Around the Dial – The Kinks

The Kinks - Give the People What They WantCast of Characters

The People:  Music lovers.  The common man.
As in “The People love The Beatles.”

The Man:  Those who enjoy controlling The People in order to keep power within their own ranks rather than letting freedom flow to The People.
As in “The Man is keeping us down.”

The Corporation Guys Upstairs:  Those who do the bidding of The Man even though they are really just part of The People who would enjoy life more if they stopped doing the bidding of The Man.  They often get to enjoy small nibbles of the carrot that The Man dangles in front of them but they never actually get the carrot.  They usually grow old with regret, realizing too late that they never achieved what The Man promised and now it’s too late to go back and live life over and go after their own will rather than the will of The Man.
As in “He got fired from The Corporation Guys Upstairs for speaking the truth.”

 

Music is a liberating force in a world bent on keeping The People in chains.  Every time we rally around a movement, music is there.  But every time The Man hears the music, he uses The Corporation Guys Upstairs to keep The People down. So what better album title than Give The People What They Want to include the opening song, “Around the Dial”?  It’s one on my favorite Kinks songs, about one of my favorite subjects, on one of my favorite Kinks albums.  Let’s discuss it, shall we?

“Around the Dial” is a classic story of a radio DJ who wouldn’t answer to social trends or to The Corporation Guys Upstairs.  Instead, he kept his musical integrity and played music that The People wanted – or needed – to hear.  In today’s algorithm ruled playlist culture, digital music subscription services tell us what we want to hear by “suggesting” what we should like.  Not long ago, MTV told kids what was cool and what was not.  To be a hit, you had to get your video played in regular rotation on the music television network. And before that, radio DJs served that purpose by promoting the music that record label execs and program directors told them they should play.  But let’s think about this.  Neither of these examples started as stooges for The Man.  No, in fact it is much to the contrary!  Digital music subscription services can trace their origins to the original (now banned) Napster where people shared music peer-to-peer with one another (keep in mind, I’m not condoning the stealing of music as was being done via Napster – I’m just bringing up that in the earliest days of digital music, it was about sharing what The People wanted).  MTV, likewise, began as an underground network for true music lovers among The People before it became the tool of The Man.

The Man is the eternal killjoy. He lives only to destroy freedom among The People.  Whenever The People innovate technology or conceive ideas that bring power and freedom to The People (or serve as the soundtrack to such a revolution), you’ll find The Man infiltrating these innovations by strategically placing The Corporation Guys Upstairs within these innovative institutions of The People who do the bidding of The Man.  So it was with Rock ‘n Roll.

Rock Music brought freedom and power to The People.  The Man could not bare the thought of The People increasing their strength, encouraged by Rock Music.  For they might grow and overthrow The Man.  He had to stop it… again, by infiltrating the ranks.  So he placed his spies and agents within radio stations and record labels.  “No, no – don’t listen to that, listen to this,” they said. And we complied.  But a remnant remained.  Those among The People who were not brainwashed by The Man’s propaganda machine knew that this was a war.  And the integrity of Rock Music itself is a battle worth fighting and a hill worth dying on.  Freedom always is.

“Around the Dial” by The Kinks beautifully tells this tale.  It begins as a frantic listener has been scanning stations around the radio dial, trying to find his favorite DJ who was taken off the air by his former station.  This DJ was not one to follow trends or play records that the station and labels told him to play.  He always played the best music: a radio DJ for the people!  As music lovers (which I assume you are if you’re reading my articles), we all grew up knowing some of those DJs – the ones who made the golden era of rock radio fun.  In the song, it appears the radio station became bland and boring after this DJ was fired.  The song’s protagonist – the frantic listener – is determined to find out where the DJ landed so that he can enjoy radio once again.

“I’ve been around the dial so many times,
But you’re not there.
Somebody tells me that you’ve been taken off the air.
Well, you were my favorite D.J.,
Since I can’t remember when.
You always played the best records,
You never followed any trend.
F.M., A.M. where are you?
You gotta be out there somewhere on the dial.”

Later, our frantic listener speculates on just what happened to cause the DJ’s being fired from the station.  Did he mouth off to The Corporation Guys Upstairs?  Was it ratings?  Was it pressures of the job and the industry?

“Where did you go Mr. D.J.?
Did they take you off the air?
Was it something that you said to the corporation guys upstairs?
It wasn’t the pressure,
You never sounded down.
It couldn’t be the ratings,
You had the best in town.”

You also get the feeling in this lyric that this DJ has been fired from stations multiple times in the past;  that this isn’t the first time that he’s had to find a new home on the dial:

This time your station really must have gone underground”

In the end, our frantic listener never gives up hope that one day he’ll find his DJ spinning the music that brings freedom… somewhere on the dial:

“The answers out there somewhere on the dial.”

From a musical perspective, the song is just as wonderful as the lyrical story.  It was released on 1981’s Give the People What They Want album which was during the Kinks harder rocking revival era.  As the opening song, it perfectly set the mood of the remainder of the album.  After a brief introduction, the song kicks in with a great guitar riff that smoothly transitions into a catchy pop-oriented verse. There is a great bridge in the song with harmonies that seem straight out of The Beach Boys.  And they used radio tuning static in the intro and in the bridge to provide audial reminders that the frantic listener is trying to locate his DJ.  Not to mention, Dave Davies threw in his signature lead guitar work throughout the song where he could find clever spots.

This song was one of my favorites growing up and it still stands the test of time today.  In fact, in today’s world of automated DJs and algorithm controlled subscription services, I think this song is more relevant now than ever before.

Give it a listen.

 

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