The Songs No iPod Should Be Without


I recently found myself thinking…  how did people, before the mp3 player, bring their music with them?  Before the mp3 player, there was the Discman which was really just a CD extension of the Walkman, and before that there was the transistor radio.  Yes it is true, you couldn’t program it with your favorite songs.  However, you could listen to your favorite radio station, radio format or DJ (or even some combination of all three).  And that was pretty damn good.
Elvis Presley made a name for himself on the Louisiana Hayride radio show.  Hank Williams came to prominence on singing live on WSFA in Montgomery Alabama.  He was so good that he was eventually hired him to host his own 15-minute show twice a week.   King Biscuit Time is the longest-running daily American radio broadcast in history. Broadcast each weekday from KFFA in Helena, Arkansas, the program has been associated with the biggest and important blues artists.  In the 50s, WDIA in Memphis based their musical format on that of King Biscuit Time. The station was staffed entirely by African Americans and featured B.B. King as one of its DJs.
While thinking about radio in general, it got me to thinking about this column.  No, not the column as a whole.  But this particular installment of the column.  Hmmm, I thought, the radio.  What are some of the songs specifically about the radio that need to be on a mp3 player?  The following are but a few songs that feature the word “radio” in the title and must be on your personal listening device.

76. Video Killed The Radio Star – The Buggles
It was the first song played on MTV…back when MTV played music.  Yup that what the “M” in MTV stood for – music.  What a telling song.  Looking back on it now, it’s truly amazing how The Buggles saw into the future.  The lyrics can be viewed as a fortune told by a psychic medium – or simply an ode to a time gone by.

I heard you on the wireless back in fifty two
Lying awake intent at tuning in on you
If I was young it didn’t stop you coming through

They took the credit for your second symphony
Rewritten by machine and new technology
And now I understand the problems you can see

Oh-a oh
I met your children
Oh-a oh
What did you tell them?

Video killed the radio star
Video killed the radio star

Pictures came and broke your heart
Oh-a-a-a oh

Wow!  It’s also catchy, danceable and infectious.

Recommended versions can be found on: The Age Of Plastic (Island, 1980) and the various artists compilations: The Best of the 80’s: 20th Century Masters – The Millennium Collection (Hip-O Records, 2000), Just Can’t Get Enough: New Wave Hits Of The ’80s, Vol. 1 (Rhino, 1994) and Like, Omigod! The ’80s Pop Culture Box [Totally] (Rhino, 2002).

