Totally True Tune Tales: Back Catalog

While over-the-airwaves radio continues to wane in the wake of countless vehicular audio options, iPods vs. the Walkman, satellite choices, streaming audio over the Internet, and increasing tolerance of workplaces allowing one to spin a disc or two at low levels. However, there still remains an advantage to tuning into a local station if one likes to hear the local news or enter a contest or two. Others may appreciate the spontaneous nature of radio, never knowing what will play next, as opposed to proprietary track lists or CDs which one may carry. The only chore is finding a station whose programming best reflects one’s own tastes; there will always be some stinkers in the bunch, but that’s the price of entropy.

Regardless of the fact that I have access to over 7500 albums in my own personal collection, I’m still a fond listener of the radio, at least when at work. There’s no distraction of having to choose something when the previous choice ends, and there’s no danger of someone walking in to hear inappropriate content.

Surely surprising no one, my choice is always a rock station. In Dubuque, it was The Eagle 102; the format was supposedly classic rock, but they threw in plenty of new hard rock songs as well. They never ventured very far into metal territory, with Metallica’s “St. Anger” being the heaviest thing they had ever played. Still, it remains the only rock station in the area. In Minneapolis, my radio is tuned to 93x, which is more of a “today’s hard rock” format with frequent back-catalog choices and a bit more of an edge.

What has amused me is that with either of these stations, or any other rock-centric stations I have adored over the years (97x out of the Quad Cities, Rock 108 out of Cedar Rapids), there seems to be a distinctly repetitive nature to their back-catalog choices. Discussing this with others, it’s definitely a noticed issue. And if there’s a recognizable, predictable pattern, the allure of a randomized soundtrack starts to die a bit.

Still, these songs are chosen for a reason. Someone must think they are of value, which would indicate a historically relevant explanation behind the programming choices at hand. Although if someone could explain to me why The Eagle was notorious for playing Kiss’ “Lick It Up” at precisely 11 am every other day, I would welcome a discussion as to why someone felt the need to repeatedly subject their listener base to this rather mediocre (if not ridiculous) choice.

In search of answers to these questions of relevance, let’s run down selections from the back catalog choices played Monday, July 10th, on 93x, with “back catalog” being defined today as any song released prior to 2000. For reference, the ratio of new to old songs is somewhere around 3:1, indicating three to four older songs spun each hour. The newer music played is typically Buckcherry, Tool, Green Day, Wolfmother, Disturbed, White Stripes, Slipknot’s less-obnoxious offerings, Staind, System of a Down, Cold, and other bands which I have collectively termed “Puddle of Nickelsmack” as I’ll be damned if I can tell them apart.

And I will also note that these back catalog appearances are not unique to July 10th. Rather, each and every one of these songs is played at least once a week, and other songs by each artist (aside from the few one-hitters on this list) are played every day. For example, my day is never complete without hearing Alice In Chains. That’s just the way they roll.

The list, as played between 9 am and 1:30 pm:

Temple of the Dog: Hunger Strike
This song was everywhere upon its release, as Pearl Jam and Soundgarden were both super-hot and the remnants of Mother Love Bone post-death of Andrew Wood created the perfect center stage. Is the song really all that brilliant? Well, it’s up there; most who lived through the era can still sing along with one vocalist or the other. It’s certainly representative of its period, too. More than anything, it has that feeling of being a “forgotten gem,” and is a nice surprise.

Stone Temple Pilots: Crackerman
Was this song even a single? If it was, it never really went anywhere. It was better known as simply being one of the better songs on STP’s debut album. Considering all of their releases were generally filler mixed with two or three masterpieces, it’s a nice way to showcase the band, and better than hearing “Interstate Love Song” one more time. I think even now, I’m still burned out from the overplay that song received.

Metallica: Master of Puppets
A classic, bar-none. A hard rock station can never go wrong with Metallica, Black album and prior. It’s fair to note that I have heard quite a bit of Load/Reload played on this station as well; cringeworthy choices fans would rather forget, but hearing Master every now and again makes up for the snafu.

Black Sabbath: N.I.B.
Did I just say “a classic”? It’s always good to honor your forefathers, that’s for certain. And honestly, it’s amazing how well this song holds up, mixed with today’s bands. Sabbath may be a little cliche at this point, but at least it’s not “War Pigs” or “Iron Man”.

Soundgarden: My Wave
Like the STP choice, it’s nice to mix up a band’s offerings. But aren’t there 800 better songs from the ’90s that deserve airplay?

311: Down
I hate this song, goddamn it. Sometimes I hear it twice a week. I suppose to the rest of the world it’s not terrible, but does it deserve so much celebration? It’s not anything special, so why does it keep popping up? We’re talking about an entire decade of music which is being thrust aside to allow this corpse an extended invitation to the mainstream.

AC/DC: Moneytalks
I think there’s a contract in the entire world of rock radio that requires AC/DC be played at least once daily. Considering the enormous volume of choices, it’s always good to hear one that isn’t “You Shook Me All Night Long” or “Back In Black.”

