Brainiacs in pop

download-29You might think pop stars and higher learning are not a natural fit. After all, no one needs a bunch of letters after their name to write songs or sell out stadiums, right?

Perhaps Chris Martin (first-class honours, Greek and Latin, UCL) would demur. Brian May (PhD, astrophysics, Imperial College) might shake his head at your poorly configured data. It seems that the ability to succeed in music does not preclude a talent for more scholarly pursuits. And as the list below indicates, the bar set by these well-tutored troubadours can be pretty high.

1. Brian May

He’s got a bonce the size of Jupiter and a cluster of academic credentials to orbit it. Indeed, the cosmically inclined Brian May not only graduated with a BSc in physics (2:1) from Imperial College London (he also studied maths), he later went on to earn a PhD in Astrophysics from his old alma mater in 2008. The title of his thesis? A Survey of Radial Velocities in the Zodiacal Dust Cloud. Of course.

2. Rivers Cuomo

Weezer’s lead vocalist, songwriter and guitarist Rivers Cuomo enrolled at Harvard in 1995 to study classical composition, having become disillusioned with the repetitive nature of touring. He dropped out two terms later when he realised that classical music wasn’t his bag either. Returning in 1997 and again in 2004, Cuomo finally completed his studies in 2008, obtaining a BA (Hons) in English.

The debacle did at least benefit his songwriting, as he explained to one interviewer in 2006: “Two lines in the song [‘El Scorcho’] are actually taken from someone else’s essay in my Expos class.”

3. Delia Derbyshire

[LISTEN] Sculptress of Sound: The Lost Works of Delia Derbyshire

Electronic music pioneer Delia Derbyshire got into both Oxford and Cambridge, rightly describing her achievement as “quite something for a working class girl in the 50s, where only one in 10 [students] were female”. She accepted a scholarship to study maths at Cambridge and, switching courses after a year, graduated with a BA in the unlikely combination of mathematics and music.

Derbyshire merged these subjects to extraordinary effect throughout a career at the BBC Radiophonic Workshop and subsequently in TV, film and pop music. Best known for the complex recording techniques she pioneered to create the ominous sound of the Doctor Who theme in 1963, she was revered by – and often collaborated with – musicians from all eras of pop.

Not bad for a graduate who was turned down from a job by Decca on the basis that women had no place in a recording studio.

4. Ezra Koenig (Vampire Weekend)

The lead singer of Vampire Weekend looks and sounds like he’s just stepped out of a Whit Stillman film and cultivates a preppy intellectual look at odds with his chosen career. Equally august is his taste in literature, which he studied at Columbia University in New York: Evelyn Waugh is a favourite, as are Beckett and Nabokov.

Unsurprisingly for one so steeped in prose he gets annoyed when listeners take his lyrics at face value: “Sometimes I felt a little bummed,” he once said. “To me it’s very obvious that we’re using satire and irony.”

Tracks that will help you happiness

images-39What are the most restful activities? Radio 4 might well have the answer. As they reported in September, 18,000 people recently completed the world’s biggest survey on rest, The Rest Test, a collaboration between Radio 4 and the Wellcome Collection’s researchers in residence, Hubbub. Near the top of the list of the 10 most restful activities came listening to music, behind reading, being in a natural environment and being on your own.

Everyone has a record that they reach for to calm or cheer them when times get rough. But some songs can soothe better than others. 6 Music’s Mary Anne Hobbs realised she had found one of those songs the first time she played Says by the German pianist and composer Nils Frahm on her radio show, and watched the switchboards light up as people connected with the music emotionally in the same way she had.

Nils and his contemporaries are part of a wave of classically trained musicians moving their music out of the concert hall to connect with listeners across genres and generations. “Their music has healing properties,” says Mary Anne. “It’s very good for the mind, it’s nourishing for the soul. If you need to find some peace in the world, as all of us do, this is a place to find it. It will bring your heart rate down, slow your breathing, it will heal you. It does that for me.”

Here, she recommends six tracks as a starting point.

 

1. Nils Frahm, Says

“The track that changed my life, and set myself and Nils on the pathway to our BBC Prom at The Royal Albert Hall in 2015,” says Mary Anne, and it’s still the only track she has picked as her record of the week twice. It comes from Frahm’s 2013 album Spaces, a record so delicate you can hear the piano stool creaking between the notes. When Mary Anne wanted to convince BBC’s head of music to do a contemporary classical Prom, this is the track she played him.

