PUSH BUTTON HEAVEN by Norman Warwick
Is It A Monster? by The Automatic
Listening to Leven by Marc Cohn
You Turn Me On I´m A Radio by Joni Mitchel
Listen To The Radio by Nanci Griffith
Video Killed The Radio Star by The Buggles
Satelite Radio by Steve Earle
That´s Why God Made The Radio by The Beach Boys
Silent Night / Seven O´Clock News by Simon and Garfunkel
Border Radio by Dave Alvin
My love of radio has been a lifelong affair and I have performed over the years, as occasional presenter and guest and avid listener to several national and local BBC stations as well as independent and community radio.
Radio has been my best friend since childhood, even if, in those days, her name was Wireless. Throughout my teen years she became my (only) illicit bed-fellow, though by then she had changed her name to Transistor. I would hide her under my pillow and she would whisper sweet nothings all through the night. I could catch her on 208 medium wave and she would talk to me from (Radio) Luxemburg and sing to me about girlfriends like Carol, (oh, Carol!) Jennifer Eccles and Carrie Anne.
Strangely, though, I best remember snatches of songs played as programme themes. I can recall ‘a happy tune I loved to croon. They called it Sam’s Song’ that introduced the Sam Costa show. He was a popular singer of the British dance band era and was a voice actor for the family favourite radio comedy show Much Binding In The Marsh. He was also a dj for both Radio Luxembourg and the BBC.
This was all in the days of the Light Service and the Home Service and long before Walkmans and DAB and Digital and i pod, and the music would fade in and out indiscriminately and would snap crackle and pop all night long to prepare me for my favourite breakfast cereal.
So welcome to a Sidetracks And Detours playlist that might guide you all across the arts on the radio.
We have a friend here who writes contemporary fiction with clear eye and ear for detail, and has even written for our all across the arts. services in the UK. Born in Scotland, she often visits family there, but after living for years in South Africa she and her husband and daughter settled here on Lanzarote. Obviously, she has stories to tell.
Aileen Hendry loves talking! Her love of conversation sometimes takes her writing in unexpected directions and her penchant for a good natter serves her well, too, in her daytime job as AJ The DJ.
Monster FM radio is the only Lanzarote based station to be broadcasting English speaking programmes, all over Europe. How, then, can we not place What´s That Coming Over the Hill, Is it a Monster, by The Automatic, into a top ten tracks celebrating radio? Aileen´s shows can be found on 93.3 fm or by internet on monsterradio.es or via the Tune in app and can be listened to retrospectively by mixcloud.com Graham1953
Aileen loves a conspiracy theory and could name the thirty men who shot Kennedy. She worries about vapour trails that cross the skies out here suggesting, she says, that we are being watched or worse.
However, a fine singer herself, she recognises a good tune and, being a poet, can identify a good lyric. And that, all over the world and all across the arts, is what radio is all about. Good chat and good music do good programmes make.
My book, Name Check, (soon to be made available for purchase in our merchandise store) explored singers paying tributes in their lyrics to fellow artists.
Walking In Memphis by Mark Cohn squeezed in to the book with its lyrical references to Elvis and W. C Handy, but Cohn also wrote and recorded Listening To Levon, which also fits the criteria of Sidetracks And Detours virtual playlist celebrating ´radio.´
Crescent Community Radio, was for many years the the only such broadcaster in my home town of Rochdale, with a remit to engage with our Asian communities and deliver appropriate programming to encourage social cohesion and improve English speaking. Now Defiant Radio is coming along too, primarily to offer work skills to youngsters who fancy joining the industry. Both these stations are local revenue funded arts organisations.
Cohn’s song is considered to be written about Levon Helm, one time member of Bob Dylan’s buddies, The Band. Last year I read and reviewed a biography of Helm and an autobiography of his colleague Robbie Robertson that told very different stories.
There is a fictional element in Cohn’s song that suggests he was ‘dating’ his girl in the family car, until Levon sang on the radio. Then, unfortunately for at least one of them, everything stopped !
Joni Mitchel rarely seemed to court commercial success, of course, but it found her anyway. You Turn Me On, I’m A Radio was one of her few attempts to write a hit. The song charts here, too, with its reference to djs and frequencies and signals rendering it perfect for celebrating our relationship with radio. The song even included both a dj friendly intro, and a long ‘diamond time’ fade that allowed broadcasters to remind people of the song’s writer / performer, title and availability. The song was the first of Joni’s own recordings to chart in America, though earlier Judy Collins, with her version of Joni’s Both Sides Now, and Crosby, Stills And Nash, with their version of a hippie-pilgrim´s journey to Woodstock, made the US top ten.
You Turn Me On is narrated from a radio’s perspective, explaining the ways it could please its listeners. The signal might not always be clear, (tell me, I live at the foot of Montanna Roja !) but it ‘knows what you want to hear.’ The song is interpreted by some, though, as a metaphor for a person too eager to please.
There are lots of reasons why I ticked all boxes alongside the name of Nanci Griffith as I listened to the debut collection, on a cassette tape given to me by an American song writer I admired and trusted.
It recommended from a reliable source so tick box one. Several superb self or collaboratively penned compositions earned a second tick in the box and the third tick was for a ‘down home girl next door’ singing voice. I put a fourth tick next to her name when I listened between the lines to enjoy her sense of humour, and in doing so found a girl with a literary heart. A final tick was earned by the friends who layed with her on that album, so in demand on the country music scene as to be a recommendation by association. So, a five out of five score just from a degraded, several-times recorded tape.
