Summer Songs, Good Times
I am a member of the Generation Fabulous group of midlife bloggers, which runs a monthly bloghop. This month’s topic is “Songs of Summer.”
Did you catch that viral Stephen Colbert dance video to Daft Punk’s hit summer song — “Get Lucky” — a couple of weeks ago? No? Go look at it now and I’ll refrain from asking you which rock you’ve been living under …
Didn’t that make you smile? I first heard that song back in May, when my daughter had it in her head and couldn’t stop singing it. I liked it so much I actually purchased it on my iPhone, because it reminded me of the stuff I used to dance to back in the 1970’s.
I only recently learned that the “Song of Summer” is a thing now, with newspapers, radio and TV shows weighing in on whether this year’s title belongs to “Get Lucky” or Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” — which I guess means the real winner is Pharrell Williams, who had a hand in both those hits.
And to be honest, I don’t really care for the exercise of picking one tune and designating it THE song of the summer (or any season, for that matter) — not when there are so many wonderful recordings to enjoy at any time. How do you pick just one? I can’t — and so I won’t.
This year’s “Get Lucky’s” disco-tastic guitar riff was performed by Nile Rodgers, who practically invented that sound in the 1970s.
Mind you, I was a KMET listener back then — and if you are an Angeleno of a certain age, you know that means that I was not a fan of Nile Rodgers or his band, Chic. You would not find anything by the Bee Gees or KC and the Sunshine Band in my record collection. But if you were looking for a steady stream of Led Zeppelin, The Who, Patti Smith and Bruce Springsteen, I was your woman. (I also spent a lot of time listening to Elton John, Joni Mitchell, Steely Dan and anything Motown.)
In the summer of 1979, I landed a job at Los Angeles radio station KHJ-AM.
Ten years earlier, KHJ had been THE place you dialed to hear the hits — but by the time I got there, the superior quality of the FM signal had spurred a nearly total migration of music programming over to the other band, where a new hard rock “album oriented” format (AOR) took hold. I should know: from the age of 12 until I graduated from high school, KHJ was the only station I listened to. Then I switched over to FM and never looked back… until KHJ hired me to work in their research department.
KHJ was still trying to be relevant with its one-size-fits-all slate of Top 40 hits, as popular music began a rapid fracture into the different micro-formats we see today. It was democratic: Top 40 stations played disco, rock, country, and easy listening — all back to back. The only criteria was that the songs had to make it into the top half of the Billboard Hot 100.
I was part of a team that conducted listener surveys to measure the popularity of the songs we were playing (and some we were thinking of playing). Personal computers were not commonplace yet. Each day that summer, I was given a printout of random telephone numbers to call. If the person on the other end of the call fit our target demographic and was willing to participate, I would play a tape featuring a snippet (usually the hook) from each of about a dozen tunes.
So I spent that summer tethered to a telephone headset and reel-to-reel tape player along with three other individuals, making phone calls and listening to little snippets of hit songs. We conducted those surveys every day, Monday through Friday, for five hours a day, which meant I listened to those tapes a good 30 times or more each shift. It wasn’t a wonderful job in terms of creative challenge or salary — but it was fun, mainly because of the people I worked with. We supported each other. We hung out together. We became friends.
Popular music was going through an interesting phase that year. The charts were still heavy with the wave of dance music in the wake of the “Saturday Night Fever” phenomenon, but there was a backlash popularized by AOR disc jockeys like Chicago’s Steve Dahl. “Disco sucks” was their rallying cry, and I agreed.
But it was already too late. The taste of the music buying public was morphing. The punk rock aesthetic of high energy, less technically perfect production was coming into its own, commercially. The airwaves still carried a lot of dance music, but there was suddenly room for new sounds, too — from acts like Blondie, the Clash, the Pretenders and the Police — as well as a revolutionary little ditty from an act that called itself The Sugarhill Gang. Little did we know when we heard “Rappers Delight” that it would mark the beginning of an entirely new direction in popular music — which is still morphing today.
Hearing these songs makes me smile and you know what? It’s good to hear Nile Rodgers again.
This is a Blog Hop! Read other Summer Song posts by members of Generation Fabulous: