan since I found her first solo album in the radio station chuck-out box way, way back in 1993. I've followed her ever since, from a distance since the restraining order was enforced (that gag never grows old), and I can honestly say that her new album, Mental Illness is one of her best. If you want to know why she called the record that, or what her inspirations were this time round (mostly acoustic guitars, lush strings and 70s oohs), Aimee explains all here.
Lyrically, there's a lot going on in this new album, mental or not... if you can decipher those damned fine metaphors. Aimee's rarely one to tell a story literally. If you're not bothered about what songs mean, just lie back and enjoy that voice, smokey and sultry as ever.
Here's the first "single", Patient Zero, which scores extra points for featuring Bradley Whitford in the video. Cat lovers might prefer Goose Snow Cone... but keep your tissues at hand.
Tuesday, 16 May 2017
5. Randy Fitzsimmons
Randy Fitzsimmons is chief songwriter and manager for Swedish band The Hives, although he doesn't appear to actually play or perform with the band. As such, finding a photo of him was rather difficult. The internet claims that's him in the middle, with the glasses on, standing in between Iggy and Ringo. And, let's face it, if you get to stand in between Iggy and Ringo, with Jimmy Page close by, you've pretty much made it.
I like The Hives a lot whenever I listen to them. I don't listen to them a lot. Somehow, I manage to have accumulated four CDs by them, which I guess means they end up in charity shops a lot, since I've never bought one through more legitimate means. No surprise then, to see Charity Chic feature the band earlier on this month... although I was rather miffed when he selected my two favourite songs: Main Offender and Hate To Say I Told You So. Still, there's plenty more to go at, even though they do all start to sound the same after a while.
One thing I really like about The Hives is that they must be the most self-referential band in rock. I can find about half a dozen song titles wherein they directly reference themselves, and I only own a fraction of their output. These include: T.H.E. H.I.V.E.S.; The Hives Meet The Norm, The Hives Introduce The Metric System In Time, The Hives Declare Guerre Nucleair (which I'm guessing is French for the main aim of Donald Trump's presidency) and this... which is an instrumental. I don't often feature instrumentals here because, you know, I'm a lyrics kid. So whenever I do feature an instrumental, it has to be pretty cool...
Oh, and finally, I thought I'd throw in a link to lounge supremo Richard Cheese's cover of HateTo Say I Told You So because it's... niiiiice.
That's half my Randies done. Have I included your favourite yet?
Sunday, 14 May 2017
When I started this series, I said I was going to use it as an opportunity to write about my years in radio. Then I realised I'd already started doing this, ten years ago, on the old blog. I only got a couple of posts into it - partly because I was still working in the industry back then and I was too close to it all; and partly because I didn't think anyone would be interested in reading my autobiography.
Lately though, I've come to realise that the posts I enjoy most from my fellow bloggers are often the ones when they tell me a little about their life. That's one of the reasons I've started doing that more, the other being the insane notion that one day my son might stumble across these ramblings and come to understand his old man a little better. Yeah, I know, that's probably never going to happen... but just on the off-chance you're reading this 50 years from now: Sam, you're the best thing that ever happened to me.
That out the way, let's talk radio gaga...
6. Queen - Radio Gaga
I know the blogosphere is roughly divided into two types of people when it comes to Queen.
- Those who think they were all right in the 70s but lost it in the 80s, around the time Radio Gaga was released...
- ...and those who never liked them anyway.
I’d sit alone and watch your light,Everything you need to know about why I got into radio is contained in those lines above.
My only friend through teenage nights
And everything I had to know
I heard it on my radio...
The rest of the story will follow...
Friday, 12 May 2017
When you look at the state of the world today, you have to ask yourself... who's to blame? Here are ten possible answers...
10. The Jacksons - Blame It On The Boogie
Let's start with the obvious one. If you can't blame it on the sunshine or the moonlight... maybe you should blame it on Jarvis Cocker for waggling his bottom in Earth Song. If he hadn't done that, perhaps Michael The Messiah might have saved us all...
9. Lambchop - Blame It On The Brunettes
Come on, Kurt... surely the blondes have more to be blamed for?
Research and radios8. Johnny Johnson & The Bandwagon - (Blame It) On The Pony Express
Divide my world at best
Peanut butter relationships
No kids no food no pets
Blame it on the brunette
Kind of like blaming Postman Pat. Which, come to mention it, is not a bad idea since it does generally appear to be his fault. He's lucky that he lives in a village full of idiots who never fail to say, "don't worry, Pat won't let us down," no matter how many times he does just that.
I feel so sorry for Jess the cat.
