We haven’t heard too much from our very own Grinch this year; I suppose that means the restraining order worked. Unfortunately, he’s just reminded us that we have a contractual obligation to publish his annual High Five contribution. Feel free to read this, but please bear in mind that it contains bad attitude from the outset.

CopicatLoop pedals

Why does every performer these days want to use a loop pedal? It was a challenge in the seventies when John Martyn and Brian May used WEM Copicats with real tape loops (well, where did you think the name came from?) to beef up their guitar noodlings. It was proper difficult then because you never knew when the tape would wear out or jam. Then KT Tunstall went on “Later” and suddenly every cheapskate player and singer wants to ditch the rhythm section and everyone sounds like everyone else. It’s a nice gimmick but it’s not a substitute for real players. Just leave the looper at home; it’s not big and it’s not clever.

FestivalsFestivals

What’s going on with festivals now? When I was a lad, you only had Reading (Jazz and Blues) Festival to contend with; Glastonbury was just a couple of hundred comatose stoners looking for ley lines and T in the Park wasn’t even in the horizon for Stuart Clumpas. Festivals only happened in the British summer month(s) and featured bands that everyone knew. And now there are mainstream festivals, corporate festivals, boutique festivals and bonkers local festivals with tribute bands, has-beens and newcomers. But watch your step; if you buy a ticket for a festival, buy it with a credit card, because there’s a pretty good chance it won’t actually happen – your choice.

MadonnaMadonna

I know, it’s a shocker; Madonna has a diva strop. Who would have predicted that? Ms Ciccone gets on stage just under an hour late in Manchester and what does she do? Well, most of us would apologise, wouldn’t we, but not Madonna Veronica Louise. No she rips into the booing audience and calls them diva bitches. There’s a lesson to learn here; if you have all of your light show (and your backup vocals and Autotune settings) stored electronically, then back the fecking things up, and not just once. Don’t use data loss as an excuse, because it’s no excuse, especially if you offer it up two days later. We all screw up; apologise and get over it. Your audience are paying your wages; never, ever forget that.

Tidal Launch Event NYC #TIDALforALLStreaming

Well, we were all blown away by the stupendous Tidal launch this year, weren’t we? A motley bunch of rich musicians (and isn’t that Ms Ciccone again?) investing in a scheme to make themselves even more money, that’s just what we need isn’t it? The launch event looked like a failed PowerPoint training exercise, proving that musicians should stick to what they do best. It’s been pitched as an attempt to generate decent loyalties for writers, but it smells of elitism and the music-buying public have ignored it in their droves. If you still believe that music has any value, you can ignore streaming services completely and buy physical copies of your music.

VinylVinyl and CDs

So we’re all supposed to be streaming now and no-one wants to buy physical copies of music any more. Well it’s a bit confusing, but I’ll do my best to make it simple and use small words. CDs: apparently they’re on the way out at the same time as they’re on the way back in again. If you believe the insiders, CDs are about to become a premium product, for the second time as a medium for ultra-high quality sound, while vinyl sales (and record deck sales) are still on the rise in 2015. If the public are showing signs of paying to actually own musical artefacts, then I’m well chuffed, but my inner cynic starts to get twitchy when Tesco are selling vinyl again and ‘classic’ albums that were originally released on vinyl, then cassette, then CD, then online as MP3s and streamed versions are back to vinyl again. I’m just pleased I kept hold of all my old 8-tracks.

Please tell me it hasn’t come round again already; drunks on public transport, pubs packed with once-a-year drinkers and a demand from MusicRiot to cobble something together for their inane end of year feature. Damn, Christmas again and I hate Christmas unless I can sack a widow on Christmas Eve. But wait, I can see a chink of gloom poking through the bright lights; it looks like John Fogerty and Creedence Clearwater Revisited are opening legal hostilities again, so I think a festive five music lawsuits is about as much fun as I can hope for.

John FogertyJohn Fogerty

The man in the lumberjack shirt and his CCR ex-buddies are kicking legal lumps out of each other again and nobody really knows what it’s all about, but there are plenty of lawyers involved and onstage pronouncements and press conferences and a whole flamin’ media circus. Just bear this in mind guys; whoever wins, all the lawyers get paid.

