Jul 13


FT + Popular131 comments • 12,114 views

#731, 9th December 1995

Earth Song “The environment” is something of a pop graveyard, and no surprise. Beyond specific conservation efforts, the problems we’ve created seem simply too vast for us to cope with as a species. No wonder our pop singers have mostly failed to rise to their own challenge and write great songs about it. “When I think about the hole in the sky,” a Lennon simpered, “Salt water wells in my eyes”. And that was about the level of it.

“Earth Song” isn’t strictly about green politics – whales and elephants get a cameo, but it’s more of a general ‘why oh why’ address-stroke-sermon-stroke-meltdown on the general rottenness of mankind. But actually, if you were to write a song which really captured the impotent 3AM anguish of the environmentalist, their horror at human civilisation’s slow, placid self-immolation, it might sound a bit like this.

“Earth Song” is not generally taken seriously in Britain, even though it’s Jackson’s biggest-selling single here. Perhaps its fate was sealed the moment Jarvis Cocker jumped onstage at the BRIT Awards and wagged an accusing arse in Jackson’s direction. An attempt to puncture the messianic pomposity of Jacko’s kid-festooned “Earth Song” performance, he said. And, he didn’t need to add, its tactless creepiness. The specific kids became a bargaining chip in the PR to-and-fro that followed (though imagine the playground kudos!) but Cocker had a point, about the song as well as its staging. If any rock performance gets to be slammed as messianic, it’s one where the singer is explicitly addressing his song to God, then spends the video in cruciform pose, lashed by Biblical storm and fury.

Except, this being Jackson, the agony isn’t so much presumptuous as personal: he’s not taking on the sins of the world in the extraordinary call-and-response coda, just mainlining them, free-associating them, howling them out from a place beyond sense. “What about yesterday/What about the seas/The heavens are falling down/I can’t even breathe” – apocalypse as panic attack, the end of the world staged in Jackson’s burning head. “What about the man/What about the crying man?/What about Abraham?”

Between each of these growled and screamed questions a massed choir sings “What about us? What about us?” – except sometimes when they snap back “What about it?” at Jackson, a disorienting “so what?” that makes the singer seem even more alone. If you could seem alone in the widescreen pomp-rock tumult of “Earth Song”‘s closing minutes, that is. The choir makes the coda – turning Jackson’s sermonising into full-blooded hellfire preaching – and the coda makes the song. It’s the most committed, vein-popping performance we’ve seen on Popular for years, and even in despair the most swagger Jackson’s shown us for a long time too.

Before that we have his version of XTC’s “Dear God”, a hand-wringing plea for the attention of an absent creator. Jackson goes for a wracked vocal – though beautifully controlled, as always – over a stately rhythm and lots of production fairy dust, and for two verses “Earth Song” is something of a chore, even if it has a lot more momentum than “You Are Not Alone” and a better, wordless hook. It’s only when the drums turn up, at almost 3 minutes, that the song begins its shift from mawkish blubfest to armageddon power ballad.

Cocker wasn’t buying it, and he wasn’t alone. It’s easy to listen to “Earth Song” and think “This is ridiculous” because, well, it is ridiculous if you’re in the wrong mood for it (though sometimes it’s great because it’s ridiculous: I can like “Earth Song” and take it seriously and still enjoy sending emails saying “WHAT ABOUT THE ELEPHANTS???”). It’s lachrymose, overblown, vulgar, all things which sometimes make for awful pop music. It’s also intense, grand, and passionate, all things which sometimes make for great pop music – and seemed especially pertinent in a British pop world reshaped by Oasis, where epic was in vogue.

“Earth Song” is a very rich, reclusive, strange man channeling a childlike anger at the terrible things people do through a adult, practised sense of how to build a record, and if you find the outcome queasy I absolutely understand. But I don’t agree – it’s blown up to Michael Bay levels, but there’s the same strangeness, terror, conviction and craft here as there was on “Billie Jean” or “Bad” or any of the Jackson singles from deceptively happier times.



  1. 1
    wichita lineman on 31 Jul 2013 #

    A great piece – it reads like a 9. I actually have no idea if it’s a 9 or a 2. It’s the opposite of Robson & Jerome in just about every way possible.

    My friend Jane was convinced the line after “what about the elephants?” was “what about their lovely tusks?” But then she also thought Coolio sang “been spending most of our lives in an ambidextrous paradise.”

  2. 2
    Garry on 31 Jul 2013 #

    Can the Dear God analogue be extended to the video – first few seconds of both videos panning through trees at odd angles.

  3. 3
    Chelovek na lune on 31 Jul 2013 #

    I’m glad to see that this gets a mildly sympathetic write-up, as I think it does deserve it, for all the inherent and unavoidable ridiculousness of the performer setting himself up as the suffering messiah (and the video is simply ludicrous from start to finish). There is craft, there is real anguish, and MJ is on pretty top-ish form – the OTT nature of the final few minutes make it work: and above all make the track stand out from previous, really lachrymose, Jackson efforts of a broadly similar theme (Heal The World, most obviously).

    (I’m still unsure: does this work better with or without the video and surrounding visual context, or purely as a tune. I became familiar with this purely as the latter.)

    The thing about “Earth Song” is that it plays to the performer’s strengths, and idiosyncrasies, of both character and technique: which also saves it from being whipped out in X-factor type contents, probably forever: the value of sincerity in adding depth and substance to art (even in a context such as this) clearly can’t be underplayed.

    Now for a classic 90s single (in which the, in that case, rather understated, angst of the artist is every bit as evident as in “Earth Song”) about “a deaf dumb and blind God who doesn’t explain”: The The’s “Slow Emotion Replay”. Would have been a delight to talk about that here. But I guess this will have to do.


  4. 4
    Izzy on 31 Jul 2013 #

    I hated him so much at this time – for living off past glories for crushing, unearned success, while delivering the safest, lamest music.

    How did I get it so wrong? This is an extraordinary record, trying to do so much, and succeeding, so that six-and-three-quarter minutes is barely enough. I more or less agree with the review, and obviously the coda makes it.

    There are things I don’t much like:
    • the ‘production stardust’ in part A feels cheap to me, like he’s taken the first orchestra setting from a fancy laptop and thought ‘that’ll do’; and the percussion’s dull; but it’s redeemed by the guitar and full, enveloping bass; and above all by the vocal, which is delivering coda-level intensity from line one;
    • the lyric, I think because it’s too safe a choice; everyone likes the environment, imagine the effect if all this force were used to write about something contentious;
    • the key change in the coda, it’s too rote; take it up six steps rather than (I’m guessing two);
    • the ‘woo’s have just been dropped in, it doesn’t need ’em; or rather, it demands a tic that’s even more trademark, somehow, even more extreme.

    A couple more thoughts: this smashes Coolio’s gothicism into the ground; and as ever with MJ, I’m now in awe at his attempts to unify everything in his music. Nobody else does this. (9)

  5. 5
    AMZ1981 on 31 Jul 2013 #

    As Tom said, this record is too wrapped up with the story of what subsequently happened at the Brit Awards in February, even though the record was already way down the charts by then. As far as the Michael Jackson story is concerned, in 1995 against all the odds he’d ridden out the first wave of child abuse allegations and recovered a lot of his popularity. The Brits performance might have not been as controversial if Jarvis Cocker hadn’t (rightly) pointed out how tasteless it was but it damaged Jackson’s image and, aside from a passing visit in 1998, he troubles this blog no longer.

    During Earth Song’s six week reign two much hyped records failed to dethrone it. One was the `new` Beatles song `Free As a Bird` released to capitalise on a new wave of Beatlemania, the other was Mike Flowers Pops caberet version of Wonderwall which gave the first instance of two versions of the same song in the top ten for many years (but which would happen again in Spring 1996).

    The other runner up during that time was Boyzone’s cover of `Father And Son` which deserves more credit than chart watchers tend to give it; it had already changed chart direction once on its way up (8-4-5-3) and twice jumped into the number two slot when the records mentioned above shot their bolt. Given that Boyzone will enter this blog with short lived, here today gone tomorrow chart toppers, this genuine crossover hit needs highlighting.

