Rhythm Nation

I recently caught this BBC documentary on Janet Jackson on iPlayer, and it has made me rediscover her early work. I was 12 when Rhythm Nation came out and remember one of my school friends raving about it. I loved the video when I saw it on MTV all those years ago. Thirty years on, the song has once again become an earworm for me for the past few weeks. Incredible music, incredible dancing.

The documentary pointed out that the main sample on Rhythm Nation comes from a Sly And The Family Stone song, Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin). I’d never heard this before; it’s a complete beast of a tune and has been in my ears just as much.

When I get into a song or an album I tend to obsess about it. YouTube is such a great resource for ‘going deep’ and finding other performances and versions. This drum cover of Rhythm Nation from Cypriot drummer Anna Koniotou is brilliant — I love the way she’s smiling and clearly enjoying herself throughout the song, and the fill and stick throw at the 1:15 mark is so much fun to watch. Fantastic.

Album Club #100

I’m so excited to be attending Album Club #100 tonight. I’ve no idea what album will be in store, but our host Matt has promised some “very special vinyl”. Where did 100 months go?

Our current members have nominated their five favourite tracks that they discovered through Album Club, which have been assembled into this Spotify playlist. We’ve heard some fantastic music over the past eight years and this is great reminder.

It’s still the best night of the month.


Vinyl explorations

The seed was planted over a year ago, at my brother-in-law’s house, when we sat down to listen to some records. For the first time I can remember, I was blown away by how good vinyl can sound. The seed was then watered by That Classical Podcast. Or, more accurately, this tweet from one of the hosts:

Snowpoet’s Thought You Knew is a stunning, beautiful, delicate album. Since first hearing it in June it quickly raced up my ‘most played’ chart and has been on my mind all of the time. The band are relatively unknown. I wanted to give something back and support them, but had long since retired my CD player in favour of mp3s and Spotify. I ended up buying a vinyl copy for my brother-in-law but it didn’t completely scratch the itch that I had. I wanted to hold this album in my own hands.

When I’ve heard vinyl over the past few years, I’ve generally not been impressed. To my ears it didn’t sound better than a CD or even a good streaming service. That evening with my brother-in-law changed my perception completely. He’s been a vinyl collector for many years and has a lovely set of refurbished 1970s hi-fi separates to play his records on. The sound quality melted the wax in my ears. Somehow this experience paired up with hearing Thought You Knew and I started to think about investing in a decent turntable myself.

After a lot of research I settled on getting a Rega. The reviews for their turntables are overwhelmingly positive wherever you look. The only question was which one of their range to save up for and buy. Although we have a ‘proper’ (cheap) amp and speaker setup in our lounge there isn’t any room to place a turntable nearby, so I had decided that it would sit near to our trusty old Sonos ZonePlayer S5, feeding its signal to the ‘line in’ connection. This would have the added bonus of being able to send the audio to any of the other Sonos units in the house.

As much as I love my Sonos, I was sure that it would quickly become the limiting factor for audio quality — spending more money on a turntable beyond a certain quality level would be pointless — so I sought professional advice from my local hi-fi shop, Deco Audio in Aylesbury.

Located on a generic-looking industrial estate, Deco Audio is a shop where you need to ring the doorbell and wait for someone to come and let you in. When you step through the doors you see why — the shop is filled with beautiful equipment of all shapes and sizes.

I explained that I was looking to buy a Rega, but wasn’t sure whether to go for a Planar 1, a Planar 2, either of these first two with their respective ‘performance pack’1, a Planar 1 plus with an integrated phono stage, or a Planar 3. Too many choices. They made me a coffee, and were only too happy to spend time with me discussing my options. Given that it would be going through the Sonos, they tried to talk me down to the cheapest of the three models. In the end after a bit of debate I plumped for a Planar 2 because (a) the parts can be independently serviced and upgraded over time, (b) it was in stock and (c) I wanted that beautiful glass platter as opposed to the plastic one that comes with the Planar 1. I had to pick up a phono stage as well and went for the simple Rega Fono Mini A2D. Plus some cables, and a carbon fibre record brush to clean the LPs before they get played.

