It all started harmlessly enough when A&R man turned producer Simon (Mr. One Shirt) Cowell started Pop Idol on British Television back in 2001. Nine years later we’ve suffered silently through Pop Idol, American Idol and in the UK at least X-Factor. When did music become so unimportant to us and how can it regain the join a band, work your arse off playing live, just perhaps get spotted treadmill that had worked quite nicely thank you from the dawn of Rock and Roll?
Pan's People rehearse for a Clash song
The old formula worked for Elvis and The Who, Oasis and The Clash, REM and The Stone Roses but now we’re told that the best musical talent (sub category vocalist) can be found via a national televised talent show and voted for by way of letting the public register their opinion. Isn’t that what record shops and concerts were for?
I’d love to say that the news this week that Simon Cowell quitting American Idol was the end of the phenomenon but alas in 2011 American audiences will be exposed (courtesy of the Fox Network) to the US premiere of X Factor. X Factor is the same thing only worse. It lowers the gate to allow anyone to jump on TV, so you’ll have dance troupes, broadway divas and baby boomers showcased for your enjoyment. Did you notice the word ‘band’ doesn’t apply to either of these shows?
Where did all go so wrong? British Television had provided some of the music programming that helped make punk, post punk, new wave and indie music not only accessible but interesting too. From the Old Grey Whistle Test through to Later With Jools Holland, the Tube and The Word, each production wasn’t a talent show but a testament to great new music. The Clash famously wouldn’t appear on Top of The Pops – that BBC vanguard of all that was safe about the charts. As a result Pan’s People (the BBC dancers) danced to Bankrobber in place of our boys. Show up at the BBC studios, have a glass of sherry and a sausage roll and lip sync along to your latest hit. It wasn’t challenging nor interesting and it appealed to the masses, but still – to it’s credit – it wasn’t just a talent show. Top of The Pops outlasted them all and ultimately has been replaced by the lowest form of music marketing, namely Pop Idol. Music deserves better but the game now means that if you appear on the soundtrack to an Xbox release you will make more headway than playing on the smaller stage at Reading.
Incidentally, when I was kid we had our very own X Factor as that little right wing cretin Hughie Green hosted Opportunity Knocks. It was at least not masquerading as anything other than a very weak talent show and was free of glitz and glamour. The biggest difference in the show that ran from the mid 60′s to the late 70′s and X Factor it was seen as something for the oldies – no self respecting kid or young adult paid it any attention at all. Suddenly everything old is new once again and Simon Cowell laughs all the way to the bank. Ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated?
Good Morning….it was back in October that I wrote about the Royal Mail issuing a set of classic album covers which included London Calling by The Clash. The original article with some more information is here but some of you have been kind enough to contact me to remind me that today (Jan 7) is the release date for the stamps in Britain.
Above: The sleeve of London Calling by The Clash (1979) features a photograph of bassist Paul Simonon smashing his bass on stage – as shot by Pennie Smith. Designer Ray Lowry’s design is in homage to Elvis Presley’s debut album layout.
It’s one of the more unique honours that the band has received and I can see little old ladies throughout the UK looking at these stamps thinking ‘why is that nice young man about to break his guitar?‘ Credit to the Royal Mail for commissioning the album cover artwork as stamps series and I do agree with most of the choices as being worthy. So if you can brave the awful weather in Britain and can spend half an hour at the post office it will be worth the trip. I’d love to get a postcard with a London Calling stamp or two sent to me…if you’re feeling generous! Otherwise and seeing as it is now 2010 you can purchase them online and never leave your chair!
Also today, don’t forget the Rich Kids concert in Islington tonight with Mick Jones, Tony James and a host of others!
Yes it was thirty years ago today that Strummer/Jones taught the world to play…..
Jan 5, 1980 heralded the US release of London Calling which considering the debut album never got a proper US release and Give Em Enough Rope was far from a huge success in America was probably much smaller news then than the anniversary of the event all these years later. London Calling was received to universal critical acclaim in the States; most notably within the pages of Rolling Stone and sat on the the cliff edge linking the 1980′s to what had been happening in the UK for the previous 3-4 years. London Calling bridged the decades because it was ultimately one of the most diverse Rock and Roll records of the era, perhaps ever. For a Clash fan it merely hastened the journey that the next two albums (and singles that were released during that time) would provide to send us bouncing around with the musical experimentation that the band were embracing, some fans bailed after the debut and many more after London Calling and Sandinista!. Perhaps more clearly it showed a growing love of the US and especially New York City which influenced the band far more than any of their British contemporaries up to that point.
London Calling was the record that paved the way for so many other British bands to succeed in the US and tightened up the links between punk and rock as opposed to Punk Rock. The English version of Punk was (in my opinion) something that was more in tune with the British market, boredom over the Westway, dole queues and the riots in Notting Hill were always going to lose something in the translation. The US merited (and had) its own unique punk bands/scenes and I think this is why London Calling crossed over so effectively. It had much broader horizons, with lyrics and songs that resonated whether you were in Des Moines or Dundee. According to the critics it was The Clash at their very best, according to sales it was another rung on the ladder of success that peaked with Combat Rock, according to me it was simply the soundtrack to being 13,14,15,16 and it has never left my side since.
If someone knocked on my door tomorrow who had lived in a cave for their entire life but wanted to understand music from the last 50 years this would be one of the 5 albums I would hand them…and also tell them to play it first. Enough from me – have a look at what the New York Post had to say on this anniversary. It would also be neglectful of me not to link ‘that review’ from Rolling Stone.
For all its first-take scrappiness and guerrilla production, this two-LP set–which, at the group’s insistence, sells for not much more than the price of one–is music that means to endure. It’s so rich and far-reaching that it leaves you not just exhilarated but exalted and triumphantly alive. (Rolling Stone, January 1980)
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