O Positive - Talk About Love
My initial impulse was to write a capsule review of Cloud Factory, the second O Positive EP. I was going to first contextualize it within their career – how they jumped from a small indie label after a business dispute and ended up label-mates with the Godfathers and Winter Hours, and mention the success with which they met on the local airwaves, cashboxes (the EP was the best-selling record at Newbury Comics that Christmas), and even the Rolling Stone/Gavin Report charts. From there, I’d start talking about the music – the shiny, clean production, the radio-friendly rave-ups like “In the Light”, and the more active (for want of a better word) lyrical perspective; the eerie and poignant epic closer “Watch Out, This Sled’s Made for a Maniac”.
Instead, I’d like to tell a little story.
It’s sometime in 1989, and my father is taking us to his apartment in Quincy. A black billboard with lurid pink-and-yellow writing greets us as we get off Storrow and onto I-93 South. “Have you heard WFNX?” my dad asks, flicking ash from his cigarette in the general direction of the billboard. “They play songs like ‘Take the Skinheads Bowling’ and ‘Debbie Gibson is Pregnant with My Two-Headed Love Child’.”
I blush as red as the hot tobacco in my dad’s cigarette and shake my head. I’d been moving away from the cheesy teen pop I was supposed to like, but these song titles seemed altogether too scandalous for my still very refined tastes. At some point all the ‘FNX billboards and stickers got to me. After getting sick of the stations we’d pre-programmed on our stereo, I waited until my mom had gone out for the night to twist the tuner over to 101.7 and slipped the headphones over my ears.
The music I heard that night sounded edgier than the music aimed at my demographic. To someone reared on classic rock and pre-fab bubblegum pop, artists like New Order, REM, and 10,000 Maniacs sounded both companionable and revolutionary. Particularly on shows like “We Want the Airwaves”, the DJs and the folks who wrote in and made requests felt like a community of cool yet approachable people, and the we’re-all-friends-here vibe hastened my retreat into the arms of alternative radio.
WFNX was a huge supporter of local music. Where most commercial alternative stations might siphon the local artists off onto a Sunday night show, the ‘FNX playlist featured Boston-area big shots in regular rotation. At the time, I’d assumed that music was something made in other, more exotic locales. There was something exciting about hearing bands that had formed a mere 20 miles away from me!
While WFNX wasn’t the first place I heard O Positive, they were huge supporters of the band. Not long after I got Toyboat, I stayed up late to listen to the band perform a live studio set on Juanita the Scene Queen’s Sunday-night show. Hearing them goof off one minute and play a heartbreaking ballad the next cemented my love of their music.
My interview with Dave Herlihy took place the day that Stephen Mindich had announced the sale of the 101.7 frequency to the corporate oligarchs at Clear Channel. WFNX got behind the band in a big way, particularly after the release of Cloud Factory. In a 2008 interview with Jim Sullivan, Herlihy looked back at the station’s salad days. “Back in the day, ‘FNX treated us like a major-label band. They didn’t have the corporate playlist coming down from the mountaintop. Christmas ‘87, we were number one on their overall playlist with ‘Talk About Love,’ ahead of R.E.M. and U2. Yeah, baby. They were instrumental in our reaching our audience. The gigs became exponentially more crowded. ‘FNX was a tastemaker and played ‘modern rock’ before it was a format.”
This is a long lead-in to “Talk About Love”, the band’s big radio hit from an era when a big radio hit actually meant something. If you were anywhere near a radio between 1987 and 1990, you’re probably singing along with it even before you hit the play button.