  6. 6
    Brendan F on 31 Jul 2013 #

    I’ve always hated bombast in music and Michael Jackson revelled in it by the 90s after his coronation as the ‘King of Pop’, here it becomes positively messianic. I can appreciate it’s not a bad record but as the antithesis of everything I love about music I can’t bring myself to truly like it. 5 for me.

  7. 7
    lonepilgrim on 31 Jul 2013 #

    what struck me when I watched this again recently was how MJ is able to tap into a deep well of anguish for this song so that despite the clunkiness of some of the lyrics the emotional truth of the performance is compelling and powerful. The videos ‘solution’ to the environmental devastation is to reverse time which has an additional poignancy both for its impossibility and for how it speaks (perhaps) to a desire to reverse MJs own history

  8. 8
    Tom on 31 Jul 2013 #

    The reversing time / exploding planet stuff makes me think he’s going for Kal-El as much as Jesus!

    I’d forgotten this kept “Free As A Bird” at 2. Maybe he was the Messiah.

  9. 9
    hardtogethits on 31 Jul 2013 #

    If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em. I have a fondness for this record which is strangely mercenary. I bet, for me, at the time, a small fortune on it being no.1 at Christmas at 13/8. Short odds but not the favourite.

    And should anyone challenge this as a hard-hearted view, remember those romantic romancers the Pogues, and the Christmas Fairytale that revolved around a bet.

  10. 10
    fivelongdays on 31 Jul 2013 #

    I couldn’t stand this when I was 13, but the years have been somewhat kind to it. It’s all about the coda, of course, and Jacko-as-Messiah becomes rather tiresome, but it’s enjoyably daft and epic. Think I’ll give it six.

  11. 11
    Ed on 31 Jul 2013 #

    The only truly great pop song about the environment, with a theology that is more devout but bleaker than Jackson’s:


  12. 12
    Mark G on 31 Jul 2013 #

    #8 blah etc naughty boy..

    The thing is with Jarvis’ stunt, in retrospect, now MJ’s gone, the whole thing seems churlish. And yet, at the time it was a lash-back from the Britpop gang, at a time where they cound actually inflict the blow. Now? Neither party would be in the same building…

    While we are here: Scritti Politti. When “Lions after Slumber” came out, it reminded me strongly of Michael Jackson in the vocal stylings. I imagine MJ was listening, as the fade-out of “Will you be there” is a complete nick. But, I guess his lawyers were bigger than Green’s.

  13. 13
    Chelovek na lune on 31 Jul 2013 #

    #11 You had me worried for a minute there that you were going to link to “Big Yellow Taxi”. Thankfully, you chose wisely.

  14. 14
    Kat but logged out innit on 31 Jul 2013 #

    In English we had to stand up in front of the class and do a 5 minute talk on a song that had ‘a message’. We could pick anything we liked as long as it didn’t have swearing in it. My two metaller chums chose Pearl Jam’s ‘Jeremy’ (problematic) and Metallica’s ‘Seek and Destroy’ (which I think they ‘claimed’ was about the war in Bosnia, er, only about 10 years too early dudes). I mumbled my way through TLC’s ‘Waterfalls’, was too embarrassed to talk about the safe sex bit properly and got quite a poor mark for it.

    EVERYONE ELSE IN THE CLASS chose ‘Earth Song’. Twenty-five bloody talks about Earth Song dragged out over two lessons. We were all fvcking sick of hearing about the environment by the end. I think this was also around about the time my WWF subscription expired (pandas, not wrestling). Bad luck elephants.

  15. 15
    ciaran on 31 Jul 2013 #

    There seems to be no middle ground with this.You either love it or hate it. More so than any other a score between 1-10 would be awarded for this by many here.

    Personally I liked it from the first time I heard it and the brits fallout always seemed a tad unfair. Yes the image of Jackson as a Jesus like figure may have been hard to take for some but he handled it much better than most and his more reserved singles are a bit dull.

    It did seem like he was trying to create another billie jean or thriller epic for the 90s with ES in both audio and video (although ‘Imagine’ might well be the comparison to be made by detractors.) It felt like it was one that we would hear time and time again but 12 months later it was almost like it never even existed.

    A real shame because it offers so much – great build up,tension, moodiness, brilliant video, stunning effort from MJ.It would have been a 10 in 1995 for impact but I agree with the 7 in 2013.

    I liked Pulp as much as anyone and ‘A Different Class’ is a stone cold classic but I thought the brits incident wasnt a good move by Cocker.Maybe the britpop crew felt that Jackson was reigning on their parade and wanted to make an example.’Running the World’ from 2006 was his own answer to ES maybe.

  16. 16
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 31 Jul 2013 #

    “reigning on their parade” <– excellent work there :)

  17. 17
    James BC on 31 Jul 2013 #

    I still gawp in disbelief at people who can stand this. Goes on forever, impossible to dance to, and the lyrics really are rather shallow when they aren’t the Bubbles-aping “ooh ooh ooh, ah ah ah”. If you want social comment from MJ, you are far better doing what the record buying public did after his death and going with his first stab at it, Man in the Mirror.

    I once heard the session bassist Guy Pratt telling a funny story about recording this, though, so at least some good came out of it.

  18. 18
    Tom on 31 Jul 2013 #

    Re Cocker’s churlishness: Like Izzy I disliked “Earth Song” at the time, but I also found the triumphalism of the music press post-pitch invasion somewhat gross. Obviously I like the record more now, but I’ve gone the other way on the stage invasion too – any kind of incident at a music biz gala tends to add to the gaiety of the nation, and maybe even ask useful questions the performances duck out of. I think Jackson’s performance would have spoken for itself, but Jarvis’ intervention turned it into a kind of national question on “what do we want our pop to be like?” and I appreciate it being asked even if I didn’t really like the answer the press came up with.

  19. 19
    Ed on 31 Jul 2013 #

    @11, @13 – There’s also this, which is terrific, although it stretches the definition of “pop” a bit:


    It is surprising, really, that Yes Men / Climate Action-type environmental activism has not inspired more music. This is the only example I can think of.

    The album version in full: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=isi4FYDFfps

    And I hadn’t known about this: a trip-hop cover by Meat Beat Manifesto: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jsF5nmwAp3s

  20. 20
    Tom on 31 Jul 2013 #

    #1 My brother came up with “What about the elephants / Have we got their tusks?” so this is clearly a productive mishearing.

    #4 I don’t actually like the stardust, and you’re right about the lyric being a safe choice – even when he brings in the “Holy Land”* he doesn’t actually say anything very interesting. But I think the key change works fine – especially in comparison to the “You Are Not Alone” one – and I like the “woo! woo!” bits, just because they’re so incongruous. (They remind me, in a weird way, of the way Kevin Rowland ends one of the tracks on Don’t Stand Me Down – perhaps the whole intensity of the song is bringing him to mind?)

    *this is the funniest bit of the song BTW, “What about the Holy Land?” and the snapped-back “What about it?” is very easy to hear as irritable. Christ, Michael, not the fucking Holy Land TOO.

  21. 21
    anto on 31 Jul 2013 #

    re:14 At my school ‘Heal The World’ and ‘Man In The Mirror’ were two of the songs we were told to contemplate the meaning of during meditation sessions in the chapel (RC School) although with the latter we were told to “put aside your thoughts about the person singing it and just listen to the words” but really Michael Jacksons influence on educational methods has been less readily acknowledged than his impact on pop music.

    By the time ‘Earth Song’ came along I couldn’t really understand anyone still wanting to listen to Michael Jackson who just struck me as being behind the times but who unfortunately still had a fanbase massive enough to give him mega-size hits and so however long ‘Earth Song’ was at number 1 it seemed to be absolutely ages.
    I think the Michael Bay comparison is pertinent here as this does put me in mind of the cold can’t-fail-won’t-fail craft of a modern movie blockbuster. For me the beginning has more power than the climax. Starting a single from such a point of weariness is one way of establishing focus but by the first chours my mind has wandered.

