Kathleen Murphy column: Songs on the radio

This type of music was insanely popular during my middle school years when I was first discovering music, and so ingrained itself into my mind and soul where it will reside for the rest of my days.

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Kathleen Murphy

The other day while driving to work, I realized I’d dropped my phone into the bottom of my backpack.

I was already en route. It would have been dangerous to fish for my phone — no matter how badly I wanted to listen to my podcast — so I resigned myself to a change of pace and turned on the car radio, something I don’t often do any more.

The first song that came through the speakers — after bypassing several commercials using the car’s search button — was Prince’s “When Doves Cry.” A classic. It also has a soothing tune, which, considering I was only on my first cup of coffee, was a good place to land. Within seconds, I found my head slowly bobbing along.

The first few chords of the next song were of a much faster pace, alerting me that my feeble head bobbing would no longer suffice. I suspected the blood-to-coffee ratio in my veins had not yet hit that magical percentage that allows me to do things like bop, sing along, or even hum, so I reached over to once again hit the search button.

Then I paused. It was a Def Leppard song. Def Leppard, for those of you who forgot — or never cared — was a stereotypical 1980s hair band. This type of music was insanely popular during my middle school years when I was first discovering music, and so ingrained itself into my mind and soul where it will reside for the rest of my days. I left the radio dial where it was.


You know how that goes. If you’re in your 70s, you likely came of age during the time of The Beatles, The Supremes, or even our very own Bob Dylan. Hearing their songs transports you to another time and place.

If you were a teenager in the 1970s, maybe Kiss songs make you sit up and pay attention, or, on a softer note, Bob Seger. I have a friend who is a decade younger than me who, whenever she hears a Britney Spears song, presses her hand against her chest as though she’s physically pushing her feelings back inside. Songs from our youth can do powerful things to us.

Here’s the thing: In today’s modern world of streaming services, nostalgia is easily accessed. If I want to listen to the crooning of “When Doves Cry” or the guitar riffs of an 80s hair band, I could simply go to Spotify and listen to it. That’s why I pay a subscription fee. Heck, I could find entire playlists of similar songs and listen to Prince or hair bands all day long. In fact, I did just that.

I grew tired of hair band music within a few weeks. It makes me wonder if the easy accessibility of having any song ready to play in ten seconds or less doesn’t make our listening experience more narrow. I’d quite forgotten about Def Leppard, to be honest. I had to hear the song in order for me to know I wanted to hear the song, if that makes sense.

There is something sweet about finding your nostalgia unexpectedly, such as on the car radio on your way to work. The hair band song I listened to that morning was — as most hair band songs are — loud and escalated, the lyrics demanding I pay attention. It was way too much song for first thing in the morning, before I was fully caffeinated.

But it got me anyway. The radio will get me again someday, with some other song I’d forgotten about. I’m already looking forward to it.

Kathleen Murphy is a freelance writer and editor who lives and works in Duluth. Write to her at

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