A As you all know I am a huge fan of 80’s music. Over the past 15 years I have developed a collection of cds, vinyl, bootlegs and MP3 that I have downloaded that has spanned over 8,000 songs and recently took 10 DVDs to backup.
So needing a way to catalog these songs I purchased a software program that creates a database of my music so that songs can be easily located based on any number of criteria that I chose to search under. I can bring a song up by album, by artist, by the year it was released, year it was recorded, practically by any of the information that I add to the ID3v1, ID3v2 and Lyrics3 tags.
So I went out and purchased the Billboard Pop Annual 1955-1999 so I could be as accurate as possible as to what year songs came out.
Well in doing this, I discovered a problem.
When I think of when music was released I think of them in relation to what grade I was in at the time not by the calendar year.
I discovered this when I put Michael Jackson’s “Beat It” and Paul McCartney and Michael Jackson’s “Say Say Say” in 1983.
Well one of those songs I was in the fifth grade when it came out and the other I was in the sixth grade but they were both released in 1983.
So when I remember listening to “Beat It” I was also listening to John Mellencamp’s “Jack and Diane.” And while I was listening to “Say Say Say” I was also listening to Yes’s “Owner Of A Lonely Heart.”
It’s no wonder why grouping songs by the year they were released never seemed right to me.
Well anyway, I started adding music to my database based on the year it peaked in the charts with the information that I gathered from the Billboard Annual and so I am coming up with this perfect catalog where I can listen to every song that I listened to in the 7th grade instead of whatever song was out in 1984.
Then it hit me.
I started to think as I looked down at the clock and saw that it was 4:15 in the morning and I had been at this for four straight hours, what possesses an otherwise normal man to spend so much time organizing his music like this, collecting literally every 80’s song he has ever heard in his life?
Why is it so important that I get the years right? Why isn’t just inserting “1983” into the year good enough? Why do I have to go that extra step and make sure that the dates to my songs go along to school year as opposed to calendar year?
What is wrong with me?
Then it all came to me.
I am trying to recreate something.
All this time I had been subconsciously trying to use the Internet to create my very own genre-defying Electrifying Mojo.
For those of you that don’t know, the Electrifying Mojo was a local DJ in Detroit that I listened to from the early to mid-eighties. My parents bought me my first Sony radio for Christmas in 1982. I called it my Boom Box but that is hardly an appropriate name for a $50.00 mono radio with one speaker and a cassette. Still, that’s what I called it. And I think out of all the presents I have ever been given by someone, until I have my first child, that radio will rank as the greatest thing anyone has ever given me.
At 10 years old I had my first taste of independence. I controlled the dial. I was no longer bound to whatever music my parents wanted to listen to. I could venture out across the airwaves and discover my own music. I could carve my own identity within my own subgroup in popular culture.
That’s when I discovered the Electrifying Mojo.
I thought I had discovered something entirely my own, but my father shot that down real quick when he told me that he had listened to Mojo, too, while he was in college.
He claimed that he had even met him once.
Charles Johnson? Who the hell is Charles Johnson?
He had to have been mistaken.
Mojo isn’t his real name?
Why would his mother name him Charles Johnson?
He’s from space.
Mojo flew into Detroit every night on a spaceship. He didn’t hang around Ypsilanti having coffee at some local diner.
Mojo had this shtick where he started off his show like his spaceship which he called the “Mother ship” was landing in Detroit; he would describe what he could see as his spacecraft was descending upon the city.
As his ship descended he would say, “Hello Detroit,” then he would gradually get more specific, “I see Pam over at Belle Isle, Hello Pam,” or he would comment on how he could see the planes coming in at Metro Airport or a maybe traffic jam down on I-94.
It was so fucking cool you just have no idea.
And once he landed, it was on.
Mojo wasn’t your normal DJ.
And I fear that many of you out there will have a difficult time understanding how special he was. So I am going to have to ask you to trust me.
First of all, every single kid I knew that was my age and older listened to the Electrifying Mojo.
So every morning on the way to school there was a common experience between us. My generation shared a lot of moments like that where we were all doing the same thing at the same time.
We all watched GI Joe and Transformers. We all watched Star Wars in the theater. We all listened to the “Thriller” album.
We all listened faithfully to the Electrifying Mojo.
