May 08

JJ BARRIE – “No Charge”

FT + Popular/381 comments • 12,955 views

#389, 2nd June 1976

I was aware of this song long before I heard it – as a young boy it was quoted at me by my Dad should I ever object to tidying my room. Since my room was rarely tidy, I became very familiar with the central notion of “No Charge”. Like my Dad, I can find immense amusement and pleasure in this style of song – talking country with a sentimental edge – but this is far from a great example.

You might think, at first, that the style stands or falls on the strength of its concepts: not so. “No Charge” has a fine concept – mawkishness and moralising are assets here! – but where JJ Barrie falls down is on development and details. Once our young entrepreneur has presented his list, and been slapped down by Mom, the track has nowhere to go, and explores that nowhere thoroughly for two minutes. Contrast it with something like “Teddy Bear” by Red Sovine, where tears are ruthlessly jerked right up to the final words. Barrie, on the other hand, adds no new details and just repeats himself. This is partly because “No Charge” is a cover version, and you can hear what I assume is the original melody being hollered in the background: it sounds rather as if it’s trying to escape.



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  1. 331
    Mark M on 26 Apr 2011 #

    However, a good half-dozen recent futuristic-sounding chart hits have namechecked the Roland 808, a piece of tech that was obsolete a good quarter century back…

  2. 332
    Mark G on 26 Apr 2011 #

    Who says it’s obsolete? It all comes down to the noise it makes.

    Which is better, a guitar or the guitar setting on the oberoid?

    ans:= “Whichever one sounds the way you want it to.”

  3. 333
    weej on 26 Apr 2011 #

    I’d point to the ultimate evidence of “difficult tech = more interesting results” as being the output of the BBC Radiophonics Workshop. Pre-synths = most amazing sounds you’ve ever heard, post-synths = now-naff-sounding 1970s incidental music. Having a physical process gives you a structure to experiment around, whether it’s an instrument or an outdated piece of electric hardware.
    These days people can make any sound they can imagine, but their imaginations often don’t seem to stretch further than their immediate influences, so instead of an infinite vista of sounds, everything sounds more and more similar. More often than not inspiration comes as part of process. No process can mean no inspiration.

  4. 334
    wichita lineman on 26 Apr 2011 #

    The Observer article is for people who used to say “oldy worldy” and now say “retro”, both of which suggest zero grasp of history beyond “it’s all old”.

    Simon Reynolds’ next book is called Retro Mania. I’m scared.

    Andy, Punctum… I don’t understand why you’re getting so pissed off about vinyl per se. I thought I’d explained why I buy and collect vinyl upthread, which is for socio-historical reasons as well as aesthetic.

    I don’t live in the past, I would never choose to, and if I could use a Tardis I’d always go forwards. But the past, and its musical hardware and software, fascinate me. Sorry if that offends you – I haven’t got a bleedin’ clue why it should.

  5. 335
    thefatgit on 26 Apr 2011 #

    Can’t quite get the thought of people getting all Henry Ford over vinyl on a blog that examines the past! Quite strange.

  6. 336
    enitharmon on 26 Apr 2011 #

    Marcello, would you say we should drop Mozart because of Schoenberg? Do you believe every advance to be a positive one? Can you not appreciate the journey for its own sake?

  7. 337
    anto on 26 Apr 2011 #

    I don’t own an ipod. I don’t own anything on vinyl.
    As far as I’m concerned time is curved before it is linear.

  8. 338
    thefatgit on 26 Apr 2011 #

    One more observation; I hardly think the likes of Kitty Daisy & Lewis are gamechangers that threaten the future. I can understand the need for forward momentum, but let’s at least pause along the way to see where we’ve been. Otherwise, we’ll all be wondering how we got (t)here.

  9. 339
    swanstep on 27 Apr 2011 #

    Vaguely relatedly, has anyone read Greg Milner’s _Perfecting Sound Forever_ about the co-evolution of recording and studio and playback technologies? I skimmed the 30-40% I could find on-line one afternoon and was impressed/depressed by its basic picture.

    And RIP Phoebe Snow.

  10. 340
    punctum on 27 Apr 2011 #

    #336: We’re talking technology here. No doubt there are people who prefer to listen to Don Giovanni on a series of crackly, scratchy 78 discs which you have to get up and change every three-and-a-half minutes than on CD, with high-grade sound quality/remastering and only having to get up and change the CD once or twice (I recommend the 1966 New Philharmonia/Otto Klemperer reading myself). But that’s Canute level perversity.

  11. 341
    enitharmon on 27 Apr 2011 #

    Oh well, Marcello knows best, as always.

  12. 342
    Mark G on 27 Apr 2011 #

    But Canute didn’t have the feeling that actually even though his courtiers were convinced the new way was better, his own ears told him different. Or maybe he did, in his own way, decide “Actually, my feet needed washing, and it’s a nice sensation too. Who needs a bucket when you have the sea?”

