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12
Nov 14

The UPDATED Secret History Of Band Aid

FT + New York London Paris Munich/12 comments • 8,220 views

The Secret History Of Band Aid

Everybody remembers Band Aid. And – despite everything – most people remember Band Aid 2. And now we have Band Aid 20 30. Which rather begs the question – why does nobody ever talk about Band Aids 3 to 29? Take a trip down memory lane as we remind you of the charity singles we all forgot.

Band Aid 3: Recorded in a secret corner of the Hacienda, “Baggy Aid” in 1990 melded social conscience with a wah-wah break and found Shaun Ryder offering to feed the starving his melons. That Line was sung by Bobby Gillespie, but nobody heard his reedy mewlings and the single flopped.

Band Aid 4: Top One Nice One! Altern8, Shaft, The Prodigy and many more superstars got together to give the classic tune a new boshing 90s sound – though it was B-Side “E For Ethiopia” that found favour with the DJ community. But a secret orbital party for famine relief was busted and the marketing juggernaut found itself turned back at a police roadblock.

29
Sep 14

BRITNEY SPEARS – “…Baby One More Time”

Popular141 comments • 6,848 views

#817, 21st February 1999

bomt How was I supposed to know that something wasn’t right?

It was a gilded age: the commercial zenith of the music industry at the end of the 20th century. In America, its apex as a money-making force came in 1999 when – adjusted for inflation – $71 per head was spent on music, a small box set for every man, woman and child in the country. Other countries hit the summit a little later, but they hit it. Did the industry see a crisis coming? Certainly – the Digital Millennium Copyright Act passed in the USA weeks after “….Baby One More Time” was released. But the biz was surely overconfident, it had seen its way through busts before. In 1981, when Britney Jean Spears was born, the industry was financially stagnant, caught in a recession-hit decline after the unsustained mini-boom of disco. It climbed back thanks to technology, and kept climbing. CD revenues rose and rose, and the machine to ensure they would not stop rising grew slicker and faster: radio, TV, promoters, manufacturers, labels, press and retailers meshing ever more efficiently in the pursuit of getting people to take home silver discs. And here we are at the top of the growth charts: peak pop.

27
Mar 14

ELTON JOHN – “Candle In The Wind ’97″ / “Something About The Way You Look Tonight”

Popular141 comments • 12,797 views

#774, 20th September 1997

citw Every Popular entry starts with the same question: why this record? This time it’s especially loud. “Candle In The Wind ‘97” is the highest-selling single of all time in the UK, almost 2 million clear of its nearest competitor. This is as big as pop gets. But “why?” might strike you as a silly question here, because its answer is so obvious: Diana, duh. So reframe it: why Diana?

The death of Princess Diana is recognisably a global news event, in the way we experience them now: the sudden in-rush of information into a new-made vacuum of speculation; the real-time grapple for meaning; and most of all the flood of public sentiment, deforming the story and becoming the story. It was also inescapable in a way nothing in my lifetime had been. But there are elements which feel very distant, and this single is one of them. It pushed the machineries of pop – literal ones, like CD presses and distribution fans, and metaphorical ones, like the charts – to their limits. HMV stores carried signs warning of a limit of 5 copies per person, and still sold out. There were reports of people buying 50 copies – for a shrine, perhaps, or just because CD singles had briefly become, like flowers and bears, part of a currency of devotion.

23
Mar 14

THE VERVE – “The Drugs Don’t Work”

Popular214 comments • 9,197 views

#773, 13th September 1997

verve ddw “Whenever we played that live there would be rows of grown men crying. It was almost like these guys couldn’t cry when they needed to cry, but that song operated like a pressure valve for them and it was okay for them to cry at a big rock concert.” – Richard Ashcroft on “The Drugs Don’t Work”

The list of number ones is not a complete history of anything except itself: it’s an iceberg party, a throng of bobbing and jostling tips – rock, hip-hop, reggae, indie, cinema, politics, comedy, charity, marketing and more, each one an incomplete and distorted story. But sometimes – when a berg seems over-familiar – the tiny and partial story told by the tip can put a new spin on it.

So the rock and indie number ones of 1996-1997 have seemed to me to tell a story about anxiety, a crisis of legitimacy for rock music. “Setting Sun” brutally demonstrated that it was impossible simply to pick up where the 60s innovations had left off. “Discotheque” suggested that other musics could no longer be easily absorbed into the working practises of a rock band. And Oasis were a walking declaration that a traditional band line-up should be the centre of pop, simply by right and by confidence – and it had worked, until Be Here Now showed the limits of this fiat rock.

4
Feb 14

WHITE TOWN – “Your Woman”

Popular120 comments • 8,167 views

#757, 25th January 1997

yrwoman In 1997, talking about music on the Internet means USENET, a Gormenghast of diverging and reconnecting fora whose goblin tribes gleefully rampage through each other’s chosen lairs: a thread will start on alt.music.prodigy, then careen into alt.music.spice-girls via alt.music.misc, while Discordians and trolls plot to spread it still further. Still, there are hierarchies in this cheerful froth of just-unleashed opinion – top level domains rarely bump uglies. Rec.music.misc keeps a snooty distance from the alt.music rabble, and despite sharing a suffix, alt.music.alternative and uk.music.alternative only occasionally meet. The former talks about Mercury Rev, Pavement, and Spiritualized, but seems increasingly fond of chart pop, a tendency I do my best to foster once it becomes my late-night home. The latter has divergent interests: I glance at it now and then but the closest it gets to the fields I know is Stereolab. Urusei Yatsura, Long Fin Killie, The Yummy Fur, some bunch of Scots named after a kids’ TV show… these are what uk.music.alternative goes for. It is almost my kind of place: I keep it as a subscribed group on my newsreader but let the messages pile up unwanted.