  22. 22
    Steve Mannion on 31 Jul 2013 #

    re #12 good point about how the combination of MJ and JC (not Jesus but same initials) at the same event and what’s happened since makes this feel like a far more distant time and place than it really was.

    I welcomed JC’s antics at the Brits bearing in mind they came at a time when anticipation of untoward shenanigans at the ceremony were at their peak. In recent years the Brits seem to have become so anodyne in every way the effort spent on televising them has never felt so worthless.

  23. 23
    Mark G on 31 Jul 2013 #

    Re the Brits performance (excl JC now), it started as MJ wandering the stage on his own, nodding between verses with two fingers on his chin, like he was presenting a Powerpoint slideshow.

    And at the point where this is getting somewhat boring, here comes the whole world and god and all this molokey.

    Just as well it’s 5 mins plus..

    2nd misheard lyric: “This crying earth that we’ve been shown”

  24. 24
    Chelovek na lune on 31 Jul 2013 #

    #14 and also #21 Gosh, that sounds unbearable. The only time we had to discuss “pop songs with a message” at school (or indeed, popular music at all) was when (back in the late 80s) our music teacher, on successive weeks, got us to analyse the lyrics, meaning and structure of “Mama” by Genesis and “Papa Don’t Preach” by Madonna.

    This and the situation outlined in 21 this does present the case of, of on the one hand, a RC school using a time presumably devoted to some form of Chritian worship encouraging mediation on Michael’s slightly inane and wildly incoherent, but powerfully enunciated, musings about the environment; and on the other hand, a secular and liberal school using music lessons as a pretext to discuss the ethics of abortion… Everything is upside down.

    (Earth Song: inescapable in Ukraine at the time: Boyzone’s “Father and Son” likewise. New Beatles let alone Mike Flowers Pops: all but unknown)

  25. 25
    Steve Mannion on 31 Jul 2013 #

    He totally says ‘weeping sore’ at some point which only grossed us out further.

  26. 26
    Ed on 31 Jul 2013 #

    Misheard lyrics, part 2: the lyrics sites don’t agree on whether the Holy Land is torn apart by “creed” or “greed”.

    “Creed” would be more accurate, I guess, but would intensify the song’s religious scepticism. “Greed” would imply an interestingly provocative take on the problems of the Middle East.

  27. 27
    Tim Byron on 31 Jul 2013 #

    It’s funny, one of the first things that happened after I started paying attention to pop music was the big hoo-haa over ‘Black Or White’ when it came out, and I loved that, and had imbibed the received wisdom that he was the King Of Pop etc (according to the recent oral history ‘I Want My MTV’, the people on MTV received a memo saying they’d only get ‘Black Or White’ as an exclusive if they started calling him the King of Pop, but it seemed to me that he had long been the King Of Pop at the time). It just seemed to me at the time that Jackson’s every move was genius, because that’s what the media was telling me, and ‘Black Or White’ was pretty awesome so it made sense.

    I don’t think I’d ever questioned that narrative until I saw the thing with Jarvis on the news. In fairness (I think?) to Jarvis, he said it was a spur of the moment thing and he was drunk, rather than it being a calculated move. But something about the act and the song made me realise at the time that some of the hype about Jackson was smoke and mirrors, that he wasn’t necessarily in a league above every other pop star the way he wanted himself to be portrayed.

    I mean, there’s definitely a strong melody or two in the song, in a way that always seemed to be missing in subsequent MJ singles after 95 or so (I do wonder what happened there, how he lost that gift?). But still, it’s not an overly well-developed song, and while the arrangement is doing a lot of work to hide that lack of development with pomp and circumstance, it’s all a bit empty somehow.

    (Also, for better or worse, I don’t think I ever understood most of what MJ was singing in the good bit at the end of the song – I only learnt about ‘what about elephants’ today! So thank you, Tom, for alerting me to its existence)

  28. 28
    weej on 31 Jul 2013 #

    Just to note that JC seems to be somewhere between embarrassed and mortified about the incident now, and that it came at the peak of his britpop ligging.

    I didn’t mind the song at the time, it seemed to be ridiculously bombastic, sure, but in the context of a watchable performance that’s fine, surely? (So long as people don’t take it seriously, oh, right…) I haven’t listened to it in 15 years, but will give it a go again tonight.

  29. 29
    Tom on 31 Jul 2013 #

    In a way, I think “don’t take things so seriously” is something Cocker and Jackson are both pushing back on in their music.

  30. 30
    weej on 31 Jul 2013 #

    Oh, I don’t mean taking the issue seriously, that’s fair and valid, and taking yourself seriously as an artist, well, of course, that too.
    But as “The Messiah” / “King of Rock & Pop” ? I don’t know if MJ believed it, but a certain section of his fanbase did and still seem to.

  31. 31
    Mark G on 31 Jul 2013 #

    Re the ligging, I do believe Jarvis had performed with Pulp earlier on the show

  32. 32
    weej on 31 Jul 2013 #

    #23 He had, Sorted for Es & Wizz, I think he was actually lifted up on wires.
    That Brit awards would otherwise have been memorable just for some pretty awful acceptance speeches from Oasis.

  33. 33
    Tom on 31 Jul 2013 #

    Jackson brought it on himself by turning Jarvis’ water into wine.

  34. 34
    Ed on 31 Jul 2013 #

    @28 – “JC seems to be somewhere between embarrassed and mortified about the incident now”

    He does, and who can blame him?

    If you had written ‘Common People’, would you want to be best known to the British public for drunkenly waving your arse at Michael Jackson?

  35. 35
    thefatgit on 31 Jul 2013 #

    What I like about Earth Song: the bass. The final chord sounds like a question mark.

    What I don’t like about Earth Song: y’see, I can understand that it’s a fine pop song with a pretty neat arrangement. And it builds and builds to an almighty climax. Yeah, great, Michael. You care, we get it. Oh, by the way, here’s an award for pointing your finger and shouting really loudly. Everyone’s happy. The thing is, I know Sting is a bit of a tosspot, but at least he got his hands dirty (not just simply plunging them into a pile of dust in a promo video). And he’ll probably be remembered more for his environmental work than his post-Police output in the long run. And then there’s Sir Bob and Bono. But when MJ shuffled off this mortal coil in a fug of over-administered anaesthetics, “We Are The World” exempt, I heard virtually nothing about any charitable work or going out to Africa to actually save an elephant. This was never released as a single in the US, so perhaps that’s why he didn’t need to back up an album track with some sort of gesture, even a piddling one.

    So Earth Song, at least to me is empty-handed. In the past, I’ve railed against charity records, but Earth Song needed to be one, because it sure ain’t a protest song.

  36. 36
    Tom on 31 Jul 2013 #

    #35 this is why I think the track works best as an impotent howl rather than as a political program.

    He had a charitable foundation, though details of what it actually achieved are murky. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heal_the_World_Foundation

  37. 37

    What we need is a Top 100 of pop-star charities and movements and quasi-political gestures and their relative effectiveness: money raised, where money actually went, has the selected evil been averted or *gasp* actually ended, calculation of a vanity/impact index etc.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8NO8h_uTkdU <-- anderson, howe, squire et al also walk on water

  38. 38

    With anything Bono-related at the top or the bottom or however we order the list

  39. 39
    Cumbrian on 31 Jul 2013 #

    #37: Sadly, I suspect that the main reason that pop stars/sports stars have charitable foundations is not included in your current list. It helps them avoid tax. It is unsurprising to the jaded cynic in me that the Heal The World Foundation, per Tom’s link, was suspended after failing to file its accounts and thus lost its tax exempt status.

    For me, this is the equivalent of someone reading the paper, getting massively worked up about an article therein, and then going on about their day having got the rage out of their system, assuming someone else will deal with the issue. I have no real problem with this as a method for dealing with feelings, but I don’t need to hear it – just as I don’t need to hear the man on the bus ranting about stuff either – though, admittedly, this does have a bit more thought and structure put into than you’d find in a “normal” person’s rant; there is still a spark of creativity from Jacko there.