This was Mary Anne’s favourite track on the 2014 A Winged Victory for the Sullen album Atomos, written for the choreographer Wayne McGregor. McGregor said he played the first Winged Victory album to a group of his dancers during rehearsals and watched them move in a completely different way. He asked the duo, Dustin O’Halloran and Adam Wiltzie, to write a piece for the company, which became Atomos. “You will find a sense of peace in the spaces between the notes that is abs

 

3. Colin Stetson, Sorrow

“Colin’s obsession with Górecki’s original piece led to this simply devastating reinterpretation for 2016,” says Mary Anne, referring to Polish composer Henryk Górecki’s Symphony No. 3, which was written in 1976 and refers to the death of Christ, the Gestapo and the 1919-1921 Silesian uprisings. Colin Stetson’s desire to reimagine it came after years of obsession. “We all have those moments when we experience a piece of music that transforms us, and this was one of those moments for me,” he said. But rather than alter the music itself, Stetson strips the original 60-piece composition back to an ensemble of 12 in an interpretation that draws heavily from the world of black metal, early

 

4. Ólafur Arnalds, Öldurót (Island Songs IV)

“This is my favourite of the Ólafur Arnalds’s Island Songs, recorded by the sea in his native Iceland,” says Mary Anne. “The title means barrelling waves.” The song is part of seven pieces recorded and composed in seven locations across Iceland in seven weeks in 2016. In each place, Arnalds wrote music inspired by the location and worked with a local artist – in this case, the film composer Atli Örvarsson. You can feel the sea in Öldurót, the fourth in the series. It was recorded close to the arctic circle, in a beautiful hall with big windows right next to the ocean.

Sailing by Ear On Music

download-30I just spent eight weeks working on a screenplay ten hours a day while listening to the same three albums—Popol Vuh: Einsjager und Siebensjager (1974);  The Six Parts Seven: Casually Smashed to Pieces (2007); and the Jerome Morass soundtrack to the 1957 film The Big Country—on infinite repeat. All the tracks were AAC files that I had downloaded from the iTunes Music Store, and I was listening to them through a pair of small, attractive podules that connected to my iMac through its FireWire port. This is, roughly, the setup that I have been using for a long time now, since before there was an iTunes, or an iPod, or a Napster, back when the only MP3s available were those you had ripped yourself. And though I also listen to music in the kitchen, in the car, on airplanes, and while running, given the amount of time that I spend at my desk, and the fact that I listen to music constantly while writing, over the past ten years I have probably listened to more music in the form of MP3s playing through cute little pods placed about three feet from my head than in any other way. So I was surprised, last week, when for no apparent reason, while writing a big Martian air battle scene, I looked up from the iMac’s monitor to one of those cute little FireWire ovoids, as Vuh lead guitarist Daniel Fichelscher attempted unbelievably intricate and beautiful things on the title track of Einsjager, and thought: Dude, what’s with the Fisher Price speakers? 

You might suppose that repetition would have dulled my powers of aural discernment—this must have been the fiftieth or sixtieth time I’d listened to the track over the past two months—but on the contrary it abruptly seemed to have heightened them, to have broken through the dam of convenience, simplicity, and ready access to the music, to have flooded my jaded ear with sudden understanding. I’m no audiophile; I want to say that right off. I have no idea what impedance is, or how to set the levels of an equalizer with any confidence or panache, and I still find infantile amusement in saying the word “woofer.” But it struck me all at once that the sound quality of the music I’d been listening to so heavily, with the indirect attentiveness I give music when I’m writing, was thin, brittle; all sheen and no depth. It was tinny, tiny, and pallid. It sounded like shit, in fact; and not only did it sound like shit, but it had been sounding like shit for years. Shit in the kitchen, playing from a big hard drive attached to an old PowerBook, through a couple of small, flush-mounted wall speakers. Shit, in the minivan and the Prius, patched from an iPod through factory-installed speakers greased over with a scurf of children and their miasmas. Shit, through the endless, vaguely rattling series of earbuds—that nauseating term, with its suggestion of Van Goghesque  mutilations—accompanying me on morning runs and onto airplanes. The digitized music itself  “compressed,” “lossy,” reduced to a state of parity with whatever system I consigned it to. With the possible exception of books, I love music more than I love anything in my life that is not a person or a dog. At one time, I now realized, I had known how to express and indulge and nourish that love: with iron-heavy black records, a fifty-watt amplifier, and a pair of speakers that were themselves pieces of furniture, far too large for any desktop. I hit the space bar, stopping the music, and observed a moment of silence for my own lossy life, and thought about a man whom I had not seen in almost thirty years.

