Forgotten 45: “Pilot of the Airwaves”

(This post has been updated here.)

There’s lots of songs about radio. There’s a smaller number about DJs: “W.O.L.D” by Harry Chapin, “The Last DJ” by Tom Petty, Donald Fagen’s “The Nightfly” (“I’m Lester the Nightfly/Hello Baton Rouge/Won’t you turn your radio down/Respect the seven-second delay we use”), “Clap for the Wolfman” by the Guess Who, and “Pilot of the Airwaves” by Charlie Dore.

Dore had been an actor in her native UK, but in the late 70s she formed a band called Prairie Oyster (which is apparently not the same Prairie Oyster that charted a string of monster country hits in Canada during the 90s) and later scored her own record deal. Even though she signed with Island and was British, her first album was recorded partly in Nashville. The lead single of that album, “Pilot of the Airwaves,” is not remotely country-sounding, but it’s got that easy-rockin’ feel that was a radio staple in the late 70s, mostly because such records would bridge the gaps between the disco thumpers, rock tunes, and country crossovers that populated the Top 40 without sounding odd. You could even call it Mellow Gold, if Charlie were as diffident in dealing with the opposite sex as she is with the DJ she’s calling for a request (“You don’t have to play it but I hope you’ll do your best”). The best thing about it, though, is its massive hook—it starts with the refrain, done a cappella in gorgeous harmony. The 45 version ended the same way, although the version posted below is from the album and contains a guitar solo that was missing from the 45, and a plain old fadeout.

Tomorrow, I’ll take you inside the cockpit with the pilot himself. Stay tuned.

“Pilot of the Airwaves”/Charlie Dore (buy it, and some other Forgotten 45s from 1980 including yesterday’s, here)

(Island 49166, chart peak: #13, May 3, 1980)

6 responses

  1. I wasn’t crazy about that song when it was all over the radio back then, but it doesn’t bother me as much now as it did then. It does have a fine hook, and the sentiment is a smart one for a song pitched to radio.

    One thing I didn’t know about her, though, and only found out recently was that she sang a song on Harry Nilsson’s final album Flash Harry– the lead cut “Harry”, a fun ditty with Eric Idle singing lead. I only acquired Flash Harry, which didn’t come out in the US, a couple of months ago. Small world, innit!

  2. In looking for this song on iTunes, I noticed that there’s a gospel version of this song out there! It’s by the Original Five Blind Boys of Mississippi. Hard to tell from the 30-second sample how good it is, but it sure sounds interesting…

  3. I’m with Jbacardi. I didn’t really like this song when it came out, but damn it’s surprising how I remember every little nuance in the song now.

  4. […] geht der mir nicht aus dem Kopf. Flugs mal ein wenig gegoogelt und tatsächlich einen hybschen Blogeintrag zum Thema gefunden, der einiges über Charlie Dore, die Interpretin, hat und über das Album von […]

  5. Justin L Friedman | Reply

    I used to text my girlfriend, “Love you” until her husband texted back, “Loser”.
    Don’t tell Amy or Ben. I love Pilot of the Airwaves also.

  6. I loved this song then, and I love this song now…

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