What would the theme song be if I had a talk radio show? Thanks for asking, self. That’s an odd question but one I happen to be prepared for.

Around here, the idea of having a theme song are not as silly as some daydreams, because I had one for a couple years. When doing The Eighties At Seven on WPTS, I settled on a song called “Ones With The Black”, by the Snatches of Pink, college radio’s answer to the Georgia Satellites. It’s short, it’s rousing, I have no idea what the lyrics are about, and it doesn’t exactly scream “1988” but it does suggest we’ll be entering a realm distinct from the rest of WPTS’s programming. A realm of The Cure, The Cult, The Clash, The Chills, The Clean, The Call, The Cucumbers, Hüsker Dü, XTC, The Sugarcubes, R.E.M., Throwing Muses, Mission of Burma, The Fall, Martha and the Muffins, and of course the Volcano Suns, whose combination of massive popularity in the college radio vinyl era and utter obscurity thereafter meant that none of their 5 LPs [including double album Thing of Beauty] had been stolen. Unlike many of the arists for whom us DJs would actually get requests, and then discover that we didn’t have a single Elliott Smith or Björk album except the brand new one.

But I digress. Let’s say I’m a host of the WYEP sports show [it certainly wouldn’t be a political or advice show]. If WYEP ever decided to have a sports show and looked for potential hosts among listeners, they’d probably end up with two or three people like me. I have strong opinions about sports I know how to play, which would be baseball and soccer. With others, I get excited if people around me are excited; this suggestibility means callers would find an ear sympathetic to their joys and sorrows. But I’m not going to get incandescent with fury about how Kyle Boller lets DBs know the play by staring at the intended receiver, or come up with the top eight reasons why Bob Huggins needs to fire his recruiting coordinator. This should also work well with the sort of people who would listen to the WYEP sports show.

But I digress. What theme song would you expect for a sports talk show? Often people draw from the classic rock canon, but it seems presumptuous to associate oneself with a song much older than oneself. “Memo From Turner” [1], “China Grove” [2] and “Iron Fist” [3] might be good for going in and out of breaks, but not as the song that tells people “Get ready, because coming up next is two hours of programming that thinks it embodies the spirit of the song you are now hearing”. The same is true for more recent exemplars of masculinity, from “Shamrocks and Shenanigans” [4] through “Stick ’em Up” [5] and “Boom” [6] to “Sleep Now in the Fire” [7]. It sets the listener up to think he knows what to expect, and then be confounded.

And more concretely, it would probably be good to have a song you can talk over, and riff over, at least at the end, as Petros and Money have taught us with their counterintuitive choices. I always preferred to let something play in the background rather than fade it out abortively, and most of the more hardcore options, from “Bacon Industry” [8] to “Tarantula” [9] don’t work as a backdrop to my verbal flourishes for even a moment. If it’s gotta be a rock song, it should be one with a steady, repetitive groove and lyrics that don’t seem all that important, which obviously makes The Fall our band of choice if we don’t think a strong northern English accent would be a problem for a show about largely American topics. Tiger’s “Shining in the Wood” is a fantastic song that might fit as well, but … too British? Again, it might foster inaccurate expectations. “Buffalo” [10] might work.

  1. Mick Jagger, 1970
  2. Doobie Brothers, 1973
  3. Motörhead, 1982
  4. House of Pain, 1992
  5. Quarashi, 2002
  6. P.O.D., 2002
  7. Rage Against the Machine, 1999
  8. Karp, 1997
  9. Mystikal, 2001
  10. Nudeswirl, 1993

But let’s take an contrapositive approach to the issue of what we want this opening theme song to accomplish. How do we want the listeners to feel? We want them to be welcomed. “Iron Fist” [or “Bacon Industry”] makes a certain audience feel right at home, but it leaves others thinking “whoop-de-damn-do, another white male sports show”. Since any station that lets me host a show of any sort probably plays Aimee Mann at least once a day, this is suboptimal. Let’s go with something that doesn’t vaguely resemble an onslaught of testosterone. But we can’t be wussy either.

The winnowing process was intense and I’d love to narrate it for you, but here’s the result.

I hate linking to this Vevo nonsense, but it’s better fidelity than Youtube’s other options. Hopefully you are now listening to the song. Ignore the visual simuli. We’ll carry on while it plays.

As you see, the song has a confident stride, reminiscent of “One Night in Bangkok” or “Straight Up” but more laid-back. This is suitable for getting people on your side, removing some tension from the room. We’re just stepping in, setting up our tables, taking a look around, preparing to clear our throats. Bear with us as we find a groove.