    Best bit I remember hearing about the JC/MJ Brits incident was a, probably drunk, Bob Mortimer telling Jarvis “don’t worry mate, I trained as a lawyer – I’ll defend you”, only to realise that he was walking into a very real Lionel Hutz meets Blue Haired Lawyer scenario and quickly telling Jarvis he should find some proper legal representation.

  40. 40

    Isn’t the fact that it folded after just one year for not filing its accounts likely proof that it WASN’T formed mainly to evade tax? (On the assumption that MJ — if this was indeed his primary motivation — could at that point afford a reasonably competent accountant, to deal with such filings, and thus pursue such a strategy, effectively?)

    Obviously your point stands in general: the chart should certainly also have a column for status-exemption shenanigans

  41. 41
    Brendan F on 31 Jul 2013 #

    btw my mark keeps disappearing – is this happening to anyone else?

  42. 42
    Ed on 31 Jul 2013 #

    @38 What? First you run down Chuck D, now you’re having a go at *Bono*?


  43. 43
    Cumbrian on 31 Jul 2013 #

    #40: According to that link from Tom, the foundation was formed in 1992, so loads of time to cash in. There was a Heal The Kids element formed in 2001 prior to the suspension in 2002. I wonder whether Jacko’s rumoured money troubles meant he was no longer retaining a decent accountant at the point at which HTW stopped filing its accounts…

  44. 44

    Oh, sorry — yes you’re quite right, I read the (very short) piece too quickly. MJ was going seriously broke from c.2000 I think, so that would make sense.

  45. 45
    Ed on 31 Jul 2013 #

    From that Wikipedia entry: “The foundation also brought underprivileged children to Jackson’s Neverland Ranch”.


    Suggests mere tax avoidance may have been the least of the Heal the World Foundation’s problems.

  46. 46
    Rory on 31 Jul 2013 #

    @11 Ooo, good call.

    This was obscured by Jarvis’s stunt for me too, but when I YouTubed it yesterday (in a hidden tab so I could concentrate on the song rather than the video), it seemed one of the better MJ tracks – far more interesting than his other recent entry. A shaky beginning with its Tinkerbell fairy dust, but the second half saves it. As for the lyrics… well, lyrics are usually secondary for me unless they’re noticeably egregious, so I’ll forgive him his elephants. Not going into my iTunes library just yet, but a 6 for now.

  47. 47
    thefatgit on 31 Jul 2013 #

    We’re viewing all this through Martin Bashir’s skewed lens, which makes me feel a bit guilty for laying into MJ. The tax avoidance thing seems par for the course, but the Heal The world foundation seems to have suffered from not having a proper focus or leadership from the outset, let alone having a proper accountant keeping the finances in check. I remember when that documentary aired, it just seemed like an almighty yellow-hued hatchet job on the guy. And probably marked the beginning of the end.

  48. 48
    Billy Hicks on 31 Jul 2013 #

    Count me in the “love” category for this, age 7 I thought this song was good but silly. Even in infant school I thought I could have made a better chorus than “Aaaaaaahhh, ooooohhhhh”. But then it was MJ so he could get away with it – I find there’s a huge difference in people’s perception of Jacko whether they were born in the late 1980s or early 1990s. The former (just) remember him as a megastar, the latter only for the weird-looking guy who kept showing up on the news for court appearances in the mid-noughties. They know him as someone who ‘used’ to be famous but for them it’s ancient past history before their time. We’ll see him again on Popular but this for me is the end of his imperial phase. Hearing it the morning after he died in 2009, the “I used to dream, used to glance beyond the stars” made me unexpectedly tearful.

    Indeed I remember an astonishing amount of songs from that Christmas – more than any other year so far. My favourite was surely Bjork’s ‘It’s Oh So Quiet’ (#4) which got a ton of play on kids TV, also very much enjoying the Mike Flowers version of Wonderwall, and, randomly, ‘Camden Town’ by Suggs, which seems to have ingrained from my Dad having Capital FM on in the car on the way to school every morning. Lovely snowy winter too.

  49. 49
    Kinitawowi on 31 Jul 2013 #

    This song will always be tied in my mind to a Smithdon High School assembly back in Norfolk where the teachers decided that it was a good idea to play the video to a group of fifteen-year-olds so we could all learn from The Message.

    It got about eight seconds in before we all – and I mean ALL – started ripping the shit out of it. In that moment, we really didn’t give a damn. The teachers were unimpressed. We didn’t care.

    I dunno, man. I mean, it’s clearly very worthy, with scattershot imagery all over the place – Environmentalism! Religious hatred! Cambodia! Rwanda (probably)! The Amazon! Israel! – but the way it all plays out gave the impression of one angry man who seemed to genuinely believe he could save the world by stamping on it and shouting a lot, rather than an attempt to rally the troops. But then, the guy wasn’t ever really all there. Still, musically at least, the coda is pretty cool. 5, I think.

    Mike Flowers’ Wonderwall would have been an amazing Chrimbo #1, though. It was noted a couple of tracks back that Weird Al never really gained much traction over here, but I can’t think of too many other parody records that were doing much around this time and Wonderwall’s desperation and sheer interminability needed skewering. And who better than Mike Flowers, who my slightly silly and ignorant head had conflated with whoever was responsible for covering Release Me for The Fast Show? (Flowers did do a version, but I don’t think that one was actually the Fast Show track…)

  50. 50
    Steve Williams on 31 Jul 2013 #

    I think this might be the last Christmas number one to have got there long before the festive season and just stayed there, pretty much every one after that having been released in Christmas week. The Christmas chart was announced on Christmas Eve that year and I recall foregoing Wallace And Gromit for it so I could hear if Mike Flowers had made it.

    This album must be Jackson’s most consistently successful LP, in terms of the singles released, with all of them going top five and two massive number ones. Possibly because they didn’t release virtually every single track off it like they did with Bad and Thriller.

  51. 51
    Lazarus on 31 Jul 2013 #

    #11 – favourite enviro-songs? I liked ‘Salt Water’ but my vote would go to this:


    # 14 I have an indelible image now of wrestling pandas.

    Not much mention of ‘Free as a Bird’ which was indeed much hyped at the time (world premier on Radio 1, who wouldn’t even play the follow-up), which I guess means most of you are either indifferent to it or dislike it. I wouldn’t claim the song is one of Lennon’s best but I got sucked into the whole ‘Beatles are back! (Q cover and all) thing, and didn’t care that it was basically a Jeff Lynne project. He was a fan, after all. I thought the video was wonderful. ‘Earth Song’ I liked too, although I never bought a MJ record after ‘Bad’ – was it really six and three quarter minutes? Longer than ‘Hey Jude’ isn’t it, must be a contender for the longest chart-topper (in seven-inch form) to date. And is this Jackson’s last appearance on ‘Popular?’ I think it might be.

  52. 52
    Tom on 31 Jul 2013 #

    #51 nope, one more to go.

  53. 53
    swanstep on 31 Jul 2013 #

    Marvin Gaye’s Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology) deserves a mention, as does (indirectly) Lou Reed’s Last Great American Whale. Also, John Denver’s Calypso. It occurs to me that the idea Tom mentions, that environmental problems tend to seem too vast to be solvable by the likes of us as a species, is a pretty recent idea. Lots of environmental cleanup happened in the ’70s and ’80s and even collective action problems as tricky as acid rain and ozone layer depletion were essentially solved. The global warming problem and the decarbonizing of the whole world’s economy and the massive drop in western living standards (the end of cheap travel, the end of cheap food, you name it, it’s awful) that appears to be necessary to solve it is sui generis and has been quite a depressing turnaround. Hopeful, realistic enviro-tunes were much more possible back in the day is I guess what I’m saying, whereas now only full-on end-of-days hysteria feels proportionate.

    But I just don’t care for Earth Song. Timbrally and also structurally (albeit slowed down) ES reminds me of MJ’s Dirty Diana from the Bad album. Didn’t like that one either. 4 or 5 is all I can do.

  54. 54
    James BC on 31 Jul 2013 #

    One more criticism of this: the title is rubbish. Either it should have been called “What about it” or “Is there a time”, or the chorus should have gone:

    “Ea-ea-ea-eaaaaaarth, So-o-o-oooooong”

  55. 55
    Tom on 31 Jul 2013 #

    He was just following Blur’s latter-day naming convention.

