20 December, 2008

Pop Picking

Paul Cornell's now annual attempt to do 'The 12 Days of Blogging' (or 12 Blogs of Christmas, or something to do with the number 12) has brought up a brilliant blog that I hadn't previously heard of, but has apparently been running since 2003.

[Sidestep: did I even know the word 'blog' back then? I'm surprised how long I've been writing this one - I spent an hour yesterday adding keywords to all of the entries and was amazed at how much I've written. I know it's nowhere near the 'blog every day' ethos, but I also note that a couple of my chums abandoned their blogs over a year ago, so, um, I win. Ha!]

Over on Freakytrigger, Tom Ewing has been reviewing every single UK number one record, starting at the beginning with Al Martino and 'Here in my Heart' and working his way through in order. As I write this, he's just completed his 477th review - Shakin' Stevens' 'This Ole House'.

A good few years ago, I decided I needed [oh wait, hold on a sec, I'm not writing this while Fern Kinney is playing. Skip to The Jam's 'Going Underground'. Better.] to get an MP of every number one single. I had a few already so I added those to my playlist, then set about scouring the internet for the rest. Entirely coincidentally, the last number one I managed to find before I'd caught up was Don Cornell's 'Hold My Hand'.

Tom has managed to find the sleeve artwork for a lot of these songs, so I've wasted a fine hour this morning stealing the pics and adding them to my playlist on iTunes. This is how I came to make a discovery - that there's an astoundingly perfect run of number ones in the late 1970s. David Soul's 'Silver Lady' was tripe, but I've seen grown men wilt at the first cautious electronic organ sighs of Baccara's Euro-pop hit 'Yes Sir, I Can Boogie'.

Grown gay men, but grown men nonetheless.

From then on, it's one great pop track after another until late-1979 when Buggles' 'Video Killed the Radio Star' was bumped for Lena Martell's 'One Day at a Time'. I can imagine a collective exhalation there, when the record-buying public asked 'Who bought that? COME ON - own up!!'

I've always loved the 1980s, but I have to concede the late '70s was a brilliant time for pop fans. Just have a look at this list (the numbers in square brackets give the song's order in chart history):

[414] Yes Sir, I Can Boogie Baccara
[415] The Name Of The Game ABBA
[416] Mull Of Kintyre Wings (okay, I'm conceding this Macca hit because I did like it at the time)
[417] Uptown Top Ranking Althea and Donna (best one-hit wonder ever!)
[418] Figaro Brotherhood Of Man
[419] Take A Chance On Me ABBA
[420] Wuthering Heights Kate Bush
[421] Matchstalk Men and Matchstalk Cats and Dogs Brian and Michael
[422] Night Fever The Bee Gees
[423] Brown Girl in the Ring Boney M
[424] You're the One That I Want John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John
[425] Three Times A Lady The Commodores
[426] Dreadlock Holiday 10CC
[427] Summer Nights John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John
[428] Rat Trap The Boomtown Rats
[429] Da Ya Think I'm Sexy Rod Stewart
[430] Mary's Boychild Boney M
[431] YMCA Village People
[432] Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick Ian Dury and the Blockheads
[433] Heart Of Glass Blondie
[434] Tragedy The Bee Gees
[435] I Will Survive Gloria Gaynor
[436] Bright Eyes Art Garfunkle (c'mon, it's the most-played song at children's funerals. That has to count for something)
[437] Sunday Girl Blondie
[438] Ring My Bell Anita Ward (pew pew!)
[439] Are Friends Electric Tubeway Army
[440] I Don't Like Mondays Boomtown Rats
[441] We Don't Talk Anymore Cliff Richard
[442] Cars Gary Numan
[443] Message in a Bottle The Police
[444] Video Killed The Radio Star Buggles

Here's something else though: Baccara were Spanish; Abba were Sweden's biggest export; Boney M were German. We had European acts in our charts, and they were bloody good.

In a similar time period, we've had a number one from Swedish Basshunter ('Now You're Gone' - tripe!), a dreary, overplayed song by another Swede, Robyn, and a godawful one by bloody Chico! European acts just aren't crossing over the channel any more. I wonder if their charts are as dominated by English and American acts. There are more American artists in the charts now, the majority of which are R&B-based. In fact, the genres have become very samey too, with identikit R&B singers warbling through tuneless songs, or skinny white guys moaning to a dreary Coldplay-lite backing track (including - Heaven help us - Take That, whose 'Greatest Day' sounds as if it were written specifically to be used on an advert for BT).

