[First posted on MyT]
I began to tune in to Radio Luxembourg in the autumn of 1973, at the age of 13. I can’t remember what started me … perhaps a friend told me about it … but every night I would listen to the radio in a spare room in our house in a small town in Ireland. It wasn’t background … I was doing nothing else at the time. I was concentrating on every second of what I heard, and absorbing it all. When I went to bed I would take the radio under the covers, as many others have done, sometimes straining to hear when reception was poor.
I remember some of the DJs … Tony Prince, Kid Jensen, Bob Stewart. I started to write down the Top 30 each Tuesday night, in a big ledger, as it was played. Soon I realized that this chart was not researched at all; it was simply a kind of exaggeration of the BBC chart, with singles rising and falling faster. If a song went straight in at no. 3 in the BBC chart, for example, it was bound to go straight in at no. 1 on Luxembourg. When the new BBC chart was released a day late on account of a bank holiday, the Luxembourg compiler was lost and guessing.
Mainly I remember the music from that autumn, created by an odd mixture of singers and bands, which changed my mind for ever. Many of these artists were never well known, and most of the famous ones happened to have released fairly obscure songs, but of course I didn’t know any of this at the time. It was magical. The glam-rock giants (Slade, The Sweet, Mud, Gary Glitter) were at the top of their arc; Brian Ferry was singing Bob Dylan’s ‘A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall’ in that weird swooping voice, also heard with Roxy Music on ‘Street Life’; Dylan himself was doing ‘Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door’; there was Bowie’s dramatic ‘Sorrow’ and deadpan ‘Laughing Gnome’; a re-release of ‘The Monster Mash’ by Bobby Pickett and the Crypt Kickers, which my friends and I enjoyed imitating at school; Ike and Tina Turner’s ‘Nutbush City Limits’, Gladys Knight and the Pips’ ‘Midnight Train to Georgia’; the Electric Light Orchestra’s ‘Showdown’; Cozy Powell’s ‘Dance with the Devil’; Lennon’s ‘Mind Games’, McCartney’s ‘Helen Wheels’ and Starr’s ‘Photograph’; Rod Stewart’s ‘Oh No Not My Baby’ and, with the Faces, ‘Pool Hall Richard’; Golden Earring’s ‘Radar Love’; the Hollies’ ‘Day that Curly Billy Shot Down Crazy Sam McGhee’; Robert Knight’s ‘Love on a Mountain Top’; Steely Dan’s ‘My Old School’; and what was known as the Sound of Philadelphia – Billy Paul’s ‘Thanks for Saving My Life’, Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes’ ‘Satisfaction Guaranteed’, the Three Degrees’ ‘Dirty Old Man’ and an instrumental called TSOP by MFSB. I was disturbed by the racism described in Stevie Wonder’s ‘Livin’ for the City’ and the Detroit Spinners’ ‘Ghetto Child’, while T-Rex’s ‘Truck on Tyke’ and Eddie Kendricks’ ‘Keep on Truckin’’ made me wonder about the meaning of the verb ‘to truck’; I’d read virtually every book in the public library but hadn’t come across it yet. I started to favour the record shop over the library, and to spend every penny I could acquire on singles.
My mono record player and my radio were holes in the fabric of the world through which another world could squeeze. As Alice Echols has put it, rock and roll was there to turn on the switch in kids’ brains so they’d comprehend that life is rich with possibility. The great thing about the switch is that it’s one-way … once you find out, you never forget.
Thank you, Radio Luxembourg. Snobs of various stripes may have sneered; conservatives might even accuse you of helping to wreck society by letting the genie out of the bottle.
Who cares? I loved you.