Raised On Radio: Gaga For That Sound

by Kevin Burton

   Can’t remember how we got on the topic, but a co-worker was telling me last week how radio was the life blood of his youth.

   Radio was the conveyor belt on which everybody travelled in my day, as in his (he is roughly ten years older than I am, if you can believe that). 

   Radio was the highway you took to get from six to sixteen, sure as I-70 takes you from Columbus to St. Louis and beyond.

   “I got everything from radio,” he said.   

   Because we didn’t have long to chat, he summed up his feelings with two words: “Radio Gaga.”

    Friday I did a post on National Disc Jockey Day. When I wanted to express my love for the jocks, the music and for radio, I could think of no better reference than, “Pilot of the Airwaves” a 1979 song by Charlie Dore.

   That song drops you into the sleep-deprived moment of being a devoted listener of a favorite DJ. After Friday’s post I set out in search of other songs that fit this mold. We’ll get to a couple today, with more to come in the future.

   Radio Gaga is a 1984 song by Queen that reached number 16 on the US Hot 100, but number one in 19 other countries, according to Wikipedia.  The song is also a tribute to radio, but with a different feel.

   The first verse: “I’d sit alone and watch your light. My only friend through teenage nights. And everything I had to know I heard it on my radio” tell the story of many of us. 

   But the sound doesn’t take me back to radio’s heyday or send me headlong into the joy of it all the way Pilot does. 

   The song was written by Queen drummer Roger Taylor and started life as “Radio Caca,” a sharp denunciation of what radio had become by the early 1980s.  The other Queen band members asked Taylor to re-write the song, and he did, this time creating the love song for radio that we know.

   But it comes out more like a wish upon a star, a hope against hope that radio will remain relevant and at least somewhat like we remember it, in the onslaught of video and radio’s own over-commercialization.

   “Radio what’s new? Radio, someone still loves you,” the song pleads.

   It reminds me of being a fan of Muhammed Ali after he got old and sluggish, hoping for the best, but knowing deep down, it wasn’t there anymore. 

   Darius Rucker did a song that like Pilot, lets one live in that joyous radio moment. This is a song, that had I been sighted, I could have lived. 

   His song is simply called “Radio.” It’s a countrified, if not quite country tune.

   So, you remember “I Saw Her Standing There” by the Beatles. Paul McCartney sings “Well she was just seventeen, you know what I mean..”

   Yeah, we all knew what he meant.

   Rucker in his song “Radio” did McCartney one better (no mean feat) by beginning his lyric simply with “seventeen.” 

   Here’s the lyric of an almost adult, with no adult responsibilities: 

   “Seventeen, the only way I had a car
is after I dropped my mama off where she needed to go. Four bald tires, with the ceiling falling and the window stuck.
But the only thing that I cared about was a radio.”

   “We’d turn it on, turn it up to ten.
And everybody would jump on in.

Ridin’ down the highway
Who wants to be the DJ?
I’ll find a spot on the side of the road.
You’ll find somethin’ on the radio
Like a feel-real-good song.
We’ll know it when it comes on.
Didn’t have no money, no place to go
All we needed was a radio.”

   Like a South American kid with a soccer ball, that as long as he has it, drives everything else deep, deep down into insignificance, so we were with our radios.  

   Rucker totally gets it and totally conveys it. This is John Sebastian trying to tell a stranger about rock and roll and succeeding. 

    Rucker sings “Didn’t have no money, no place to go all we needed was a radio,” and you get the brilliance of “No Particular Place To Go,” by Chuck Berry, with all the love directed at radio and music and the joy of making music.

   And if you came up through that radio time as I did, you need no further translation.

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