Posts from 19th September 2003

Sep 03

The Ninth Freaky Trigger Pop Music Focus Group

FT7 comments • 25,616 views


Welcome to the Ninth Freaky Trigger pop music Focus Group.

What’s all this then? We took twenty recent hit singles (released between July and September in the UK) and got a focus group to rate them each out of ten and comment on them. You were allowed to play a joker on one of your scores, which would make whatever you played it on count double. To bulk up the statistics a bit we also played all 20 records at a Freaky Trigger club night and handed out a ballot for people to fill in. We also sent the ballot to a few people who couldn’t make the group itself, mostly from outside the UK.

How does it work? Each record has an average score out of 10, and also a controversy score – the higher the score, the more it split our panel. The result is a TOTALLY SCIENTIFIC determination of which pop is Best.

Why wasn’t I invited? We’re trying to keep the numbers of participants down, so again I just grabbed some names from my address book and sent it out to them. Get in touch if you want to be included in the next group.

Who are these people? See the Top 5 page for a list of commentators. Thanks to everyone else who filled in a form at the club night, and thanks also to Alan Trewartha and Mark Sinker who also voted.

Nos. 20-16

20. DANIEL BEDINGFIELD – “Never Gonna Leave Your Side”
Score: 1.87 / Controversy: 1.96

He is a scary God boy, and if he said he was never going to leave your side you’d get the police involved very quickly. 6 (SH)

Another fade-up soundtrack entry for the ‘let’s talk and be meaningful’ kind of TV shows that for some reason refuse to die. 5 (MA)

I would slow dance to this in a school disco. But now I am 28. 5 (EH)

Okay guys, I’m envisioning a long tracking shot for this, from an airplane, and it zooms in on Daniel playing a piano on top of a mountaintop, with a scenic vista behind him. Other guys in the band are also up their playing their instruments – what? Where are they getting the electricity? Doesn’t matter. Just get the wind blowing through his hair for this one and I think we can get this baby onto the Top Gun soundtrack. 3 (SeC)

This is ‘If You’re Not the One’ minus the scope, the beat, and a chorus that pays off. What we’re left with is some pretty appalling lyrics. 3 (VP)

As a one-time Bedroomeyes booster I feel betrayed. Entirely limp. 2 (TE)

Creepy tiny Daniel. 0 (IE)

Strangely enough, the thing that annoys me the most about Bedingfield is the number of people (including PROFESSIONAL COPYWRITERS) who mis-spell his name. This is just boring. The MD of my company loves it. (Please don’t post that on t’ internet). Really, really zero. (Anon.)

Bedingfield feels like “a man without a soul”, “a bird without its
wings”, “a heart without a home” and all sorts of other things without
things, which means I now feel like a screwdriver without the orange
juice. Just something to get this gooey eunuch wombpop taste out of my
mouth. 0 (MP)

19. DIDO – “White Flag”
Score: 2.48 / Controversy: 2.18

The video is great, it features Angel on a night off from vampire doo-dah business. He’s obsessed with Dido, and she’s obsessed with him, they have shrines in their bedrooms to each other. They never declare their love! Oh Love! You are so cruel! 8 (JL)

The lyrics are about coping with a breakup by choosing not to
acknowledge it happened in the first place, a vaguely psychotic trick of
self-deception so at odds with Dido’s well-mannered recital that I
suddenly picture her brushing her teeth every morning to a dimly
supressed mantra of “it’s alright, it’s alright, it’s alright, it’s
alright…” 6 (MP)

School concert stuff. 5 (MA)

I like Dido’s voice but hate her preference for new-agey, pastel-colored songs. She seems like she should be singing something stronger than this. As it is, Sarah McLachlan holds her market share. 5 (DL)

A Dido best-of will rule in the same way that Barry White’s Greatest Hits album rules; it’s all kind of the same song but over the course of an album the formula establishes itself as something worthwhile. Until then, though, there is really far too much more interesting stuff going on for me to bother with this. And I don’t think ‘Angel’ ever got to be as great as ‘Buffy’, though to be fair ‘Angel’ never had Alysson Hannigan. 5 (DR)

Someone will do a cover of this and it will be rather good. I can’t be alone in hearing Protection-era Massive Attack here – or maybe I can. Anyway, the version we have is by Dido, and her well-scrubbed voice is deeply unsympathetic. 4 (TE)

Not objectionable, which is a step up from her usual standard, it’s quite dull but nice enough in its own way. Just sounds like it should be advertising Ovaltine or BUPA or DFS or something. 4 (WS)

Won’t catch Eminem talking over this one. 1 (SH)

This has David Boreanaz in the video. He’s NO ANGEL. Do you SEE. 0 (KG)

18. BUSTED – “Sleeping With The Light On”
Score: 3.24 / Controversy: 2.42

Why all the vo-codering? 7 (SH)