77. Do You Remember Rock N Roll Radio – The Ramones
It was produced by Phil Spector.  Yes, I know he’s a murderer.  At the time he was just a crazy musical genius.  He put violins on a Ramones record!!!??!!!????!!!!  At the time, The Ramones were the last band one would expect to have a song featuring a violin.  The song also featured piano, trumpets, saxophones, and a synthesizer.  This was heresy to long-time Ramones fans – until they heard it.  Ya know why?  It worked and it’s become a classic.  So when you ask me why.  That’s why.   And it’s got great, simple and to the point Ramones lyrics:
Rock’n, rock’n’roll radio Let’s go
Rock’n, rock’n’roll radio Let’s go
Rock’n, rock’n’roll radio Let’s go
Rock’n, rock’n’roll radio Let’s go
Do you remember Hullabaloo,
Upbeat, Shindig and Ed Sullivan too?.
Do You Remember Rock’N’Roll radio?
Do You Remember Rock’N’Roll radio?
Do you remember Murray the K,
Alan Freed, and high energy?
It’s the end, the end of the 70’s.
It’s the end, the end of the century.
Do you remember lying in bed with your covers
Pulled up over your head? Radio playin’ so no one can see.
We need change, we need it fast before rock’s just part
Of the past. ‘Cause lately it all sound the same to me.
Oh-oh. Will you remember Jerry Lee,
John Lennon, T. Rex and Ol’ Moulty?
It’s the end, the end of the 70’s.
It’s the end, the end of the century.
The song is so good that it was covered by Kiss for the Ramones tribute album We’re a Happy Family (Sony, 2003) and by Jesse Malin on his 2008 covers album On Your Sleeve (One Little Indian, 2008).
Recommended versions can be found onEnd of The Century (Sire, 1980), Loco Live (Sire, 1991), Greatest Hits Live(Radioactive Records, 1996), We’re Outta Here (Radioactive Records/MCA, 1997) and on the best of collection(s)Ramones Mania (Sire, 1988), Hey! Ho! Let’s Go: Ramones Anthology (Rhino, 1999) and the Weird Tales of The Ramones (Rhino, 2005) boxset.
78. Mexican Radio – Wall of Voodoo
With its processed vocals and mariachi themed video, the song only reached #58 on The Billboard Top 100 in 1983. But if you ask anyone who remembers the early 80’s, this song with its psychobilly beat and funky, funny and fun lyrics will undoubtedly hold a special place in his/her heart.  The lyrics are so over-the-top you can’t help but love ‘em.
I feel a hot wind on my shoulder
And the touch of a world that is older
Turn the switch and check the number
Leave it on when in bed I slumber
I hear the rhythms of the music
I buy the product and never use it
I hear the talking of the DJ
Can’t understand just what does he say?
I’m on a Mexican radio
I’m on a Mexican radio
I dial it in and tune the station
They talk about the U.S. inflation
I understand just a little
No comprende–it’s a riddle
I’m on a Mexican radio
I’m on a Mexican radio
I wish I was in Tijuana
Eating barbequed iguana
I’d take requests on the telephone
I’m on a wavelength far from home
I feel a hot wind on my shoulder
I dial it in from south of the border
I hear the talking of the DJ
Can’t understand just what does he say?
Radio radio…
Recommended versions can be found onCall Of the West (IRS Records, 1983) and on the various artists collections:Living In Oblivion : The 80’s Greatest Hits, Vol. 4 (Capitol, 1994) and Just Can’t Get Enough: New Wave Hits Of The ’80s, Vol. 8 (Rhino, 1994)
79. Radio, Radio – Elvis Costello
Because it actually tears down the commercial (i.e. unimaginative, dull, boring, corporate non-risk taking) radio that is dictated by record labels.  Because it takes these entities to task – and pretty much asks why stations play corporate music, rather than good music.  Check out these lyrics:
I was tuning in the shine on the light night dial
Doing anything my radio advised
With every one of those late night stations
Playing songs bringing tears to my eyes
I was seriously thinking about hiding the receiver
When the switch broke ’cause it’s old
They’re saying things that I can hardly believe
They really think we’re getting out of control
Radio is a sound salvation
Radio is cleaning up the nation
They say you better listen to the voice of reason
But they don’t give you any choice ’cause they think that it’s treason
So you had better do as you are told
You better listen to the radio
Elvis really was an angry young man.
Recommended versions can be found onThis Year’s Model (Columbia, 1978), Live at Hollywood High: The Costello Show (1978,Columbia, reissued in 2010 on Hip-O),  Live at the El Mocambo (originally released as a released only as a Canadian promotional album in 1978 and officially issued on Rykodisc as part of the 2 ½ Years boxset in 1993) and on the best of collections: The Very Best Of Elvis Costello And The Attractions  (Rykodisc, 1994) and The Best of Elvis Costello: The First 10 Years  (Hip-O, 2007).
80. Radio Clash – The Clash
Because it announced itself with the following:
Interrupting all programmes
This is radio clash from pirate satellite
Orbiting your living room, cashing in the bill of rights