What was so special about the Electrifying Mojo was what he played. He didn’t follow any particular format. I mean, yeah he was a DJ on an R&B station but he was playing Devo, The Romantics and Visage right along side Funkadelic, RUN DMC and Prince on that R&B station.
And he wouldn’t just play whatever Prince single was popular off of 1999 in 1982; he would play the whole damn album, every album…every night.
He created the “80s sound” for me because he exposed me to so much of the great music that was being made at that time.
You would hate to miss an Electrifying Mojo show because it seemed that he would always be introducing you to new music.
I say “seemed” because it wasn’t always new music you were hearing. It might have been new to us but that doesn’t mean it was just released.
You see, if the music was “good” it didn’t seem to get old to Mojo.
So if he liked something it never seemed to leave his playlist. So while other radio stations act like songs fall into music purgatory after it falls off the top 40, Mojo would play Jimi Hendrix in 1980 like Jimi had a new album out.
I swear to this day the Electrifying Mojo is the reason so many kids my age in this area even know who the Tom Tom Club, Yazoo or Ultravox are.
When I got older I discovered there was a method to his madness. Mojo was practicing a philosophy he called “counter-clockwiseology.”
“When I first got to Detroit, it was like apartheid on the dial ,” Mojo recalls, “ separatist radio.” So Mojo decided he would desegregate radio.
It was brilliant and obviously way before his time.
In 1982 “counter-clockwiseology” had inner city black kids in the streets all around the city dancing to David Bowie, Thomas Dolby , Devo and Visage.
Never happened before and hasn’t happened since.
The J. Geils Band actually came into WGPR one night and thanked him on air for playing “Flamethrower.” Everyone else in the country was playing “Centerfold” and “Freeze Frame.”
Mojo had the B-52’s on the air for an interview once and they did an impromptu, off-tempo rendition of “Mesopotamia.”
It seems like every time Prince would play Detroit, Mojo would play Prince all night long, this time without any breaks to make sure that the party didn’t end with the concert.
A very appreciative Prince after he would get off stage would call into the show and talk with Mojo and give his shout out to the Midnight Funk Association.
Another thing that made Mojo cool was that he would play music that I could guarantee you that you wouldn’t hear played anywhere else which only added to the mystique that he was from another planet.
Ever heard of a B-side? Apparently whoever comes up with local radio programming hadn’t because they never played B-sides to singles.
At the time Afrika Bambaata and the Soul Sonic Force’s “Planet Rock” was the biggest thing going on in the summer of 1982 and everyone played the vocal version all day.
However, at midnight, when the Midnight Funk Association was called to order and you were asked to stand up and pledge allegiance to the funk Mojo would play the 12” instrumental version.
“Erotic City” and “17 days” during the Purple Rain mania in 1984 got more play on Mojo than did “When Doves Cry” or “Let’s Go Crazy.”
So you could listen to WJLB and listen to the same 40 songs that they played in 2 hour rotation all day or you could wait until the mother ship landed, and yeah, every once in a while I looked out of my window to see if I could see it.
Sadly Mojo kept moving from station to station over pressure to stick to the same tired old bullshit that everyone else was playing on the radio.
Radio stations hated him because Mojo insisted on making decisions on the basis of what seemed best instead of following some single doctrine being pushed down from “the suits.”
They might have hated him but the city of Detroit and all of his fans in the outlying areas loved him.
A revolutionary is one that removes what is already in place and replaces it with something else.
Sometimes that is done by removing a literal system that is in place but sometimes the same thing can be accomplished by changing the way the individual looks at things.
In this way The Electrifying Mojo was in fact revolutionary in that he tore down how an entire generation of Detroit area kids saw music. He tore down what we came to expect from radio. And what he put in its place was an appreciation for music that went way beyond what traditional radio programming could ever give.
He was a true man before his time who followed his own ideas and was willing to pay the price for it as he was fired time and time again for “not adjusting to commercial radio’s demands.”
There is an entire generation of kids from the late seventies to the early eighties that love him for it.
I am one of them.
So if you are out there Charles Johnson, Electrifying Mojo or whatever you call yourself, I will leave you with something that you left us with every night…
“When you are nearing the end of your rope, tie a knot and just keep hanging, and remember there ain’t nobody bad…like you.” – The Electrifying Mojo.
Ain’t nobody bad like you bro.