Greg’s crackpot theories, #2: your favorite songs really DO sound better on the radio

January 12, 2012

My musical tastes are not that sophisticated. Above all else, I love catchy pop songs — the kind cranked out by They Might Be Giants, Stephin Merritt (of The Magnetic Fields), and Fountains of Wayne. I agree with Alex Fletcher, Hugh Grant’s character in Words and Music, who says of pop music, “Nothing can make you feel as good as fast.”

Some music-induced buzzes are better than others, though. The highest highs come when I’m listening to something that is NOT a catchy song — a less accessible song, a weather report, whatever — before the catchy song washes over me in a wave of pleasure. The non-catchy “baseline” makes the arrival of the catchy song that much better. Thus, I especially enjoy favorite songs when I hear them on the radio because they often follow, say, commercials for The Shane Company.

This thought about non-catchy baselines was inspired by repeated listening to John Linnell’s 1999 album State Songs (a favorite of my 5-year-old son, who refers to it as “the Green Music” because the CD is green). It includes a very catchy project overture, “The Songs of the 50 States,” which many artists would have used as the opening track. But Linnell leads off with a willfully unhip instrumental, “Illinois,” before plunging into “The Songs of the 50 States.” Why? I think he realized that the perceived catchiness of “The Songs of the 50 States” would be enhanced by preceding it with a much less catchy ditty.

Right or wrong, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.


  1. Can you go even further with this? Do you favorite songs sound *really* good if preceded by a song you hate? “Oh, thank god, that horrible Sonic Youth song is over, here’s Stacy’s Mom!”

    I recall that in college, a couple of the college radio station DJs had a “maximum music shock” contest, trying to play consecutive songs that were as different as possible. I think a guy from the x-country team won, by playing German clog music (?) followed by an Anthrax song (!)

  2. Jeremy, I think you’re right about the Sonic Youth-type situations, though I haven’t done the experiment and probably won’t ever get to it. (This isn’t the Oikos blog, after all….)

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