By Sion Smith

I’ve been accused of being a softy (see “Best Album in The World”), by the very woman whose throne I occasionally entertain at! I think it’s an age thing.

She may well be right. As time has progressed, I’ve found myself becoming a lot more tolerant of musical styles that a few years ago I would never have entertained. Worse still, from my position of (self-delusional) power, I would have probably poured public scorn on these people in the shape of literati tar and feathers.

Tar and feathers is something of a Middle-Ages of Britain concept. When found guilty of a crime, one of our more imaginative punishments would be to pour hot tar onto said criminal. Not content with turning them into a human highway, they would then have sacks of chicken/duck/goose feathers thrown over them for added humiliation. Interestingly, as far as I know, there are no bands called Tar and Feathers unlike our other classic instrument of torture, the Iron Maiden, but I digress…

I blame the Cult of the Pod (should I trademark that?). Nowhere else on earth would I get Rick Springfield’s Affair of the Heart buffing up against This Is War from 30 Seconds To Mars, but it feels good. It feels right. It’s a very liberating experience to have Carly Simon, Marilyn Manson, Pixie Lott and Stevie Wonder hanging out together at my party. If there was a radio station out there who had the balls to run a show like this, it would take over the world. It’s not likely to happen in a world where programmers and advertisers are living on a knife-edge over listeners turning off if they’re the least bit offended by a sudden change of mood.

If we think about this carefully though, what we’ll find is the Baby Boomers (Version III) will be switching off their radio in the millions pretty soon simply because they are not offering this sort of diversity. I’m not the best person in the world to ask about what’s cool in the world right now but I do know that I see more kids wearing “classic” t-shirts – Led Zeppelin, FAME logo – than kicking about in the park wearing Shakira merchandise. I do know that every time I switch on my radio in the morning, I’m guaranteed to hear Journey’s Don’t Stop Believin’ simply because it was on X-Factor last year. I think it also made an appearance on American Idol, but you guys were always more clued in about the mainstreamity of rock than us.

Back in 1994, before the internet was invented, I stepped off a plane at JFK airport. Flicking on the radio, I was greeted with Big Head Todd and the Monsters, Counting Crows, Candlebox, Brother Cane and Stone Temple Pilots – is it still like this in the U.S.? None of those artists were successful back then. It was their first time on air straight out of the box and this is why the U.S. has beaten our sorry ass into the ground where music is concerned over the last twenty years. They were taking chances. The best radio DJ in the U.K. has probably never even heard of Big Head Todd…

I’ve lost my train of thought – Kate Bush just crashed my party with The Man With The Child In His Eyes.

Ah yes, being soft. My list of guilt grows daily but I feel suitably vindicated. While my list of favoured bands in the rock arena grows as it ever has, it is slowly being matched by “bands from another planet”. It’s a very slow process but it’s happening all the same. We have some good bands out here right now – or maybe we haven’t. Maybe we simply have some phenomenal songwriters.

Actually, I’m lying to you. I know that this is the case. Songs are everything. Without great songs, a band is nothing as so ably demonstrated by millions of bands the whole world over. Let’s take a look at a couple of my favourites which you may not have been exposed to yet:

Pixie Lott. A pretty blonde with a voice to die for. Sure, get in the queue Pixie, you ain’t the only one – but when she opens her mouth and those lovingly crafted pop melodies flood out, you know you’re in the presence of something special that, given the right nurturing, will run and run long into the distance. We have a few of these. Alexandra Burke, last years X Factor winner, she’s got a voice to die for and a team of songwriters to rival Chinn and Chapman on a good day. Leona Lewis – she has already infiltrated you. Little Boots – not to my taste (yet) but I can see that she might be to the world at large.

I have become very accepting of all these people. The harder I think about it though, I see that this was the way I used to be before I aligned myself with The Rock (as a genre, not the wrestler). Rock – or to be exact about it – Kiss and Alice – came along and allowed me to be a part of something I thought was worthy. It was and it still is a huge part of my life, but back when I was really getting into music, as previously revealed, I also loved ABBA, Adam and the Ants, Duran Duran (so that I could talk to girls who where not interested in Wendy O’Williams), Donna Summer, Motown, Rock n Roll, Charlie Rich… the list goes on but is not endless. There are some bands who will never win me over.

Thus, in my defence, I think I am coming full circle, not going soft. I love being a writer who knows about Charlie Rich. The more points of reference I have, the better a writer I can be. You think I lie? Go have a relationship split and get yourself a copy of Rich’s Most Beautiful Girl In The World and I’ll show you heartache on an unprecedented scale. To balance out your sorrow, I can also recommend Stabbing Westward as a killer antidote to this. I am also proud to know all of the lyrics to Johnny Mathis’ 99 Miles From L.A. (and I can’t recall when I last heard anything by him on the radio!), I am privileged to know that most of the hardcore rock guys I have ever interviewed all say that the most outrageous Rock God they ever knew of was Bobby Farrell from Boney M. Yeah. Go figure. The Disco Inferno strikes again.

Soft? It’s the new black don’t you know. 


Sion Smith is an author of supernatural fiction and a pop-culture writer in the finest gonzo tradition. He also edits and publishes The Lung magazine and is working on independently releasing his increasing stack of “great ideas for books.”