As soon as I wrote my entry on the ten worst songs on the radio, I knew there would have to be a companion piece about the ten best songs on the radio, but I soon discovered that it is much easier to find ten really bad songs that are almost universally despised, then it is to narrow down a list to just ten songs that make you want to crank up the radio. Outside of the few choices I knew would garnish some negative feedback, most of the songs on the first list were pretty much accepted as really bad music. Although I did have one person defend Who Let the Dogs Out. (Sorry, Meg. You seem to stand alone on this one.) The music we each choose to like as individuals is much more subjective and can be affected by time, place and mood much more than the music that we don’t like. I also discovered that compiling this list was a bit of an eye-opening experience for me. I have always considered myself to have a fairly eclectic range of musical enjoyment, so I had to be very honest with myself, and only pick songs that truly fit the category. I quickly discovered that many of my choices were somewhat mundane and shallow. I am also very surprised by my number one song, but no matter how often I reworked the order in my head, it always came out as number one. There were a lot of songs that could have easily made this list for me, but I was determined to keep it at just ten, and my desire to be honest with myself kept some really great music off this list.
So, with all that in mind I had to set up some rules for myself when compiling this list. The first rule was the most difficult to keep to. The song had to be readily available on major market radio. In the Chicago area, this still gave me a wide range of station choice, but it also eliminated the college or independent music of my past that I would crank up “IF” by chance I ever found it on the radio. The biggest fatality of this rule included anything by the Sex Pistols or the Ramones. It also eliminated one of my favorite songs of all time, the rockabilly tune Someday, Someway by Marshall Crenshaw. His self titled debut album was a mainstay of my college playlist, and a CD copy of it still remains in my car right now. Want to get yourself out of a bad mood, just put this one on and crank the volume. You just can’t sit still.
And that was my second rule. It had to move me, literally. In a recent Entertainment Weekly article, Steven King refers to this as “seat-bopping” and he contends it is his main form of exercise. Since most of my radio play comes while in traffic to and from work, I have adopted this criteria and this workout regiment as a part of this list. The more calories I burn while listening, the better the rating. The final self-imposed rule was that each artist could only appear once. I very quickly discovered that once I came up with a song that qualified for this list, a number of other songs by the same artist or band would flood into my brain. When this happened, I would then pick the one song from that list to best represent that particular band or artist. I will openly admit that this gave some songs a distinct advantage, but it also made the whole process a little easier.
So, strap yourself in and get ready to bop in your seat. This is my list of the top ten radio songs that make me want to crank it up. Once again, this is my personal list, and if you disagree, you are more that welcome to tell me what an idiot you think I am. This is simply my opinion; any similarity to other opinions, real or imagined is purely coincidental. Once again, starting with number ten, they are:
#10 – Still the One – Orleans
Ok, I have to start by saying this was one of my sentimental choices. There is really no good reason for the song to be on the list other than it makes me feel good. I was only 11 years old when this tune first hit the airwaves, and for anyone in the Chicago area back in 1976, that meant listening to WLS. The catchy tune and upbeat tempo made it a great song to listen to in the car. A few years later, the ABC Network picked up the song as their theme for a few season, with the catch phrase being sung by various stars of their hit shows at the time. ABC was killing the other networks with such hits as Happy Days, Laverne & Shirley, Charlie’s Angels, and Three’s Company, and the song was used to emphasize their number one ratings. Unfortunately for the band, it would also be their swan song. Orleans only other top ten hit had been the year before with the slow moving Dance With Me which lacked any of the same spunk that make this song so memorable. And thanks to my re-discovery of WLS, but this time on the FM dial, many of these old classics have become a part of my morning drive again.
#9 – Use Somebody – Kings of Leon
Under any other situation, this song would have played its course by now, but for some reason I still find myself turning it up every time I hear it. It is the only current song on my list, and I find it fascinating that it has come full circle back to WXRT. That was where I first heard the song, and I liked it from the start. As more pop and top ten stations started to pick it up, it became a song the whole family could enjoy. There would never be an argument or complaint from the kids in the back seat as I turned up the volume. I sing along and almost always make a little hop in my seat right as the guitar solo starts. I have a feeling that soon the appeal of this song may start to fade, but similar to Still the One, years from now I will still find myself cranking up the radio when it comes on.
#8 – (What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding – Elvis Costello
This was the one song that I struggled with the most. After already banishing Someday, Someway from the list, I had to include this ultimate rockabilly classic, and thanks to WRXT and the Saturday Morning Flashback I feel justified in keeping it. I will never understand why Elvis never gained a more popular following on the radio, but almost everyone my age can name a dozen of his songs. This one was actually written and originally recorded by Nick Lowe (Cruel to be Kind) who was the producer for Elvis Costello and this version of the song. It may not grace the airwaves as often as some of the other songs on this list, but to make up for it, I turn it up twice as loud.
#7 – Walking On Sunshine – Katrina and the Waves
What can I say. Pure guilty pleasure! And another family favorite. When my niece Hanna was young I used to torment her with a version of this song but singing about walking on Hanna. She would laugh and as soon as I stopped she would be right back asking me to do it again. It is pure ’80’s and just a lot of fun. For those who care to give it a try, this can be a high energy all out dance til you drop song. But I will stick to just car dancing. I wouldn’t want to embarrass my kids too much.
