Lots of songs reference radio, probably because artists think we’ll play them.

Here is a collection of the most gratuitous wireless loving tunes. And one not-at-all affectionate take on TV.

The Clunker

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Radio/The Corrs (#18, 1999)

The role of radio in this bleaty commemoration of a failed relationship is fairly tangential, frankly. The rhymes are sub-Des’ree with lots of ‘bed’s vs ‘heads’, and two separate lazy mentions of dreams.

She has a “full glass and an empty heart”, but makes a fundamental mistake when she listens to the radio. If she just retuned to Radio 4, there may have been an edition of In Our Time or a tedious afternoon play to “occupy her mind”. If you will listen to Magic, then there’s no escaping the songs “we used to know”, love, consequently reminding you of your ex-fella. FAIL.

Not helped by the fact that the Corrs by this point were well past their ‘Runaway’ prime, beyond even the 12-singles-off-the-album Talk on Corners, and were clearly phoning it in, even covering Fleetwood Mac than bothering writing anything. And as for the performance, watch them go through the motions here. She sings “Listen to to radio” with all the passion you might muster for going to the post office or emptying the dishwasher.

Presenter Worship 

Our second category is where the presenter is the star.

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Pilot of the Airwaves/Charlie Dore (#66, 1979)

The last song played on one of Caroline’s incarnations, and the first played on Crawley’s mighty Radio Mercury, this is more like it. Charlie’s enthusiasm is almost at ‘Play Misty For Me’ levels. But she displays a pragmatic understanding of the power of the DJ, hoping he’ll “do his best” to play her song. And of course, in all songs the DJ is always a bloke. Sorry, Sound Women.

I suspect she’s also been a victim of the inverse ratio between how hot a DJ sounds, and, in the year 15BF (before Facebook), how he looks on his DJ Postcard. As  she puts it, “Ooooh, I don’t need to see your face”.

Strange how many songs about our beloved medium concentrate not on breakfast where we put in all the effort, but after dark listening. In Charlie’s world, we “make the night time race.”

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W.O.L.D./Harry Chapin (#34, 1974)

Clearly Harry Chapin was a thoroughly nice bloke and a total genius, who was horribly killed, way too early. He makes our list for this blisteringly good song that’s as true today as it was thirty years ago. It’s also the only first-person presenter-perspective song I know.

Eight years after splitting up, our “feeling all of forty-five, going on fifteen” hero calls his ex-missus to ask her to take him back, now his career is tanking, maybe start that record store (the only bit that really dates it). He used to a be an FM jock, but ‘they liked the younger sound’ and let him go after he hit the booze, and ended up doing a late night show, before drifting to small market after small market. We all know one or two jocks like that …

There’s an economy about these lyrics – “that’s how this business goes” – and some clever tricks like the jingle-esque backing singers singing W.O.L.D! that sum up this bitter-sweet tale. As each chorus soars, it mirrors the way jocks have to check in their pain at the door – “right, tits and teeth,” as one of my friends always says – before going on the air.

Joyous.

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Rex Bob Lowenstein/Mark Germino (1990, not a hit, ironically)

Such a bargain basement 1990s W.O.L.D. Our hero gets a name and a personality disorder. This time he’s “47, going on 16” in what I like to think of as a tribute rather than a rip-off of the earlier song.

Rather than a Chapin-esque tale about his failed relationships and career, Rex is raging against the machine, the machine being Selector. We all know how that one ended. Sadly we all know a Rex Bob too, but maybe not one as ‘tightly wound’.

I like to think of an anglicised equivalent, staging a lock-in at a 1990s Plymouth Sound, rather than talking to “truckers on the interstate”, he’d be chatting to “caravanners on the A38.” Until Devon Constabulary tasered him.

What both tunes cleverly play on, are the call letters of the stations. Chapin’s unnamed jock works on WOLD, and OLD is what he is becoming. Rex Bob does drive time on WANT, allowing Germino to spell out that he knows “what the people double-yah, ay, en, tee.”

Of course, all 1990s jocks loved this one, as they also believed their music choice was better than the research. (Nowadays, of course, the “man in a pinstriped suit” is from Global and unless Rex lucks out and gets regional Heart Breakfast alongside a girl without a surname, he’d be replaced by a computer in a cupboard. God only knows what he’d do to the studio after THAT conversation.)

Songs about the Science

It’s easy to forget how amazing this thing we work in is. We sit in a small fabric-covered box and stuff we say and play is enjoyed (or heard, at least) by people anywhere in the world. Yay, radio! These two talk about radio’s everyday magic.

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Atmospherics (Listen to the Radio)/Tom Robinson (#39, 1983)

Nowadays Tom Robinson is as known for presenting radio as being played on radio. This was from “Hope & Glory,” the follow-up single to “War Baby.” Much of this song appears to be about a daily routine in what I always thought of as an Eastern European city – the sense of scurrying around in the video, “show your papers, be polite.” Robinson had been living in East Berlin for a while too. But Onkel Pö is a music venue, Wiki tells me, in Hamburg, so what do I know?

There’s actually a lovely blog about this song here, but it’s in my list for the one section where Tom (or maybe Peter Gabriel, who co-wrote it) describes the science of radio in such artistic language. “Atmospherics after dark, noise and voices from the past, across the dial from Moscow to Cologne. Interference in the night, thousand miles on either side. Stations fading into the unknown.”

Oh, and the video is bonkers.

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FM (No Static At All)/Steely Dan (#49, 1978)

This whole shebang should really appear in my other blog about terrible approximations of radio in dramaThis trailer sums it up. All wacky DJs turning up in the studio with seconds to spare, getting head under the desk, and high on weed. Lincs FM, it ain’t.

