Riffs, Beats, & Codas regularly features interviews with experts, fans, and scholars of popular focused on a single prompt: Please discuss a piece of music that helped you "learn to listen"?
Please discuss a piece of music that helped you "learn to listen"?
There are many songs that have helped me learn to listen, but one that immediately comes to mind is Golden Earring's 1974 classic rock staple "Radar Love." I've known this song for decades, as it was on the radio constantly when I was growing up in the 1970s. But it wasn't until much later on that I actually heard it with fresh ears and learned something about listening to popular music. I was a visiting professor at the College of William and Mary in 2001 and was in the midst of teaching my very first surveys of jazz history and American popular music history. I had always know "Radar Love" as a rock song, but when I encountered the song for the first time in a few years I suddenly heard the bluesy call and response coursing throughout the song's veins, heard the drummer's swing band cymbal work, and noticed the prominent big band and Latin-influenced brass riffs in the song's extended middle section.
Amidst all these hallmarks of earlier popular music styles, there are a couple wonderfully subtle moments where some sustained synthesizer tones poke through, marking the song clearly within its 1970s decade. The song itself, is a prototypical rock "road song," which situates the listener on a lonely highway with the singer. More than that, though, it falls in a category of what I like to call male-themed "journey" songs from the 1970s that take us through a lengthy instrumental section filled with various twists and turns (See "Highway Star," "Carry on Wayward Son," "Come Sail Away" and "Kashmir" for other examples). What I learned from listening to "Radar Love" with fresh ears was the myriad ways in which popular music's pasts and present collide at any moment. Likewise, the categories and boxes that we use to separate music from one another (jazz from rock, for example) often obscures the more open-ended musical universes that so many musicians embrace.
Theo Cateforis is Associate Professor of Music History & Cultures in the department of Art & Music Histories at Syracuse University. His publications include Are We Not New Wave? Modern Pop at the Turn of the 1980s (University of Michigan Press, 2011) and The Rock History Reader (Routledge, 2012), now in its second edition. He is a longtime contributor to The Big Takeover and former drummer for the indie rock bands Bunsen Honeydew and Four Volts.