Dec 22

(Still) Loco in 1988 – Part One

My occasional lapses into silence over the last few months have been down to one thing – a feverish desire to finish my next published project. Whilst it still isn’t quite there, I can reveal that the new year should at some point see the publication of The Top 40 Annual – 1988, an extension of the existing series of chart books, this time looking from a year from a more historical perspective.

In going through the research for the book I did however spot one oddity. The presence of Cliff Richard at the top of the Christmas chart and the immediate post-holiday demise of the single meant that many of the Top 10 hits at the end of the year did not actually reach their eventual peak until the start of 1989, thus for now putting them outside the scope of the book. Fortunately I had once before taken a retrospective wander through the Christmas chart of 1988, but given that was six years ago it seemed appropriate to go back and revisit that piece.

So, in the absence of any proper new content from me this Christmas, here is a festive repeat – the reworking of a classic Chart Rewind. Looking at what is now a quite scary 26 years ago this week.

Two more points of note. Christmas Day fell on a Sunday that year, so for the first and to date only time, rather than run a chart show on the 25th itself it was decided that the Christmas Number One would be announced in a delayed chart show broadcast by Radio One on Boxing Day, thus taking into account sales from the whole of the holiday week right up until the moment the shops closed on Christmas Eve. Regular Top 40 host Bruno Brookes was off that week, so the show is presented by Mark Goodier, this being the first anniversary of his debut on the network.

All song links are to the relevant track on Spotify, where available.

40: Reggae Philharmonic Orchestra – Minnie The Moocher

Founded by one time Steel Pulse performer Mykaell Riley, the Reggae Philharmonic Orchestra were an all-star collective of black musicians with the stated aim of bringing what was still at times a rather niche musical form to a mass audience. Throughout 1988 the group had won widespread acclaim for their live shows and had released their self-titled debut album through Island Records at the end of the year. BBC Radio One took up the promotion of the album’s lead single as something of a totem, forcing it through sheer unrelenting levels of airplay into the charts at the very end of the year. A chirpy take on the famous Cab Calloway jazz standard, the single was a true slow burner. First released in early November, the single climbed to Number 45 in its second week on sale only to go into quick reverse, falling back to Number 50. However the release of the song coincided with a triumphant series of end of year concerts by the group and slowly but surely the single began to climb again, finally entering the Top 40 a fortnight before Christmas for a short three week run which saw it peak at Number 35. The Reggae Philharmonic Orchestra would manage just one more chart single during their existence, the track Lovely Thing from their second album reaching Number 71 in the summer of 1990.

39: Boy Meets Girl – Waiting For A Star To Fall

The only new entry of the week on the chart (and that itself was actually quite a big deal at the time), this was the very definition of a sleeper hit, as for a long time it appeared it was going to miss out altogether. Indeed I can vividly remember Waiting For A Star To Fall being touted as the big new release of the moment, way back during the October half term holiday. Despite this it took until the end of November for the single to finally hit the chart, and then a full five weeks before this initial Top 40 entry, by which time Radio One were attempting to sell it as “a great Christmasssy record, perfect for the season” in a desperate attempt to finally make it a hit. It seems almost odd looking back, the record now an acknowledged 80s classic and the subject of two competing remix transformations in the mid-2000s. George Merill and Shannon Rubican had penned several hits for Whitney Houston and were more than a little surprised when she knocked back their latest composition. Undaunted, they released it themselves, and after this slow start (including a paltry eight place rise the next week) the single survived the new year clearout and ended up peaking at Number 9 in mid January, helped no end by its use on the soundtrack of the film “Three Men And A Baby” which was the big festive blockbuster of the moment.

38: Humanoid – Stakker Humanoid

On its way out, but possibly one of the most important Acid House records ever made thanks to its launching of the career of Brian “Future Sound Of London” Dougans. As history now records, the track actually began life as a commission, video artists Stakker (numbering among them future FSOL collaborator Mark McLean) needed a soundtrack for their latest project and so contracted Dougans to produce this track. After circulating as a white label (credited as “Humanoid” by “Stakker”) the track became a surprise Top 20 hit in early December. So ahead of its time, the track returned to the Top 40 at the height of the rave boom in 1992, led by the untouched original 1988 mix. Incidentally, the “humanoid” vocal samples? Lifted from famous video game Bezerk, beating Aphex Twin to the idea by the best part of 13 years.

37: Beach Boys – Kokomo

I never remembered it that way, but Christmas 1988 was quite the period for soundtrack hits. Following the Boy Meets Girl track we arrive at this famous single, recorded for the now legendary Tom Cruise vehicle “Cocktail”. Although only a mid-table hit in this country, Kokomo made an astonishing rise to the very top of the American charts, giving the Beach Boys a to this day unsurpassed 24 year span of US chart-toppers. Something of a fondly remembered novelty to this day, I guess the atmosphere of “Aruba, Jamaica, ooh I wanna take ya” just didn’t fly very well on a cold December evening in the UK.

36: Hithouse – Jack To The Sound Of The Underground

Or, as it is best known, “the theme to the Mary Whitehouse Experience”. For many years a prominent DJ and mixer in his Dutch homeland, Peter Slaghuis was notable for being one of the few overseas producers to contribute remixes to the Disco Mix Club’s monthly compilations. He was also a member of VideoKids who had released cult club hit Woodpeckers From Space in 1985. When the house music craze took off, Slaghuis anglicized his name to Hithouse and landed a British chart hit with a single whose iconic status belies its mid-table chart peak .An extended 12 week chart run (itself unusual for such a low peaking single) saw it spend a fortnight in the Top 20 at the very start of December, but the single remained popular enough to still be a Top 40 single by the time the Christmas parties rolled around. Hithouse landed just one more minor chart single but Move Your Feet To The Rhythm Of The Beat could only reach Number 69 in the summer of 1989. Peter Slaghuis’ career would ultimately be cut tragically short, the producer dying in a car accident in 1991 at the age of just 30. Of further note here – the clunky Radio One edit that excised the rudest part of the “ooh wee, you bugger” sample in the first ten seconds although mention must also be made of the use of Kelly Charles singing ‘You’re No Good For Me.. I Don’t Need Nobody’ in a sample that beat The Prodigy to the punch by a full six years. Slaghuis will pop up again later on this chart in the most unexpected of places.