7. Bon Jovi - Blame It on the Love of Rock & Roll
I know, I know. It ain't cool, but I still love it.
I mean, come on...
It feels so good that it ought to be illegalNo?
I got my vaccination from a pornograph needle
I'll never grow up and I'll never grow old
Blame it on the love of rock & roll!
You don't know what you're missing.
6. Idlewild - Blame It On Obvious Ways
Sometimes I forget just how good Idlewild were...
I'm forced into a sponsored silenceBeen there, bought the T-shirt.
Where I'm only paid if I don't say
What I want to say
5. Lloyd Cole - Blame Mary Jane
This is how innocent I was back in 1990. I honestly thought this song was about...
4. Cosmo Jarvis - Blame It On Me
Love Cosmo Jarvis. Very disappointed that he appears to have packed in the music biz in favour of acting. I'm sure he's very good in Lady Macbeth, but I'd rather hear a new record from him. I do blame him for that.
See also Blame It On Me by George Ezra which is pretty good too, but not Cosmo-level good.
3. Kris Kristofferson - Blame It On The Stones
Written just after Altamont, when the whole of America seemed intent on blaming it on The Stones...
Mister Marvin Middle Class is really in a stew2. Elvis Costello - Blame It On Cain
Wond'rin' what the younger generation's coming to
And the taste of his martini doesn't please his bitter tongue
Blame it on the Rolling Stones.
Mother tells the ladies at the bridge club every day
Of the rising price of tranquilizers she must pay
And she wonders why the children never seem to stay at home
Blame it on the Rolling Stones.
Love the rawness of Elvis's debut album.
Once upon a time, I had a little money1. Carter USM - I Blame The Government
Government burglars took it long
Before I could mail it to you,
Still, you are the only one
Now I can't let it slip away
So if the man with the ticker tape, he tries to take it
Well, this is what I'm gonna say...
I blame the governmentWell, quite.
For making me this way
Bitter and twisted and crap
At the end of the day
I blame the government for that
Poor education, death on the roads
The writing thats not on the wall
The war in The Balkans
The war in The Falklands
Its not like The Waltons at all
If I had the wings of a sparrow
If I had the arse of a crow
I'd fly over Whitehall tomorrow
And... ...on the bastards below
Who do you blame it on?
Thursday, 11 May 2017
When despair for the world grows in me and I wake in the night at the least sound in fear of what my life and my children's lives may be, I go and lie down where the wood drake rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds. I come into the peace of wild things who do not tax their lives with forethought of grief. I come into the presence of still water. And I feel above me the day-blind stars waiting with their light. For a time I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
That's my favourite poem. The Peace Of Wild Things, by Wendell Berry. It says so much to me about life, the world we live in, sadness, worry and sleepless nights. There was a time, when I was a younger man, when insomnia troubled me a lot. Living out in the countryside, I would often get up before dawn and go out for a walk; sometimes in the darkness, sometimes in that dull, dead twilight before dawn. I went into the peace of wild things, up to the reservoir, watched the birds on the water, the first rays of sun breaking over Castle Hill in the east.
I don't do that anymore. I live a bit further away from the wild things now, and besides, I'd wake the whole house. Instead, I use music to help me rest in the grace of the world and stop me taxing my mind with forethought of grief.
6. Steely Dan - Showbiz Kids
One great band to feed through your headphones in the wee small hours, when all else seems dark, is Steely Dan. And one of my favourites at the moment is Showbiz Kids. There's so much going on in this track, it's like three different songs playing at the same time. Lyrically and musically, it's endlessly fascinating. It's a very witty song (love the reference to the showbiz kids with their "shapely bods", wearing their Steely Dan T-shirts), but I've been puzzling for some time over the chorus - the bit the female backing singers repeat, over and over again, but which isn't included in the booklet that comes with the Countdown To Ecstasy CD or any of the online search engines which list the lyrics.
To be honest, once you've got that refrain in your head and started wondering what it is... it's the sort of thing that'll keep you awake at night.
Well, finally, I found out. Maybe you know. Maybe you don't. Maybe I'll tell you. Maybe I won't...
Wednesday, 10 May 2017
6. Silver Sun - Lava
I described Silver Sun as post-Britpop to differentiate them from the obvious guitar band suspects of that era, though in truth their sound wasn't Britpop at all, it was pure power pop. They made a hell of a racket, but a very tuneful one, full of hooks the size of sideboards and glorious harmonies nicked from the Beach Boys and the Byrds. I saw them live more than once, at bigger venues or festivals, but this was the smallest room I think I ever saw any band perform in... and cramming all that noise into such a tiny space took some doing.