Quite decent now I’ve heard it a few times, but that third verse with the hideous EMOTING – argh! make it stop! Rather like the chirpy guitar harmonics over the last chorus and the swooping instrumental break.. it’s not bad. Except the lyrics. 7 (EO)

Busted’s remit seems to be to provide justification for all kinds of juvenile behaviour that youthful folk shouldn’t really be very proud of. First it was fancying teachers, now this. 6 (MA)

Busted have saved British rock but that’s no reason to uncritically endorse everything they do. Well, maybe a little bit. 5 (TE)

Nothing affects the impression of songwriting ‘craftsmanship’ quite like
the old major chord to minor chord peelback, which Busted employ here.
They also do that trick where they start with just acoustic guitars and
a tambourine before springing the real song on us in the second verse.
If this sounds pat and calculated, it’s because it is. 4 (MP)

ARF if Busted were my children I’d be v.proud of them for getting into the proper charts and all that malarkey. And they’re practically young enough and this has made no impression whatsoever, so a completely inoffensive 3. (KG)

The ‘Uhhhhhh yeahhhhhh!’ bit before the last chorus, that’s good. The rest sounds like Busted doing a ballad in their horrid voices, and is a bit shit, really. 2 (WS)

Sounds like a particularly mediocre Ash song. 1 (RT)

Never heard this, but it’s Busted, so it’s rubbish. Look, I just graduated, and memories of people who were actually like these aardvark-kissers are far too fresh in my mind to find their antics droll. Fucking thirtysomethings. 0 (DR)

17. ULTRABEAT – “Pretty Green Eyes”
Score: 3.30 / Controversy: 2.26

Five years ago I’d have hated this. I’m not sure I still don’t but the surprise of hearing something like this in the charts again has shocked me into giving it a 6 (RT)

Rather decent, quenching high chords are a nice touch. Can’t imagine it working for the heart and the feet, which might have been the intention with the sort-of-searching vocals, but not bad as these things go. I’d dance to it. 6 (EO)

Isn’t it a bit early to do retro 1997? This is the new folk. 5 (MA)

I knew if I held out long enough that I’d finally get a chance to unload my 2 Unlimited albums for top dollar on eBay! 4 (SeC)

Augh. Cheeseball unst-unst-unst and pounding gargantuan three-sided
prism/phaser synth stab bullshit. The soundtrack to every singles
chatline TV infomercial ever. I hate this. 3 (MP)

Good old trance, you could set your watch to it. 2 (TE)

Stuff like this is what makes watching MTV so excruciating when I visit Germany in the Winter. I have no use for Trance (at least not when played straight), no use for vocalists that sound like they didn’t quite make the cut to be in Westlife and, apart from that Shakira song, I have no use for pan pipes either. 2 (DR)

Ultraman was the evil version of Superman. This is obviously the evil version of Superbeat. They must have been rubbish. 2 for the pan-pipes. (PB)

It starts off with pan-pipes. Then burbles on a bit. It is very boring and I do not like it. Could there possibly be a big whooooooosh and then the beat ‘kicking in’ to come? Ah yes. Sorry if I am a curmudgeon. 1 (KG)

16. BLACK EYED PEAS – “Where Is The Love?”
Score: 3.48 / Controversy: 2.66

Even I got sick of it by the sixth week at #1, but I still maintain this is a brilliant record, with a lovely arrangement, a wonderful candyfloss-soul chorus, and lyrics that on close inspection are less trite than you might think. The best thing Justin Timberlake has been on, in fact. 10 (TE)

Cynically, I’d call them the new Fugees and sit back and watch them implode. That’s not my style though. There’s not a lot that can be said about this song, yeah it’s good, but I don’t care if I ever hear it again. So, a perfect piece of pop then. 8 (JL)

The instructions on a packet of Black Eyed Peas – submerge in a pint of water, soak for 8 hours, then boil to death. (But it’s a pretty good record.) 7 (PB)

Six weeks! Who is buying this?? The anti-war Arrested Development. Also the second number one of this year you can sing ‘Torn’ by Natalie Imbruglia to, after Evanescence. 6 (SH)

My little brother goes to a Catholic high school and is forced to attend
mass on a regular basis. Before last month’s ceremony, the church
planted leaflets containing the lyrics to this song in all of the pews.
I can’t remember if they ever did anything that when I was a kid, but if
so, it was probably for something by Sting or Bobby McFerrin. 5 (MP)

Quite moribund. 4 (MA)

I tried, I really did. I’m still enough of a wimp to want to give positivity a free pass. But bloody hell, they make it hard! ‘The CIA, the bloods and the crips and the KKK’? I mean, WHAT THE FUCK??? I’m sorry, maybe it’s Former Lennon Fanatic Guilt, but in this instance, the lyrics *do* matter. I recommend Nas’ ‘I Can’ instead, which has a better hook and lyrics that establish him as the Hip-Hop equivalent of They Might Be Giants, surely the greatest thing ever. 4 (DR)