35: Alexander O’Neal – The Christmas Song/Thank You For A Good Year

Few it seems are the American stars who can resist the lure of recording their own album of seasonal specials, just on the off-chance that it provides them with a nice pension plan when it continues to sell year after year. In 1988 it was Alexander O’Neal’s turn to have a go, cashing in on the global success of his ‘Hearsay’ album by recording ‘My Gift To You’. His rendition of The Christmas Song was released as a single in a desperate attempt to push it on a largely indifferent British public, who regard such seasonal offerings as something rather risible. He gives it his all, but let’s face it O’Neal is no Nat King Cole and there appeared to be very little seasonal cheer on offer as he growled his way through the standard. Worth it for comedy value alone perhaps.

34: Natalie Cole – I Live For Your Love

Speaking of Nat, here is the apple of his eye. 1988 was her breakthrough year thanks to the Eastertime success of Pink Cadillac and er, the others. This was the problem really as although Everlasting and Jump Start were appealing enough pop records, they had only wound up as minor hits in the aftermath of that earlier smash. Attempting to catch a seasonal wave, the record company tried with this tender ballad which just like Waiting For A Star To Fall had been released in November and spent five weeks edging its way towards the Top 40. Even this didn’t help and it was only in the new year that the single finally edged its way towards a Number 23 peak.

33: Pet Shop Boys – Left To My Own Devices

Is it a sign of having grown up that you think that the album version of a particular track is the superior one? 1988 was what the Pet Shop Boys themselves refer to as “their imperial phase” when just about everything they touched turned to gold. I remember buying the ‘Introspective’ album (from Woolworths naturally) in the week it came out, the Friday before the October half term, during the course of which I would listen to it relentlessly. The album’s opener Left To My Own Devices was a true tour de force, an epic production which saw the pulsing dance rhythm accompanied by an Anne Dudley-conducted orchestra – the perfect representation of the sound of “Debussy to a disco beat” referenced in the lyrics. In its full length album form the track was undoubtedly the Pet Shop Boys’ personal masterpiece and its seemed an inevitability that the track would be granted a full single release sooner rather than later. Yet the seven-inch version of Left To My Own Devices was somehow an altogether lesser track, the need to edit the track for radio airplay meaning it lost much of its scale and impact. Worse still the single arrived in a remixed form, adding a throbbing dance beat which may well have helped it to work better in the clubs but which only served to grate to those who had been enchanted by the more subtle beauty of the album version. At the very least it was a bigger hit single than its predecessor, becoming their sixth Top 5 hit single and extending their run of consecutive Top 10 hits to eight. Yet for what was perceived to be their masterpiece, the chart life of the single was short and sweet, and following its Number 4 peak the single exited the Top 10 immediately and was lucky to have retained its Top 40 status for Christmas.

32: Gloria Estefan/Miami Sound Machine – Rhythm Is Gonna Get You

Oh way oh way. Or however it went. ’88 was the year Britain finally “got” the Miami Sound Machine, just as the name was about to be confined to history anyway and Gloria Estefan was pushed to the fore as a solo star. Edging its way up the seasonal chart was this frantic bit of Latino pop which despite its eventual Number 16 peak still stands as one of their most recognisable songs of the period.

31: Traveling Wilburys – Handle With Care

A very famous single, albeit one which never quite managed the hit status its legacy suggests. Superannuated supergroup The Traveling Wilburys (their name inspired by Prince Charles of all people, groping for a way to describe the sight of the assembled “house band” that had performed at the celebrated Princes Trust concerts in the summer of 1987) had released Handle With Care in late October and by the end of November it had merrily trundled its way up to Number 21, alerting people to their debut album and doing the job nicely. It had just dropped out of the Top 40 when the news broke that Roy Orbison had tragically passed away of a heart attack, the television obituaries mentioning in passing that he had just returned to the charts in tandem with Harrison, Dylan, Petty and Lynne and playing a brief clip of Handle With Care. That was enough to inspire new interest in the single and it dutifully rebounded back into the Top 40 as an appropriate tribute to the late star. It probably would have received a bigger push, but for the fact that stocks of the single were already run down and in any event his label already had Orbison’s own Mystery Girl’ album ready to roll and which would spawn several hits in 1989 as the final tribute to the legend. Later that year the remaining Travelling Wilburys released The End Of The Line as their next single, the video featuring the group looking poignantly at an empty chair when the time came for Orbison’s verse in the song. The absence of this, and indeed their subsequent albums, from Spotify is actually rather baffling.

Dec 21

Days Of No Trust

24th November 2014

Dear Mr Masterton,

Freedom of Information request – RFI20141879

Thank you for your request to the BBC of 14th November 2014, seeking the following information under the Freedom of Information Act 2000:  

“1) Any available minutes of editorial meetings or internal correspondence from August 2014 to date relating to the decision not to resume broadcasting archive editions of Top Of The Pops on BBC4 hosted by Dave Lee Travis following the end of criminal proceedings against the presenter.

2) Information on the level of submissions made to the BBC from viewers who expressed a wish not to see archive editions of Top Of The Pops hosted by Dave Lee Travis returned to the schedules.

3) Information on any audience research carried out to assess the possible public reaction to the screening of editions of Top Of The Pops hosted by Dave Lee Travis.
4) Any available minutes of editorial meetings or internal correspondence from September 2014 to date relating to the suitability of convicted violent offender Boy George to be invited to perform on Strictly Come Dancing.”

The information you have requested is excluded from the Act because it is held for the purposes of ‘journalism, art or literature.’  The BBC is therefore not obliged to provide this information to you and will not be doing so on this occasion.  Part VI of Schedule 1 to FOIA provides that information held by the BBC and the other public service broadcasters is only covered by the Act if it is held for ‘purposes other than those of journalism, art or literature”.  The BBC is not required to supply information held for the purposes of creating the BBC’s output or information that supports and is closely associated with these creative activities.

It is a very British thing that an act of parliament designed to aid the transparency of public bodies actually provides a mechanism for even further opacity. The flaw in the Freedom Of Information Act 2000 as it pertains to the BBC is covered in some detail on the now sadly defunct Autonomous Mind blog, but suffice to to say that should you wish to discover how much money the BBC spends on floor polish for its reception areas in a year they are compelled to reveal the information to you, but if you are attempting to discover just why episodes of an archive music show broadcast to a self-selecting audience on a minority arts channel are being withheld from the public they can hide behind the “art or journalism” defence. But it was worth a shot anyway.

My drive to hold the BBC to account for its offensive and utterly perverse decision to withhold from BBC4 broadcasts the continuing 35 year old editions of Top Of The Pops hosted by Dave Lee Travis therefore has to turn back to the BBC’s own in-house complaints procedure, an exercise which as regular readers will know is also largely an exercise in futility but a process which has to be followed in order to finally gain access to the decision-makers themselves. Having submitted an initial complaint to the remote office that deals with these matters and received a form letter response which is almost completely unsatisfactory, my next move was to escalate to what their procedures call “Stage 1b” – i.e. write back again within 20 working days and say “I’m not happy”.

