Back in the days before the iPod (we know, it's hard to imagine), and even before the Walkman (yes, those used to be cool), the transistor radio gave music a new mobility.
The twentieth century was filled with technological breakthroughs that assisted the distribution and enjoyment of music radio, but perhaps none was as significant as the transistor radio. For the first time in history, recorded music became completely portable: listeners were freed from outlets and antennas, turntables and large speakers.
The first transistors were developed in the 1940s. An alternative to much larger vacuum tubes, transistors allowed other electronic equipment to shrink (plus they did not need time to warm up). The first transistor radio was introduced in 1954. Within just a few years, everyone—Dobie and Maynard, Gidget and Moondoggie—had one.
Transistor radios came in several sizes. Most were equipped with headphones so that users could listen in privacy. And some were encased in waterproof plastic so that they could hang in the shower.
In time, though, the transistor radio went the way of the dodo. By the 1970s, portable cassette players like the Walkman were taking over the mobile music industry. And soon the minidisc Walkman arrived on the scene.
Recollection and memory are recurring themes in Morrison's songwriting. A number of his songs, such as "Cyprus Avenue" and "Hyndford Street," explore his childhood in Belfast.
This entire song is about memory. But these lines capture the complexity of emotion that often surrounds recollection. Morrison chooses to relive this episode in his past but the pleasure that it brings is not without some pain and recognition of loss.
Other Morrison songs dealing with memory mix a similar range of emotion. In "Cyprus Avenue" he ecstatically remembers a fourteen-year old dream-girl "walking down in the wind and the rain, darling you keep walking down when the sun shone through the trees." But this vision-dream can slip into nightmare as he admits he is "caught one more time up on Cyprus Avenue . . . conquered in a car seat. Not a thing that I can do, I may go crazy."
Curiously, in Jimmy Buffett's cover of "Brown Eyed Girl" he does not "cast his memory back there, Lord." Instead, he "can't remember back then, Lord." Why Buffett's powers of memory are weaker than Van Morrison's, we can't say.
This line was too racy for many radio stations. They demanded a less explicit version of the song and Morrison's producers complied. An earlier line was repeated so that Morrison's kids were simply "Laughing and a running hey, hey, Behind the stadium."
The Federal Communications Commission was created in 1934 to regulate the airwaves. Television and radio stations interested in using a portion of the airwaves must receive a license to operate. The FCC argues that it must balance First Amendment rights of expression with its obligations under the police powers of government to protect the safety and welfare of the public.
For the most part, radio stations impose their own restrictions on content in order to stay on the right side of their target audience. But the FCC does enforce a set of general guidelines. Material that is obscene may not be broadcast. The Supreme Court has not had an easy time defining obscenity, but in several decisions it has held that material that aims at nothing other than the "prurient interests" of the public, material that depicts sex in an offensive way, and material that has no redeeming social, political, cultural, educational, or artistic value can be considered obscene.
Music that is simply "indecent," rather than obscene, must be restricted to hours in which children will probably not be listening—after 10 p.m. and before six a.m. This restriction applies to certain subject matter (sex, for example) as well as to "grossly offensive" language.
Some argue that the sha la las in the Counting Crows' song "Mr. Jones" are a tribute to Van Morrison. Others argue that they offer proof that Adam Duritz, the Crows' frontman, is a Morrison wannabe.
Adam Duritz bristles at both suggestions. He says he threw in the sha la las as something of a joke and was immediately labeled "the second coming of the Belfast Cowboy." He acknowledges that he learned a lot from Morrison, including how to sing with emotion. But he rejects the suggestion that his style is so narrowly derivative and rips the critics who enjoy minimizing the contributions of new artists just because they share some trait with a legendary figure.