All Ears

Disney Dreams Up the Best Radio Station in 30 Years

An amazing playlist, I'm telling you, almost freeform! Plus their modern Top 30 is 100% hyper teenpop, simple as that—sometimes eight of the top 21 Disney chart slots are Backstreet or Britney. (On the Web page, you can play or download samples of most of the hits, if you have Real Player on your PC. And the most requested songs are compiled now, on two Radio Disney Jams CDs.) The square Top 40 scene is still polluted with creaky Celine/Mariah dinosaurs and snooze r&b and horrid faux-"rock" bands NOT heard on RadioDiz—Blink 182, Foo Fighters, etc., mercifully DON'T EXIST!! But they just played "Hand Jive" by what's his name (Johnny Otis?). . . . Why? They're trying to pass down the Diddley-beat? Or does that beat count as novelty? And they play "One Way or Another" regularly, too—the Sabrina version. Nuts.

Or 8 p.m. prime time, the Ramones' "Surfin' Bird"—guitars are obviously allowed if it's a "novelty song," Melissa Joan Hart included, so I figure Disney was just checking if the kids were paying attention. (I've heard them play the much superior Trashmen version several times.) "Crocodile Rock," "Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye," "Twist and Shout" by the Beatles, "We Will Rock You," 1910 Fruitgum Co.'s "Simon Says" (!), the eternally swank "Green Onions," SSledge's "We Are Family," all alternating in barely an hour's time with the week's current Top 30 fab hit teenpop sounds of BritneyChristinaBSBoysMandy'NSyncLFOVenga-boysRickyMLouBegaEiffel65, all of whom completely hold their own in context. I heard the tail end (1965-66) of "screaming Top 40" radio in eighth or ninth grade, and it was cool—but not as cool as this! In '65 we just had the Beatles; oldies only on "oldies weekend," and they sounded silly back-to-back with Them or the Yardbirds or whoever.

illustration: Carly Castillon

The best thing about the teenpop era is that we're back to 1956 or '57 in the pre-Beatles(= pre-guitar bands) era, musically speaking. Wiped the slate clean and started fucking over, back to when vocals meant something and had room to breathe. And those two million rock bands who've wasted everyone's time for the last 30 years are extinct as surely as Bobby Vee or Rydell were back in 1964, when that same initially swell "rock era" began courtesy of the Beatles. (You seriously think some 10-year-old's gonna listen to the Eagles or Fleetwood Mac? Not to mention U2 or R.E.M. or . . . ) Until 1966 and artsy rock (Revolver), NO ONE but teenagers bought/followed rock and roll; it was a very small, self-contained, nutty little universe, with novelty records (or death tunes, sort of the same thing) every 30 minutes on the AM. Not unlike what the preteens seem to have going during this, their magic bubble of time.

All across the world—for a year now!—thousands of girls (ages 5 to 15?) have been screwing around in front of their moms' big mirrors, going, "I could do this!" Britney is their '65 Stones, i.e., the blueprint from which thousands copied ('65 Stones spawning roughly 66.7% of all 1966 garage bands). This current stuff's the best Top 40 girlpop since 1962-63, and MAYBE BETTER. 'Cause the beats are better, and there's even more diversity of "styles," white to black to Euro to domestic. ('60s girl groups being one of my favorite rock genres ever—they could really fuckin' sing—but they relied on a few too many lame, uninterested session drummers, once you got past Phil Spector's and David Gates's productions.) On the Disney AM, the "Drive Me Crazy" Stop remix is as relentless as "Satisfaction" in 1965 (meaning they play it constantly), altho I much prefer Britney's rhythm track.

And Backstreet get mega-all-hits rotation about equal to the Beatles of back then, so that's about a draw (Beatles—better songs; BSB—better beats). Harmony vocals are cool. Dancing is cool, always has been. I never had a problem with "I Want It That Way" being the greatest song of the century, but I'm getting into it after the fact. Which reminds me of my hostile initial reactions to at least two previous giant changings-of-the-guards in pop/rock: (1) the "heavy rock" of 1970, right before Sabbbath/realmetal happened . . . I HATED the stuff, as a '60s fan cranky about all the '60s bands going lame or worse. First couple times "Iron Man" came up early summer 1971 on latenite FM, me and my brother snickered, like, "how DUMB is this?" But by the fourth time we were air-banging our heads like Beavis and Butt-head. . . . It just happened, no conscious rethink involved. And (2) I REALLY hated the Ramones and '70s punk for one-entire-year-plus (from the first Ramones LP right up till the first Generation X album, 1978 U.S. version, which rocked hard enough to pull in us suburban metalheads). I mean, I wanted to KILL them; that's how much their brand-new take on rock offended my ears. I remember watching the Ramones' Don Kirshner Rock Concert 15-minute segment when it aired, and hating every single second.

So, it's hardly any surprise that I hated the BSB for a good while. . . . I was looking at them and not listening. But now that I'm hearing them constantly in the Radio Disney context, their best songs (without the irritating videos to distract) do indeed sound like a true refraction of the pre-Beatles white vocal groups. Who I think is a really great lead singer is the white guy who parts his hair in the middle—Nick, with the highest-pitched voice. He REALLY has the Belmonts vibe, sings like he MEANS it. Without a hint of retro on the surface, BSB are the first act since December 1963 to be a white male vocal group and be "cool." (Trust me, the minute the Beatles landed at the airport, Frankie Valli/4 Seasons were the epitome of anti-cool.) 35+ years is quite a stretch. In the Beatles' heyday, backing up 35 years would've taken you before swing music.

« Previous Page
Next Page »

Concert Calendar

  • May
  • Sat
  • Sun
  • Mon
  • Tue
  • Wed
  • Thu
  • Fri