Complaint Summary: Withdrawal of Dave Lee Travis hosted editions of Top Of The Pops

Full Complaint: I regret I am unhappy with your initial response to my complaint which failed to address the substantive points I raised. You incorrectly believed I was objecting to Boy George featuring on an edition of Strictly Come Dancing. I agree with the decision to allow this “popular and much loved performer” to feature on the BBC and note that you are prepared to offer a robust defence of your decision to do so. This only serves to highlight the inconsistency of removing archive editions of Top Of The Pops hosted by Dave Lee Travis from the BBC4 schedules. He too is a much loved performer and was particularly so when the archive shows were recorded. I restate. It is clear there are no legal, regulatory or ethical reasons for persons holding criminal convictions to appear on BBC Television, nor would such an event violate the BBC’s own internal guidelines. I therefore lack any understanding of why airing 35 year old music programmes hosted by such a person would not be acceptable. I find this lack of transparency deeply insulting and upsetting and the fact that your initial response made no attempt to justify the scheduling decision (in contrast to your defence of the Boy George appearance) only served to make this worse. Balancing “the views of all sections of our audience” should not automatically default to a position of censorship. Natural justice requires that the reverse should be the case. Please either reverse this decision or present to me a detailed justification.

Promised a response within 20 working days, I received a reply back in just four. The poor service drone in the complaints office had little else to offer, unable to deviate from the pre-prepared script and with the process unable to deal with the simple concept of a licence-paying member of the public disagreeing totally and fundamentally with an editorial decision and seeking if nothing else a detailed and rational explanation of said matter.

Dear Mr Masterton,

Thank you for your further comments about Top of The Pops featuring Dave Lee Travis. We always consider very carefully any potential sensitivity surrounding the inclusion of certain individuals in our output, taking into account the nature of their contribution and the context in which it appears. Each case is considered on its own merits and we have made clear our position in relation to episodes of TOTP presented by Dave Lee Travis.

While we recognise that you disagree with our decision in this instance, there is little more we can offer by way of a response. Your complaint has been considered by senior editorial figures at BBC Four, but if you remain unhappy you may ask the BBC Trust to consider an appeal within 20 working days. You can write to the BBC Trust at 180 Great Portland Street, London W1W 5QZ, and you should quote case number CAS-3045775-WNZMXT.

Full details of the complaints and appeals processes are on the BBC Trust website: http://www.bbc.co.uk/bbctrust/contact_us/complaints/appeal_trust.html

Yours sincerely,

Philip Austin
BBC Audience Services

So there you have it. All down to “potential sensitivity” and the “context in which it appears”. None of which goes any way to explaining why the potential sensitivity of inviting a man (Boy George) convicted of violent offences so serious he required jail time to both protect the public and rehabilitate him to perform live on a prime time BBC1 show raises no editorial issues at all. Yet screening repeats of 35 year old programming on a minority channel to a self-selecting audience hosted by way of brief, incidental, onscreen links (and in the case of one recently skipped edition in voice over only) by a man cleared of a long string of accusations and convicted of one so minor his punishment amounted to nothing more than a judge’s admonishment is so unacceptable they cannot be seen at all. We as an audience do not deserve to have our intelligence insulted in this manner.

I’ve no idea exactly what “senior editorial figures at BBC Four” read the complaint or if they even gave it a second thought, but in the faint hope that they also read these words they need to understand the level of anger, disappointment and frustration those of us poring over these repeats with fascination and joy – not just for the entertainment value they provide but their status as valuable cultural and historical documents – feel about censorship motivated it seems solely to avoid having the Daily Mail write nasty things about them. It remains utterly shameful that this is even a consideration.

In the grand scheme of things, 35 year old pop music shows may not appear to be so important but they are actually a symptom of a creeping air of censoriousness and a quite sinister attitude to cultural vandalism that now overshadows British culture. Events over this holiday season have further thrown this into sharp relief. Earlier this month the Radio Times website conducted a poll to find the nation’s favourite Christmas Number One record. Except that the poll was incomplete as the record which topped the charts at the end of December 1969 was missing from the available options – much to the disgust you will note of many of the commenters. When pressed, the Radio Times told enquirers that the song had been attracting “suspicious voting patterns” which roughly translated means people were voting for it and people at the magazine could not comprehend how a recording by the wronged Rolf Harris could still be popular.

More pertinently it is an unwanted reference to the venerable Aussie which has caused consternation to broadcasters wanting to air the 1987 Mel Smith and Kim Wilde rendition of Rocking Around The Christmas Tree this festive period, all thanks to the late Mel Smith’s interjection that he “hasn’t had this much fun since Two Little Boys was Number One” (unless of course you work for the Radio Times in which case the record never existed and most certainly wasn’t Number One). Despite having aired the track intact for each of the previous 26 years, radio and TV channels have taken it upon themselves to vandalise the recording and excise the reference to the Harris track for fear of – well, nobody can actually say for sure.

“All history was a palimpset, scraped clean and reinscribed exactly as often as was necessary” wrote Orwell in 1948 in what he intended as a warning. Not a template.

The BBC Trust are indeed to hear from me. Including a request for a personal audience with whoever at BBC Four or above them makes censorship decisions. I want to hear face to face why entertainment history is to be rewritten by those supposedly trusted with its conservation.

Nov 25

(Baring His) Soul Man

image

It is fair to say that not every winner of X Factor has gone on to cover themselves in glory. For everyone Leona Lewis there is a Leon Jackson or James Arthur. Yet no matter how dire a position the discarded contestants find themselves in they can at least console themselves that they did not suffer the same fate as Steve Brookstein. The series’ debut winner in 2004, he released one single, one barely promoted album and was then (we are told) dropped unceremoniously by his label, not even afforded the honour of a return visit to the show when the second series began in late 2005. Hence his status as the show’s “biggest ever flop” according to the Google search illustrated above.

Or is he. For now, after a decade of holding his peace and maintaining a discreet silence Steve Brookstein has gone into print with a tell-all book Getting Over The X which was published earlier this week. For the first time he tells his side of the story, his progress through the X Factor itself, the often spiteful war between the judges which so blighted that first series, the real reason for Sharon Osbourne’s controversial outburst during the final show and just how Simon Cowell attempted to “relax” him prior to the final set of live performances.

The book also details just what happened next. How runners up G4 released their album first to much fanfare, how his own trickled out a few weeks later, topping the charts but unsupported by any further single releases. How his reluctance to produce another album full of covers led to him requesting and being granted a release from his deal and most crucially how the X Factor machine then went out of its way to ensure he became the forgotten man.

