Ten years ago tomorrow, I started writing a review of Al Martino’s “Here In My Heart”. I’d never heard the first UK Number One, and thanks to P2P networks I had the chance. Somewhere between starting the blog entry and finishing it, I thought of reviewing all of them.
I had no idea how long it would take. That hasn’t changed: I still have no idea how long it will take. At the time, the No.1 was The Black Eyed Peas’ “Where Is The Love”, and we’ve had around 300 new ones since then. Unless the Official Charts Company dies before I do, the project is unfinishable – but I admit I’d imagined I’d have reached the present day before now. For a variety of reasons – job, family, fluctuating motivation, other things to write about – I haven’t managed that. Maybe by 2023!
Popular has been a terrific hobby. I started it when I was an established blogger but not a published journalist: I was feeling wrung out and underconfident, and wanted something I could write quickly and thoughtlessly, about songs nobody cared about: a reaction to the higher-powered, febrile blogosphere of the time, which was very focused on being up-to-date and expert. I wanted to be able to feel my ideas and opinions out, like I had when I started blogging.
The blog has now outlasted my part-time career as a music journalist, and probably played a big part in me getting those opportunities. I now think a lot more – sometimes too much – about each entry, but Popular is the most satisfying writing I do. I’m also conscious of the marvellous, entertaining, informative and – by web standards – fantastically good-natured comments each entry will attract – which also means I can leave stuff out, and zoom in on a particular feature or scrap of context if I want to. If I felt I had to be comprehensive I’d have given up long ago.
Thanks so much for reading, and commenting.
If not for the trick of putting a mark out of 10 at the end of each review, I would have far fewer readers. So here’s a Popular “highlights reel” centred on the marks, one entry/thread for each.
ONE: The lowest mark available, reserved for records I have a particular loathing of. Occasionally these are songs other people quite like but mostly they’re tracks almost everybody thinks are shit too, and as such easy targets. I’m pleased that with “The Stonk” I attempted to rise above my disgust and try and understand Hale & Pace as men of their times. Still a bloody awful record, of course.
TWO: I regret no 1s but a few 2s I’ve been talked around to – since in a lot of cases this is the mark where I’ve seen a tiny glimmer of something forgiveable… such is not really the case with “No Charge” but it has to be the highlighted thread, because it’s the longest comment thread on the whole blog – the one where the comments crew decided, spontaneously, to have the conversation about whether punk “had to happen” or not.
THREE: The upper hell of the ordinarily bad records – the tedious, the mawkish, the overlong. “We Are The World” is all three, and a charity single too – to my surprise I’ve enjoyed writing about charity records, because the dynamics of how and why they happen are interesting and tell you plenty about the pop of their time.
FOUR: The limbo of the underrated (by me) – as well as a host of uninspired makeweights, 4 – sometimes 5 – tends to be a mark I hand out when I know a lot of people like a record, but I basically don’t. Whether I manage to justify the distaste is your call. “Hey Jude” is one example: re-reading it from a more forgiving place I’m not sure I even convince myself, but there you are.
FIVE: In the year-end polls, the boundary of “Any Good At All”-ness is the 5/6 split, so this set of reviews is full of regrets – songs I basically like, damned by my mood, or because they fell apart on repeat plays, or just by me being a chump. On a lot of 5s I simply haven’t listened enough, though, and it’s a good score for the commenters to talk me round – witness “Woman In Love“, where Wichita Lineman (among others) spun me right round (baby). It’s that kind of experience that makes doing Popular so fun.
SIX: For better or worse, one of the things I end up doing in Popular is zooming out sometimes and talking around a song more than addressing it. A 6/10 mark is often a good platform for that – when the context around a record might be more interesting than the perfectly serviceable track at hand. The recent Britpop threads saw the commenters joining in: “Some Might Say” is one of the meatiest threads we’ve ever had.
SEVEN: Looking at the list of 7s it seems particularly full of entries I don’t remember writing, which tells its own story! Every now and then you get a record that’s flawed but kind of magnificent too, like “Earth Song” and those are the 7s I enjoy most. (Great thread, too.)
EIGHT: We’re now into records which are definitely good, and the challenge is working out what’s good about them. One of the other really good things about doing Popular is the rare feeling of satisfaction I get when I think I’ve cracked why I feel how I do about a particular song and isolated what makes it go for me. “Maggie May“, for instance.
NINE: Most 9s would be 10s on another day, so there’s an “I need to get this right” pressure on the writing. “Hoots Mon” was almost the first 9 I gave, and it was probably the first entry I researched in any way or where I felt I really wanted to sell the record. Not saying it’s a brilliant entry, but it’s the point at which Popular turned from therapeutic exercise into ‘project’.
TEN: The original inspiration for the “marks out of 10” thing was videogames magazine Edge, which very rarely gives 10s, so they feel like more of an event. I suspect Edge is extremely calculating in its scores, and I don’t try to be, but I probably am too. They all feel right at the time. And a 10 always means a readership spike – so in an ideal world, the writing on the 10s would be the best on the site. Is it? Not always – but some of them I’m proud of. “The Winner Takes It All“, for instance – scroll down and you get one of Punctum’s terrific comment-box reviews/essays too, and an intense debate about the value of absurd value claims. It’s as good a snapshot of why I love doing the blog as you could wish for.
And off we go into the next 10 years!