Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Radio Radio - part two, the 1970's and beyond

I started listening to the radio in 1958, when I was six years old, 55 year ago.  Admittedly, I had something of a head-start advantage over other children my age.  My brother and sister are seven and ten years older than me, 13 and 16 years old in '58.  They were glued to their transistor radios and I was fortunate enough to be blanketed in the atomic fallout of those early years of rock & roll.  The first song I remember hearing and falling in love with on the radio was "Peggy Sue" by Buddy Holly & The Crickets, and I love it to this day.

By the time I graduated high school in 1970, top-40 radio was beginning to lose its luster.  The wacky AM DJ patter I'd found so fresh, new & hilarious in 1966 was now starting to sound like what it really was - middle-aged men talking down to teenagers to sell us pimple cream & jeans.  At the same time, "progressive" radio had started its ascendency.  I related in a much earlier blog (a people's history of rock & roll; part one, The Sixties, February 3rd, 2012) how quickly trends turned over in 60's rock & roll: the British Invasion, garage rock, folk-rock, country-rock, heavy-metal and laid-back "confessional" singer-songwriters all happened in five years' time, from 1965 to 1970.

Then, after Woodstock in August 1969, Big Business started to realize, "Hey, look at all these kids with cash, there's money to made here."  I fully admit it, I'm a Baby Boomer, a card-carrying AARP member.  I am part of the generation that helped ruin rock & roll, but it's not my fault, I just followed the radio.  I followed the smooth-talking, enlightened-stoned DJ's as they spun Van Morrison, Leon Russell and Steely Dan tunes, telling us, in essence: "Forget all that crazy, protest Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young "Ohio" revolutionary-stuff, kids, just be laid-back, suck on that bong, and buy some incense at Waterbeds & Stuff.  Do not be metal, be mellow."

I followed "free form/progressive" radio from 1970 - when DJ's had The Power, the power to choose their own music, to program whatever they damn well pleased: to play Sly & The Family Stone followed by Joni Mitchell followed by Mountain - right through to 1975, to the last nail in the coffin of radio: the Lee Abrams years.  Lee Abrams (and his partner Kent Burkhart) pioneered Album Oriented Radio (AOR) - essentially, play only HUGELY popular bands (Fleetwood Mac, Eagles, Moody Blues) and play 'em OVER & OVER & OVER.  Their mantra - "Play only really familiar, well-known songs and nobody will EVER change the station to hear a lesser tune." - worked so hugely well with the stoned masses of mood-ring-wearing/streaking/pet-rock buying 1970's kids that it effectively eliminated the thrill of discovery that had always been a part of The Magic Of Radio to me.  (Plus it made it incredibly simple for the Big Record Companies to milk Big Records - Rumours, Hotel CaliforniaFrampton Comes Alive - for YEARS at a time.  Big rock acts now routinely took two or three years between album releases.  The Beatles recorded and released 12 albums - one of them the double-record White Album - and a fuckload of non-LP 45-rpm singles between 1963 and 1969.  In a comparable six-year period - 1975-1981 - the Buckingham/Nicks-era Fleetwood Mac recorded four records, one of them a live album with virtually no new material, so that hardly counts.)

Eventually AOR radio ground inexorably into the Classic Rock Radio format that still rules the Baby Boomer Airwaves today, 40 years later.  It's the reason punk never happened in America.  Abrams & company were much more interested in purveying the corporate-rock hip easy-listening dentist-office fluff of Journey, Foreigner, Toto and their ilk.  It's the reason my Baby Boomer generation settled into a nice, safe, somnabulistic sonic womb where only Bob Seger, The Allman Brothers and Pink Floyd exist, to waft us to sleep in a warm room where The MC5, The Stooges, The Modern Lovers, The New York Dolls, The Dictators, The Patti Smith Group, The Ramones, Elvis Costello & the Attractions, The Pogues and Joe Strummer & The Mescaleros never existed.

No more power, no more passion; just Bachman-Turner Overdrive's "You Ain't Seen Nothin' Yet" for all eternity.

Go to sleep, my Baby Boomer brethren, go to sleep.

I suppose I should go into the rise of "alternative/modern-rock" radio in the 1990's, when the U.S. economy tanked sufficiently for punk to finally gain in a toehold in America as it had in England in the 70's, but that's a whole 'nother blog for a whole 'nother time.  And satellite radio like XM or Sirius in the 21st century?  You think I'm gonna pay GOOD MONEY to listen to Mumford & Sons and/or The Black Keys?  You better think again, manchinko. 

video appendix to Radio Radio - part two, the 1970's and beyond

inspirational verse;
"Some of my friends sit around every evening and they worry about the times ahead /
But everybody else is overwhelmed by indifference and the promise of an early bed"
- Elvis Costello, 1978

© 2013 Ricki C.

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