It is here that the story truly kicks into gear. Thanks to Max Clifford the media were all but commanded to view him in a negative light. Upbeat stories about his future plans were canned in favour of hatchet pieces about how he’d been such a disappointment, all of which shaped a perception which lasted a decade that the experienced and talented singer was nothing more than a no-hoper. High profile performances at major venues were spun by the press as gigs at Pizza Express or pig farms, with his actual achievements such as releasing two further albums or starring in a successful musical tour all but ignored by the mainstream mass media.

We are all guilty of it. Presuming the worst of a man because the press has conditioned us to do so. And the further you get into the more the more you realise just how heartbreakingly unjust that is.

Whilst the book isn’t quite the foundation-shaking revelation its pre-release hype suggested it aspired to be, with nothing contained inside that will do any real damage to the image of the TV series or the overall X Factor brand, it is still a fascinating insight into just what happens when you are plucked from semi-obscurity only to then be spat out and viewed as an embarrassment to those who were once promising you the world.

The greatest insult fired at the singer, both during the show and in the years that followed, is that he was nothing more than a “pub singer”. As if that was something to be ashamed of. Yet the history of popular music is populated with some of the biggest acts of all whose earliest work was done at pub performances, learning their trade at the sharp end, cutting their teeth in front of some of the hardest audiences of all, and performing to the peak of their abilities in the smallest of venues. Read Getting Over The X and you will gain a renewed appreciation for one pub singer in particular. And possibly think slightly less of Sharon Osbourne.

Recommended.

Nov 21

Tonight Thank God It’s Dido

It may not have escaped your attention that this week will see the release of what is no less than the fourth version of a rather famous charity record, and one which is inevitably going to become the fourth to charge straight to the top of the charts, raise the profile of a great many people and just as an aside raise money for charity.

Given the inevitable cynicism that has also greeted the release of the 2014 version of Do They Know It’s Christmas, it seemed an interesting exercise to dig out the piece I wrote for Yahoo! Music back in December 2004, on the occasion of the arrival of Band Aid 20 at the top of the charts.

~cue wavy lines of time travel~

How many times has it been said of a particular act or genre that “if it didn’t exist then someone would have to invent it”? Well, back in 1984 the concept of an all-star charity record as a mass market product didn’t exist – so Boomtown Rats singer Bob Geldof invented it. Just about everyone who was anyone in British pop was invited to the famous recording session in November 1984. Duran Duran, U2, The Police, Spandau Ballet, Culture Club, Wham – you name it they were there, all to record together a song which Bob Geldof and Midge Ure had written in a hurry two days beforehand (and for which they spent the next decade apologising, both feeling they could do a better job). They need not have worried. ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas’ turned out to be an instant classic, a modern day seasonal anthem which still sounds as fresh 20 years later as it did back in 1984. Upon release the single shot straight to the top of the charts, selling an unprecedented 800,000 copies in its first week on sale. It remained there for five weeks, sweeping all competition aside to become Christmas Number One and of course kicked off a veritable fundraising juggernaut which over the course of the next year led directly to the USA For Africa single ‘We Are The World’, Live Aid and the following Christmas a re-release of ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas’ with a new b-side which documented the work that had been done over the previous 12 months to aid famine relief. There were still people willing to buy it as well as the single hit Number 3 for Christmas 1985, pushing total sales of the track to well over 3.6 million, making it far and away the biggest selling single of all time – a record it would hold for over a decade and a half. In short, ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas’ is quite justifiably one of pop’s proudest and most famous moments ever.

Five years on from the original and the single was re-recorded in response to new reports of African famine. With the blessing of Bob Geldof, hot producers of the moment Stock, Aitken and Waterman recruited a new band of acts to perform a new version of the track. The Band Aid II version is now pretty much derided for being filled with teenybop acts such as Kylie Minogue, Jason Donovan and Bros (these barbs overlooking the presence of the likes of Chris Rea and Cliff Richard on the track) but at the time everyone pretty much accepted that it was a good idea, sent the record to Number One and raised a few more pennies for charity.

Then last month came the news that a new Band Aid project was in the offing. Apparently the brainchild of a tabloid newspaper, Geldof and Ure were persuaded to assemble a new lineup of stars, one that by definition would be better than the 1989 version and which would hopefully be the equal of the 1984 original. As days wore on the hype increased dramatically as the likes of Coldplay, Dido and the Darkness all signed on for the project. Media interest in the recording session three weeks ago was intense and the world waited eagerly for the grand premiere of the track – now credited to Band Aid 20 as if to erase the memory of Band Aid II (now conveniently revised as an embarrassment). Yet in spite of this the response to the finish product was mixed and the debate ever since has raged over whether this is a record that lives up to the expectations we all had. We were told that the 2004 version would be every bit as good, every inch a classic as the original and the fact that in some ways it isn’t has led to a great deal of head scratching.

Here at Launch we would hate to be seen as anything but scrupulously fair, so let us try to reflect both sides of the argument. Why Band Aid 20 is so good, but first why it is such a disappointment.

– OK let’s start with the obvious. Isn’t the production naff and awful. Whereas the original version was a towering pop record in its own right, the thundering drums (stolen from a Tears For Fears track incidentally) giving way to moaning synths, bells and chimes and of course that rousing sing-along chorus which set the template for all other charity collaborations to come. In contrast the new version is the epitome of daytime radio naffness, a track with no bassline, a jarring clash of musical styles and a sing-along which descends into a second rate gospel jam during the seemingly endless two minute fade. We were asked to judge it alongside the original and as a result it has been found sadly lacking.

– Then there are the little tweaks that have been made to the song, most notably of course the rap break from Dizzee Rascal which smacks really of a desperate attempt to update the now 20 year old song. Leaving aside the fact that it sounds gratingly awful, why bother to re-record the song if it was felt it needed updating. Midge Ure has actually spent most of the last 20 years apologising for the song, claiming he could have made a better job given more time to write it. Indeed it seems strange that nobody thought to venture the idea that maybe an even greater impact would have been made by recording a brand new song with a superstar line-up. Why try (and indeed fail) to recapture lightning in a bottle when you could just cook up a whole new storm, so to speak.