My hearing isn't the best. Being hard of hearing runs in the family: both my parents have hearing aids, as does my older brother. I'm just counting the days (and trying to save up). But I reckon there's a little more to my deafness than just the hereditary: all those loud gigs I attended in the 90s must have had a little to do with it. So when I do need to get myself fitted for an ear trumpet... I'll be sending the bill to Silver Sun.
Tuesday, 9 May 2017
4. Randy Crawford
While I don't consider myself the world's biggest fan of Veronica 'Randy' Crawford, I had a devil of a time picking this week's Randy Tuesday track. Four or five of her UK hits (despite being American, she never cracked the Billboard chart) have insinuated themselves into my musical back pages to the point where I consider them comfortable old friends, even though I never actually went out and bought a Randy Crawford record. (Well, until today... when I ordered a cheap Greatest Hits just so I could inhale these songs into my record collection.)
The choice was between...
One Day I'll Fly Away: her first big hit. So laid back. Beautifully sad.
You Might Need Somebody: much better than the 90s cover by Shola Ama.
Almaz: has a piano in it, so you know I'm sold. Also reminds me of an old boss who had a name that sounded a bit like 'Almaz', to the point I'd sing at him to take the piss. He was the bloke who gave me my first job in radio, back when it was fun. He never sacked me.
Rainy Night In Georgia: probably the best song Ms. Crawford ever recorded, though I still prefer the Brook Benton original. It's just one of those songs that sends a shiver down my spine.
In the end, I had to settle for this, the track that brought her to fame... even though it was the only record she ever recorded with The Crusaders.
Sunday, 7 May 2017
(*Of course, the very notion of having one's opinions vindicated is a spurious one, since opinions are subjective anyway and you can't ever prove a subjective point of view empirically true. Still.)
I went to see Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2 yesterday. For anyone who's seen the first film (and quite a few of you have, given recent posts about its soundtrack), I would recommend it. It's as funny as Volume 1, but proved a surprisingly emotional experience for me too. I hadn't expected that. Since I became a father, films that focus on father / son relationships often make me cry, but this one caught me out. I was sobbing at the end. (God help me if I ever try to watch Field Of Dreams again: that film used to destroy me BEFORE I became a dad. There's no telling what it'd do to me now.)
This is a music blog though, so let's get to the tune. I've discussed more than once here how movie soundtracks can make even the cheesiest old songs cool. I've also shared with you my idea that if an alien came down to earth tomorrow, it would be unable to tell the (subjective) difference between Radiohead and The Village People, The Clash and Rick Astley, Pink Floyd and Ed Sheeran. It'd all just be notes and words to the alien, and shorn of any cultural context, the little green man or woman would be just as likely to dig Billy Joel as Rag 'n' Bone Man.
The writers of GOTG V2 understand this very well; they even turn it into a plot element which the film hinges on. No real spoilers here, but when an alien god arrives on Earth, he reaches the conclusion that the song below is “possibly Earth’s finest composition”. And who am I to argue with that?
8. Looking Glass - Brandy (You're A Fine Girl)
Friday, 5 May 2017
***I was going to bring you My Top Ten Fred Songs today, but blogger just deleted the whole post while I was editing it and I can't get it back. I am bereft. Luckily, I had this one in reserve. I'll dedicate it to all my blogging buddies who are getting together for gigs and good times this weekend. Try not to burn any discos down, guys...***
One of the biggest problems I have with compiling new Top Tens these days is finding myself with too many great songs that fit the criteria. A couple of weeks back, a song JC suggested in the comments made me think about doing an Indie Disco Top Ten: ten indie songs about discos. But when I started to compile my list, there were hundreds to go at... so I had to find a more specific subject matter.
The other problem I have when compiling lists like this is that, on occasion, the Number One is so blindingly obvious that it kind of renders the whole countdown irrelevant. At the end of the day though, it's just meant to be a list of ten tracks I dig. The order is only for you guys to argue about. That said, depending on your age or tastes, there are TWO blindingly obvious choices for Number One this week. My choice will surprise nobody who's been reading this nonsense for any great length of time, but let's remember: it's the journey, not the destination, which matters.
10. Michael Jackson - Burn This Disco Out
One of the lesser known tracks from Off The Wall, this has some great brass stings. Not sure how you burn a disco out though.
9. Pop Will Eat Itself - Radio PWEI
Mentions Disco Inferno. Also mentions most other words in the English language.
8. Pet Shop Boys - Burn
It took the Pet Shops Boys thirty years before they decided to join The Smiths.