Deco Audio also have a record shop in-house with a great selection of vinyl, all of which has been put through their in-house Moth record cleaner. I spent some time flicking through the racks but was already feeling poor from my impending purchase so I didn’t pick anything up.

It was very exciting to get it home and put it together. Setup was extremely simple — the most difficult part was balancing the tone arm accurately with the counterweight, but watching someone else do it on YouTube first helped.

I had a few records in the house that my parents had passed to me and wasted no time in testing one out. The sound was instantly stunning. A friend paid a visit the next day and was stunned also. Both of us, stunned. It’s hard to put my finger on exactly why it sounds so great. I know that in part it is confirmation bias — I really wanted it to be a great experience and I am sure my brain is willing my ears to accept that it is — but that’s not all of it. There’s something different about it sonically, even though it is being output to a speaker that lives firmly in the digital realm. Maybe I’m just listening with more care and purpose again after so many years. By definition, older records will be completely analogue from recording to mixing to mastering (known as ‘AAA’); there is no sampling to create a digital signal and they therefore contain much more information. Whether that makes a difference is up for debate. To me, owning the records, holding them in my hands, caring for them, looking at the artwork, sitting around and purposefully listening is filled with pleasure. Anyway, every man needs a hobby.

There are a couple of things I’ve had to do on the Sonos to make it work well. Firstly, I’ve had to move buffering to maximum. I found that with a low setting I kept getting dropouts when I sent the sound to other speakers in the house. A side effect of this is that there is a substantial delay from what happens on the turntable and what comes out of the speakers. It’s really weird to lift the needle from a record to have the music stop a couple of seconds later. More substantially, if you sit close to the turntable you can hear the unamplified music coming off of the cartridge, and this can be a little distracting from the music from the speakers given that they are behind, particularly when playing something that goes from quiet to loud. Closing the lid on the turntable helps to muffle this noise.

Secondly, I adjusted the level of the line in connection. The Sonos app lets you pick an appropriate level, which has the effect of increasing the ‘default’ volume for the component. I found that setting this quite high as described here gave a better sound without any distortion.

From here on in over the past few weeks it’s been a fun journey, learning the ropes of finding and buying records to play. Discogs is an invaluable resource. Where a particular album has been issued and reissued over the years you can read feedback from people who have heard those particular pressings, add the ones you want to buy to your wantlist and browse and buy copies for sale. There is a wealth of historical pricing information so you can judge whether you are being asked to pay over the odds or getting a bargain. From what I can judge, records are extraordinarily expensive if they are (of course) popular and either (a) extremely rare, (b) original first pressings of something that became really popular or (c) released in the late 1990s/early 2000s when presumably vinyl production and consumption was at its lowest, in effect leading to (a) again. To use Discogs you need to learn the grading nomenclature. Typically ‘Mint’ or ‘Near Mint’ (M/NM) cost top-dollar whereas ‘Very Good Plus’ (VG+) is closer to the median. I’ve now bought a few records via Discogs and have only felt let down by one purchase, but even then the seller refunded me straightaway and even paid my return postage. There’s something magical about coming home to find a well-wrapped package containing a new LP.

I’ve also been buying a few things from Amazon (good, new reissues mainly). They use a lot of packaging but you know what you’re getting and returning any damaged goods would be straightforward. There’s also The Sound of Vinyl which has an excellent clearance page where I managed to pick up a couple of new John Martyn reissues for around £9 each. The Super Deluxe Edition website is worth subscribing to for news of reissues, and regular updates on price drops on the various worldwide Amazon sites. Scott Nangle Audio has some very special releases, such as LPs mastered with a ‘one step’ process at 45 RPM — Bridge Over Troubled Water for £169, anyone? I can’t see me ever going there, even for albums I adore. There are cheaper pressings of lovely records too. Bandcamp is also a good outlet for new vinyl; as far as I can make out they broker the orders and pass them on to the artists/distributors. I ordered something from Bandcamp and Edition Records inadvertantly introduced me to Slowly Rolling Camera by sending me their Juniper album by mistake; they let me keep it, and it was a lovely way to make a great new discovery.