I'm sure it's not just nostalgia - music was more varied, more adventurous and more surprising in the 1970s and '80s than it is today. Or rather, the stuff that tops the charts tends to be kind of the same as the stuff we heard last time. Simon Cowell's got the Christmas number one sewn up again in the form of X Factor winner Alexandra Burke - the only surprise there being that she's doing a Leonard Cohen track!

I'll go back to my number ones now. I can feel an old fogey rant coming on.

The Power of Crisps Compels Me

I recently caught up with Paul Schrader's version of the prequel to The Exorcist, the film that was then remade by Renny Harlin - the version I'd already seen.

Harlin's version was rubbish, but I'm sorry to say the Schrader version was the greater sinner - it was just boring.

Thank the deities for Joe Ahearne, whose Apparitions concluded this week. Intelligent, philosophical, gory and bloody terrifying in places, it's the Exorcist sequel I really wanted.

Bearing in mind I'm a massive fan of the third Exorcist film, and the novel that inspired it, William Peter Blatty's Legion, I was surprised by how well Martin Shaw fell into the role and how universally excellent the supporting cast was. In particular Rick Warden, who was so sympathetic as Michael, and so unsettling as the demonic version.

I won't sleep tonight... It's Exorcist III all over again...

19 December, 2008

There's Something About Keywords

Decided to add some keywords to my previous blog entries this morning- anything to postpone going to the hospital to give a blood sample (don't panic - it's for gout. Nothing glamourous or slimming).

So, like that other modern annoyance, predictive text, the keywords (or labels, as Blogger calls them) try to second guess what you're typing. Which is a bit worrying, when you're typing 'fox' and, thanks to a previous post, the keyword leaps urgently towards 'Neil Fox', like spooge towards Ben Stiller's ear. Dangling there for ages until you finally notice it.

So, apologies if my tags might be misleading. Although don't be surprised if a blog about Boris Johnson ends up with keywords like 'tw*t', 'gobsh*te', 'arsehole' and 'civil disobedience'.

16 December, 2008

Back in the Archives

I recently completed work on a couple of collections for the BBC Archive site, which led to a brief period of media whoredom for me and a meet-up with a long-time heroine of mine, the lovely Janice Long.

Here are the two collections, first of all:

- The Genesis of Doctor Who: documents and images from the archives telling the story of the Time Lord's origins.

- Music from the Mersey: TV and radio programmes from the archives looking at Liverpool's place in the musical history books.

The Doctor Who stuff got picked up by the BBC News Magazine, who did a feature on the documents that was quite well received, even if my explanation of the archetypes that run through the series got a teensy bit garbled.

As a consequence of the Mersey collection, Janice Long was approached to stage a kind of reunion on Radio Merseyside with local hero Billy Butler. They plugged the collection like mad, so I emailed Janice and Billy to thank them both, Janice got back in touch and suggested I pop into her show to chat about the archives - which I did. Janice was every bit as warm and friendly as I'd always hoped, and we had to stop ourselves from gabbing too much before the recording. A brilliant plug for the site, and we're hoping we might be able to come up with ideas for a future collaboration.

A couple of weeks later, my flatmate and I were both asked to do some talking heads stuff for a documentary about 'The Perfect British TV Detective', which is on BBC 2 between Christmas and New Year. Radio Times says 29 December, so it must be then.

More Bias in the Media?

So this morning, 'Dr' Neil Fox was chatting away on Magic FM's Breakfast Show when he started to discuss the Ripley's Believe it or Not exhibition in London. At one point, he described the exhibition as 'quite incredible'.

So,um, shall we put you down as a 'not', Neil?

14 December, 2008

Lest We Forget

Deck yer balls with bows of holly
(Fa-lalalala lala la la)
It is prickly but it's jolly
(Fa-lalalala lala la la)

My mum wrote those muckier lyrics to the popular carol some time in the early 1990s. I sang them to her yesterday and she told me off. When I pointed out that she'd taught me the song in the first place, she denied ever having heard it, insisting it's not the sort of thing she's come out with.

Later on, she was talking about a BBC adaptation of Othello. I asked her who starred in it, and she said 'That black guy'. I laughed - it seemed a funny comment to make - but when I explained why I was laughing, she swore blind she'd said no such thing. Less than 20 seconds after she'd said just it.

Nothing to worry about, that. Is it...

07 December, 2008

Reversal of Fortunes for Von Bulow

'Optimist of the Year' goes to whoever wrote the copy at the bottom of this BBC News story about the death of society hostess Sunny Von Bulow.

