Thursday, December 04, 2003

WHAT THE POP PAPERS SAY: AMERICANA EDITION: ...or as close as we can get, although the limited titles on offer at the Wichita Falls WalMart will allow us.

The local paper (the Times Record News) there wasn't, we suspect, alone in reporting that Ringo Starr might be the only Beatle not in the Hall of Fame, but he's got a much bigger honour - he's been picked by Noraid as this year's honorary Santa Tracker. The American defence system has a tradition of giving updates on where Santa has got to with his Christmas Eve travels ("he's just ignoring North Korea right now..."), and this year when kids dial the toll-free number, besides being told where Father Christmas is, they'll get to hear some of Ringo's music as well. Which is probably worse than calling a toll-free number to be told "It's not really Santa, it's your dad wearing a pillow round his belly."

More worryingly for the TRN, the arrest of Glenn Campbell couldn't have come at a worse time. He'd been booked to play the Oil Baron's Ball (splendidly, JR's annual highlight turns out to be a real event) but now looks likely to be slopping out on J-Wing instead of playing Rhinestone Cowboy for the crude guys.

Moving up a gear, the Dallas Morning News featured a brief chat with Tupac's mother, who is now in charge of putting out the dead chap's work. Her defence for lobbing every last scrap at the audience is that to do otherwise just wouldn't be right: "What I won't do is censor. I wouldn't censor any artist, so I won't say 'this is not good because it says something that's not nice.' If he wrote it, I put it out because my job is to put his music out, not to decide whether its good or bad." So, nothing to do with trying to wring every last cent out of her boy's corpse, then - to not flood the market would be censorship.

Meanwhile, students at the University of North Carolina-Charlottes graduation ceremony are raising a petition against the imposition of a rule limiting them to just seven tickets for their own graduation. The limit - only the second in the college's history - is widely seen as being the fault of one specific graduate, Clay Aiken. Clay has lovely hair and was American Idol's successful failure, but the College is afraid, presumably, that students would start flogging tickets on Ebay so that the people who like his lovely hair might see it.

Also from the DMN, the sound of Britney's critics going "Oh..." as her album sales sail effortlessly to the top of the Billboard charts. Yeah, the single didn't do too great, which kind of suggests her bid to swap from kiddie pop hero to adult segment entertainer is right on target.

USA Today splashes that "Hollywood eyes Justin - Timberlake awaits 'right project'". Yeah, just as soon someone writes a movie about a jittery squeaky toy, which doesn't call for much acting on the part of the lead, he'll be getting a trailer with his name on it.

But, of course, the main musical focus of the proper papers has been on one man. "Jackson camp: claim a 'lie'" read a headline in USA Today, which was on the face of it wrong; there's no claim more truthfilled than the belief that Jackson is camp, surely?

Wisconsin's Marshfield News-Herald blames the parents: "what in the world were they thinking?" - like many papers, it's not prejudging the case against Jacko, but doesn't need to: Fortysomething bloke, already widely perceived to have paid off a kid's family, admits on TV that he shares his bedroom with young boys. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette warns that "celebrities, even fallen pop idols, deserve the same presumption of innocence as the rest of us", which is true, but most of the press coverage isn't even bothering to think about what illegal acts may or mayn't have taken place. Man who knows lots of people think he's a paedophile. "Oh, Martin, I have sleep overs with boys." Really, you don't need much more error of judgement there - whats curious is it took the arrest rather than the bashir documentary for the fourth estate to spot something was up. So, what were the parents thinking? Probably "This car Michael Jackson has bought for us drives real smooth...", we'd imagine.

But it's hard to be amused by this (very much) for long - California's Contra Costa Times warns that the Jackson case might have a knock-on effect beyond making a re-release of Pretty Young Thing hugely ill-advised:"One of the severest tragedies of this voyeuristic charade is that it may do nothing more than perpetuate the myth that child molestation is a crime that happens only in bizarre situations, surrounded by mansions and circus rides" - in other words, Neverland is America's Satanic Abuse case, bringing the reality of child abuse into everybody's homes while simultaneously making it seem comfortingly strange and odd and distant.

