Downloading, the chart and the Digital Economy Bill? (2 of 3)

Guest Post by my friend who still does not have a wordpress account.

Earlier I wrote about filesharing and the Digital Economy Bill, but the real concern for me regarding current purchasing patterns in the UK’s music industry is the singles chart they’re producing.

When I broach this subject with most people, they argue that no one should care about the singles chart because no one buys them. Perhaps this was the case previously, but not anymore.

Due to rising download purchases, which outweighed physical singles purchases by 116m to 1.6m from January to October 2009, more singles than albums were bought last year. So for the first time in ages, singles are saying more than albums about what people are willing to spend money on. One look at the singles chart will tell you that this is no good thing…

Musically, it’s largely uninteresting. The melody of Cheryl Cole’s Parachute takes over two minutes to venture beyond Do, Re, Mi, Fah and So, while Hot by Inna sports a one idea repetitiveness that only all-conquering EuroPop can (Top Ten in nine different European countries so far).

The chart also stumbles lyrically. Tinie Tempah manages to rhyme ‘fresher’ with ‘Freshers’, Usher’s similes range from ‘like pow pow pow’ to ‘like wow oh wow’, and Rihanna’s issues with her man’s erectile dysfunction are not lyrics you want to unwittingly sing to yourself on the train. Believe me.

The No. 2 single, Scouting for Girls’ This Ain’t a Love Song, fails on both counts. Musically, it’s a Scouting for Girls song, which negates any need for further description, and includes the headfuck line “I’m the man that I’m not”. Quite.

On many tracks, overproduction tries to compensate for lack of substance. McLean’s My Name is another average song given the Auto-Tune treatment to drum up interest, while Telephone by Lady Gaga is filled with redundant bleeps and ringtones to fill out the mix, and Gaga’s vocals are augmented with pitch dives and samples.

I don’t mind Auto-Tune as a sound – Kanye West utilised it inventively on 808s and Heartbreak, and sound-wise, it’s a more sophisticated version of the Talkbox or the Vocoder, used by Daft Punk, ELO, Peter Frampton and Stevie Wonder among others – but it shouldn’t mask uninteresting vocals or songs. Nor should it be used to gain a record contract for anyone so devoid of musical ability that they need it on their speaking voice. Which reminds me, Ke$ha – the talentless cunt – guests on Taio Cruz’s Dirty Picture, in at No. 12.

It’s not that the chart is hopeless. Plan B’s She Said is a skilled mixture of soul and rap, if a little too Ronson/Winehouse-esque, Kelis’ return with Acapella is emphatic and there is the always welcome presence of Paul Weller.

However, the talent that is there is stretched too thinly. Set the Fire to the Third Bar re-enters after originally being released in 2006, while Florence appears twice, with one song reaching its 55th week in the chart and her collaboration with Dizzee Rascal mashing up a previous top ten hit with a song that was already a cover.

Perhaps the track most indicative of where the chart is headed is History Makers by Delirious?, which hit No. 4 two weeks ago on the wave of yet another Facebook and social media campaign.

This movement came in response to the initiative that saw RATM take the Christmas No. 1 spot, with the organisers feeling that screaming fuck a lot didn’t fit in with Christmas’ whole world peace vibe, and that a Christian band would be more suitable this Eastertide.

The song is pleasant enough, but by no means outstanding. Picking the band was also a low priority for the organisers, claiming on their website that “it actually could have been anyone”, providing their music was Christian. Of course, the song didn’t survive a week on the chart – it served its purpose and was immediately discarded.

These campaigns are becoming commonplace. Last week, a rather unsuccessful attempt was made to show support for 6 Music, with Joy Division Oven Gloves by Half Man Half Biscuit reaching No. 56.

The problem is that these initiatives are more concerned with their message than the music they use to promote it. We are doomed to hear more mundane music (Joy Division Oven Gloves aside) as the chart is used to promote personal, religious, and maybe even political interests – perhaps we might see D:Ream’s Things Can Only Get Better re-released…

All I’m arguing is that the chart shouldn’t be allowed to be so stale. But am I deluded in thinking there’s been a point when the singles chart wasn’t so disposable? It’s never been a stranger to novelties and absolute turkeys, and it’d be naïve to expect quality throughout. However, a comparison with charts from Aprils of previous decades shows room for improvement.

In 2000, the number of quality tracks was admittedly similar to today, with A Song for the Lovers by Richard Ashcroft, Santana’s Smooth and Moby’s Natural Blues standing out, but turning to 1990, we see prime examples of pop done well in Madonna’s Vogue and The Power by Snap!, alongside Step On by the Happy Mondays, Pictures of You by the Cure and Orbital’s Chime.

1980 is also strong and boasts The Jam’s Going Underground, Night Boat to Cairo by Madness, Atomic by Blondie and So Lonely by the Police. And 1970 is perhaps the best of all, including Spirit in the Sky by Norman Greenbaum, I Want You Back by the Jackson Five, Instant Karma by the Plastic Ono Band, Leavin’ On A Jet Plane by Peter Paul & Mary, Let It Be by the Beatles, Bridge Over Troubled Water by Simon and Garfunkel, and My Way by Frank Sinatra.

Obviously the comparison is too limited to say all charts of these eras were similar, and you can make your own investigations, but seeing fresh, memorable songs from across genres is encouraging. We’re not lacking quality music currently, but rather a wide demographic of people buying singles.

Therefore, I think the best thing we can do for 6 Music is to revitalise the mainstream by supporting our individual music tastes and losing the “no-one buys singles” attitude.

If Tim Davie’s statements are to be believed, one of the main factors in 6 Music’s cancellation was the lack of listeners, with less than 1 in 50 adults tuning in. What 6 Music needs is not a show of solidarity from the faithful, but new blood to make it financially viable.

By diversifying the mainstream, we can bring people into the subculture as they become curious about different types of music. Through sampling different things on Radio 1 and commercial radio, people will be attracted to 6 Music as an outlet that can give them more of what they like. It’s certainly more sustainable than a Facebook campaign every week.

So why not go and buy a single? And if you really want to feel good, buy it from your local independent record store – as we all know, a record store is for life, not just for Record Store Day.