  56. 56
    weej on 31 Jul 2013 #

    #52 There is! And I swear I could never have worked out what it was without looking. How things change in the next couple of years!

  57. 57
    Steve Mannion on 31 Jul 2013 #

    Other 90s environmental songs that spring to mind – Jamiroquai’s ‘Emergency On Planet Earth’ (and much of that LP) and Dubtribe’s ‘Mother Earth’ (“I want my planet baaaack!”). It stuck as a theme throughout 90s UK ambient/electronic stuff generally tho for obvious post-rave reasons.

    #51 re ‘indelible image now of wrestling pandas’ is it this?

  58. 58
    Andrew Farrell on 31 Jul 2013 #

    #27 – Also there is imbedded in Cocker’s actions the criticism: what is the King of Pop doing playing somewhere where Jarvis Cocker can wander onstage?

  59. 59
    Billy Hicks on 31 Jul 2013 #

    #51 – The radio edit of Earth Song was just under five minutes long.

  60. 60
    Doctor Casino on 31 Jul 2013 #

    Whoooooooffff! Tom, a valiant effort, and you’ve made me like some things about it, but the conventional wisdom rings true for me on this one: it’s an overstuffed turkey, well-suited for 12-year-olds giving class presentations because it’s all sentiment and makes-you-think, no actual thinking. I buy the impotent, directionless rage and it’s the thing about this that does link the song to the performer in a productive way… but you have to listen through four minutes of formless whispered glop to get there! I’m reminded of your comments on “Mama Weer All Crazee Now” – it’s all about the triumphant climax, and if the buildup is necessary to make it a climax, it doesn’t make the buildup that much more enjoyable.

    “Bridge Over Troubled Water” might also make a fine comparison, or “Hey Jude” for that matter – it’s possible to do a pop song where the point is the crashing thunderous climax, and still have the rest be melodically, sonically, lyrically interesting. Of course, you didn’t much care for either of those, but come on, “Earth Song” is a chore even if I’ll also admit to looking forward to the big tidal-wave ahead.

    By the by, it has in fact been used in singing-contest shows, for reasons which escape me. It showed up in an American Idol episode in 2011 (with Lady Gaga mentoring the performer, to no avail), Cowell himself foisted it on an X-Factor USA contestant the same year, and in payback was subjected to it in the form of a horribly bad audition to X-Factor in 2013. Baffling.

  61. 61
    @PsynapsisLtd on 31 Jul 2013 #

    Excellent piece from @tomewing on Michael Jackson’s biggest UK hit, the polarising Earth Song. http://t.co/R1RoTi1SeO

  62. 62
    Tom on 31 Jul 2013 #

    I’ve come round on both Bridge and Hey Jude, FWIW, but I also think Jackson is just straight-up a better singer than McCartney which makes his build up listenable for me. And Bridge builds up sonically but I don’t think goes anywhere very different emotionally – whereas with Earth Song you have a guy on the brink in the build-up who then falls off.

  63. 63
    thefatgit on 31 Jul 2013 #

    I get where Doctor Casino is coming from, and his comparisons helped me to get over the Jacko histrionics and concentrate on the song. Earth Song is bad porn with a great money-shot (which doesn’t make it great porn, like too many artistic camera angles and not enough flesh). Hey Jude is decent porn with a bad money-shot. Bridge is quality porn with an amazing money-shot (albeit soft-focus). Apologies for the analogy, but that’s how I got a handle on it.

  64. 64
    mapman132 on 31 Jul 2013 #

    As has been stated multiple times already, this was never released in the US. It got no radio play that I’m aware of, although I vaguely remember seeing it on VH-1 once or twice. Again, most Americans, even many MJ fans, have never heard of it. As to why it wasn’t released, some plausible theories have been advanced in this thread. Another thing to note that due to the post-allegations backlash in America, a messianic sounding song like this might have been considered the worst possible thing to release.

    As for me, I’m as much pro-environment as the next person (in fact, I think climate change is by far the biggest issue of the 21st century), but Earth Song just feels like a self-serving ego-fest to me. I’ll admit arriving at it a bit negatively the other day – knowledge of the Brit incident, and what I vaguely remembered from those VH-1 plays didn’t help. The best thing I can say is that it wasn’t quite as bad as I expected – certainly miles better than what preceded it at #1 – but it just felt overblown and way, way too long. I’m surprised it’s getting love here, but everyone’s entitled to their own opinion of course. 3/10 from me.

  65. 65
    @hjasnoch on 31 Jul 2013 #

    “WHAT ABOUT THE ELEPHANTS???”—@tomewing on Michael Jackson’s Earth Song is splendid writing. http://t.co/yaodQtGYC4

  66. 66
    Auntie Beryl on 31 Jul 2013 #

    Jackson from 1987 onwards felt like degrees of overkill to me.

    The “Bad” album: 20% too much Jacko.
    “Black & White”: 25%
    The “Dangerous” album: 25%
    The launch of the History album: 40%.
    “Earth Song”: 60% too much Jacko.

    A huge seller. No denying that. But that was it for Jacko.

  67. 67
    23 Daves on 1 Aug 2013 #

    The interesting thing for me – and possibly me alone – is that despite being a fully paid-up member of the Green Party and having a wife who has a day job dealing with environmental concerns, there are actually no environmental pop songs I can actually remember liking. I’ll even include the vague, scattershot headline quoting of Marvin Gaye’s “Mercy Mercy Me” in this, with its tossed-off aside of “Fish full of mercury”.

    Maybe the issue is that pop music (at least for me) has to somehow reference individuals, speak directly to other humans, to have any sort of emotional impact. “The Earth Song” isn’t a message so much as one great, angry finger-wagging nag, as if Jackson has had one too many Martinis and is having a bit of an angry turn in some Hollywood bar somewhere. You can imagine Diana Ross sat opposite him, trying to calm him down, while he cuts her off angrily with “What about the common man!” (and what a nice link back to “Common People” that lyric is too – for me, one of the best bits about Cocker’s stage invasion were the cheers he received from members of the audience who were obviously convinced some kind of duet was about to take place. Imagine if it had?)

    As already referenced above, Jackson did better with “Man in the Mirror”, which – while not being a specifically environmental song – tries to cross-reference the personal and the political with the simple but effective central image. But perhaps the fact I can’t accept big, bold, epic messages about elephants and whales speaks more about my personality than anything else. After all, there’s a possibility that “The Earth Song”, for as much as I find it tedious, obvious and overly long, was also immediate and obvious enough to turn more children on to the idea of environmental issues (and therefore have a potentially far-reaching impact) than anything anyone else did. But I was cringing as I typed that. Sorry.

  68. 68
    Rory on 1 Aug 2013 #

    Julian Lennon’s “Saltwater” was an Australian number one for four weeks in 1992. (Edit: which I now remind myself that Tom mentioned in his first paragraph. Time for bed.)

  69. 69
    DanH on 1 Aug 2013 #

    I actually saw this video quite a few times in the States back in the day, though it must not have gotten single release, as others have pointed out here. I remember even then thinking, “Okkkkk, take a step back”…thought it was the most pretentious thing I had seen.

    We’re just beginning the 200 straight weeks of “One Sweet Day” at #1 at this time in the US. Two of my least fave acts at the time, OF COURSE it couldn’t miss ;-)

  70. 70
    Rory on 1 Aug 2013 #

    (Tom mentioned “Saltwater”, that is, not its Australian number-one-ness. But looking again, I realise I was thrown originally by “a Lennon”, which didn’t tip me off; I was trying to think which John song it was. I was out of the country when the song rode up the Oz charts, and I’m not sure I’d heard it before just now on YouTube.)

  71. 71
    mapman132 on 1 Aug 2013 #

    #67: A few times as I’ve been following this blog, I look at some of its cruddier number ones and wonder why I ever followed the UK chart anyway. Then I look at the corresponding US number ones and quickly remember. Even though the UK had 16 weeks of Bryan Adams and 15 weeks of the Wets to deal with, these long stays were the exception, not the rule. Us Americans had long-running mediocrities at number one ALL THE TIME in the 90’s.