But perhaps the North Carolina Asheville Citizen-Times is right: "With all the problems in the world, why put so much focus on Jackson?" The clue is in the Question, people - nothing like a good ole' sideshow to take folks' minds off the gathering storm. So when New York Daily News covers Jermaine's claim that the arrest is a "modern day lynching", he might be almost there. It's actually a modern day bear-baiting.

Back in Britain, Radio Times was coming out with four different Doctor Who covers. This was to allow newsagents to discover without embarrassment which of their customers were gay. Across in the States, Spin was trying a multi-cover edition, only with one of the Strokes on each. We're assuming that the run of Nikolai Fraiture was somewhat smaller than that of some of the others - and certainly, at Dallas Fort Worth there were only Julians and Fabrizios, although really we wanted a Nick Valensi - we know, acquired taste and all that, but even so. Anyone want to swap?

The letters page burns with the fallout from Spin's Cool Issue - curiously, Gwen Steffani made it in to the Spin list the same month she was booted from the NME list.

Pink, it seems, is pissed off with Linda Perry (also on the NME cool list, by the way) over the quote about how she wouldn't be letting the new Pink album be a load of Alicia banging on about her troubles. Pink also hints that she thinks Perry might be a bi jealous of her charges, wishing it was still her up there in the big hat and the flying goggles, getting the attention. We'd imagine that Cathy Dennis is just the same, sat at home dreaming of the days when she could half-fill out a fairly small room in a provincial town rather than counting the money her songwriting is bringing her.

The Thrills and The Stills are Spin's new bands to watch, proving that there's a lot of mileage to be gotten out of being a rhyming double.

Just like the NME with the Thrills, Spin tries to boil the Strokes down into a one-word adjective-nick-noun. But can you guess which is which, readers? Unshaven, Romantic, Snarky, Normal and, um, Jules. (Albert, Fab, Nick, Nikolai and, um, Julian, in case you want to check your scores.) Nick suspects that the reason the Strokes got all backlashed when "another band" (he means the White Stripes) didn't was because the White Stripes had built up a load of indie cred by releasing records before anyone heard of them. You don't think it might be that even though they also did the film-star dating, poor facial hair thing, the main reason why the Stripes kept most of the critics onboard was that, through it all, they continued to stick out top tunes, then?

Kid Rock thinks the obsession with celebrity is "totally gay. It's definitely at a point where its become too much." When a mainstream magazine runs a four page interview with slack-synapses like Rock, we tend to agree.

Meanwhile - "Chest-baring catsuits. Dog-bothering falsetto. Fist-pumping songs about STDs and badminton." Oh yes, The Darkness have taken America. Coldplay and The Darkness. What must Americans think of us?

Please like me: Billie Joe Armstrong tells of bumping into Ryan Adams, and Adams "dropping names of Green Day songs I'd not heard since I was 16."

Reviews: David Bowie - Reality - "a relaxed, even graceful affair.", B-, B-
Ryan Adams, Rock & Roll (Spin stick to the party line and print the words reversed) - "Adams sounds like a guy who's coming apart at the seams". B+

You just know its going to be wrong - Rolling Stone have cleared the bikini babes from the cover, and announce, in type usually reserved for acts of terrorism: "The 500 Greatest Albums of all time." Tucked inside the fold-out cover - and incredibly well hidden - is a free CD in the SA-CD format (oh, good - my quadrophonic deck was starting to feel lonely) featuring a sample of the chart. Nine tracks. One is Norah Jones. Things aren't looking good. But the question is there: What have they chosen as number one. Surely... surely it'll be a surprise, yeah?

