Tom Ewing

Sep 19

In These Old Familiar Rooms (THE EAGLES – “Hotel California”)

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(Reached #8 in May 1977)

A byword for monolithic biggitude in their homeland, The Eagles never came close to a Number One in Britain. They did a solid trade in LPs, but they’re one of those groups who kept finding a ready British audience for “Greatest Hits” albums which – technically – are nothing of the sort. Their size and fame was more rumour and maybe wish, men buying CDs in service stations and dreaming of a denim-draped land far away where soft rock ruled the desert night.

Like most big album acts, The Eagles did have a signature song, and like many signature songs, it was long and ponderous and vaguely allusive, a rebuke to the idea that pop worked best as sharp jabs of feeling. I admit it, there’s a base appeal for me in the idea of the Prestige Rock epic as a grand statement, one I’ve protested too much against sometimes. It took years – decades! – for me to admit that while “Stairway To Heaven” is stupid in a dozen different ways, none of them actually stop it being great. “Shine On You Crazy Diamond” is distended and lumbering, mercury mourned by lead, but maybe more poignant because of that. Could you say something similar about “Hotel California”?


Sep 19


Popular13 comments • 1,323 views

#942, 23rd November 2002

Christina Aguilera’s album title, Stripped, has an obvious double-meaning, one she’s been keen to point out to interviewers. Stripping off, yes, clearly, but also stripping back, removing the layers of industry wrapping to reveal the individual underneath. Raw or in the raw, she’s saying, this is the real thing. Or at least, realer than the last one.


Aug 19

WESTLIFE – “Unbreakable”

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#941, 16th November 2002

They’re perhaps not intended to be, but Greatest Hits albums are often a sign of a band’s waning vitality, a signal to the fans that the group are moving to an autumnal phase, inviting listeners to tread their way through former hits like fallen leaves. The odd new track can’t truly hide the marks of age. “Unbreakable” is not an odd new track, in fact it’s relentlessly plain, an acoustic-led plod through the Westlife formula which does the things you’d expect in the places you’re expecting them. It’s unmistakable, indeed.


Aug 19

DJ SAMMY & YANOU ft DO – “Heaven”

Popular18 comments • 1,386 views

#940, 9th November 2002

Before writing this entry I scoured the Internet to see if DJ Sammy had ever said or done anything interesting. I drew a blank. He’s the model of a jobbing Euro-DJ, lucky enough to get one big break in his 30-year career and canny enough to ride it. In the most recent interview I could find, an Australian journalist asks him if he’s bringing any new material to tour Down Under? Yes, he replies, a new remix of “Heaven”.


Aug 19


Popular25 comments • 2,340 views

#939, 26th October 2002

Nelly spent some of the year before his second LP dropped in a beef with the perennially grumpy KRS-One. The feud was not a dignified one. KRS-One called out pop-rap in general, Nelly took it personally, spent a summer trying to goad KRS into a response, finally succeeded (“You the first old man to get a rappers pension / No hits since the cordless mic invention”) and was rewarded by KRS-One calling for a ‘boycott’ of Nellyville.


Aug 19

Great News For All Our Readers!

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Hello Popular readers!

After sixteen years, and suffering from (as you’ll have noticed) a much slower posting rate, I’ve come to a decision.

I’m going to crowdfund this project, using Patreon. HERE’S THE LINK. This coincides with me leaving my day job and going solo, which opens up a lot of spare time. But billable time being money in the freelance world, I want to be able to devote time to Popular, and Patreon is a way to do that. It’s not a perfect platfornm – what is? – but I’ve been able to set up tiers and goals which I think might appeal to people who like my work.

Very importantly, if you decide not to contribute, nothing will change – Popular will still appear here, on Freaky Trigger, and hopefully a lot more regularly than it has done recently.

UPDATE: We’ve already reached the point at which I am happy to guarantee 4 entries a month – I am enormously grateful and delighted by how quickly this has happened and how much support this funding initiative has had. Thanks, you lovely lot.

If you DO become a patron, you’ll get early access to main entries, very early access to certain other entries, and exclusive access to some other exciting things. THAT LINK AGAIN.

Whether you join up or not, it’ll mean more Popular, sooner, and I hope you agree that’s something to celebrate!

And finally, other fantastic FT contributors have Patreons of their own which also deserve your support! Mark S is creating podcasts and articles around the topic of his excellent book, A Hidden Landscape Once A Week and Hazel is crowdfunding her motorsport journalism by dishing the (some) dirt on a Patreon.

Jul 19

LAS KETCHUP – “Asereje (The Ketchup Song)”

Popular37 comments • 2,327 views

#938, 19th October 2002

A throwback to simpler times – the European novelty hit that spreads across the continent, sparking the dry tinder of holiday nostalgia, reaching Britain in time for bonfire season. Family act Las Ketchup were recruited by Spanish producer Manuel Ruiz for just this effect, and the project was ludicrously successful – an ongoing career for the Munoz sisters and a debut LP which shifted an eye-popping 12 million copies. Four of its eleven tracks are incarnations of “Asereje”: the days of Boney M, and the dance group as steady hitmaker, are long gone. You only get one shot.


Jun 19

GARETH GATES AND WILL YOUNG – “The Long And Winding Road”

Popular31 comments • 2,064 views

#937, 5th October 2002

Let’s imagine a world – apparently this is a good idea – where the Beatles never existed, and where “The Long And Winding Road” exists only in this form, as a slow ballad duet between the winner and runner-up of a singing competition. I think it would make very little sense – this is a song about the long game of romantic destiny, about the workings of fate leading you to the place where, you realise, exhausted, that you were always heading. It has no business being a duet, unless – a-ha! – the dyad in question isn’t the singer and some welcoming other, but the two singers themselves. Maybe that’s the point: the closure the song is offering is an end to the Pop Idol story, two rivals-turned-partners riding into the sunset.


May 19

PINK – “Just Like A Pill”

Popular21 comments • 2,612 views

#936, 28th September 2002

At the time, I didn’t warm to Pink’s overt rebrand. For one thing, the brusque R&B singer of “You Make Me Sick” already seemed fierce, and fierce in a more interesting way than a pop-rock restyle promised. For another, the heel turn from pop star to pop rejector seemed messy and unfinished – “Get The Party Started” was terrific, but tighter and slicker than any of her R&B hits; “Don’t Let Me Get Me” lurched the other way, a take-it-or-leave-it splat of rejection on top of muffled, churning beats.


Apr 19

Album-A-Day #9: Nothing Of The Thresher

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This is a document of my album-a-day listening project. Each entry originally comes out as a tinyletter and subscribers to that get framing content and non-music miscellanea as well as the LP reviews. When a new letter goes out, the previous letter goes up here.

#56 Ray Charles – Yes Indeed!! (1958)
#57 Adina Howard – Do You Wanna Ride? (1995)
#58 Various Artists – Kankyo Ongaku: Japanese Ambient, Environmental And New Age Music, 1980-1990 (2019)
#59 Solange – When I Get Home (2019)
#60 Julia Kent – Temporal (2019)
#61 Chubby Wolf – Ornitheology (2010)
#62 The Japanese House – Good At Falling (2019)

The remuneration structure of Spotify is opaque in places but the broad outlines are well known – Musicians are paid by the play, and paid by the track. Thirty seconds is the magic number – keep someone’s attention that long and you’ve earned your fraction. This structure incentivises particular behaviours – releases with a lot of short tracks, most obviously. UK Meds