At 90FM, certain songs were marked with a little red dot. There were other colored dots used to designate songs that had grown especially popular, either on commercial radio or our own airwaves, but the red dots were the important ones. They signaled to the DJ that there was some word in the song’s lyrics that the average listener or, more importantly, the FCC might find objectionable if we played it. There was all sorts of content that might get a song flagged that way, although, realistically, the red dot usually meant little more than the presence of the word “fuck” somewhere in there. Of course, being cultured souls in our late teens and early twenties with the requisite levels of pointless rebellion bubbling in our hearts, “fuck” was one of our favorite words, especially when it was used well in a song. There was a collectively edgy disappointment when we couldn’t play a song on the radio that, deep down, we wanted to not just play but shout along with in the dimly lit privacy of the on-air studio.
Truthfully, we were able to play “Like a Drug” from the sole album released by the band They Eat Their Own. But it was a radio edit, so it lacked the appropriate punch when Laura B. sang, “But when I don’t get your call/ I go into withdrawal/ You consume every thought/ I would tell you to fuck off.” When the track showed up on mix tapes played at parties, the drunken revelers in the middle of whatever beset living room we gather in always sang along with that key line with a little more vigor, having been stuck with the neutered version so often.
Luckily, the song served our youthful love of damaged romance even without the curse word. Over a snaky guitar line, the song unfolds a familiar tale of unhealthy, lovelorn obsession. I’m not sure if everyone in college pinballs from one twisty, passionate relationship to another, but the radio kids sure did. Something about having the urgency of hormones that were popping like fireworks further reinforced by the gloomy doomed affairs that fueled the songs we played (all that music by The Cure!) simply sent us into vortexes of lipstick-smeared, satisfied despair. I don’t know that “Like a Drug” captured all of that, but it sure earned its place on the double-disc soundtrack of those years.
(Disclaimer: It looks to me like the They Eat Their Own album is no longer in print. With the most cursory of glances, I couldn’t find a means to purchase it digitally either. Now, “Like a Drug” was just enough of a modest college radio hit that it could have wound up on some compilation somewhere and I suppose They Eat Their Own could be one of those bands that’s reclaimed their material and is now able to sell CDs through their own website. I didn’t find anything like that, but then “they eat their own” produces a fairly wide of search results. My point is: I don’t see a way to actually pay for the song that provides due compensation to the artist and it is with that understanding that I upload this to the interweb. I will gladly remove it if asked to do so by something with due authority to make such a request.)