My mother’s ex-boyfriend took me to buy my first stereo system, her present to me for graduating with the Howard High School Class of 1980. He was studying electrical engineering at the University of Maryland, his name was Bill Warriner, and I loved him. Bill was quite a bit younger than my mother, who was herself not yet thirty-eight that spring. He wore his lank, sandy hair long, and he took me seriously in precisely the same measure as he found me amusing. He was a wide-eyed, soft-spoken midwestern guy who had been in the Army and played in local dance bands back in his hometown. I seem to recall that he was a drummer, and I remember his telling me that the only time he ever stepped to the microphone during a gig was when the lights went down and it was time to sing “If,” by Bread, with its line about all the stars going out one by one, and how that would not necessarily be such a bad thing, in the right company. I never hear that song without picturing it being sung by Bill Warriner. He was the first adult I ever knew who felt, and knew how to express, if only through the passion of his talk about changes in band personnel and hidden meanings in song lyrics and unexpected chord progressions, the central truth I was then only just beginning to grasp: that my life was compounded out of discrete particles of time, and that those moments were built, in turn, out of the matter of rock and roll.

Bill accepted his commission from my mother with characteristic gravity and aplom. He drove me down to an audio equipment store in Laurel, Maryland, half an hour away, that catered to men who knew how to be grave about their audio equipment. It was a no-frills kind of place, tangled cables and metal shelving and a smell of ashtray, harshly lit except for the radiant dark luxury of its banks of tuners, amps and speakers. I stood quietly to one side, a candidate for some kind of experimental surgery, while my fate as a listener was determined by Dr. Warriner and his team of consultants. Like the planet Alderaan, a record (it was Boston’s debut album, as I recall) was selected to serve as a demonstration of the destructive capability of various audio deathstars. I pretended solemnly to be able to distinguish among their highs, lows and middles, when in fact all I heard when listening to them was might, a kind of amplitude that seemed to emerge not from the speakers or the shining grooves of the record but from the mind or thews or rumbling belly of God himself.

Music Culture

Pop music and language have often had a stormy relationship. Ever since Little Richard began Tutti Frutti with a stream of nonsense syllables that appeared to mean nothing and everything all at the same time – “A wop bop a loo bop a lop bam boom!” – people have wrung their hands and despaired over the terrible damage musical slang must be doing to the English language.

But pop culture, particularly hip hop, has been responsible for some exceptionally useful recent additions to the dictionary, reawakening dormant words from their slumber, coining fresh terminology for the changing times, and in at least one case, making new compound words out of bits of old slang and then using them to take over the world.

Here are 10 examples, all of which have been accepted by the Oxford English Dictionaryor Cambridge Dictionary.

1. YOLO

The phrase “you only live once” has a long and noble cultural heritage, dating back beyond the name of Johann Strauss II’s 1855 waltz Man Lebt Nur Einmal to Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s play Clavigo from 1774. This features the line “one lives but once in the world”, a phrase which lends itself to the less-thrilling alternative acronym OLBOW. More recently, The Grateful Dead’s drummer Mickey Hart named his homestead YOLO Farm, because he didn’t quite have enough money to buy it and had to talk himself into it. And then there’sDrake, who named a mixtape YOLO, spraying the term liberally throughout his lyrics, including on The Motto, which is arguably the song that really pushed the term into common parlance, hashtags and all – so much so that he later attempted to claim he was due royalties derived from merchandise that featured the term, but was not successful.

2. Shizzle

It’s not just the OED that has been picking up on the modern lingo that youngsters use. The Scrabble dictionary has also made allowances for buzzwords. One example that made BBC Radio 4 sit up and take notice was Snoop Dogg’s old standby, the -izzle suffix. Originally created as a kind of underground language for street hustlers, akin to pig latin, Snoop picked it up and made it his own, introducing himself in the song Suited N Booted as “the big Snoopy D-O-double-jizzle”. But it’s shizzle that made it into the OED on common usage grounds. Of course, being a dictionary, they draw no lines between a term being used seriously by genuinely cool people, ironically by annoyingly cool people, or fogeyishly by old people. So the more fuss made about its inclusion, the more it earns the right to be included.

