Okay, I'm going to say it: the categories for the 30 Day Song Challenge are starting to suck a little. ( "A song you wished you heard on the radio"? C'mon now. Puh-lease.) I've looked ahead and, fortunately, the prompts get better, so hang in there.
Here's what I'm going to assume about today's prompt: the creators of the 30 Day Song Challenge must think that "what we listen to on the radio" basically amounts to "what we listen to in the car." So, I'm assuming that the song we "wish we heard more on the radio" is going to be something like the song we wish we heard more often while we were driving. That's about all the sense I can make of this category.
On my iPod, I actually have a playlist entitled "Driving Music"-- and it's exactly that. It's what I listen to when I drive: a whole collection of great Car Songs. I mean, Roll-Down-The-Windows, Bang-On-The-Steering-Wheel-Like-A-Snare-Drum, Flash-The-Rock-Horns and Sing-Like-The-People-In-The-Next-Lane-Can't-Hear-You songs. If there's one song on that list that I wish I heard more often on the REAL radio, it's the following.
Here it is, John (Cougar) Mellencamp's "Jack and Diane" from his 1982 album American Fool:
As I've said many times before, Mellencamp's line "sucking on chili dogs outside the Tastee Freeze" is one of the best ever written. And, as a whole, the story of "Jack and Diane" is a really great, really well-written story. Some of the lines not involving chili dogs or the Tastee Freeze are equally memorable: like "dribble off those Bobbie Brooks / let me do what I please" or "Jackie sits back, collects his thoughts for a moment / scratches his head and does his best James Dean." But I suppose the reason I wish I heard this song more on the radio is because of what always seems to me like the unexpected turn in the song, when it goes from being a sweet ballad about teenage love to a full-on existential anthem.
So let it rock, let it roll
Let the Bible Belt come and save your soul
Hold on to sixteen as long as you can
Changes come around real soon
Make us women and men
That's just great, simple and true, songwriting. And it sure doesn't hurt that it's preceded by a musical break that makes for a perfectly melodramatic air-drum solo in the car. I wish I heard more songs like "Jack and Diane" on the radio, in the car.
Last summer, I saw John Mellencamp (with Bob Dylan) at an outdoor concert in Oregon. It was a beautiful, cool summer night in the Pacific Northwest and both Mellencamp and Dylan were in fine form. Unfortunately, however, Mellencamp never played "Jack and Diane." That still seems wrong to me. But I realized during that show just how many great Americana songs Mellencamp has written, many of which have the same rootsy feel as "Jack and Diane" and almost all of which are examples of Mellencamp's truly impressive storytelling skills. He played "Little Pink Houses" and "Small Town" and "Hurts So Good" and even a few from his new album, including the very excellent "Save Some Time To Dream." Mellencamp has a way of telling sad stories in a hopeful way, and hopeful stories with a heavy dose of sadness, just like he does in "Jack and Diane." What is consistent among all of them, I think, is a kind of matter-of-factness that celebrates the celebration of simple life, warts and all.
Oh yeah, life goes on. Long after the thrill of living is gone.