Bracing for nostalgia, I was surprised to find that Robby Hecht’s “Old Radio” is as much about the future as the past.

The chorus may sound like something you’ve heard before. Some of it you have. Hecht rhymes “fly/high/cry” and “long ago/low/radio.” These sets of words are frequent co-workers in song. One could call them clichés. But because Hecht’s topic is old songs, his use of overused rhyme acts more as callback than cliché.

These rhymes, and the predictable pop-country melody of the chorus, give a feeling of familiarity even when you’re listening to the song for the first time.

As the first chorus plays, instruments start and stop, as though uncertain. It’s clearly orchestrated, but even so it evokes the hesitate-and-try-again approach of a song under construction. It’s as though Hecht were writing as we listen.

By the first verse, the instrumentals have gained confidence. Driving drums and overdriven guitar stand out in front, but there’s a piano working hard in the background. The instrumental energy helps to drive the song forward – out of the past, into what’s next.

The verses look back to scenes from the character’s developing relationship with music. First we find him alone in his bedroom, listening to the local station’s love song dedications, wishing there was “someone I could make one for.” But instead of lingering in this loneliness, he decides to create something: “I’d slide in a tape and wait ’til they played my favorite song.” Recording his radio favorites, the kid acts on hope for a future in which he can share these songs with someone else.

Harmony vocals by Katie Pruitt double Hecht’s lines for much of the song, as though she’s the radio hit he’s singing along with – or as though she’s a young listener, singing along with him. The second verse supports either of these stories. Older now, the singer is in his car, still alone.

Singing along with the radio allows him to imagine he’s performing for an audience: “I was free / They were all seeing me.” The old songs allow him to escape from his isolation by imagining new experiences of togetherness. Each of the verses are memories, but they are memories of times when the character was not only dreaming of, but preparing for, a future in music.

The song looks back at a character looking forward.

The whispery conclusion, “fly when you’re high” carries the shadow of its rhyme, “cry when you’re low.” Though the song concludes with the positive half of the couplet, the melody is mournful. It’s as though the singer, in a low moment, is using the verses to remind himself that there are times for flying, too. By ending the song with this line, Hecht suggests that the long road has brought his character to exactly where he wanted to be, at the lonely beginning: singing his own songs.

Many thanks to my friend Victor Lu, whose keen ear in the passenger seat added much to my thinking about this tune.