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Monthly Archives: April 2017

The future of music that were completely wrong

Groups of guitars are on the way out

[LISTEN] The Beatles talk to Brian Matthew about being famous
This is perhaps the most famous quote about the early years of The Beatles, and while it’s definitely based on real events, it has perhaps been distorted by what happened next to such an extent that it looks far worse than it was intended to be.

The source of the quote is Beatles manager Brian Epstein, relaying the message he was given by Dick Rowe, head of Decca Records, on why they were not interested in signing the band in 1962. In Hunter Davies’ authorised biography, The Beatles, Epstein remembered: “He told me they didn’t like the sound. Groups of guitars were on the way out. I told him I was completely confident that these boys were going to be bigger than Elvis Presley.”

To be fair to Mr Rowe, in 1962’s pop charts “groups of guitars” meant The Shadows. No record label was interested in signing The Beatles at that time. The fact that his was the sole quote attributed to this fairly enormous misjudgment of the band’s commercial potential by all the major London labels seems unfair. Then again, he did turn down the biggest group of all time.
No one will ever buy your stuff on CD

Not that EMI, the company that did eventually secure The Beatles’ signatures, has anything to crow about. In 1982, as the music industry was about receive a colossal shot in the arm from the development and delivery of the compact disc, EMI, who hadn’t exactly been spry off the mark with the arrival of the 12″ long-playing album in 1949, decided that these digital discs were not the way forward. They reasoned that the three-cent royalty per disc payable to Philips, who developed the format, was unacceptable. A Guardian feature on the CD’s early days even has an unnamed EMI executive telling Frank Zappa not to bother reissuing his work on the new format because, “No one will ever buy your stuff on CD.”

The scale to which they were wrong about that dwarfs Decca’s decision not to sign The Beatles by several decimal points. Music fans not only bought new albums as they came out, they went out and replaced their old vinyl albums with CD copies. EMI, being the largest British record company of the time, stood to reap a colossal fortune, and of course eventually they did, but not before everyone else got there first.
Kids in Beijing will listen to futura-rock”

[WATCH] Robot band rocks Hong Kong arts festival, 2016
In 1988, the Los Angeles Times magazine imagined what family life would look like in the year 2013. Writer Nicole Yorkin’s predictions said more about life in the late-80s than the early-10s, but some are eerily close, given this pre-dates the internet: “The Morrows entertain their company in the rec room by calling up the local digital music cable company and asking to sample a few classical collections. Music pours out of the speakers attached to the side of an ultra-thin, high-resolution video screen hanging on the wall.”

However, other elements miss the mark, either by underestimating the rate of technological change by 2013 – “Ito likes one symphony so much that Bill records the whole piece onto a laser disc,” which feels more like 2003 – or simply guessing at where music will go, using 1988 reference points. There’s a robot butler that sings Your Cheatin’ Heart by Hank Williams, and the family’s young son Zach is still sketching guitars on his schoolbooks: “Zach hurriedly signs off without hearing the answer to whether kids in Beijing listen to futura-rock too.”

Answer: they don’t. They’re all listening to ultra-neo-futura-rock now, grandad.
Copyright will no longer exist

[LISTEN] David Bowie interviewed in 2002
David Bowie has a reputation for being good at spotting where music was headed. And his conversion to the cyberworld happened long before many of his peers had even considered the possibilities that the internet may hold. But he wasn’t right about everything. Take the New York Times interview he gave in 2002 where he essentially foretold the arrival of music streaming services three years before even YouTube had launched. This bit is good: “Music itself is going to become like running water or electricity. So it’s like, just take advantage of these last few years because none of this is ever going to happen again.”

But he also said this: “I’m fully confident that copyright, for instance, will no longer exist in 10 years, and authorship and intellectual property is in for such a bashing.”

Leaving aside the thorny question of revenue streams for artists from streaming media, 15 years since that interview, copyright is still being firmly administered across the internet, which is one of the reasons streaming sites for music grew in popularity, as an alternative to the illegal peer-to-peer sharing of songs and albums. So the second prediction being wrong is part of the reason the first one is right.

These music’s most outlandish

Rammstein’s fiery cauldron

German industrial metallers Rammstein have become world-infamous for their pyrotechnic-fuelled, provocative stage props. For their earliest shows, the band would just pour petrol around the stage and set it ablaze, but their budgets and prop quality had rocketed by the time of their 2004-5 Ahoi tour. Sharpest prop of this set was the onstage cooking pot, in which mic/knife-wielding frontman Til Lindemann appeared to flambé keyboardist Flake Lorenz with a flame-thrower – while singing their cannibal-themed ‘love song’ Mein Teil, naturally.

Pink Floyd’s flying pig

Pink Floyd arguably set the benchmark for theatrical stage props; their helium-filled porcine icon was originally created in 1976 (with the help of artist-designers Jeffrey Shaw and Hipgnosis) for the band’s Animals album cover art. Since 1977, the flying pig prop has been a staple of Floyd live shows, and it continues to appear in various incarnations (and scrawled with different slogans) at modern gigs by both the David Gilmour-fronted Pink Floyd and estranged former bandmate Roger Waters. The giant flying piggy has made a break for freedom on more than one occasion – in 2008, it floated into the Cali desert during Waters’s Coachella set and festival organisers offered a $10,000 reward for its safe return.