– Finally there is the way the whole project seems so lacking in soul compared to 20 years ago. As I’ve said before, whereas the 84 vintage appeared to be born out of a genuine need to take immediate action to solve a crisis, in 2004 it almost seems like a publicity stunt, or at the very least a newspaper wheeze to get Justin Hawkins, Robbie Williams and Katie Melua on the same record together. If the old clichés about “everyone left their egos at the door of the studio” are true, then why was much publicity made of the spat between Bono and Hawkins over who got to sing the “tonight thank God it’s them..” line? Actually in fairness there were plenty of rows in 84, Geldof documenting with delight in his autobiography the primadonna behaviour of some of the stars, but back then we were less cynical and the concept of the ultimate supergroup had a magic to it. All anyone wants to do these days is read between the lines and look for scandal.

OK, so those are the negatives. What then of the positives.

– Needless to say there is the charity angle. Not that raising money for charity necessarily precludes the project from criticism but it has at the very least captured public imagination and given everyone an easy route to contribute money to a good cause and ease the suffering potentially of thousands thanks to just one seasonal purchase. The music business is notorious for making a lot of people astoundingly rich in a very short space of time. The fact that even its highest profile stars are prepared to spend time arranging to give something back should be enough to warm even the hardest of hearts.

– The single isn’t that awful anyway surely. Yes, you stand it side by side with the original and it doesn’t compare – but then again neither did the 89 version which didn’t even attract a fraction of the bile of Band Aid 20. Bland it may be but in an era where the likes of Coldplay, Dido and Keane are the biggest sellers of long players the production of ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas’ can be said to be well in keeping with the spirit of the age. The Radio 2 audience just happens to be the biggest in the country so you can hardly fault a record aimed squarely at that market. Such is the polarising nature of much of pop music these days that it is probably the highest compliment possible that the Band Aid record is widely judged as “not as good as it might be”.

– Finally there is the potential the single has to give the market a bit of a shot in the arm. Regular readers will remember that earlier in the year I put forward the theory that the CD single has fallen out of favour as a mass market consumer item. People are out of the habit of buying them. All that was needed was a megahit, a track with such widespread appeal that people would go out of their way to pick it up, and maybe discover that they liked buying records again. What is so great here is that ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas’ has made headlines of its own thanks to a wrinkle over its availability on certain download services and the price to be charged for it. You never know this could well turn out to be the best selling download single to date – and with personal music players set to be one of the seasons must-have presents maybe the catalyst for digital downloads to become – yes, a mass market consumer product. With the singles chart set to merge with the d/l chart sometime in the new year, this could hardly have been timed better. Band Aid may have come along at just the right time.

So there you have it, an argument split right down the middle. When faced with the singles chart itself all argument becomes irrelevant really. After selling a reported 72,000 copies on its first day on sale, the record tops the singles chart with a total of 292,000 units shifted, some way short of the 800,000 copies of the original of course but enough to make it far and away the fastest selling single of the year and on course to easily be its biggest seller. Whether it hangs on to become Christmas Number One of course is another matter altogether, despite the fact that the bookmakers stopped taking bets on it a long time ago and have opened books instead on what will be Number 2 behind it.

Nov 10

Direct From Our Belfast Office

Strange though it may sound, the BBC complaints department is not run by the BBC. A friend in the know described it as “a soulless Capita office in Belfast, where people respond entirely based on stock answers and don’t understand the industry at all.”

Nonetheless when dealing with any public facing organisation and particularly a behemoth as large as the BBC, it is necessary to follow due process when making a formal complaint, starting at the bottom of the food chain and escalating accordingly until someone with any power starts paying you attention.

So it was that a couple of weeks ago I reluctantly joined the purple pen brigade and submitted a complaint to our favourite public service broadcaster using their online form. It was a good exercise in efficient writing, the form sensibly enough restricting the character length of each complaint to avoid essays from the likes of the mentally ill and people like me with an axe to grind. The text of my complaint about their unilateral refusal to reinstate Top Of The Pops repeats hosted by Dave Lee Travis ran as follows:

May I add my voice to those of others angered, baffled and disappointed by the arbitrary decision of the BBC not to restore vintage editions of Top Of The Pops hosted by Mr Dave Lee Travis following the end of legal proceedings against the presenter.

These programmes are shown as archive arts material, of interest to social and musical historians and yet the removal of weekly editions from the schedule means that entire pages are being torn out of the history book, all for the sake of what appears to be a fear of attracting tabloid ire.

I note the recent appearance of convicted violent abuser Mr George O’Dowd ("Boy George") on a recent edition of Strictly Come Dancing aired on BBC1. Clearly there are no legal, regulatory, ethical or editorial restrictions on convicted criminals appearing on prime time BBC television programmes, making the absence of Mr Travis from 35 year old programmes aired to a self-selecting audience on a minority arts channel all the more perverse and inexplicable.

The BBC may feel it is required to take into account the views of all its audience, but it is not clear to me why the voices of those demanding censorship should take precedence over those who wish their viewing untroubled by arbitrary restrictions.

Be advised I intend to escalate this complaint to the highest level possible if required. The nature of your reply to this initial query will inform the vigour with which I pursue this matter.

On November 4th I received the following reply which I quote in full:

Thanks for contacting the BBC.

We understand you feel we should continue to show ‘Top of the Pops’ episodes featuring Dave Lee Travis. We also note you felt Boy George was an inappropriate guest on a recent ‘Strictly Come Dancing’ episode.

We can confirm that we will not be showing TOTPs repeats fronted by Dave Lee Travis. We do acknowledge that some viewers will be disappointed not to see these episodes, but we must balance the views of all sections of our audience.We will consider any other archive appearances on a case by case basis according to their editorial merits.

In relation to ‘Strictly Come Dancing’; Boy George is a popular and much loved performer and after careful consideration we felt it was appropriate to invite him on to the programme. We do acknowledge that some viewers disagree and please be assured that this feedback has been noted.

I wasn’t expecting much and received rather less. You will note that there has been no attempt to address or counter the specific points I raised, despite my polite note at the end of my initial overture that this was a serious matter I intended to pursue until I was satisfied with the response. Theoretically they could have saved us all a great deal of time by engaging with me on that basis from the start. But maybe the Capita office in Belfast just don’t have that capacity.

Hopefully you will have spotted the one glaring error there. Either I’ve been sent the wrong stock response or they have completely misread me – assuming that I was complaining about the presence of Boy George on Strictly Come Dancing. As regular readers will be aware, I was not, and maybe I should have made that point clear. I only raised it to illustrate the inconsistency of the BBC’s approach to featuring convicted criminals in its programming. I support Boy George’s right to appear on television. But on that basis, so should DLT.

Perhaps I would not be the first person to contact the BBC with a contradictory point, but the fact that their interpretation of my complaint would mean I am being hypocritical seems to have escaped them. It would be unsustainable to argue against the presence of one convicted criminal on the television whilst pressing for the inclusion of another, yet by the same token in the text above the responder is attempting to do just that. How they imagined this would stand up to scrutiny is a matter of genuine bafflement.

