Semi-stupid Tuesday questions, Little Bird edition

The other day, I lingered in my car to hear the entirety of Annie Lennox’s 1992 hit “Walking on Broken Glass.”  Chances are I had something better to be doing inside, but there was at least another verse to go when I arrived home, so I stayed outside to hear it.

As it happens, I fishing love that song.  Part of why I love it is that the very first time I heard it was on a family trip to Scotland to celebrate my grandparents’ 50th wedding anniversary, and it was a really great trip.  I got to hang out with cousins I rarely see, and spend time in a beautiful part of the world.  It also yielded over a decade’s worth of in-jokes with my brother, whose impression of an irate Scottish woman saying “But I’ve already cooked yer breakfast!” still makes me chuckle.  (Long story.)  If memory serves, the song was released as a single in the UK before the United States, and the teenagers that hung out in the local pub played it over and over and over.  (It stands to reason that Scottish teens would be partial to a hit by a Scottish songstress.)  So there was the added appeal of hearing a hit song before other American teenagers did, which made me feel a bit cooler than was the norm for me back in 1992.

All that context aside, “Walking on Broken Glass” is an awesome song.  If there is a heaven, and if I get to go there when I die, and if people still take naps there (and how could it be heaven otherwise?), then the angel who will sing me to sleep will sound like Annie Lennox.  (The angel who reads me bedtime stories will sound like Phylicia Rashad.)  To her gorgeous voice is added a beautiful, catchy melody and witty lyrics.  What’s not to love?  Throw in a video featuring a pre-“House” Hugh Laurie, and you’re left with a big pile of win.

So I stayed in the car to hear to whole song.

Except I have that album.  I first owned “Diva” on cassette tape (a well-chosen Christmas gift), and I listened to it obsessively.  (I can probably still sing every song from memory.)  I bought the CD at some point, and am sure it is in my iTunes library.  Even if it weren’t, it’s probably on Spotify, and I can listen to it on demand whenever I choose.

But there’s something about hearing it unexpectedly on the radio that makes it better, right?  Even though I could have strolled inside and in a matter of a minute or two listened to the whole song all over again, there was something more pleasurable about listening to it out of the blue.  Do other people do this?  Would have you stayed in the car to hear the rest of a song you liked, even if you already owned it?  If so, why?

Russell Saunders

Russell Saunders is the ridiculously flimsy pseudonym of a pediatrician in New England. He has a husband, three sons, daughter, cat and dog, though not in that order. He enjoys reading, running and cooking. He can be contacted at blindeddoc using his Gmail account. Twitter types can follow him @russellsaunder1.


  1. I’m usually a not-hit guy for this.

    I like a lot of music, and I like a lot of bands, and for almost all of their songs that were popular, I’ll get out of the car and turn off the radio. I gots stuff to do, I don’t need to hear “Beds Are Burning” again on the air.

    But if I ever hear “Best of Both Worlds” on the radio again (it’s happened once), I’d sit through it. There are a bunch of great songs off of great albums that never got worthy amounts of radio play. I’d sit through any of them out of a sense of obligation to the moment.

  2. When I am shopping, I am typically listening to audiobooks on my earpiece. Sometimes, though, I’ll hear a good song on Safeway’s intercom and will turn it off. Even if I own the song. Even though I can barely hear the song. Even though it’s likely to be interrupted by someone saying “Attention Employees! Baby Puke on aisle seven!”

    They particularly get me with “Walking in Memphis.”

    • Speaking of “Walking in Memphis”, when the Memphis Grizzlies made an improbable run during the 2011 NBA playoffs, TNT/TBS/TWHATEVER would play that song after every win. This made me chuckle given that that particular incarnation of the Grizzlies seemed like the least likely collection of people to like that song. I posted this observation on Facebook, to which a friend responded, “You know Z-Bo is bumping to that!”

      This is much funnier if you actually know anything about the 2011 Grizzlies.

  3. i probably would stay in the car for a song i really liked. that said, i’ve eschewed the chaotic grab bag of radio for a very long time – same reason i can’t be bothered to use services like pandora.

  4. Yes, I would stay in a car for a song I liked, even though I don’t own one (a car). I like listening to the radio in general because I like the (relative) unpredictability of what will come on. (My station’s choice of songs is pretty predictable, but within that, there’s some variety.) However, sometimes I’ll pull up music on youtube and listen to it that way.