3. Bling

Originally coined (and accepted into the dictionary) in the doubled-up form of bling bling, this is a term that appears to have come from Jamaican slang for expensive jewellery, of the sort that might make one blink. It was next heard coming out of the mouths of New Orleans hip hop crew Cash Money Millionaires, who worked with rapper BG on the 1999 song Bling Bling. As there aren’t that many useful celebratory words for the ostentatious accumulation of wealth, the term quickly began to crop up in other artists’ work, and before long became used to describe a particularly spendthrift liftestyle, of the sort enjoyed by a newly rich musician on a spree. Or, in the case of Horrible Histories, as a neat way to encapsulate the temperamental differences between Oliver Cromwell and Charles II.

Bands that lasted longer when reunited

Reunions have been all the rage for so long now that some of them are outlasting the act in question’s original careers. We all grow older and wiser, and for many musicians, those creative differences that seemed so insurmountable in a cabin-fever riddled tourbus back in 1982 suddenly seem quite petty.

The comeback is especially tantalising when you’ve got an original fanbase who now have bags of nostalgia in one hand and sacks of disposable income in the other. Not to mention a new generation of kids dying to see the legends in the flesh.

No wonder so many bands just can’t quit their comeback.

1. Pixies

Given the toxic nature of their breakup, a Pixies reunion didn’t seem likely for many years. Singer Black Francis found it so difficult to coexist with bassist Kim Deal that the band were barely speaking by the early-90s. When they finally broke up, Francis announced the split live on radio without consulting anyone else, later calling guitarist Joey Santiago and informing Deal and drummer David Lovering by fax.

Francis announced their reunion live on the radio, too, and again without speaking to the rest of the band first; he’d grown so bored of being asked about it he told an interviewer they were getting back together as a joke. As he told the Daily Beast in 2013: “Literally, it was on CNN the next day, and I had Joey and Dave going, like, ‘Hey Charles, what the hell? What’s up with the reunion?'” The little gag broke the ice, and with Deal also back on board, the band’s 2004 tour sold out within minutes.

After several years of successful reunion shows, Deal – who’d also revived her old band The Breeders, and was reluctant to make a new Pixies album – left the group before they began recording 2011’s Indie Cindy. Her old bandmates hired A Perfect Circle and Zwan member Paz Lenchantin as a permanent replacement; she features on their new album Head Carrier.

2. Dinosaur Jr.

Dinosaur Jr. guitarist/singer J Mascis and bassist/singer Lou Barlow’s painful relationship was at breaking point by the time they recorded their third album Bug. Mascis wrote and sang almost everything; on final track Don’t, the only one left to him, Barlow just screamed, “Why don’t you like me!?” over a reverberating guitar dirge. Mascis fired Barlow, who went on to focus on his side-project Sebadoh; their song The Freed Pig picks at the scabs of Barlow and Mascis’s broken friendship: “Now you will be free / With no sick people tugging on your sleeve / Your big head has that more room to grow.”

After 1997, Mascis retired the Dinosaur Jr. band name, performing and recording as J Mascis + The Fog. When Mascis started attending Sebadoh shows in the mid-90s, Barlow had an epiphany: perhaps Mascis didn’t hate him after all, but was just terrible at communicating. In 2005, with Dinosaur Jr.’s early SST albums being remastered, Barlow and Mascis performed together onstage at an autism benefit in Massachussetts as Deep Wound. In 2007, they released new album Beyond, and went on to release three more, most recently this year’s Give a Glimpse of What Yer Not.

3. Blondie

New wave icons Blondie originally split in 1982 after guitarist Chris Stein contracted pemphigus, a rare autoimmune skin disease, at a time when the band was also suffering from poor ticket sales and money and drug troubles. But dance remixes of Atomic and Heart of Glass brought them back to the charts in the mid-90s, while the inclusion of an Atomic cover by Sleeper on the ultra-cool, hugely successful Trainspotting soundtrack and namechecks from younger bands brought them back into the music press.

In 1997, shaking off legal action from former members over the use of the Blondie name, they reformed and played three US festival performances, followed by international tours in 1998 and 1999. In February 1999, they scored their sixth UK No.1 with the then ubiquitous Maria, and a No.3 album, No Exit. “I always make the comparison to James Dean,” Stein told theLA Times in 1998. “If he had done 20 movies, he might have ended up as some old guy being interviewed by Johnny Carson. He certainly wouldn’t have been as romantic a figure… I mean, it’s not even like we quit while we were ahead. We quit before we were ahead, I think.”

