Bite the hand that feeds you…

…Go on. Why don’t you? I was listening to a Busted track recently. I’ve always had a soft spot for the band, despite their early teeny-bop-rock stylings. They’ve grown. In particular I’ve been enjoying the track called Radio (2019).

Here we see the British trio jump into a red BMW convertible and drive down an English suburban street. Then the car radio is switched on to deliver a song of jangling guitars (there’s even a solo later on). It’s an evocation of days of youthful innocence: “Those days are gone, and I miss them so/ Good songs on the radio”. It’s a song of regret about a former love. The symbolism links the ex-girlfriend to the way radio just doesn’t sound like it used to. It is a song and associated video which demonstrates a newfound depth to Busted’s work.

So, radio today isn’t as good as it used to be. That’s a highly subjective opinion. The academic Susan J. Douglas, writing in 2004, made the following observation:

“Even very hip pop and rock stars of the 1970s – Elvis Costello, Donna Summer, Queen – sang about radio with a sense of longing. As the fabulous Freddie Mercury put it on Queen’s classic, ‘Radio Ga-Ga’:
I’d sit alone and watch your light/ My only friend through teenage night (sic)/ And everything I had to know/ I heard it on my radio.
“The refrain then summed up the sadness, even a hint of betrayal, that radio had been displaced:
You had your time/ you had the power/ You’ve yet to have your finest hour/ Radio.
(Listening In: Radio and the American Imagination, University of Minnesota Press: Minneapolis, pp. 3-4)

That’s an interesting reference [finest hour] to one of Winston Churchill’s speeches, by the way, and I certainly agree that some sort of nostalgic idea of ‘the radio’ holds a special place in the hearts, minds and memories of a whole generation born just after World War Two. And there’s that ‘sadness and betrayal’ too. I think Roger Taylor (who wrote the words and music) and Freddie Mercury who sang the tune, were expressing how modern media had lost its human touch. To press this thought home the music video [find it at this previous article of mine] takes imagery from Fritz Lang’s 1920s dystopian science-fiction film, Metropolis, with its message of the dehumanisation of modern technology.

So, Busted with a gentle pop-punk wistful glance back at the wireless? Queen with an all-out attack on radio’s banality? But why? Why do musicians want to criticise radio, and how come Busted (I mean, of all the bands you could think of. Why?) stand as the most recent in a long line of musical critics stretching back decades? Why bite the hand that feeds?

For them, song-writing is the palette of criticism. It’s probably inevitable that musicians should want to turn their attention to things around them. Just as songs have been written about touring, about hotels, about life on the road, about being on stage, and about fame (I can put Abba, the Eagles, Canned Heat, AC/DC and Deep Purple in that list – without even trying. Let me know your suggestions…).

Think of it in the same way that the French Nouvelle Vague of film directors started out as critics before settling in behind the camera. How about François Truffaut who was a (sometimes savage) critic and editor of the magazine Cahiers du Cinema? Then consider what I reckon is one of his best films, Day for Night (1973) La Nuit Americaine. Although this English-language dubbed trailer doesn’t do this superb film the justice it deserves:

Go and watch the full film somewhere. You’ll enjoy it. The movie is itself a critique of the film-making process – and asks whether movie-making is more important than the lives of the cast and crew involved in a production.

The same tradition of criticism-by-practitioners is true in the world of books. Many critics have been novelists, and vice versa, including Graham Greene, Jean Paul Sartre, Margaret Atwood, and Umberto Eco.

In a similar manner, musicians and songwriters are exercising their own right to express themselves as critics of music radio, which itself is a principal outlet for the commercialisation of their work. It is only right and proper, therefore, that a sturdy criticism of radio is mounted by writers and artistes who themselves are played out on the airwaves.

And to round this off, how about Busted playing a superb version of a Tom Petty number… live in a radio studio?… in January 2019.

Everything is – it seems – linked together in a web of significances. Do let me know what you think, via the comment box below, and tell me what other tracks you’d like to suggest. And next time you listen to the radio, think about what you’re hearing.

One thought on “Bite the hand that feeds you…

  1. thanks Martin, fascinating, and I love all the links and ‘rabbit holes’… Irene Cara ‘Fame’ is another obvious song…

    Like

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