Pop goes English Heritage

Howard Goodall’s Story of Music, Saturdays, BBC2.

When Albums Ruled the World, followed by

Pink Floyd – Wish You Were Here, followed by

Pop Charts Britannia – 60 Years of the Top 10, BBC 4, 8 February.

Newspapers and their daily Beatles diet.

Plus a general background noise of Grammys and Brits hoopla.

 Just when was it that The Beatles were canonised? My best guess is that the process began at some point just after the publication, in 1994, of Revolution in the Head by Ian MacDonald.

 In the 1970s and 1980s, The Beatles had few fans. Their music at this point was held to be bland, derivative, soulless and, in the worst possible sense, ersatz. And if anyone knew anything about The Beatles (especially if they’d read Albert Goldman’s book), it was that John Lennon was a nasty piece of work, a spiteful and violent drunk who had a penchant for kicking seven shades of harmonic variation out of his womenfolk. And they knew, too, (though this was hardly a new revelation) that Paul McCartney was the worst sort of mawkishly sentimental narcissist – the pathetically needy sort.

 Revolution in the Head, a work of painstakingly thorough cultural archaeology, established The Beatles as a historically significant phenomenon. Within a couple of years, Noel Gallagher (whose first two Oasis albums had established him as rock’s latest great white hope) had completed the rehabilitation by giving The Beatles (band and brand) the imprimatur of Brit Pop. And then of course we had Tony Blair, freshly installed as prime minister in 1997, attempting to co-opt Brit Pop, just as (here we go round the mulberry bush), 30 years earlier, Harold Wilson had attempted to co-opt The Beatles.

 We are talking, in short, about the show-biz strand of the dreaded Blair legacy. And of course the electric-guitar-playing Tony Blair is an archetype for all the electric-guitar-playing middle-aged gimps who currently run the media and advertising industries.

 The very people, in short, who will have watched the Wish You Were Here story on BBC4. And, indeed, the very people who absolutely haven’t been watching Howard Goodall. After all, who gives a tinker’s cuss about Bach and Mozart and, like, all that shit? (They should. This, more than any other music programme on TV recently, shows how, if you let creative people earn a living, they’ll eventually produce some astonishing stuff.)

 And indeed there was a good deal of music on television over the weekend – almost every bar of which was old, shamelessly borrowed and alarmingly blue. (The sort of mauvy blue your lips go when you are deprived of oxygen.)

 It all served, one way or another, to remind the world what a terrible void there is where once there was a rather fecund field of creative endeavour. Don’t worry. I’m not getting on my high horse again about racketeers like Apple and their dismal hordes of stooges in the digerati.

 (That I’ve been proved right, year by year, about Apple is hardly of any consolation to anyone. Especially as the battle for power in commercial TV has now, unequivocally, been joined. Recent spats on both sides of the Atlantic have revealed that Google and Apple will pay less than 10 cents in the advertising dollar to content creators. In UK terms, that equates to around two Shillings in the Guinea. The past five years have exacted a terrible toll on the creative industries – but in Lord of the Rings terms, we have only just reached Rivendell.)

 So I won’t do my stuff about how Apple “saved” a down-and-out music industry by grabbing it by the lugs and raising it to its knees. Only to tell it in no uncertain terms that its new role is to administer executive relief. And no spitting out.

 No. I want only to complain meekly and feebly about the unremitting diet of Beatles drivel we’re being fed by our newspapers. Last year, we had our fill of The Rolling Stones. This year, we’re awash with thin stuff about their Scouse contemporaries. And it’s going to get a whole lot worse in the coming weeks. Next month sees the 50th anniversary of the release of The Beatles’ first LP – you know, the one given poetic legitimacy by Philip Larkin.

 Anyway… Daily, the (frothy, slightly discoloured) tide washes in. Just last week, we had the obituaries of a photographer who (among many other assignments over a long career) once took a picture of the band. Guess which picture tended to be selected to encapsulate his career?

 And then we had a couple of stories concerning the shrine that Abbey Road has become. Because of course the Abbey   Road studio building (the Abbey Road principally of The Beatles but also of the likes of Pink Floyd too) has become a Mecca for pilgrims from all over the world.

 The trouble is they’ve been getting on the London Transport system and heading for the Abbey   Road station on the DLR. So there’s been all sorts of TfL management angst about how best to redirect them from Docklands to the Grove of the Evangelist.

 But that’s not half as funny as the story about what the current owners of the Abbey Road building are attempting to do. Not very much music is made at the studios these days and its current owners want to do something useful with the building. A couple of years ago, EMI wanted to knock it down and replace it with a nice new block of flats – but that can’t happen because it’s now a Grade II listed building. So… how to put the place to good use?

 The answer is that it could become a corporate entertainment venue. This will preserve its status as a shrine – but now for people willing to stump up £1000 a head to eat soup while Jimmy Carr dusts off some of his older jokes.

 Give me [verbal infelicity redacted at this point] strength.

 But, sadly, we all know that (what’s left of) the creative industries will, quite naturally, be at the head of the queue to get in there. And worse. We’ll all buy into it. If invited (in other words, if someone else is paying), I’ll pitch up to Abbey Road’s Studio One in my best approximation of “modern black tie,” fully prepared to gag on some of that Jimmy Carr soup.

 Of course I will. I am, after all, an enthusiastic supporter of English Heritage.



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