Friday, 29 October 2010

Money Money Money

When I bought my first vinyl LP as spotty youth back in 1970, it cost me the princely sum of £2 and at the time, I didn’t really stop to consider whether it was priced correctly – I just wanted it and bought it. So it comes as quite a shock to realise that £2 in 1970 is the inflation adjusted equivalent figure of £23 today. These days I wouldn’t even countenance paying that sort of money for a CD or download album despite being more affluent. In fact I would probably baulk at paying half that price…and possibly even a quarter.

It just goes to show how we have unconsciously absorbed the reduction in price for the music we buy yet still feel we are hard done by and will turn our collective noses up at product that in real terms has at least halved in price over the last 40 years. In fact, these days file sharing for free seems to be touted as a ‘right’ amongst some parts of the consumer market.

So I note with some amusement that ex-Warner Music UK boss, Rob Dickins, has decreed that albums should be sold at £1 each in an effort to combat piracy and encourage waning sales. Whoo-Hoo! Predictably, this has caused howls of outrage amongst the music industry who are still trying to keep a firm hold on their diminishing profits, but to me it seems eminently sensible. His argument is that file-sharers would be happy to pay a legal £1 per download rather than an illegal nothing and that the remainder of us would buy substantially more albums, thus recouping revenue for the industry and generating demand in other areas such as live concerts and merchandise. He may be right, but I suspect not. The sense that media should be ‘free’ is pretty ingrained in some parts of society.

Nevertheless, I see no defence to those companies still charging full price for albums produced in the 1960s, 1970s and even 1980s whose production costs have long been recovered. I’ve never understood why it is virtually impossible to buy Beatles albums, for example, for less than £10, a staggering 45 years after they were first released. It smacks of greed. I for one would undoubtedly buy more if prices were reduced considerably. It takes away the risk that you are about to spend good money on something that turns out to be the worse album ever produced – something that I’ve had enough of in the past.

Record producers say that they must charge to cover their risks, but what about the consumer? They shoulder risk every time they buy today’s ‘product’ as most of it is sub-standard. Reducing the price would alleviate buyers' risk and I’m all in favour of that.

Friday, 22 October 2010

The Dangling Conversation

‘Aha! I knew I’d find it somewhere. It was stuck in amongst the kinks in that old bit of carpet. Can’t really remember when I lost it, it’s all a bit of a blur now. It must’ve been one of those Sundays I was making a wedding present for the family up the road.’

‘What are you wittering about, woman?’

‘My sewing needle! I lost it months ago. You know, I told you just after him next door had his massive attack. How that doctor and the medics got him out past his caravan, I’ll never know. What a squeeze and him with a dickey heart. Mind you, his wife’s not much better. She had to go to Lourdes for the cure last year after her primal scream therapy failed. Anyway, I must get on. The cleaning all needs doing.’

‘What? Again? Anyone’d think the Queen was coming.’

‘And another thing. I need a proper washing machine. That toploader has just about had it. Do you know it leaks so badly the kitchen looks like an oasis half the time? All it needs is a camel.

‘It’s no good you screaming. Trees don’t yield money you know. Anyway, I can’t listen to you all day. What’s on the wireless?’

‘Dunno. But you’d better turn it on now. It takes so long to warm up, you’d think it was human…’

‘…League Division Two. Stockport County one, Barnet nil…’

‘It’s the bloody football results, oh joy…’

‘…Division One. Portishead Town six…’

‘I can’t listen to this. Who’s interested in a minor south-western league clash? What’s for tea?’

‘Scones, cranberries and cream.’

‘Again? You’d never get that garbage at my Holly’s.’

‘Yes, but then you’d have to put up with that grandson of yours.’

‘Kevin’s not such bad company. What’s he been up to now?’

‘Well, there was a bit of an incident at the pet shop. Boys will be boys, you know, but they should never have called the police. I know eagles don’t come free but I’m sure the wings will grow back in time. Of course, Kevin’s been a bit sensitive after his dad spilt tea on that igloo he made out of sugar cubes. All of a pulp, it was. And that girl of his, you know, blondie, gave him the elbow. Poor boy!’

‘Huh! Can’t imagine what the youth of today think they’re up to. Walking around like zombies on ecstasy and nattering about pop music. Complete madness! Wouldn’t have happened in my day…’

Friday, 15 October 2010

Generation Gap

It is a well known fact that we all grow up to be our parents no matter how hard we try to avoid it. But growing up to be someone else’s parents is even more worrying. This nightmare scenario slowly dawned on me the other day whilst helping my daughter to download a couple of songs from iTunes.

But let’s back up a bit. In the early 1970s I spent a large proportion of my life hanging around in St Albans record shops, either the traditional specialist venues like The Record Room or the new pretender, Cloud 7 or even the less obvious places like Tesco, Boots or a furniture store whose name I’ve forgotten, who all sold chart singles.

Oh, the arrogance of youth! This was a time when I felt entirely at ease in such places and, like the owners, knew most of the stock by sight. As a frequent visitor and dedicated browser, not to mention compulsive buyer, I felt that slight superiority that an expert feels when confronted with an amateur. So when anyone came into the shop with that furtive and marginally panicked look on their face you just knew that some fun would ensue.

These were the people, usually elderly, who didn’t really know what they had come into buy, either because they’d heard something on the wireless and didn’t know what it was, or because they were buying for someone else. In the first instance they would try and describe what it was they were after, usually going to extraordinary lengths to avoid actually having to sing the thing to the bemused shop assistant. Alternatively, if they were buying for someone else (usually much younger), and Christmas was always a good time for this, they would clutch a scrap of paper and whisper the contents to the assistant who would be drowning in a sea of mispronunciation and misunderstanding. Their delivery would be akin to a police officer recalling a slang filled conversation with a villain in a court of law.

