christmas number one

Number One, #7

This has been sitting in the drafts folder for a week and a half now, as various complications have conspired against it. Am avoiding this week’s results, so to speak, to keep the purity of my opinions.(EDIT: since checked and it’s still Number One! Woo! Both because it keeps this relevant and it means all is still right with the world.) It’s been harder and harder to find anything to say about the recent crop of #1s, and I’ve got more and more behind. Tinie Tempah? Bruno Mars? Alexandra Burke again? The top spot has been a success of sighs for a few months now and, with the X Factor machine revving up, the near future looks bleak. But then sometimes Pop does exactly what it’s supposed to, and surprises you. And so the song that was like a number one beamed in from an alternate, slightly better universe, is actually Number One. CEE LO GREEN – F’ YOU That title is a bit contentious. Because the version actually listed on the official chart is Forget You. Which is precisely 40% less fun, thanks to that removed f-bomb. Now, there’s nothing wrong with censoring. It’s understandable, and there’s no other way this song could have conceivably gotten to #1. Regular readers might be aware that I’m partial to a bit of substition myself, in the interests of keeping the blog family-friendly (and for my own amusement). Thing is, getting rid of the swear takes away some of the fun. Replacing it with ‘forget’ changes the song entirely. 1) It steps down the emotion of the song, from a desperate regretted-in-hindsight late night Livejournal entry* to a shrug of the shoulders.2) It undermines the big silly idea at the centre of the song: a mash-up of squeaky-clean Motown pop and the foul-mouthed self-expression of modernity.…But, ignoring my own subjective and (very) occasionally flawed opinions, the biggest problem is:3) Tacking on an extra syllable makes it impossible to curse along with the radio. That’s just uncool. It says a lot, then, that running at 60% capacity, this is still the best Number One we’ve had since California Gurls, the song which kickstarted this semi-failed experiment. My reaction to finding out this had made #1 was to reflexively shout ‘yes!’ out loud. Take that, Take That! Forget you, X Factor! (I was originally going to do a run down of the singles that have made it to #1 between this and the last time I did one of these, and why FU is better than every single one of them, but ultimately I just couldn’t be bothered with them, it’s been that drab. So I’ll just explain why this is so great and leave the comparison to you, trusted reader.) It takes a great gimmick and works it into a perfectly constructed slice of catchy Pop. Everything is built on a solid shoulder-shaking, finger-snapping foundation. Then it layers on the beautifully physical voice of Mr Green, dealing with a relateable sentiment: “I see you runnin’ round town with the girl I love…” Then, bam!, in comes the first f-bomb, balanced exactly between you tell ’em! empathy and oh no he di’n’t! funny. It’s not that swearing is shocking or new, but the context – that classic pop sentiment, the sound of it all – is enough to leave your mouth agape on the first listen. But just in case that didn’t get your jaw to drop, inventive moment after moment is constructed around this. The harmonising backing singers, dropping the classic couplet “Oh sherbert she’s a gold digga/Just thought you should know, fella.**” The way Cee Lo extends out the high-pitched “pity the fooooooool” that accompanies it. The bit where it builds to Cee Lo’s voice, like hot tar, letting it all out seeming to worry about shape, while fitting perfectly to the rest of the song. Just how effortless it all seems… That effortlessness makes the song hard to write about. Pulling back the curtain a bit, there’s a reason it’s taken me so long to get this blog finished. Perfect is the word that keeps cropping up and getting backspaced out. The whole thing is polished till it shines, but that makes it water-tight and impenetrable. I’ve listened to the song a couple of dozen times in an attempt to get in. The best thing I can say about it – the quality which makes it a perfect #1 – is that I still want to hear it again. *Yes, I’m talking about The Social Network here, which I saw last night. Opinions forthcoming.**An example of the aforementioned censorship, there.

TOP OF THE POPS, TOP OF THE POPS!

You remember Christmas; you know, tinsel, presents, over-indulgence. When all you could hear were the classic Christmas hits, and the big Christmas Number One. Killing in the Name Of. There’s more to say about the event than even this lengthy article has room to support. Rage Against The Machine getting to #1 with a song that peaked, nearly two decades ago, at #25. Not just that, but to Christmas Number One, the one chart result the whole country is trained to care about. People’s reactions? Well, we’d need a whole new website to talk that one through. All the backlash about “oh it’s still going to Simon Cowell” (not true, the man doesn’t own Sony) or “it’s a silly song” (being honest, 17 years removed, it kind of is) isn’t the point. The point they missed is, do we still care about the Top 40? The music in the is the world to a certain demographic (shudder); the pop-discovering, identity-forming young teens. But the spread of that isn’t top-down, it’s bottom-up: what a marketing person would be able to call viral without having difficulty ever looking their reflection in the eye again. It spreads across playgrounds and the backseats of buses, through word-of-mouth and mostly, through phones. Ringtones; playing a new song to your mates; Bluetooth, if you’re that old-skool. Y’know, for the kids… It’s this kind of able-to-hear-it-anyway method that renders the chart unimportant, I guess. Who needs the public at large acting as a taste-maker, when you’ve got your friends skimming for the best bits and playing them to you? For me, card-holding Indie Kid, this means flicking through blogs and occasionally even traditional magazines with Spotify close to hand, and the recommendations of a few particular friends. I get to choose whose taste I trust and listen to the songs immediately. No more relying on the general public. But us alternative types, the indie kids, the obscurity seekers, we never should have to care about that anyway, should we? But I think the charts are important. As historical record for one. What was it like being young in 1977, really? 1982? Check the charts. Look at freakytrigger.co.uk’s genius Popular, which is going through every British #1 ever since the first (Al Martino’s Here In My Heart, since you’re asking) and writing an essay on each. They’re also important as a way of making music feel like it matters. Giving us a story. You might well have sneered at a sudden Michael Jackson fan produced by his death. But, to go one notch more credible, how much of the Blur/Oasis enjoyment rode on that feeling of being in a gang? Still sneering? Have you ever worn a band t-shirt, liked someone because they liked the same type of music? You like being in a gang, admit it. But ultimately, it’s all just music, right? Sounds that do or don’t vibrate your ear drums the right way to make you feel something. Why should all the trappings matter? Because it makes people interested. Let’s look at the Top 40 right now as I write this (for the blog-o-sphere, now a week ago). Numbers five and six in the chart right now are the same song, in two versions- Journey’s Don’t Stop Believin’, the original and as performed by the cast members of American smash-hit TV programme Glee (which I still haven’t seen and am holding out hope will be good, but that’s a mainstream-embracing story for another time). That song has snuck back into the public consciousness loads of late- your university life has probably crossed paths with an anthemic singalong at some point. We’re all just a smalltown girl… It’s the same story as Rage- a third-party makes you suddenly care about the song, and before you know it it’s being thrust to the forefront of pop culture all over again. But those are old songs. The Top 40 is a signifier of the new. Singles are the currency of freshness in music; something new every week please, more and more until I’m full. My esteemed colleague Tom Lowe suggests here that this is a dangerous attitude.But how is this desire any different to the music obsessive’s constant hunt for a new favourite band? Not necessarily following them but being aware of the charts, I have discovered a lot of stuff I genuinely love. It took months of singles for Lady Gaga to click with me and now I celebrate every time I hear Bad Romance (#7) because something so unusual made it through. Weirdness being the lifeblood of pop, the home of the novelty single. The rest of the chart is hit and miss. I hate Iyaz’s Replay (#1), still don’t get Florence or her Machine (You’ve Got The Love, #8). I can’t help but raise an eyebrow at Owl City’s blatant Postal Service rip-off Fireflies (#2, and I implore you, if you like this, to seek out their seminal album Give Up). I probably shouldn’t but I adore Sidney Samson’s Riverside (#3, though it seems much bigger than that) and rather like 30H!3’s Starstrukk (#4) which cheekily combines Katy Perry, a few great lyrics and some good gimmicks to hide the fact that it’s a bit generic. There’s no denying that ‘pop music’ today is an umbrella that covers a whole lot of ground, a lot of it really interesting. Who’d have thought something that sounded like a Death Cab For Cutie cast-off would ever make it to number two? And more good stuff more popular means less overplaying. Only you can prevent another Sex On Fire, kids. …But maybe it’s just me. Maybe I’ve hit that point in life where I mellow out, stop caring about music with the intensity of a teenage zealot. I’m also less exposed to overplayed, overproduced rubbish- I club a lot less these days (getting old), am generally exposed to the radio only for short bursts, and can’t afford music TV. But I think the charts are important- even when […]