Tuesday, July 8, 2008


There are few simple pleasures in my life greater than an unexpected musical treat. I received one a few weeks ago in a drugstore on Avenida Santa Fe when "Regret," New Order's more or less forgotten U.S. Top 40 single from 1993 (link) started to play on the radio. Another one came my way this past weekend when I was sitting in a taxi trying not to inhale the driver's second-hand cigarette smoke: Rod Stewart's 1983 Body Wishes single "What Am I Gonna Do (I'm So In Love With You)." Okay, I admit that it's not the best of Rod, but oh, the memories.

This never happens in New York City. Not unless you're at an event hosted by someone with great taste in music, like the engagement party of my friends Thom and Shirley several years ago. The DJ gave a spin to "Twisterella," a track from Ride's Going Blank Again (link), a high point of the British shoegazer/dream-pop movement of the early '90s that someone--quite possibly a virgin--once described to me as "better than sex." In NYC stores, you usually get Muzak or middle-of-the-road oldies by the likes Rita Coolidge, Melissa Manchester and Frankie Valli (with and without the Four Seasons), while cab drivers love to crank up those cheesy dance tracks on WKTU-FM. That's probably why I stopped listening to the radio ages ago. Why put myself at the mercy of clueless, tasteless programmers when I can create my own daily soundtrack?

Buenos Aires isn't the only land of unexpected musical treats. Several years ago, I was in a McDonald's in Athens, Greece, when two guilty-pleasure blasts from the past came on the radio: "Everybody's Gotta Learn Sometime (link)," a 1980 No. 18 single from one-hit wonder (in the U.S.) Korgis and "Waiting for a Star to Fall" by Boy Meets Girl. Apparently, porteƱos aren't the only ones with an '80s obsession. In fact, the Boy Meets Girl oldie was remade twice in 2005, as club hits by Australian duo Cabin Crew (video link) and UK electronica group Sunset Strippers.

McDonald's was the site of another musical treat in 1996 when I was on vacation in Prague. There I was giving my order to one of the supermodels behind the counter (McD employees there all look like they should be walking down a runway) when "Fill Me Up" by former 4 Non Blonde Linda Perry from her 1996 mega-flop In Flight CD (link) started to play on the radio. Suddenly, I was filled with hope. Maybe during my month away from the U.S., In Flight finally had begun to break through, I thought, and when I returned home everyone would be as crazy about Linda Perry as I was. Alas, she'd have to wait another five years before she'd finally be appreciated--though as a songwriter and producer, not as a solo singer--after crafting the smash "Get the Party Started" for P!nk.

My ultimate radio moment outside the U.S. was in 1995 when I was on vacation in London. There I was, sitting in a cab after a long night out, when the most angelic voice singing one of the most beautiful songs I'd ever heard came on the radio (right after "The Love Inside," a fantastic album cut from Barbra Streisand's Guilty that no U.S. deejay would be caught dead playing). "Who is this?" I asked the driver. "Randy Crawford," he replied, but he couldn't remember the song title. I'd heard of her before, thanks to her 1989 Top 5 R&B hit, a cover of Bob Dylan's "Knocking on Heaven's Door" that blows away every other version of the song.

The morning after, I went to Tower Records in Picadilly Circus and bought the most comprehensive Randy Crawford compilation I could find, The Very Best of Randy Crawford. I inserted the CD into my Discman, pressed play and searched for the song I'd heard the night before. Two tracks in, and there is was: "One Day I'll Fly Away" (see video below). Thus began my extreme Randy Crawford fandom that continues to this day. In fact, the very first CD that I bought after moving to Buenos Aires was Feeling Good, Crawford's 2006 collaboration with jazz great Joe Sample, who cowrote "Fly Away" with Will Jennings. A huge R&B star in the U.K. during the '80s, she enjoyed her biggest hit there with the No. 2 "Fly Away" in 1980. Years later, I saw her in concert in New York City. At one point, she actually kicked off her shoes and lied down on the floor, singing the entire time. I couldn't figure out if she was stoned, crazy or just brilliant and eccentric. I decided all of the above, and for that, I loved her even more.

Randy Crawford: "One Day I'll Fly Away"

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