But Steely Dan are clearly gods of rock, and it’s an interesting moment in time when everyone thought FM was the end game. There aren’t many lyrics, and those there are mainly suggest ways that music will get girls to do things with you. “Give her some funked up music, she treats you nice. Feed her some hungry reggae, she’ll love you twice,” indeed.

And you could do that with what in those days would have been called a record player. But it’s the titular chorus that gets this one on the list. So, who’s up for a remake? DAB (as bubbly as hell).

The Cheese Counter

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Wired for Sound/Cliff Richard (#4, 1981)

It’s the 80s, kids! That means we’re living in the future. Cliff’s got his leather pants on and he’s strapped a throbbing Walkman to his belt. It may be overcast but he’s got his (car) top off and insisting size doesn’t matter (when it comes to speakers.) He’s off to Milton Keynes shopping centre with some multicoloured Lycra-clad buddies for some hi-tech roller-skating. If he tried it today, some health and safety knob in hi-viz would soon put a stop to it.

We’ve got B.A. Robertson to thank for lyrics like “into the car, go to work I’m cruisin’, I never think that I’ll blow all my fuses, Traffic flows … into the breakfast show.” But did you ever try listening to FM/AM on a Walkman? Not sure ecstatic is the adjective I’d use …

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Hi Fidelity/The Kids from Fame (#1, 1982)

Every Thursday night in the early eighties this lot high-kicked their way onto BBC1. In this massive number one song, Bruno discovers the synthesiser about 9 years after Kraftwerk and shows us why he usually wasn’t allowed to sing. Thankfully, Valerie Landsburg is on hand with a supreme key change as required. This video is notable also for Danny’s inability to mime-guitar and at 1.53 for the incredibly macho performance by a hot-panted Chuckle Brother who appears to have roller-skated in from a Village People video on the stage next door.

That’s obviously the version from the TV show. For completeness, (and no, I can’t believe I care so much either), here‘s the single edit in which new lyrics join the middle eight – “is it real or is it synthesised?”

Hi Fidelity. Hi! We missed you.

The Fantastic Four

Our final selection get it. They understand why intimacy, power and connection make ours the best medium, and throw in a healthy bit of nostalgia and sentiment.

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I Love My Radio/Taffy (#6, 1987)

My favourite, probably apocryphal, story about this song is that Radio 1 so so influential back then that Taffy recorded two versions of the lyric ‘the DJ after midnight’. At the time, Britain’s Favourite, Radio 1, closed down at midnight, so their version was duly re-recorded as ‘the DJ UP TO Midnight’.

This is like a crazed, updated, Charlie Dore, who’s been schooled in English by Yoda. All the words are there but not necessarily in the right order. “And now the radio is my mind’s new video. Because your memories are revived there only so. And now the radio is a film of my life’s show,” so at least she gets that the pictures are always better on the radio.

It’s also notable for the video. “A video? They want a video?! Ok we’ll send her to lip sync the bloody thing down the car races, cut in some pics of a hand caressing a knob, a few old radios and tape machines, some nasty 1987 Quantel effects, jobs a good ‘un.”

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Turn the Radio Up/Eric Carmen (#98, 1988)

The only body part preposterously larger than the gratuitous beach blonde’s breasts in the opening shot of this, is Eric Carmen’s Farrah Fawcett mane. No finer voice than legendary US rock DJ Kid Leo introduces the song in which lion-headed Carmen is out cruising.

This being America, he’s not in roller skates in Buckinghamshire like Cliff was, oh no. He’s in one of those classic cars like off the movies and “the city’s the colour of flame in the midsummer heat. Oh yeah.” No-one ever said that about Milton Keynes.

The unnamed radio station he’s listening to pleasingly keeps playing songs that put Carmen and his bay-bee in the mood for lurve, hence the act of turning the radio up ‘make me lose control.’ I hope he pulled over first.

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Radio Ga Ga/Queen (#2, 1984)

It credits two massive radio moments, it inspired Lady Gaga’s stage name and it’s given lazy local newspaper journalists a headline about anything vaguely ‘zany’ happening on 106.7. Gasworks FM ever since.

“Through wars of worlds, invaded by Mars,” references Orson Welles’s infamous radio play and “you’ve yet to have your finest hour” is a Churchill nod from WWII. Queen had to clear use of the film Metropolis with the rights holder – at the time, the communist state of East Germany. It’s even got a vocoder in it. By then the only other person in the world with one of those was Steve England.

So thank you Roger Taylor for your love letter to all of us, your “only friend, through teenage years.” “Let’s hope you never leave old friend. Like all good things on you we depend,” sang Freddie, but according to our final song, the war was already over.

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Video Killed the Radio Star/The Buggles (#1, 1979)

“And now we meet in an abandoned studio. We hear the playback and it seems so long ago. And you remember the jingles used to go …”

I’ve been in a few abandoned studios recently, and that line always comes into my head. There’s something incredibly sad about a silent, decomissioned studio, where bands once played, records were cued up, and guests were interviewed.

The granddaddy of them all. From our ‘songs about radio’ checklist, it has them all. The star cut down in his prime. References to jingles, rewind, and studios. It is nostalgic but hopeful. Television is the enemy. And there’s no better way to get radio people on side than that.

The brilliant Thomas Dolby has a hand in it, and behind the ridiculous glasses, of course, was Trevor Horn who went on to make many of the songs that kept radio very much alive in the coming decade.

And one about telly …

Love how radio songs are affectionate. And this … kinda isn’t.   

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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