Weird and Wonderful: The Black Keys and College Radio

As you well know, the black piano keys are sharps and flats. As such, if you’re playing in the people’s key—C Major—the black keys will impart a minor quality to the music. Take the E flat black key. Use it for the third in a C chord and you’ll get C Minor. Without delving too far into music theory or the politics of a socialist harmonic system, let’s just say the black keys were invented to enrich western sound with melancholy and weirdness at a time when it was in danger of being too perky and sweet. I think.

I heard the band the Black Keys for the first time a few weeks ago. A pal of mine has a college radio show and I decided to listen in. Among a bunch of Rolling Stones, Pixies, and other stuff I didn’t bother paying attention to, he played a couple of cuts from the Black Keys’ BROTHERS CD. He got me hooked. I have no clue why they named their band “The Black Keys” but they have that weirdness about them that I like: lots of minor feel.

I don’t listen to radio much, mostly because I don’t like commercial music from this era, my era, or any era. Well, that’s not true. I’ll take Ella anytime, anywhere. The Lee girls—Peggy and Brenda as well. And let’s not forget Bobby Darin. Okay, obviously I’m lying. I like pop music from any era in which I wasn’t living.

Point is, college radio is an anomaly on the flat American radio scene. This is because the program directors at college radio stations are not umbilically tied to Clear Channel. They have an autonomy those at the regular stations don’t enjoy. And I think they’re all on drugs which means they let their djs, who are definitely all on drugs, have free rein. What this means for us, the little people, is that we get to HEAR SOMETHING DIFFERENT FOR A CHANGE. omigod!

I’m not kidding. And because of that free rein and no holds barred formatting, much of what’s on college radio is unlistenable, (Remember the Stones my pal played? Yeah, I know I’m committing sacrilege, but really, aren’t the vocals just horrible in that band?), but don’t touch that dial. Next up is a college sophomore who brings you a sweet mix of lipstick pop and muddy water that hits your g-spot right where it counts. Like what happened when my pal played the Black Keys. Apparently I love the Black Keys but, because I hate commercial radio and haven’t listened since high school, I had no clue they were around and making this sharps-and-flats-on-the-people’s-key sound.

When I say college radio, I’m talking about the little colleges, not the big ones that support NPR, which itself is generally fine in a network kind of way, but still too much talking head for my taste. The little colleges, the ones that support 10 Watts of bone-chilling broadcasting power if they’re lucky, are fun and filled with jewels to be mined if you can just get past the coal. I invite you to find a station in your area [] and find your own treasure.

Here’s my current lode from the Black Keys which sounds to me like the 21st Century channeling 60s pop: over-reverbbed vocals, overwrought lyrics, standard chord progression, cheesy organ, excellent tom tom work. Dead Man’s Curve anybody?

Sue Lange
Sue Lange’s Bookshelf at Book View Cafe




Weird and Wonderful: The Black Keys and College Radio — 3 Comments

  1. Unfortunately small colleges don’t have powerful signals. What has changed my musical life is satellite radio. Talk about fragmented markets! There are ten channels devoted to politics from one end of the spectrum to the other, four country stations, five gospel, a good couple dozen rock and popular; three folk music channels, 40 sports, another 40 or so traffic and weather. And! There are channels specifically dedicated, 24-7, to the works of the Beatles, Bruce Springsteen, Jimmy Buffet, Frank Sinatra, and on beyond zebra. Any time anything major happens in the world (the presidential election, the Olympics) they have the bandwidth to peel off an entire station devoted to this event.
    The signal only fades if you go into tunnels or big overpasses. For driving across the US it is perfect.

  2. Small college stations — or music stores. They play unexpected selections, which widen your horizons. That’s how I discovered Gubaidulina, Gorecki, Fleet Foxes, Sound Garden, Boston Camerata. Another item going by the wayside in the era of Teh Internetz.

  3. Hey, I’ve got to try that satellite thing.

    Teh Internetz might just save the little stations. I listen to my college guy over the Internet because I live in radio-free Bernville, PA. Cain’t get no signal no-how.