#6 – Kiss You All Over – Exile
Has a single song in history ever been so sweet, yet so dirty? This one would also qualify as a guilty pleasure, but not quite in the same way. Once again, I can thank WLS-FM for re-acquainting me with this song. I hear it at least two or three times a week, and each and every time I crank it up, sing along, and send Maureen a text message to let her know the song is on. One of those little inside jokes that all couples have. I have decided that the next time we are up in Wisconsin on a Friday night, I might just have to check and see if Karaoke Bob over at The Boondocks carries this one. I was actually ready to write Exile off as a one hit wonder, when I discovered something that I did not know. After hitting number one with this song in 1978, Exile released a two more albums with a more disco theme to disastrous results, but the band never broke up. They pushed on through several line-up changes, and re-emerged in the 80’s on the country music charts with a string of ten number one hits between 1984 and 1987. Of these ten songs, I know absolutely none of them, but I will have to ask my sister Amy about it, because she is the resident country music fan in our family.
#5 – Why Can’t This Be Love – Van Halen
This is where that benefit of just one song by a band may have helped the most. This song is basically taking credit for all of the Sammy Hagar sung hits of the late 80’s and early 90’s. It could very easily have been When It’s Love, Right Now or even Best of Both Worlds. Please note that I am only including the post David Lee Roth recordings as part of this ranking, and that is intentional. In 1997 when David Lee Roth rejoined the band, I had the displeasure to attend their concert at the United Center. The night was a disaster in more ways than one. At one point in the concert, Roth actually stopped singing and just said, “I can’t remember the fucking words.” But the band just played on as if nothing had happened. This was a chance for some of the bands older fans to hear the great early songs from before Hagar joined the band performed live. Songs like Running with the Devil and Jamie’s Cryin’ had been missing from their live shows since that time, and this could have been a chance to really wow the fans, both old and new. The lame result soured me to the older songs, but I still find myself turning up the Hagar tracks.
#4 – Spirit of the Radio – Rush
Although I could compile a very long list of Rush songs I would listen to at very high volume, this is the one song that truly fits this list. It stands on its own. The song still makes the rounds on both JACK-FM and WLUP, and in case I haven’t heard it in a while I also have it on a Monsters of Rock CD Molly gave me for my birthday a few years ago. This is actually one of those songs that I get pissed off about if I catch just the end of it. Whatever I was listening to on another station could not have been any better. I am not one of those old Rush fans that would actually attend a concert at this point in my life, although I did get a chance to peek in on them a few years ago at the United Center, but I will take the time to break out some of the old music now and again. 2112 is still a fantastic listen, even if I can’t achieve the same state of mind I did way back when I first bought the album on vinyl. And I would have to believe I am not the only one who thinks Spirit of the Radio needs to be enjoyed cranked up to 11.
#3 – Take Me Home Tonight – Eddie Money
I could have compiled an entire top ten list of Eddie Money songs to crank up, but I will settle on just this one. It would be number one on that list, although Two Tickets to Paradise would be a close number two. The funny thing is I never owned an Eddie Money album. Sure, much later on I picked up the Greatest Hits CD, and that also has a permanent home in my car. Eddie Money was strictly a radio and MTV pleasure. I have never seen him in concert, and although I understand he still makes the rounds of the state fairs and summer festivals, I am not even sure if I would like to see him at this point. His songs still get plenty of air play, and I stop whenever I hear one. With as much airplay as his music continues to receive, I am very surprised by how few of the songs reached the top ten. This was his highest charting hit, peaking at number four. I am sure that sexy walk by Ronnie Spector in the video didn’t hurt.
#2 – I Want You to Want Me – Cheap Trick
Oh for God’s sakes, they were from Rockford, Illinois. And they made one of their biggest splashes Live at Budokan. The studio version of the song was originally on the In Color album, and although it was released as a single in 1977, it never made it to the Billboard Charts. But it was a number one hit in Japan, so when the band recorded their famous live album that next year, the crowd really helped sell the song to the American audience. The live version was re-released in 1979, and the song raced up the charts all the way to number seven. The energy that flows from this song is infectious, and it takes a very large stick in the mud to keep still or not sing along. This is also the only group I really wanted to break my one song limit with, but I will settle for a quick honorable mention for Cheap Trick’s runner-up song, Surrender. Not mentioning it would just seem a little weird.
#1 – Modern Love – David Bowie
This one catches me by surprise every time I hear it. As soon as that opening riff starts, my hand subconsciously moves to the volume knob. It is arguably not even one of Bowie’s best songs, but it is by far the one that most makes me want to dance in my pants. The combination of the fast tempo and the basic simplicity of the song are too much of a temptation. Under Pressure, his duet with Queen could also qualify for this list, but that damn Vanilla Ice thing keeps it from getting any airplay. Modern Love is just one of those songs that plays well in almost any format, so it can still be heard today on a number of stations throughout the Chicago airwaves. And every time I hear it, I burn off about a thousand calories still strapped into my car seat.
Once again, that brings to an end my top ten list. As I said at the beginning, this is a much more subjective list. I hope you enjoyed it, and let me know what song on your radio makes you boogie while driving your car. Consider it my contribution to a thinner America.