Music Opinion Blog

Opinions and occasional rants about the state of the music scene. The views expressed are entirely my own, and do not represent those of any artists or publications with whom I may be connected.

After reading Michael Hann’s wnderfuly snarky review of Morrissey’s List of the Lost, I’m now wondering if the world of books needs its revenge. What bitter misanthropic has-been author with an oversized ego ought to make a record? How about a hair-metal album by John C. Wright?

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Just One Song

This one came up on Twitter a few days ago: Which song do you love by an artist you otherwise can’t stand?

If you stop and think about it, it’s easier said than done. I’ll bet that for most bands where there’s just a single song you love, you don’t know their back catalogue well enough to know if there are other things lurking amongst the deep cuts and B-sides that you might also love just as much as that one song. For example, nothing else I’ve heard by System of a Down has sounded remotely as good as “Chop Suey“. But I really don’t know their body of work that well.

But I can still think of a couple of bands where there’s a single great song, but I could quite happily live without the rest of their catalogue.

First, “Back on the Road Again” by REO Speedwagon. The reason for this one is quite simple, it’s because Kevin Cronin doesn’t sing lead, bassist Bruce Hall taking over the microphone. For a band known for overproduced power-ballads, it’s also one of the relatively few times they rocked out. Combine those two factors and nothing else they’ve ever done comes close.

Then of course there’s The Clash’s “London Calling”. Yes, it’s their biggest hit, so overexposed that at least one Clash fan I’ve spoken to cannot stand it any more. But it’s still a great rock anthem, and the album of the same title is mostly filler (the one other good track is a cover) The preceding “Give ‘Em Enough Rope”, despite a fantastic guitar sound and one or two purloined Blue Öyster Cult riffs suffers from a complete lack of memorable songs, so it’s pretty clear that, one song aside, The Clash’s music is not for me.

So what songs do you love, from artists where the rest of the work does little for you?

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In a week’s time I’m seeing Johnny Rotten in a small club in Reading, then two days later I’m seeing Steven Wilson at the Albert Hall. Who won the punk wars again?

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Why I Became a Prog Fan, Part N

I was probably only about nine or ten when ITV’s investigative journalism flagship “World in Action” did a program about trains. The particular issue concerned a spate of derailments involving short wheelbase wagons, including a reconstruction the derailment and fatal collision at Roade in 1969 using 00-scale models.

For a small boy interested in trains, it was obviously fascinating stuff. But it was the theme music that stuck with me; both the dramatic opening theme, and the slower, more melancholy closing credits music, both of which are included in the above clip.

There’s something about those descending minor-key runs in the distinctive tone of the Hammond organ, both signficant elements of progressive rock’s musical palette. Not that I was aware of the existence of Yes, ELP or King Crimson at the time, that was something I wasn’t to discover until several years later.

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Radio Men and Motors

XFM, which always was Radio NME, has decided to dumb itself down, rebranding itself as “Radio X” recruiting former Radio One DJ Chris Moyles to become a “male-focussed entertainment brand“.

Alexis Petridis’ one-star review of also-rans The Pigeon Detectives famously described them as “Not so much ITV indie and Granada Men & Motors indie. With the talk of “New car smell” and “Great Britain needs great banter”, this is Men & Motors radio.

As for “fresh music”, with a playlist including Kasabian and Noel sodding Gallagher, who do you think are you kidding? This is the musical equivalent of stale socks, lowest common denominator landfill music for people who think Later With Jools Holland is far too edgy and alternative.

I know it’s unsporting to wish failure on any business endeavour, but this one needs to crash and burn for the sake of our nations’ culture. As my good friend HippyDave said on Twitter, Kill it! Kill it with fire!

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Prog, Still Misunderstood?

There’s a well-meaning but flawed piece in the Telegraph about Prog, probably inspired by The Chart Company’s launch of a new progressive music chart. It does namecheck a lot of the new generation of progressive artists such as Big Big Train and Steven Wilson, and make a number of positive points

But there are a few things that suggests he doesn’t know the subject and hasn’t really done his research. The fact that it appears not in the paper’s music section but in the “Mens pages” may be the root of the problem.