    And then there’s the fact that many of the best and most popular hits at the time didn’t chart at all on the Hot 100 due to lack of a single release, but there’s a specific UK#1 in 1996 where I’ll address that more fully.

  72. 72
    flahr on 1 Aug 2013 #

    This is one of my friend’s favourite songs (the favourite song of one of my friends, that is, not one of the favourite songs of my sole friend). It’s more tedious than I remember it being (four minutes of rather desultory stuff followed by two minutes of blustery inconclusive tantrum). I agree that the bass is pretty good. Video is sick-making and not in a good way. [3]

  73. 73
    MikeMCSG on 1 Aug 2013 #

    Dire and ghoulish as it undoubtedly was “Free As A Bird” and the Anthology set as a whole did have the useful effect of bringing The Beatles crashing off the pedestal they’d occupied for the past 25 years as the untouchable avatars of quality in pop. It’s been much easier for people to review their work objectively since then. It’s also why the expected chart takeover when their downloads became available never happened ; people simply don’t worship them any more.

  74. 74
    swanstep on 1 Aug 2013 #

    @71, MikeMCSG. I don’t think the Anthology sets had that effect on me, rather they confirmed what I’d always suspected: that a big part of The Beatles’s excellence was their quality control, their ability with Martin’s help to edit and assess themselves very accurately, to almost always identify the best takes, the best versions overall of songs (where there were often quite different arrangements, different tempi, and the like to choose from in the studio), and so on.

    The documentaries that were released in parallel with the Anthology were hagiographic, and to that extent objectionable, but they also made the obvious strong case for awe at how much the B’s achieved so quickly. Worship was still appropriate.

    ‘Free as a bird’ was indeed pretty gruesome, but I quite liked ‘Real Love’. That would have been a legit #1 if they’d led with it I suspect.

  75. 75
    weej on 1 Aug 2013 #

    I’ve finally got around to listening to the song again and have to confess to being a bit disappointed. If anything, there isn’t enough bombast, and what there is is too slow coming. The verses are alright on their own, but there’s too much “you” and not enough “we”, then the “what about us” sounds a bit too much like “oh you awful humans, being mean to me AND the planet too.” This is why Man in the Mirror works where this doesn’t.

    And I was about to defend Free as a Bird but have just listened to it again and, well, yeah, I won’t bother. The TV series was IMO the best part of that whole Anthology project, could do with watching it again actually.

  76. 76
    Tom on 1 Aug 2013 #

    #72 yes, when I went through my big “rediscovering the Beatles” phase in my 30s (prompted by Popular to some extent) I remember thinking WOW now I can enjoy the Anthology too, lots more great music on there…. oh.

    (Has anyone here bothered making any one-disc compilations of the best things on it? A kind of Past Masters Three: The Outtakes would be good)

  77. 77
    Rory on 1 Aug 2013 #

    @71 As someone who pored over Mark Lewisohn’s Complete Beatles Recording Sessions when it came out, I loved listening to the Anthologies, and some of their takes were even the equal of the album versions for me. Nothing on them diminished the quality of the final albums, though; if anything, they underscored what good choices those usually involved. It’s a little perplexing to think that demonstrating that artists select their best work as their public face somehow suggests that the work is lesser in quality. Most artists do that, in whatever medium.

    (I liked “Free as a Bird” just fine, too, although I preferred “Real Love”. I doubt your “dire and ghoulish” claim! I doubt it!)

  78. 78
    Rory on 1 Aug 2013 #

    James BC @54: I’ve been singing the chorus to myself as “Ea-ea-ea-eaaaaaarth, So-o-o-oooooong” ever since reading your comment. Ea-ea-ea-eaaaaaar, Wo-o-o-oooooorm.

  79. 79
    flahr on 1 Aug 2013 #

    Miscellaneous additions: 1) Man in the Mirror is indeed far better, though if I am correctly remembering why it is not bunnied I am glad it is not bunnied; 2) since listening to this this morning to review I have had it stuck firmly in my head (so thanks for the “lovely tusks”/”Eaaaaaaarth Song” relyric suggestions for making it vaguely bearable).

  80. 80
    MikeMCSG on 1 Aug 2013 #

    #72/75 I wasn’t suggesting that the quality of the material on the Anthologies was all atrocious but that the big media overkill around the release of inferior product and, as Swanstep recalls, the annoyingly unrevealing documentaries tarnished the legacy.

    Obviously John wasn’t complicit in it so he escapes censure. I’m guessing they didn’t lead with “Real Love”- which is better – because it didn’t leave the others enough room .

    Rory – you don’t think it’s a bit ghoulish the way they used that snippet of Lennon ? He’s no more on the record than Bela Lugosi is in Plan 9 From Outer Space.

  81. 81
    Rory on 1 Aug 2013 #

    @78. Yeah, fair enough, a bit. It was mainly the “dire” part I was disputing. I think they handled the snippet pretty respectfully, though; there are far worse ways it could have ended up. I suspect McCartney and Harrison kept each other in check – Harrison had been the more successful ex-Beatle of the late 1980s/early 1990s with the Wilburys, so McCartney had to pull his head in. Similarly, the massed weight of Beatles prevented it ending up too ELO-sounding; I don’t find Lynne’s production touches excessive on either track.

    Stretching the concept beyond a couple of tracks would have crossed a line, but they effectively gave the world a couple of new fully-fledged Lennon tracks, rather than the whisper-thin demos they had been. Listening to them both just now, they still sound fine. I’m glad they exist.

  82. 82
    DanH on 2 Aug 2013 #

    #69: The ’90s charts in America were strange indeed, to look back on. I can think of a bigger bunny in 1997 that astonishes me to not see on American charts.

    Re: Anthology…early ’96 was when I really started my Beatlemania phase, timely due to those Anthologies. Back then, and still now, I far preferred Real Love. Free as a Bird felt too patchwork, and BIG BOOMING DRUM-y (thanx Lynne). Even Real Love became a wee superfluous after the piano demo surfaced on Lennon Anthology later. And the interviews, I still like them, but I almost remember the parody on the Dana Carvey Show (blink and you missed it, it was that short lived) where Macca was reduced to ‘I did the plinky plinky, ya know, and Ringo did the thumpa dump dump, ya know’…not too far off ;-)

  83. 83
    Erithian on 2 Aug 2013 #

    There was a spicier bit of interview in the Jeff Lynne doc on BBC4 a while back where Macca recalled working with George on one of the new songs, can’t remember which, and George said something like “This is doing my head in”. Paul pointed to the tape deck and said, “But George – this is JOHN!” – and George retorted “I don’t care, it’s still shit!”

    Then there was Ringo reacting to Jeff Lynne wanting to use a click track for recording purposes. “But I AM the fucking click track!” he recalled saying. One wondered whether he’d said something similar to George Martin during the recording of “Love Me Do”.

  84. 84
    Patrick Mexico on 2 Aug 2013 #

    Heart on his sleeve, but he does go on a bit. It’s alright I suppose. 6.

  85. 85
    Mark G on 2 Aug 2013 #

    When the Boo Radleys issued “From the Bench at Belvedere”, I remember thinking “If this was the Beatles Reunion single, there would be joy and tears”, and something told me the actual Beatles single would be a massive disappointment. And so it came to pass. and the Boos single was ignored by those that really really wanted the spirit of The Beatles to reappear.

    No doubt the actual Second Coming would get missed in a similar way..

  86. 86
    weej on 2 Aug 2013 #

    I considered ‘From The Beach at Belvedere’, ‘Find The Answer Within’ and ‘Stuck On Amber’ for *something* and found I’d completely gone off all of them despite having listened to them on repeat at the end of 95. A shame.

  87. 87
    Patrick Mexico on 2 Aug 2013 #

    If there is any such way to measure it, will this number one have the biggest disparity/variety of marks out of 10? Would love to see the top 100 most “divisive” number 1s of all time.

