Same old same new

Yesterday I shared my view that a lot of us that engage with music are in an ongoing spiral of repetitious behaviour. Like most people who get absorbed by sharing their thoughts and opinions I projected my world view onto everyone else when maybe this is happening only to me. It’s a curse of thinking – or writing – too much. Those of us who do it tend to extrapolate.

As for repetition itself, we are frequently told that music (like fashion) is cyclical and what is popular today may not be so popular tomorrow. I’ve generally believed this but I’m starting to stray from that point of view, particularly as we’ve become locked into a long period of pop/dance/r‘n’b domination.
Niche interests are now pursued by a niche audience who know where to sate their thirsts without troubling the mainstream music buyer or interrupting the status quo. Where once this niche may have filtered into the mainstream, as more people discovered it or as those with niche tastes moved into a position of influence, this seems to have stopped happening.

The big hit records of any period tend to be pretty middle-of-the-road, this is standard because any big hit needs a wide-appeal and that always comes from music that is centre-ground. Thus even in a period of music that we’d consider as revolutionary (say 77-78 for punk) the bigger hits were always going to be mainstream, traditional songs. The Pistols may have gone to number one in ’77 but the charts were dominated by Abba, Rod Stewart and David Soul. Connie Francis spent as many weeks at number one as Never Mind The Bollocks did, so did Frank Sinatra, and Johnny Mathis spent twice as long at the top.

What I think used to happen is that the less conventional – the cult or avant-garde stuff – gravitated across into mainstream tastes as those who pursued it got older and the edgier elements became diluted. Thus with punk it got decent media coverage and blew up in a short space of time leaving a longer-lasting mark with new wave, pop-punk and drifting into Two Tone and even New Romantic. The elements that were transferrable became welded and moulded onto typical popular music – some of the bands even softened their edges and became pop stars.
Now there’s not much room for the avant-garde in the mainstream world. It always existed on the fringes but there’s much less coverage for it – the information only circulates directly amongst the interested. What we have now, more than ever, is a singles chart dominated by purchases by the young and an albums chart dominated by the dull and pedestrian.

The chart of best sellers of 2014 backs this up to an extent whilst also demonstrating that singles success begets album sales and that either the younger audience are also buying some albums – or those acts that have a crossover appeal to parents do particularly well.

Top Ten Albums of 2014                   (compiled by Official Charts Company)
1.            Ed Sheeran - x                                                 (Warner/Atlantic)
2.            Sam Smith - In The Lonely Hour                  (Universal/Capitol)
3.            George Ezra - Wanted On Voyage              (Sony/Columbia)
4.            Paolo Nutini - Caustic Love                          (Warner/Atlantic)
5.            Coldplay - Ghost Stories                 (Warner/Parlophone)
6.            Paloma Faith - A Perfect Contradiction     (Sony/RCA)
7.            One Direction - Four                                      (Sony/Syco)
8.            Olly Murs - Never Been Better                     (Sony/Epic)
9.            Pink Floyd - The Endless River                      (Warner/Rhino)
10.         Take That - III                                                  (Universal/Polydor)

Top Ten Singles of 2014         (compiled by Official Charts Company)
1.            Pharrell Williams - Happy                               (Sony Music/Columbia)
2.            Clean Bandit feat Jess Glynne - Rather Be        (Warner/Atlantic)
3.            John Legend - All Of Me                                  (Sony/Columbia)
4.            Mr Probz - Waves                                  (Sony/Left Lane Recordings)
5.            Ed Sheeran - Thinking Out Loud                      (Warner/Atlantic)
6.            Ella Henderson - Ghost                                   (Sony/Syco)
7.            Sam Smith - Stay With Me                              (Universal/Capitol)
8.            Meghan Trainor - All About That Bass               (Sony/Epic)
9.            Pitbull feat Kesha - Timber                   (Sony/J-Mr 305-Polo Grounds)
10.         George Ezra - Budapest                                    (Sony/Columbia)

I’m going to get into the streaming debate next time but you’ll note from the above that music is all pretty safe, all catchy-song-based and all the hits are signed to major labels. Sony had a great year and Warners didn’t do too badly either. There’s no grand finale or conclusion to this except to note that if you want a big hit then you’ll still need a good song with a great hook/melody and it’d be useful to release it on a major label. We’ve come so far but have really gone nowhere at all; it’s the same as it always was.

PS:    I won’t gloat that I tipped Clean Bandit and Rather Be a long time ago. We all know a hit   when we hear one.