7. Clinton - People Power In The Disco Hour
AKA Cornershop's Tjinder Singh and Ben Ayres, this contains the excellent observation that "disco is the halfway to a full discontent", before exhorting us to "get this disco heat onto the streets", which is close enough for a shoehorn.
6. Wombats - Backfire At The Disco
As previously revealed, there are a great many records in my collection that I've never actually got round to listening to. Confession time: this is the first time I've given this song the time of day.
I like it.
A lot more than I expected to.
5. David Bowie - Bring Me The Disco King
Finally released on Bowie's 2003 album Reality, this was originally recorded to a fast disco beat with Nile Rodgers ten years earlier. As far as I know, that version has never been released, though I'd love to hear it. It'd have to go some to beat this version though...
We could dance, dance, dance through the fire4. Shed Seven - Disco Down
Dance, dance, dance through the fire
Imagine Oasis had a sense of humour and a record collection that went beyond their dads' old Beatles, Kinks and Who vinyl. I have very fond memories of seeing Shed Seven play live back in the day; I never understood why they weren't more widely acclaimed...
Feels like I've been3. Electric Six - Danger! High Voltage
To every single disco all around
Another night, another town
It's time to burn this disco down
Fire in the disco...I have featured this ridiculous song a number of times before; I will likely do so again. I wish I could tell you that one day I will grow out of it and not want to watch its preposterous, high camp video ever again... but honestly, I hope I never do.
Fire in the Taco Bell...
The song becomes even more enjoyable when you know that the "female" vocals (as mimed by actress Tina Kanarek in the video) were actually recorded by Jack White.
2. The Trammps - Disco Inferno
Written by Leroy Green and Roy 'Have Mercy' Kersey. I want that as my middle name! (Oh, wait a minute, Rol is my middle name. Forget that then.)
The most obvious contender for Number One?
You might think so...
1. The Smiths - Panic
A song so majestic that when I imagine its intro, I add a fanfare in my head. I am actually surprised when the fanfare doesn't happen.
This is the Smiths song I am most likely to quote when discussing music, particularly if anyone ever asks me why I don't like modern (i.e. anything from the last 30 years) dance music. "It says nothing to me about my life." I'm sure you all know the story behind the origins of this song, but here's a cool visual reminder...
Panic took a stand against pop music that had nothing to say, but was bizarrely accused of a racist subtext by those who considered disco to be "black music". Johnny Marr countered by threatening to "kick the living shit" out of the NME writer responsible, while also pointing out that there were no black members of New Order. The NME went on to vote Panic the sixth best dance record of 1986.
Burn down the disco...
Hang the blessed DJ!
Because the music they constantly play
It says nothing to me about my life
Which one makes you want to burn, baby, baby?
Thursday, 4 May 2017
9. Billy Ocean - Love Really Hurts Without You
Sometimes I think my computer is a bit of a muso snob. It's almost as though it deletes songs on purpose, if it doesn't feel they're worthy enough.
The inclusion of Billy Ocean's Red Light Spells Danger was the highlight of the second (and final?) series of Peter Kaye's Car Share for me. It was a beautiful moment which captured the euphoria of both great pop music and the first flush of romance. And it immediately sent me off to my record collection to listen to a bit more Billy, confident in the knowledge that I must have at least a greatest hits in there somewhere.
Turns out I owned just five Billy Ocean songs, all taken from a variety of pop and soul compilations I've accrued over the years... but hardly any of the big hits.
I didn't even own When The Going Gets Tough!
Which, frankly, astounded me, because I've bought enough 80s comps over the years, I was convinced it must have been on one of them.
At least I did own Red Light Spells Danger!
Of course, I had to put this right. I went straight online to buy myself a best of, settling in the end for the most recent which also features a disc of present-day Billy (above) covering a bunch of pop and soul standards. He's still got the voice too.
Billy Ocean was (according to iffypedia), "the most popular British R&B singer-songwriter of the early to mid-1980s", a claim which is almost strangled by its own specificity. Never mind. Listening to Love Really Hurts Without You (his composition), you can really hear the Motown influence. This could be a Four Tops song, and it'd probably get a little bit more respect if it was. At least from my muso-snob computer. This won't be getting deleted again...
Wednesday, 3 May 2017
10. PWR BTTM - Answer My Text
I have mentioned before my colleague who, despite being 20 years younger than me and a bit of a hipster, actually has a half decent taste in music. He's the one who encouraged me to investigate Kevin Devine a little further, a decision which is still paying off.
