Episode #10: How 70s Radio Gave Us Boston and Queen...and The Ramones?
“We Will Rock You/We Are the Champions” by Queen (1977)
“I Want to Know What Love Is” by Foreigner (1984)
“More than a Feeling” by Boston (1976)
“FM” by Steely Dan (1978)
“Sheena is a Punk Rocker” by The Ramones (1977)
“Anarchy in the U.K.” by The Sex Pistols (1977)
“Radio Radio” by Elvis Costello and the Attractions (1978)
“Train in Vain” by The Clash (1979)
01:15 Amy begins the show by issuing a reminder that rock music used to be alternative music and that it exists because young (white) people wanted to annoy their parents.
02:30 The majority of people who listen to rock did not listen to punk in its heydey. In fact, more people have probably read about it than listened to it.
03:35 Amy plays an interview with a couple of young women who were outside of the New York club CBGB’s in 1977. They explained that they liked punk because it helped get their frustrations out. They were not specifically frustrated with the 70s, though. They were just bored with their lives.
05:40 The interviewer than talks to members of The Dead Boys, who said that they were frustrated and bored with 70s rock and roll. They commit Gen X blasphemy by saying bad things about Boston and Queen (Boston is an “android" band.) They conclude by announcing that it is 1977 and rock and roll is dead.
07:30 Amy plays “We Will Rock You” and “We are the Champions,” which you have probably heard before, because The Dead Boys thought these songs were “no good.” Hmmm, were they right? Millions would say no but believe it or not, a lot of people thought Queen sucked. They also thought REO Speedwagon, Journey, Foreigner, et. al, sucked. This is what is going to fuel the punk revolution.
11:15 Country music and rock music get very fixated on the so-called authenticity of their genres, which is kind of ridiculous since neither genre is pure. They were also both heavily controlled by FM radio in the 1970s. Check out Episode #2 for more on this.
12:35 FM radio was, at one time, very progressive. Then radio stopped being regional and corporations dictated playlists. Playlists became standardized and now radio stations in cities all across the country play the same “radio friendly” songs all day and night long.
14:00 1980s power ballads were created to lure women into buying rock and roll records and concert tickets. It worked, too. For the heck of it, Amy plays part of “I Want to Know What Love Is” by Foreigner even though it is an 80s song. This gives us a taste of where rock music is headed in the early to mid 1980s.
15:30 Amy discusses Boston and how Boston was not really a band when Tom Scholtz created “More than a Feeling.” He was a Polaroid engineer who obsessed over his demo tapes. He had to put together a band that could recreate the song live to prove that they could do it. Which they did. It is still a very heavily engineered song, which most people could not care at all about. (Boston has sold 75 million records.) Some do, though. Like The Dead Boys.
20:00 There was a formula for bands to get on rock radio in the 1970s. The movie “FM” was bad but the song that Steely Dan wrote for it was good. In fact, it won an Academy Award. Amy suggests watching “WKRP in Cincinnati” instead of “FM.”
23:15 “Sheena is a Punk Rocker” by The Ramones snuck into The Hot 100 in the first week of July in 1977. This is significant because punk rock was rarely heard on the radio.
25:40 Punk has a history before The Ramones, not the least of which was The Velvet Underground. The New York Dolls, The Stooges, Patti Smith, The Talking Heads, and others cite The Velvet Underground as their influence. The New York Dolls could very well be the starting point for NYC punk, though. They were kind of like a trashier David Bowie. The Dolls knew they were good and record execs liked them but didn’t want to put out records by The Dolls if their kids might discover them.
29:00 The Ramones wrote and sang simple songs, but they were not without a message. Amy offers the rather simple theory that The Ramones made music that entertained them and that they thought would entertain others. They were not political. That will not be true of punk rock in the U.K.., which was very political. The U.K. was a mess in the 1970s: Racial tension, high unemployment, and the beginnings of a heroin epidemic were all impacting England at the same time. Working class people were sick of being discriminated against, whereas in America, the white working class is beloved.
33:00 Amy explains how The Sex Pistols offended most of England with their version of “God Save the Queen.” There was no American equivalent to that until NWA’s “Fuck the Police” in 1988.
35:17 Amy plays a part of “Anarchy in the U.K.” by The Sex Pistols, which is a bit aggressive, which is the point. Most Americans do not get the political references but probably do not need to to get the point of the song.
36:36 The Sex Pistols couldn’t get into the U.S. in December 1977, so Elvis Costello took their place on Saturday Night Live on the December 17 broadcast. Costello pissed off Lorne Michaels, the producer and creator of SNL, by playing “Radio Radio,” which tears into corporate radio in the 70s. This gets Costello banned from the show for 12 years.
39:50 The Clash figured out how to get punk on the radio, primarily by making a song that was not punk in “Train in Vain.” Americans bought the album “London Calling” because they liked “Train in Vain” and then were exposed to the more political music on the album. Amy accidentally states that “London Calling” is #8 on the Rolling Stone Top 5 list of albums of all time. That is Top 500. Which is pretty impressive.
SOURCES USED TO CREATE THIS EPISODE
1977 CBGB Punk Rock Interviews. Kino Library. You Tube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9DAWMu1CMKM
Boston. “More Than A Feeling.” Boston. Epic Records. 1976.
Brackett, David. The Pop, Rock, and Soul Reader, 2nd Ed. “Punk: The Sound of Criticism?” p. 361. New York: Oxford University Press. 2009.
The Clash. “Train in Vain.” London Calling. Columbia Records, 1979.
Costello, Elvis. “Radio Radio.” This Year’s Model, Radar Records, 1978.
Foreigner. “I Want to Know What Love Is.” Agent Provocateur, Atlantic Records, 1984.
Kronengold, Charles. “EXCHANGE THEORIES IN DISCO, NEW WAVE, AND ALBUM-ORIENTED ROCK.” Criticism, vol. 50, no. 1, 2008, pp. 43–82. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/23130866.
The Ramones. “Sheena is a Punk Rocker.” Sire Records, 1977.
Robinson, Lisa. “Rebel Nights.” Vanity Fair. February 14, 2014. https://www.vanityfair.com/culture/2002/11/new-york-rock-scene-1970s
The Sex Pistols. “Anarchy in the U.K.” Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols, EMI Records, 1976.
Sommer, Tim. “The Sex Pistols’ ‘Anarchy in the UK’ Is More Relevant Now Than Ever.” The Observer. November 28, 2016. https://observer.com/2016/11/the-sex-pistols-anarchy-in-the-uk-is-more-relevant-now-than-ever/
Steely Dan. “FM.” FM Soundtrack. MCA Records, 1978.
“The Stunt That Got Elvis Costello Banned From Saturday Night Live.” Open Culture. September 27, 2013. http://www.openculture.com/2013/09/the-stunt-that-got-elvis-costello-banned-from-saturday-night-live.html