Friday, September 11, 2009

All Hits, All The Time

Last weekend driving home from the airport I was happy happy happy for two reasons, first of all because I was back on the ground and driving in the middle lane of the 400, instead of in a plane 42127 feet high going 407 km an hour, and second of all I was listening to signals from the immense universe of Toronto-and-area commercial radio. I love commercial radio – unlike most of the rest of the civilized population, at least to hear them talk.
I found this station called the Giant. What exactly is wrong with all the greatest hits all the time? Most of the commercials aren’t that bad anyway, and if I got one I didn’t like, well, the next song was only a push of the seek button away. Hey, who said adults can’t be hyper and have a short attention span? Who do you think created the Much Music Generation?
Every time the CBC gets too precious, giddy or arcane ( read: boring people talking or unfunny humour) I just mutter with a shake of the head, “Our tax dollars at work.”
I have such great memories of AM radio while growing up. How did the hits become greatest hits? Because we listened to them day and night until the batteries in the transistor radio gave out. Then 15 years later in Toronto, the same thing. When my son was in middle school, there was AM640, which in those days had a great pop hits format and a dinner-hour countdown that we rarely missed. We heard Salt n Pepa talkin’ about sex, Corey Hart, Dream Warriors, Milli Vanilli, LL Cool J, and more (know what his initial stand for?).
But then, cruising north and by now on Highway 11, I started listening to Vinyl Tap. Randy Bachman, a genuine greatest hitmaker, had the most amazing show. It was called, “From Demo to Hit,” and looked at the history of several big songs and how they had evolved. There was Hound Dog, performed by two black blues singers before The King got to it. He also had a recording of The Beatles at a lunch break talking over Paul McCartney who was at the piano figuring out The Long and Winding Road. This brought tears to both Bachman and me. There was a story about the writing of These Eyes featuring Burton Cummings’ granny. And to top it all off, a version of These Eyes by my all time favourite Motown group, Junior Walker and The All Stars. I was forced to reconsider the use of my tax dollars to support public radio.
OK, I’ll give you your Shelagh Rogers and your Quarks, just give me my DNTO and Vinyl Tap…** Ladies Love Cool James

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