Longest goddamn commercial I’ve heard in a while, but I still couldn’t figure out what it was trying to sell. 3 (SeC)

I’m just glad someone is finally taking a stand against hatred. 3 (VP)

This is the kind of song that would have driven me crazy hearing 10 times a day from my boss’s desk radio during my college telemarketing days. Oppressively bland. 1 (DL)

I’m sure they are Bran Van 3000 in disguise i.e. having cunningly ditched the orange boiler suits. I do not like it. I am sorry but this top 40 music by and large is not my bag. I ph34r I have ruined the focus group. 0 (KG)

This record doesn’t even deserve to be hated vehemently, even though it’s definitely quite bad. It’s just kind of there, without a focal point, a catchy bit, a reason to exist. It’s needlessly soppy, criminally hookless, yet another despicable great-by-association rubbish single by a rubbish group who have always been crap (LISTEN to Joints and Jams, people, they’ve been precisely this horrible for YEARS), and even though the video has people lipsynching the chorus and it was number one for nine years, the fact that this record has connected emotionally, or even viscerally with ANYONE goes right over my head. It’s beyond belief to me that anyone would like this enough to go out and buy it – Timberlake factor notwithstanding – let alone hundreds of thousands of them. Was very tempted to stake out HMV and do vox pops on people buying it to try to understand – Why? Why? Why do you like this? I do NOT get it and I do not WANT it. 0 (EO)

Sinners vs Winners man quoted them. I rest my case. 0 (EH)

- 1 2 3 4


Popular11 comments • 3,417 views

#16, 8th January 1954

If I was being crass (never!) I’d say this was a dance record – steady beat, cycling melody, simple repeated lyrical hook. And it is a dance record: a lazy, slow, respectable sort of dance record. The entry of the organ at 1’30” is the most ‘fifties-evocative’ thing I’ve heard yet – except it evokes an imagined 50s, learned from Hi-De-Hi and English murder mysteries, last dances in the Hawaiian ballroom and the gentle tap of heel on lacquer. I cannot imagine any circumstances in which anyone today would want to or get to hear this record unless they were embarked on some idiotic scheme like this one.


Popular12 comments • 2,883 views

#15, 13th November 1953

Frankie’s version brushes David Whitfield’s aside with embarrassing ease. More than just a difference in technique, there’s an immense gap in class between the two men, with Laine’s third No.1 of the year again taking a different approach again from his others. This time he restrains himself until the last seconds, spending most of the song picking his words out politely and carefully with just an acoustic and organ for backing. It means the listener can concentrate on the song. Unfortunately I don’t actually like the song – a beseeching ballad which comes off as dripping and cloying – but at least Laine gives me a chance to.

What is it with teen comedies employing

Do You SeePost a comment • 290 views

What is it with teen comedies employing early nineties British indie as their main themes. The American Pie movies have Laid by James as their main theme; supposedly for the rude line ‘She only comes when she’s on top‘. And now Camp has Size Of A Cow shoehorned into any section where the girls aren’t singing Ladies Who Lunch. What next, a gross-out frat film with The Only Living Boy in New Cross as its theme?

Watching TV while you’re on the phone

Do You SeePost a comment • 355 views

Watching TV while you’re on the phone: my friend AB lives in Toronto, and when she calls three or four times a year, we tend to talk for hours. So she’s describing Matthew Barney’s new Cremaster movie, and whether the film Seabiscuit did justice to the book’s vivid prose style, and I’m listening and replying, and all the time half-watching a rubberfaced Tommy Lee Jones chase crims round America, flicking over now and then to a documentary about idiots snowboarding down some spectacular ice-capped peak. Then as I check out the Newsnight reports of Hurricane Isabel, her windows start rattling and she decides to go and batten down the hatches.


Popular8 comments • 3,336 views

#14, 6th November 1953

Do you remember those rubber face puppets you could buy whereby you would put your fingers in and then make the face contort into all sorts of gurning shapes? David Whitfield’s singing is like that. I can barely think of anyone whose mannerisms are more upfront and more grotesque (for an anachronistic comparison, Whitfield makes Brian Ferry sound like he’s in the Stereophonics). After chewing each word 32 times, Whitfield ends the song with a mighty bellow and I have a terrible feeling that his whole schtick is meant to be ‘operatic’ somehow. Whitfield was a Brit apparently: oddly enough while listening to this I was reading this Dave Q thread on ABC, and though I love ABC it seemed apposite.

