Popular Enough

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(Pictured: Robert Plant and Jimmy Page doing what they do.)

I tweeted a Salon piece the other day titled “10 Classic Rock Songs That Radio Stations Need to Stop Playing Right Now.” Pieces like this are fairly common around the Interwebs, and whenever I click one, I always check on the identity of the author. Every young rock writer does one sooner or later, happily slagging music they have no natural affinity for, as if generating aggrieved comments from olds were a journalistic rite of passage. So give credit to the author of the Salon article, Annie Zaleski, who appears to be in her mid 30s. Even though the headline and subhead sound like they were written by a callow young intern, the substance of her piece is mostly right on.

I could add a few songs to Zaleski’s list:

—“Ramblin’ Man” by the Allman Brothers (replace with “Melissa” or “Blue Sky”)

—“Feel Like Makin’ Love” by Bad Company (replace with “Live for the Music” or “Silver, Blue and Gold”)

—Nearly all singles by Billy Joel, but especially “Movin’ Out,” “Only the Good Die Young,” “Big Shot,” and “Piano Man” (replace with “Stiletto,” “Everybody Has a Dream, “Get it Right the First Time,” and of course, “Sleeping With the Television On”)

—“Old Time Rock and Roll” by Bob Seger (replace it with anything, just as long as you don’t play “Old Time Rock and Roll” anymore)

—“Born to Run” and “Glory Days” by Bruce Springsteen (replace with extreme deep cuts “Thundercrack” from the Tracks box and “Wreck on the Highway” from The River)

—“Just What I Needed” by the Cars (replace with “Dangerous Type” from Candy-O)

—“Wonderful Tonight” by Eric Clapton (see “Old Time Rock and Roll”)

—“All Right Now” by Free (replace with “The Stealer”)

—“Magic Man” by Heart (replace with “Kick It Out,” “Bebe Le Strange,” or even “Dog and Butterfly”)

—“The Load Out/Stay” by Jackson Browne (replace with “You Love the Thunder”)

—Anything you’re tempted to play from Led Zeppelin IV except “Going to California” (replace with “The Rain Song,” “Trampled Under Foot,” and “Boogie With Stu”; if there were a classic-rock station that played “Boogie With Stu” as much as most of them play “Stairway to Heaven,” I’d listen to it all the time)

—“Take It on the Run” and “Can’t Fight This Feeling” by REO Speedwagon (replace with “Golden Country” and the mighty “Say You Love Me or Say Goodnight”)

—“Angie” by the Rolling Stones (replace with “Waiting on a Friend”)

—“Hey Nineteen” by Steely Dan (replace with “Midnight Cruiser”)

—“The Joker” by the Steve Miller Band (replace with “The Stake”)

—“Hold the Line” by Toto (replace with “99”)

Although there’s research to suggest that radio can still be a powerful force for new music discovery, many radio programmers and ownership groups are highly resistant to change. As a result, the songs on Zaleski’s list aren’t going anywhere. And it’s not just programming conservatism. People like those songs. I’ve written about this before: you might wonder why anybody wants or needs to hear “Hotel California” or “Sweet Home Alabama” again, but hundreds of thousands of other people whose relationship with music isn’t strong enough to make them fans of a low-rent blog such as this one like ’em just fine.

Plausibly Related: A reader asked earlier this week why Led Zeppelin’s officially untitled fourth album was in the Top 20 on WLS in April 1976 when it was originally released in November 1971. My strictly anecdotal explanation for this is as follows: although album-rock stations played “Stairway to Heaven” from the very beginning, it wasn’t until the middle of the 70s that Top 40 stations like WLS began playing it, and when they did, it found an entirely new audience. By the spring of 1976, “Stairway” was popular enough among the general run of teenagers to be the prom theme at my high school, and I’m sure we weren’t the only one.

9 thoughts on “Popular Enough

  1. Guy K.

    I never tire of “Just What I Needed,” or most of The Cars’ catalog, but if I never heard “Shake It Up” again, it’d be too soon.
    Regarding Toto, I like “99” also. Can we also replace “Roseanna” with “Make Believe”? Somehow, in 1982-83, “Roseanna” and “Africa” both raced to #1, but in between them, the superior “Make Believe” was released and didn’t even crack the Top 25.

  2. Alvaro Leos

    Another reason to envy 70s radio listeners: you could actually hear 8-minute album cuts on top 40 radio. (Or were stations airing an edited version of the song?)

    1. I have never heard an edited version of “Stairway to Heaven” on the radio, I don’t think, although some stations most likely cut it. Atlantic released a pressing on 45 to radio stations only (not for sale), but with the full eight minutes.

      1. Yah Shure

        jb is correct: Atlantic Records never issued an edited “Stairway” – promo or otherwise – in the U.S. Assuming the purported 12-inch edit in that youtube clip is even legit, it’s neither of American origin nor ’70s vintage (the uploader of the clip states that the record is from 1990.)

        Barred by LZ from issuing “Stairway” as a single, Atlantic did the only thing it could to get it in the hands of deejays as a standalone title: they labeled it a “promotional EP,” then issued it twice, separated by a couple of years.

        I have the second of the two promo EPs (the PR-269 stereo/stereo version, from either late ’74 or early ’75) but never put it in the studio at my college station. Nearly eight minutes @ 45 RPM in stereo = one very low-level cutting to fit it all on one 7-inch side, and cranking it up to reach 100% on the VU meters would have elevated every last tick or pop to lightning-bolt proportions. Add the typical college jock’s penchant for record mauling and that Promotional EP would’ve been reduced to Promotional Crackling Bonfire sound effects before the end of its first day in the studio.

  3. porky

    our two local FM rock stations have “commercial free workdays,” 9A to Noon. That’s when you hear “Golden Country,” full “Layla” and “Light My Fire” etc. BTW on the short “Layla” that edit is brutal!! On Casey show today heard “Fooled Around and Fell in Love” and “Show Me the Way,” two songs whose edits I’ve come to hate.

  4. Yah Shure

    I’d go for Free’s “Wishing Well” and am also firmly in the “Midnight Cruiser” camp.

    My tolerance for shopworn classic rock is extremely low, so avoiding stations that play it means I’m not tired of “Feel Like Making Love”… but only if it’s the promo 45. That instrumental break in the middle of the commercial 45/LP version turns it into an all-day sucker.

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