  5. I’ll second WT’s “Walking in Memphis” as a song I’d stop to listen to on the radio. I’ll go on to generalize: Songs I don’t own, but that remind me of a specific time, or place, or sentiment, like the musico-esthetic equivalent of Proust’s madeleine. Johnny Cash’s version of Nine Inch Nails “Hurt.” Better Than Ezra’s “Good.” Hum’s “Stars.” Stuff like that.

    • SiriusXM’s “90s on 9” has ruined “Good” for me, because they play it all the fishing time. (I keep it mostly tuned to that station, because of the madeleine-like effect you describe.)

  6. Countless times I have stayed in the car to listen to a song I like, even if I own the CD. Come to think of it, I haven’t heard “If You Could Read My Mind” by Gordon Lightfoot in ages; I really should buy it!

  7. I stayed in the car once to listen out the Alan Parsons Project’s “Eye In The Sky.”

    Not one of my superlatively prouder moments; it’s not a particularly remarkable song either musically or in the sense of denoting any points in my life the way, say, “Right Here, Right Now” (Jesus Jones) or “Ready to Go” (Republica) did.

    But there you go, the answer to this particular Tuesday question is, I’m somewhat chagrined to admit, the Alan Parsons Project.

    • Gotta stick up for at least one lyric in this song –

      The sun in yr eyes / Made some of the lies worth believing

      That’s a quality line.

  8. I’ve found that in these days of having iPods and iPhones that the radio is not necessarily needed for this to happen. With thousands of songs on my phone, the shuffle function can accomplish the same thing.

    I have a lot of songs in my iTunes library (almost 25,000) and a while back I went through it and made a play list of songs that are never on my other playlists, but which I felt like I knew well enough to sing along to (well, the chorus at least). It’s got about 2,000 songs in it, and I only play it if I’m driving a longish drive or doing house or yard work. But the sheer joy I get from hearing some sone I loved 20 years ago but have mostly forgotten is amazing.

    “Hey! I forgot all about Our House! Oh, here’s the refrain where they sing really fast about remembering what life used to be like – that’s my favorite part.”

    “Huh… Why didn’t I realize when I was younger how sexy Because the Night is?”

    “I need to put Happiness Is a Warm Gun in my next playlist.”

    I almost always stay in the car to hear at least one song out till the end when I do this.

    • “Huh… Why didn’t I realize when I was younger how sexy Because the Night is?”

      In my case, this was because I’d only ever heard the Patti Smith version before. The 10,000 Maniacs cover was a revelation.

      • *eyebrow raise*
        I fell in love with Patti Smith at 19 because of how sexy Because the Night is.

        In other news, boys are weird.

      • Yes, I do this.

        Until I turn the radio off, I can pretend I have all the time in the world and everything is easy. That’s actually what I like about driving (long-haul, or at least deserted street, not stop-n-go) in general. When I’m driving, I’m In The Car. That’s the only thing going on until I get where I’m going. And a sweet song on the radio is the perfect excuse to be In The Car for another couple of minutes.

        • (Er, I meant to put that one at the bottom of the page. *gives WP the side-eye*)

  9. Also, I have to ask about the picture you used… What is the connection between Annie Lennox/songs on the radio and Black Adder? (Which, mind you, I loved.)

    • I seem to have missed this question the first dozen times I checked the comments. Sorry.

      The picture is from the video to “Walking on Broken Glass.” in which Hugh Laurie plays the foppish new love of Annie Lennox, who has been jilted by John Malkovich (who is also in the video). The whole thing is a spoof on “Dangerous Liaisons,” and is deeply, deeply awesome.

  10. Yes, I’ve done this. Why? A few guesses. First, the enjoyment of music (and other art) depends partially on subjective factors such as mood, attentiveness, and what’s on my mind. It happens that sometimes I’m more disposed to listening to a song than at other times. Second, a song is a kind of whole, and cutting off that whole can be jarring to me, especially if done to music I know well and love. I want to finish the piece because a sudden stop in the music’s movement hits me as wrong. Almost as if the song deserves better. I feel off when I’ve walked away from a song mid note.

    • Yes, as to the whole and the mood – but I also think there’s some unconscious sense of communality involved. When a song comes on the radio, you know that a reasonably large number of other people are also listening to it at that moment. You’re all in it together, in your widely dispersed automobiles, rooms, wherever. At the very least, you and the DJ are sharing something in your mutual present. You are being hosted, being relieved of your will and receiving a gift in return. Choice can be overrated – can add to the sense of loneliness that ought to be relieved by music – make the experience more masturbatory rather than erotic.