I was fortunate to stumble across the London Jazz Collector blog as I was looking to buy a copy of Waltz For Debby2. His site contains a ton of information on buying records that is worth devouring, including buying online, how to examine vinyl, grading records, how to store your vinyl and record cleaning. There is a wealth of wisdom here.

I also recommend the Vinyl Junkies podcast, particularly their ‘101’ series with episodes on originals vs reissues and ‘the art of crate-digging’.

The question now is what albums to own on vinyl. I’ve been buying much-loved records from my past with a plan to play them at a future Album Club night, as well as a couple of recent discoveries I have made via Spotify. The Guardian ran an article recently that asked whether a decade of Spotify has ruined music. As the author says:

Look: I pay my £9.99 a month. I use Spotify to make playlists for friends’ weddings and to compile 80s curios I discover on TOTP reruns. The genie isn’t going back in the bottle. But we can be responsible listeners (I buy albums I listen to more than five times) and hold Spotify to account because the people it is meant to benefit can’t.

Which brings me back around to that wonderful Snowpoet album. If you have the means, the rule of ‘listened to more than five times so then buy it on vinyl’ seems like a good one to me. It’s a great feeling to support an artist that you love through buying the thing that they have made, and this album is so great that I’m happy I’ve been able to buy a copy for me and a copy for a friend. I know I have many hours of enjoyment ahead.

  1. An upgrade to the cartridge, mat and belt at a cost of about £100. 
  2. I now have a cheap but lovely-sounding reissue, not an original. 


My musically-kindred spirit cousin sent me the sad news that Chas Hodges passed away today. I feel so grateful for having been able to see Chas and Dave at the Royal Albert Hall a few months ago. It was such a wonderfully fun gig. It amazes me how quickly someone can go from good health to not being here at all. I can’t imagine the loss for his family and friends.

Of all of the Chas and Dave performances I’ve seen, the one that sticks in my mind is the 1982 Christmas Knees-up TV special that was filmed in a pub in Walthamstow. Everyone there seems to be getting more than a little bit drunk, having a great time and occasionally falling over. There’s even Eric Clapton in the audience and he joins the band on stage late in the show. There’s nostalgia in me for the time where we had a shared culture and the family all focused on one thing when we got together, like watching programmes like this at my Nan and Grandad’s house.

Highlights are The Sideboard Song at the very start, The Banging In Your Head at 15:00, Ain’t No Pleasing You at 22:00, Eric Clapton’s appearance at 28:30 and my absolute favourite, the beautiful I’ll Never Write A Love Song at 36:00.

Thanks for all the music Chas.

Behind The Mask

I’ve recently been listening to Spotify’s Discover Weekly playlist on my commute. It’s good to have on in the background when I need to get some work done; if a song draws me in I can quickly capture it and explore it later. This week it threw up a weird one with what I thought was a bizarre recent electro cover of Eric Clapton’s mid-1980s track Behind The Mask, by the Yellow Magic Orchestra. I wasn’t overly-enamoured with it and skipped ahead.

Just hearing half of the song was enough for the earworm to bury itself in my brain. So, I went back to explore and ended up going down a rabbit hole. To my shock I found that this was actually the original from 1979 and that Eric Clapton’s version is a cover version. For a piece of electro-pop that is nearly 40 years old, it still sounds very fresh.

Hearing it again only puzzled me more. Yellow Magic Orchestra’s original version only has lyrics for the ‘minor chorus’ of the song1. Where did Eric Clapton’s lyrics come from?

Wikipedia of course has all the answers. Apparently a chap called Greg Phillinganes covered the song on his 1985 album Pulse:

Listening to it now, it sounds like the bizarre love-child between the Yellow Magic Orchestra and Clapton versions. All the lyrics from the Clapton version are there, including the backing vocals as the song winds down. He has also kept the prominent synths from the original — probably delivered by the keytar that he is clutching close to his chest on his album cover.

