Basically, the situation is this.
“Where Are We Now?” by David Bowie is probably the most popular and certainly the most talked-about song on the planet right now, let alone in Britain. Everywhere you look, the song, as a single, has soared to number one. Considering that this is a single no one had even heard of three days ago, it’s a pretty titanic achievement, and a deserved (partly because so unexpected) number one for this point in the man’s career.
Everywhere, that is, except in the midweek UK singles chart. Yes, the eximious Official Charts Company has found a loophole. Eleventh-hour number one for a legend? A richly earned happy ending? No can do – it breaks “chart rules.” The same rules (albeit with a different compiler) that kept the Help charity album off number one in the mid-nineties because it was a “Various Artists” compilation. Promotion of an album? That didn’t stop singles being hyped into the charts (including to number one) thirty years ago with free albums, free videos, even free beach balls.
The term “party poopers” doesn’t even begin to describe the OCC’s attitude, and their inability to separate data (if indeed it even needs to be separated) indicates that lethal British mix of entitlement and incompetence. A real cynic would allege that the OCC doesn’t want “old people” in its singles chart, just an unending stream of dance music and Adele/X-Factor-type “soulful” balladry to appease a teenage demographic.
Whatever has happened here, it is clear that by excluding the Bowie single from their singles chart, the OCC are not fulfilling their brief to tabulate the country’s most popular songs, and the question therefore follows whether their charts, or the previous charts to which they hold the copyright, can be taken seriously. This has not been helped by the organisation’s aggressive approach to the ChartStats website, stamping it out like an enraged legal elephant rather than coming to a compromise which actually might raise them more revenue.
All in all, it leaves a very bad taste in the mouth, and also leaves me wondering whether it is worth continuing with Then Play Long. Why continue to spend time and effort writing about records in the context of a chart that is, as it stands, simply unbelievable, in the wrongest of senses, and which refuses to accept what the people of this country know is the most popular song?
Also not helping is the fact that the current midweek number one single is “Scream And Shout” which in over 40 years of listening closely to music I can attest is the deadest, most lifeless pop record I have ever heard. Throughout its four-and-a-half or so minutes there is no indication that this song needed to be written, that a story needed to be told or an emotion expressed via this song. No, rather it is another extended advertisement for its performers so that they can carry on being “will.i.am” and “Britney Spears” for another little while further. The implication that this piece of self-celebrating capitalist junk – pop really has degenerated into The Scene That Celebrates Itself – which isn’t even in the iTunes Top 10 is somehow more deserving of the top spot than “Where Are We Now?” is rotten, more rotten even than the 2012 TPL menu including albums by both Chris Brown and Rihanna (Unapologetic is by a significant chalk her worst record). It suggests a destructive decadence, an audience of robots who will automatically buy anything by their favoured avatars because, hey, you know, it’s “Rihanna” and they can somehow identify with their “story” – and it’s not a point of view with which I want to associate myself as a writer.
The consequence of all this is that I think it best not to continue with TPL for the time being. In truth I felt like shutting down the blog after the Rod Stewart entry, but knew if I’d done that you wouldn’t have had the opportunity to read, for instance Lena’s brilliant Pretenders and Boney M pieces.
And there are other factors at work apart from OCC’s institutional imbecility. I began this blog in August 2008, and in the intervening four-and-a-half years or so I can say that it has plodded on in near-total obscurity, and that if it were to make the big leap – i.e. if somebody of note and influence had raved about it in public, if I’d received any offers of writing work after publishing it, etc. - it would long since have happened. The blog’s current readership figures are unfortunately not sufficient to justify the blog’s continuation, or the time and effort that have been put into writing and maintaining it.
Of course, a blog of this highly specialised type, written in the manner in which it is written (thousands of words on a record you might not really want to listen to? Is life really that short?), is not the sort of blog that will cause tens of thousands of readers to go and look at it every day. But given the amount of time and energy I have put into it – digging the deepest of second-hand record shop and charity shop crates in the furthest flung of places to find elusive missing entries and make the blog as comprehensive as possible (with in some cases very good friends doing the crate-digging for me) – the returns don’t justify the effort, particularly as the entries have been made available free of charge, with readers not having to pay a penny to read them.
TPL, of course, has more than one author, but Lena and I have discussed the matter at length, and we agree that it’s probably not worth it. Not if the chart compilers are going to decide unilaterally what, or who, can or can’t go into the charts, and not with material of such low quality. I think if Bowie doesn’t appear in the final chart on Sunday, or if he only appears halfway down it and the deadening likes of “Scream And Shout” and “Don’t Stop The Party” triumph, then as far as I’m concerned pop will have jumped the shark and I will go off and listen to Bud Powell or Horace Silver for the rest of my life.
I would like to give my deepest thanks to the faithful few who have followed TPL over the last few years and provided much wisdom and insight in their comments. It has been occasionally frustrating to write, but more often than not it has been a joy. Whether I go back to writing about “modern” music will depend on how many people who don’t already know about my writing will want to read it. But I’m nearly fifty, and it’s time for some stress-free pottering about.
(Note: I have, as you can probably see, been persuaded to keep TPL going. Maybe I just need to take a break every now and then, but I was genuinely concerned about following a chart which might in places be perceived as less than valid.)