About a year ago, a neighbor of mine was hanging out and listening to music in my apartment when the subject turned to the incredible ease of finding music in this mp3 age. I was relating that when I started getting into music, there was one source. A beat up clock radio hand-me-down from my parents that all five kids shared. The clock had ceased to function, as did the on/off switch, but my parents, resourceful as they were, had patched it together rather than throw it away. (My Dad installed a new toggle switch and power cord, and my Mom gave it a cosmetic makeover with self-adhesive Contact paper.) I explained to my friend that the radio represented the only means of listening to our own music, and as such was our lifeline to everything "boss." The only problem was, we only had access to a limited choice of music. The looser FM radio format hadn't really arrived yet, so we were weaned on the top hits of the day. It was what it was, and not knowing anything else, we were quite satisfied with what music we did have. But, as I explained to my neighbor, if you liked a particular song, you would have to wait until it was played. That sometimes meant enduring "Sugar, Sugar" (#1 on the weekly playlist in the image above) to get to "Honky Tonk Women" (#3 that week). And it also meant that the radio was on almost constantly. It was, quite literally, the soundtrack to our early adolescent years.
Right at this point in our conversation, my neighbor (who had musical tastes remarkably similar to mine in everything from blues, soul, and reggae to punk rock and afrobeat), ran up to his apartment and brought back an Everclear CD. "Everclear?" I thought, "Geez, I knew we'd have a miscue at some point, but Everclear?!?" As it turns out, he had one particular song in mind. It was "AM Radio," the lyrics of which pretty much mirrored everything that I'd been ranting about. The song starts with L.A. boss radio mainstay KHJ's station ID, then sequeys into a tinny sample from Jean Knight's "Mr. Big Stuff", a groove familiar to anyone who grew up in that era. Right about then it kicks in, and I'm thinking that I can be proven wrong about just about any artist. (I should add here that on this same night, my neighbor told me about the exact moment when his dad's copy of John Coltrane's "A Love Supreme" opened his ears to jazz. So, yeah, he was someone whose taste I implicitly trusted.)
An important marketing tool for "boss radio", was the weekly surveys. The surveys (or hit lists) from that era were invaluable to a young persons rock n' roll education. Before we bought records and had liner notes to dissect, they provided the song titles and artists names, to songs that would feed our nostaglia jones years later. They were handed out at record stores, and other places kids would hang out (i.e. the newly opened Speedee Marts, before the name was changed to "7-Eleven"), and were a size handy enough to keep in your pocket for the duration of the week. One look at them now will tell you why a lot of old farts have pretty varied tastes. One random list, from 1971, includes the Stones, Marvin Gaye, Jerry Reed, the Osmonds, the Doors, Joe Cocker, the Partridge Family, Buddy Miles and a couple even I don't remember, Fuzz and Tin Tin.
It's kind of mind blowing to think back about the era of AM radio and how far things have come: the beginning of the album oriented FM format, the death of 8-track tapes, then the death of vinyl and cassettes, the advent of MTV, CDs, mp3s, and more recently, the resurgence of vinyl. You can now carry around a years worth of "top 30" hits in a doohickey the size of a credit card. But no matter what sort of fancy song-matching software they throw at you, you'll never be able to plug in the Stones and have it respond "You might also like Jerry Reed."
~ NOTE: ALL MEDIA IS HOSTED BY THE BLOGS & SITES NAMED BELOW ~Listen:
Everclear - AM Radio mp3 at Star Maker Machine
History of Boss Radio in San Diego (includes song surveys)Station Surveys (weekly hit lists) for San Diego at ARSA
ASRA (Airheads Radio Survey Archive) (search by city!)
Boss Radio at Wikipedia
Bonus, surprisingly decent, cover:
Everclear - Search & Destroy mp3 at Cover Me