Radio Love

[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.

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29 Comments

Filed under Ireland, Music

29 responses to “Radio Love

  1. Knowing what radio was like in Ireland in ’73 it is small wonder R.L was so popular.

  2. That’s true, RB. Half and hour of Larry Gogan and half an hour of Ken Stuart per week … that was your lot.

  3. Rainer the cabbie

    I woz there!!! 🙂 😉 🙂

  4. Larry Gogan I don’t know whether to laugh or cry. I was in Ireland in ’73 and saw this “old guy” doing a radio show. Oh well, I thought, he’ll retire soon. Damn me but twenty years, thirty years later he is still at it. Typical of Ireland. Ossified and corrupt (apparently his kids are lined up for his job).

  5. Yes, he goes on for ever … my friends and I used to joke about him back then. His kids couldn’t be lined up for the job, though … doesn’t work like that. Big changes in the past 40 years.

  6. Thanks, Rainer, and good to see you … that’s an absolute classic … Slade at their peak. 🙂 Will listen to the others too.

  7. xueta

    Heard one of his kids got their “big break” at Montrose ‘cos of his Daddy.

  8. helpmaboab

    I never did manage to find out what songs Peter Stuyvesant sang.

  9. I don’t listen to the radio much, x, and wouldn’t even have known he had kids.

    I vaguely remember the PS jingles, hmb … they used to ‘sponsor’ the Top 30 as I recall. It can’t have needed much sponsoring, as it was a rip-off of the BBC chart.

  10. Cymbeline

    I have never been remotely cutting-edge with music (nor much else, come to think of it). Poor old me.

  11. Thanks for that, Sipu. 🙂

    I’ve never been cutting-edge either, Cymbeline, but music has always been very important to me.

    Before pop music it would have been Percy French songs sung in the car, My Fair Lady and John McCormack on the record player, etc.

  12. claire2

    OH what a great post!
    Do you know, this is exactly how I see Radio 1 – it’s my window on the shadowy, eclectic world of pop/rock/r n b/dance as it is now…
    People used to laugh at me on MyT for saying that, but honestly, my crappy car and kitchen radios take me into another world when I’m listening to Jo Whiley or Reggie Yates. You never know what they’re going to come up with next – it could be some unknown teenage songster who sings like a poet, some great dance anthem or some thrashing old rock. It’s unpredictable and lets people like me – with no money for Glastonbury and ipods and what have you -listen to the latest downloads/tunes and get a sense of what’s really going on out there…
    If this were MyT, I’m sure someone would launch some suitable jibe about hanging onto the coat tails of yoof 😉 Not so!

  13. Glad you liked it, Claire. 🙂

    Yes, I just like what I like … old, new, I don’t care. My daughter went to see Pink last weekend … she did the old Four Non-Blondes song ‘What’s Going On?’, so we’ve been singing that a bit since. Three chords; very easy. 🙂

    My son is something of a Bob Marley fanatic, so I get to listen to lot of obscure BM tracks, many of which are brilliant.

  14. claire2

    I’ve always been a bit intense about music, which is strange for a person who has the crappiest/most scratched collection of old CDs on the planet. I was brought up on classical stuff -mostly instrumental; symponies, concertos and piano music – and love that even though I don’t listen to it all the time now. But I find there’s a lot in modern stuff – particularly dance and r n b that I like as well. Basically, I’m not fussy as long as it sort of ‘speaks’ to me.

  15. I would be the same, except that classical music never spoke to me … I tried to get it to, but it wouldn’t. My fault, no doubt, and not its.

    I used to borrow classical tapes when I worked in libraries, and try to get into them, but couldn’t.

  16. claire2

    I was the same until I saw a live orchestra. It was the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic, and they did Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique and some Mendelssohn piano concerto or other. It blew me away and I never saw it/heard it the same after that…
    but you also have to be in right time of your life I think. I don’t listen to it much now at all – apart from little clips on DNMT or You Tube – because I don’t want to right now.

  17. I should have gone to a concert. 😦

  18. claire2

    Well it’s never too late, especially in the summer; there’s loads of stuff I bet, especially in Dublin. I’d check out what’s going on locally for a start 🙂

  19. Yes, I ought to do that. Maybe I will. 🙂

  20. claire2

    Try this…

  21. Thanks, Claire … I’m listening to it now.

    I enjoyed it a lot … very dramatic, passionate and melodic.

    I watched some of the Glastonbury coverage last night with a few glasses of wine … liked The Dead Weather and Scissor Sisters.

  22. claire2

    I was watching Scissor Sisters and Kylie as well; Gorillaz were on night before and I love them. Scissor Sisters are so camp; they’re great. THey remind me, for some reason, of teaching in my old school because they were all the rage then, I suppose.
    Glad you liked the clip. There’s a hell of a story behind that symphony if you google it. I might blog about it some time.
    This is the first Scissor Sisters song I heard – totally untypical of them because it’s not camp. And yes, my voice is actually low enough to sing it 😉

  23. Thanks, Claire … I enjoyed that. Yes, they are a very camp, entertaining band … they remind me of the Bee Gees!

    I like bands that don’t take themselves too seriously.

  24. claire2

    I meant to reply ages ago but my son kept switching computer off…
    I like that song in particular, but all of their stuff is fun to listen to, really.

  25. I’m a bit older than you, but apart from the year you described my youth as well (I started listening to RL in 1968) And her in Norway reception was poor early in the evening so RL stole a lot of my sleep back then.

    Thanks for a great post 🙂

  26. Thanks very much, Ted … I’m glad you liked it, and you’re very welcome to my blog. I think you’re the first Norwegian visitor. 🙂

    I don’t know whether you’ve heard of Andy Irvine …

    https://brendano7.wordpress.com/2010/08/20/andy-and-the-fleadh/

    … when I went to see him recently he sang a funny song about a drunken party in Norway.

    • I spent some time on your blog after reading your RL post and although I’ve never heard of Irvine before, I’ve listen to him on YouTube for the last half hour.

      Thanks for pointing me in his direction, it wont be the last time I listen to him. And drunken parties is not an unknown occurrence around here 🙂

      I’ve subscribed to your blog by the way and I’ll be back soon

  27. Thanks a lot, Ted. I checked out your blog earlier … very impressive. You’re obviously a big music fan.

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