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Radio, Radio

Radio, Radio

Where would popular music be without the Radio? "Radio Nowhere" that's where. Okay, anytime I can work a Bruce Springsteen song into a sentence it's a good day! Radio has always been a critical part of the world's infrastructure and was the foundation of international communication. During emergencies, wartime or bad weather Radio has been there for us all. With a worldwide pandemic Radio has once again proven a vital link to keep us informed and entertained. Be it talk radio, news radio or any other type of programming, local radio in particular has never been more important than it is now. We rely on it to know what's going on in our neighbourhoods, which stores are open, will it be sunny or cloudy or just to hear a friendly and familiar voice. I grew up listening to talk, sports (Go Knights!) and music radio quite a bit, I still do and it most definitely influenced my love of music a great deal. 

There are many songs with "Radio" in the title, and of course the band Radiohead named themselves after the 'radio' song by The Talking Heads. How about Human Radio with "Me & Elvis", or maybe Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta, ever hear of the song "Radio Ga Ga" by Queen?  Not to mention all the songs that reference radio in the lyrics. So the musicians and songwriters know about the importance of radio. One of the beauties of listening to the radio is that it's one of the few ways where you can actually multitask. A person can get a lot of things done around the house while listening to your favorite program or songs. I know I do, and the term "a lot" for me personally is relative, as maybe it's just my morning coffee or more ambitiously, while I am preparing meals. And once upon a time when I was in the car (which lately is not so often).

"Radio Radio" was written by Elvis Costello and performed by Elvis Costello and The Attractions. This song gained notoriety after a performance on SNL December 17, 1977 which predates the record release that didn't come out until May of 1978. Costello was actually a fill-in for the Sex Pistols who could not appear due to a scheduling conflict. Costello was directed to perform the bands latest UK single "Less Than Zero" by Columbia Records and as agreed with the Saturday Night Live show runners, and being a homer; as an aside, that mainly included two Canadians, Producer Lorne Michaels (the shows creator) and the Music Director, Howard Shore who were also childhood friends. If you watch the SNL clip the band starts playing and then stops after a few bars and Costello (à la Jimi Hendrix) says "...there's no reason to play this song here" and they do "Radio Radio". There is a much longer story but the end result of not following directions/orders is, it got Costello banned from SNL for 20 years and significantly contributed to his new wave/punk-like bad boy image. As to the  song "Radio Radio" itself, he started it years earlier as an ode to Radio but it ended up as an anti-commercialization/anti-establishment song. Which incidentally (as I had previously thought) had nothing to do with the ban itself but may have had a lot to do with why Costello chose it over "Less than Zero" which in content was heavily UK oriented.  In a strange coincidence or as a result of this songs influence I'm not sure but a flurry of "Radio" inspired songs would follow and I list some of them below. A great cover by the way from Sum 41 (2016).

"The Spirit of Radio" (above picture), music by Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson and as were almost all their Lyrics, written by the late Neil Peart. Rush released this song as a promo late in 1979 and on a single in 1980 and then the album Permanent Waves.  Inspired by the Brampton Ontario radio station CFNY-FM's slogan, "The Spirit of Radio" is now a rock classic listed on Rolling Stone Magazine's 'The 500 Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll' and inducted into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame along with four other Rush songs.

"This is Radio Clash" (1981) by The Clash is another anti-establishment and protest song. The Clash use the concept of broadcasting their own radio station to get their political message across.

"Radio Free Europe" (1981) by R.E.M. is on Rolling Stone Magazine's list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. I actually don't know if anyone understands what the song is really about but it's a great song! An awful live cover from the otherwise decent band 'The Replacements' (1984)

"On Your Radio" written and performed by Joe Jackson, it was released in 1979 on the Album 'I'm Your Man'. It seems to be the second 'radio' song also coming from the UK. I mentioned Jackson in my last post and referenced his past experience with being bullied. This song is a pretty direct message to those past bullies, "Tough kids don't stop trying, To kick me to the ground". His message is "Don't you know you can't get near me. You can only hope to hear me on your radio". A brilliant song that many, myself included can relate too.


"Video Killed the Radio Star" as recorded by The Buggles is chronologically by release date,  the next 'radio' song after Joe Jacksons "On Your Radio" and once again from the UK. Written by Trevor Horn and Bruce Woolley with a 'shared' credit going to Geoff Downes. It's a song with a very interesting history. The Buggles did not really exist before this song, so without Bruce Woolley, Trevor Horn and Geoff Downes started working together as a duo. They created a band whose name was a parody of the Beatles, an image that was influenced by Elvis Costello/Elton John and an original music video that would set off an explosion in the industry. It was the first music video shown on MTV. While it only reached #40 on the US charts it was a huge international hit reaching #1 in 16 countries and selling over a million copies in France alone. Recorded concurrently but with a later release was a version by the other songwriter, Bruce Woolley, who had gotten a solo record deal and made the song as "Bruce Woolley and The Camera Club". While the Wooley version was great (and preferred by myself and others) it kinda got lost due to the success of the Buggles version. Don't feel bad for Bruce, he still gets royalty cheques I'm sure.  Despite the grim outlook of the songs storyline (and the one hit wonder Buggles), Radio still lives on, of course maybe there will be a new song, Streaming Killed the Video Star...

Perhaps you have your own favorite 'radio' song, for me near the top is "Radar Love" by Golden Earring from 1973. "...And the radio played that forgotten song
Brenda Lee's comin' on strong" this is also the ultimate 'driving song' which got me through many a late night road trip. 

Here are some other 'radio' songs with a mention of the radio in the lyrics such as; Van Morrison loves to do in many of his songs like "Caravan" (Turn up your radio) or "Domino" (Hey Mr. DJ, I just want to hear some rhythm and blues music, On the radio), also "Far Away Eyes" by The Rolling Stones, "Around the Dial" by The Kinks and "FM" by Steely Dan.

A representative but very incomplete list of 'radio' titled songs:
"Turn Me on I'm a Radio", Joni Mitchell
"Radio Silence" Thomas Dolby (who played keyboards with Bruce Woolley)
"Radio Ethiopia" Patti Smith
"I'm Your Radio" Nilson
"Guerilla Radio" Rage Against The Machine
"Satellite Radio" Steve Earle
"Radio Spot" Long John Baldry, well not so much a song really
"Radio Play" John Lennon/Yoko Ono (mercifully shorter pt.2) and no not a song
"Listen To The Radio" Don Williams
"Radio" Darius Rucker
"Radio" The Corrs
"Turn on Your Radio" Roger McGuinn and Chris Hillman (The Byrds)
"Turn Your Radio On" Wanda Jackson
"Radio Girl" Marshall Crenshaw
and last but not least the lovely voice of Regina Spektor - "On The Radio"

Speaking of being on the radio I am scheduled to be on Mike Stubbs program London Live on AM980 at 2:40 p.m. E.S.T. today, Thursday April 9 to talk about this blog.

edit: major oversight on my list "Yesterday Once More" by the 'Carpenters'. 


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