It is interesting that they were prepared to offer up a substantive defence to those objecting to something they thought it was right to show. “We felt it was appropriate to invite him on the programme”. Well fair enough. Nothing about having to balance the views of all though. On the matter of their selective censorship however it is a different matter. No attempt is made to argue my points or defend their stance. “We are right, you are wrong, now go away you ghastly little pleb” is the tone taken. The fact that nobody thought there would be an issue with taking these two opposing stances SIDE BY SIDE in the same short email is utterly extraordinary.

Nonetheless, this was only ever going to be the first part of the process. The exact mechanism for escalating a complaint further is not specified either in their response mail or on the complaints website itself, but it is implied I should write back with the case reference expressing further dissatisfaction. This I have done. Meanwhile I’m also taking a different approach and will be submitting a Freedom Of Information request to the corporation asking for their paperwork on any discussions which took place over the Top Of The Pops scheduling.

Meanwhile episodes of Top Of The Pops on BBC continue to go missing. Including most recently the edition of October 18th 1979 which was the episode which one of the character witnesses in Dave Lee Travis’ second trial attended and where she testified as to his care, concern and above all gentlemanly conduct when her clothes ripped and how he had arranged for her to be assisted and her dignity preserved. So despite the exemplary conduct of the host of that exact show having been attested to under oath in open court it is somehow inappropriate for the BBC to screen it to an adult audience on a digital channel. That is utterly nonsensical. And someone needs to be held to account for this.

Nov 01

Just Pearson About

Funny the cards that fate sometimes deals you. Ask any child of the 1980s what the most iconic moment of Five Star’s career was and they will most likely hone in one on particular moment. It is unlikely to be any of their chart hits (12 straight Top 30 hits in an unbroken run between 1986 and 1988), their expertly choreographed dance routines nor their rags to riches tale of being a family group trained and mentored by their father who released their earliest material single-handedly on his own record label.

No, it was the moment in April 1989 when caller Eliot Fletcher asked them live on Saturday morning television why they were so “fucking crap”. On such moments do reputations pivot.

It is all the more surprising that the group were in a position to provoke such vitriol, as they were hardly around long enough to overstay their welcome. Indeed, despite their hit singles being spread out over a period of three years, their time at the time was confined to just one. Their debut album Luxury Of Life from 1985 had contained a series of minor hit singles, their true mainstream breakthrough not arriving until the release of its final track System Addict in early 1986. It was however their second long player Silk And Steel which contained their most famous singles. Between April 1986 and April 1987 they were hardly ever off the radio or out of the charts. Can’t Wait Another MinuteFind The Time, monster smash Rain Or ShineIf I Say Yes, Stay Out Of My Life and The Slightest Touch. All but one a Top 10 hit. Six perfectly crafted British pop classics all from one album.

It was this record that bankrolled the much-reported extravagance. The luxury mansion, the private recording studio, the fleet of Bentleys. The Pearson clan were a big deal and they revelled in it. Except then the wheels started to come off. Sales of third album Between The Lines and its attendant singles were limp in comparison to past glories. Hence the move in 1988 to a radical change in image. Out went the hooped earrings and multicoloured slacks. In came bleached hair, skintight leathers and a brand new Michael Jackson inspired attitude. Yet by this stage nobody cared. Made for the clubs track Another Weekend was merely a moderate Top 20 hit and when Rock My World, the de-facto title track of their fourth album Rock The World, barely scraped the Top 30 it passed almost without comment – little did anyone know that it was the last time Five Star would ever grace the Top 40 again despite repeated comeback attempts.

Looking back it is clear to see how they went wrong. A change of image and style was indeed called for, but both dad and siblings simply did not see which way the wind was blowing. R&B-led pop was out in 1988. House was in. Could a family group of seasoned performers, talented singers with an already strong pedigree of making hit records have effortlessly segued into the new world of breaks, beats and rhythm? Quite possibly yes. In an age when even Samantha Fox was making Acid House tracks with Bolland & Bolland and being danced to unironically, anyone was ripe for jumping aboard this bandwagon.

At the time though there was one record of theirs I was actually rather sad to see flop. Looking back now the third single from Rock The World has some rather gaping flaws. A little more money spent on production could have meant being able to use some proper musicians, adding real trumpets and strings to the record rather than the quite patently synthesised stuff on offer here. Yet There’s A Brand New World is actually a small gem of a pop record, the kind of cod-rock track that they and indeed their idol Michael Jackson were able to pull off rather well. For all its production flaws, it is up there with some of the best songs Denise Pearson ever wrote for her family, even if it went unrecognised at the time. Released in September 1988 the single was a resounding and quite spectacular flop, Number 61 their most miserable chart showing of their career.

It is worth noting that the single the group were on television to promote in April 1989 was an entirely new track, destined for a new album which never saw the light of day in its intended form (thanks largely to its own failure to reach the Top 40) and instead landed on the Greatest Hits album at the end of that year which marked the parting of the ways between the group and label RCA. Given they were on Going Live to promote a record which virtually nobody bought, in a sense that makes it all the odder that Eliot Fletcher should have dutifully phoned in, beat the queueing system, passed the call screening process, waited to be called back and then sat hopefully on the line to give the group a tongue lashing. Five Star had already slid from view regardless.

Oct 27

Victims We Know So Well

boygeorge

This is a screenshot of Boy George, lead singer of Culture Club, performing with his group on the Strictly Come Dancing results show on Sunday October 26th 2014.

Boy George was the man who in 2009 was sentenced to 15 months in prison for falsely imprisoning a male escort by handcuffing him to a wall and beating him with a metal chain. According to the judge, he had left his victim “shocked, degraded and traumatised” by the ordeal.

I’m delighted that he now appears to be a reformed character, has put the incident behind him and continues to pursue his career as a singer and performer. It was a pleasure to watch him perform in front of an audience of millions last night.

It also demonstrates clearly and unequivocally the point I made last week; that there is no legal, regulatory, ethical or editorial bar on a convicted criminal appearing as a performer on primetime BBC1 television, even one convicted at the time of offences so serious than an immediate custodial sentence was imposed by his trial judge.

It should therefore follow that there should similarly be no bar to 35 year old archive material featuring Dave Lee Travis being broadcast in a low level slot to a self-selecting audience on BBC4 television. The BBC continue to be pressed by myself and other interested parties to explain this unacceptable double standard.

