In order, best to worst. The usual caveats apply: don’t expect this to be much of a prediction of final verdicts when I eventually write about them! And obviously it’s a much shorter list than the last two – since the first two months, pretty much, were gobbled up by “Uptown Funk”. The number one position finally starting to match the sclerotic progress of the charts as a whole, then.
What did we get?
I got an anon asking about Bilingual too, so I’m going to consider them together as the NEIL TENNANT TURNS 40 diptych of albums. There may be an element of projection in this, dear reader. Tennant of course coined the phrase “imperial phase” to describe the moment when you’re pop’s darling, and it ends at – no coincidence this – roughly the point at which house music takes over from the post-disco/hi-NRG dance music the PSBs made as the default sound of clubland. So all their run of albums post Introspective to about Nightlife (maybe that and Release too) are him (and Lowe, who knows!) coming to terms with this.
The first move is easy – prove your songwriting chops and show you’re a serious guy with Behaviour, but Very is the interesting one. The Behaviour singles did OK, but the tide is going out on them, the music has changed under them and Tennant’s in his late 30s – they know they basically have one more shot at making a great pop album which forces its way into the public consciousness, which gets and earns coverage in Smash Hits as well as respectful write-ups in the broadsheets. And Very is their attempt at that album, the last event Pet Shop Boys record.
On Friday I went to the first day of Mark Sinker’s Underground/Overground conference, about the British music press from 1968-1985 – dates that spanned the rise of the underground press, its colonisation of the music papers, and the besieging or breaking of its spirit during the 80s, under competitive pressure from style and pop mags. Mark picked 1985 because of Live Aid, which was barely mentioned on the day I was there. But it was also the foundation, or first plottings at any rate, of Q Magazine, much booed and hissed as villain. And it was the year the miners’ strike ended: on the panel I moderated, Cynthia Rose mentioned how miners’ wives would turn up in the offices of the thoroughly politicised NME.
This era of the press is mythical – the time just before I began reading about music. Some of its stories and inhabitants were passed down to me. The NME ran a wary, slightly sarky assessment of its 80s at the end of them: if it had been “a market-leading socialist youth paper” – Rose’s phrase – it no longer cared to admit it. But the idea of missing something special lingered. I read and was left cold by Nick Kent’s The Dark Stuff. I read and was quietly moved by Ian Macdonald’s collected writing. I read and revered Paul Morley’s Ask.
I even once ordered up a sheaf of 1975 NMEs from the Bodleian Library. This was its printed zenith as a cultural force – in terms of numbers, at least, which all the writers disdained, except when it suited them to boast. Circulation nudging a million, and it read that way – men (nearly always) telling boys (most likely) what to do, and knowing they’d be heard. The voice of the impatient older brother if we’re being kind. Of the prefect if we’re not. Later, I read the Schoolkids Issue of Oz, the magazine that put the underground press on trial and gave Charles Shaar Murray his start. It passed through my hands in 1997, almost thirty years on, a dispatch from a world that seemed completely lost. Full of mystique, of course. But it might as well have been the Boys Own Paper, for all it mattered then and there.
FT readers who are interested in writing about music and the specifics of its history in the UK, I have organised a treat for you (if you live in or near London, or happen to be visiting in precisely two weeks time = May 15-16 2015). It is THIS: a conference called UNDERGROUND/OVERGROUND: The Changing Politics of UK Music-Writing: 1968-85, and it is happening here: Birkbeck University of London, London WC1E 7HX (see below for details). I’m delighted (and in fact flattered) that a line-up of very interesting names and speakers (also see below) have agreed to sit on panels discussing a variety of things, from who exactly the constituency for the rock papers was in the 70s and early 80s, to how the hell did the countercultural voice get to cross from the underground press of the late 60s into what were at least ostensibly the trade papers of the leisure industry (viz Melody Maker, NME, Sounds, Record Mirror et al); to (finally) what can all this mean for us today, three decades on?
I am extremely excited! And nervous! And worried no one will turn up — or too many people will turn up, or there will be a fight, or everyone will agree with everyone else and it will be boring, or [insert OTHER things that could go wrong] [but don’t tell me what they are!]
Sisyphus was a rockist.
This is a list – scribbled down over lunch, then expanded – of ways that writers who focus on pop music have approached it. I agree with some. I disagree with some. Some of them I’ve tried, some I’ve only read. A few have become fairly orthodox. Others are rare, or at least rare nowadays.
The list is not meant to be exhaustive, and expansion is welcomed. (I think there should probably be something on camp in here, for instance, but I don’t feel I know enough to write it.)