All this was huge fun to people like me, safe in the knowledge that I would always, always know what it all meant. Until now.

So there I was, navigating through iTunes to download my daughter’s choice, when suddenly, oh no, I was that someone’s elderly parent in the record store who hasn’t a clue what they are asking for and all those years of arrogance have come back to bite me.

‘No, Daddy. It’s THAT one. Don’t you know?’


Friday, 8 October 2010

Neneh Cherry - Manchild

Quite out of the blue, I have been drawn to thinking about the song ‘Manchild’ from two differing sources. One; a review of Neneh Cherry’s 1989 debut, ‘Raw Like Sushi’ by Aussie commentators YourZenMine and two; a comment made by the compiler of the chords to ‘Manchild’ on a well known music tabs website which asks, ‘Is this the most discordant song ever written?’

I’ve always liked ‘Manchild’ and it is still, for me, one of the stand-out tracks on the ‘Raw Like Sushi’ album. One of its major features is its unusual chord progression which flits across keys like a butterfly in a flower shop. In theory a musical key comprises a set of chords based on the notes of its scale, a bit like a paint palette using set colours of a chosen theme (say, browns and oranges for an autumnal setting). Normally, a song would move between these related chords giving a smooth comfortable ride. ‘Manchild’ is the equivalent of introducing splashes of primary blue or red from an unrelated palette where it is least expected and upsetting the normal order of things.

For example, the song is nominally in the key of C♯ major, but even in the first line of the verse we are wrenched onto a chord of E major – a chord having no business at all squatting in the home key of C♯ major - before lurching drunkenly onto the dominant chord of G♯ major. Then it gets worse as the next phrase starts on F major (not the ‘correct’ F minor), briefly redeems itself by rising to F♯ major before rushing off recklessly to C and then E major again prior to ending the verse on a chord of D major – an agonising half-tone from where it started on C♯.

And so it goes on whilst the melody struggles manfully to hang on during the rollercoaster twists and turns of the quirky harmony. It’s thrilling stuff, but it is not discordant in that the chords themselves have no internal dissonance, but it is unusual in the way that it dives in and out of unrelated keys yet manages to hold itself together without alienating the listener.

The overall effect of all this is to make the ambience of the song a little ‘unsafe’ and challenging for the listener who has to constantly readjust their assessment of where the melody is going as it is buffeted away from its safe harbour notes by the underlying harmony. This is what music should do, in my opinion, it should surprise and reassure in equal quantities and this song does just that.

But then Neneh Cherry has always been a pusher of envelopes. She famously appeared on TOTP to perform ‘Buffalo Stance’ whilst 8 months pregnant and in the video for 'Manchild' she holds a teeny tiny baby, presumably her own. Is this baby the youngest person ever to appear in a pop video? I think we should be told.

What we already know is that ‘Manchild’ could well be one of the most ‘discordant’ songs ever written and it’s all the better for it. Whether it is Rock ‘n’ Roll is another question altogether.

YouTube won't let me embed the video here so you'll have to go here to see it and just listen to how those chords lurch around like a ship in a storm.

Friday, 1 October 2010

Download Problems (Part 2)

Last post I told the tale of why half my downloaded songs have gone to the great gig in the sky. I also mentioned that I had been forced to buy a selected few again and I’ll bet you were wondering what they were? No? Tough, ‘cause I’m going to tell you anyway. I mean, what are blogs for? In no particular order:

‘It’s My Life’ – No Doubt

Despite liking the classic Talk Talk version the first time around, this is such a great interpretation that I couldn’t resist it. Gwen Stefani’s vocal is spot on and the arrangement, although not much different from the original, just brims with energy. I seem to remember that the video was good too, with Gwen hamming it up as a knife wielding murderess.

‘Light Flight’ – Pentangle

This was the theme to the late 60s TV drama, ‘Take Three Girls’ and is typical of the high profile folk music had around that period. The melody is quite extraordinarily complicated (in a similar vein to Joni Mitchell’s work at that time) and beautifully sung by the hugely under-rated Jacqui McShee. All this against some fine acoustic instrumental backing by Messrs Renbourn, Jansch, Cox and Thompson. Real musicians made music back then. Beards optional.

‘Sail on Sailor’ – The Beach Boys

I’m a Beach Boys fan, but not of their later efforts. This comes from their 1973 album ‘Holland’ and is one of Brian Wilson’s last great songs. Not his best but so simple yet so endearing. I wouldn’t give ‘Holland’ houseroom but can’t live without this one. Those effortless harmonies on the bridge get me every time.

‘The Fear’ – Lily Allen

Buying this song saves me from having to buy yet another unwanted album, which all told, is what downloading is all about. I do rate this song with its knowing lyric and soaring chorus but would hate to have to buy the entire (and almost inevitably disappointing) album just to get it. Technology has some benefits after all.

‘Wild Horses’ – The Sundays

The Sundays’ somewhat bleak guitar, bass & drums style suits this Jagger/Richards song perfectly. Harriet Wheeler’s vocal is a little stained but somehow this only adds to the yearning quality. I still can’t separate it from its use in the emotionally charged final moments of the ‘The Prom’ (BtVS Ep20, Season 3)…sniff.

‘Everything I Wanted’ – The Bangles

In a move not seen since the 1960s, this single release was not included on a Bangles album, but only collected on their ‘Greatest Hits’ release – hence this purchase. Another adrenaline fuelled 4 minutes punctuated by a stunning a Capella middle section. Love them.

So that’s it. These are the thoughts that led to my paying another 89 pence each for the downloads. Last of the big spenders, eh?