Give ’em enough rope

I used to think of myself as an album person, preferring to listen to an album all the way through, rather than choosing one or more tracks selectively. Many of my favourite bands wrote and released material specifically for the format. However, with a love of shuffle on my iPhone and being extremely disappointed with the When LPs Ruled The World ‘season’ on BBC4 this week, I’m beginning to change my mind about the album’s importance.

The most interesting aspect of this season was Danny Baker’s Great Album Showdown, although the concept of sitting around talking about LPs with only the occassional track being played to illustrate one of Baker’s contextual monologues, felt at complete odds with the format being discussed. The series looked at Rock, Pop and RnB in turn. During the Rock programme, being subjected to Jeremy Clarkson stating that The Clash were a more appropriate soundtrack to the Grunwick strike unfolding on television in the 1970s than the heavy rock he previously listened to, while salient, was strangely unsettling a statement to hear the double denim fashionista make—unsettling because the thought of the politically right of centre Clarkson listening to The Clash and watching striking workers with sympathy on TV made me want to burn my copy of Sandinista. The Pop edition featured the ever listenable Boy George, alongside the ever annoying Grace Dent. Overall, the best of the three programmes was the RnB episode, which at least did seem to have a genuine socio-political take within the discussion on the rise of the genre and in doing so, made some justification for the importance of holding such a discussion. Martin Freeman proved to be an enthusiatic and informative fan, while Trevor Nelson was an eloquent and intelligent counterpoint to the histrionics of Mica Paris.

Despite this, Baker demonstrated a deft approach to handling his guests pontifications on all things vinyl, being an amiable and knowledgable host. It remained, however, a questionable format for a programme that seemingly never quite understood what its true identity was; part chat show, part discussion panel, part history lesson, part music show, part debating society. None of these truly shone through as a raison d’être and the whole felt nostalgically irrelevant and vapid.

The main Friday night programme that Baker’s triptych built up to was, unfortunately, completely disappointing, and at times, factually incorrect. As a result of all this, I was left asking: what exactly was the point of this ‘season’ other than filling schedules with cheap TV?

And so, as I continually reassess how I consume music, and the more I am distanced from my own past by such poor TV programming, I can’t help thinking that Bill Drummond has a point in the Singles Verses Albums film he made after turning down the offer to contribute to this series of programmes:

1 comment
  1. Both singles and lps have their place. I get Bill Drummond’s message but it is nice to have an ambience, a style, a badge of honour, a genre, an identification, a generational impulse: the lp did all that. Size matters too: I remember the album cover of Argus by Wishbone Ash from school , even though I never listened to it! Much as I find Danny Baker a bit annoying sometimes, he was spot on about the Proustian Rush.

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