Music performances that shut down

There’s a special place reserved in the history of Later… with Jools Holland for grime artists because almost without exception they steal the show they’re on. Why? It’s a big deal for any musician to be offered a slot on the programme, but for artists from what’s ostensibly an underground genre (or certainly used to be) if offers a huge opportunity to reach a national audience. As such, grime MCs are notorious for bringing fire to the studio, as we’ll now find out…

1. Wiley, Can’t Go Wrong, 2016

In calling his hugely anticipated forthcoming album Godfather (his nickname), Wiley is perfectly reasonably reminding everyone that he’s the don of grime and, frankly, his debut appearance in the current series is long overdue. As befits the leader of a scene, he played it cool, performing a new song that bigs up Skepta and BBK, and works on a refrain of, “Can’t go wrong / When it’s straight from the heart, you can’t go wrong.”

 

2. Skepta, Shutdown, 2015

 

When Skepta won the Mercury Prize on 15 September, he said, “We travelled the world with these songs – no label, nothing,” making his victory all the more impressive. He earned a spot on Jools entirely off his own back too and his performance of Shutdown, as well asThat’s Not Me, caused a sensation. Suddenly, he looked on the brink of a major breakthrough, and so it came to be.

 

3. So Solid Crew, 21 Seconds, 2002

[WATCH] So Solid Crew – 21 Seconds

So Solid Crew are perhaps the most important bridge group between garage/UK hip hop and grime and they were bona fide superstars by 2002 when they made it onto Jools. The song they performed, 21 Seconds, had been a No.1 hit in August 2001 and they treated Later… like a massive celebration, seemingly bringing almost everyone in south London along with them to the studio.

 

4. Dizzee Rascal, Brand New Day, 2003

Dizzee would end up becoming a Jools regular, but his most significant appearance was his first – back in 2003, just after he’d become the youngest ever winner of the Mercury Prize. He performed Brand New Day from Boy in da Corner, giving huge swathes of the nation their first introduction to raw grime, and you could argue that it would take another 11 years for the music in its purest form to make it back onto the show…

Music films currently on iPlayer

There’s a chill in the air, the days are drawing in, and suddenly the sofa seems like a better destination for an evening of entertainment than traipsing across town to go out. So allow us to pick out seven of the many great music films on iPlayer currently – some new, some from the BBC archive, and covering everything from rap and country to classical and a curious, very Japanese blend of metal and pop.

1. Oasis In Their Own Words

All music journalists know that it’s near-impossible to get a bad interview out of Liam or Noel, so this new film does the sensible thing – stands out the way and lets Oasis tell their own story in a string of priceless soundbites. They’re interspersed with great performances on Top of the Pops and BBC News clips, which include Jeremy Vine, then a Newsnight journalist, doorstepping Liam. At one point we even witness Jeremy Paxman being forced to report Oasis news, through gritted teeth: “Mr Gallagher says that he can’t find a new home while ‘trying to perform to silly Yanks’. He also has a sore throat.”

 

 

2. Keith Richards – The Origin of the Species: Director’s Cut

The Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Swindle director Julien Temple, who has also made films on The Clash, Dr Feelgood and The Kinks’ Ray Davies, worked with The Rolling Stones in 1991 on a concert film, Stones at the Max. This time, he focusses his lens on just Keith Richards and, as the title of his film suggests, his formative, pre-fame years in Dartford, Kent, which was bombed heavily in the war when Keith was an infant. As ever with Temple, one of Britain’s finest documentarians, it’s a widely imaginative and fun film that reveals much about its rock icon subject.

 

3. Hip Hop World News

If you’re up on your history of UK hip hop, you’ll know that London Posse’s Rodney P has been a part of the music since the mid-1980s when it blew up globally. He makes for a skilled guide around this new feature-length history of hip hop, examining rap and its wider culture thematically (money, misogyny, education, etc.) rather than chronologically. He meets some fascinating interviewees along the way, including DJ Premier, Brand Nubian, Estelle and his all-time hero, Chuck D from Public Enemy.

 

4. Open Space: Bad Meaning Good

Back in the 1970s, the BBC set up the Community Programme Unit, which helped members of the public create films to be broadcast nationally. In 1987, one such member of the public was future Radio 1 DJ Tim Westwood, who made this fantastic half-hour look at hip hop in London. It’s a true slice-of-life documentary that makes for a perfect accompanying piece to Hip Hop World News. Spot a very youthful Trevor Nelson in it, plus there’s terrific footage ofRun-D.M.C., Cookie Crew, London Posse and Inspector Williams of the British Transport Police, a copper on a mission to stamp out graffiti being sprayed onto the sides of tube trains.

