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It’s more complicated than you think

About every six or seven years my brother runs a musical survey which he sends out to all his pals – and indeed, via that constituency, accepts responses from anyone else (e.g. family members, friends, acquaintances) that they make aware of its existence.

The survey has a very simple structure – all that those taking part have to do is send him a list their ten all-time ‘singles’ and ‘albums’. At some later point he then sends all participants the results. Presumably over the course of time, as our musical tastes and/or choices change, perhaps a trend or two emerge. I write ‘presumably’ because we are never told.

Shortly after he sent out the very first of these survey forms I rang him.

“I don’t understand it …” I said, “… what are the criteria? Are we supposed to provide our all-time favourite singles and albums, or the ones that we consider the best (because they might not be the same thing)? And what happens, e.g. if I like the Beatles, and say list ten Beatles tracks or albums in my top tens? Is that acceptable, or not?”

His reply was typical of the man: “It’s whatever you want”.

My immediate and private response was that the whole enterprise was crackers and indeed pointless. But then, not wishing to miss out, I began thinking … and, presumably like everyone else taking part, gradually devised my own scheme. Mine was relatively simple. In order to avoid surfeits and absurdity, I decided that – in both my tens – I would allow myself no more than one entry by each artiste or group. That imposition concentrated the mind somewhat.

After that – again presumably like everyone else – I had a deal of struggle making my choices and deciding in which order they should appear in each list. Half the trouble for me was that I couldn’t immediately think of all the music I’d ever heard or would have liked to consider.

Come to think of it, this was probably in reality a help, not a hindrance. Surely, if you’re asked to identify your top ten tunes and/or albums, by definition the first (only) ones that come to mind are probably your favourites?

Generally-speaking my preferred music – no doubt a product of my age and birth date – is steeped in artistes such as the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, The Who, Bob Dylan, Van Morrison, the Beach Boys, the Kinks, Pink Floyd, Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac, the Allman Brothers Band, Bruce Springsteen and Led Zeppelin.

Of course, there are one-off individual tracks or albums by other performers that also had particularly appeal for me – some of them embarrassingly trashy, novelty, middle of-the-road poppy, sentimental or kitsch – no doubt because of some quirk of my personality, or some girl I was seeing or infatuated with at the time, or which somehow appealed to my whacky sense of humour at a specific point in my life.

Anyway, I eventually submitted my supposed top ten singles and albums – even though I still couldn’t see that the survey was going anywhere, it being little more than a collection of say fifty people’s own personal choices and surveys. Don’t ask me what the survey concluded when my brother had collated the offerings and produced his summary – I cannot remember and actually it doesn’t matter.

By the time I’d completed the survey the second and third time (i.e. in total over the course of about eighteen years), I had made one huge and depressing discovery about myself. There was not a single entry in either my ‘singles’ or ‘albums’ lists that was later than about 1980, indeed the bulk of them could be traced to years before 1975.

What did that fact tell me about the state and quality of ‘modern music’? And, more importantly, what did it say about me?

In the latter case, probably that I was a tired, clapped-out old has-been, no doubt.

When I think about it, these days I barely listen to music at all. By which I mean that, of course, like everyone, I am exposed to music playing on the radio, television and the internet, but I’m certainly not ‘up to date’ with what is hot on the popular music scene. Plus in the past year or so I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of times that I’ve bought a CD and/or played one, simply to have it playing as background music in my home and/or to really listen to it.

Way back when music was a huge part of my life. Now it barely registers upon my day-to-day existence. I’m just not interested in it.

In my youth, although my parents’ generation and those before still possessed the old ‘78’s, the vinyl ‘45’ was the medium via which singles became common currency. It’s long-paying equivalent was an ‘LP’, the medium of the album.

Later we had the four-track tape and the cassette tape machines, which fought each other for supremacy (the cassette version prevailing), and then CDs. Now we’ve got the internet and downloading – not that I’ve ever knowingly downloaded anything – and apparently vinyl albums are making a comeback. ‘Original’ vinyl albums are revered by collectors and now some artistes are issuing vinyl versions of their albums.

I always thought that the music was what it was all about and that the means of delivery, which over time evolves by new technology and fashion, was largely irrelevant.

It appears not so. I came across this article by Mike Errico, which originally appeared ‘Cuepoint’ on medium.com, this morning on the website of THE INDEPENDENT

About Michael Stuart

After university, Michael spent twelve years working for MELODY MAKER before going freelance. He claims to keep doing it because it is all he knows. More Posts