The P-Funk Mothership

Way-out funk/soul/rock pioneer George Clinton and his legendary collective Parliament-Funkadelic first launched their full-scale UFO prop during concerts to promote their 1975 album, Mothership Connection. The lavish live Mothership, replete with flashing lights and sci-fi sounds, would land on stage to deliver Dr Funkenstein, aka Clinton, to the masses. Soaring costs meant that the original P-Funk Mothership was retired from service (apparently it was dumped in a Maryland junkyard) but in 2011, a 1,200lb aluminium replica was acquired for the Smithsonian Museum of African American History and Culture.

Madonna’s levitating hobby horse

By the 21st century, Madonna had sealed her rep as a show-stopping performer, but she could still spring some surprises. Her 2006 Confessions tour featured a massive discoball pod, parkour dancers and a mirrored crucifix – but perhaps the most impressive prop of all was Madge’s one-woman carousel/hobby horse, which she rode while singing Like a Virgin and performing yoga and pole-dancing moves above the crowd. Good going for anyone, especially a star approaching her 50th year.

U2’s lemon

Bono’s stadium rockers paid homage to the P-Funk Mothership while creating their own consumer satire for the Popmart world tour in 1997-8. Its elaborate stage set, created with Willie Williams and Mark Fisher, included a 40ft mirrorball lemon (with a nod to their track of the same title), designed to split open and reveal the band for their encore. Unfortunately this occasionally malfunctioned, trapping the quartet inside the giant fruit while the baffled crowds waited – less of a grand finale, more of a sour note.

Mötley Crüe’s drum rollercoaster

Pop stars who donated unbelievable amounts monay

Prince

After Prince’s death, stories of his quiet, behind-the-scenes charity started to come out. Civil rights leader Rev Al Sharpton took to Twitter to describe him as a “sincere humanitarian” and told how Prince would give him money to convey quietly to people such as the family of Trayvon Martin. He also donated a quarter of a million to solar power startups, another quarter to an organisation helping struggling families in South Carolina, and another quarter to a dance academy in New York. An entire million dollars went to a Harlem-based non-profit organisation for inner-city children living in poverty.

Bruno Mars

In 2014, the main water source for the city of Flint in Michigan was shifted from Lake Huron to the Flint River. A year on, locals raised alarms about lead poisoning, but as lead testing for children is not mandatory in Michigan, the dangerous levels weren’t picked up until scientists broke ranks and published their findings. Barack Obama declared a crisis in Flint in January 2016. Such disasters, sadly, are soon succeeded by others in the public mind, but not in the mind of Bruno Mars, who donated $1m of his profits from an Auburn Hills, Michigan show on his 24K Magic World Tour to the cause. “Ongoing challenges remain years later for Flint residents, and it’s important that we don’t forget our brothers and sisters affected by this disaster,” he said in a statement. “As people, especially as Americans, we need to stand together to make sure something like this never happens in any community ever again.” What a guy.

Chance the Rapper

Chancellor Bennett AKA Chance the Rapper has always been a keen defender of his home city, even taking on Spike Lee when he felt his portrayal of Chicago in Chi-Raq rang false. But Chance’s love of Chicago goes much deeper than words. The city’s schools are suffering a funding crisis, with some even being forced to end their terms early. Chance demanded a meeting with state governor Bruce Rauner to discuss school funding, but the chat didn’t go well, and Chance was inspired to take things into his own hands. “The governor gave me a lot of vague answers in our meeting,” Chance said at a press conference where he announced the donation of $1m (in classic giant novelty cheque form) to Chicago schools, challenging local businesses to follow his lead.

Taylor Swift

In August 2016, 13 people died and 146,000 homes were destroyed in some of the worst flooding ever seen in the state of Lousiana. Taylor Swift had begun her 1989 World Tour in the state, and moved quickly to donate $1m to those affected by the flood, and a further $50,000 to a food bank in Baton Rouge. In the same year, she also donated $100,000 to those affected by Tennessee wildfires, $5,000 to a fan who’d lost her sister in a car accident, and a large undisclosed amount to an African parks charity on World Elephant Day. In 2015, she gave $50,000 to a fan suffering from leukemia who’d been unable to attend one of her gigs. Donating the money to a fund set up by the girl’s parents, Swift wrote: “To the beautiful and brave Naomi, I’m sorry you have to miss it, but there will always be more concerts. Let’s focus on getting you feeling better. I’m sending the biggest hugs to you and your family.”

Ray Charles

In 2003, the revered blues, R&B and soul musician Ray Charles donated $1m to Dillard University, New Orleans, to create a new course about black culture, covering music, food, art, literature and more. And it wasn’t a one-off: the previous year, he’d donated $2m to Albany State University in his hometown of Albany, Georgia, and in 2000, $2m to Wilberforce University, Ohio – both historically black universities. As you might imagine, when he died in 2004, it was with a fine collection of honorary degrees.