  88. 88
    Patrick Mexico on 2 Aug 2013 #

    (As well as the most, er, for want of a better word, consensual.. looking for the brave people who would defend Robson and Jerome. But on Popular, there aren’t many grannies always telling us the old songs are the best, or lonely housewives clutching empty milk bottles to their hearts.)

  89. 89
    hardtogethits on 3 Aug 2013 #

    #85,#86. Yeah, this must be do-able. Tom, any plans?
    A proxy would be to compare the “six or more” end-of-year votes with the individual tracks’ average scores.

    eg Baby D average score 7.6 when reviewed in its own right
    At year end, 67 out of 131 or 132 believes it merits six or more
    Therefore 64 or 65 do not
    Max contribution from them 320 or 325
    Those who vote 6 or more would each nominally (remember these are proxy calcs) contribute either
    (995.6-320)/67. Or 10.08 out of 10.
    (1003.2-325)/67. Or 10.12 out of 10.
    which suggests to me – on the basis of this record’s marks and no others – that it must really polarise opinion.

  90. 90
    Tom on 3 Aug 2013 #

    The year end polls get FAR more voters than the individual marks though – the individual marks represent registered users, whereas any passing IP address can deal with the polls.

    But the dataset for the individual marks is available and standard deviation in Excel is usually a pretty good proxy for the “Controversy Rating” you’re talking about.

  91. 91
    Tom on 3 Aug 2013 #

    (The polls plugin we have is great and easy to use, btw – but if we were running a more complex one then I’d run “best of the year” and “worst of the year” questions too) (Maybe even “best thread”!)

    I love polls, best of all the animals.

  92. 92
    hardtogethits on 3 Aug 2013 #

    #88 available, really? To whom?
    #89 you and I both.

  93. 93
    Tom on 3 Aug 2013 #

    Not publically, sorry! I just meant available if I want it. Alan and/or Steve, who installed/coded the individual scores function and did the rolling Top/Bottom 100 page, could I think get hold of it, though it would need a little tweaking to put into excel.

  94. 94
    Alan not logged in on 3 Aug 2013 #

    I could have a look at making the ‘my score’ data anonymised and available. Plus I could add another sub-page on the populist that treats the data differently – say with http://php.net/manual/en/function.stats-standard-deviation.php

  95. 95
    Alan not logged in on 3 Aug 2013 #

    which reminds me i was once thinking of adding mini sparkline style distributions

  96. 96
    admin on 3 Aug 2013 #

    work in progress http://freakytrigger.co.uk/populist/6/ showing SD

    the “fake” st etienne entry has the highest SD (6×10 votes, 2×1 a 3 and an 8)

    still thinking about how to show vote distribution or make the voting public

  97. 97
    Alan not logged in on 3 Aug 2013 #

    and at the other end, the least divisive http://freakytrigger.co.uk/populist/7/, the highest and lowest scored naturally appear to be among the least divisive.

    for my next trick, an interactive quadrant scatter graph? (skips over to google graph api pages…)

  98. 98
    Patrick Mexico on 3 Aug 2013 #

    Alan – thank you, brilliant stuff. Must have been quite a painful thing to do on a sunny summer Saturday – couldn’t believe someone was kind enough to put the time and effort into it! Come on Eileen, Bohemian Rhapsody and Imagine all present and correct but never thought Voodoo Chile was such a “Marmite” record. As for She Wears White Feathers – Jesus – people stick up for this?

    Meanwhile, around Christmas 1995, wasn’t there a “90 tracks from the nineties” in the Observer or Independent supplement, played on Radio 1 the following New Year’s Day? Seems a bizarrely abrupt time for such a list, and I’m not sure much on it was even any good, but if someone has any further information, would be most grateful.

  99. 99
    Alan not logged in on 4 Aug 2013 #

    Hey all a bit of fun – plus I got to clean up the code (well some of it)

    more WIP…


  100. 100
    Patrick Mexico on 4 Aug 2013 #

    No worries. Brilliant graph – another triumph of statistics that aren’t lies (or damned lies.) Another extraordinary result for I Feel Love.. just in time for the most shameless pilfering of that classic. #4 in August 1995. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m_wdAD2dlDw

    I guiltily liked that as a wee lad, mostly due to confused feelings about the singer on TOTP; see also (non-guilty, obviously) Elastica and Justine Frischmann, awkwardly juxtaposed with my mum’s timeless, rite-of-passage line “Is it a man or a lady?” Though if we’re talking “junk food tastes so good because it’s bad for you” feelgood hits of the summer, much prefer La Bouche’s Be My Lover – full of as much kitsch appeal and joie de vivre as anything in the Eurodance canon, but only reached #27 in the UK, despite being top ten all over Europe and #1 in Germany and Sweden. And without wanting to come across all Clarkson, for some reason both SATR and BML have a whiff of “This is exclusively for the gays, it isn’t for the straights.”

    Or a decade on, Rogue Traders’ Voodoo Child (oddly not a Hendrix cover.) Why WOULDN’T you want to hear Izzy from Neighbours treat Elvis Costello’s Pump It Up like Foghorn Leghorn behind the back of KFC?! No, it’s okay. You wouldn’t. A bit grim.

    Mind you, anyone weary with me discussing Eurodance/handbag house/hardbag will be pleased to know another Australian act next year destroys the genre’s last shreds of dignity like a H-bomb on a garden shed!

  101. 101
    hardtogethits on 4 Aug 2013 #

    Alan, these are absolutely fantastic – thanks for sharing.

  102. 102
    admin on 4 Aug 2013 #

    thanks. still fiddling, trying to make the decades highlighting a bit better than the default – almost there. other dimensions to consider – number of votes, tom’s score.

    also i HEART rogue traders Voodoo Child – I even played it on one of my rare ‘DJ’ing stints – and only maybe 20% because it was used in a Who finale (magic flying space jesus who). A story also disliked by many, but not me.

  103. 103
    Tom on 4 Aug 2013 #

    Isn’t Voodoo Child in the episode before Dr Space Jesus anyway? I def. remember that as a great moment.

  104. 104
    Patrick Mexico on 4 Aug 2013 #

    I don’t think I actually mind Rogue Traders’ Voodoo Child, but jumping forward a decade from where Popular/my 1001 greatest singles blog is currently researching, it just sounds so dystopian-obnoxious and coarse. Had this been terrifying old 2006, I’d be a lot more accommodating towards it, but then again, I risk being the same way with, er, From Paris to Berlin. I think by the time Popular, TPL and MSBWT hit that year I’m going to express some serious “crack is wack” views..

  105. 105
    Chelovek na lune on 4 Aug 2013 #

    #98 Had never thought of “Be My Lover” as being remotely gay disco. Partly, possibly, as the result of having spent quite a bit of that summer working in rural parts of a country in which (then) all expressions of homosexuality were illegal (Romania), with societal attitudes to match, and in which the song was very widely played indeed, on the radio, in bars, at discos, everywhere, really. I suppose nowhere in the UK is quite like Moldavia, culturally or climate-wise, but, still, it does suggest the track does transcend narrow stereotypical boundaries…

  106. 106
    Alan on 4 Aug 2013 #

    “it just sounds so dystopian-obnoxious and coarse”. What’s not to like

  107. 107
    Patrick Mexico on 4 Aug 2013 #

    #103 Well worry not, I’m not the one doing the narrow stereotyping. It was a comment on how any pop from ABBA to Suede initially may attract a genuine and sincere “gay” fanbase (obviously you can be of any orientation and still like it – as a child in ’93 I thought Animal Nitrate was about the Animals of Farthing Wood being threatened by a chemical plant!), but then the “mainstream” media dredge it back in garbled, doughnutty language as a stereotype that’s used as a stick for Jeremy Clarkson and Roy Chubby Brown types to beat the LGBT community with, and implying you have to be sort-of-borderline-that-way-inclined-nudge-wink-what-is-this-Gene-Hunt to like it.. which is obviously terrible. But fuck ’em, and their law.

    Sorry anyway – I think I was confusing Be My Lover with something else.

    This is the best cover of it. Bill Nighy, the Ruining Love is All Around Even More Than Wet Wet Wet Guy.