First he makes the bizarre claim that Prog originated with Frank Zappa’s 1968 album “Freak Out”, which is a new one on me. Now Zappa’s music in certainly progressive, but he was really a whole genre in his own right. To claim any American artist founded the prog-rock genre ignores the scene’s roots in late 1960s Britain as a generation of musicians wanted to move beyond the limitations of commercial pop music. Prog surely took recognisable form somewhere between The Beatle’s “Sergeant Pepper” and King Crimson’s “In the Court of the Crimson King”.

Then he claims that prog has been dismissed as “too white, male and uncool” for decades. Uncool, certainly, but it’s only in the past few years that anything whose appeal is disproportionately white and male has been regarded with suspicion. But it’s not as if prog has ever been a hotbed of white power anthems or awash with misogynistic imagery. The suggestion that women and non-white people aren’t interested in music you can’t dance to is itself a bit sexist and racist; I know plenty of dedicated female prog fans and musicians who would take great exception to that. And I can’t avoid another mention of the bill at this year’s HRH Prog, where half the bands on the bill had at least one woman in the band, and they were the better half of the bill.

And then there’s a commenter who claims Transatlantic aren’t prog. Where do these people come from?

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Got to love this accidentally-hiliarious “Where are they now” feature on the NME’s indie darlings from ten years ago.  As for the first one, if being a software developer is really more creative and exciting than rock’n'roll, it does rather suggest your failed indie band were a bit rubbish.

Posted on by Tim Hall | 2 Comments

Video Killed The Radio Star

Reading yet another thinkpiece about a music video, I think I now understand exactly why the years 1955-1985 were a golden age of popular music. 1955, of course, was the birth of rock’n'roll. But what happened in 1985 to draw that golden age to a close? It was time when the music video eclipsed radio as the primary means of promoting mass-market music.

What’s happened since is we’ve regressed to the days of 1930s musicals, in which the music took second place to the choreography, and is little-remembered. Today all the talk in pop isn’t about new albums or singles, it’s about the videos and their content. The actual music seems to be an afterthought.

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Reading Festival Nostalgia

Reading Festival 1983

It’s Reafing Festival weekend. The streets of the town are full of people in wellies and the supermarkets contain stacks of cheap lager the size of Canary Wharf. It all reminds me of the last Reading Festivals I went to back in the early 1980s, when I was the same age as the people going now. Reading has always been a teenage rite of passage.

It’s a reminder of the fact I’ve been a Marillion fan for 33 years this weekend, after seeing them half-way ip the bill in 1982. They were back the following year as special guests on the Saturday night, opened with Grendel. They blew Black Sabbath and their fibreglass Stonehenge off stage. Little did I imagine their music would still be a big part of my life more than three decades laer.

It’s remarkable how many of the bands from the 1983 bill above are still around. I saw Marillion a few weeks back, headlining the Prog stage at Ramblin Man. Pendragon played the same festival. The Enid were at HRH Prog. Magnum, Pallas, Big Country, The Stranglers and even Man are still on the circuit.

This year’s Reading Festival bill includes Metallica, who have been around for 30 years. Can you imagine 1980s festivals having 1940s crooners and big band jazz on the bill?

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Cambridge Rock Festival open thread

Now CRF 2016 is confirmed, what bands would we like to see? I think we can all take it that Mostly Autumn are a given, but what other bands would make a good bill?

To set the ball rolling, a few names off the top of my head.

Bands who are part of the festival “family” who should be invited again:

Panic Room
Cloud Atlas
Chantel McGregor

Bands who have played once or twice who definitely ought to be invited back

Morpheus Rising
Also Eden

CRF-level bands who haven’t (to my knowledge) played the festival, but should

Mantra Vega
Anna Phoebe

And some ideal “big name” headliners

Blue Öyster Cult
Michael Schenker
Uriah Heep
The Damned

Over to you: Who would you like to see?

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