Oct 21

Condemned To Revise It

And if all others accepted the lie which the Party imposed—if all records told the same tale—then the lie passed into history and became truth. ‘Who controls the past’ ran the Party slogan, ‘controls the future: who controls the present controls the past.’ Day by day and almost minute by minute the past was brought up to date. In this way every prediction made by the Party could be shown by documentary evidence to have been correct; nor was any item of news, or any expression of opinion, which conflicted with the needs of the moment, ever allowed to remain on record. All history was a palimpsest, scraped clean and reinscribed exactly as often as was necessary.

My name is James, and I’m an historian.

Having studied the discipline for three years at Lancaster University, emerging at the end with an honours degree, in my wide ranging jack of many trades master of few existence, it is perhaps the one thing I can legitimately claim to be qualified to do.

Hence I’m in the process of writing publications which will form a history of popular music in modern times. In doing so I’m entirely reliant on the accuracy of my primary sources – the documented events of the time and interviews which have been published with the people making the music. I’m honour bound to be accurate. Maybe one day my writings will form part of someone else’s research, any errors or inaccuracies they contain will flow down to others, the mistakes only spotted if someone does what I did, and goes back to the primary source.

It is why the George Orwell quote above resonates so powerfully. We cannot and should not change history just to appease a contemporary view or to cast figures from the past in new light thanks to our own social revisionism. You will note that this never happens to what might be considered high art. Caravaggio was a notorious murderer yet his paintings still hang in galleries worldwide and his talent acclaimed at the highest level. Meanwhile the family of sculptor and designer Eric Gill have been open about his history deviant sexual behaviour and the incest he committed yet his work still adorns the walls of the BBC’s headquarters and their corporate logo is rendered in the font he designed. Their place in history is immovable, regardless of their own personal failings. And rightly so.

Yet where popular culture is concerned this tolerance does not seem to apply. According to the orthodoxy of our times if you are an entertainer or public figure who has been convicted, or even just accused in absentia, of a particular type of crime, you are to be wiped from the record. Your history removed, your contribution ignored. Unless of course you are a successful rock musician and still in a position to make people money. That goes without saying.

This should be self-evidently wrong. As Professor Jeffrey Richards noted when I studied under him in the 1990s, it is all too tempting to look down on the popular culture of the past and sneer at that which our forebears found entertaining. He further noted that he was saying those words in an age where Noel’s House Party, You’ve Been Framed and Blind Date represented the apotheosis of popular tastes and invited us to draw our own conclusions accordingly.

The first signs of a desire for society to start sanitising its past came a decade and a half ago. Famed 1970s pop star Gary Glitter suffered a spectacular fall from grace in the late 1990s when his more dubious recreational tastes online resulted in a period of incarceration and eternal tabloid vilification. As he was already an ageing figure of fun whose body of creative work had not yet been deemed ready for post-modern reappraisal his inevitable absence from the airwaves passed with little comment, his removal from a cameo role in the Spice Girls’ movie Spiceworld the only notably obvious public statement of his pariah status. Nonetheless back in 2005 I produced a radio show which aired Another Rock And Roll Christmas as part of a feature on the biggest hits of Christmas 1984. Mountains failed to crumble, tides remained turned and not one complaint resulted. Perhaps back then it was a more mature and sensible age, who knows.

Since 2011 however it has been the enormously popular 35 year old repeats of Top Of The Pops shows on BBC4 which have become a lightning rod for what appears to be the insane desire of some to purge popular culture from those of whom we No Longer Approve. Early in the repeat run it did not pass without comment that a performance by Jonathan King of his 1976 Top 10 remake of It Only Takes A Minute was hamfistedly edited out of the 35th anniversary repeat, its absence from the show only made more apparent thanks to the fact that the man himself had uploaded that very performance to YouTube some years earlier.

King to his credit took up cudgels immediately, writing directly to then Director-General Mark Thompson to protest about his removal from the repeat. To the joy of everyone interested, Mr Thompson took the matter up and wrote back noting:

We accept that [the editing] should not have happened and we would like to apologise for any upset this caused.

We can assure Mr King that there is no policy in place requiring any of his appearances, or those of any one else, to be removed from repeats we show on the channel. We can also assure Mr King that his performance will not be edited out of any future repeat of this particular episode of Top of the Pops.

It was almost certainly this policy which led to 1977 performances by Gary Glitter remaining intact in subsequent editions, thus shattering once and for all the unannounced de-facto ban on his work that had been in place since the Spice Girls movie. It is almost as if this comes from a different age, given what has transpired since.

Then in October 2012 came the broadcast of what have since turned out to be entirely spurious allegations surrounding the private life of Sir Jimmy Savile and the resultant hysterical trashing of his life’s work, achievements and popular legacy. This also regrettably included the removal from the schedules of any and all editions of Top Of The Pops which he hosted, ending forever the prospect of a complete and uninterrupted run of these valuable archive programmes. Yes, this is to be deeply regretted and is in itself a disgrace, but given the level of hysteria that seems to rise with even the mention of the legendary Yorkshireman’s name and the fact that even a parodying representation of him in an old show can result in Daily Mail front pages and craven apologies from the BBC for even suggesting that he once walked the earth it seems hardly surprising that the path of least resistance has been taken and his shows confined to the salt mines. Whilst I may personally regret and oppose this censorship, for the same reasons that I will articulate below, were I to be in charge of deciding what should and should not be broadcast on BBC4 I would almost certainly be taking the same decision. There are some battles which for now are just not winnable. It will be left instead to future generations to re-evaluate his work and put it in its proper context.

fixit

Sadly it would not be long before even more planned repeated editions of Top Of The Pops were removed from public view. The arrest of veteran radio presenter Dave Lee Travis on charges of sexual assault led to the editions that he hosted also being tossed from the schedules, a situation which seemed only set to persist as he was sent for trial on a number of charges dating back over several decades. In truth this was a prudent move, and indeed at his first trial at the start of this year it was revealed that one of the charges related to an alleged incident that took place at the taping of one of the shows removed from broadcast. Although he was acquitted of this (and indeed virtually all the charges laid against him) the workings of the law mean that one edition of Top Of The Pops in particular can theoretically never be viewed by the public again as the footage it contains would serve to identify the complainant in question and violate her eternal right to anonymity.

When DLT’s legal ordeal was finally over and he was formally cleared of any wrongdoing, save for one extremely shaky minor conviction over an incident which took place in the 1990s (and long after he had ceased any association with Top Of The Pops) it was fervently hoped that the moratorium on his appearances could be lifted and we could finally watch the show without the endlessly frustrating skips that resulted from the absence of his and Savile-hosted editions. Alas these hopes were in vain. Shortly after his sentencing, the BBC took the extraordinary step of publicly announcing that Dave Lee Travis editions of the show would not be returning to the airwaves, and that this was to be the end of the matter.