Anyway, he's been banging on for a while now "American queer punk duo" PWR BTTM who are due to release their second album a little later this year and which, I am reliably informed, "will be on many (hipster) critics' End of Year lists". To be honest, I've been reluctant to give them a go, for one reason and one reason only: their vowel-less name. Being an English teacher, I get a little irked by bands who muck about needlessly with the language, misspell words for the sake of it, or write their names in text speak. You know the sort of bands I'm talking about: LMFAO, Def Leppard, SBTRKT, !!!, B*Witched, YOURCODENAMEIS:MILO... The Beatles. This sort of thing is enough to put me off listening to your music, even if it's good.
But I've relented and given PWR BTTM a go. Their first album, Ugly Cherries, is on emusic and it's got some pretty good songs on it. I Wanna Boi is a particular favourite... despite another bloody deliberate spelling mistake. What is it with young people these days? Do they have no respect for the English language!?!
Even more exciting though is the stuff I've heard from their second album, which must surely strike a chord with The Young People these days due to its amazing chorus:
Answer my text, you dick!
Or call me up and tell me
That you're coming over
I'll clean up my room so quick!
Now promise me, when all the muso-critics slam this lot into their end of year Top Tens, you will tell your mates you heard them here first, won't you? I might restore my (never-had-it-in-the-first-place) hipster cred yet...
Tuesday, 2 May 2017
3. Randy Vanwarmer
I think those may be the two coolest pictures I ever featured on this blog. You know why? Self confidence. Sometimes I think that's all you really need to succeed in this world. A little bit of positive hubris. Probably explains why I never got anywhere.
I first encountered Randall Van Wormer back in the 70s when Terry Wogan made his heartbreaking ballad Just When I Needed You Most a huge UK hit. Sounding a little bit Chicago, a little bit Leo, it made a pretty big impact... if only because our Tel played it to death.
I didn't really know anything else about RVW until I looked into him for this feature. Apparently, his second album moved away from big sloppy ballads into "dark" and "alternative" territory. "Dark" like It Doesn't Matter Anymore, which opens like this...
I never figured out...and then gets much, much darker. "Alternative" like Terraform and 21st Century which go all sci fi and downright weird.
Who put the tablets in my drink
The poison worked so fast
I poured the last drop down the sink
After that, he returned to ballads. He continued to release albums up until his death in 2004, but had more success as a songwriter for other people. Somehow he ended up in Nashville, writing a number of big country hits.
Now, those of you who were expecting this particularly Randy to make an appearance probably expected me to choose his big hit. And I probably would have done, had my research not revealed that he co-wrote this, one of my favourite songs by contemporary country star and former Mr. Miranda Lambert (soon to be Mr. Gwen Stefani), Blake Shelton.
I've featured this one here before in My Top Ten Mexico Songs, but I have no problem with playing it again because I love it. I'm guessing reactions to this post will be divided pretty evenly between "you should have played Just When I Needed You Most" and "you should have skipped him altogether", but I live to be surprised...
Randy Vanwarmer's cremated remains were sent into space along with the ashes of James 'Scotty' Doohan from Star Trek. I tell you what, the remaining Randies in this list are going to have to go some to beat that!
Sunday, 30 April 2017
5. Strand Of Oaks - Radio Kids
Another reason this feature is infinite is that people keep writing and releasing new radio songs all the time. As Martin pointed out in the comments of the first post, it's hard to believe anyone will ever write as many songs celebrating the magic and romance of Spotify (although Karen O does mention it in her song Capsize).
I took a flyer on the new Strand of Oaks album recently knowing nothing about them. The band is mostly the brainchild of Timothy Showalter and he's supported Jason Isbell, Iron and Wine, and Ryan Adams, though he's a bit rockier than any of those guys. I really like this track, the first single from the album, and it does seem Showalter misses the glory days of radio as much as I do...
Remember how it felt to listenThis is a song about hearing that amazing new song that changes your life forever, then glueing yourself to the radio to catch its next play. Except maybe that's something we've lost forever...
Fumbling to press record
Strangest voice I've heard before...
I wanna get it back
I wanna get it back
I'll never get it back I know
So play it, play it loud on the radio
I'm feeling sorry for myself
I'm feeling pretty old
At least I had that song
At least I had that song
On the radio
Friday, 28 April 2017
Four days a week, I get up at six a.m.
Yes, my life is just like Groundhog Day.
Here's ten other early risers...
10. The Lovin' Spoonful - Six O'Clock
John Sebastian finds 6 a.m. to be a very special time.
Nah. Can't say I'm with him on that. Cool oldie though.
9. George Michael - Spinning The Wheel
Listen, George has been stood outside your house since 5 a.m. and by the time 6 rolls around, he's royally pissed off that you're still not home. Great stalker anthem.