_Serious_ keytar

_Serious_ keytar

In the 1980s, Phillinganes was keyboardist for Michael Jackson and it turns out that the King of Pop himself  is responsible for all of the additional lyrics. The end of the song (from around 3:54 onwards) sounds like a mini-tribute to Jackson and doesn’t really fit with the rest of the tune, but it does give a clue to its pedigree.

Jackson had recorded the song himself in 1982 for the Thriller album but due to disputes over royalties it didn’t surface until Michael was released posthumously in 2010. It doesn’t sound like a track from 1982; I’m sure it has been extensively reworked and the results are pretty great.

Phillinganes had taken the song to Clapton who recorded it for his August album in 1986. Phillinganes contributes both keyboards2 and backing vocals, giving us a direct line between all three covers. Going back to this recording, which I’ve known so well since I used to hear it in my dad’s car as a boy in the 1980s, is strange after following this weird journey. But I still love it. Thanks Dad.

  1. I’m 99.9% sure ‘minor chorus’ is not the correct technical musical term. But if you know the song I am sure you understand what I mean. The Clapton version strange in that it has two repeating passages, the major one being ‘Who do you love/Is it me babe/Is it him now/I wanna know…’ etc. (which doesn’t feature in the original) and the minor one being ‘There is nothing in your eyes…’, both of which repeat. This probably contributes to the song’s earworm-esque qualities. 
  2. I’d be disappointed if this is ‘just’ keyboards and not a keytar. 

It’s been a full-on week. Seeing Chas n Dave at the Royal Albert Hall tonight is going to make it a heck of a lot better.

The best night of the month

Last night I hosted Album Club #79. That’s 79 months — almost seven years — of Album Club evenings, so I thought it was about time I wrote about them.

Way back at the start of 2011, my friend Bill dropped me an enthusiastic email with a link to a BBC News magazine article about Classic Album Sundays:

A growing number of music-lovers unhappy about the way album tracks are enjoyed in a pick-and-mix fashion have decided to take action.

The rules are strict. No talking. No texting. You must listen to every song on the album.

Classic Album Sundays treat our best-loved records like great symphonies and are being set up in London, Scotland and Wales.

Groups of music fans sit in front of a vinyl turntable, with the best speakers they can afford, dim the lights and listen to a classic album all the way through.

This monthly club in north London is run by Colleen Murphy and for her it is a strike against “‘download culture”, the sense that music has just become an endless compilation of random songs used as background noise.

”Everyone, stop multi-tasking, sit down, open your ears and do some heavy listening.”

Bill’s questions to me: Shall we start an album night of our own? Did I know anyone who might be interested? Yes and yes! This was great — it sounded like a book club without the homework. I was definitely in.

Five of us gathered on a February evening at Bill’s place. A lot of what happened that night set the tone of all Album Club evenings to come. We arrived, had a few beers and crisps in the kitchen and about 45 minutes in we were ushered through to the lounge. Bill revealed that he was going to play us a vinyl copy of David Bowie’s Hunky Dory. He’d printed the Wikipedia notes for the album and gave a small speech about why he had chosen it. Then the music began.

We sat there, in complete silence, listening intently. His stereo sounded amazing. I’d never heard the album before and from the opening notes of Changes to the fading sounds of The Bewlay Brothers it was a revelation. On this particular evening, and for the next couple of Album Club nights, the enjoyment of the music was mixed with the self-consciousness of sitting there in silence with everyone. Where do you put your eyes? Is it okay to jiggle my legs as the music takes me? Could I cough? Eye contact was strictly avoided.

After a few months the format was well-established and we consciously agreed some rules as follows:

