I picked up two boxed sets from Rhino records recently: Left of the Dial: Dispatches from the '80s Underground, which is a collection of alternative new wave music from the 80s, and No Thanks! The 70s Punk Rebellion, which is a collection of lite jazz tunes adapted from 1960s love songs and played on the vibes.*
I've been listening to them both pretty much nonstop since I bought them (yay for party shuffle) and as a consequence, I've been thinking a lot about the DJs on KROQ who brought me this music when I was a teenager.
I've written before that music is more than just a soundtrack to me, but I'd never realized until recently how important KROQ and its DJs were to me and my friends when we were teens. There was a mystique about that crummy little studio in Pasadena (which eventually became a less crummy studio in Burbank) and the people who came out of our radios and into our lives: Richard Blade, The Poorman, Swedish Egil, Jed the Fish, and Freddie Snakeskin were much more than just voices to us. Without ever knowing it, they guided us through our teens, introduced us to new music, confirmed that Depeche Mode, The Smiths and Squeeze were "totally rad," and kept us company while we were busy being misunderstood by our parents or pining for that person who didn't know we existed. I always wanted to be a DJ on KROQ because I wanted to be one of them -- until I found out that the reality of the radio business is nothing like the idealized version I had in my head at the wise old age of 15.
While I've thought about those DJs, and listened to the music they brought me, I've also thought about radio today, and how sad and disappointing it is. With the rise of those fucking "Jack" stations that have no DJs, and the corporatization of radio, that raw, rebellious, independent streak that ran through the radio of my youth is pretty much gone. I just don't believe that the current crop of shock jocks can replace guys like Rodney Bingenheimer, who the damn kids today can't even hear unless they're up from midnight to 3am on Sundays, and the damn kids today are really missing out on the experience we had when we were the damn kids today.
A great example of that rebellious spirit can be witnessed in this video of Elvis Costello playing Radio, Radio on SNL in 1978. It's an infamous and brilliant performance, and it inspired me to dig out Armed Forces and My Aim is True, and add them to the playlist I started with the box sets.
Which brings me back around to the whole reason I sat down here to write this today: they are really great collections, and if you listened to this stuff at all as a teen and want to hope on the nostalgia train for a midnight trip to musicland, this is one hell of a ticket to punch.
* Not really. It's punk. Durr.