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The Periodic Table of the Middle Class
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    Entries in Johnny D (5)

    Tuesday
    Aug022011

    Irrational holiday annoyances #2: Shops that sell postcards but not stamps

    The very idea of holiday resort shops that sell postcards but not stamps seems so hilariously/annoyingly misguided that is almost hard to believe they still exist, but if anything they seem to be more common than ever. The worst thing is, you tend to have chosen and paid for the cards before it occurs to you to ask; the second worst thing is that the nearest shop that DOES sell stamps is always a good ten-minute walk away. It’s enough to make you think a Facebook update should do the trick instead.

    Flickr: weegeebored
    Tuesday
    May172011

    In Praise Of The Peas: Five Reasons Why It's Time To Stop Giving The Black Eyed Peas A Hard Time

    Flickr: CJY_VTFor some time now it’s been fashionable for music snobs to knock The Black Eyed Peas, the all-singing, all-dancing, all-American pop group. “Their songs are terrible,” they say. Or “My four-year-old is singing ‘My Humps and I don’t like it”.

    They complain that will.i.am isn’t even a proper name; and don’t get them started on Fergie, Taboo and apl.de.ap. But Black Eyed Peas may be the perfect middle-class pop group; as appealing to kids as they are to granny and grandpa. What 7pm slot in the V Festival line-up hasn’t been cheered up by the sight of The Peas? Kooky enough to look like proper popstars from back in the Smash Hits days, but never silly or crude like those Scissor Sisters types. Let us count the ways in which BEP make the world a better place.

    1/ It’s impossible to hear their 2009 single ‘I Gotta Feeling’ without feeling uncontrollable joy. It is pure pop Prozac in the same class as  ‘Oops… I Did It Again’ by Britney Spears or ‘Crazy In Love’ by Beyoncé.  And it’s the first and only Number One single I know of to include the salutation ‘Mazel Tov!’

    2. Unconventional name notwithstanding, will.i.am is a musical genius. He is as of his times as Phil Spector was to the pop of the 1960s. Who else in music can claim to have worked with Britney Spears, Michael Jackson, U2 and The Pussycat Dolls?

    3. One of their albums is called Elephunk. How great is that?

    4. All that Cheryl Cole business a few months back. While I wasn’t for a moment gullible enough to think that she and that blonde dancer were an item, I think Cheryl and will.i.am would make a lovely couple. They both make an effort, look nice on TV and offer sound practical advice to the contestants on The X-Factor. If they got married, she could be Chez-am.

    5. In these post Midsomer­ Murders times, they set a fine example with their multicultural line-up. As an example of racial harmony in music they’re up there with Paul McCartney’s ‘Ebony And Ivory’. There was that unfortunate incident when Fergie wet herself on stage, but we can overlook that. With all that excitement going on, accidents will happen. 

     

    Wednesday
    Apr202011

    THE LOST ART OF HAMMERING A TRACK 

    These days we’re told that eclectic music collections are de rigueur. That Spotify has made all the different music we could wish to listen to available all the time. That our iPods are there to be filled with as much stuff as possible – the 160GB one holds 40,000 of your favourite songs. But, really, who’s got 40,000 favourite songs?

    Increasingly as I settle into the approach to middle age I find that my music listening habits are reverting to those of my teenage years, back when too much choice and option paralysis weren’t really any option. Back then I’d buy an album and play it for weeks. Even if I wasn’t completely convinced by it, I’d keep playing it as if familiarity would breed some kind of fondness.

    These days I find myself doing something similar. My iPod is something of an iceberg. At least 75 percent of its contents go completely unplayed. Instead I find more and more that I’m hammering a single track to death. Chancing across a familiar album by Michael Jackson or Pink Floyd isn’t an opportunity to rediscover the joys of those records as long-players, the way their creators intended them. It’s a chance to zone in on ‘Wish You Were Here’ or ‘P.Y.T (Pretty Young Thing)’ and play it again and again with the enthusiasm of my teenage self.

    Last week my enthusiasm for The Beastie Boys ‘Sabotage’ knew no bounds. The week before it was all about ‘Crash’ by The Primitives. Has my boredom threshold collapsed? Am I pining for the simpler days of the 7” single? Or in the land of too much choice am I simply carving out a little sanity, the only way I know how?

     

    Friday
    Apr152011

    THE FRIDAY QUESTION: CAN FILM MUSIC BE CLASSIFIED AS CLASSICAL MUSIC? 

    Gramophone Magazine, ‘the world’s authority on classical music since 1923’, has dedicated a recent issue to film music. There’s not much in its guide that’s likely to be a revelation to anyone in possession of even a fleeting interest in music and a pair of their own ears. The usual suspects are all present and correct – John Barry, Ennio Morricone (in a profile written by Hans Zimmer, of The Lion King fame!) and a handful of familiar French film soundtracks. But the venerable publication also poses what’s presumably a contentious question for its readership: can film music be classified as classical music?

