The only time I listen to pop music on the radio these days is when I’m driving. I don’t expect much, just something pleasant enough to keep me going with the traffic over the Burrard Street Bridge—something with a good beat, lyrics that are not too idiotic, and a catchy melody. Usually that’s what I get, but a few weeks ago I realized that radio music had gone dead for me. The only thing that kept me from switching over to a CD was one song. They didn’t play it often enough, and I kept waiting for it—the only good song on the radio.
I clearly remember the exact moment when I first got hooked on radio. A song came on with a sound unlike anything I’d ever heard, a song so insanely good that I had to turn up the volume and lean close to the brown Bakelite box in my grandmother’s kitchen. I knew that it was for kids my age in a way that no song had ever been before—Chuck Berry’s “Maybelline.” That’s so many years ago, and I’m still listening, listening for the Zeitgeist.
When the music on the radio goes dead, there’s something wrong in the world. I remember one of the worst years. Watergate, post-Nixon, Gerald Ford in the White House, the fall of Saigon, and I simply could not listen any longer to the music on the radio. Captain & Tennille, Glen Campbell, Freddy Fender, The Eagles, John Denver, The Bee Gees, The Doobie Brothers— Do I need to go on? Janis Ian, The Carpenters, Olivia Newton-John— I was always listening to something, so I slapped Dylan onto my turntable, and early Bowie and vintage Flat and Scruggs, but then, as a Christmas present, a dear friend gave me an album by someone I’d never heard of. I loved the picture on the cover—a young woman in a white shirt, a black jacket slung over her shoulder. Nobody had ever looked quite like that before, so Sally-Ann-cool and stunningly androgynous. Yeah, photographed by Robert Mapplethorpe, the great Patti Smith. She brought music back to life.
When I’m driving home, I know that I’m never going to hear a game-changer like “Horses” on commercial radio. All I want is a small ray of hope, and that’s exactly what I was getting from the only good song. Okay, so what was it? The phrase that stuck in my head was “the dark of the moon.” I Googled it, and all that gave me was the soundtrack to Transformers: The Dark of the Moon, and that sure wasn’t it. A day or so later I heard the song again and listened carefully. Ah, I’d heard it wrong. It was “the dark side of the moon.” Back to Google, and that gave me Pink Floyd. I felt like an idiot. What was I doing chasing a song that any media-savvy teenager could identify in ten seconds and I couldn’t?