It starts off like a Janet Jackson or Paula Abdul song, but instead of a wispy voice we are met by the icy sound of the ex-Shalamar chanteuse, who knows what she wants to say and is focused on saying it. What’s her message? Some Beyoncé message about how girls rule whereas boys drool? That’s what the unusually husky voice she employs on “Still a Thrill” might suggest [compare to the more soprano register of “Looking For a New Love”, the only Watley song familiar to my cohort]. But unlike “Looking For A New Love” [“hasta la vista, baby”], here she’s talking about being happy.

And more specifically, being happy in a stable relationship [“as I watch days / turn into years”]. Now, this is not the ideal topic for the theme to a sports talk show, but if you’re going to rule out every pop song about some form of love, you’ll be ruling out a lot of pop songs. Let’s focus on the “long-term relationship” part and the song title itself. It doesn’t directly address the audience like the Cheers or Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson themes do, but it creates a nice space in which the listener is entering a stable world, where we come back week after week to this comfortable domain. This is essential for building an audience. You want continuity, you want people to recognize your hooks and catchphrases, but you also want to welcome newcomers to the club.

What club? Let’s go back to demographics and stereotypes. Obviously I would not be at my best hosting, or even co-hosting, a show whose core audience is Jody Watley fans. The goal is not so much to tell certain people “This show is for you”, as to avoid telling people “This song is not for you”. “Still a Thrill” should tell listeners in general that they’re all welcome, since it doesn’t fit any particular stereotype of the theme song. You don’t know what to expect, but you know not to expect something confrontational. Which should be a truly novel concept, for a call-in radio talk show. You’re already intrigued. And you’re put in a reverie by the world the song evokes, maybe the least divisive and least clichéd source of nostalgia at the moment. Everyone’s sick of “the eighties”, but look at  circa 1990. The end of vinyl’s mainstream dominance … CDs in tall cardboard boxes … the heyday of VHS .. . the last genuine non-gloomy rock stars … Kevin Mitchell … Chris Sabo … Deee-Lite, Jesus Jones, Tears For Fears … Hal Hartley and Jim Jarmusch …Christian Okoye … Bernie Kosar … … New Jack Swing … a whole rainbow of hip advertising campaigns promoting condom use … Taylor Dayne … aren’t we ready to harp on the joys of that era? This theory might better describe the world in which Be Kind Rewind was a massive hit than the world we live in, but I like it. Or maybe I just like “Everything About You”. And “Buffalo Stance”.

The provenance of the song adds a layer or two to its appeal. There are other songs embodying a similar era, with a similar tempo, which might be even more suitable musically as a welcoming intro. But I can’t think of many that are solidly mainstream semi-hits [no indie one-upmanship], with a comparably upbeat lyrical message, without being overplayed or obvious. If you hear this song, and think “What is this?”, and google some of the lyrics, you think “Jody Watley? That name sounds familiar.” The next step is to find out that she did that song “Looking For a New Love” , and that she was in a cheesy group with the cheesy name of Shalamar, and that Shalamar was responsible for a couple songs you’ve heard before and vaguely wondered about, including one which was covered by Babyface 16 years later, featuring LL Cool J and Jody Watley. No, not “For the Cool in You” — “This is For the Lover in You”. Common mistake. Wow, the phrase “word is bond” kicks off that video. That takes me back. Interesting stuff.

And finally, the mechanics of the song. The tempo is ideal, we’ve established that. There’s all the little elements that keep it from getting old over the months — the rhythm section and synthesizer flute effect that it starts out with; the casual funk-scratch guitar that weaves in and out of the song; the keyboards that appear around 0:55; the synth horns that appear around 1:40; the backup singer [also Watley?] who generally limits herself to the word “thrill”. And what makes it really ideal is how the last third of the song is an instrumental jam including mild guitar solos, a talking slap-bass effect that appears and disappears, a saxophone that appears right at the very end. Maybe this could be looped, and even as it is it’s well suited for talking over, introducing oneself, introducing one’s associates and well-wishers, and then letting Watley utter the inexplicable closing lines (4:08 – 4:16).

  • Follow-up question: Are you being ironic about all this?

Certainly not. If I were choosing a 1980s song for ironic reasons, I would go with “Love in Siberia” or “Living on Video”. If I wanted a 1980s R&B song for ironic reasons, I would go with “Heart Too Hot To Hold”.

It does share most of what makes “Still a Thrill” the discerning choice, and you can spend hours in contemplation of what its title might mean, but it’s too much of a generic dance track.

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