At one time, and even still for some today, the radio served as the primary vehicle for discovering the world of pop music that we continue to love throughout our lives even as our tastes change.
So the Deeper Question this week is: What’s the first pop song on the radio that you remember hearing and loving, and still love today.
Here’s what we said!
This is a frightfully difficult question.
I was never really a Top 40 radio guy. I was not even an alternative radio guy. Or a classic rock radio guy. Or any kind of music radio guy. My parents were squares that listened to CFRB, a Toronto AM radio station whose format was urbane talk radio with some “beautiful music” in the evenings. I didn’t really listen to radio in high school (too nerdy initially; I was a born again Christian the rest of the time). By the time I got out that, I was into current affairs radio (and aren’t all you podcast listeners lucky that happened to me!).
Consequently, I have some kind of a musical missing link. I never had the “I listened to that music on the radio and fell in love with it” experience. The closest I get to that as a teenager is the experience of listening to Spandau Ballet’s “True” in art class in 1984 (I had a very liberal teacher who played music while we practiced our charcoal sketching) and even then it’s not like I went and listened to a Spandau Ballet’s as a result.
That said, there is a song that I do remember listening to on the radio often during drives from Oakville, where I lived, to St. Catharines, where my grandparents lived, on Friday nights when CFRB played easy listening music. This would have been in the mid-to-late 1970s and it’s a song I kind of associate with driving on the Queen Elizabeth Way driving over the Burlington Skyway Bridge into Hamilton. Sunset over the Stelco plant; myself and my sister already in our pyjamas.
I never knew what that song was, but over the years I’d hear snatches of it on jukeboxes or the radio or TV and I’d try desperately to figure out what it was. I remember buying an easy listening complication, just to try and find it in vain. Finally, I was in a cafe and I heard it being played. I asked the guy working there what it was. Thankfully it was on satellite radio, and he could see the name.
It was “Love’s Theme” by the Love Unlimited Orchestra.
Thank you, Barry White.
Those sweet strings and that gorgeous guitar lick always take me back to Friday nights in 1976, driving on a bridge over Burlington Bay on the QEW to Niagara.
Similarly to Graeme, it took me a while to warm to radio. Music was always around the house, and great music at that, but I was the first person in my family to really listen to any pop on the radio. Once I flipped the switch, I went all-in, starting off with now-iconic 90s pop and morphing into an alt rock radio lover for the rest of my teens and 20s.
But when I think back and try to hone in on the pop song that turned me into a radio listener, it has to be Celine Dion’s 1996 sensation, “Because You Loved Me.” I had never heard a voice like hers – SO strong, vibrant, passionate and compassionate all at the same time. The quality and strength of her voice is insane.
Everything about that track just reached out through the radio and took hold of me; in fact, the album it comes from, Falling Into You, became the very first CD I ever bought for myself. Her vocal run at the 3:10 mark leaves me on the floor to this day. Lots of women tried to get to her level and a bunch come close, but Celine will always be the 90s diva of my heart.
For me, it was Johnny Nash’s “I Can See Clearly Now”. This song is inextricably tied to my childhood in one of my earliest and haziest periods when my parents and I lived in my Great Aunt Marge’s house in Willowdale, a suburb of Toronto.
As in Shannon’s house, there was music all over the house during my childhood. But in my case it was the AM radio that was always playing, and it sort of washed over me. I loved many songs I heard then, starting me on the road to a lifetime of loving pop music. But there was something about this song that stood out and endures. I suppose it was probably its shimmering optimism that caught my ear and really made me listen to it.
Maybe too, it was the reggae pulse of it, which was less common in the early 70s on mainstream radio than it is now. Nash was among the first American artists to delve into that style and present it to pop radio listeners in North America. By 1972 when this song came out, he had an established fanbase in Jamaica after spending years collaborating with local musicians there by the end of the 1960s, including with a pre-fame Bob Marley. This song was a product of the island’s cultural influence on him; a lilting and, indeed, sunshiny pop reggae anthem.
But as far as its appeal for me as a child, it was the lyrics and imagery that I could instantly grasp that sold me; the rain has gone, the rainbow I’ve been praying for, a bright, sunshiny day. I say this excepting that I was sure he was singing “I can see all the popsicles in my way”, which makes for a pretty compelling image, right or wrong.
Even now, “I Can See Clearly Now” is one of my favourite songs. There’s just something defiant about how optimistic it is, with some streaks of darkness in the middle-eight that hint that the optimism found in it was hard-won. It’s a happy song, but also one that touches on inner strength, survival, and life-affirming gratitude, too.
What about you, Deeper Cuts fans and faithful readers?
What song do you remember from the earliest era of your childhood?
Tell us all about it in the comments section!