AYE TUNES

2006 was both the year the sin­gle died and the year the hum­ble song came back to life again, writes Kevin Court­ney

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - MUSIC2006 -

POP pick­ers had long been pre­pared for the demise of the tra­di­tional sin­gle. Sales of CD sin­gles have been on a steady de­cline since the start of the new mil­len­nium, while seven-inch vinyl discs have reached rar­ity sta­tus. Many mis­tak­enly be­lieved, that once the for­mat died, the songs would die with it. But, like a but­ter­fly shed­ding its cater­pil­lar skin, the mu­sic took flight, freed from its cir­cu­lar fiveinch cage and un­fet­tered by the chart rules to which sin­gle re­leases must con­form, such as a max­i­mum of three dif­fer­ent tracks, and re­stric­tions on free gifts, posters, stick­ers or any­thing else that might per­suade fans to shell out up to ¤6 per copy.

In April, Gnarls Barkley’s Crazy be­came the first song to top the charts on down­load sales alone. But in­stead of drop­ping out of the hit pa­rade as quickly as it came in, as sin­gles have been wont to do, Crazy stayed in pole po­si­tion for nine weeks. This was partly due to the pub­lic­ity gen­er­ated by the song’s on­line feat, which en­sured con­tin­ued sales when phys­i­cal copies came out the next week. Re­ally, though, the real rea­son for the song’s suc­cess is that, un­like Bryan Adams’s Ev­ery­thing I Do (I Do It For You), Crazy was as cool a slice of soul­jack­ing hiphop as you could hope to hear this side of Sher­wood For­est, and de­servedly be­came the big­gest tune of 2006.

In the wake of Crazy’s suc­cess, pop fans sub­scribed in droves to such mu­sic down­load sites as iTunes and the now-le­git Nap­ster, and be­gan load­ing up their MP3 play­ers with the hottest new tunes. The count­down had be­gun.

In an­tic­i­pa­tion of the end, the BBC axed Top of the Pops; it aired the fi­nal pro­gramme on July 30th and even wheeled out musty old ex-pre­sen­ter Jimmy Sav­ile to pre­side over the wake. Dave Lee Travis, the DJ once known as “the Hairy Corn­flake”, ex­plained the show’s demise thus: “If you look at your av­er­age kid who might be in­ter­ested in Top of the Pops, they’ll have their iPod in one hand, a mo­bile phone in the other, they’ll be play­ing a com­puter with their feet and have a Wi-Fi ae­rial stick­ing on the top of their head.”

In the democ­racy of down­load­ing, pun­ters voted with their thumbs, and sud­denly ev­ery­body had a shot at hav­ing a hit record. Sandi Thom (or Sandi Thom’s PR peo­ple, de­pend­ing on who you be­lieve) ex­ploited the new plat­form, per­form­ing a con­cert in her apart­ment and broad­cast­ing it on­line, and was re­warded for her (or her PR peo­ple’s) in­ge­nu­ity with a No 1 hit, I Wish I Was a Punk Rocker (With Flow­ers inMy Hair).

Much more cred­i­ble was Lily Allen, daugh­ter of co­me­dian Keith Allen, whose MyS­pace page boasts 90,000 friends and whose ska-lite chart-top­per, Smile, be­came the sunny sum­mer sound­track for Lon­don hip­sters. Corinne Bai­ley Rae’s gen­tle, jazzy Put Your Records On also se­duced, but Amy Wine­house’s Re- hab pushed you roughly on the floor and had its wicked way with you.

Those who feared the in­for­ma­tion su­per­high­way would soon go down the mid­dle of the road route needn’t have wor­ried: there was room in the pa­rade for var­i­ous indie and al­ter­na­tive bands, and es­tab­lished pop­sters such as Bey­oncé, Pink and Girls Aloud had to share chart space with grubby indie acts such as The Au­to­matic, Kooks, Fratel­lis and Dirty Pretty Things.

With down­load sales now count­ing as chart plac­ings, sin­gles no longer en­tered the charts at No 1 and then dropped out, but made a more mea­sured climb to the top. It felt just like the 1970s all over again, right down to the look and sound of the new indie bands. You had Kooks com­ing on like Bowie circa 1972, Racon­teurs rock­ing like Led Zep­pelin, and Wolf­mother do­ing their best Uriah Heep im­pres­sion; and tonight, Matthew, Fratel­lis ARE Mungo Jerry.

Then there were the so-called new ravers, who mixed punk-rock gui­tars with Prodi­gy­type am­bu­lance sirens and woo-woo’d their way into the hearts of pop fans. The T.Rex of them all was The Au­to­matic’s Mon­ster (more pop than new rave, but still glow­ing) and chas­ing be­hind them like a gag­gle of an­gry geese were Klax­ons, New Young Pony Club, CSS and Shit­disco. Noisy and ex­u­ber­ant, th­ese were the per­fect sin­gles bands – you couldn’t stick that in­fer­nal squalling for the du­ra­tion of an en­tire album.

On the home front, we were treated to a storm of good bands who knew their way around a cho­rus. In par­tic­u­lar, The Bliz­zards, Di­rec­tor and The Im­me­di­ate dis­played sharp pop-rock in­stincts. A few bloated bands still clung to the earnest, over­wrought Coldplay/Ra­dio­head for­mula, but th­ese guys aimed straight for the tune, and hit the bullseye ev­ery time.

The cross-legged brigade, long seen as a purely Ir­ish anom­aly, fi­nally be­gan to cross over. Ir­ish singer­song­writer Fionn Re­gan mak­ing waves in the UK and the al­ready es­tab­lished Damien Rice chart­ing with 9 Crimes, even though its folk-you cho­rus is un­likely to be aired on day­time ra­dio or teatime TV.

Ra­zorlight­made their bid for sta­dium glory with the turgid FM an­them Amer­ica, whose only re­deem­ing qual­ity was that it sounded a bit like Cyndi Lau­pers’s Time Af­ter Time. Mean­while, real sta­dium rock­ers U2 teamed up with Green Day at Abbey Road to record a cover of The Skids’ The Saints Are Com­ing, re­mind­ing us that they, too, used to be punk rock­ers with flow­ers in their hair. Westlife proved that not even an in­va­sion of in­dieheads can pre­vent them from get­ting to No 1 yet again, but woe­ful bal­lad The Rose makes the boy­bands of the past seem al­most ex­cit­ing by com­par­i­son.

Re-en­ter Take That with come­back sin­gle Pa­tience, which at the time of writ­ing is still at the top of the charts. It’s a good tune, too, but let’s pray that its suc­cess doesn’t prompt Boy­zone to re­form. Now that re­ally would spell the death of the song.

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