1. Why Is This Popular?: I start with this one, because it’s largely what I do on Popular, which serves as an example. I am interested in things that are popular. The idea is that there’s value in thinking why something becomes a hit – what people hear or see in it. Popular things aren’t inherently good, but they are inherently interesting. Often shades into sociology, not always very expertly.
2. Pop As Expression Of The People: There are a few strands of thinking that really do hold popularity to be at least potentially a good in itself. “Popular culture is folk culture” (a Robert Wyatt paraphrase) would be the tenet here – pop is good because it reflects and represents everyday concerns, lives, dreams… maybe even a kind of will of the people. This type of angle feels unfashionable now, too monocultural (though see #8 below.)
3. Pop As A Site Of Subversion: A type of thinking that semi-inverts #2 – pop music is interesting when things sneak in and slip through that don’t ‘belong’ and that have the potential to question or overturn social norms. Runs the risk of turning into a simple scorecard or being horribly narrow about what constitutes subversion: where have all the protest songs gone, etc.
I’m going to listen to one album on a once-a-day basis for a week, a different one each week. Not in order to write about them or anything, unless I decide I want to. Just a minor attention-span workout, the listening equivalent of that “20 minutes of brisk exercise daily” or “5 a day” advice. I realised now I don’t review albums any more I’ve got out of that habit of intensive listening, except for Popular, which is done very much with writing as the aim. It would be healthy to get it back, I reckon.
The albums will mostly be a) stuff I already own that b) I know I like but c) have never really given the time they deserve. The listening cycle is
Friday to Thursday, until such time as I miss a day, at which point it will shift currently Tuesday to Monday. Albums below:
“Hi I am Lorelei Linklater and I am here to present the top five Freaky Trigger Not A Poll movies of 2014, even though it is well into 2015. I am delighted to be here because I am certain that a film I was in will appear, and perhaps I will finally get my due, cos my Dad told me for twelve years that the film would be called Girlhood and frankly I have been pissed with him for the last twelve months. That Oscar is MINE. Frankly he could have shot a few extra scenes. Just recut the damn thing. Its not like there aren’t plenty of home movies of me doing goofy stuff as a kid that he couldn’t have bulked it out with. And then he wouldn’t be getting hit with the completely appropriate “boring white boy coming of age movie” criticism. Where is my Oscar nomination for best actress? Or even best song (I killed it with “Ooops I Did It Again”, and when I sung it it was before Britney released it so it counts as an original song or something). Anyway, Ethan Hawke smells, and my Dad owes me big time.”
Thanks Lorelei, and yes, you aren’t wrong with your prediction. You are in this list, but where….
KIND OF BLEUGH, or seven better stand-alone ways into jazz in the early age of the long-playing disc (possibly)
(Hoisted from comments on Tom’s thread re-exploring LP-listening in the age of the no-longer moored individual song)
So Tom had put Sketches of Spain by Miles Davis on his list, and in response the thread had discussed the mechanics of politics of tokenism: some idea how and why SoS so often ends up as a rock or pop listener’s one trusty jazz LP, and some suggestions as to better candidates. Inevitably, I ended up getting pre-emptively grumpy about Miles’s Kind of Blue, and was called on this. What’s my actual beef with KoB? And, given this beef, where I would I suggest starting? These were my semi-mulled thoughts, tidied up, with extras added, and responses to responses further down…)
Hi, I’m Cardboard Mr Curry from the barely animated Paddington TV series from the 1970′s, much beloved by a generation who saw it as a genuine step up from a flapping card behind Captain Pugwash’s mouth. As it was. And I am here to give you the next five really not all that controversial films in the not-a-poll list of 2014 films. I am also here to make absolutely certain that Paddington does not make the list, because they turned what was just a bit of a mean-spirited neighbour into what appeared to be a lovelorn racist. Now I may have been an irascible nimby, but my qualms were mainly based on the hi-jinks that bear got up to rather than his origin. As far as the cardboard version of me goes, I don’t care what shade of Peru that bear came from. My name is Mr Curry after all, you don’t get a name like that without considering the role immigration played in your own lineage. And thus I am here to make sure Paddington doesn’t make the list.
Thanks Cardboard Mr Curry , and you will be pleased to hear that Paddington didn’t make the list.
Before I start writing about Number Ones again, a quick bit of stattery around the current state of the charts. This is an extremely wonkish post, so reader beware.
The official Top 100 Streaming chart was launched 30 weeks ago. Let’s see what’s up with it.
Of the 100 songs in the streaming chart.
44 have been in it for 30 weeks (i.e. since the first ever chart)
38 have been in it between 10 and 29 weeks.
18 have been in it for fewer than 9 weeks.
Compare this to the official chart – which incorporates the streaming chart, of course.
33 in it for 30+ weeks
36 in it between 10 and 29 weeks.
31 in it for fewer than 9 weeks.