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Sucking in the '70s 

How deep is your love?

Wednesday, Apr 4 2007
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I repeat: All this music was the most commercialized crap the record industry could crank out. And most of it gets played on radios, stereos, iPods and jukeboxes every day, bringing pleasure to millions. But 1978 is even more impressive when you add to the equation what was happening off the Top 40 chart — in punk, new wave, metal, electronica, folk, reggae, rap. Pretty amazing, right? It’s difficult to imagine almost anything from the Top 40 of the past few years enduring for decades to come; sadly, the same goes for the indie scene.

So when record labels today blame illegal downloading for the death of record sales, I gotta raise an eyebrow. And yet I can’t blame record labels alone for sagging musical standards.

The late ’70s was the last moment when American radio was still, by and large, a mom-and-pop industry. Consultants and corporations were already part of the radio landscape, of course, but they couldn’t do nearly as much damage when they were limited to owning a handful of stations. But just a few years after our random, crappy-magical Saturday in ’78, Reagan would usher in the age of radio deregulation, which, in turn, ushered in the era of consolidation. The quality of Top 40 music would never be the same. The truth is, a lot of the artists that made their way onto the Top 40 chart started out on local, boutique stations. (Just for example, Van Halen debuted on a weirdo show on KROQ. Thanks, Rodney!)

click to flip through (4) Gibb it up for the brothers. (Photo by Larry Williams)
  • Gibb it up for the brothers. (Photo by Larry Williams)
     
 

All these outlets were, to some degree, curated by music lovers. All of them would eventually be sold to corporations, who would apply far less rigorous musical standards — and far more rigorous commercial standards — to playlists. Corporate owners would also rely much more heavily on audience testing of music, which measures listeners’ immediate response to a song. Not surprisingly, this kind of testing tends to encourage sounds that are catchy, familiar and accessible — but by no means enduring.

It’s ironic to me that, today, we’d be listening to classic FM radio broadcasts on satellite radio. But what’s even more pathetic is that folks in satellite radio (some of them the very same people who ruined FM radio) are now trying to consolidate satellite too, turning XM and Sirius into the world’s only satellite radio company.

To them I can only say: Paws off my Casey’s Top 40, buckos.

Reach the writer at ksullivan@laweekly.com

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