Goodbye, Papa, it’s hard to die, When all the birds are singing in the sky….

The song crept out of my car radio and sucker-punched me in the gut.

I had been skipping across the airwaves—fleeing a “soft-adult-contemporary” station and a slew of big band, oldies, and classic rock outlets—trying to find something to soothe my troubled mind.

Now I was paralyzed by the same morbid impulse that makes one gawk at traffic accidents.

But the wine and the song like the seasons have all gone.

I had become a drive-by victim of Terry Jacks’ insidious “Seasons in the Sun,” the archetypal ’70s Ditty From Hell.

Caught with my defenses down, I white-knuckled the steering wheel to avoid swerving off the road or into oncoming traffic. I was in the grip of a full-fledged episode of third-grade-era synesthesia, slain by the flashback stench of a baloney sandwich rotting in a rusted Evel Knievel lunch box. I pulled the over onto the shoulder to try to regain my senses.

The refrain “We had joy, we had fun” still echoed in my head. It would take hours, maybe days—as well as heavy doses of free jazz—to get rid of this aural virus. I thought of the unfortunate woman who recently threw herself to the lions at the National Zoo; authorities later found an Amy Grant cassette in her Walkman.

Grant’s born-again synth-pop; Harry Chapin’s evil exploitation of the noble cello; Andy Gibb’s entire oeuvre: Only such truly bad music has that sort of power, and there is no bad music as wretchedly bad as bad ’70s music. Terry Jacks had transformed me into a rush-hour Travis Bickle. It took the smooth, shit-eating FM voice of the disc jockey to stop me from heading to the zoo’s Ape House:

“You’re listening to the all-new XTRA-104, the ’70s station! It’s a fresh concept in radio—all-’70s—and it’s really FUN to listen to!’

I felt the urge to leap from my car and run down the street screaming at traffic like the guy at the end of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. I had to warn people that the ’70s were really back, greedy for our test-marketed souls. No mere campish fad, like the The Brady Bunch Movie or the return of bell bottoms—we’re talking all-out war, a 24-hour-a-day onslaught of ’70s musical insanity:

The Four Horsemen of the Schlockalypse: Don “Vincent” McLean. Boz “Dickweed” Scaggs. Jackson “No Nukes” Browne. And, most deadly of the bunch, Leo “Always in Midleap” Sayer.

Drill sergeant Donna Summer and her damnable whistle, summoning a lockstep Hustle-ing army of Disco Ducks.

The return of Shocking Blue. The resurrection of Paul Anka. The horror of Ray Stevens’ “The Streak.”

Billy Joel when he really sucked.

I needed some answers fast, so I phoned the office of WXTR-FM (104.1) and demanded to talk with the head honcho. For years, XTRA-104 has been in a broadcasting coma, swilling out Motown and golden oldies to Big-Chill baby boomers. What in the hell was Terry Jacks—1974’s crown prince of pop treacle—doing on its airwaves?

The answer should have been obvious: moolah, baby.

“It’s the hottest new format trend in the radio industry right now,” explained Jack Alix, XTRA-104’s operations manager. “This is fresh music. People haven’t heard it on the radio in a long time.”

Alix was quick to point out that the “ ’70s Sound” means more than schlock: “It’s a variety of all the huge hits of the ’70s. It’s pop, rock ‘n’ roll, and soul—a combination of all those elements. And some of the off-the-wall things and crazy songs, too—even “YMCA’ by the Village People.”

But what about “Seasons in the Sun”? Doesn’t the FCC have laws against offensive material? “That was a No. 1 song,” Alix snapped back.

The ’70s format fills a void that classic rock simply can’t fill, said Alix. Thus the strategy of carpet-bombcasting vulnerable thirtysomethings with quirky ’70s hits of disparate styles. All that most of the songs share is a common time-frame, triggering nostalgia-rooted frissons. “We’re reliving a generation here,” raved Alix, “[whereas] classic rock is a rehash of the same songs from Led Zeppelin that we’ve been hearing for 20 years. They don’t play the pop songs or the dance music, which is extremely popular.”

I asked if the Sex Pistols and other late-’70s punk acts might pop up on the all-new XTRA-104. Probably not, he said, unless they had hit songs. As I tried to recall if the Buzzcocks’ “Orgasm Addict” cracked the Top 10, Alix continued, “We don’t just go by the charts, but [by] what our listeners want, and we’re constantly talking to them and doing testing with them as to what they want.”

Alix kept yakking demographics, but I wasn’t listening anymore. On my radio, tuned to XTRA-104—the ’70s station—the O’Jays’ “Rubberband Man” was beckoning me like a long-lost friend. I recalled a boyhood spat spurred by this slice of Philly soul: Some fool misunderstood the lyrics as “Ya’ll better prepare yourself for the Rubberband, man,” celebrating an office supply rather than an obviously hip dude. But it was more than the memories the song inspired that hooked me: I had forgotten how much I really dig the O’Jays.

Entranced by the O’Jays’ call-and-response vocals—and now craving to hear their ferocious “Back Stabbers”—I said a hasty goodbye and stayed glued to XTRA-104 for the next three days.

Overall, I haven’t regretted my re-conversion. As I child of the ’70s, I had confronted my demons (Leo Sayer et al.) and could still keep the faith. Sure, there were moments of Terry Jacksian panic attacks: Boz Scaggs’ smarmy “Lido Shuffle” sent me to the medicine cabinet twice; Loggins-and-his-annoying-sidekick-Messina harassed me relentlessly; “Billy, Don’t Be a Hero” inspired a scarlet rash over my entire body; worst of all, the Captain & Tennille forced me to re-evaluate the nature of earthly love and the general creepiness of uniforms of any kind.

But for every atrocity like “Undercover Angel,” or “Piña Colada (The Escape Song),” there were a convoy of songs of real genius—from Carl Douglas’ “Kung Fu Fighting” to the Ozark Mountain Daredevils’ “Jackie Blue” to anything by Al Green—to reel me back into my ’70s World. It was striking to hear the genre-and-race-busting brew (microwaved or no) of ’70s-era radio, which shames today’s segregated stations. One minute I’d be digging the Ohio Players’ “Love Rollercoaster,” and the next I’d be rolling my own tobacco, grooving to the immortal Marshall Tucker Band (when else but in the “Philadelphia Freedom”-loving ’70s could a Southern boogie, country-rock band get away with a friggin’ flute solo?).

These days, my life is different. My clock radio is tuned to the ’70s station. I say “have a nice day” to total strangers while humming Billy Preston songs under my breath. I remind people that Steve “The Joker” Miller is not Satan, no matter what some jerks say.

Overall, things are pretty cool.