I remember the radio station I worked at (along with many others) insisted on playing the dancey remix of this when it was out. The slow, sultry original is far superior.
8. James Yorkston & The Athletes - 6.30 Is Way Too Early
6.30 is just way too earlyThat's a pretty great opening verse, and this song only gets better...
To get up this cold December morning
Though as long as she insists on being the theme to my every single dream
That coffee it is a calling
7. Belle & Sebastian - Come On, Sister
In which Stuart Murdoch gets woken up at 6 by roadworks outside his window. Oh well, he's up now, might as well start mooning over an old girlfriend...
See also Olympic Village, 6am, an instrumental B&S recorded to accompany the Rio games. Not entirely sure why.
6. Stornoway - The End of the Movie
Six a.m. you left me for the last time
On my doorstep blinking in the sunshine
Blamed and framed I'm frozen in the picture
Hanging in the space you left inside me
Climbed upstairs into the final sceneWaiting for the credits to appear
For all the years that I've been starring
Starring in a film with you and leading
Leading with a star I knew but I'm waking up
In a lone beam of light where the dust is dancing
As the music fades
6. Tom Waits - Ol' 55
Tom Waits for no man, not even at 6 a.m. (No, I will never grow tired of that pun.)
And it's six in the morning, gave me no warning; I had to be on my way.I know I won't make many friends by saying this, but I love the Eagles version almost as much as I do Tom's.
Well there's trucks all a-passing me, and the lights are all flashing,
I'm on my way home from your place.
5. Eels - Saturday Morning
The excitement of being a small boy, getting up at 6 a.m. on a Saturday morning with a long, long day ahead... but who's gonna play with me?
4. The Bangles - Manic Monday
Prince. Susannah Hoffs. If you don't love this, check your pulse.
Six o'clock already3. Ben Folds - Brick
I was just in the middle of a dream
I was kissin' Valentino
By a crystal blue Italian stream
But I can't be late
'Cause then I guess I just won't get paid
These are the days
When you wish your bed was already made
The saddest song Ben Folds ever wrote begins at 6 a.m. on the day after Christmas.
2. The Jam - That's Entertainment
Waking up at six a.m. on a cool warm morningThe Jam were really rather good, weren't they?
Opening the windows and breathing in petrol
An amateur band rehearsing in a nearby yard
Watching the telly and thinking about your holidays
1. The Monkees - Daydream Believer
"7A"Davy Jones dreams of the 6 o'clock alarm never ringing... but it does, and when he finally rises, his shaving razor's cold... and it stings.
"What number is this, Chip?"
"OK!, know what I mean, like, don’t get excited man. It’s cause I’m short, I know."
Cheer up, Sleepy Jean!
Which 6 a.m. song would get you out of bed?
Thursday, 27 April 2017
It seems apt that on the day I'm guest-posting over at JC's place, I end up doing a Bonus Post... after all, he's one of the only bloggers I know who sometimes manages two posts in the same day. (Jez is the other one, but he doesn't post every day like JC.)
Anyway, you've probably all seen this meme over on facebook. It's been doing the rounds. I had to have a go, of course, and I thought I'd post my response here in case you wanted to have a guess.
Ten bands/artists I've seen live. One of them is a lie.
By the way, I haven't chosen any of the OBVIOUS acts you all KNOW I've seen live. If this list was made up of Springsteen, Billy Bragg, Elvis Costello, Lloyd Cole, Morrissey et al, it would be far too easy.
1. Depeche Mode
2. Suzanne Vega
3. Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers
4. Guns n Roses
5. Alison Krauss & Union Station
6. Bon Jovi
8. Hayseed Dixie
9. James Brown
10. Nearly Dan (Steely Dan tribute act)
One final clue: 8 of the true ones were really, really good. The ninth really, really wasn't.
2. Suzanne Vega
3. Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers
4. Guns n Roses
5. Alison Krauss & Union Station
6. Bon Jovi
8. Hayseed Dixie
9. James Brown
10. Nearly Dan (Steely Dan tribute act)
One final clue: 8 of the true ones were really, really good. The ninth really, really wasn't.
...instead, I'm over at JC's place, compiling my first Imaginary Compilation Album about The Magnetic Fields. What an honour. Pop over and say hello, why don't you?
Oh, and if you happen to have travelled in the opposite direction thanks to JC, then thank you. Welcome. Pull up a chair, grab your headphones. Stick around if you've got the time. Say hello. You might find something of interest in the last few posts. Honest. I haven't written about Billy Joel in weeks...
Wednesday, 26 April 2017
I love radio.