But that’s not the most interesting lawsuit John Fogerty has been involved in, oh no. He sold the rights to his songs to his former label Fantasy (headed by the infamous Saul Zaentz) to escape from label (don’t try that one at home boys and girls) and go solo. So, Mr Fogerty gets a bunch of songs together and releases the album “Centerfield”. Happy ending; not quite. The litigious Mr Zaentz sues on the grounds that the album’s opening song, “The Old Man down the Road” plagiarises a Creedence song, “Run Through the Jungle”, which Zaentz holds the copyright for. He wasn’t too chuffed about the song “Zanz Kant Danz” (later changed to “Vanz Kant Danz”) either. So what could be more stupid than suing someone (unsuccessfully) for copying their own song?

Neil YoungNeil Young

Well, David Geffen had a pretty good shot at it in 1983 with Neil Young when he sued him for not sounding like his previous records. After signing one of the most contrary artists in rock (or maybe just a guy who follows his own artistic vision), he decided, after three albums he didn’t like, to sue Shakey for submitting ‘uncharacteristic’ music for release. Maybe it was a bit of a coincidence that the albums weren’t selling. You have to wonder where David Geffen had been living during the seventies if he hadn’t realised that Neil Young didn’t give a stuff about following commercial trends. They eventually kissed and made up and Shakey went back to his spiritual home at Reprise records.

So that’s one case of a label suing an artist for sounding too much like themselves and another case of a label suing an artist for not sounding like themselves. Where else can the stupidity go? Well, back in time a decade or so.

George HarrisonGeorge Harrison

After the Beatles, the quiet one was quickly out of the blocks with the triple album “All Things Must Pass” and the single “My Sweet Lord”. Three weeks after the release of the single, George was hit with a lawsuit alleging that the single plagiarised the Chiffons single, “He’s So Fine” (big in the US, not so big in the UK). It took five years for the case to come to court and George was found guilty of “subconscious plagiarism”, which cost him over half a million dollars. What you have to ask is how come no-on spotted this similarity? “All Things Must Pass” was co-produced by Phil Spector, who was very much part of the American teen scene in 1963 when “He’s So Fine” was a hit. It’s hard to believe he couldn’t spot such an obvious similarity. So, how many more ways could lawyers invent to make money out of the music business. How about “Where there’s blame there’s a claim”?

Ozzy OsbourneThe Metal Suicides

Jumping back to the eighties again, in 1988 the parents of a teenage fan tried to accuse Ozzy Osbourne of causing the death of their son, claiming that hidden lyrics in “Suicide Solution” had caused their son to take his own life; the suit was dismissed but it didn’t mean that the suicide blame game was over. In 1990, Judas Priest were taken to court by the parents of two teenagers who, after a drugs and alcohol binge, attempted a suicide pact. It’s interesting that no-one was trying to sue any brewers, distillers or dealers for their part in the events. Just ask yourself again who benefitted from these legal cases; I’ll give you a clue, it wasn’t the parents or the bands. Ok, it’s Christmas, let’s try to end on a slightly happy note.

Spandau BalletSpandau Ballet

It all started off so well; a bunch of school friends got together and formed a band in the seventies. The band caught the New Romantic zeitgeist with their first single in 1980 and everything was looking good; who needed lawyers and contracts? Well, in this case it might have been a good idea (I never said I had to be consistent) because any memories of verbal agreements vanished after the band became famous. In 1990, Tony Hadley, Steve Norman and John Keeble sued for a share of the booty, claiming that their contributions and a verbal agreement entitled them to a twelfth of the royalties. The case was dismissed and the non-Kemp Spandaus faced huge legal bills, but that wasn’t the end of the affair.

In 2009, the guys resolved their legal issues and got back together to tour again as Spandau Ballet; well, it is Christmas and we should have a happy ending really. There’s a lesson there as well; at this time of year, everyone goes to the pub and maybe that’s what the Spandaus and all of the other people mentioned here should have done. Forget all of the lawyers, go and have a few beers and sort all of your problems out.