Campaign songs in US

Music and politics have always had a strained relationship, particularly in America, where barely a week passes in an election cycle without a rock star complaining about their song being used at a rally or a politician licensing music with accidentally inappropriate lyrics.

Regarding the latter, candidates know that it’s the over-riding slogan of a song that has political value – like, “Don’t stop thinking about tomorrow!” fromFleetwood Mac’s Don’t Stop (as used by Bill Clinton) – and not a line tucked away in verse four that could be interpreted as being off-message.

It should be easy to pick something perfect, right? You’d think so, but plenty of presidential hopefuls have made a mess of things, as we’ll now find out. (And, by the way, Ronald Reagan never campaigned with Bruce Springsteen’s anti-war song Born in the U.S.A., despite many people thinking so.)

1. Donald Trump, The Official Donald Trump Jam by USA Freedom Kids, 2016

Aside from the occasional unexpected endorsement, like from Azealia Banks (she laterwithdrew her support), The Donald’s been extensively criticised by the great and good of pop, including by Slipknot’s Corey Taylor, who accused Trump of “ugly bigotry and hatred”, and Ricky Martin, who last year called him “racist, absurd and incoherent”. Even our ownJohnny Marr got in on the act saying that Donald looks like he has an “omelette on his head”. Most recently, The Boss had a pop and anti-Trump indie artists have been releasing a song a day for 30 days in the run up to the 8 November vote.

When it comes to Trump’s picks for campaign music, there’s been a similar torrent of abuse.Adele wasn’t at all happy that the Republican nominee was using her music at rallies and neither were Neil Young or The Rolling Stones. Or House of Pain. Or Brian May and Queen.

On the other hand, a girl group called USA Freedom Kids were initially ecstatic to be offered the opportunity to perform their song, The Official Donald Trump Jam, at a Trump rally in Pensacola, Florida in January. “Cowardice, are you serious? Apologies for freedom – I can’t handle this!” the song begins. “When freedom rings, answer the call!”

The press had a field day, including the Mirror, who called The Official Donald Trump Jam “a jaw-droppingly bizarre North Korea-style propaganda song”. It was widely mocked, presumably leading a Trump adviser to have a word about taking USA Freedom Kids out on the campaign trail. Come July, Jeff Popick, manager of the group and father of one of the girls, threatened to file a lawsuit against Team Trump for supposedly breaking an agreement to let them sell CDs at an event, then ditching them in Des Moines, Iowa, although the group had allegedly travelled to the city to perform at a rally.

“He has forsaken the USA Freedom Kids who have brought magic on him,” Popick said.

 

2. George W. Bush, I Won’t Back Down by Tom Petty, 2000

Dubya chose the Tom Petty song I Won’t Back Down for his 2000 campaign. Until he received a cease and desist order from Petty’s publisher, and immediately backed down.

He made a significant clanger in 2004, too. One of his songs for that campaign was Still the One by Orleans, which begins: “We’ve been together since way back when / Sometimes I never want to see you again.” Whoop

3. Ross Perot, Crazy by Patsy Cline, 1992

In the above clip from a 2011 Radio 2 documentary, Suzi Quatro begins a quest to discover the woman behind the myth that is country singer Patsy Cline.

Patsy was best-known for her recording of Willie Nelson’s Crazy – an excellent song, but not the kind of ditty you’d imagine a presidential candidate using to promote their suitability to become leader of the free world. Unless they’re Ross Perot, the charismatic Texan businessman who ran as an independent in 1992 against Bill Clinton and George Bush.

Crazy is about being hopelessly in love, but Perot chose it because he relished everyone thinking he was nuts. More alarmingly, he seemed to think swathes of America had a screw loose, saying on the day before the election: “There are millions of crazy people in this country. And I’ll say tomorrow I bet it’ll be a crazy day at the polls.”

He predicted he’d win in all 50 states. He didn’t win in any, but he did secure a staggering 18.9 per cent of the popular vote. And then he ran again in 1996 – less successfully – as the nominee of the Reform Party, which he’d formed in 1995.

Collaborations that almost happened

Legendary 70s sticksman and 80s pop troubadour Phil Collins is back! At a press conference at London’s Royal Albert Hall on 17 October the former Genesis man said he’d been persuaded to come out of retirement and return to the musical fray by his children. The 65-year-old revealed he’d not been up to much in the last six years since making Going Back in 2010… aside, that is, from an aborted attempt to collaborate with Adele.

