By John Armstrong, Rock At Night Manchester
Do People Even Like Music?
I should point out that this is not a rant about Elton John.
Lets start with some numbers:
Figures released by PPL (the UK’s recorded music royalty collection service) show that since 2000 Elton John has received 600,000,000+ seconds of reported radio airplay in the UK alone. Stacked end to end that is over nineteen years of continuous radio airplay, just this century.
60% of that is from just ten songs.
One of those is a Christmas song so only ever gets its radio airplay in December, yet still comes in at No.7!
From a well over fifty year catalogue including 31 solo studio albums, plus collaborations and soundtracks, radio basically only plays ten pieces.
Here they are:
- I’m Still Standing (1983)
- Don’t Go Breaking My Heart (1976)
- Rocket Man (1972)
- I Guess That’s Why They Call It The Blues (1983)
- Your Song (1970)
- Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me (1974)
- Step Into Christmas (1973)
- Candle In The Wind (1974)
- Sacrifice (1989)
- Are You Ready For Love (1977)
Nothing before 1970 and nothing after 1990.
Mark Goodier of Hits Radio commented in the PPL piece “Few singer-songwriters – of this or any age – can compete with the musical legacy of Elton Hercules John. The most played top ten showcases that legacy in the best way possible with songs that are still garnering an incredible amount on listening decades after their first release.”
However, what this actually demonstrates is a shocking lack if imagination involved in radio programming.
Commercial radio is comprised of locked playlists. Some of them repeat a one-handed finger count of songs endlessly. Some boast they will not repeat the same track twice with the same working day, but they do play the same tracks – in a slightly different order – every working day. And if you change stations you will merely find a different station playing the same hits in a different-slightly-different order.
The very structure of these repetitive lists ensures that only a handful of songs are heard from any ‘musical legacy’, while also ensuring those that are played have airplay figures elevated high into the listening stratosphere.
There is an element of selection: Joe Dolce’s Shaddap Your Face which took the UK No.1 spot and prevented Untravox’s Vienna from getting higher than No.2 is nowhere to be found, but Vienna is a regular appearance. Despite this, signs of human intervention are few and far between.
The playlist is essentially a randomised list of No.1 singles form a specified decade.
These are static historical hits based lists and therefore are self replicating. Something that was a hit in 1983 will get played across all of the various 1980’s stations. Album tracks and b-sides are completely ignored. It is wall-to-wall familiar singles only.
This practice doesn’t only apply to the ‘decades’ based stations. Commercial stations are trying to attract listeners with familiar music, so they in turn can sell advertising based on a large listenership.
But what this means is Elton needn’t have bothered making any of his other music. His repertoire exists in the form of these ten songs only. And indeed, what is the point of having a “musical legacy” of the stature Goodier implies if it is only ten songs being played from it?
Fortunately there are other radio stations available but they are not widely known*. The vast listenership of the commercial stations seem happy with this daily repeat of the same ear fodder. Which begs the question – do these listeners actually like music at all? It is not even an algorithm selecting the next played track, it is simply a list of some songs that were played a lot on radio 40 years ago and are still providing the soft comfort zone of nostalgia. Where everything is as it was and was as it should be. Rock and Roll requires rebellion, it is in its DNA. Shake up the radio. Listen to something different. Even if it is still Elton John try something else, something beyond the ten songs!
Data and Mark Goodier quote from PPL.
*a plug for madwaspradio.com
where I have my own (non-repetitive) show
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