Monday, April 7, 2014

Play Me a Sad Song

Yet another song with the "Earth Angel" chord progression.

Today, a "DJ" is someone who makes music by running someone else's album under a needle and moving it back and forth rhythmically. But once-- when the radio was used as a music-listening device instead of a political megaphone-- a "disc jockey" just played someone else's records over the air and let us listen to them. For free (well, there were always commercials).

These DJs would often take requests, answering the listener's phone calls and playing what he or she wanted to hear. This was true at least up through the 1980s; after that, radio content was largely pre-selected by national corporations that owned stations nationwide (the better to sell the airtime for those commercials).

The speaker here doesn't even call the DJ. He just sort of wishes his request at the radio: "Play me a sad song, please Mr. DJ/ Play me a sad song tonight."

One can hardly blame the poor kid for his despondency. As Sam Cooke would later bemoan, it's a classic case of: "Another Saturday night and I ain't got nobody... I'm in an awful way."

Our speaker puts it: "Saturday night... Don't have a date... don't want to hear a lullaby/ I can't sleep, I just sit and cry."

Of course, going out "stag" is out of the question. It would just publicize his undesirability: "Don't you think I want to go where other kids go?.. I've got nobody to hold me tight."

So he's alone with the radio, which is "playin' the Top Tunes tonight." From Top of the Pops to American Top 40, one of the most popular formats was a simple countdown of that week's most popular songs, as measured by albums sold, requests made, or some other such metric.

Our speaker is not up for such fare. He knows that other teens are playing this countdown at their parties and get-togethers, commenting on the worthiness of that week's rankings.

Instead, he agrees with Elton John, who in "Sad Songs Say So Much," opined: "It's times like these when we all need to hear the radio/ 'Cause from the lips of some old singer/ We can share the troubles we already know." In short, misery loves even virtual, musical company.

So our left-out boy wishes for, not dance tunes or lullabies, but "a song of love/ 'Cause that's all that I'm thinking of."

"I bet I'm the loneliest boy in the world," he sighs. Of course, any one of the thousands of people who have heard this song have had that exact same thought.

Eventually, he despairs even of despair, which is both tiring and tiresome. "Sitting here crying won't get me a girl... Oh, what's the use? Guess I'll turn off the light."

He pulls up the covers, murmuring as he drifts off, "I feel so lonely." Maybe things will look better on Sunday morning? There're always color comic strips on Sunday mornings...

Next Song: Teenage Blue

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