  13. 343
    sükråt tanned rested unlogged and awesome on 27 Apr 2011 #

    Grrrr, I hate the way this (probably made-up) story is now misremembered! Canute knew perfectly well the tide was going to come in! He sat there and allowed it to wash over him to prove a point to his fawning courtiers — that he did NOT have power over the sea….


  14. 344
    AndyPandy on 27 Apr 2011 #

    re 334 I’ve no problem with anyone listening to music in anyway they think fit but in certain articles/threads about vinyl/against digital technology, I’ve seen – its not just about a positive view of vinyl but also often an antipathy to cds/digital downloads and more than occasionally a hostility to certain musical genres too (hiphop,r&b, pop whatever)which they don’t seem to see as proper music.

  15. 345
    sükråt tanned rested unlogged and awesome on 27 Apr 2011 #

    In my experience — viz a vast but unfinished critical history of music and technology :( :( :( — there is definitely a linkage between the eras of given technologies, with their particular strengths and flaws, and the eras of cultural dominance of music genres. What there certainly isn’t — despite the rhetoric of the manufacturers — is a Universal Technology showing ALL POSSIBLE musics to best advantage… not least because different musics of course thrive in willed antipathy to one another. (One of my arguments in the unfinished book is that there has never been a time, since the arrival of the phonograph, when tere weren’t two formats locking horns with one another; the meaningful shape of that era’s history being the unresolveable story of the struggle, of salvage and transformation, rather than the slavish acceptance of one side’s version of events…)

    I haven’t read Greg Milner’s book — tho I should have done :( :( :( :( :( :( — but certainly one of the most interesting aspects of the arrival of digital sound synthesis has been that speed and flexibility — both of which depend to some extent on pre-programmability of functions, and compatiblity — were achieved at the expense of range of possible sounds…

    (Also: blunt fact — early digital for a long time didn’t deliver the sound and shape of electric guitar distortion to the satisfaction of its senior exponents: Neil Young and Lou Reed could both jabber yr ears off in regard to this… cranks both, of course, but experts in that specific soundfield.)

    (The relationship between technology and format on one hand, as the material basis of a medium, and the expressive potential of that medium — especially the tendency of a given medium to rationalise purely arbitrary practical limitations as Iron Laws of Art — is to me the possibly most interesting issue of all.)

  16. 346
    Steve Mannion on 27 Apr 2011 #

    sukrat “The relationship between technology and format on one hand, as the material basis of a medium, and the expressive potential of that medium — especially the tendency of a given medium to rationalise purely arbitrary practical limitations as Iron Laws of Art — is to me the possibly most interesting issue of all”

    How about, as an example, the idea of there being an “ideal length” that most albums should be? Did this shift and increase in the CD age? Is it now too sticky to fade away even once we reach that point where no new music is released on physical formats?

  17. 347
    sükråt tanned rested unlogged and awesome on 27 Apr 2011 #

    It did increase, yes — LPs were roughly two sides of 15-22 mins, plausible max. total c.45 mins (longer LPs were said to suffer from “groove cramming”: they delivered less volume and sometimes the gap between grooves was so slight that the indents on a neighbouring groove affected the groove the needle was currently in, so you faintly heard a kind of time-lapse bleed-thorough); CDs after a while started to come in at 1 hr minimum (the ones that weren’t simply new-format reissues, I mean)

    There’s a more complex question about human attention span, though*: a song that’s one second long is a novelty, and a song that’s (say) five hours long is a rarity — it tends to be thought of as a “work”, and will have breaks built in (like the chapters and volumes in very long 19th century books). If anything the thing that’s seems to have become “sticky” is the notion of the “album” as a quasi-unified collection of short semi-autonomous pieces; this isn’t strictly speaking an invention of rock culture, but the modes of its elaboration and its bedding in to the unconscious levels of our reception both are. To the extent that non-rock musics are battling to free themselves from its grip — dance music probably is, rap certainly isn’t — they are fighting against something they need to be understood; the militant energy of resistance would evaporate the moment the earlier form was actually culturally forgotten.

    *Stockhausen had a theory about what he called “octaves” of time — different clusters of timespan that demanded different mode of attention (the timespan of the note is roughly 0.05-1 second, for example; and there’s the timespan of the melodic phrase, the timespan of the song, the timespan of the movement, the timespan of the work, the timespan of the ritual, and so on up… ) (He articulated it semi-scientifically, and it actually falls apart as science I think — but as sociology or ethnology it’s interesting to see what the similiarities of attention-span are between different cultures)

  18. 348
    Erithian on 27 Apr 2011 #

    You probably know of the widespread supposition that the maximum length of a CD was set at 74 minutes specifically to accommodate Beethoven’s 9th symphony, and that Herbert von Karajan, conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic, was a major factor in determining that this should be so. (So what was Oasis’s excuse for Be Here Now, one wonders?!) Here’s what the myth-debunking site Snopes says about it: http://www.snopes.com/music/media/cdlength.asp

    Did you find that on K-Tel compilation LPs in particular the volume was markedly lower, so as to cope with groove cramming?

