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The Smiths on the public’s Desert Island Discs

Desert Island Discs- The people’s voice

Prince Buster and The Smiths received cursory mentions in the Listeners Desert Island Discs on Radio 4 today, in an otherwise predictably classical music focused display of middle Englishness.


Vaughan Williams’ The Lark Ascending was top of the people’s choice, followed by Elgar’s Nimrod and Beethoven’s Ninth. Guitars were seen with Queens, Bohemian Rhapsody and Pink Floyd’s Comfortably Numb.


While the Beatles received the highest percentage of nominations for a single artist, they were unable to break in to the top eight, somewhat proving that although a popular band, none of their songs are actually any good.   Admittedly, Help and Get Back are palpable but neither are song titles you would want when you’re marooned.


The Smiths’ mention came at the start of the broadcast with one listener recalling: “The Smiths were the band that I got into before anyone else in my school. I had to wait three years before anyone else realised their genius.” She was lucky to have such a short time as the rest of Radio 4 listeners still seem to be waiting.


Black music was also packaged together at the start of the show with a listener recalling hearing Prince Buster’s Ten Commandments of Man coming from the homes of migrants in the east end, and then followed by Geno Washington. These discs, however, were sandwiched between grammar school staples of eighth placed The Plants by Holst and seventh, Messiah by Elgar.


Only one record from the past thirty years was played when Elbow received the highest nominations in the contemporary category for One Day Like This.


Radio 4 is hardly the broadest spectrum of society, and no one really expected Cabaret Voltaire to be in there, so in the interest of balance let’s look at young people: NME has been running a poll to find the greatest singer of all time.  Although voting is still in progress, it’s currently headed by Michael Jackson followed by Freddy Mercury. The man best known for walking backwards is beating the one who hoovers in a wig.


Although it’s reassuring to see the kids voting for someone recently relevant, opposed to someone their dads would praise, it’s concerning to see the new breed still reminiscing about the mainstream paradigm. Michael Jackson is hardly a cutting edge artist eager to push the boundaries of musical credibility.  In the broader top five greatest singers, all except Axl Rose, and he doesn’t count, are dead, and the only one in the top 20 currently at their peak is Muse’s Matt Belamy.


Mirroring Radio 4’s 30 year void, the NME’s poll- Balamy, Rose and Kurt Cobain excluded- believes great music stopped in 1979. Even those artist’s who’ve released records since were crowned before then, such as Jackson’s or Bowie’s 70’s heyday. Some would say, a shift from voice to image with the advent of 80’s MTV and acceleration in pop distracts from great singers. With great singer overload maybe a new plateau has been reached with few able to surpass. But why aren’t the Morrissey’s, the Gahan’s, and the Lydon’s been recognised by those who should find these signers old, and admirable?


Maybe what we believe in is just a blip and perhaps all society wants, is catchy modern folk song and triumphal anthems. Our parents and younger siblings seem to think so. Has our 30 year experiment with post punk, metal, indie, and electronica, simple bred a new breed of babyboomers, who liked music when it was proper songs and solid riffs? Has punk failed?

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