Or, to be more honest, I love the ideal. The idea of what radio can be...though it rarely is.
I worked in radio for 23 years of my life, but only for the first 4 or 5 was that radio station allowed to be even a fraction of what it could be. I want to write something about that. About my years in radio: the good times and the bad. And about the ideal: what I believe radio could and should be.
I also love songs about radio. A few years back, on the old blog, I had the idea of doing a Top Ten... but I couldn't whittle them down. In the end, I settled on a Top 40, but there were still many great ones I missed out... and many more I've discovered since.
And so, I decided to start a new ongoing feature. This won't be a Top Ten. That funny squiggle, in the title line, just in case you don't know, it's an infinity symbol. Because I reckon I can write about radio songs on and off here forever... and never write about them all. I'll die before I run out... or get bored of blogging, at least. There's always that possibility.
To start, here's three of my favourites. All of them tackle the idea of what radio could and should be... and feature an old DJ who's forced to face the fact, as I was many years ago, that it rarely is. They're also three songs which inspired a short story I wrote some time ago, so I thought I'd include that as well, to mark the beginning of my new infinite feature. I will number these songs as I go along, then we'll all see how long it takes to count to infinity. Oh, and there's a bonus track at the end of the post which seemed fitting.
1. Harry Chapin - W.O.L.D.
2. Mark Germino & The Sluggers - Rex Bob Lowenstein
3. Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers - The Last DJ
The printout from the weather centre comes through at 3.43am, and finally someone has given it a name. Cumulus Letalis. Jesse reads the report like he’s supposed to, like he has every night for twenty-eight years, then he taps the screen that fires off Celine Dion on the playout system and stares out at the stars. Celine Dion! Has it really come to this?
At least they weren’t responding like every other station in town. In fact, the WXYW reaction was as far from that as you could get. Station Manager Steve Carlton had made that quite clear at the Crisis Management Meeting yesterday afternoon.
“If these clouds really spread to Boston, like the weather centre predicts, you can guarantee our competitors will be in full-on panic mode. They’ll have reporters up on the rooftops, man-in-the-street vox-pops, eye-in-the-sky choppers tracking the evacuation effort, everybody from the feds to NASA throwing in their two cents worth… there won’t be a station in town sticking to playlist with a live presenter. There will of course be the ones who go to automation and get the hell out of Dodge…”
“Like we all should be doing,” said Gerry Gerrity, WX’s shit-hot breakfast jock (and A-1 pain in everybody’s ass). He still had his blue-tooth clipped to the side of his temple (he regularly took calls from his agent in the middle of station meetings, and never lowered his voice); Jesse thought he looked like a stapled schlong.
“Well, obviously I can’t force anybody to stay and work,” said Carlton, “but—“
“I’ll do it,” said Jesse. It was the first he’d spoken in a station meeting all year. Maybe that explained the looks he got from around the table. But he’d long since given up caring what any of them thought. You can’t expect to maintain any semblance of self-respect when you’re playing James Blunt for a living.
“If you hate the job so much,” Audrey used to say, “quit!”
“I don’t hate the job,” he told her. “I hate what they’ve turned the job into. A business – this was never supposed to be a business!”
“No? What’s it supposed to be then? A calling?”
Audrey never understood.
“What else am I going to do?” he’d ask her. “What else am I good for after all these years but playing records and talking?” They didn’t even call them records anymore. It was all “tracks” nowadays.
“Tracks is what train runs on,” Jesse used to tell them, but he stopped when they started looking at him like he was their grandpa. These kids they were getting in the station nowadays, they wouldn’t even know a record if they saw it.
At a little after 4.30, Jesse watches the clouds rolling in from the South. From the 57th floor of the WXYW Tower of Power, he can see the whole of the city and beyond. Across the bay as far as World’s End and Quincy. And while they still had clear skies overhead, he knew it’d only be a matter of time. From Florida to Virginia, past Delaware and Philly - up to New York and Jersey. Over the last few days, those lousy clouds had squirmed up the whole of the Eastern seaboard. And once they settled, that was it. Everything went dark. No communications, nobody in or out of any of the cities, no idea what was going on inside. They sent in the army, the Hazmat teams, FEMA… they lost contact with all of them within a few hours. The President declared a state of emergency, but it quickly became apparent the only solution was a complete evacuation, at least until they figured out exactly what they were dealing with. If they ever did. But even with warning, they couldn’t hope to get everybody out of Boston in time, and the highways had been jammed as far as Vermont for 72 hours now.
