A disastrous musical weekend

I’m hoping that this will be a cathartic experience, because I can’t remember ever feeling quite so low about the world of popular music.

Let me explain.

Following another challenging week, Friday evening found me curled up on the sofa, snoring lightly after couple of pints of home-brew. When I awoke, it was to the sounds of the cast of Eastenders ritually murdering the best of Motown. Even in the relative clarity of sobriety two days later, I still can’t understand why anyone thinks that having a group of unconvincing actors being less convincing on the singing and dancing front is in the least bit entertaining. Unless it’s in the name of shameless self-promotion (which I think is pretty much what celeb cheridy passes for these days). Anyway, it was horrible.

In my more structured daydreams, I’ve often thought that the one possession which I would cherish for the rest of my life would be a 200 play jukebox (probably an Ami Continental, if any of you are reading this with a view to that special Christmas present). 50 of the singles will be Motown, the other 50 will be the Stiff back catalogue, and frankly, I’ll need for nothing else in my life. Although after Friday, I’ve added an Ian Beale voodoo doll to my wish list. The point is, where something is good, be careful about messing it about. And if something is great, leave well alone.

Which brings me to Sunday night, when it was time to catch up on the immersion in popular culture that is the X Factor. And, as you may have seen, the return to the stage of everyone’s favourite misfit, the fairground exhibit that goes by the name of Susan Boyle. Who was singing ‘Wild Horses’. And frankly, reader, I wept for her. Well, I went to bed early, anyway, which in our house counts as about the same.

I will find it hard to describe to you how fantastic I think Wild Horses is as a song. It’s constructed brilliantly. It has flawless and yet relaxed guitar work on it (using Nashville tuning, fretboard fans). It manages to point Jagger’s louch public schoolboy sneer in a perfect embodiment of decadent self loathing. Crikey, any more of this and I’ll be writing for the Spectator. The point is, it works, in a way that ‘Angie’ and ‘Dead Flowers’ do, because on their day, the Glimmer twins could write songs that were just perfect rock and roll. And as such, it needs to be approached with caution. And putting Susan Boyle on the job, in a sapphire evening dress, singing tremulously in the style of Judy Collins with full orchestral accompaniment is Not The Way To Do It*.

As a result of this shenanigans, there are generations of people who will think that this is the way that ‘Wild Horses’ is supposed to sound, as a saccharine drenched sub-standard song, complete with sloppy timing and over ambitious wailing**. It makes even less sense than the cast of Eastenders frankly, but I guess we shouldn’t be surprised. After all, it’s only a few months since the same crew took Leonard Cohen’s finest round the back of the X factor studios and kicked it to death in the company of our very own Alexandra Burke.

This is popular music we’re talking about, so it’s really really really important. Something must be done.

Sorry, that wasn’t cathartic at all. I’m still very cross.

* For an example of The Way To Do It, see The Sundays version of Wild Horses. And if you’re really into this sort of nonsense, listen to Neil Young’s ‘Powderfinger’, back to back with the Cowboy Junkies cover. That (as Mr Punch might say)’s the way to do it.

** Hello, this is the Spectator…


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