  • Album Clubs are held monthly. In the case of being unable to book a date that people can make (August and December are particularly difficult) we can double up with two in the following month.
  • Hosting follows a round-robin format, with each member taking a turn in succession. In the case of sudden illness or force majeure on behalf of the host someone else can step in, ideally the next person in line so that you can simply swap places in the hosting order.
  • The host has to supply all of the drinks (ale, lager, wine) and snacks.
  • Most importantly, the host gets to choose the album. As host, your responsibilities for picking a suitable album are:
    • You must love it.
    • You are not allowed to play an album that you yourself have never heard before (see previous point).
    • Strictly no compilations.
    • No live albums.* (This point is controversial with opinions on the rule split down the middle; I personally think these are legitimate albums in their own right but others believe that the inevitable presence of live versions of the artists’ own songs mean they are a type of compilation.)
    • Albums are played as if they had been bought on vinyl, with the end of a side giving people time to pop to the loo, have a brief chat about what they’ve heard so far and top up with beer. If you don’t have the vinyl and are playing the CD or streaming the album, make sure you do your research to know when to press pause. Double albums will have three breaks, triple albums (and you have to be very brave or completely infatuated by the album to choose one) will have five. If streaming, a top tip is to make some playlists of the various sides in advance.
  • At the end of the album, everyone can completely relax and enjoy the rest of their evening. Typically we end up lining up records on the host’s hi-fi that are linked to the album or fit with the vibe in some way. If it’s a Friday, a lot more beer is consumed.

Picking an album can be a difficult affair. Do you go with the one you really love or do you play something that you think people haven’t heard but are likely to like? Experience now tells me that you should go with your heart instead of your head and don’t over-think it. When everyone loves what you play (for me, Siren by Roxy Music, Heartbreaker by Ryan Adams and Tommy by The Who have all been successes) it’s a great feeling; when they don’t (see Human Racing by Nik Kershaw) it can be a bit deflating, but you get over it quickly.

Over the past six and a half years we’ve seen a few people come and go; two of the original five founding members moved away which made membership impossible and with a bit of recruitment we now have a ‘full team’ of eight. This is probably the perfect number — sometimes one or two people can’t make it at the last minute but it still leaves you with enough of the crew to make it worth it. For a while we had six but this means you always have the same two months of the year, no good if you find yourself lumbered with August or December. “Who’s turn is it next?” can always be answered by looking at our back catalogue of events lovingly put together and maintained by Mat.

It’s been brilliant to have an evening every month where I know I can just sit back, relax, listen to (typically) a great album and enjoy the company of a cracking group of friends. For me the best nights have been when I’ve discovered a truly brilliant album that I had never heard before: Creedence Clearwater Revival’s Cosmo’s Factory and Gary Numan’s The Pleasure Principle have been the pinnacle for me, closely followed by the unexpectedly punky eponymous The Pretenders. John famously loved Cosmo’s Factory so much he bought a CD copy of on Amazon before the first track had even finished playing.

Massive love and thanks to Bill for creating what is now commonly known as ‘the best night of the month’. We miss you, fella!

*Update: Live albums are now permitted following a membership vote on 22 October 2022.

Keep coming back to this. Absolutely love these gravelly vocals. Having them isolated makes it clear how much they contribute to a great song.


Rediscovered this tune recently. From 2:40 onwards all I can think about is Toe Jam and Earl. In a good way.

No Other

Years ago, before podcasts entered my life, I used to wander everywhere with my headphones in my ears and my iPod on shuffle. Smart playlists gave me a constant stream of both music I knew and had rated highly along with a few tracks I hadn’t played.

One morning on the platform at Euston Square, waiting for a westbound train, a song came on which I had never heard before and demanded my attention. It wasn’t loud, it was just beautiful — I had seldom heard such an honest heart-achingly longing song before. It sounded as though it had been recorded on a home cassette deck and reinforced my theory that great songs shine through no matter how poor the sound quality is. The song was Dark of My Moon by Gene Clark and it is a track on a free Uncut magazine cover CD from the early 2000s. Give it a listen, it’s amazing.

From that point on, Gene Clark was on my ‘music to investigate’ list. A couple of weeks ago I found myself coming back to this song and I wanted to find out more about it and Gene Clark himself. Clark was a member of the Byrds and co-wrote Eight Miles High, one of their biggest hits.

Whenever I get into a new artist, I head over to Allmusic — it gives you the complete output of an artist along with ratings by both Allmusic staff as well as their users. His album No Other had five-star reviews by both and looked like a great place to start investigating more of his work. I wasn’t disappointed. This album is incredible and gets better with every play.

