Column: December 23, 2009

Rage against the Rage Against The Machine rage

WHEN my rosy-cheeked greatgrandchildren ask me, “Great-grandad, what did you do in the Christmas Number One War of 2009,” I shall stand proud,  possibly leaning on a stick, and say, “Children, I was a conscientious objector.”

The loathing Simon Cowell provokes in some quarters is quite baffling. Of course, all right-minded people would happily give him a kicking for his part in Piers Morgan’s continued success, but his greatest sin appears to be that he does his job quite well.

Essentially, he finds out what the public wants, through a long and drawn-out televised process. And then he gives it to them. That’s a decent business plan in anybody’s book.

It so happens that what the public – the one-CD-a-year-buying-normal-public – actually wants is a bland ballad sung by a black diva or a white divvy. And this year Cowell has delivered that, with a song so unremarkable that it is impossible to remember its tune even while one is listening to iit.

This is normal practice for Cowell, which is why, from 2005 to 2008, the X-Factor winner’s record was the Christmas Number One, and why, if it hadn’t been for an internet campaign, it would have been this year‘s Yuletide chart-topper.

So there’s been a battle between two tribes, one of whom had no idea it was in a war, with the result that Cowell’s record is (appropriately, perhaps) number two, while a grumpy load of nonsense originally released in the 90s, with added swears, takes the top spot.

And the Rage Against The Machine song has hit number one entirely due to downloads. This seems a little unfair. Why should people who hate chart music have the same weighting as those who have endured the pre-Christmas queue in HMV – an ordeal so hellish the chain has to apply for special dispensation from the European Court of Human Rights – to buy a CD?

Plus, the swearing is really going to mess up the Christmas Top Of The Pops. And we only have one of those a year now, so that’s a big hit to take.

The Cowell-haters appear to be harking back to a golden age of Christmas Number Ones, an unsullied time when The Pogues and Kirsty MacColl shared a vat of mulled wine with Slade, and Cliff Richard set aside his hellraising ways to sing some nonsense about mistletoe.

But, as with every golden age, it didn’t exist. For every Do They Know It’s Christmas? and Bohemian Rhapsody, there was a Save Your Love by Renee and Renato, or a Mr Blobby.

And each one was just as ruthlessly marketed as any X-Factor single.

This po-faced intervention by a group of people who don’t believe the general public should be allowed to decide which song is the most popular changes nothing. People will buy bland rubbish if they want to, and why shouldn’t they?

And if people want rubbish, then Simon Cowell is well within his rights to provide it.

If the goal was to deprive Simon Cowell of sales, it was a pointless effort. The number of people persuaded to abandon the bland and cross over to Rage is tiny. In fact,specifically, it was Mrs Joanne Welsh, of Hanley, Stoke-on-Trent, and that was only because she accidentally clicked on Rage Against The Machine instead of Rachel Stevens.

So Cowell has made his money. And if his latest act, this doe-eyed little Geordie, the anti-Jimmy Nail, fails again, I’m sure the Svengali as a Plan B for him. He can join Gareth Gates, Shayne Ward and the other one, you know, the Scottish one, as Cowell’s houseboy, throwing £50 notes on the fire on his behalf.

So when my greatgrandchildren gasp: “But, great-grandad, you didn’t stand up to the evil Cowell when you had a chance?” I shall say: “It was only pop. Get over yourself. Now hand me that jet-pack, I need to catch the shops on Mars.”

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