The idea had been mooted between the pair, Adele sent him a piece of music to work on, then she promptly “disappeared”. Collins said: “I was frantically writing it. I didn’t finish the thing and she never got to see what I did.” Alas, the timing was all wrong.

Let us not lament on what might have been, but instead imagine a world where the following planned collaborations circumnavigated all obstacles and came to fruition, like this little get-together between Ronnie Wood and Geri Halliwell.

1. Prince and Michael Jackson

No male popstar was bigger than Prince in the 1980s, except Michael Jackson, whose King of Pop epithet was entirely justified. Their rivalry was said to be friendly but fierce, and on one occasion when together, Prince apparently played slap bass at Jackson until the latter got fed up and left in a huff. It’s amazing to think these (figurative) giants almost worked together, and more amazing still to consider Bad had originally been intended as a duet between the pair.

In a 1997 VH1 interview with Chris Rock, Prince revealed that he balked at the “your butt is mine” opening line. “Now I said, ‘Who’s gonna sing that to who?'” he told Rock. “‘Cause you sure ain’t singing it to me. And I sure ain’t singing it to you.'”

Jacko went onto have a massive international hit, while Prince retained his butt.

[READ] In his own words: 10 things Prince taught us
[LISTEN] Michael Jackson: Minimix

2. David Bowie and Elvis Presley

David Bowie and pop’s most successful singer Elvis Presley shared a birthday, and due to the King’s untimely death that’s all they shared. Bowie’s 1975 hit Golden Years – written during the excesses of Station to Station – was offered to Presley who apparently turned it down. The story doesn’t end there, though; Elvis then called the Thin White Duke and asked him to produce his next album.

Country singer Dwight Yoakam, who bonded with Bowie over their mutual admiration for the King, revealed the planned collaboration in an interview a few weeks after Bowie’s death. “I couldn’t even imagine 1977 David Bowie producing Elvis,” he said. “It would have been fantastic. It has to be one of the greatest tragedies in pop music history that it didn’t happen; one of the biggest missed opportunities.”

 

3. Slash and The Stone Roses

A rumour had long circulated that Slash had wanted to join Madchester indie darlings The Stone Roses during the 90s, and stand-in guitarist Aziz Ibrahim confirmed as much in August. The session musician, also known for his work with Simply Red, said Ian Brown, Mani and Reni had wanted to annoy John Squire on his departure in 1996, and what better way than to replace him with one of rock’s greatest icons? The manager of the Stoke-bornGuns N’ Roses ex-guitarist also apparently had ambitions to manage the other Roses, making a hook-up all the more likely, but following an audition and some rehearsal time, the band decided they couldn’t work with a man in leather pants. Thus, the phwoar of the Roses was not to be.

 

4. LCD Soundsystem and Britney Spears

It was a collaboration that had the potential to blast Britney’s indie credibility into the stratosphere, but in the end the Mississippi-born singer wasn’t so keen to Work B****. LCD Soundsystem’s James Murphy revealed he and Britney were thrown together to write songs for her 2003 album In The Zone, which spawned the monster hit Toxic, and initially things went well. “It was very strange,” he told New York magazine. “We were both lying on the floor, head-to head, working on lyrics in a notepad. She seemed eager to please, but it went nowhere. She went to dinner and just never came back.”

A brief history of musician

The Story of Skinhead with Don Letts (broadcast on BBC Four, 14 October) is a fascinating examination of a distinct culture that initially blossomed in Britain in the late-1960s. Back then, being a skinhead meant – among many other things – not being a hippy, and that required shaving off all your hair, wearing different clothes and listening to Jamaican ska music.

Hair, or a lack thereof, was social politics as well as fashion, as often happens in popular culture. Certain styles have come to define their time, particularly these 12, although some, you could argue, were just errors of judgement…

1. The pompadour

Associated musical movement: rock ‘n’ roll, rockabilly
Famous wearers: Elvis, Johnny Cash, Morrissey, Imelda May, Alex Turner

Many hairstyles have epic histories, including the pompadour, which is named after Madame de Pompadour, mistress of King Louis XV. Its key characteristic is turning hair back off the forehead in a roll, and it was very much a female style back in Madame de Pompadour’s day (she was born in 1721 and died in 1764) and again in the late-19th and early-20th centuries when it became associated with the Gibson Girl.

Come the 1950s, it was adopted by early rock ‘n’ roll and country stars, particularly Elvis andJohnny Cash, and it remains a fashionable, vintage cut for men and women. Alex Turner,Morrissey and Imelda May are all keeping it alive.