      One reason I prefer cable or broadcast TV to satellite for live sports is that for technical reasons they’re usually ca. 1 second closer to truly “live,” or “live as experienced by most other people.” There were times during a big game that I’d hear my neighbors begin reacting one second before the same play occurred on my set. Just that difference made me feel another layer of distance from a shared presence.

  11. I stayed in the car at the grocery store on Sunday to listen to the Bobby Darin version of “A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square,” even though I own at least two CDs that have it. Sure, I could listen to it any time I want. But I wanted to hear it then. Besides, you don’t walk out on awesome.

  12. I feel the same way about movies. We own a lot of movies on DVD and have access to even more via Netflix and the like. But I’ll stop and watch a movie on TV that I’d never think to pop into the player myself. Even if it’s halfway over and/or edited for regular TV, I’ll watch. I think a few things are at play…

    1.) There is something enjoyable about having things done for you. *I* didn’t put the movie on… someone else did.
    2.) There is a sense of a shared experience. Someone somewhere is also laughing at the same fart jokes I am.
    3.) It affirms my affinity for the movie. “SEE! I’m not the only person who likes this!” (Zazzy often insists I’m the only person who likes certain movies. This says more about who she hangs out with than me, I feel. I mean, who doesn’t know someone who can quote “Demolition Man” front to back and back to front?)

    It happens with music as well. Just yesterday, I had to force myself out of the car when the new Killers’ song game on (“Runaways”). I had it on Spotify and had just pulled up to the library as it started. I was tempted to sit in the car for the 3 minutes but forced myself not to. It seemed like the “adult” thing to do… and I hated it.

      • I’m far from a music aficionado, so I don’t pretend to make music rec’s to people (except STYX… EVERYONE should listen to more STYX). “Runaways” hits a soft spot for me I can’t really describe, but I’m not about to argue that you are a bumbling moron who has asscheeks for ears because you don’t like it.

        • I’m not about to argue that you are a bumbling moron who has asscheeks for ears because you don’t like it.

          That’s probably why I like you more than most self-described music aficionados.

        • “The Angry Young Man” was pretty sweet.

          I’m quite certain that I’ve never heard “Runaways” before, but that thing he (or the producer) does with his voice on “teenage rush” at 0:45, “that ain’t much” at 0:53, “it’s in my blood” at 1:32, etc., sounds very familiar. What is this reminding me of? I’m thinking it must be something from the ’80s.

          • I’ve heard the song compared to Dylan, but I’ll cop to not knowing Dylan all that well.

            Maybe it is I who have asscheeks for ears.

          • Oh, and while I’m exposing my faulty knowledge of music, can I say that I love the “new” (or at least new to me) Black Keys single “Little Black Submarines” and that it makes me think of Led Zeppelin. Am I crazy? Or do I actually know something?

          • Kazzy – re: Keys & Zep – I was going to say you were probably hearing the similarity in the 2 bands’ approaches (that is, take basic blues forms and make them REAL LOUD) but I just watched the ‘Submarines’ video, and there is a bit of the melody that does recall ‘Stairway’ to me, so no, you’re not crazy.

          • Less “crazy” and more “Doesn’t understand music.” Sometimes I mix up Pink Floyd and Zeppelin because “they’re both popular bands from the 70’s right?”

            I knew the Keys song was reminiscent of someone and I thought it was Zeppelin, but I couldn’t be sure because I’m not always entirely sure which was Zeppelin is.

            But, hey, it’s a start!

          • If you don’t have any Zep, you should (Floyd too). Stupidly talented musicians in that band. I didn’t own any Zep or Floyd for a long time; growing up they were such staples on classic-rock radio here, there was no need to own any of the records, because pretty much at any given time, you could find a song of theirs on the radio dial.

            It was only once I stopped listening at all ever to the radio, that I felt the need to buy the records.

          • Yeah, you probably can, ya whippersnapper. 🙂

            Keep meaning to check out Spotify but forgetting. I have a stupid amount of music on my hard drive that I haven’t fully absorbed yet.

    • Can I also say that I literally jumped out of my seat with excitement today when I remembered that it was Tuesday and thus Question Day here at BT?

  13. I do this all the time.

    It’s part of the ‘moment’. Even if you own the CD/Cassette/Record/8-Track *cough* it’s still not the same as having it playing RIGHT THEN.

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