As Music Director at WDVX, a large part of my job deals with previewing new releases and selecting which songs will receive airplay at the station. We broadcast on the FM band and are obliged to adhere to FCC guidelines regarding language and decency. In my position, there’s nothing worse than getting a couple of minutes into an amazing new song and having one four-letter word completely derail any chances of that song ever making it on the air. What follows is a list of some of my favorite songs that I can never share with you on the radio. — Nelson Gullett
Lydia Loveless — “Longer”
This song from Lydia’s new album is the one that started me down the path of putting this list together. I first heard the album version of it a few hours before I was scheduled to host a new music show on WDVX. I immediately loved the song and was heartbroken when I came to the lyric that raised the FCC flag. Fortunately, Bloodshot Records always sends radio stations a “clean” version of all of Lydia’s records, and this song — a version of it, at least — is currently spinning at the station.
Lucinda Williams — “Essence”
I should state that I am not personally offended by any of the songs on this list. To the contrary, I applaud any artist who has the conviction to use the precise language in a song that will carry their message and get their point across … regardless of what that does to their radio prospects. Lucinda Williams is a master of conveying emotion and desperation in her songs. Any phrase other than the one she uses here, would have robbed this song of a certain degree of power behind those emotions. There is no need for Lucinda to pull any punches.
Kathleen Edwards — “What Are You Waiting For?”
In many ways, Kathleen Edwards is a very similar artist to Lucinda. There’s often an edge to her writing that feels very earnest and genuine. Here, Kathleen’s exasperation leads her to a point where her exclamation feels fully earned. Like Lucinda, any phrase other than the one she uses would dull the impact of the song.
Greensky Bluegrass — “Windshield”
In contrast to the previous two songs, I do sometimes get a little peeved when I feel like the language that excludes a song from airplay could have just as easily been left out. This is the opening track (and lead single) on Greensky Bluegrass’ 2014 album, If Sorrows Could Swim. The first verse contains a usage of the f-bomb that seems as though it was just wedged into the lyric to add a couple of beats in order to fit the words to the measure. I’ll admit that it did sour my initial impressions of the band and the album. Fortunately, we found plenty of other songs from the album that worked for our station, and the band has done very well on our airwaves.
Todd Snider — “In the Beginning”
Rule number one with any new Todd Snider record that comes to the station: “Read the lyric sheet before playing on the radio.” Todd is a noted offender of offensive language rules and generally requires a little extra screening. When it came our way in 2012, six of the ten songs off Todd’s Agnostic Hymns & Stoner Fables album were deemed too hot for WDVX for various reasons. This is one of them.
Hayes Carll — “She Left Me for Jesus”
It isn’t always explicit language that keeps a song off our airwaves. Sometimes content comes into play, as well. Knoxville is squarely located in the Bible Belt, and we do typically try to stay away from polarizing political or religious topics. Hayes Carll’s tone in this tune is fully tongue-in-cheek, but given the controversy surrounding this song upon its release — and having a feel for how portions of our audience might react to it — we left it off our playlist. Incidentally, this song was named Song of the Year at the 2008 Americana Music Awards. I voted for it.
James McMurtry — “We Can’t Make It Here”
The other Song of the Year winner to never make it to air at WDVX is this 2006 winner from James McMurtry. (I voted for it, too.) This one falls a bit into the polarizing political statement category, having been released squarely in the middle of President George W. Bush’s final term. Ultimately, though, it was language usage rather than legislative leanings that kept us away from this one.
Ryan Adams — “Come Pick Me Up”
This is my favorite Ryan Adams song. Always has been. I don’t know if it’s the loping banjo, or Kim Richey’s backing vocals, or just the sheer languidness of it all … but something about this song has always spoken to me. It certainly can’t be the profanity-laced chorus. Nah … that can’t be it at all.
Gillian Welch — “Revelator”
Full disclosure: I have played this song on the radio many, many times. I listened to it over and over before I ever realized that Gillian slipped in the word she slips in about four minutes into the tune. It wasn’t until I saw Chris Thile and Nickel Creek sing this live a couple years after its release that I actually heard what was always there. I don’t know if Chris enunciated better than Gillian or if I just didn’t want to believe that Gillian says what she says. It sounds completely obvious to me now, but back then …
The Baseball Project — “Ted Fucking Williams”
I love baseball. I love Scott McCaughey, Mike Mills, and Peter Buck. Ted Williams is the “Greatest Hitter that Ever Lived.” I love this song. I can’t play this song for obvious reasons.
Monty Python’s Flying Circus — “I Bet You They Won’t Play This Song on the Radio”
Just for fun … This song from Monty Python and Eric Idle has been running through my head ever since I agreed to write this.