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May 20

The People’s Pop Poll: Starts 5th May

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Below the cut is a very geeky process-oriented post about THE PEOPLE’S POP POLL, which starts tomorrow on Twitter (@tomewing).

The main thing, though, is that over 100 people have nominated the songs which will fight it out in this poll, and donated over £2100 for Refuge (the fundraiser is still open!). They are amazing and make this whole thing something I’m very proud of.

You can listen to 186 of the songs here (the others are not on Spotify) more »

Jan 20

Top 100 Tracks Of The 2010s Part 1

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I’ve been running this on the Patreon – available to patrons of any tier – but the intention has always been to export the entries onto this site in chunks. So here’s the first set! Track #100 serves as a fair intro to the project as a whole. Expect a leisurely pace on this stuff.

100. MANIC STREET PREACHERS – “Postcards From A Young Man”

Jan 20

A Great Philosopher (DR ALBAN – “It’s My Life”)

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(Reached #2, September 1992)

In Britain, Alban Uzoma Nwapa was known for two things. This song was one of them. The other was his dental practice – teeth had brought him to live in Sweden, and music paid the dentistry school bills. A dip into Google suggests there are now many rapping dentists – there are many rapping everythings – but Alban was the first, and the combination seemed amusing. A touch provincial, maybe – it had the same vibe as when England go up against Andorra or the Faroes in football, and the commentators hold up day jobs in the post office or the doctors’ surgery as the bona fides of plucky authenticity.

Dec 19

Popular Crystal Ball 2019: You can say I’m hatin’ if you want to

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As is the annual tradition, a look over the year’s number ones, from best to worst. After a couple of years where this was an exercise in barely managed apathy, there are songs here I actually love. Save a chart, ride a cowboy! Behind the scenes, the machinery required to shape “the chart” is creaking badly, though.

Nov 19

My Thoughts Big I Just Can’t Define (THE VERVE – “Bitter Sweet Symphony”)

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(Reached #2, June 1997)

One of the repeating themes in British indie music is bands hitting the rocks because the guitarist and singer can’t work together. The Smiths, The House Of Love, The Stone Roses, Suede, The Verve – for a decade some of the biggest names in British guitar rock kept flaring out like this, until the music became boring enough that it stopped being an issue (you can’t have creative differences when nobody’s doing anything creative).


Oct 19

All one can do is die (CRASH TEST DUMMIES – “Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm”)

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(#2 in April 1994)

Fortune is the issue here: the blind bad luck of the song’s kid subjects, the random chance of us ever hearing about them. “Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm” is a fluke, but a fluke brought forth from a particular moment, the end of the alt-rock gold rush. First there were the years when major labels pushed Nirvana’s peers, rivals and sometimes elders out across the world (even I bought a lumberjack shirt). Later, alt-rock became modern rock, a settled category in the US and barely a concern elsewhere. But alongside all that were the chancers, the one-hit wonders, the unlikelies, trawled up by the industry’s tuna nets as it tried to meet MTV and radio demand. Green Jelly. Ugly Kid Joe. 4 Non Blondes. This.


Oct 19

It’s A Day For Catching Sun (LOUCHIE LOU AND MICHIE ONE – “Shout”)

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Less Popular is an occasional series where I write about hits that didn’t get to #1. It’s made possible by the Patreon – thanks to all my patrons.

Popular’s actual coverage of the ’93 Summer Of Ragga suffers a bit from the Number Ones showing up as the nights drew in – Chaka Demus and Pliers were cosy and languid, Shaggy a bit livelier but still heavy-lidded compared to “Shout (It Out)”, ragga gone unashamedly, noisily pop.

Louchie Lou And Michie One never had another big hit on their own, and only had one at all by teaming up with Suggs, bit parts to a bit part in the Britpop story. But Britpop is where you might reach for a comparison – Louchie and Michie are the Shampoo of ragga, snotty and loud and enjoying every minute of snatched fame. The duo had previous – they had worked with the Rebel MC, whose take on British hip-hop (“Street Tuff”) had been just as delightedly inauthentic, and just as catchy.


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”?


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


Apr 19

Album-A-Day #8: The Unquiet Groove

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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.

(The letter subsequent to this went out ages ago, sorry – midway through the next instalment already…)

#49 Betty Who – Betty (2019)
#50 Cherry Glazerr – Stuffed & Ready (2019)
#51 Horseface – Jaakautiset (2019)
#52 Dorothy Ashby – The Fantastic Jazz Harp Of Dorothy Ashby (1965)
#53 Kehlani – While We Wait (2019)
#54 Hank Mobley – A Caddy for Daddy (1965)
#55 Teeth Of The Sea – Wraith (2019)