OST: Pirate Radio

OST_PirateRadioThe better-known sounds of 1960s UK pirate radio

Ever since George Lucas built American Graffitti around its ever-present soundtrack, filmmakers have used vintage music as a shorthand to quickly evoke a specific period. In this film’s fictionalized version of 1960s UK pirate radio, the nostalgic selections are in many ways the central character. Driven by monopolistic, government controlled radio’s narrowness, daring entrepreneurs anchored ships outside territorial waters where they could beam their signals back to the Emerald Isles. Those radio waves were stocked with fresh, daring new artists that the BBC wouldn’t touch. Forty years later, the music on this 2-CD, 32-track collection may seem quaint and familiar, but it caused quite a stir at the time.

While the Beatles-led British Invasion suggests that musical travel was all in one direction, the heavy dose of U.S. rock and soul sides heard here suggests otherwise. There are many U.K. flag bearers among the pirate radio favorites, including the Kinks, Who, Troggs, Hollies, Tremeloes, Procol Harum and Moody Blues, but also a rip tide of U.S. acts whose impact returned the favor, including the Turtles, Beach Boys, Martha and the Vandellas, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, and Otis Redding. Star acts like the Rolling Stones are missing (no doubt due to licensing cost), but more importantly are the lesser known British acts that gave pirate radio its local flavor. The one nod in this direction is the Bystanders’ version of “98.6,” which shadowed the bigger international hit by Keith on the UK charts.

British favorites like Sandie Shaw, the Pretty Things, Small Faces and Ivy League, and dozens of other acts that never made a big dent in the American charts would have given this set a deeper feel for the pirate radio charts. The stations’ breadth is suggested in Herb Alpert’s “This Guy’s in Love With You,” but even that doesn’t capture the freedom of a station like Radio Caroline that used Jimmy McGriff’s version of “Round Midnight” as its theme song. The lead-off cover of “Stay With Me Baby” by the throwback vocalist Duffy seems to be an attempt to draw attention to an album of 45-year-old music, but with Lorraine Ellison’s searing period original also included, the flavor-of-the-month cover is superfluous.

The track selections stay too close to the mainstream to really demonstrate pirate radio’s unique contribution to the airwaves. The lack of radio continuity – jingles and DJs – further obscures the actual sound of the pirates. There are moments of musical discovery here, such as Chris Andrews’ ska-influenced “Yesterday Man,” Jr. Walker and the All Stars’ dark instrumental “Cleo’s Mood,” and aforementioned tracks by the Bystanders and Lorraine Ellison, but the core tracks are well-worn totems of mid-60s rock and soul. For U.S. audiences, these songs American top-40 hits, so while they’re great listening, they don’t really say anything particular about UK pirate radio of the 1960s.

If you enjoyed the songs in the movie, and you don’t already have a deep collection of ‘60s classics, you’ll like this soundtrack. If you want to hear a broader, more Eurocentric range of pirate radio music, get a copy of 101 Pirate Radio Favorites, Rockin’ With the Pirates, or We Love the Pirates. Or better yet, create your own compilation from the vintage playlists on Caroline and London’s websites and add some continuity from the CD Pirate Radio Jingles Sixties. [©2009 hyperbolium dot com]

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