What perspective do 35 year olds use when programming 50 year old songs on the radio?
But that’s another story. Mean Street Dealers could play then (and how), and now they are planning a comeback gig, on Friday 8th July at the Asylum in Hockley. Here’s the reunion gig info in more detail. I will dj at the event; I'm really looking forward to it. And that’s started me thinking for this blog post.
Back in the day, I used to have a Sunday night dj residency dj at the long-lost Barbarella’s. 50p in, me on the decks, mainly local bands on the bill, midnight close. Happy days. Incidentally, that weekly gig paid me more than half what I was earning at the time at BRMB for five nights on air… which just goes to show that local radio paid crappy wages then and, so I am reliably informed, still does now.
Of the music I used then, much is still current fodder for today’s Classic Rock stations. Floor fillers came from the likes of Thin Lizzy, Bob Seger, Stones, Zeppelin, Quo, Sabbath, Purple, Skynyrd… you get the drift. But, as most live DJs will attest, when you have a rocking crowd that’s seriously up for it, that’s exactly when you can cut loose with some tasty material. Generally too, that’s what you could do on a Sunday night at Barb’s.
I find it mildly depressing, checking out Classic Rock radio today, that much of this rich, rich repertoire has faded away and been filtered out from what is seen as suitable for airplay. Of course, a lot of material has disappeared into contractual black holes. Someone has the rights to the material and is in dispute with someone else, and so the song fades from view. But other material, I think, is lost to us because it simply is not being championed by the people who programme the output. And maybe that’s because they weren’t around when that stuff first came out.
Of course, each generation uses the music of previous generations in different ways. And, truth be told, I do believe those stations that support Classic Rock in some shape or form – Planet Rock, Radio 2, 6 Music, even Absolute Classic Rock on occasion - are doing a reasonable job. It gets a LOT worse when you listen to Gold stations. For example, if you check out the Motown or Stax/Volt catalogues, you will find Deep Soul treasures beyond compare. But the scant repertoire served up to us on most Gold stations is filtered by cautious programmers who either don’t know or care about the breadth of material on offer, or, fatally, will research each song individually for contemporary audience appeal.
And that’s a problem for Radio with a lot of vintage material. Either you drop back to placing it on a pedestal, and patronisingly - especially with Classical and Jazz - explain the material half to death. But that implies production costs and time that a lot of stations can’t afford. The alternative? Take the timid research-driven route: cut back, trim, and prune… until you’re left with just the old material that new audiences know. No wonder Gold audiences are tanking. No wonder most Gold stations have long since abandoned most of their 60s and 70s material, and are starting to look hard at their early 80s repertoire.
The way forward? Know your music. Love it. Take it out of the box. Treat it as a shared pleasure. That’s what the very best djs do, on radio, online or live.
And that is exactly what I plan to do at the Mean Street Dealers’ gig. Boy, it’s going to be fun. Now, has anyone got a copy of ‘Rolling On’?