Radar Love

With new songs re-creating the old, listening to music in the car is a beautiful thing.

You're ridin' in my car / I turn on the radio. That's Bruce Springsteen's "Fire," ideally performed by Des'ree and Babyface on Des'ree's 1998 Supernatural. Mm'mm good.

And what station is that radio tuned to? In my car, it's probably The Mountain, owned by loathsome, Republican, octopus-like Clear Channel Communications. I should be ashamed. I am, a little, but what can I do? They play what I like.

We all need our music, never more than on the road. Car radio is music's ideal venue. You've got nothing else to do, and all the buttons are right there so you click around when commercials or bad songs come on. Songs you never heard before and could learn to love, songs you long to hear again, songs that make you want to find the performers and slap them--it's an unending stream of potential treats punctuated by shouting about cars. The yelling doesn't matter, because you're right there, able to detect and obliterate incoming bad sounds before they can bore into your nervous system. Where else in life do you get that sort of editorial power? Anything that interrupts the flow of dreams goes.

This is how fiendishly concocted the semi-contemporary mix on 92.9 is: Since I discovered it, I've felt that pop is improving--and not wholly because of Norah Jones. (May she live forever.)

There are some damn encouraging covers coming out these days. Jones' hypnotic interpretations of "The Nearness of You" and "Cold Cold Heart"--"It's good," says my husband, "but it's not Hank"--are obviously much more than covers. But even a kinda-talented band playing a great old song note-for-note is a pleasure, and usually beats the pants off the same band playing its own desperately simple compositions:

I know who I want to take me home
I know who I want to take me home
I know who I want to take me home
I know who. ...

The Budget ads are more sophisticated than Supersonic. Clearly somebody likes "Closing Time," but I can't see masses of drivers cranking it up in 20 years.

There's so much buried gold in the old stuff. Counting Crows has gotten another run out of "Big Yellow Taxi" (Hail, Joni!), and Pearl Jam hit with "Hide Your Love Away" (All Hail, John!). The airwaves are the better for it. There must be, what, a thousand good songs from the late '60s and '70s lying around. Hundreds, for sure. And, oh, the appetite.

For example. I recently fell hard, very hard, for soundtrack made up of second- and third-tier late-'60s stuff I'd completely forgotten about. The movie was A Walk on the Moon, with Diane Lane and Viggo Mortensen as adulterous, star-crossed lovers at Woodstock; I liked it, too. It's cheesy around the edges, but the actors are terrific, Viggo gets naked in a waterfall(!) and it's got a great feeling for the time. The music does most of the work.

The songs are minor hits by people like The Youngbloods and Dusty Springfield and Jefferson Airplane, and they step out of the past like friendly ghosts. It's not just me; Amazon has two copies of the soundtrack starting at $64.99, and the customer reviews read like conversion narratives: "My 20-year-old daughter loves it as much as I do!!" I seriously thought about asking for the CD for Christmas, but figured that somebody at Sire/Warner Brothers Records will wake up and put it back in print eventually. I'm still figuring.

I had a point here somewhere, but it's swum off into the slosh of recollection and emotion that's music. My left brain must be here somewhere.

Oh, yes. I was going to say that originality is overrated, particularly by the young. More pop acts should dig around in the vast American songbook and see what they can pull out. Pearl Jam has the right idea: Do some Beatles and get rich. (This is only following their good example. They loved "Twist and Shout," so they played it.)

I was born at the end of the baby boom, and speak confidently for my self-indulgent population cohort: We need something to listen to. We need it so bad that we'll tune into corporate evildoers to get it. And since we're too lazy to geek around with downloading, we'll even pay.

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