Hit Radio

I have been — God help me — listening to Top 40 radio.50's Radio

Top 40 radio. That’s what it used to be called. I’m not sure what they call it today, although I am pretty sure they don’t have 40 songs on the playlist.

See, I was reading the other morning in the Los Angeles Times about the competition between hit radio stations in LA — it seems the upstart Amp Radio (KAMP-FM) is giving the reigning champion (KIIS-FM) a run for the ratings money. Who cares, really, but the story made me start wondering just what it is the kids are dancing to these days, so in the car on the way to work I turned on KAMP-FM.

Apparently everything’s hip hop now. I heard a bunch of commercials, a DJ yelling really loud and really fast and really loud, and then a song called “Hotel Room,” by Pitbull. Ginormous beat, speaker-rippin’ bass, cheesy synth line, misogynist lyrics:

“…after party in the hotel lobby,
then we off to the room like vroom! put them fingers in your mouth uh open up your blouse and pull that g-string down south oooo!”

And the chorus, repeated 5,000 times:

“Forget about your boyfriend and meet me at the hotel room, you can bring your girlfriends and meet me at the hotel room.
Forget about your boyfriend and meet me at the hotel room, you can bring your girlfriends and meet me at the hotel room.
We at the hotel, motel, holiday inn.
We at the hotel, motel, holiday inn.
We at the hotel, motel, holiday inn.
We at the hotel, motel, holiday inn.”

It’s actually quite infectious in a brain dead, purely physical sort of way. I turned the bass all the way up in my car, but I have a feeling the stock Honda sound system wasn’t designed for that kind of thing, and I didn’t get the full effect. Still, infectious.

I only listened to KAMP-FM for ten minutes, and that’s what I heard. Then on the way home from work, I turned it on again, and guess what was playing? That’s right, say it with me — “We at the hotel, motel, holiday inn…” True, it was nine hours later, but I’ll bet it was more than a coincidence. I’ll bet they play that song and about eight others every hour, all day, every day.

I am a musician, and I perform in public, but I have to tell you that I will not make myself ridiculous by trying to sing this song, or any of the stuff they are playing on the hit stations. I take seriously the obligation to be entertaining, but there have to be boundaries for a man of my age. I’m just exploring, like an explorer, the Indiana Jones of intergenerational musicology. You know, taking notes.

Then the other night I’m flipping through a range of seldom-viewed channels up in the four hundreds on my Verizon FIOS fiberoptic entertainment pipe and I come across a show called “Talk Asia,” or something like that, which has one gorgeous non-asian woman interviewing another gorgeous non-asian woman. I love women, I really do, I don’t care if they’re asian or not, they are all gorgeous to me, and so I watch for a few minutes and it turns out the interviewee is Lady Gaga, who looks like she is going to be the next Madonna. Researching this later I find this video on YouTube (WARNING: Banned in Australia!), and the very next time I turn on Amp Radio there she is! I have been listening to hit radio only a couple of days and already I know one of the big hit artists! I’m feeling so inside!

Anyway, if you’ve listened to “Hotel Room” you know pretty much what’s going on with the Top 40 these days. Gaga sings melodies and uses instruments and background singers, but 85 percent of the progamming sounds just like “Hotel Room.” To me.

One thing they are all doing, even Gaga, that they need to stop right away is using Auto-Tune on their voices. Auto-Tune is a digital technology that you can apply to audio. It detects the nearest “in tune” note to the one the singer is singing, and alters the singer’s pitch to match the “correct” pitch. If you think about it for a minute, you will see that while this could be a boon to a lot of vocalists, it also has the potential to take away all the nuance and character from a performance. Singers through the decades, from Billie Holliday to Mick Jagger to Bono do not necessarily nail all the notes, and in fact it is the “wrong” notes they sing that often give their performances their warmth, humanity, style, soul — whatever you choose to call it.

Auto-Tune could take that magic away, and that’s if you use it sparingly. That would be bad enough, but if you turn it up to extreme settings, it changes your voice to this. This seems to have started in 1998 with Cher’s huge hit “Believe.” OK, fine, it was a cool effect, but enough! Naturally, everybody on Amp Radio (and probably KIIS-FM, too) is overusing Auto-Tune, and the result is that all the singers kind of sound like the same singer. Also, the robot-voice thing gets old and irritating pretty quick, so knock it off. No, really.

