One of my favorite “forgotten” songs from the 1990s is “I Watched It All (On My Radio)” by Lionel Cartwright, which reached #8 in 1990. For those who don’t know, the song is the narrator’s memories of what he heard on his transistor radio at bedtime — play-by-plays of baseball games, all sorts of 1960s and 1970s artists, broadcasts of the Grand Ole Opry, and so on. Although the song is a great deal before me generationally (I was 3 in 1990), I can still identify with it. Large parts of my own childhood revolved around the radio: call-in radio quizzes where we won everything from new CDs to Disney World tickets, Detroit Tigers games broadcast by Ernie Harwell, Paul Harvey’s News & Comment, live remotes from the local McDonald’s every week, et cetera. I kinda broke away from radio in the late 90s, but now, I again listen to it quite frequently, especially on car trips.
My point brings me to Darius Rucker’s “Radio,” another tuneful, memorable look back at the radio. Unlike Lionel’s song, Darius’s is more upbeat, and it’s about a car radio, but the overall appeal is the same. In it, he remembers borrowing his mom’s beat up car and caring about nothing other than its radio, so he can crank up tunes and have fun with his girl. “Didn’t have no money, no place to go / All we needed was a radio.” Except for those of us who were total shut-ins (guilty), who can’t identify with wanting to go somewhere with your girl? Bolstering the song’s appeal are Darius’s all-smiles delivery, an incredibly catchy melody, and tight production. Overall, it sounds like the kind of fun song you would want to hear on the radio at a memorable moment. (I was actually sent a remix where the acoustic instruments are raised, but this remix hardly seems discernible from the original — the song is already fairly acoustic as is, minus a few tasteful electric guitar licks, proving Frank Rogers’s subtlety as a producer. On the other hand, this means that the remix loses none of its charm, unlike some other remixes.)
Although “Radio” is framed as a look back into the singer’s teenage years, I feel that the message is timeless. Sure, that car radio may have an iPod plugged into it now, but one unchanging fact about music is that the right song, in the right moment, can easily tie into a great memory. (I still associate “Two Piña Coladas” with a trip down to my cousins in Texas in Spring 1998.) And with any luck, Darius Rucker’s “Radio” may just be the song that evokes a happy memory in someone’s life down the road. Because, even now, sometimes all you need is a radio.