Thursday, January 04, 2007

TV on the Radio: Ten Songs About Television

1. Gil Scott-Heron, "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised" (1970).
Scott-Heron delivers an urgent black-power message that's simultaneously solemn and hilarious, weaving jazz flute with ad jingles and socially relevant references to then-current shows: "Green Acres, Beverly Hillbillies and Hooterville Junction will no longer be so damn relevant, and women will not care if Dick finally got down with Jane on Search for Tomorrow, because black people will be in the street looking for a brighter day." The best TV song ever. Video link.

2. The Misfits, "TV Casualty" (1978).
Danzig laments that his "eyeballs absorb only blue filtered light," but it's not really a problem: "TV casualty, TV casualty/ We're all right!" Besides a reference to Sub-Mariner, the song ends with various unidentifiable samples before fading with the unmistakable I Love Lucy theme. Watch a post-Danzig 1998 performance here.

3. The Victims, "Television Addict" (1978).
An awesome Australian punk blast with a kickass riff, commenting on TV's supposed monkey see/do effect. The titular protagonist "went out and shot someone/ Like some Kojak teleplay," but the Victims ain't no victims: "Just because I watch Dinah Shore/ Doesn't mean I need a facelift... We're not dumb!" Watch a 1978 performance here.

4. The Cramps, "TV Set" (1980).
Not so much about the medium as the appliance, specifically how a TV figures into Lux's gruesome fantasy: "Oh baby I see you on my TV set/ I cut your head off and put it in my TV set/ I use your eyeballs for dials on my TV set/ I watch TV since I put you in my TV set." Subsequent verses describe similar scenes with a radio and a fridge. Watch a 1997 performance here.

5. Black Flag, "TV Party" (1982).
Henry Rollins leads the singalong chorus in this sardonic putdown of TV-and-beer escapism: "We got nothin' better to do/ Than watch TV and have a couple of brews." As with Gil Scott-Heron's earlier tune, this one gives shoutouts to the popular programs of the day: That's Incredible!, Hill Street Blues, Dallas, Quincy, Saturday Night Live, Monday Night Football, The Jeffersons, Vega$. "Don't talk about anything else, we don't wanna know/ We're dedicated to our favorite shows!" That is, until the TV conks out. Watch the video here.

6. Young Fresh Fellows, "TV Dream" (1987).
Guest trumpeter Richard Peterson's Sea Hunt riff propels this rapid-fire nightmare of references to The Andy Griffith Show, The Jetsons, Dark Shadows, Honey West, Johnny Quest, The Addams Family, Dick Tracy, Perry Mason, The A-Team, I Dream of Jeannie, My Friend Flicka, Dragnet, My Three Sons and The Gong Show. Sample lyric: "Now you and Napoleon Solo are just throwin' up/ From all the cute little black kids talkin' like grown-ups/ Art Fleming won't even let you question the answers/ Until you've tried out for the Solid Gold Dancers."

7. Public Enemy, "She Watch Channel Zero?!" (1988).
"You're blind, baby, you're blind from the facts on who you are 'cause you're watching that garbage," Flavor Flav screams at his girl. (Apparently she was watching Flavor of Love?) Besides, Flav wants to watch the Super Bowl and the "Tyson fight." Listen here.

8. Bob Dylan, "TV Talkin’ Song" (1990).
Dylan sings about witnessing some guy's anti-TV spiel at Speaker's Corner in London's Hyde Park. "Sometimes you gotta do like Elvis did and shoot the damn thing out," the guy advised, inciting a riot. "Later that evening I watched it on TV." So what?

9. Bruce Springsteen, "57 Channels (And Nothin' On)" (1992).
The Boss's life is ruined by TV. He gets a cable hookup and later a satellite dish, but he loses his lady and finds himself friendless. "So I bought a .44 Magnum with solid-steel cast/ And in the blessed name of Elvis well I just let it blast/ 'Til my TV lay in pieces there at my feet/ And they busted me for disturbing the almighty peace." Watch the video here.

10. The Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy, "Television, the Drug of a Nation" (1992).
A provocative, largely humorless condemnation of the "cathode-ray nipple," as these party-poopers accuse TV of "breeding ignorance, feeding radiation." Between the sharp wordplay is sprinkled random TV noise -- the only thing I can identify is Dr. Frasier Crane. The tune mentions Grecian Formula and some networks ("CNN, ESPN, ABC, TNT, but mostly BS"), though it doesn't mention any specific shows. Watch an unofficial 2006 video.

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