Rihanna

Rihanna has taken many under her umbrella since hitting the big time. In 2012, she set up a foundation in honour of her grandparents, which hands out grants in support of health, education and culture. She has also fronted campaigns for fashion and cosmetic brands, raising millions for HIV and donated $100,000 to a food bank in New York after Hurricane Sandy, as well as another $100,000 for those hit by Super Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines. After her grandmother’s death from cancer, she donated $1.75m to the radiotherapy department of a hospital in Bridgetown, Barbados

Early songs the stars left behind

Ill-advised novelty singles, dubious dance-pop directions, fits of pique or simply just sub-par tunes that should never have been released – open enough closets and you’re sure to discover a few interesting skeletons. Here are the early songs that had the stars wishing life came with a ‘clear history’ option.

Radiohead – Pop Is Dead

Radiohead’s 1993 breakthrough hit Creep used to be the albatross around the band’s neck. By its critics considered self-pitying and derivative, it became so unrepresentative of the band’s subsequent material – and yet so oft-requested – that they refused to play it for a long time, although they have relented in recent years; their rendition at 2017’s Glastonbury festival sounded almost sincere.

Pop Is Dead, on the other hand – another single from the same year – has long been consigned to the dustbin of history. A clumsy music biz satire, the band’s Ed O’Brien called it a “hideous mistake”. It didn’t even make the bonus disc of Radiohead’s 2008 ‘Best Of’ compilation and is currently unavailable on streaming platforms. Which is probably for the best.

Alanis Morrissette – Too Hot

You probably assumed that Alanis Morissette’s mega-selling 1995 album Jagged Little Pill was her debut. The singer certainly didn’t go out of her way to dispel that notion, but in fact she had already issued two albums of rather different material in her native Canada. They have never been reissued, and a quick internet search reveals why: 1991 debut single Too Hot was a Paula Abdul-style pop number, complete with big hair, “ch-ch-check this out” samples and energetic dance moves – a world away from the sassy alt-rock with which she made her name. Interestingly, Morissette’s 2002 album was called Under Rug Swept. Ironic, don’t you think?

Charlie Puth – The Pickle Song

Before he scored a global mega-hit with his Wiz Khalifa collaboration See You Again, Charlie Puth was a teenage YouTube sensation with fuzzy hair, fond of posting goofy rap songs about his “sexy shades” and being hit in the face by a pickle. Not that you’d know it by checking his YouTube channel, which hastily ‘refreshed’ as soon as Puth’s serious singing career took off, destroying evidence of his teenage efforts.

Of course in this day and age, it’s nigh on impossible to erase your internet history, and there are plenty of unofficial YouTube channels who have been only too happy to preserve Puth’s embarrassing past for posterity. At least, as the above interview proves, Puth is good-humoured when confronted with his old videos. And with an estimated net worth of $5m, he can afford to be.

Paul Simon – The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy)

As he reiterates to The Late Show’s Stephen Colbert in the clip above, Paul Simonhas always loathed this early Simon & Garfunkel song. It’s not too hard to see why, its twee positivity (“hello lamppost!”) jarring with Simon’s attempts to establish himself as a more complex artist. He usually ignores all requests to perform it, but made an exception for this satirical rendition.

Bob Dylan – Ballad in Plain D

Several of Bob Dylan’s best songs were served with a few drops of vitriol and a side-order of disdain, but the legendary singer-songwriter admits he went too far on Ballad of Plain D, from his 1964 album Another Side of Bob Dylan. Written in the immediate aftermath of his break up from artist Suze Rotolo, the lyrics took aim, clumsily, at Rotolo’s sister Carla, branding her jealous and “a parasite”. “I must have been a real schmuck to write that,” Dylan admitted to interviewer Bill Flanagan in 1985. “I look back at that particular one and say, of all the songs I’ve written, maybe I could have left that alone.” Unsurprisingly he never performed it live.

Morrissey – Thes Ordinary Boy

It’s an unspoken rule of album reissues that you can add as many bonus tracks and alternate takes as you like, just don’t mess with the original tracklisting. But Morrissey(due to perform at 6 Music Live 2017) isn’t one for conforming to unspoken rules, so when fans picked up the reissue of his debut album Viva Hate in 2012, they were surprised to find Track 9 – The Ordinary Boys – had been replaced with an outtake from the same sessions, Treat Me Like a Human Being. As the reissue has now superseded old versions of Viva Hate on streaming services, it’s as if The Ordinary Boys never existed.

Why? Its content isn’t particularly controversial, compared to other Morrissey songs of the era. Sure, it’s hardly a classic, but Treat Me Like a Human Being isn’t markedly better, sounding almost unfinished. Perhaps Mozzer was just embarrassed about having inspired noughties lad-rockers The Ordinary Boys? Who knows. As with similar revisions to the tracklists of his albums Maladjusted and Southpaw Grammar, we’ll just have to chalk it up to the whims of one of British pop’s most committed contrarians.