 

2. The beehive

Associated musical movement: Girl groups

Famous wearers: The Supremes, The Ronnettes, The B-52s, Amy Winehouse

The beehive, which will forever be associated with girl groups from the 1960s, is kind of an exaggerated take on the bouffant. Long hair is immaculately piled on top of the head in a dome, beehive-like shape, often angled slightly backwards. No one got the style to look as classy as Diana Ross, shot above backstage at Top of the Pops in the early 1960s.

The creator of the beehive, Margaret Heldt, died aged 98 in June this year. She must have been delighted to see the style endure in all forms of pop culture. Notable recent wearers include Amy Winehouse, Marge Simpson and Coronation Street’s Bet Lynch.

 

3. The mop top

Associated musical movement: Beat music, Merseybeat, British Invasion
Famous wearers: The Beatles, Eric Burdon, Small Faces, Justin Bieber

It looks a bit like an actual mop top on top of a head, so it unimaginatively got named the mop top (although when George Harrison was asked in a New York press conference what the style was called soon after The Beatles made it to America, he rather surreally replied “Arthur”, and the scene was recreated in the film A Hard Day’s Night).

The shaggy, semi-long-haired look was owned by The Beatles but it was a common style for beat groups in the early- to mid-1960s, and it’s astonishing now to remember how controversial the mop top was. It was banned by Headmaster John Weightman of Surrey Grammar School in Guildford in 1963, and these days signifies a cute, not dangerous look. The teenage Justin Bieber was a fan.

Hellfire by Nick Tosches

It was 3 o’clock in the morning and the master bedroom of Graceland was still. Elvis Presley lay in his blue cotton pajamas dreaming. It was the same old dream. He walked through Tupelo in the late afternoon on a summer’s day, toward the home of the virgin Evangeline. He was smiling as he turned a corner and entered a street where lush hackberry trees swallowed the sun. There was the house of her father, where she waited, wrapped in that magic, unholy thing from her mama’s bottom drawer. He felt a chill. He was naked. Pleasance became dread, and he flushed with panic. He would retreat across town, where his mother was not dead and there fetch his clothes. If he hurried, there was time. He took a shortcut through a backyard he recognized, but was soon lost, running scared in a strange, unfriendly place, until he came to a meadow like none he had ever seen, and afternoon became night and the meadow became endless and he screamed.

The telephone at his bedside was ringing. It was one of the boys downstairs calling to tell the Boss there was trouble. The Graceland security guard had watched nervously as the 1976 Lincoln Continental sped up the gravel driveway and struck the gate. “I want to see Elvis,” the driver shouted, with a voice as harsh as the clang of chrome and wrought iron that preceded it. “You just tell him the Killer’s here.” The guard recognized him as Jerry Lee Lewis and told him that Elvis did not want to be disturbed. This displeased Jerry Lee. He pulled out a .38 derringer, and his eyes, which were already partly closed, tightened with a further wrath. “Git on that damn house phone and call him! Who the hell does that sonofabitch think he is? Doesn’t wanna be disturbed! He ain’t no goddam better’n anybody else.” Jerry Lee spat in disgust and then commenced yelling anew. He did not relent, and the guard went to the phone. “Elvis says call the cops” the boy at the house told the guard. Jerry Lee howled and waved his pistol toward the manor. The guard did as he was told, and a patrol car arrived in less than a minute.

The officer peered into the Lincoln and saw that Jerry had the Derringer pressed against the door panel with his left knee. He pulled the door open, and the gun fell. He picked it up and found that it was loaded. “I’ll have your fuckin’ job, boy,” Jerry Lee hissed. The officer drew him from the car, frisked him, and locked his wrists. More patrol cars came, and Jerry Lee was taken away. Riding slowly, against his will, the prisoner glared into the slow river of dark night, wondering what had gone wrong. The thought came to him, and just as quickly fled, that there were no Breathalysers in Old Testament days. This must mean something. He thought about singing a song, the old one about meeting in the morning; but he didn’t. Then at last he grinned and shook his head, for he knew that the cold, brilliant handcuffs would not long contain him.

By the end of July 1957, the record “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On” had sold about 100,000 copies. Then it ran into trouble. Many people feared the song and its singer. Even some who liked Elvis damned Jerry Lee Lewis, as lascivious and evil. Mothers smelled his awful presence in the laundry of their daughters and preachers stood before their flocks and railed against him and his sinful song. Slowly, radio stations began to ban the record and it was heard less and less. