James Poole reflection

Radio 2 Listeners: I’m revoking your license to have an opinion

BBC Radio 2

Now this is a tough one. The spirit of the freethinking movement is to encourage conversation about music, to encourage opening your mind to new sounds. To encourage an opinion. The problem is, sometimes the opinion seems so totally at odds with ‘what’s right’ that I have to hold my hand up. Here goes…

Over this Easter weekend, the listeners of BBC Radio 2 – one of the premier radio stations in the UK – spoke with one voice to share their ‘favourite album’. The results were shocking.

I wasn’t paying attention to the countdown – until happening upon a Twitter feed claiming that ‘Synchronicity’ by The Police was the 13th best album of all time. All that I could deduce was that, as this was – by a country mile – the worst of The Police’s five studio albums, at least the top ten would have solid representation from a great band. And then I discovered that only one album per artist was allowed. Seriously? ‘Synchronicity’ is the best of The Police’s output? An album that doesn’t so much hint at the fractures in the band as jab you in the ear with them? Alarm bells started to ring. I didn’t realise that the alarm bells should have been sounding for a full DEFCON 1 alert.

And so, my three problems with the list:

1) Right artist, wrong album.

Continuing the theme that kicked off with The Police being misrepresented, I give you three prime cuts of stupid. It’s not that the albums that follow are bad – far from it – it’s just that they’re not the album to pick out for the given artist. If you’re limiting to one album, then at least pick the right one.

First of all, Prince making the list with ‘Purple Rain’ is simply not right. Call me a pedant, but if Radio 2 had a rule that soundtracks are not valid, then I cry foul. In addition, ‘Sign ‘O’ The Times’ is Prince’s calling card. It’s a double album with no filler. It’s pure, keg strength Prince. Filthy, funky, and freaky.

Secondly, any right-thinking person would count on Stevie Wonder for ‘Innervisions’, and not ‘Songs in The Key of Life’. My rationale for this is simple: a list which doesn’t have ‘Innervisions’ troubling the top spot is kind of null and void by definition. It’s almost obtuse to overlook Stevie’s masterpiece.

And finally, this one may be pushing it, I give you The Beatles. Here’s my problem: I wouldn’t have an issue with anything by The Beatles being ranked at number one in the list. I know this is likely quite mainstream of me, but it’s The Beatles. In this list, we have ‘Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’. Fine. If that’s the album you’re going with, just throw it at number one, not number eight. Seriously. But even then you’d be putting an album which isn’t as solid as ‘Revolver’, ‘Rubber Soul’ or ‘Abbey Road’ at the top of the list. Fine – put the fourth best album by The Beatles at number one. It’d be better than what you chose…

2) Number one: seriously?

‘A Rush of Blood To The Head’, by the ubiquitous Coldplay topped the list. It’s not a terrible album – it’s just bland. It’s the opposite of exciting. It’s the sound of a coma. Coldplay topping the list shouldn’t have been a surprise. It’s a popularity contest, and Coldplay are likely the only band that a bunch of the voters had heard of.

If we’re going with ‘albums which made it onto the list’, ie avoiding my problem with ‘right artist, wrong album’, then we really should just have cut everything from number 49 onwards. Yes, 48 albums could have just been lopped off the list, and saved everyone a few hours. ‘What’s Going On’ by Marvin Gaye would have been a fine chart topper. An album of epic importance, claiming that ‘only love can conquer hate’, calling out social injustice, the folly of war, the pain of tax dollars failing to right inequality, and placing a spotlight on the frailty of the environment as man rapes the planet. This was 1971. Music has served up nothing finer since.

But, instead, between Marvin and Coldplay, we have more horrific claims on greatness. Hold onto your hat. I’m going in. This is about to get scary.

3) MOR pap.

Here’s the thing – while I do have beef with the album at number one, I kind of accept it. Or, at least, I expect it. But, in the list of ‘artists with albums which are better then Marvin Gaye’s best work’, we have Robbie Williams, we have Take That and we have James Blunt. I’ll hold my hands up: I’ve heard none of the albums quoted as being better than ‘What’s Going On’. I’ll stake my savings on the fact – that’s fact, not opinion – that they’re not. I’m pretty confident that universal themes of socio-political importance – that will still resonate in 2053 – are not given much of a whiff on James Blunt’s album.

It gets worse. Let’s dive into the top ten. This is the top ten, people. The ten best albums of all time. Epic works, which future generations will hold aloft, and gaze on at their mystical ability to captivate, to encapsulate all human emotion. At number five, we have Dido’s ‘No Angel’. Now, I must have been listening to a different album to everyone else, because what I heard was instantly forgettable. I know this because… I bought it. I’m ashamed of few things in life, but the day I handed over my own hard-earned cash for that piece of crap will forever be a dark moment for me. It’s the sound of middle age. It’s categorically not the fifth best album of all time. Unless you’ve only ever heard five albums. That this album made it so high in the list means that a large number of people in the UK hold the opinion that ‘No Angel’ is the peak of music. There’s literally nothing better to listen to. Wow. I feel bad for these people.

But, the final straw is at number two. The second best album OF ALL TIME – an album which alien lifeforms would hear and gauge that they have come to understand the human condition: ‘Hopes and Fears’ by Keane. I am lost for words.

Honestly – you people have just had your license to have an opinion revoked.

One reply on “Radio 2 Listeners: I’m revoking your license to have an opinion”

Sometimes you get it so right, I mean I’m with you on Keane it’s just drivvel, but then you go and blow it with The Beatles – they’re dross.

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