Thursday, February 19, 2004

The Phenomenology of Oldies Radio: I tend to forget that it's dynamic, not static. I listened to Norman Knight and Cousin Brucie in their second acts, when the men who spun Buddy Holly the first time were spinning him again for nostalgic boomers. And there are still oldies stations that specialize in the pre-Beatles, doo-wop and rockabilly landscape. But most of them have moved along ("The hits of the 60s, 70s, and 80s!") as time has pushed more music into the flashback bin. This morning I heard The Fixx's "One Thing Leads to Another" on one of those not-quite-classic-rock/not-quite-oldies stations. A full twenty years old, that song -- older than Abbey Road was when I bought it on CD.

The classic-rock genre has pretty much ensured that certain music will never become oldies-radio fodder. But much of the stuff we grew up on seems tailored to the kind of nostalgia that Cousin Brucie peddled: Madonna, Duran Duran, Culture Club. Evocative of a time, truly, but not destined to end up next to Who's Next in the heavy rotation bin. And then there is the one-hit-wonder file, which Lileks was trolling last week:

And now because the 80s deities are smiling on me: the best song of the era, by my lights. "What Do All the People Know," the Monroes, 1983. It came along at one of those moments you experience once and spend your life remembering. Not first love; not first glories, not first anything, for that matter. No, it's a moment when everything you've known before combines again at a perfect time . . . I had no idea that 21 years later this song would come up on my digital jukebox shuffle play, and that I'd stand to air-guitar the chorus, and in doing so I would unplug the headphones, which meant I would have to get on my hands and knees to replace the plug, and that my spouse would come upstairs at that moment and catch me in that inglorious position.
Wow. "What Do All the People Know?" I still have that puppy on (wait for it) a 45. I've heard that it's a pretty valuable record.

One of these days there will be a station that specializes in 80s pop-nostalgia. And I will be the program director. Or, more likely, I'll be writing dunning letters to the program director.

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