Merry Xmas.

I’ve been asked by some idiot at MusicRiot to contribute to a ridiculous feature about the best 5 albums of 2012; what a stupid idea. 5 good albums this year; I haven’t heard 5 good albums in the last 40 years.  Is anyone actually making albums these days?  It’s all very well being able to download any track you want from Mr Apple (and don’t even get me started on MP3 sound quality, I make Neil Young sound like the voice of reason), but what happened to sleeve notes and artwork and all the other vital information.  And don’t tell me you don’t want to know who plays the flugel horn solo on track 4; are you interested in music or not?

Come on though, seriously, what happened after the Beatles, the Stones, the Who, Motown and Stax/Atlantic?  Prog rock in the 70s; leave it out, that was for grammar school boys who wanted to appear more intelligent than their mates by listening to challenging (or completely unlistenable) music.  Did punk change anything?  Well, the Sex Pistols were put together to sell clothes for a boutique owner and the Clash should have decided whether to do great music or great politics;  you can’t do both.  Disco; well, there were shedloads of brilliant singles but can you name a great disco album?

The 80s then? Dodgy clothes, dodgy haircuts, dodgy make-up (and that’s just  the men); was anyone actually paying any attention to the music at all?  What about the late 80s then?  Oh yeah, house music; drum machines and samples of cats from public service information films.  At least nobody released a track with a sample of a hoover on it, did they?  Apart from Joey Beltram and Westbam; ecstasy has a lot to answer for.  And then, despite Paul Oakenfold’s apocalyptic proclamations, guitars made a comeback.  So, what was that Britpop malarkey all about then?

Bunches of yobs with bad clothes and worse haircuts.  That was what killed off Top of the Pops; there was nothing wrong with it when it had a dress code and groups had to wear suits before they got past the door of Broadcasting House.  More ex-army commissionaires, that’s what we need today; that and proper haircuts. And as for the Battle of Britpop, what a scam that was; Beatles and Small Faces copyists without any decent songs and not a suit or tie between them.  And it hasn’t got any better with whingeing fops like Keane, Coldplay, Travis and Snow Patrol, although those Muse boys have got some good tunes; shame they’re mad as fish and they probably got all the best tunes from Matt’s old man, who nicked them from Joe Meek.

As for those rappers, what’s that all about with their bitches and hos and motherthingers and suck my thing?  Whatever happened to “I Want to Hold your Hand”, or that nice song about going for a stroll in “Itchycoo Park”?  And the bestselling album of 2011 was made by a pub singer from Croydon; you surely can’t expect me to pick out five great albums from 2012, can you?  And don’t even think about suggesting greatest hits packages.

Merry flaming Christmas.

Ok, I know the music business is changing by the millisecond these days and artists have to be increasingly creative to make sure their talent and hard graft actually generates some proper wonga for them rather than their tracks being illegally downloaded by some pimply pre-pubescent in Manchester.  And don’t accuse me of being anti-Manc, I’m just showing an interest in current affairs.  There’s no chance of landing a six-figure advance these days to invest in the Colombian economy before getting your mate to record your magnum opus over a slow weekend in his lock-up.  So everyone’s desperately looking for new ways to actually make a living from music.

There’s a whole new industry which has appeared from nowhere while our backs were turned.  It’s so new that it can’t even spell its own name yet, so I don’t know if it’s syncing or synching but I’m sure it’ll soon sort out that little identity crisis.  When I was a lad (before digital and mobile phones and that worldwide net thing), it was the ultimate sellout to allow your creative masterworks to be used in an advert.  Neil Young got so upset about an approach from Pepsi that he wrote “This Note’s For You” about it.  So who made it ok to sell your soul to Bartle Bogle Hegarty (come on, it’s so much funnier than BBH, isn’t it)?