I haven’t felt this way about an album in a long time. It has hooked itself into my brain and won’t let go. Every time I hear it I notice something different, whether it is the second slide guitar solo on the first song, the frantic woodblock in the title track or the way in which the final tune builds from a sweet beginning to a magestic and sweeping end. As soon as it finishes I want to start it again. There is so much in this album.

When it was released in 1974, the record label didn’t do very much to support the album. Clark had a fear of flying which meant that he wouldn’t tour or promote the it much himself either. Reviews weren’t great and two years later it was deleted from A&M’s catalogue. It became a lost masterpiece.

Since it was ‘rediscovered’ and reissued a couple of decades later it has gained an ever-greater following. A couple of years ago a number of bands collaborated together to bring the music to a new audience through a small number gigs where they played the whole album from start to finish. I’m not that familiar with these artists (Beach House, Fleet Foxes, Grizzly Bear, The Walkmen) so didn’t know what to expect. Their performance is amazing — the musicians all gel so well together and the singing is superb. It gave me goosebumps the first time I saw it. If you’re looking for a way into this album you could do worse than watch this.

Plunging into ABBA

Me on stage with ABBA, Stockholm, 2014For a very long time the extent of my relationship with ABBA has been to get annoyed at ‘Dancing Queen’ being played at parties, right at the point where lots of people have been dancing and enjoying themselves. The song has always sounded so downbeat and melancholy to me and although it was a classic I never understood why people would think it fitted in with people partying and having a good time. It always killed the mood for me.

I went to Stockholm for my wedding anniversary this year. We didn’t plan much into our schedule, preferring to walk around, eating (a lot), drinking (what we could afford) and taking in the sights. On one of the days we decided to go for a walk from our hotel in Södermalm to the island of Djurgården with the vague intention of visiting the Vasamuseet, apparently Stockholm’s top tourist attraction. However, when we got there we were dismayed to see a queue of top-tourist-attraction proportions. Not wishing to spend a significant chunk of our holiday waiting in line for something we only vaguely wanted to see we decided to wander on. This is when we stumbled across the ABBA The Museum and the Swedish Music Hall of Fame, conveniently located in the same building.

My first thought was something along the lines of “Really?” Of course, I knew a lot of ABBAs hits—just from having turned on a radio over the course of the past few decades—and had to concede that they had some good tunes but my thoughts immediately went back to ‘Dancing Queen’. After a bit of debate and not having concrete plans of what else we should do (plus my hope that there may be one or two items about Roxette in the ‘Swedish Music Hall of Fame’ bit) we decided to go in.

It was such a pleasant surprise. I’ve always been a big music fan ever since I was a young boy and used to spend lots of my pocket money on music magazines such as Vox, Mojo, NME and later Uncut, reading detailed articles even about bands whose sounds and songs I had never heard. Wandering around the museum for two or three hours with no children in tow, being allowed to absorb the story of a very famous pop band about whom I knew very little beyond their biggest hits took me right back to those days where I pored over those magazines.

We both paid for the portable audio guide and were treated to Björn, Benny, Anni-Frid and Agnetha talking about the things we were seeing and hearing as we wandered around. I wasn’t familiar with a lot of their lesser-known songs and particularly their earlier work (‘People Need Love’ and ‘Ring Ring’, anyone?) nor about how they came to be, the boys being massively famous in the bands The Hep Stars and The Hootenanny Singers (yes, really) and the girls starting off as solo artists. We had a lot of fun in there and the verdict was that it was very well put-together and worth it even if you aren’t the world’s biggest ABBA fan.

I have a bit of an obsessive personality and when I get into something I really want to learn all I can about it and absorb myself in it. ABBA The Museum lit a spark for me. I started in the obvious place, listening to all of their back catalogue through Spotify and reading the Allmusic album guides as I went along. (You can find a playlist of tracks I found interesting that I wanted to go back to here if you want to hear them yourself—a particular highlight is Björn singing in an imitation Noddy Holder voice on ‘Rock Me’!) I also looked around for a good biography of the group and came across Carl Magnus Palm’s ‘Bright Lights, Dark Shadows’ which seemed to be the definitive work. On a hunch I picked up an audiobook copy, £7.99 from Audible.co.uk with a monthly subscription, and I’m very glad I did. At just over 26 hours in length it is a bit of a commitment but it is well worth it—listening to the book felt just like an extension of the audio tour that we took around the museum which is exactly what I was after. The story is very interesting and goes far beyond just a chronological sequence of events in the lives of the group. There are touchpoints with Swedish and European cultural history such as in the ‘schlager’ song traditions that they started out with and which where intertwined with the Eurovision Song Contest. Their tale is closely woven with Polar Music and in particular their manager and early songwriting partner Stig Anderson, someone who had such an impact on Sweden that he was given a televised funeral which is traditionally something reserved for “distinguished statesmen or royalty”. The story reflects the decades in which it takes place, for example the focus on songwriting and music publishing in the 1960s and 1970s and how this changes as we moved into the 1980s and beyond as well as the ABBA revival in the 1990s that was kicked off by Erasure and the multitude of tribute acts. I finished the book on the way home from work this evening and like any good story I’m sad to finish it. If you’ve an interest in popular culture, pop music or just like long and detailed biographies then it is well worth the time.

Record sales as a temporary blip

I grew up as a musically-enthusiastic child of the ’80s and ’90s, watching Top of the Pops on Thursday night and talking about it with my friends at school the next day, reading Smash Hits, listening to the top-40 singles countdown as I got ready for bed on Sunday evening and generally paying attention to what was happening in the charts. At some point, all of this dropped away for me. The singles chart was no longer meaningful. Part of this was me getting older and part of this was the fact that it didn’t take quite as much to get a hit anymore. The rise of satellite and cable TV as well as the Internet were factors too—there was so much choice that my friends and I no longer had the shared experience of listening to, reading about and watching the same bands through the same limited channels. This whole transition felt like a general decline.

A couple of years ago I caught a programme on Radio 4 which was discussing the state of the music business. They made the point that young people now expect to be able to download and listen to whatever they like for free and that an effect of this is that live concerts have now become the primary ways in which (big and popular) artists such as Prince, U2 etc. make their money. The situation of old had reversed: in the past, live shows were adverts for singles and albums and now those singles and albums are adverts for seeing your favourite band in a live show.

Or so I thought. I’m currently in the middle of reading the “extended special edition” of part one of Mark Lewisohn‘s incredible Beatles biography which details the history of the band right up to the end of 1962, before they had their first hit. This passage was very interesting and made me think back to that Radio 4 programme:

Still, the everyday business of management was the stage. No ‘pop stars’ could live off broadcasting fees and only the very biggest of chart stars could live off record royalties, so minuscule were the percentages. No one even tried. The sole object of making records was to attract a bigger profile and so earn higher fees from concert and ballroom shows – and, if the artists were lucky to be chosen, to appear in summer seasons in seaside resorts.

So perhaps the recent change isn’t a decline per se but rather a reversion to an old normal. Perhaps the focus we had around records instead of live performance as we were growing up was a drawn-out, temporary blip?

David O’Doherty

I recently sent a text message to the person that the text message was about.

Yes, we’ve all done it. This time it was sent to Mat and was originally a question to another friend to find out what Mat wanted for his birthday. Luckily not too much damage done there – a bit of a ‘doh!’ moment but it could have been much worse!

The incident reminded me of a song I heard on a Radio 2 comedy show recently, which I believe is incidentally titled “Sent a Text Message to the Person that the Text Message Was About”. I Googled for this and came up with a Myspace page that (almost) mentioned the phrase…this revealed that the composer and performer of the tune was none other than David O’Doherty.

David’s album is available from Trust Me I’m A Thief Records (both on CD and mp3 download) and I urge you to buy it. It saw me through my trip to and from work today and on more than one occasion I found myself cracking up, probably much to the bemusement of my fellow commuters. The album is recorded in David’s house and he’s got both great comical observations on life and excellent lo-fi songs. Here’s one from YouTube called “The FAQ for the D O D” (thanks Anna):

Brilliant stuff.