Thursday, 17 December 2009

Fuck You I Won't Buy What You Tell Me

This article originally appeared on the peerless (yet now sadly defunct) It's owners are now Suburban Tarts, who should be visited post-haste...

Right. It's clearly the biggest music story right now, so let's all come together to answer that burning question: "Ought we buy Killing in the Name (again) in order to keep some baby-faced chap with a nice voice off the Christmas number one spot?" It's not easy to answer, there are convincing arguments both ways, which I'm going to try and tackle sensibly and then let you draw your own conclusions because, after all, fuck me you won't do what I tell ya. The main argument from the doubters seems to take one of two forms: either that Cowell owns shares in Sony BMG, which in turn owns Rage's back catalogue or that Killing in the Name is a song written in protest at the Los Angeles Police Department's treatment of black citizens in Los Angeles. The problem with this argument is this, as I see it: the choice of the song is pretty much immaterial (or at least arbitrary) in this equation. It could just as easily be Fly Me to the Moon, the point is more about what it's not. It's not X Factor. And for people who are concerned about Cowell making money out of the counter-campaign I have some news; you may need to sit down. Nasty people own shares in every large record company you can name. Someone with no discernable talent always makes money out of the music industry. Look at Pete Doherty...
I'm sorry, I digress. Rage are a band that have a long history of flying in the face of the established order, and this is presumably why the campaigners chose this song. Then there's the false nostalgia idea: Christmas number ones were rubbish, even before X Factor came along. Highlights of recent years might include Mr Blobby, Bob the Builder, any number of Stock-Aitkin-Waterman schmultz ballads… Going a little further back, there's Rolf Harris's 'Two Little Boys', the last number one of the sixties (that'll come up in a pub quiz some day, and when it does you owe me a pint). Again though, the date is largely arbitrary. It could be mid-June and there would still be a campaign. It just so happens that this could be a double whammy: beating X Factor and getting a decent song to number one at Christmas. Incidentally, I've never heard this year's X Factor single. I've also never been to the Arctic, but I know it's cold. See where I'm going with this?

Then there's the history angle: this is of course not by any means the first time a band or movement has sought to subvert the pop charts to prove a point. God Save the Queen should by all rights have made the top spot in 1977, to clash with the Queen's Jubilee celebrations. In a step unprecedented either before or since the chart compilers took the decision to discount sales from independent record stores. Even with the majority of its audience so brutally ostracised, the record still made number two on the official charts: "pipped" by Rod Stewart. Oh the irony. More recently there's the Manics, who went in with an audacious punt to be the first band in chart history to go straight in at number one and then go straight back out of the top forty the next week. The record (Masses Against the Classes) went straight in at number one but sadly only managed to "un-peak" at number 39. And this is all before we get to last year's Clash of the Cohen Covers. But when it comes right down to it, the charts are about democracy. Josef Heller is quoted as saying that in a democracy we get the government we deserve. The charts are a good illustration of democracy amongst music buyers. The difference here is that you have to put your hand in your pocket to vote. But there is the opportunity here to make some kind of statement, to score a victory for music over manufactured pap. Substance over style. Product over promotion. And now that all of Rage's cut from the sales is being donated to charity, there's very little reason not to stump up your hard-earned reddies in the name of all that is proper about music. If you really feel strongly about the X Factor and Cowell's supposed strangle-hold on music, buy the song whether you like it, whether you own it already, because we get the music we deserve as well. I'm off to spend 79p on a song I already own. Viva la revolution!

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