Of course, there were plenty of theories. Alien invasion. Terrorist attack. The wrath of God. (Though surely God would have taken the West Coast first?) But all the satellites showed was that strange, low-lying cloud. Cumulus Letalis. You didn’t have to be a classical scholar to decipher the Latin.
“At the end of the day, there are going to be thousands – if not tens of thousands - of listeners who either can’t get out of the city in time, or just plain don’t want to leave their homes,” Steve Carlton had told him, in private once the others had gone. “And while everybody else will be fighting it out to provide up-to-the-second disaster reportage… there will be a large proportion of the audience share who simply don’t want to know – who just want to bury their heads in the sand and hope that this all… blows over. Which, after all, it just might just do. That, Jesse, is where WXYW comes in – offering the perfect mix of adult contemporary classics to soothe the fearful spirit... and a steady, reassuring voice to becalm the troubled mind.”
Jesse wouldn’t miss Steve Carlton and all his inconceivable bullshit. His audience research that suggested listeners wanted a friendly, calm, natural, quietly humorous presentation style on the one hand, while the sponsors wanted an upbeat, non-ironic, in-your-face sales patter from their jock-read promo scripts on the other. His song sampling results that involved playing 30 second hooks down the phone to stay-at-home shut-ins, then building an entire playlist around their ability to Name That Tune in 29… rather than letting the experts – people like Jesse – put their heart and soul into selecting the kind of imaginative, entertaining and provocative music choices that had been delivering consistently strong ratings for a good ten, fifteen years before some idiot with a computer and an attitude decided they knew best. Some idiot who didn’t even know the difference between ELO and ELP. Didn’t even care. And people wondered why Jesse had volunteered to stay behind. There was nothing in this job for him anymore… but since Audrey moved out, the job was all he had.
At half past five, Jesse reads out the day’s Mad Mad Mondegreen email. Listener-suggested songs with amusingly misheard lyrics. “We’ve got to insult microwave ovens,” says Brody in Cambridge, from the song, ‘Money For Nothing’, by the immortal Dire Straits. As Jesse fires off the track, the first fingers of dawn unclench over Logan and Fort Dawes, and though the smother of cloud already hugs the streets beneath him, from atop the second tallest building in Boston, Jesse can still see the sunrise, and the stars winking out in the west. It occurs to him now that while below, the unknown is at last being discovered, as long as he remains up here in the studio… the lousy clouds might never even reach him.
He tries the switchboard for an outside line. He has some crazy idea about calling Audrey, doing his best to make some kind of peace. But the phones are down, and his cell has lost its signal. He eats a Twinkie from the vending machine and burns the roof of his mouth with vile black coffee.
At 6.13, the lights go out in the studio and the desk goes dead. A few seconds later, the emergency generator kicks in and Jesse makes a quick apology for the momentary loss of service, before restarting Dido. He turns his face into the sun that’s rising again - over the advancing cloud line this time - and closes his eyes ‘til the lids go transparent. He sneezes when he opens them again, and wipes snotty fingers on the side of his chair. What a pity Gerry Gerrity won’t be following him this morning.
By 7am, Cumulus Letalis has taken all the land Jesse could see, but still the Tower of Power remains above, so far unaffected. He wonders what would happen if he got in the elevator and punched ‘G’. He wonders how many people got out of the city in time, and how many remain below, down in the mystery. He wonders about Steve Carlton and Dana Oxbury, and that cross-eyed guy Mandy from Sponsorship & Promotions. He wonders about Audrey. He wonders about Audrey a lot more than he might have expected to. But as he watches a jet scar the immaculate blue above, he knows it’s far too late for regret. Particularly when the cloud is rising. He could open the studio window and step out across it now… though soon, those same studio windows will be sinking underneath, and only the transmitters will be visible from above.
“One final matter,” Steve Carlton had told him, suddenly unable to meet Jesse’s eyes, like even he knew the bullshit only went so far. “When… I mean, if something should happen, and you’re no longer able to keep broadcasting… I would of course expect you to switch to automation before… well, at the first sign of… aherm…”
But Jesse has his own plan for when that happens, and as the sunlight blinks through the advancing brume, he knows the time has come to put said plans into action.
“And now,” he says, killing David Gray mid-song and really smiling into that mic for the first time in years, “in a change to our regularly scheduled programming… here’s some tunes you won’t hear every day.” He switches off the playout computer and slips in a CD (if the studio still had turntables, he’d have brought vinyl), introducing a few records from his own… personal collection.
“This first one goes out to Audrey, wherever she might be – you always did love The Ramones, honey…”
4. The Ramones - Rock 'n' Roll Radio
4. The Ramones - Rock 'n' Roll Radio