21
Nov 13

Manage A Team In The Pop World Cup 2014!

FT//44 comments • 3,647 views

fulecoSo here we are. The 32 qualifiers for the football World Cup have been decided, which means it’s time, once again, to get ready for the POP WORLD CUP.

The point of this post is very simple. If you want to be a manager in the Pop World Cup, put your name in the comments and pick a specific team (first come first served) or choose a random one.

More clarification? But of course!

15
Sep 13

Ten Years In Ten Marks

Popular49 comments • 3,332 views

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.

5
Jul 13

BLUR – “Country House”

FT + Popular181 comments • 8,061 views

#725, 26th August 1995

Blur-Country-House-54546 BOXING?

A “heavyweight battle”, the NME cover-billed it. And if “Country House” vs Oasis’ “Roll With It” was a title bout, the music press were desperate to play Frank Warren.

Perhaps they had most at stake. It was, in a way, their last great fight. Many other moments define Oasis. Blur are best remembered for different songs. Britpop itself? Well, this was the high tide – probably the main reason Oasis even count – and the rivalry became an ongoing, rather tiresome, pop storyline for years after. But even then the battle is just one of a scrapbook of memories: Britpop had to be a thing already for this tussle to even matter.

The press, though – this is the climax of its 80s and 90s story, its turn away from other music to keep the indie flame burning, and how it saw its favourites gradually win over first the radio establishment, then a wider public. And look – here they are! Top of the charts, ma! Whoever wins, we won, is the NME’s message, but in that final ridiculous week the story had outgrown them. After Britpop, readers dwindled, and no new story emerged: the price of ‘we won’ turned out to be that there wasn’t a “we” anymore.

1
Jul 13

I was a teenage dark elf priestess

FT18 comments • 4,139 views

This article by Laurie Penny on the pervasiveness and persuasiveness of the manic pixie dream girl trope is really good.

I’m the same age as Laurie Penny, so was plagued by the same cultural stuff as her- I don’t know if it’s just egocentrism for my own timeline but I feel like the 90s marked a real rise of the manic pixie. Britpop had a fair chunk of them, they appeared as outsider girls in offbeat, dry comedies. How quirky! Wow! A lady with a guitar and a fringe perhaps she is supah speshul and liking her will be a meaningful growth experience for me. Level up!

And that’s reductive of ladies with guitars and fringes, of course. Because they’re real, awesome people. But that’s not my reductivism, it’s the eighty millionth interview with Brody Dalle when in 2012 people are still fascinated by the idea of a woman in a rock band as something unusual or somehow defiantly implausible. Jesus wept.

One of the things I intensely dislike about some sorts of indie music is the way it creates this easy vision of crush-girl. Somethingsomething about her hair and how she probably won’t look at you but somethingsomething thought maybe she was deeper and more meaningful than the other girls [nb: that's because that's how a crush works, boys with guitars] and the worst thing about these basic, rolled-up character tropes is that they come with some implication that because manic pixie dream girls are special, all other girls, all these other people with their real people things are less. All those annoying real things are faded into a muddy background blur against the special, shiny limitedness of the trope.

28
Jun 13

Friday Poll Special – The Great Britpop Sorting Hat!

FT209 comments • 7,962 views

We are now firmly into the BRITPOP YEARS on Popular, oh yes, so it’s time to consider its musical legacy in the only language we truly understand, viz. a ticky-box poll.

We have selected 32 bands who someone, somewhere, might possibly have once described as Britpop. Tick all the ones you like and by science we will be able to finally, once and for all, define terms like “Britpop D-List” and “second divison Britpop”. Isn’t that a noble endeavour? I thought so.

Which of these Britpop bands were Any Good At All?

  • Pulp 70%
  • Blur 64%
  • Kenickie 53%
  • Suede 52%
  • Supergrass 48%
  • Elastica 47%
  • Super Furry Animals 44%
  • Ash 43%
  • The Divine Comedy 39%
  • Oasis 35%
  • Boo Radleys 30%
  • Lush 30%
  • Bluetones 28%
  • Catatonia 25%
  • Mansun 24%
  • Sleeper 24%
  • Black Grape 23%
  • Lightning Seeds 21%
  • Gene 21%
  • Longpigs 19%
  • Echobelly 18%
  • Shed Seven 16%
  • Space 14%
  • Ocean Colour Scene 14%
  • WELLER 14%
  • Kula Shaker 13%
  • Cast 11%
  • Menswear 11%
  • My Life Story 11%
  • Marion 8%
  • Seahorses 8%
  • Northern Uproar 3%

Total Voters: 1,496

Poll closes: No Expiry

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