For those of us on the wrong side of 20, the Top 40 charts might seem pretty mundane. Danny Alexander, in Rock & Rap Confidential, thinks otherwise and he tells you why.

Every time Eminem's Mockingbird comes on the radio, my 13-year-old daughter tells me she knows all the words. She'd rap along, but she's not going to do it with me in the car. That draws me into the song that much more. I listen to this father expressing his regrets for past mistakes in his marriage and trying to explain himself and I wonder how much of me she hears in that song. Because, in the end, I want her to know those feelings are pretty much mine.

Like a lot of my friends around my own age, I've spent way too much time this past year making fun of rock bands like Simple Plan, particularly that one song in which the singer whines to his father, "I'm sorry I'm not perfect." I'm starting to realise that's the other side of the same attempt at dialogue. If all us heard-it-all-befores would admit we might not know everything, we all might find what I've lately been discovering - the Top 40's still a damn vibrant place.

When I hear 3 Doors Down sing, "You love me but you don't know who I am," I wonder how close that comes to something my daughter might want to say to me, and something tells me it's too close for comfort, certainly for easy dismissal.

That's really what fully half of
the songs in the Top 20 are about -
how to survive the most vicious
social torments with some shred
of self-worth intact.

Separate but related ring the familiar sounds of my generation's music echoed in the Killers' Mr Brightside, Mario's Let Me Love You, Sum 41's Pieces and Destiny Child's Girl. Then Akon's Lonely comes on and then Green Day's song with that "I walk alone" refrain, and I've got a lump in my throat remembering 13 and knowing these songs strengthen my daughter and her friends in ways I can't touch.

And that's really what fully half of the songs in the Top 20 are about - how to survive the most vicious social torments with some shred of self-worth intact.

Then there are 50 Cent's and the Game's singles [separate and together] best summed up by Hate It Or Love It, criticizing the educational and justice systems and celebrating the fact that, at least in the music, "the underdog's on top/and I'm gonna shine until my heart stops." [Click here for lyrics to Hate It Or Love It.]

That's what I hear in Trick Daddy's Candy, most forcefully when Lil' Kim steps out and luxuriates in her sexuality, a celebration I wish I'd heard ringing through the radio far more often when I was 13. Amerie's insistent One Thing gives me the shivers, and Frankie J's hapless Obsession reminds me age really ain't nuthin' but a number.

In this context, Snoop Dogg and Justin Timberlake's face-off on Signs speaks to all of these racial, sexual, age and class-consciousness themes at once. Though both Snoop and Charlie Wilson warn the young singer against getting too big for his britches, the kid makes a convincing case for his perspective. No one wins the argument because that's not the point. Closer to the point is the end of Game's video when he holds his young son up high and then close. What matters is that the radio is still one of the few places where we express our hearts openly and dream big dreams.

Note: The above article first appeared in Rock & Rap Confidential, May 2005.

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