Just about everyone I have spoken to is utterly baffled by this. There is no possible regulatory reason why the work of a man sentenced to a brief and ultimately suspended prison term for an incident 20 years ago cannot be shown on national television. Nowhere in the Ofcom Programme Code does it debar any convicted criminal, regardless of the offence from appearing on television or radio. Nor are there any legal grounds to prevent them from doing so.

It should be further noted that the BBC themselves have no blanket ban in place on airing the work of convicted criminals –as the Glitter and King examples above illustrate only too clearly. The Corporation has been happy in the past to stand by the decision of Eastenders to feature actor Leslie Grantham (a convicted murderer), for Hustle to star Ashley Walters (imprisoned in the past for firearms offences) and will regularly feature the work of Boy George, despite his conviction for falsely imprisoning a visitor to his New York flat. Not to mention one notoriously convicted drug dealer who hosted his own chat show for the channel. Nobody would seriously suggest that these men should carry a permanent bar on their work for mistakes they made in the past. Yet Dave Lee Travis it seems is different. And that is hypocritical and wrong.

Furthermore the BBC are happy to defend the right of convicted criminals to feature in documentary material should they deem it “editorially relevant”. Hence an attempted furore about the appearance of comment from Jonathan King (yes, him again) in a recent documentary about the rock group Genesis came to nothing. The BBC ignored the naysayers and he appeared in the programme speaking about his work with the group on their very first album, unedited and as planned.

Objections to this policy might carry less weight if we were talking about a throwaway show on a lightweight filler channel buried deep in the EPG. Yet the Top Of The Pops archive repeats are being aired on BBC4, a serious heavyweight channel dedicated to the appreciation of arts and drama and with an image that is deliberately highbrow. The audience for these 35 year old repeats do indeed appear to approach them accordingly, articles and blogs and social media feeds buzzing as each edition airs, the shows held up as a fascinating cultural and social snapshot and a tangible reflection of how the musical era would have been presented to a mainstream contemporary audience. Even the BBC themselves are aware of this, preceding each annual ‘series’ of shows with an in-depth documentary that tells the story of each year in music, notes the prevailing social and creative trends of the age and demonstrates how Top Of The Pops reflected them. For example the most recent “Story Of 1979” contained the personal recollections of noted broadcaster Trevor Nelson and his memories of watching The Police perform Roxanne – the first time he and his family had seen a a white man singing reggae and the validation of his culture that this represented to him. Yet this edition of the show remained unaired. We were denied the use of the primary source to put this very personal recollection in its proper historical context.

So the arbitrary skipping of episodes doesn’t simply mean we are denied the opportunity to see a particular Squeeze or Nolan Sisters performance. Entire pages of the story are being discarded for what seems to be no other reason than to avoid the tedium of having another moaning write-up on Page 7 of the Daily Mail. As a consequence events which have been noted elsewhere as significant moments in the development of popular music are not being shown in their proper context. For example, the Story Of 1979 documentary spends several minutes waxing lyrical about the notorious “2-Tone” edition of November 8th 1979 which saw Madness, The Specials and The Selecter all feature on the same night  – all the while glossing over the fact that this edition of the show will almost certainly not be aired this year or it seems any time soon, due to the presence of a certain Jimmy Savile OBE on hosting duties that day. We are left to assume that this edition did indeed hold the significance attached to it, without the chance to inspect the primary source for ourselves. History is purged accordingly.

The censorship has been branded Stalinist in some quarters, although Stalin’s casual approach to history often extended to writing himself into moments with which he wished to be associated. As the quote from 1984 at the top of this article suggests, the BBC’s approach to both its own broadcast history and that of the era of popular music which Top Of The Pops portrays is almost Orwellian in tone. Wiped clean to preserve the sensibilities of those whom the broadcasts are not even aimed. And it is only right that this is resisted. It is not the place of the BBC to decide how history is to be presented, whom it should portray and which version is the most acceptable for public consumption. It is an abdication of their own principles of impartiality and a very deeply felt insult to the intelligence of we – the licence fee payers – to whom they are supposed to be in service to.

Happily there are plenty of others who share my view, and a relentless series of complaints have already been submitted to the BBC’s audience unit as the opening gambit in persuading them to reverse this ill-advised policy of sanitisation. Inevitably so far those who have written have received little more than blandly worded stock answers, albeit ones which which state that they must “balance the views of all sections of [the] audience”. Queries as to just who the people are who have expressed a view that archive material aired on a minority specialist channel is unacceptable to them, or indeed why the views of those demanding censorship should take precedence over those who wish to see their history unaltered have yet to be addressed.

To be clear however, submitting an online complaint is just the first part of the process. The BBC has an obligation to be transparent and accountable to those who fund it and there are several means of escalating a complaint, right the way up to Trust level if required. I fully intend to pursue mine to the fullest extent possible. The BBC does not control the past, nor indeed does it have any business attempting to do so, and I want the BBC Trust to explain to my face and in words of one syllable the grounds on which they disagree.

My name is James and I’m an historian. We are the true custodians of the past. And it is time to start standing up for it.

Sep 02

And We’re Live!

2013 Resized for web

“So when do you plan to release the next book, James?” ran the most common question I was asked this year.

“As soon as I can, and hopefully earlier in the year than the one last year” was my reply. Well I almost made it, given or take a week or so. Anyway, after what were often some interminable delays and time-poor frustrations I’m pleased to reveal that the Top 40 Annual 2013 is now live on the Kindle store and should be live on your favourite alternative online book store in very short order.

For those unfamiliar with the concept, this is intended to be the comprehensive document of every single to have peaked inside the Top 40 during the course of the last calendar year. Artist by artist and song by song, the book will explain when a single started selling, how much and for how long it did so, and crucially where possible just why it was as popular as it was – or not as the case may be.

2013 was a fun year in so many ways. Major smash hits from Robin Thicke and Daft Punk, Calvin Harris’ endless singles from his album, Avicii selling millions and Naughty Boy stepping out of the shadow of just being Emeli Sande’s producer. Then there was the fun stuff: the Harlem Shake, Let’s Get Ready To Rhumble, What Does The Fox Say and OK, if you must, Ding Dong The Witch Is Dead. Each song is in the book and every one has a story to be told.

Don’t forget the 2012 edition of the book is still available to buy, just check out the BOOKS section of this site for more details – and without wanting to commit to deadlines that I have no chance of meeting, the first of a more historical set should be good to go within the next few months.