This will eventually appear as a chapter in my long-threatened book The Greatest Record Ever Made! (Volume 1). If that becomes a book. Some day.

An infinite number of songs can each be THE greatest record ever made, as long as they take turns. Today, this is THE GREATEST RECORD EVER MADE!

MANNIX: Highway Lines

Written by Joe Mannix
Produced by Caleb Southern
From the album Come To California, 2001

Hitting 95 and I’m feelin’ half-alive
But I had to get things straight again
My engine’s cryin’ and my tranny she is dyin’
And the radio is my only friend

There are times when the songs on the radio seem to know us better than we know ourselves. That’s why we still need the radio.

Started seein’ double, but no time to check the trouble
I see two of him kissin’ two of you
Another saga ’bout another love gone wrong
And the DJ knows what I’m goin’ though
How much can it mean to spin a few records on the radio every Sunday night?

I can’t speak for anyone else, but I’ll tell you that the opportunity to share a passion for pop music means a lot to me. That appeal is part of the reason why I first wanted to write about rockin’ pop music decades ago as a teen in the ’70s. Wait, wait–“write about rockin’ pop music?” No. I wanted to write on behalf of rockin’ pop music, to serve an agenda, to spread a freakin’ Gospel of jangle and buzz, hooks, harmonies, guitar, bass, drums, heart and soul, verse and chorus, amplified sounds, life itself played to the rhythm of a tambourine. I wanted to tell people about the music I liked. I figured there had to be someone else out there that liked it, too.

So I wrote. I wrote in my high school newspaper. I wrote unsold, unpublished articles for magazines, failed submissions to CREEM, unfinished notions intended for Trouser Press. Later, I wrote reviews and articles and interviews that I sold to GoldmineThe Syracuse New TimesDISCoveries, and a handful of others. I wrote liner notes. I wrote pieces published in books. I wrote letters. I wrote internet posts. I testified. And it was true.

The same need to share this passion led me to radio. There was never, ever any place for me in commercial radio. I didn’t want to play what someone else told me to play; I knew what records needed to be played. In the ’80s, I met a friend named Dana who also knew what records needed to be played. Together, we invented a format. It’s nominally a power pop format, but it isn’t really that. It’s not any strict format defined from the outside. The format is called This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio

We spin a few records every Sunday night. We spin old tunes and new tunes, stuff you know, stuff you might not know. How much can it mean to spin a few records on the radio every Sunday night? To me, man, it means more than words can say. 

Mannix‘s “Highway Lines” is probably the most obscure song discussed in this book. It’s less heralded even in comparison to a local Syracuse hit single like Baron Daemon‘s “The Transylvania Twist,” or the occasional cult act or lesser-known gem exalted elsewhere within these pages. Hell, even my favorite why-ain’t-these-guys-stars?! underdog combo the Flashcubes have at least received some positive ink somewhere. But Mannix? Many of you don’t know Mannix at all. But by God, you should.

When a song hits us–really hits us–on first exposure, it doesn’t make a damned bit of palpable difference if the song goes on to be a # 1 smash that everybody loves, or if it remains a cherished secret that never reaches the ears of the many. We react in the moment. I felt that immediate sensation of delighted discovery when I first heard “Five O’Clock World” by the Vogues, a # 4 hit in 1965 (thought I didn’t know the record until 1977; any record you ain’t heard before is a new record). I felt it again when I first heard “Empty Hangers” by Anny Celsi, a fantastic record from 2003 that has never commandeered space on any Billboard chart (though it absolutely should have). Most music fans know the feeling quite well, and quite often. That’s why we’re fans.

I’m a fan of Mannix. Dana had the group’s 2001 concept album Come To California, and I first heard “Highway Lines” at the same time that our listeners first heard it. I was blown away. That feeling again. Listening to Joe Mannix sing of driving across the country, his engine crying and his tranny dying, passing Delaware, Baltimore and Philadelphia in a last-ditch desperation play to salvage an already-lost love, the radio his only friend…man, it’s like “Radar Love” given depth and heartbreak. 

Yes I got your letter
And I guess you thought it better
Just to tell me there was another one
But I can’t make a stand
With a pen or phone in hand
So baby here I come
Highway lines
Gonna get me back home to you
Highway lines
Gonna have to get me through tonight
This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio listeners loved it, and they still do. The radio’s on, with another saga ’bout another love gone wrong. Joe Mannix says the DJ knows what he’s going through. We say Mannix knows what we’re going through. How much can that mean? Everything. Listen.

(Oh, and Joe Mannix is no relation to the TV detective played by actor Mike Connors. Or so we’ve been lead to believe.)

That other Joe Mannix


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Hey! If you buy from Amazon, consider making your purchases through links at Pop-A-Looza. A portion of your purchase there will go to support Boppin’ (Like The Hip Folks Do). Thinking Amazon? Think Pop-A-Looza.

This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio with Dana & Carl airs Sunday nights from 9 to Midnight Eastern, on the air in Syracuse at SPARK! WSPJ 103.3 and 93.7 FM, and on the web at You can read about our history here.

The many fine This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio compilation albums are still available, each full of that rockin’ pop sound you crave. A portion of all sales benefit our perpetually cash-strapped community radio project:

Volume 1: download
Volume 2: CD or download
Volume 3: download
Volume 4: CD or download
Waterloo Sunset–Benefit For This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio:  CD or download

I’m on Twitter @CafarelliCarl.

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