Monday, 29 March 2010

The UK Singles Chart – is it the right moment to call time on what was once a worthwhile institution?

The UK Singles Chart has long ceased to be the foremost barometer of musical excellence, and in an era of online downloads, free listening on Spotify and most importantly a crippling decline in the quality of music enjoyed by the masses, it can be seen as rather redundant. For instance, and this is of course merely my own opinion, amongst the current Top 40 there are less than ten songs worthy of the volume of sales that would have been necessary to secure their place. Now I understand that music is changing, and believe that it has fundamentally altered over the last fifteen years, but is there any reason to release a weekly chart ranking songs by the number of copies they have sold? Without meaning to sound facetious, iTunes does that for you when you log onto the homepage, and only a small minority still purchase singles these days. What I would ultimately prefer to see is a musical chart compiled by experts, who would choose 40 songs that have been released that week and following a detailed discussion rank them in order based on the musical quality of each song. This I believe would work far better than the current system, although I would equally advocate having no chart dedicated to singles at all if the current one were to be put to bed. Additionally the current chart is a self-perpetuating musical nightmare, as far as I can see, as a song may break into the Top 40, and then through excessive play in clubs may reach the top spot. For instance current sensation Tinie Tempah’s Pass Out may be a sensation amongst middle-class kids from suburbs pretending they live on a rough estate in Tower Hamlets, and ASBO teenagers from Shoreditch who wish for nothing less than a Cadillac Escalade and having the ‘champers on ice’, but for those unfortunate enough to have heard the lyrics, its rather less appealing. Lines such as ‘I got so many clothes I keep’s ‘em in ma aunt’s house’ may be considered modern poetry by certain misguided individuals, but are enough to put most people off.

The malaise afflicting the UK Top 40 chart poses a subsequent question, which is, do artists really want number ones, and if so, what does that tell us about them? For I consider music to be art, and this may be a pretentious and arrogant way of looking at it, but if you are an artist you don’t paint something, or sculpt something merely for people to buy it, do you? I have and will always maintain that critical respect is far more valuable than commercial success, for who in fifty years time will remember ‘Dirtee Cash’ by Dizzee Rascal? Long-term respect and remembrance over short-term financial gain should be the motto for any artist, but unfortunately the UK Top 40 is an institution that rewards lazy, half-baked attempts by artists who are either more capable or operating at the peak, and I use the term loosely, of their musical ability. When was the last time a truly brilliant song was rewarded with a position at the pinnacle of the charts? Surprisingly enough it was Killing in the Name by Rage Against the Machine, which pipped Joe McElderry’s song The Climb to top spot, following a grassroots campaign to prevent another X-Factor song reaching Number One. It seems that we are forever to be burdened with the mistakes of others, for the dearth of musical quality in the Top 40 is reflected by the singles and albums available in HMV. Now I have no problem with a chain of stores stocking songs that have reached Number One in the UK charts, for that at least proves they are popular. However when albums by obscure chart-toppers such as Jay Sean, Jason Derulo and Mr. Tempah himself dominate the HMV shelves, and far more worthy artists find themselves reduced to a single album being stocked, often at a hideously expensive price, one could be forgiven for asking the question, are we being brainwashed into buying and liking what everybody else does? I’ll leave you to decide that, if you still wish to, but in the meantime I call upon everybody to ignore the Top 40, ignore the iTunes best-seller list and have a look at Allmusic, or Q Magazine, or maybe even NME, for in these places your eyes will be opened and you will see that you don’t have to just buy a song you’ve heard in a club, or one that’s been incessantly played on Virgin Radio. For there was music before MTV, and there was certainly music before the iPod, and hopefully there still will be, once the emblem of mediocrity and sameness that is the Top 40 disappears, and we are allowed to make our own minds up once again.

1 comment:

  1. I completely agree with the point you made about chains such as HMV. You see the shelves packed with singles and albums by the same handful of artists but are lucky to find more than one copy of artists who, in my opinion, write music which is far more deserving of critical acclaim. Probably not the best example, but earlier this year I went into HMV to buy OKGO's new album, which is definitely worth listening to, only to find one copy between the to Norwich stores despite it having been released that week. Since then OKGO have been dropped by their record label for lack of sales.