At this point you might be suspecting that Popular is an excuse for getting some cheap and lazy rises out of ‘golden oldies’ and I promise nothing was further from my mind when I started it, but 1953 I feel fairly secure in saying was not a vintage year for chart pop.* I will admit to a lack of empathy with a lot of this stuff, even though most of the basic tools of pop (ballads, mannered voices, instrumental novelty, lovin’, lyin’, cheatin’) are present. At some stage this pop will turn into a pop I recognise better, and at some stage after that it will become the pop we live with right now. There are meanwhile some wonderful records on the horizon (not neccessarily ‘rock’ ones either), there’s just a few more foothills to get through first.

*I’m trying to avoid historical trivia because I’m writing as an ignoramus but it could have been even worse! It was coronation year and dread-sounding records like ‘In A Golden Coach’ were sniffing around the charts until beaten back by Frankiemania, which is probably for the best.


Popular11 comments • 2,119 views

#13, 23rd October 1953

The horns equal MAN ON THE PROWL thing gets further reinforced as Frankie Laine follows up a mega-hit by throwing everything he can at “Hey Joe” – brass all over the shop, a guitar solo (again!) (a much better one than Guy Mitchell’s I might add), backing singers, tumbling rhymes and an outright bizarre vocal style which stretches line-endings to breaking point and ends up sounding like proto-Dylan (“I’ll tell you face to face I mean to steeeeeeeal / Her from yeooooow“). It’s the most vigorous thing to top the charts since Kay Starr but for all its incident it never really gels.

Finally, proof that

TMFDPost a comment • 349 views

Finally, proof that the long awaited move from Highbury to Ashburton Grove IS going ahead, the “Hollywood Kebab” opposite Holloway Road Tube has changed it’s name to “The Arsenal Cafe”. Rumours that London Metropolitan University is to change its name to The Gunners Academy have yet to be made up…


Do You SeePost a comment • 298 views


(Sorry for the delay there, things can get away from you! Onward.)


Commentator: Ridley Scott

A veddy veddy British English speaker is Ridley Scott. But that’s a bit unfair, that’s more American stereotyping and he’s from up north I seem to recall — that sneaks out a few times actually, like when he notes that ‘none of this is CGI,’ so hey. It’s a high voice, though, a bit piercing, almost cutting. At this point he hadn’t yet gotten his Oscar and whether or not he felt a need to justify himself I don’t know, but probably not — he’s got his money and kudos and all that. So he starts talking and bless his heart he’s a motormouth, an informative one. It’s a bit like being lectured but in a conversational way, and rather than arguing from a ‘well, haunted houses were like this and I did this,’ he basically talks about being a director with some experience trying to make film number two (for him, not the series) on a budget. With the benefit of hindsight, to be sure.

For all the stylization he’s associated with, Scott talks a lot about solutions done on the fly, or as he says ‘on the day’ — the bit at the beginning where the computer screen reflects in the helmet? Done by chance when he saw the set. The monitor shots (as opposed to straight film) of the alien ship as the three crewmembers approach it? Done because the models of the planet wouldn’t quite hold up on screen over an extended period. Alien guts? Oysters and clams. Plenty of acknowledgment for various collaborators — composer Jerry Goldsmith, cinematographer Derek Vanlint, concept artist Ron Cobb, special effects feller Nick Allder, soundman Jimmy Shields, and of course H. R. Giger — as well as Stanley Kubrick, obvious source of inspiration in terms of how to handle space and space travel as compared with George Lucas. And the actors, even them — because the joke of course is that Scott films everything but them, apparently. But he defends the point that good casting is really a lot of the work done already and just about everyone gets their due, whether it’s in delivery or style or the physical work or more — further noting all the potential backstory that is never played out but how it’s hinted at. For a director said to be solely interested in how things appear on screen rather than how characters interest an audience, he’s got a knowledge of how characters can engage people, even if on more of an intellectual level than necessarily an emotional. Scott even keeps quiet at a few points to let a scene emphasize something he’s just noted rather than continuing on full bore.

I also like the fact you can hear him talking while chewing on a pencil or something. That and the line: ‘Love this cockpit. Somehow it’s very fascist.’

The Proclaimers — The BBC Sessions

FT + New York London Paris MunichPost a comment • 225 views

The Proclaimers — The BBC Sessions

No music lover needing to keep in with the latest fads can afford to miss the Today Programme on BBC Radio 4. Yesterday morning, for instance, they turned their thoughts to the erudite phenomenon of British popular music artists singing with American accents.

To demonstrate their point, they introduced Scottish twin-set The Proclaimers, who gamely talked through their decision to retain their accents, even though they knew it would cost them sales. Integrity was the gist, although the word was never used.

After a snatch of their hit 500 Miles was played, they volunteered to reproduce it, but this time in a star-spangled tone. And as I, John Humphreys and surely three million other listeners observed, no matter how important being true to themselves was, avoiding an American accent was a wise idea for good practical reasons too.