Sunday, August 25, 2013

Last Night a VJ Saved My Life (in Rome)!

The thing I've always appreciated most about Rome is this: It's the metropolis as an outdoor history museum. Being in Rome's city center almost feels like living in the past. With all of the ancient architectural artifacts, sightseeing -- or merely riding home on the back of a motorcycle at 2am -- can feel sort of like time travel.

It's not exactly living history. Rome's vintage visuals are more like look-but-don't-touch museum pieces, no longer open for business, as opposed to in a city like Berlin, where centuries-old buildings that were conceived as one thing (a bank, an all-girl Jewish school) are currently still in use as something else entirely (a hotel, a five-star restaurant). But that doesn't make the Roman intersection of past and present any less vivid and spectacular.

Apparently, you don't have to enjoy opera, or understand Italian, to reap the benefits of Rome's past-present fixation in entertainment. Yesterday while channel surfing through dozens of digital-TV channels, aside from one that was airing an episode of Late Show with David Letterman in which the host was interviewing Serena Williams, I couldn't find a single network where Italian wasn't being spoken or being dubbed over English, not even CNN, BBC or any other international news channels.

Then as the remote landed on the Radio Capital TV channel, I heard a familiar guitar riff, one of the greatest in rock & roll history. It was "More Than a Feeling" by Boston, the '70s rock song most likely to get me to press repeat over and over when its playing on my iPod. Alas, as I had no control over what would happen when the song was over, my entertainment was in the hands of the unseen VJ.

Over the next couple of hours, he (or she) didn't fail to not bore me, offering a potpourri of Anglo-centric sounds from three decades of pop, soul and rock & roll: the '60s, '70s and '80s -- with only two '90s-and-on exceptions, Jamiroquai's "The Return of the Space Cowboy," which will turn 20 next year, and R.E.M.'s "Man on the Moon," who now would be old enough to drink if he were living in the U.S.

"History will teach us nothing," Sting once sang (presumably ironically) on a track from his 1987 magnum opus ...Nothing Like the Sun, but it certainly makes for the perfect soundtrack to a quiet evening at home in an urban metropolis where history is actually everything.

History in the Mix: The Radio Capital TV Playlist, 24 August 6pm to 8pm (roughly)

"Disco Inferno" The Trammps Doesn't this 1976 single, one of disco's best-known anthems, seem like it should have been bigger than No. 11 on Billboard's Hot 100? I mean, does anyone even think about "Disco Duck" by Rick Dees and His Cast of Idiots (which hit No. 1 the same year) today?

"Maneater" Daryl Hall and John Oates

"You Shook Me All Night Long" AC/DC

"Silly Love Songs" Paul McCartney and Wings

"The Return of the Space Cowboy" Jamiroquai

"A Little More Love" Olivia Newton John I just read something about a dead guy being found in Newton-John's Florida home, which put her in the news at the same time as Linda Ronstadt, my other favorite pop diva from the '70s who was a little bit country and a little bit rock & roll. I'm devastated by Ronstadt's just-revealed diagnosis of Parkinson's Disease, which she says has robbed her of her ability to sing. But as my friend Lori pointed out on Facebook, maybe this will finally get the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame to notice the genre's first female superstar who was able to sell critically acclaimed albums that also launched big hit singles. Unbelievably, Ronstadt has never even scored a nomination for induction into the hallowed Hall, which only welcomed the multiply nominated Donna Summer after she was no longer around to have one "Last Dance" at the induction ceremony. Speaking of which...

"Last Dance" Donna Summer As much as I enjoy a Katy Perry vs. Lady Gaga diva throwdown on the Hot 100 ("Applause," in particular, is growing on me, but would it have gone anywhere near No. 6 had it been Gaga's debut single?), cumulatively, pop's leading ladies today just don't excite me the way the monsters of '70s female pop did.

"Harlem Shuffle" The Rolling Stones

"Call Me" Blondie

"On My Own" Patti LaBelle and Michael McDonald

"Hello, I Love You" The Doors

"Wouldn't It Be Good" Nik Kershaw I wasn't expecting to hear Kershaw's only almost-U.S. hit today, though if I'd had my choice of Kershaw songs, I would have picked "Human Racing" or "The Riddle," the latter of which I would get to see/hear on Radio Capital TV the morning after.

"Wishing Well" Terence Trent D'Arby

"Part Time Love" Elton John Now there's a Reginald Dwight song you don't hear every day -- or ever!

"Another One Bites the Dust" Queen

"Secret Separation" The Fixx Color me shocked! I wasn't expecting this one either. Though it was one of the band's four Top 20 hits in the U.S. (No. 19 in 1986), the one everyone remembers is "One Thing Leads to Another" (No. 4 in 1983). I was so in love with this song when it was on the charts, during the summer before my senior year in high school. Every week, listening to Casey Kasem count down the Top 40, I would pray that it would go just a little bit higher. I like to think that my entreaties to a higher power had something to do with its better-than-expected peak. One of a handful of songs whose music video I've ever purchased on iTunes, it remains my second-favorite single by the British band (which shockingly never enjoyed a hit in its homeland), after "Driven Out" (No. 55 in 1989).

"Living in a Box" Living in a Box It's puzzling how Daryl Hall aside, white boys from the UK (Steve Winwood, Joe Cocker, Elton John, Paul Weller, George Michael, Paul Young, Rick Astley, etc.) nailed blue-eyed soul better than white boys from the country in which soul music was invented.

"Ticket to Ride" The Beatles

"Hotel California" The Eagles

"Don't Get Me Wrong" Pretenders

"Money's Too Tight to Mention" Simply Red

"Man on the Moon" R.E.M.

"(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction" Devo How is it possible that I didn't know this cover of The Rolling Stones first No. 1 hit existed? Even more shocking: It's so good, it doesn't make me want to hear the original. Who knew there was more to Devo than "Whip It," "Girl U Want," "Working in the Coal Mine" and "Let Me Tickle Your Fancy" (Jermaine Jackson's 1982 single on which the band played)? Looks like I'm going to have to dive deeper into the group's discography.

"Shake, Shake, Shake (Shake Your Booty)" KC and the Sunshine Band I like "I'm Your Boogie Man" better, but damn, that KC was so cute. I would have died if Mr. VJ had played "Give It Up," the band's 1983/84 comeback hit (credited solely to KC in the U.S.), instead.

"Eye in the Sky" The Alan Parson's Project

"I'll Fly for You" Spandau Ballet I still prefer Spandau Ballet in its pre-True incarnation as new-wave romantics. I'm still not sure how you get from "The Freeze" to "Lifeline," but that metamorphosis into practitioners of U.K.-bred blue-eyed soul probably saved Spandau Ballet from being just another '80s footnote.

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