The Beach Boys are going out on tour this year and promoting a new single “That’s Why God Made the Radio”, which from the title alone tells you all you need to know. The song practically writes itself.
Far be it for me to disparage anybody from going out there and making a little coin from their past glories, so I won’t. I’ll only point out that rockers relationship with the radio is not nearly as positive as the BBs like to make it.
The Kinks, “Around the Dial”
One time, radio was used not only to shill for advertisers, but also to break out new acts. A DJ would create the set list, which led, of course, to the record companies attempting to influence them, from free records to payola. In fact, America’s teenager, Dick Clark, was caught in a payola scandal early in his career and survived it better than Alan Freed, the man credited with helping whelp rock and roll.
Over time, the power to determine what would be played moved up the chain of command, to the radio station, and then to the station’s owners. Now, DJs are a thing of the past, except at college stations. And all we’re left with is the Kinks’ looking “Around the Dial” for their favorite DJ “who always played the best records / who never followed any trends.”
Rush, “The Spirit of Radio”
This version is from their Rotterdam tour in 2007, which for some reason features a man in a chicken suit basting roast chickens. But even they have to admit this: “One likes to believe in the freedom of music, / But glittering prizes and endless compromises / Shatter the illusion of integrity.”
Queen, “Radio Ga Ga”
Queen’s “Radio Ga Ga” (the title of which was appropriated by a certain Lady), became a touchstone for the group when they performed it live at Live Aid in 1985. This was the ultimate charity concert. Major stars performed on stages in London and New York (and Phil Collins, then at the height of his solo career, played at both, hopping the Concorde supersonic jet to do so).
But Queen’s performance was especially memorable, not only for Freddy Mercury’s stage presence, but for the sight of 79,000 people clapping in unison, their hands held high, during the chorus. Mass demonstrations led by a messianic figure is frightening, but in this context, it’s hella exhilarating.
It may have not been ”20 Minutes that Changed Music” but it was still a great performance.
Bruce Springsteen, “Radio Nowhere”
For someone who sang “57 Channels (And Nothin’ On)” it should be no surprise that the Boss would follow that with “Radio Nowhere.”
The Clash, “This Is Radio Clash”
Rock’s penchant for rebellion found its expression by The Clash’s “This Is Radio Clash,” which a critic called the first British hip hop song. The version below was the first public performance, on Tom Snyder’s “Tomorrow” show. (To keep this post manageable, I won’t go into the details of this awesome show, else we’ll be here all day.)
Elvis Costello, “Radio, Radio”
When Elvis Costello was an angry young man, he used “Radio, Radio” to point out how the corporations have taken over and is using it “to anesthetize the way that you feel.” In one notorious incident, Costello appeared on “Saturday Night Live” as a last-minute replacement for the Sex Pistols. He wanted to play “Radio, Radio.” NBC, SNL creator Lorne Michaels and his record company ordered him to perform “Less Than Zero.” Recognizing that it was stupid to sing about 1930s British fascist Oswald Mosley to an American audience in 1977, he defied his record label by launching into the song, and then shouting “Stop! Stop! I’m sorry, ladies and gentlemen, there’s no reason to do this song here,” and launching into “Radio, Radio,” a performance the defines “blistering” and “fuck you Lorne Michaels, Columbia Records and NBC.”
As a result, Costello was banned from “SNL” for 12 years, which shows you just what assholes Columbia Records and Loren Michaels can be, because in his protest, Costello creates more publicity for himself and the show than he would have if he behaved like a good boy, and “SNL” gained an undeserved reputation as an edgy “must see” show that it has since happily pissed away.
Vimeo has Elvis’ “Radio Radio” performance. If you want to depress yourself, watch Elvis repeat the stunt when the Beastie Boys played on “SNL’s” 25th anniversary show. Believe me, this is not half as energetic and cool as the original.
BONUS: Culture eats its own. St. Vincent did a “reverse Costello” on Conan O’Brian, which worked since it landed the group a spot on this post, and Weird Al Yankovic pulled this out of his bag of tricks during a concert when his performance of “White and Nerdy” ran into technical troubles.
The Ramones, “Do You Remember Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio?”
What do you get when you mix the Ramones with the Wall of Sound style? We need change and we need it fast before rock becomes just a thing of the past cause lately it all sounds the same to me. In the end, most of the Ramones are dead, and so is most of rock.
(This live version from the Old Grey Whistle Testis more in the Ramones style)
Dire Straits, “Money for Nothing”
This all-star version was performed with Sting, Elton John and Eric Clapton at the Prince’s Trust Concert in 1986.
Wall of Voodoo, “Mexican Radio”
This has nothing to do with the subject at hand, but it’s a bizarre video