Subversive pop

I’ve being experimenting with Huffty’s radio/cd/media player system over the last couple of days and found myself listening to a number of Elvis Costello albums I’ve haven’t played for a while. A couple of the tracks, Radio, Radio and The Other Side of Summer reminded me of an interview I heard a couple of decades ago (at least!) on subversive pop – a term I seem to think was coined or at least used a lot by Nick Lowe. The idea is that you hide subversive lyrics in what, on the face of it, appears to be just a pop song.

Radio, radio is great example of subversive pop. It has an upbeat, catchy tune and the opening lyrics to the song are fairly innocuous. Just long enough for a radio DJ to put it on, fade it down in their headphones and think about the next track they’re going to put on or person they’re about to interview. The song ends with the (repeated) lyrics “marvellous radio, wonderful radio, radio radio …”, so this is what the DJ will hear as they fade the track back up on their monitors. However, the whole song is really a vicious attack on (particularly American) radio stations, the media in general, sound bite culture and the political conservatism of their owners.

“You either shut up or get cut up;
they don’t wanna hear about it.
It’s only inches on the reel-to-reel.
And the radio is in the hands of such a lot of fools
trying to anaesthetise the way that you feel”