Did you know Von Bulow? Tell us about your memories of her? Send your comment using the form below:

She was 76 years old and had been in a coma since 1980. It's not impossibly, but it's unlikely many of her contemporaries would be spending their time reading an internet news page. What this shows is the point at which the mission to engage with audiences collides with the fear of encouraging libellous comments from the public. The BBC is expected to provide a forum for all their content, yet doesn't want to risk someone posting a message along the lines of 'I seen the film and he definately dun it.'

I saw the film too. Back in 1990 I saw about 75 films at the cinema, plus hundreds more at home. I'd finish work at 2.00 on Friday and rush to see a film at the arthouse cinema, or one of the less glitzy flicks at the Odeon. Then another film at the early evening showing before meeting friends for the main evening screening of the latest blockbuster. I seem to remember I saw this one with a particular friend, which means I saw it on a Tuesday.

Odd what I remember. Alan Silver played the lawyer on whose book the film was based, wearing a big curly wig.

Interestingly, the vultures at Wikipedia have already swooped to update their page on Sunny. There's something quite morbid about someone rushing to the internet the second they hear of someone's death.


04 December, 2008

Another One Bites the Dust

So, last time I blogged I was saying how I'd fallen in love with Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. Well, I finished the last episode earlier this week.

Of course I cried.

The final five episodes tell one big story. I'm wondering at what point in production they knew it wouldn't get re-commissioned as it all dovetails towards a perfect ending. I kept trying to second-guess the endings to various storylines and didn't get any of them right, really.

I just hope this doesn't mean Aaron Sorkin will have any trouble getting a new show off the ground. In the meantime, that's me working my way through his back catalogue. This is, after all, the man whose adaptation of his own play made me watch - and enjoy - a film with Tom Cruise and Jack Nicholson in leading roles. That's either good writing or witchcraft, and until I've worked out which, I'm on his side.

So, which TV show to binge on next? Well... in the short term, I'll be speed-watching 'Cracker' and 'Prime Suspect' as research for another 'talking head' thing I'm being interviewed for next week. Wonderfully grim Granadavision and two of the best police procedural shows ever. I prefer Prime Suspect, but only just. The show loses points for the two dire series that followed immediately after Lynda La Plante bailed, but makes up for them by concluding with two that were just as good as the first three.

For Fox' Sake!

I'm so behind with writing. It's been a busy few weeks and I'm not going to explain why on a public blog, except to say things are good. And considering I started to write this as a kind of therapy, that's a strong positive.

Went on a course with work that also helped put my head in a better place than real therapy managed to - all about negotiating skills. It's supposed to help get the best results possible in business, but really it was about trying to spot yourself being a cynical prick all the time - and it really helped me with a lot of my cynicism.

Not all of it, mind. I still don't trust the Daily Mail to tell the truth, especially after it tried (and failed) to stoke up more anti-BBC feeling by presenting the events of a radio show as a national scandal. 'Another day in the gutter for the BBC', the headline cries, as the paper describes how the shy, rarely-seen John Barrowman exposed himself to a pair of excitable DJs on live... er, radio.

Although the programme was on Radio 1, pictures were also relayed to online listeners via a webcam, the paper alleges.

Except, the pictures weren't relayed to a the webcam - the webcam was already covered up by the responsible producer.

But 'BBC Producer behaves responsibly in wake of Ross / Brand' affair' isn't the right kind of headline for a reactionary, knee-jerk, scapegoating rag like the Mail.

Still, Barrowman apologised anyway and no-one really cares. Meanwhile, the Mail's fake horror at someone using the euphemism 'fruit and nuts' was accompanied by zoom-ins of women's cleavage, stories condemning women for being too slutty, not slutty enough, too hairy or for just having womanly hips. Swear to God the day it first broke, the Barrowman story was alongside a zoom-in on Mel B's crotch. I split my rice krispies all over the place in horror!

But then, I only saw that link because someone sent it to me. It's not like I'd look at the Hate Mail for any other reason, because its job in society is to make us feel scared and insecure. All the better circumstances for advertisers and big business to keep us in our place and ensure we're vulnerably enough to believe their lies and buy their products, which we don't need.

If you wish to complain about the inaccuracies in the Mail's 'news' story, you can do so by filling out their feedback form or e-mailing direct to: feedback@dailymail.co.uk

Along similar lines, a recent front-page news item on Yahoo presented the horrific story of a woman who was attacked by a fox. But in these days where technologists believe they have no need for editorial people, because they can 'automate' news feeds and advertising based on keywords, this is the way their sensitive news story was presented:

Perhaps significantly, there's no immediately visible area on the Yahoo site for complaints.