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Can you be fat and top 40?

PostPosted: Fri Feb 22, 2008 11:28 am
by Charlie
From the Bob Lefsetz emails (see bottom of message for direct link):


At this point we can agree that the Telecommunications Act of 1996 ruined not only radio, but the record business. The key to selling records is exposure. And once all the stations consolidated, became homogeneous, the public tuned out, there was no consensus.

The consensus has evaded satellite radio. Even Howard Stern speaks to a fraction of the faithful. So, despite satellite's strengths, it's not an aggregator, it's not a central marketplace, where you can drop in and check out what people are into, get a taste of what's going on almost instantly.

Of course you could listen to Top Forty radio, but it hasn't been classic Top Forty, the best of the best, in over a decade. So the fan has been flummoxed.

But as bad as radio is, why do all the cool acts come from the U.K? Why, when you listen to a U.K. act do you get excited, feel that inner pulse, and the American acts leave you feeling "been there, done that"?

I got a number of e-mails complaining that Duffy is too close to Amy Winehouse. That both are reminiscent of an era gone by. But do you remember the ska revolution of the early eighties? There were great tracks by the (English) Beat, the Specials, Selecter... There was a vibrancy to the music, and it wasn't just a clone of the earlier Jamaican sound... I've never heard a sixties ska record that sounded like "Mirror In The Bathroom". Even if one concedes that Duffy and Amy Winehouse are cut from the same cloth, that sound is new to so much of the audience, and is not a direct rip of what came before. The fact that there are insiders pooh-poohing them makes me feel good. This is the passion we used to have in the U.S., before everybody started playing video games.

Furthermore, the vaunted records in the U.S. are always indie rock. Thin, alternative stuff made by geeks who never had a date about fantasies they're having in their bedrooms. Intellectually, one might be able to relate, but there's a lack of sex, an absence of a visceral quality, that revs one up and gets one excited.

That's what's off the grid. What's on the grid is disposable. Rap has become a laugh. And the popsters are all molded by old men, with their sexuality drained as they sing the concoctions of professional songwriters. You just can't get excited about music in the U.S. But in the U.K., you can feel the heat, you're involved. It's a national pastime, following hit records (instead of the grosses of high concept movies!)

I was inundated with e-mail about this act Adele. At first listen I loved her, then when I downloaded all the tracks I realized that she was just a bit too jazzy for me. But I applaud where she's coming from. But although she's a smash in the U.K., I seriously doubt she can make it big here in America. Because she's FAT!

Yes, you can be a drug addict. You can be stupid. But don't be FAT! In America it's all about appearances. Fat girls don't get a chance. Hell, the girl on "Ugly Betty" isn't even ugly!

But when was the last time you SAW a record. Oh, that's right, MTV made music a visual medium. Well, it's NOT! Music is something you hear, check Adele out through your ears. Then maybe watch some video footage. Because it will be a shock. We never see ANYTHING like this on television in America.

Sure, some of the U.K. acts don't travel, you've got to be British to understand them. And some are flashes in the pan. But so many are frozen out of our system, there's just no way for them to enter, to get traction. And that's a comment on us, not them. While U.K. residents are scheming up innovative tunes, in America kids are playing "Guitar Hero", or learning dance steps and getting plastic surgery to win on "American Idol" or get on Top Forty radio.

At least on "Guitar Hero" they're playing great music. That's the draw. There hasn't been great music on the radio in the U.S. for far too long. And I don't see Clear Channel and its brethren taking chances any time soon.

It's our culture, stupid. We don't revere great music, we revere fame. Our national radio station is We don't want to listen to Britney's music (which hasn't been great since the very first hit), we just want to watch the train-wreck. Beyonce is beautiful and talented, but her material is not memorable. We don't foster creativity over here. For a renegade country, we do our best to give renegades no chance.

