I am a child of the AM Gold generation. Dating myself, I know. But my junior high school years - formative ones for any music fan - coincided with the last heyday of AM Top 40 radio in the early 1970s. That was before the freeform FM rock format took much of the audience and disco took the rest, dividing radio listeners for decades. A quaint and ancient era to today's yutes, I know. But glory days too, when you might hear the brain-frying guitar of the new Creedence for the first time back-to-back with Gladys Knight singing the hell out of some broken-hearted love song back-to-back with execrable dreck like "The Night Chicago Died." And then you'd hear them all again the next hour!
Relatively often one would become a national ear worm, the song of the summer blasting from every transistor at the beach, every car radio. There are fifty or a hundred songs from that era planted so deeply in my brain they are part of me for better and worse. I am stuck in the middle with them, just like this guy ---->
Aside from the heaven/hell of shared experience and endless repetition, another characteristic of the time was the songwriting discipline, a holdover from era of the the Brill Building song factory where people like Carole King and Paul Simon cut their teeth a decade earlier. Songs were 2:30 or 3:00 and seldom much more. They had hooks and melody, verse-chorus structure, and were edited within an inch of their lives. (Naughty words were edited out, too. Like I said, quaint.) We devoutly wished to see these commercially driven restrictions shattered, as they were when we all switched from WRKO to WBCN. But something was lost, too.
Which is my long-winded introduction to my album of the summer, Waiting on a Song, the second solo album from Black Keys frontman and studio wizard Dan Auerbach, on which he dives so deep into the AM Gold sound that in addition to MP3, CD and the now obligatory limited-edition vinyl release, he put the thing out on fucking eight-track.
The album is promoted as his love letter to his adoptive musical hometown, Nashville, and he wrote or recorded with some of that town's best, including John Prine, who co-penned the terrific title number about the songwriting muse, and Duane Eddy, who contributes a guitar solo or two. Other heavyweight guests include Mark Knopfler and Jerry Douglas. But this isn't some all-star shitshow. It's an almost entirely cohesive, organic love letter to the country-inflected singer-songwriter vein of AM Gold, from "Stuck in the Middle With You" to "Take It Easy" to "It Never Rains in Southern California," a universe of strummed guitars and heart-on-sleeve sentiments, verse-chorus structure and sunny chords. Every one of the ten songs is less than four minutes long, several under three.
You've probably heard the first single, "Shine On Me," featuring an Up With People/Traveling Wilburys chorus and Knopfler's guitar solo, an irresistible hook and "Horse With No Name"-level gibberish in the verses. I can't get it out of my head. "Malibu Man" is equally, insanely catchy complete with a string section."Show Me" and "Never in My Wildest Dreams" are heartfelt, intimate love songs that would have been inescapable on the radio in the summer of '71 or '72 or '73...probably sung by B.J. Thomas or Albert Hammond Jr. or whoever sang "Chevy Van."
(The one real sonic outlier here is "Cherry Bomb," sounds more like mid-period Beck - albeit much more listenable - or possibly a Prince cover.)
WRKO isn't coming back, and neither is the national earworm experience. But if you like sunny, three-minute pop songs that you can't get out of your head and that would also sound great on earbuds coming out of your phone at the beach, Waiting on a Song is the album for you.