It was Apple and the Archangel Bono, that’s who.  When “Vertigo” was used on the iPod ad, the trickle of high-profile bands chasing the advertising money turned into a deluge.  Everyone’s at it now.  I mean, did the Stones really need the extra dosh from “Start Me Up” on the Omega ad this summer?  I don’t mind anyone trying to get their music out there and get the rewards they deserve; far from it.  The sync(h)ing industry helps get good new music into films, TV series and ads that generate a buzz (and a fee) for the artists and you would have to have a hard heart to complain about that.

I really have a problem with musicians who should know better endorsing totally inappropriate products.  Where do I start? Is that too many rhetorical questions?  Ok, Iggy Pop selling insurance, then.  Iggy (or Jimmy to his friends) has to be the risk-taker supreme of the 70s; drugs, physical self-harm and more drugs followed by even more drugs and then he appears on TV advertising insurance.  No insurance is as good as being the luckiest man alive, and you can’t buy or sell that commodity.  Chumbawamba, 80s anarcho-punks and agit-proppers (they were so anti-establishment they threw a jug of water over John Prescott) could surely be relied on to resist the temptation of selling out to the establishment.  No chance; “Tubthumping” is featured on an ad for that great anarchist enterprise of ambulance-chasing.

But the best one of the lot has to be John Lydon/Rotten for his splendid work endorsing dairy products.  From the most hated man in Britain to selling butter on TV; it’s a bit of a comedown from the brilliant “World Destruction” with Afrika Bambaataa.  A feature in one of the inkies a few weeks ago described our Johnny as a pantomime villain, but he’s such a caricature now that pantomime dame’s probably closer to the mark.

 

So what was that all about then?  I’ve just had to spend two days in a darkened room because I thought I was having another one of my flashbacks.  What did all of that have to do with the Olympics?  It certainly proved that we do weird and surreal to gold medal standard, but all of that showing off wasn’t very British, was it?  Although, to be fair, most of the sets and props looked like they were about to fall apart if anyone looked sideways at them, which is very British.

You could take it seriously until Batman and Robin fell out of an exploding Trottermobile to the sound of Michael Caine’s “You were only supposed to blow the bloody doors off”.  I bet everyone got that reference instantly in Idaho and Irkutsk.  And then it started to get really strange.  The Pet Shop Boys doing “West End Girls” while being wheeled around the athletics track on 2 of the most rickety rickshaws you’ll ever see was only the start of the weirdness.  And why did they try to link everything with strings that sounded like the weird bit in “A Day in the Life”?

It was great that they managed to include something to offend just about everyone.  We got complaints about blasphemy because “Imagine” started with “Imagine there’s no heaven…”; I complained because it’s a dreadful, sanctimonious hypocritical dirge, but no-one paid any attention to that.  Ed Sheeran did a workmanlike version of Pink Floyd classic “Wish You Were Here” backed by an assortment of 70s proggers and his fans tweeted excitedly about his great new song; bless.  Surely the section where Russell Brand mimed “I Am the Walrus” was only put in there to make the audience go for another drink, like the ballad halfway through a heavy metal set.  I can’t think of another reason for it.

And what was Kaiser Karaoke all about?  Didn’t they have one song that was good enough to play at this event?  Though I don’t suppose “I Predict a Riot” would have been a great choice and “Pinball Wizard” is all about inclusivity.  Talking of choices, it was a bit rich that George Michael used the event as an opportunity to plug his new single although, to be fair, he doesn’t get out that much apart from his residency at Brent Magistrates Court.  Another interesting choice was getting Beady Eye to play “Wonderwall”.  I know it was a Liam vocal originally, but it sounded like an Oasis tribute band (Wibbling Rivalry or something like that).

Now, about that flashback.  I’m sure I saw a psychedelic bus turn into an octopus which then spat out Fatboy Slim (I’m assuming it was the mouth he came out of) who grinned and pretended to DJ for a while.  So I had a little lie down for a while and when I looked at the screen again it had got even stranger, if you can believe that.  Eric Idle singing “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” surrounded by angels, morris dancers and roller-skating nuns was what finally tipped me over the edge.  I’m better now, but I’m sticking to more normal stuff from now on; maybe the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band or Captain Beefheart.