Cuban army surplus or refusing all third lights
This is radio clash on pirate satellite
This sound does not subscribe to the international plan
In the psycho shadow of the white right hand
Then that see ghettology as an urban Vietnam
Giving deadly exhibitions of murder by napalm
This is radio clash tearing up the seven veils
This is radio clash please save us, not the whales
This is radio clash underneath a mushroom cloud
This is radio clash, you don’t need that funeral shroud (Why play?)
Because it was well ahead of its time featuring a mix of funk, punk and hip-hop not found at that point on any British band’s recording.  If this song were released in 2012, it would easily be the song of the summer.  It’s over twenty-five years old yet it sounds completely contemporary…  and better than much of what currently passes for radio singles.
Recommended versions can be found onThe Essential Clash (Sony/Legacy, 2003), The Story of the Clash, Volume 1 , (Epic/Legacy, 1988),  Singles Box (Sony/BMG, 2006), The Singles (Epic/Legacy, 1991) and The Clash On Broadway(Epic/Legacy, 1991).  The single was never released on a studio album.
81. Radio Nowhere – Bruce Springsteen
This song asks the question…
This is Radio Nowhere . . . is there anybody alive out there?
So, why is it here?  Because it won two Grammy Awards in 2008.  Because The Boss made reference to so many of his other songs in this rocking number.  Because the song took a line he frequently uses at the beginning of his legendary live performances to whip the crowd into a frenzy (“Is there anybody alive out there?”) and turned it into a prototypical opening number.  Because it’s that good!
Recommended versions can be found onMagic (Columbia, 2007) and Greatest Hits [2009 Wal-Mart Exclusive](Columbia, 2009).
82. AM Radio – Everclear
Why is it here?  Because it embodies everything about listening to the radio for new musical adventures.  Because the song begins with a jingle from (what I am told is LA radio station KHJ) and features a sample of “Mr. Big Stuff.” The song’s lyrics deal with Art Alexakis’ memories of growing up during the 1970s while listening to his favorite AM radio station(s).  Check out these lyrics:
There isn’t any place that I need to go
There isn’t anything that I need to know I did not learn from the radio
Yeah, when things get stupid and I just don’t know where to find my Happy
I listen to the music on the AM Radio
You could hear the music on the AM Radio
You could hear the music on the AM Radio
And because it has the amazing chant of:
We like pop, we like soul, we like rock, but we never liked disco
Recommended versions can be found onSongs from an American Movie, Vol. 1: Learning How to Smile (Capitol, 2000), Return To Santa Monica (Cleopatra, 2101) and on the best of collection Ten Years Gone: The Best of Everclear, 1994-2004  (Capitol, 2004).
And for those of you who might think that there is only one kind of radio, I give you…
83. FM (No Static At All) – Steely Dan
Because almost thirty-five years down the line it’s still a concert staple.  The theme from the 1978 film FM was written by Donald Fagen and Walter Becker wrote and performed the song for the movie which took place at a radio station.  Some say that the movie was the impetus and inspiration for the television series WKRP in Cincinnati which anyone who has ever worked at a radio station know is really a docmentary rather than a satire of the industry.  But I digress.  It is a great song with fantastic lyrics like:
The girls don’t seem to care what’s on
As long as they play till dawn.
Nothing but blues and Elvis
And somebody else’s favorite song.
Give us some funked up music,
She treats you nice.
Feed us some hungry reggae,
She loves you twice.
The girls don’t seem to care tonight
As long as the mood is right.
No static at all,
No static at all,
No static at all.
FM, no static at all.
Recommended versions can be found on: the currently out of print soundtrack to the movie FM (MCA, 1978) and the best of collection(s) Steely Dan: Gold (MCA, 1982), A Decade of Steely Dan (MCA, 1985), Remastered: Then and Now: The Best of Steely Dan (MCA, 1993) and Showbiz Kids: The Steely Dan Story 1972-1980 (MCA, 2000).
And there are so many more.  My next column (September 5) will feature some additional must-haves with the word “radio” in the title.
Hey!  You there.  Yes, you reading this at home, online or on your mobile device.  I really want to hear from you. What are your favorite songs?  What songs would you take to a desert island?  What are your must-have songs? It’s time to show off your musical knowledge.  Send me an e-mail telling me what music you like and why.  I’ll feature your song selection in a future column.  If you have an idea for an entire column based on a theme, send your ideas along.  I want to hear your thoughts.  E-mail me at: [email protected]. Type Can’t Live Without in the Topic. Til next time!
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