First listen: Cheesy FM
Sean Ross takes a critical listen to a radio station that plays 'pure cheese'
The UK has a different relationship with cheesy pop songs than we do in the US. Throughout the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, British radio’s acceptance of punk, new wave, and the disco/funk/R&B kept off the air here by the disco backlash, made it a much hipper place. Except when it wasn’t.
That’s how the much-vaunted Christmas No. 1 song could be “Another Brick In The Wall” one year and “There’s No One Quite Like Grandma” the next. Ultravox’s early ‘80s new-wave “Vienna” was held out of No. 1 by Joe Dolce’s “Shaddap You Face”, and while the Ultravox song means nothing to many U.S. readers, that week is as well-remembered in UK pop history as Blur vs. Oasis, and any British reader of a certain age will #seewhatIdidthere.
So if somebody were going to do a station devoted to cheesy pop, it would of course be in the U.K. In fact, I’ve come across others over the years, but recently James Cridland brought Cheesy FM to my attention on Twitter and a few other UK broadcasters, already familiar with it, chimed in. (Not unlike Apple’s Beats 1, by the way, which UK radio people seem more willing to treat as a serious part of the broadcast landscape.) So I took a “First Listen.”
Cheesy FM is a project of UK radio veteran Andy Peacock. The station is working its way through its first year with an “official launch” promised next year. Like other UK Internet broadcasters, it’s as produced as many U.S. broadcast stations with professional imaging and retro BBC Radio 1-style throwback jingles. There’s network news at :30. Only being jockless gives it any whiff of “Internet side project” and fairness now compels me to point out how many U.S. broadcast stations are jockless as well.
Cheesy FM is listenable in other ways, too. The UK charts offer no shortage of risible material, but the truly awful songs are a small part of the station—mostly just to prove they’re there. Mostly this is not-so-goofy rhythmic pop of the ‘80s through today with some ‘90s/’00s teen pop and a few pop/rock songs that have become soft AC over the years. There’s also an occasional recurrent.
In this particular hour, the recurrent was Ellie Goulding’s “Love Me Like You Do” which is just further proof of how subjective “cheesy” can be. In the US, Goulding’s the woman who made pop music hipper and more like ‘00s electronica. Goulding provided the template for Taylor Swift to start making ethereal midtempo pop songs, but in the UK, she’s apparently become Kylie Minogue already.
It’s also interesting that a few of the songs that constitute cheese in the U.K. are still considered gems here by the handful who know them. In general, the definition of cheese includes anything that went on to get played at weddings, thus the apparent inclusion of “Never Knew Love Like This Before” by Stephanie Mills. That song is Mainstream AC fodder here, but it’s not “Funkytown”
Here’s Cheesy FM, just before noon on October 29 (with some explanation of the songs for US readers):
- Bluebells, “Young At Heart” (medium-weight ‘80s triple-A pop comparable to Dream Academy)
- Boney M, “Brown Girl In the Ring”
- Stephanie Mills, “Never Knew Love Like This Before”
- Madonna, “Dress You Up”
- Steps, “Say You’ll Be Mine” (‘90s UK hitmakers who were a cross between Spice Girls and Abba)
- Starship, “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now”
- Erasure, “The Circus”
- Vengaboys, “Up And Down” (of a piece with “We Like To Party” and their bigger U.S. hits)
- Farley Jackmaster Funk, “Love Can’t Turn Around” (revered Chicago house classic that never had a chance to become wedding disco and is thus viewed differently here)
- Geri Halliwell, “It’s Raining Men”
- A1, “Same Old Brand New You” (a later UK boy band, but not such a bad song)
- Fat Larry’s Band, “Zoom” (obscure US R&B record that would also be seen differently here)
- Whitney Houston, “The Greatest Love Of All”
- T’Pau, “Heart And Soul”
- Galanis, “Peanut Butter Jelly” (recent UK dance hit)
- John Parr, “St. Elmo’s Fire (Man In Motion)”
- Sinitta, “Love On A Mountaintop” (late ‘80s Kylie Minogue-style disco)
- Chris Brown, “Yeah 3X”