  108. 108
    Steve Williams on 5 Aug 2013 #

    #96 – Yes, Radio 1’s Ninety From The Nineties. Around that time they would always do a big long list with a track played every hour over the festive period and then a complete countdown on New Year’s Day, usually with Kevin Greening doing the honours. Sometimes it was a listeners’ vote, either singles or albums, but this time it was a list they’d compiled themselves of the ninety best songs of the nineties so far. I remember listening to it on the way home from my aunties’ house. And Common People at number one!

  109. 109
    tm on 7 Aug 2013 #

    Tom @ 18 (sorry, this is probably the longest gap between comment and response!) I remember the press reaction to the Jarvis thing at the time being initially ‘you speccy gimp, how dare you challenge the King of Pop, won’t you please think of the children?!’ – they were already down on Jarvis over Sorted Out for Es and Wizz – but then shifting sides after they gauged that the public mood was that Jacko had brought it on himself by acting like a pillock.

    A friend of mine who was heavily Christian at the time claimed that Jarvis, who he claimed for Christianity, was protesting Jackson’s ‘blasphemy’ in styling himself as the Messiah. I remember thinking that if that was true, there were some decidedly unchristian sentiments in Jarvis’ own music…

  110. 110
    Steve Mannion on 8 Aug 2013 #

    Yes iirc afterwards people like Eno were saying afterwards that they felt Jacko’s Messiah pose was unbearably tasteless and laboured and so delighted by Cocker’s hi-jinx. The tabloids were indeed hugely disparaging of Cocker initially, partly as it was reported that he had injured one of the kids during his runabout – but the footage suggested it was really one of Jackson’s minders who may have stepped on a child’s foot in his rush to thwart Jarv’s mighty terror threat.

  111. 111
    Ed on 8 Aug 2013 #

    Cocker was already a bit of a hate-figure for the tabloids, because of the ‘Sorted for E’s and Whizz’ packaging hoo-hah, so they were inclined not to take his side.

    It inspired one of my favourite Chris Morris moments:

    In hindsight, the shift in views of the ‘Earth Song’ imbroglio probably marked the start of his progress in the tabloid imagination from sexually deviant drug-peddler to endearingly eccentric national treasure.

  112. 112
    Steve Mannion on 8 Aug 2013 #

    I think the week before the Brits NME had Pulp as guest editors so they got two front covers in a row – just wondering if anyone else managed that pre-Strokes (not that they necessarily did either but I feel like this kind of thing was more likely in the C McNicholas era for some reason).

  113. 113
    Izzy on 8 Aug 2013 #

    I’m fairly sure Oasis did, but I’d stopped buying by then. I also think Blur/Oasis had the cover the weeks before & after their chart battle.

    I remember being vaguely disapproving, having absorbed some of the cover’s history as a thing of record. There was an excellent retrospective feature around 1992 (might’ve been in the 50th anniversary edition) which listed the most-featured-on-covers. Bowie led with 18, I think second might’ve been U2. The numbers were low enough that two-in-a-row seems unlikely. Of course Oasis smashed all those records within about four years.

  114. 114
    Steve Mannion on 8 Aug 2013 #

    Of COURSE someone has now wikip’d this: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_NME_covers#1995

  115. 115
    Tom on 8 Aug 2013 #

    I’m guessing Pete Doherty would be a better candidate for “the double” than the Strokes.

    Mojo has run a Beatles-then-more-Beatles twofer I believe.

  116. 116
    Tom on 8 Aug 2013 #

    I can sense your surprise.

  117. 117
    weej on 8 Aug 2013 #

    #114 Wow, most recent ten NME covers = Liam Gallagher, The Who, The Killers, (Festival Preview), Arctic Monkeys, Bobby Gillespie, Jay-Z, Babyshambles, Arctic Monkeys, 40 Years of Hip-Hop.

    I’m not saying those artists are (all) bad, but that’s a pretty depressing list.

  118. 118
    Tom on 8 Aug 2013 #

    All of hip-hop ever vs Babyshambles fight

  119. 119
    sükråt tanned rested unlogged and awesome on 8 Aug 2013 #

    Does side A include Coolio?

  120. 120
    James K. on 11 Aug 2013 #

    The Cocker/Jackson incident is not very well-known in the U.S., I think – at least, it was unknown to me! Now that I do know about it, I wonder if it inspired either of the two (unrelated to each other) stage-crashing incidents at the 1998 Grammys. (Maybe not, since two years is a long time – if it had been the 1996 Grammys held later the same month or even the 1997 Grammys, there might be a connection.)

  121. 121
    Izzy on 11 Aug 2013 #

    I’m not even sure it’s that well-known here tbh. As far as I recall it wasn’t even visible on the broadcast (retrospective talking heads shows have to resort to grainy outtakes with a highlight circle round a tiny figure who may or may not be Cocker, and may or may not be mooning) and only became a story a day or so later once the initial distaste, presumably from briefing by Jackson’s people, subsided and the tabloids awoke to the comic potential of the thing.

  122. 122
    Steve Mannion on 11 Aug 2013 #

    Not sure about that Izzy – this clip from 5:01 onwards gives as much of Jarv’s antics as I do remember seeing on the live broadcast – a fair bit!

  123. 123
    Izzy on 11 Aug 2013 #

    Ha okay, that escaped me live somehow. Pity he didn’t pick a moment when MJ was actually on the stage though.

  124. 124
    Mark G on 11 Aug 2013 #

    Well, after he got on the cherry picker was when the pale was beyonded..

  125. 125
    Ed on 13 Aug 2013 #

    Listening again to ‘Monkey Gone to Heaven’, I was struck by how its structure parallels that of “Earth Song’. They begin in very different places – mournful bewilderment for MJ, hipster fatalism for the Pixies – but they build to similar incoherent howls of confusion and despair, in the coda of ES and the third verse of MGTH.

    Lyrically, MGTH is quite brilliant, I think. Casually anecdotal in the first verse, it delivers a little thrill of horror in the second with the switch to the first person. By the third verse, Francis is trying desperately to make sense of the universe.

  126. 126
    Izzy on 14 Aug 2013 #

    Talk me through it. It was, more than any other, the track that made me think they were nothing but overhyped gibberish.

  127. 127
    Ed on 17 Aug 2013 #

    @126 Rap Genius does a pretty good job here: http://rock.rapgenius.com/Pixies-monkey-gone-to-heaven-lyrics

    I would add: the monkey that’s gone to heaven is a lovely metaphor for human over-reach. And the third verse suggests that while the power of evil is greater than humanity’s ability to understand or control it, the laws of nature are more powerful than either of them.

    By the Pixies’ standards, it seems pretty explicit. Don’t ask me to tell you what Gouge Away is about, though.

  128. 128
    @jamesharveytm on 4 Jan 2014 #

    this is a very good writeup of MJ’s bananas ‘Earth Song’. Read the final paragraph http://t.co/7WEXC0BSyz

  129. 129
    Patrick Mexico on 24 Mar 2014 #

    Sorry to all, especially Chelovek, for my small-minded and borderline homophobic comments on this thread. I didn’t mean anything genuinely malicious.

    Be My Lover is one of the greats of its pop era and genre. There are just a couple of intimate personal issues I have with it:

    1. I live in Bristol. The song’s title is the equivalent of when I lived in Preston and Snap! had a comeback single named “You’ll Get What You’re Given, No Butter Pie For You Tonight You Bloody Pillock.”

    2. Another La Bouche track became Where Do You Go by No Mercy.

  130. 130
    Erithian on 10 Apr 2014 #

    Just sat through this again and seen the Brits performance for the first time in full – utterly awful, a combination of overblown song and unimaginative arrangement, with the infamous video showing Jacko bringing everything back to life and the kids on the Brits stage allegedly being told “pretend he’s Jesus”. As excessive as pop has ever managed to be, and even leaving aside all the dubious allegations, pretty sick-making. Sorry…

  131. 131
    Gareth Parker on 3 May 2021 #

    Listening to the 5 minute radio edit, it only really comes alive in the last minute and a half for me. I’ll go with a 4/10.

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