Bollinger FM

 NZ Listener

This radio review was written for the Listener, when I had a deadline and clearly hadn't been listening to much radio.

 The other day I borrowed my sister’s Citroen for a cruise up the coast. As well as enjoying the luxurious novelty of hydraulic suspension (speed humps? What speed humps?) the car had a very nice set of speakers.

As I sailed onto State Highway 1, it was an added bonus to switch on the radio and find one of my favourite records being played, Betty Wright’s “Clean Up Woman”.

I heard this song often in the early 70s, and the sneaky guitar lick that bobs and weaves through its verses has since been the basis of more than one hip-hop hit. But Wright’s original is rarely played these days. Strange, because its relaxed groove and old-fashioned moralising seem custom-made for Classic Hits, Solid Gold or easy-listening radio.

Wright was just a teenager when she made the recording, but she invests her sermon with the type of wisdom, heartache and regret that changes listeners’ lives.

But what was this? In a programming decision that can only be described as heroic, the song segued into another favourite of mine. The melody, with its lopsided geometry, might have been the theme to a surrealistic cartoon; the piano sounded as though it was being played by a spider on hallucinogens. It had to be Thelonious Monk.

From ‘Clean Up Woman’ to ‘Mysterioso’ was a daring leap from the literal to the abstract, yet it worked. Which radio station was I listening to anyway?

Before I had a chance to check the dial, I was sideswiped by yet another piece of playlisting straight out of the left lane. A steel guitar wept and an unearthly voice whined: “I’m a rolling stone, all alone and lost.” It was Hank Williams and ‘Lost Highway’.

It made sense, but why? I vainly searched for connections between the buddah of bebop and the hillbilly Shakespeare. Were both tracks recorded in the same year? The deejay wasn’t giving away any clues. In fact, the deejay was remaining strangely silent.

About then I realised I had left the motorway and was heading east. Lost highway, indeed. Pulling over, I checked to see what magical station I had been listening to, and my dreams of stumbling on the perfect wavelength were shattered. It was not radio at all but a home-recorded cassette tape, one I had made for my sister years before.

post a comment