Everyone has a dark secret in their past. My unabashed love of this song is (one of) mine:
This is such an eighties video: walkmans, roller skates, all those slabs of neon colour on the aerobics leotards, and the obligatory leg warmers (people had cold legs in the 80s). Black people seem a bit over-represented in Cliff’s roller team – maybe the casting people thought only black people could roller skate? The video has some pleasingly human errors in the present era of flawlessly bland videos where any mistake can be digitally erased (the shadow of the cameraman appears more than once). All that skating around, and spot lighting must have been a nightmare to film. Cliff looks a bit tense. He doesn’t do too badly, but he’s clearly not a man who has spent a lot of time on wheels before… his lower body is a little, shall we say, rigid? There must have been a lot of buttock clenching going on to get through this.
Even though the song was a hit in Britain and the former British Empire, it only reached number 77 in the USA. On the other hand there is a striking similarity between Cliff’s 1981 album cover:
And this 1984 album cover from the States:
Was Cliff ahead of his time for once?
Actually when you overthink this video Cliff is attempting to be quite “on trend” but is actually revealing that he is a fossil all over again. The mobile anorexics in pastel leotards are of the moment, but Cliff is trying to make black leather work for him which places him as a rock star from a different, earlier era. Lyrically it is also pretty uncool to mention vinyl in a song all about crappy, plastic tapes and headphones.
Whatever, when I go back to my natural state and underthink things I love this song and this video; the video absolutely perfectly sells the message of the lyrics. Even though I spent most of my life thinking that this song started off talking about midgets, (“I like small people”) the whole thing is about how fricking great music is.
I like small speakers-I like tall speakers
If they’ve music-they’ve wired for sound
Walkin’ about with a head full of music
Cassette in my pocket and I’m gonna use it-stereo
-out on the street you know-woh oh woh…
Into the car go to work I’m cruisin’
I never think that I’ll blow all my fuses
Traffic flows-into the breakfast show-woh oh woh…
Power from the needle to the plastic
AM-FM I feel so ecstatic now
It’s music I’ve found
And I’m wired for sound
When you’re a kid who’s going to love pop music and you discover pop music for the first time it’s like a fever. My greatest desire when I was about twelve was to have a clock-radio that could play tapes. My love of the Hunting High and Low tape knew no bounds, and there was a particular pleasure in listening to tapes at night. Listening to tapes at night was forbidden and I had to turn them down very low (my mother seemed to have supersonic ears) but it was worth it.
At some point my mother went on her first holiday to Europe and came back with a set of AM-FM radio headphones. This was in the day when FM was the cutting edge of technology. Lying in bed at night I would press the headphones hard against my ears and be astonished by the previously unheard depths of sound. Astonishing. Which is what Cliff is singing about: how astonishing it was to go from (a) AM to FM, and (b) furniture stereos to portable ones.
It was exciting. I remember when 2ZM became ZMFM. On the morning of the transition the first song they played was Starship, We Built this City. It sounded so good. It was a real magic trick to take a transistor radio and flick the switch from AM to FM and hear all the muddy, muffled hum drop away and this crisp, clear sound leap out of the tiny little speaker. To this day I can visualise my best friend’s little silver transistor radio with the AM/FM switch at the top.
I never had a Walkman. I sort of wanted one, but obviously not enough to pester my mother about it. When I started buying music records were still around, and records were always cooler than tapes in my mind. I know that it’s fashionable to say that vinyl gave a better sound, but to me vinyl was better because it came in a more beautiful package. Who would want a cruddy little fold out origami lyric sheet in a plastic case when they could get a fold out double album cover? Tapes also lacked durability. I have all of my records from the 80s and none of my tapes.
But tapes were good for two reasons. Firstly they were part of the shift to small and portable music, and secondly they created the possibility of dubbing and mix tapes. I wonder if there is any person of my generation who didn’t sit by the radio with their finger over the record button waiting to see if the next track would be a good one when they were a kid. I had dozens of these tapes all with little snippets of DJs talking across the front of each song, and abrupt endings where I had pushed stop before the DJ came back on again. Magic. I wish I had some of them now.
Actually I think I’m going to make one. A 1982 mix tape. And even though Cliff’s song was from 1981 I think Wired for Sound is going to be the first song on it. It had better be a C-90 because I’ll want to cram a lot on. I wonder what should be next?