A few months later I saw her UK live debut, down in London, maybe The Palladium, I think. Make that a six out of five then!
I quickly fell in love with virtually all her first output of songs, including Once In A Very Blue Moon, The Last Of The True Believers and a song that paid homage to her country music predecessors, Emmylou Harris and Loretta Lyn, as Nanci advised us to Listen To The Radio.
Claims made years ago by The Buggles that Video Killed The Radio Star turned out to be not only premature but also, as yet, unfounded. Radio has withstood bombardments from Music T V (MTV) and its many gaudy films designed to prop up songs, sudden advents of Smart tvs which can now offer all the music anyone could handle and then there’s Spotify and other similar services available.
Radio, though, still survives. The BBC broadcasts over 90 regional stations all of which I can access over here on Lanzarote via a Smart telly.
Anyway, video is not corporeal and if we are looking for a real person who might have seriously damaged radio and its listenership, and those who starred on it, then it was a man who once did star on it.
Mike Nesmith, who played the bobble hatted dumb looking one in The Monkees, virtually invented MTV single handed but even the sudden abundance of music on tv with selectable songs accompanied by expensively made, often zany films, could not topple radio.
My Old Friend The Blues, regularly heard in the country and folk music clubs of the UK, was not a track typical of American singer writer Steve Earle. Rather he is known for raucous, guitar-twang songs like Guitar Town and Copperhead Road, and my favourite track of Steve’s is Satellite Radio, in a similar vein to the aforementioned couple. In fact the song reminds me of Rochdale’s relationship with radio. We seemed, when I lived there, to sit geographically on the very peripheries of broadcasting of both BBC Radio Manchester and BBC Radio Lancashire and so in some ways, this song speaks for any geographical area that sits on the vey limits of a broadcasting range.
The song works on several levels. Importantly, the lyric seems to be about a man pondering what other life forms there may be out there in the universe, and how he might make contact with them. At another level this is simply the story of a late night dj in a tiny broadcasting studio wondering if there is anybody listening.
Steve Bewick and I wondered that each week when we presented all across the arts on Crescent Community Radio. Then in came a letter,… from Toronto, ‘at the galaxy’s end, where the stars burn bright, tuning in and turning on.’ They´d picked us up on the internet !
I can pay no higher accolade to radio than that offered by The Beach Boys on their 2012 album. The song That’s Why God Made The Radio was the first Beach Boys song in almost a quarter of a century to feature Brian Wilson on lead vocals. He it was, too, who came up with the title of the song during a conversation about the good old days of listening to radio. Wilson wrote the song with his three other conversationalists; Jim Peterick, Joe Thomas and Larry Millas
The album of the same name entered the USA Billboard charts at number three, the highest ever entry of a Beach Boys album, some forty nine years after their debut album. The accompanying video for the single was created by Focus Creeps, who had previously done innovative work for Arctic Monkeys. The film showed ‘kids from various musical eras all attending the same garage party, thus reflecting radio’s elastic reach.´
The lyrics describe radio as being ‘the soundtrack of falling in love’ and another inspired line talks of radio as ‘push button heaven.’
People all over the world, of all ethnicities, will remember waking up a few years ago to the news of a devastating Tsunami over the Christmas period celebrated by the Christian religion. Of course, that meant a horrible collision between the hymns and carols of the period and the terrible news being shown on our tv screens or reported on our radios.
Just such a juxtaposition had been predicted several years earlier by Simon And Garfunkel with a recording, Silent Night / Seven O’clock News, that combined their (beautiful) singing of Silent Night with a voice-over relating simulated news of disputes and of ‘man’s inhumanity to man.’ The work was startling and terrifyingly effective and when I first heard it I found myself questioning, and reaffirming, my beliefs.
The song appeared on Parsley Sage Rosemary And Thyme which was one of the first dozen or so albums I bought. Its lyrics mention a controversy over the ‘open housing’ segment of the Civil Rights Bill of the period, the death of Lenny Bruce, Martin Luther King’s refusal to cancel a ‘walk’ and then- President Nixon calling voices against the Vietnam war being the greatest weapon working against the US.
It is a brief lyric that, like all great lyrics, tells you a novel in a couple of verses. It tells why radio remains so vital, particularly in small communities, estranged from city life.
Border Radio by Dave Alvin tells of a woman who is home alone, still missing her man years after he has left her, with the radio as her only company. She listens to the music, believing he might be ‘out there’ listening too, and she suddenly hits on the idea of sending a request to the radio presenter to play a song on his programme, for her man.
So far, then, so sweet and sickly but there is to be no happy ending for the radio just keeps on playing, and the request goes unheard. However, it is to be remembered that the narrator’s voice in this song is male. Could it be ‘her man’ is listening after all?
My first memory of this song was of Gary Hall, in the first phase of his solo career after disbanding The Stormkeepers, playing it on his Walkman. I was there at his request to introduce him to Americana music and he introduced me to this absolute gem.
Radio, of course, is not only a musical soundtrack of our lives, but is also a source of news, of gossip, conversation and comedy. Here, living away from my homeland I can now tune in via the internet to BBC local radio stations like BBC Radio Manchester and BBC Radio Lancashire, listen to my old mate Steve Bewick and his Hot Biscuits jazz programme on fcumradio. There are hundreds of commercial stations and some niche market stations, too. The glorious Classic FM and Monster FM Radio are vastly different but suggest somehow that radio is the sound of the world turning !