Tuesday, January 18, 2005

I have long ago stopped caring about the music charts, although I hasten to add not about music. After all, why should I care what 13-year-old girls are buying in their lunch breaks at ASDA? In fact I am so indifferent towards most of the, ahem, "musicians" in the charts nowadays that I have decided that many of these groups should be re-branded 'children's entertainers'. For that is what they are: their primary talents are usually dancing, pretty faces and nice smiles. Which is fine, but not in the charts. And many in the media still use the charts to gauge what they believe is the current cultural climate. But in reality it is mostly nothing but an over-inflated blow up doll filled with other peoples toss.

Now every time I have a conversation with anyone about music-orientated shallow and commercially created products aimed at kids I always correct them with the insistence that they drop the description 'music', 'song' or even 'chart topper' and replace it with the more descriptive 'children's entertainment'. And I urge you all to do the same.

The worst thing about these bands is that music production technology is so advanced that out of tune singers can be corrected with modern vocoder-type software and boring singing styles covered up with simple effects or, more usually, by using the same old harmony style. However dance moves and sexy legs have to be real talents. Which isn't really the point of a music artist.

Compared to what we are witnessing today, Elvis Presley, whose fame is being cynically exploited by men in suits with elastic wallets, is a musical genius. Although his talents were limited to singing and prancing about. Yes a pretty good voice, very distinctive. But Elvis’ fame comes largely from his legend. After all he was a musical interpreter rather than a creator. Like the children's entertainers of today, he didn’t write his own music, could not play an instrument, his manager made more money than he did, and never really put any of his own personality into the music. Here was a man who was a huge Monty Python fan – but did anything in his career reflect this part of his soul? That a man who could not tap out Green Sleeves on a piano is now widely regarded as a musical legend is a sad indictment of today’s children's entertainers.

Perhaps my despair with the once entitled hit parade has clouded my view to such an extent that I regard any trend reflected in the charts as one I should oppose. But Elvis' current popularity seems more to do with an unusually clever way of selling a box set to die hard fans than any genuine cultural phenomenon. In previous years one really would not know who would top the charts. Occasionally there would be a real surprise. Who would have thought the Sex Pistols could blaze their way to top slot and simultaneously upset so many?

Now, any similar cultural scream for recognition would be and probably already has been muffled by the big supermarket chains that stock what they like. And they only like guaranteed sellers and pre-sales deals with major labels. When I saw in Music Week in the early nineties the announcement that supermarket sales would be counted towards chart position I knew the game was up. And how right I was. Now we have a different number one every week and most marketing people in the industry would be able to tell you who would occupy that slot for the following three weeks just by looking at a few projected advertising and distribution figures.

But I have not relayed the worst of it, oh no. Labels are now increasingly using software that analyses songs, compares various aspects to previous hits, and judges which will be most successful at the checkouts. It’s bad enough that many artists seem to be in a kind of paradoxical competition to sound more like each other; now we have computers instructing them to do it. It's a very sorry state of affairs – I'm convinced we are reaching the lowest of low points.

I had some experience in an A&R department at a record company. That is the department that scouts, signs and develops acts. Since that time people have occasionally asked me how to get a record deal. I'd usually reply in some convoluted way with mention of managers, promotion, getting the band’s name out etc etc. But one A&R chap I recently spoke to put it much more succinctly.

"The entire process a band and its management have to go through to get signed is best described using only one word," he explained to me.


But soon enough the embarrassment that is the singles charts as we know it today will probably end. Many in the industry think that physical singles will no longer exist in a few years – after all why would anyone spend £3 on a CD single when, even if you actually pay, it can be downloaded for 89p? And I'm hoping charts based on these figures will better reflect the nation’s musical predilections. Not that I'm expecting too much. But at least out of touch producers will stop looking at the soulless, vacant, piece of shit singles charts and cease cramming yet more of the same turd down our throats.

Of course it is just when things are at their bleakest when the musical gods produce a mainstream occurrence that rises spectacularly like a phoenix out of the flames. I specify mainstream because I have no problem with the music being created today, just the excrement that gets thrown at us everyday. There are some bloody marvellous offerings to be had if you look for them. But you have to look for them. And the clearly testicular nature of the musical market of today suppresses much potential artistry from ever coming to fruitition.

And thusly Top of the Pops will die a lingering death. Not because it has been badly produced or scheduled at the wrong time but rather because it can only ever be as good as the chart music it is obliged to show.

But if we were to re-brand crap aimed at school kids as 'children’s entertainment' perhaps a new chart would be formed for that shit (which ITV will inevitably air) and the real music could take centre stage again. I could save Top of the Pops! What a great first act that would be for my new employers!

It's not going to happen.

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