    Incidentally, I love how after 340 posts we get from JJ Barrie to a silly Cnut.

  19. 349
    lonepilgrim on 27 Apr 2011 #

    another significant change to our consumption of music has been the swing between speakers and headphones. Families would congregrate around the one ‘wireless’ before the cheap transistor radio allowed more personal and portable consumption.
    I first associate headphones with (appropriately) the ‘head’ music of the 70s and bands like Pink Floyd exploited the possibilities of panning and sound effects.
    The ghettoblasters of the late 70s/early 80s supported a more public consumption before the Walkman swung things back.
    Early CD players were part of expensive hi-fi with speakers to emphasise the quality of the recording until the discman repeated the role of the walkman. Mp3 players have extended this experience – to the extent that most of my consumption of music is via headphones – unless I’m driving.

  20. 350
    sükråt tanned rested unlogged and awesome on 27 Apr 2011 #

    Very roughly speaking — certainly until the 90s — the two-format tension would unpacked as hifi/classy vs lofi/street: with jazz, for example, migrating from street in the 20s and 30s to classy in the 80s, and “quality” in jazz similarly mutating, from “cellarful of noise” joy, back when it was it be found on the lo-fi format, to stately historical self-awareness in the 80s, when it primarily being made for high-end reproduction. Making a racket was the smartest way to exploit the lo-fi formats; noisy music sounded relatively better.

    But it’s actually a good deal more complex than this, even in the 30s or the 50s or the 70s, and I’m not actually sure that music in the age of the free download entirely conforms to the same protocols.

  21. 351
    sükråt tanned rested unlogged and awesome on 27 Apr 2011 #

    First “pop” CD is Ry Cooder’s 1979 Bop Till You Drop: which sorta kinda conjures Uncut-style dadmusic into being a decade in advance… so is it a lovingly crafted pastiche reissue or music expressly refashioned to suit its gleaming new mode of reproduction?

  22. 352
    flahr on 27 Apr 2011 #

    I dunno why people keep calling it dadmusic. FT is surely one of the most daddest places on the internet and everyone loves Girls Aloud. (As does my dad.)

  23. 353
    Tom on 27 Apr 2011 #

    I am a Dad, and I listen to a lot of Dadmusic, so I view the term Dadmusic as inherently value neutral, while knowing precisely what sukrat means.

    (My personal insult of choice is “Joolsbait” though)

  24. 354
    sükråt tanned rested unlogged and awesome on 27 Apr 2011 #

    Haha fair enough, flahr, bad old habits die hard. Exceot I don’t know what to handwavingly call it if I don’t use its (misleading) name.

  25. 355
    sükråt tanned rested unlogged and awesome on 27 Apr 2011 #

    I’m not even actually being insulting, really: BtyD isn’t my favourite Ry Cooder LP (and I hardly ever read Uncut and never watch Jools), but I think RC’s a good thing, on the whole.

  26. 356
    weej on 27 Apr 2011 #

    Ha, my Dad’s favourite artiste was always Ry Cooder when I was young, though I think it’s probably been Steve Earle these last ten years. I don’t think he’d be interested in Uncut, Girls Aloud or watching Jools though.

  27. 357
    thefatgit on 27 Apr 2011 #

    Is this thread slowly morphing into a repository for everything that is supposedly “bad”, like we’re all a bunch of, dare I say it…Grumpy Old Men???

  28. 358
    sükråt tanned rested unlogged and awesome on 27 Apr 2011 #

    i’m only grumpy when people diss cnut!

  29. 359
    Mark G on 27 Apr 2011 #

    It was like when all those jazz dudes couldn’t play to their people as they were ‘colbarred’ from entering theatres, so they would make those short films of their performances for showing in the cinemas in the black parts of town.

    Which is why we have all those great films of Cab Calloway, Louis jordan, etc, and not of all those ‘white-only’ acts that always played to their people in the nice theatres….

  30. 360
    punctum on 28 Apr 2011 #

    Too bad Mark S missed the recent episode of Jools where Mr Boogie Woogie Piano Magic was utterly pwned by McCoy Tyner, who would not stop his piece; he was reduced to grimacing camera pseudo-grins and having to yell “MCCOY! TYNER! JAZZ! LEGEND! GETOFF!” so that Elbow could close the show with their community singalong. Nothing against Elbow, whose current album I greatly prefer to their extremely overrated previous one, but it was terrific television.

    “Grumpy Old Men” bang on about how great things used to be, whereas I’m more concerned about how things are going to be. Hence vinyl fetishists etc. have more in common with GOM than I do.

    A friend of mine was once shocked to see me ranting away on an episode of GOM before he realised it was Ken Stott.

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