Hit parade

Arbitrary lists are the mainstay of the Internet, let’s be honest. And there’s nothing more arbitrary than a list of favourite songs.  Now, I remember even as someone on the wrong side of 30 when the NME used to leave newspaper ink on your fingers whilst today it just gives a bad taste in the throat. It can’t just be me looking at a chart rundown of greatest tracks of its 60 year lifetime with an incredulous glare. Dizzy Rascal, eh? Of all time, you say? Top twenty, for Dizzy Rascal?

Now I will admit that I’m a man who enjoys nothing more than rattling up the debt on my local’s jukebox, and depending on mood, memory and the amount of ale consumed, that can be an experience akin to twiddling the dial on an AM radio. What I suspect has happened with the NME list is a brief talk with the guys in marketing and the one bloke who deals with SEO, from which came the considered opinion that to remain looking somehow ‘cool’ whilst still attracting casual readers/browsers meant choosing very obvious bands and very obvious songs. “Wonderwall”, for one clear example, would struggle to hit the top 20 of Oasis fans list of songs, and I include both Gallagher brothers in that. If the NME wanted to include Oasis whilst not looking too much like a magazine whose only reference material was a compilation album sold exclusively in a garage forecourt, then why not “Masterplan” or “Acquiesce”? Not exactly the very best work but at least a nod to something other than The Most Obvious Nomination…Ever!

And then we have the Madonna problem. Now, bless the NME, they needed a woman and what better choice than a woman whose back catalogue has shifted more units than IKEA. Problem – they’ve gone for the wrong song again (the best Madonna track is, by and large, “The Power of Goodbye” or “Frozen”, at a pinch “Nothing Really Matters). Problem number two – they could have chosen Kate Bush or Janis Joplin or any other number of female singers to provide a) the single female nomination they were clearly struggling to find, and b) one whose body of work fits with the NME’s former characteristic of ‘Magazine which doesn’t go for the obvious/mainstream.

Whilst I understand that they tried to go ‘off piste’ with Dizzy Rascal – “OFFICIALLY THE NINTH BEST SONG IN THE NME’S LIFETIME” – I would have stuffed the track about 100 places further down and to considered putting 99 places further down the Silver Sun cover version of “Too Much Too Little Too Late” just to prove a point. I know the NME wanted to add a rap track to cover all basis so why ignore “White Lines” as a cultural milestone rather than an arbitrarily chosen blip in contemporary urban music? Was this a panicked moment of ‘tokenism’ ?

My greatest concern is for the long term survival of the NME. It’s seen off almost all its rivals – from Record Mirror in the 70s through to Melody Maker and Select in the 90s and now stands fairly forlorn in the weekly magazine section of railway stations and corner shop newsagents. The relevance may have faded though the stature somehow remains, its reputation a shadow and showpiece. Why, then, have we got to the point where a magazine which commands respect can get away with picking the running order of Humdrum FM or a provincial town’s only indie club night (Once a week at Neon Jessie’s behind the Iceland, £1 entry before 11)?  I may live in Preston, not always known for having fingers on pulses but I can at least guarantee that the most prominent alternative club here would choose many hundred songs before considering the NME 20.  What exactly has gone wrong? Pressure? Ignorance?

All this said, of course, and without the realisation that all generations criticise the last for their taste in music. I’m just a little bitter at the lack of Abba and Fleetwood Mac. If anybody wants me, I’ll be at the jukebox. Oooh, “Pure Shores” by All Saints, could that sneak in somewere?

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Oasis – Time Flies

And time certainly does fly, this compilation spanning the band’s entire career and my youth/teenage years/early middle age in one complete, 130+ minutes album. It’s like regression therapy for northerners.

In a fingerclick of time-travel, I’m back listening to Mark Goodyear running down the chart show in 1994, when “Some Might Stay” was at number one, and the world seemed to change a little bit. We’d all bought into “Wonderwall” and picked up “Live Forever” on the two or three cable music channels available at the time, but now the band were at number one, and back then, such things meant a lot. Now they let James Corden into the charts, fordaluvofgod.

A compilation like “Time Flies” is the soundtrack of all our years, all our friendships, and those milestones we use to measure the distance from childhood dreams to adult reality. The lads piss ups in provincial indie clubs, chanting “Wonderwall” inbetween its usual Charlatans/Stone Roses segue; we’ve all been there, and Oasis soundtracked every step of the way.

Theirs is not a career without problems, of course, in and out the recording studio. If we sidestep the headlines for now (as difficult a task as that is, and notably rare among the British bands today), the back-catalogue this compilation celebrates is the very definition of flawed genius. At their peak, Oasis – and at most points “Oasis” is euphemism for “Noel” – were the stellar songwriters and live act of their day; “Wonderwall”, “Roll With It”, “Shakermaker”, “D’You Know What I Mean”, “Masterplan”, “Champagne Supernova”…This is the soundtrack of Britain that the helped influence almost every other indie/rock band from the 90s onwards, and is the pension plan the Arctic Monkeys would die for.

Flawed points on the Oasis journey tie up with internal pressures, sibling (wibbling?) rivalry, and the shifting sands of taste among the British single buyer. “Go Let It Out”, “The Hindu Times” – how hard we try to lift these as high, to enjoy them as much, and yet time has not been kind. The struggle up hill by the time of “Importance of Being Idle” is the same result of artistic exhaustion that runs through the output from the Monty Python team to Ricky Gervais. All genius is exhausted, all careers grind to a puttered engine eventually.

“Time Flies” is not the first – I dare say it won’t be the last – compilation of Oasis singles (anyone buy the cigarette-packet special editions, or is my memory tricking me?). This is one of the most important compilations in the potted history of British music, the vanguard of northern souls which copied and was copied in equal measure. Liam’s voice grew weary, Noel’s lyrics more maudlin, the band ground out too much in the end; but through the window of nostalgia and memory everything this album awakens remains inexorably linked to our social, political and musical history.