Red Hot Chili Peppers: Suck My Kiss
It’s worth mentioning there’s one other older RHCP song that frequently appears on the 93x playlist: “Soul To Squeeze.” Are either of these songs notable in the least? Why are they played so frequently? I never really knew either of these songs well prior to settling in with 93x, but I now find myself humming them regularly. That’s not right — especially when there are so many better songs to choose.

Tool: Forty Six and Two
Minneapolis loves Tool, and so generally every day I hear one new Tool song and one older Tool song. I certainly don’t complain when their choices are nearly always from Undertow and Aenima with the occasional “Schism” tossed in for good measure. They’re a local favorite and musically strong, so there’s absolutely no reason to neglect their past successes.

Toadies: Possum Kingdom
This oddball choice is another which is indeed played at least once a week. It’s an oddball song, period, which only achieved minimal chart success. Although it was one of my absolute favorites of its time, I hardly believe that piles of other songs should be neglected to keep this one fresh.

Smashing Pumpkins: 1979
This track and “Bullet with Butterfly Wings” are the prevailing Pumpkins tracks which I hear frequently. Sure, whatever. The problem is that these songs were wildly overplayed in their day and I really don’t feel like that has quite worn off nearly ten years later. Think of it this way: it’s like hearing one Ace of Base song every day. They were fun, but nobody needs to hear “The Sign” ever again.

Motley Crue: Dr. Feelgood
Now this is one which I don’t hear every day, and I’m ever so ecstatic to hear it tossed into the mix. It’s fairly accurate to say that when it comes to the hair era bands, rather than rotate selections by each band, they rotate the whole genre as one clump.

Tonic: Open Up Your Eyes
This was a perfectly pleasant song when it was popular in the mid-to-late ’90s, and nice to hear every once in a while. But once a week? I appreciate the effort but the song hardly qualifies as being so memorable that other songs should be bumped aside. They don’t play Everclear every week, and they were certainly more prevalent.

Nine Inch Nails: Head Like a Hole
Once again, another song which I don’t hear every day; typical NIN airplay is from the new album. It’s always nice when they mix things up, although this is the only older NIN song from their somewhat-extensive catalog that I have heard them play. Would it kill them to play “Wish” once or twice? I guess I should be thankful that this isn’t the days of “Closer” and that they haven’t fixated on trying to bring it back. It just might be 2020 before I want to hear that song again.

Jane’s Addiction: Jane Says
Here’s another that’s a right-on choice as it’s one of their best songs. Hearing it once a week is rather pleasant, although they could take “Been Caught Stealin'” out of the program any time now. I don’t think a single rock station in the country has ever taken that song off of their playlist.

Soundgarden: Burden In My Hand
And this officially signifies 93x’s hard-on for Chris Cornell. They do play at least one Soundgarden song nearly every day, but apparently today, it was two plus Temple of the Dog. We’re just missing some Audioslave. No worries, I’ll certainly hear some before my workday ends.

Skid Row: Youth Gone Wild
Hell yes. Like Motley, they don’t really play the Skids all that often, rarely more than once every week or two. And it helps that the only other song of theirs I remember hearing on the station is “Monkey Business.” Good choices and no flooding with the power ballads.

Foo Fighters: Big Me
I would be remiss if I didn’t note that they already played “My Hero” and “Times Like These” today. Dave Grohl is officially up there in spoogeville with Chris Cornell, apparently. The Foo is a nice little nondescript, inoffensive to use as filler, sure. But one Bad Religion song would have filled the same time allotment; why not spin “American Jesus”?

Van Halen: And The Cradle Will Rock
Requisite Van Halen, indeed, much like AC/DC. The rotation of songs by the band is definitely focused on the David Lee Roth era, as many would argue that it should be. I have no qualms with a rock station playing a Van Halen song every day; legendary and influential, yes.

Are there not artists who deserve to be on this list? Some, surely, simply weren’t played during this timeframe. But it would be quite a surprise if I mentioned some of the bands that don’t get any airplay whatsoever: Anthrax, Soul Asylum, Slayer (not even more melodic songs like “Seasons in the Abyss”), L7, Fear Factory, among many others. Bands like Kiss, Megadeth, and Guns ‘n’ Roses are only heard on rare occasions. Yet if you’re looking for some Chris Cornell, by golly, you’re going to get your Chris Cornell. But is the guy’s back catalog worth pushing aside so many other forgotten viable candidates? Does historical relevance ever come into play beyond the obvious legends?

Dear Mr. Programming Director: check the influences of today’s bands as well as past charts, fan favorites, and critical acclaim before compiling such a narrow list of elderly songs to spin. I know it’s hard to believe, but there were more than 300 songs made before 2000; this enables one to play older songs less repetitively. They’re not competing on the Billboard charts anymore. Let them rest, and let others live.

Turn it up, bring the noize.