I’m definitely going to try it the next time I get near a microphone, though.

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12 Replies to “Hit Radio”

  1. kStyle – Wait! Not till I get a chance to try it myself!

    Bill – Lots of real music on the radio in LA: Classic Rock, Oldies, “Golden Age” jazz (50’s and 60’s), classical, indie pop, along with the talk and the mush, of course, but plenty of good stuff. I listen from one to ten hours every day.

  2. Jaysuss.

    On Sunday I saw/heard one of the best live performances I have ever seen/heard: Bruce, rocking the house, for three solid hours. At one point, he said, “I heard the sound of the E Street Band fucking it up!” And then it turned out that he had skipped a verse or something. Point is, weren’t no cleaning up going on, and it was all the better for that.

    Also: the misogyny of those lyrics you quoted depresses me more than I can say.

  3. Narya – Springsteen is truly a relief after listening to hit radio for an extended period. Funny — in the (ancient, bygone) days when I listened religiously to “Top 40” radio, guys like Bruce were commonly played. Today he’d be as out of place as a bum in a boardroom.

    I’m sure those lyrics depress you. But when I was searching the web for them I found two or three other “…hotel, motel, Holiday Inn…” songs, each worse then the last: no innuendo, no double entendre, no wit. Just blatant, unvarnished, violent, juvenile male sexual fantasy. The song by Pitbull is the mildest of them.

    What does this mean? I don’t know.

    PS: After thirty years or so, I feel I have to say I’m a little tired of people saying that Springsteen plays for “three solid hours.” This may be longer than other big name acts, but it is really no great feat. Any working band in this country, mine included, routinely plays three, four or five hours, and some of them do it five nights a week. Before you ever heard of Bruce Springsteen I was on the road playing five hours a night six nights a week, except on the weekends, when we played for six hours. Then we would walk back to the hotel through the snow with our amps on our backs. Three hours? That ain’t workin’.

  4. Well, yes, and, Bruce was legendary for playing much longer shows, back in the day. (A friend of a friend was in a Jersey shore bar when Bruce wandered in one night; they locked the doors and played all night.) So, yes, you work Much Harder, and have to carry your amps uphill through the snow both ways, and Bruce isn’t really working at ALL . . . but it was still a great show. 😉

    And it’s probably like my boss at the bakery would say about working in the bakery, i.e., doing work he liked: “This isn’t work; painting the garage is work.”

  5. Narya – I’m sure it was a great show. But my point is just lighten up with the three!solid!hours! already. Ain’t no big thing. And this might just be semantics, but personally I think it actually is work. Rock’n’roll is physically and mentally demanding, and if that’s not enough, everybody in the place is watching you the whole time, so there’s some pressure there. It’s just that it’s not meaningless work, but satisfying work that makes him/me/one happy.

    kStyle – You’re right, and I should have mentioned that. I don’t know why all the rappers are obsessed with hotels and motels, but it does seem to have started with Sugar Hill, 30 years ago! The lyric content has degenerated sharply since then, however.

  6. It’s not that they’re obsessed with hotels and motels, it’s that they are obsessed with the song “Rapper’s Delight.”

    I agree, the lyrics ain’t what they used to be. I miss the more innocent/playful lyrics of the “Old School” hiphop of the 80s, and the activist/inspiring lyrics of the “socially conscious” hiphop of the 90s.

    Hey Hey, Ho Ho, Misogyny has got to go!

  7. our corporate owned “alternative” station plays Kings of Leon non-stop.

    Also, includes DJ “banter” such as “I heard that making a toyota prius is worse for the environment than owning a Hummer.”


  8. Kathleen – I lived in the City during the early days of KSAN. Are they still on the air? Underground FM radio — I guess it can’t be that way anymore. On the up side, you can feel right at home on the radio no matter what city in the U.S. you and your Hummer happen to be in.

    Thanks for stopping by.

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