Fishing For Music With a Tape Recorder – Before There Was Spotify (Colin Hay / Nellie McKay)

Back in the early 80’s, when I was a young boy in Tennessee, music was a commodity that was much more difficult to obtain and share than it is these days. There was no such thing as the Internet. There were no iPods, mp3’s – no Spotify, no Pandora. MTV had just launched, and actually played music videos. MTV actually playing music??? What a novel idea that was.

For the most part, you heard all of your music on the radio, and if you saved your allowance, you’d go out and buy the vinyl copy of what you liked (hoping that the rest of the songs on the album where just as good as that one song on the radio – but never knowing for sure until you got home). Most of us in the neighborhood would sit by our dads’ stereos with a tape recorder, waiting for that cool song to come on the radio so we could try to record it onto cassette by putting the microphone up to one of the speakers. We’d call into the radio station and request a song, and sometimes wait for hours for the disc jockey to play it. It never failed that when the song would finally come on, you’d be distracted and miss the first 30 seconds or so while fumbling with the tape recorder. If one of us in the neighborhood got lucky enough to catch the song we all liked, we’d let the others copy it onto one of their cassettes. Because of the way it was recorded, it usually sounded pretty awful, but we loved it anyway.

12-TYH_4227I have fond memories of trying to capture our first musical guest’s music this way. While we have lots of interesting musical guests on eTown every week, having Colin Hay visit us has been one of the most surreal for me. I was obsessed with his band Men at Work back then, and still play those albums to this day. I can even remember looking at the album sleeve of Business As Usual and imagining what the band member’s lives were like. Needless to say, meeting Colin Hay at eTown, and standing inches away from him with a video camera while he warmed up sound check with a few of those classics from Men at Work was a full circle moment for me. What makes it even better is the fact the Colin is an incredibly nice guy. I’ve had a few of those moments so far during my time at eTown. Getting to play drums with Thurston Moore (of Sonic Youth fame) last year was another one. It is moments like these that make me thankful for my job at eTown, and be able to wake up each day to the possibility of magic.

35-TYH_4300That said, I hope you enjoy this week’s episode of eTown as much as I did back at the taping. Our friend Nellie McKay, is also with us – plus a great eChievement Award story and a conversation with one of the nation’s most renowned polar bear experts.

Be sure to tune in or podcast, and check out the behind-the-scenes videos from the taping, below.


– Zack