    I don’t know about you, but like lots of middle-class people, film music has been serving the same purpose as classical music in my CD collection for as long as I’ve had a CD collection. Instrumental music that signifies the listener (me) can cope with something more cultured than Coldplay or Deadmau5, but where you’re under no obligation to know your concertos from your symphonies. Filed after ‘Z’ in my alphabetised CD library, my OST collection has grown to a reasonably impressive two-and-a-half-shelves worth over the years. The roots of my collecting go back to the days of being a slightly pretentious student. Not pretentious enough to attempt some Prokofiev or Mahler but pretentious enough to know that the soundtrack to 37°2 Le Matin (i.e Betty Blue) and The Good, The Bad And The Ugly looked good in the rack alongside The Queen Is Dead and Lloyd Cole. The Best Of Michael Nyman also enjoyed its airings in the Halls Of Residence – mainly because it reminded one of the fruity Peter Greenaway films he used to soundtrack. Then there was the girlfriend who used to use Vangelis’ Blade Runner as, oh dear, ‘mood music’.

    The OST collection has swelled as the disposable income has grown. Included therein are The Last Waltz (on boxset, natch). Pulp Fiction (from when Tarantino’s soundtracks commanded as much attention as his films). Koyaanisquatski (because it’s Philip Glass). The Italian Job and Get Carter (because they star Michael Caine). And The Wicker Man (obviously). Then there’s the real connoiseurish stuff: The Umbrellas Of Cherbourg for its kitsch appeal and Vampyros Lesbos: Sexadelic Dance Party, a collection of 1970s European ‘horotica’ soundtracks, because of its cool cover and the fact it’s available on import only.

    Do I ever listen to this stuff? Not really. But then a music collection isn’t just for listening to. None of my dinner party guests are going to get a conversation started based on Shostakovich: Symphonies Nos. 1/ 3S/ C. I mean have you seen the cover art to most classical CDs? It’s really boring. There’s not a gun or a 1960s Mini or a lesbian vampire in sight. 

     

    Friday
    Apr082011

    WHAT’S THE PROBLEM WITH REBECCA BLACK?

    There was much uproar a couple of weeks ago about a song called ‘Friday’, the debut single by a 13-year-old American singer called Rebecca Black. The Daily Mail suggested it made her famous ‘for all the wrong reasons’. It was posted on YouTube on March 11 and by March 19 was being called ‘The worst single ever made, ever’. The video has been watched in excess of 42 million times, apparently largely because of further damning praise calling it ‘the most irritating of all time’ and its singer ‘the worst singer in the world’. And to be fair, ‘Friday’ is unlikely to be mistaken for the work of Radiohead. Detailing a teenager getting ready for the weekend, it notes: ‘Yesterday was Thursday, Thursday/ Today is Friday, Friday/ Tomorrow is Saturday/ And Sunday comes afterwards’. Later on it describes a car journey: ‘Kickin in the front seat/ Sittin’ in the back seat/ Gotta make my mind up/ Which seat can I take?’

    Black has apparently been targeted by ‘cyberbullies’, some of whom, the newspapers have suggested, said ‘she deserved to die’. Still, Black seems to be having the last laugh. Forbes magazine estimates that her YouTube views could have netted her $20,000 alone, while she’s racing up the iTunes chart and beating the likes of Katy Perry and Britney Spears in the process. And Black’s critics have missed the point. Calling it the worst single of all time is ridiculous. U2's last album was much worse.

    What’s more there are certain places where being irritating is the key to success. The boss of the Go Compare website was recently asked why her TV adverts featuring a faux-tenor called Gio Compario bellowing the name of the company were so bad. What were they thinking? Simple, she said. Our brief to the ad agency was to make the adverts “as irritating as possible”. (The success of those adverts has helped make her company worth £400m). You might say the same of their rivals over at Compare The Meerkat. Irritating equals memorable, and memorable equals sales. And advertising and pop aren’t such different beasts. Vince Clarke, who played the keyboard in Yazoo and Erasure, used to flit between the Top 10 and writing advertising jingles with the greatest of ease and no small amount of success in both.

    Think of irritating pop and ‘Barbie Girl’ or ‘Mr Blobby’ might come to mind. But I’d also say the same for ‘My Name Is…’ by Eminem or ‘Country House’ by Blur or ‘Space Oddity’ by David Bowie. ‘Eight Days A Week’ by The Beatles is a pretty irritating song. And its lyrics are no less daft than Rebecca Black’s ‘Friday’. Let the haters hate, at 13-years-old Rebecca Black may be better placed than most to have grasped one of the central tenets of pop – and irritating us all, all the way to the bank.