(Above: Before the Internet, it’s how we looked for work.)
Once upon a time, even DJs read the paper. And that paper was Radio & Records. R&R, as we called it, was a paper that served as the journal for both the radio and the music industries. It was where you read about program directors getting hired at big stations. It was where jocks looked for work, assuming the station manager didn’t remove the want ads from the issues (which happened at at least one place I worked). It also compiled station playlists and printed charts.
Over the last several days the Twitter account @RadioRewinder (who you should follow if you love old radio stuff) has been sharing scans of the “year-end” charts. Today it dug out the December 15, 1989 issue, which ran a series of “Top 89” charts. (They had done Top 88 the year before, and added songs each year up until 2000.) I got to looking at the album-oriented rock (AOR) chart, and found an interesting mix of songs that should be there, and songs that shouldn’t.
When you think of rock radio, do you think of these?
14. Stevie Nicks – “Rooms On Fire.” We played it at WJTW that year, but I don’t remember it particularly rocking.
23. .38 Special – “Second Chance.” It’s a little too sappy to go next to even the sappiest Zeppelin record.
25. Don Henley – “The End of the Innocence.” A year or so later, when they took it and added clips of the Gulf War coverage over it, we played it at 97X, and I disliked it then, too.
30. Don Henley – “The Last Worthless Evening.” Look, just because he was in the Eagles doesn’t mean rock radio had to play it.
57. Mike and the Mechanics – “The Living Years.” Oh, how I loathed this wrist-slitter of a song coming up on my show, and that was on a soft AC.
58. Richard Marx – “Satisfied.” Never once has a lighter been held up for this record.
60. Elvis Costello – “Veronica.” OK, I like this one, but again, it felt more Top 40 or AC than rock.
67. Starship – “It’s Not Enough.” Can we just forget this one completely?
Now, lest you think I am merely a contrarian, let’s look at some songs on this chart that I frankly don’t hear enough:
4. The Call – “Let the Day Begin.” Try playing this while you get ready to go to work, or on your commute. You will be far more productive. I have tested this.
9. Chris Rea – “Working On It.” The Blackhawks used to play this during warmups at the old Chicago Stadium, and it sounded great in there.
10. The Replacements – “I’ll Be You.” I have always loved this record. Still do.
19. The Alarm – “Sold Me Down the River.” This even sounds good coming out of a jingle.
39. Living Colour – “Cult of Personality.” In ’89 I saw the Stones, and this was the opening act. Damned solid. (Of course, I was early on it, playing it on the WLRA morning show in 1988. Sometimes I picked ’em right.)
41. Henry Lee Summer – “Hey Baby.” I’ve already covered this one.
80. White Lion – “Little Fighter.” I will own up to a completely guilty pleasure on this one. While most of the hair bands on this chart haven’t aged well (Skid Row and Warrant, for example), this one still sounds good.
83. XTC – “The Mayor of Simpleton.” Back in the “I’m not going back to college” days, this was a sort of anthem. Four degrees later, it’s still a great record.
Maybe the point that really can be made here is that I miss the AOR format. Looking back at the chart, it wasn’t as “rock” as I thought it was. It was very much a soundtrack for a 20-year-old suburban kid’s summer, and the radio played it for free 24/7. While the list has some clunkers, were this to come back as the playlist for an internet station, I’d probably have it on for most of my drive… and that’s saying something.
If you’re at all curious about Radio & Records, you can find all the old issues online. The excellent American Radio History website has been scanning and preserving them. It’s even searchable: See what I recommended as “lost classics” in 1992 here (hint: The Producers made the list). The 1989 year-end issue that inspired this entry can be seen here (this chart is on Page 70).