How was the chart put together? Experts, of course. Apparently 272 experts, and Fred Durst. They drew up a list of fifty records, which were given an oddly weighted 100 for first place, 50 for second, 33.3333 for third, 25 for fourth. So assuming that, say, Claude Nobs, the director of the Montreux Rock festival couldn't be arsed to put his last 25 in order - and, seriously, how can you pick your forty-eight favourite album with that level of precision? - his caprice alone could have swung the vote some other way, ina totally arbitrary fashion. Actually, the 273 electors is a more fascinating list than the 500 records. Why did Andy Bell, the Erasure one, not the Oasis one, get to put a list in? The Edge did, Bono didn't. Bill Ward of Black Sabbath and the Late Show with Letterman's musical director were invited to give their opinion. Pete Seger and Carole King both know what they're talking about, but does Green Day's Tre Cool have the same ear?Tony Kanal of No Doubt gets his say; Gwen Steffani doesn't. But Shirley Manson and Butch Vig both distribute hundreds of marks for the Garbage camp. It's like a pre-1863 election.

And if you have a rotten borough, you get stinking results: Touch -The Eurythmics (500) is five places behind Husker Du's New Day Rising. But at 494, there's She's so Unusual by Cyndi Lauper, a record whose sole actions so far in the twenty-first century has been to stop the Ray Coniff albums feeling lonely in Oxfam.

With a list this huge, there are of course nice surprises - having Entertainment by the Gang of Four at 490 is a warm smile, while Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness languishing at 487 makes us want to call up Billy Corgan and list all the records that beat it to him. But Here My Dear by Marvin Gaye (462) was a joke, wasn't it?; although not in the sense of EPMD's Strictly Business (459) or Madonna's Music (452).

Letting The Mamas and Papas be represented by a Greatest Hits compilation (423) seems unfair. Oasis' Whats the story Morning Glory at 376 shows just how adrift the middle reaches of the chart are - that's one above Crazy Sexy Cool, eleven lower than Louder Than Bombs. But what difference in points are we talking here? Does it mean that Brothers In Arms (351) is 0.1% worse than John Wesley Harding (301)? Theyd have been better off with alphabetical order, which would have made it even more like you're flipping through the CD crate at a distress sale - Psychocandy (268) good; Tracy Chapman (261) bad; The Velvet Rope (256) ridiculous; Nick of Time by Bonnie Raitt (229) surely mis-filed? You wonder when My Bloody Valentine will turn up.

Green Day's Dookie is at 193, apparently a better album than Transformer (194). Linda Ronstadt's Heart Like A Wheel (194) just fails to claim a more plum spot for posterity than OK Computer (162).

But of course, its when you crack the double figures that the whole exercise starts to fall apart, as the caprice of maths starts to take less of the blame than the so-called experts. Born In The USA scrapes in at 85 while the currently modish Back In Black takes a lordly 73. Songs In The Key of Life is judged a better Stevie Wonder album than Talking Book (56 against 90). Many will be outraged that Dark Side of the Moon comes way down at 43, but the real scandal is a panel who'd place this ahead of Patti Smith's Horses (44). We wonder if Carole King voted for her own album - Tapestry (36), or if anyone who voted has ever actually played The Plastic Ono Band (22). And stayed in the room, I mean. Thriller is at 20; Nevermind at 17. Blonde on Blonde is nine. Have you guessed what Number One is yet?

Highway 61 Revisited is 4; Revolver is 3; Pet Sounds is 2 and...

Yes, they made Sergeant Peppers Lonely Fucking Hearts Club Band number one. 273 experts in music, and they still come up with the same answer we'd have got if we asked your nan, the breakfast show host off Three Counties Radio, Charlie Higson (Swiss Toni from the Fast Show) and some girls we fancied at Sixth Form. Had they been handed the forms with 'SGT P' already printed at the top - "We've done the first to start you off..." or was Jeb Bush given the ballot box for safe keeping overnight? Aside from the pointlessness of doing a huge study to come up with such a hackneyed, Bohemian Rhapsody, Citizen Kane, Del falling backwards through a bar result, this one has never made any sense - Pepper isn't even the best Beatles album, much less the best album ever. Apart from Let It be naked, it's actually hard to come up with a worse album by the band. Couldn't they just have printed the ballots instead? The ones they did run were fascinating - Britney Spears favourite is Michael Jackson's Thriller, but her number was Janet's Rhythm Nation, which surprised me for reasons I can't quite compute.

Oh, and by the way: Loveless. 219.

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