Ahmet Ertegun said a hit record is something you hear on the radio while lying in bed in your pajamas that makes you get up, get dressed and go to the all night record store to buy. When was the last time you heard a record like that on U.S. radio? When was the last time you LISTENED to U.S. radio? Radio's all about business. Music is all about money. Isn't that the number one complaint of musicians today? How do I get paid?

Stop worrying about getting paid and start worrying about making music unfiltered by the system, that grabs people, and makes them want to hear it again and again. Maybe, if you do, we can get people excited about music. When "Rolling Stone" features starlets and is loaded with car ads you know the air has gone out of the balloon. And the Web isn't much better. Like I said, listen to those indie alternative records championed on Pitchfork. The big players ignore the Websites and the Websites like being so far off the grid that most people ignore them. Can't we fight it out in the center, like in the U.K? Can't we all be focused on greatness in one pool? Can't we try to MAKE some cream, never mind have it rise to the top?

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PostPosted: Fri Feb 22, 2008 12:00 pm
by Dayna
I've always thought Mama Cass was a great singer. If she tried to make it now days, she probably wouldn't have a chance here. Would she?

PostPosted: Fri Feb 22, 2008 1:04 pm
by Joe Cushley
Aretha always carried a few extra pounds.


Exceptions that prove the rule...?

PostPosted: Fri Feb 22, 2008 1:15 pm
by Con Murphy
Is Gossip's Beth Ditto not doing well in the US? I know she's relatively big (no pun intended) in certain circles here in the UK.

PostPosted: Fri Feb 22, 2008 1:29 pm
by Des
Dolly Parton is big in the Bristol area.

PostPosted: Fri Feb 22, 2008 4:00 pm
by Martin_Edney
The key question here should really be "can you be fat, female and top 40" since it's still (just about) permissible to be a male singer and not fit into a physical stereotype.

The first example of someone who is less then svelte and top 40 who sprang to my mind was Cee-Lo Green, singer with Gnarls Barkley. Then again, Gnarls Barkley are an expception in other ways, daring to bring interesting, good quality songs into the top 40!

PostPosted: Fri Feb 22, 2008 8:01 pm
by Joe Cushley
Alison Moyet, Etta James...

Most of The Magic Numbers...

I occasionally drop in on the painfully hip forum, so I don't fall out of touch completely with what 'vuh kidz' are listening to. Some interesting and amusing comments there, but the ageism and sizeism is utterly astonishing, and pretty relentless. Old and fat? You might as well be dead...

PostPosted: Fri Feb 22, 2008 8:14 pm
by That Was Jonathan E. Then
Joe Cushley observed:
Old and fat? You might as well be dead...

And the beauty of it is that, if you're old and fat, you pretty soon will be dead.

Wasn't it ever so?

PostPosted: Fri Feb 22, 2008 11:36 pm
by c hristian
you gotta have STYLE baby! It's all about how you swing it when you sing it!!

The unacceptable face of pop music

PostPosted: Sat Feb 23, 2008 9:13 pm
by Gordon Neill
I don’t suppose that there really was a Golden Age of ugly singers. Yes, every now and then, teenage rebellion has raised its ugly head (Shane McGowan?) But good looks have always been a marketable asset. Why else, for example, did the worst singer in the Supremes become the lead singer?

Increasingly, though, looks seem to be the main product for sale, sometimes even the only product. It would be unfair to claim that people like Bouncy or Blunt James have no singing talent. But I don’t think they would have been successful without their conventional, safe, orthodox good looks. I wouldn’t mind so much if the music was a bit challenging. But bland good looks seems to chime with bland music. Increasingly, you have to be a model that can impersonate a singer.

As far as I’m concerned, the rot set in when music videos became all the rage. Up until then music was something you listened to. Nowadays, for many people, it’s something you watch. Yes, I think it is still possible to be fat and top 40. But you would need to have an exceptional talent to compensate.

PostPosted: Sat Feb 23, 2008 11:59 pm
by c hristian
so, video killed the radio star?

radio what's new?

(thank you freddie mercury. thank you clear channel radio for letting me write this through your computers. against company policy , i know.)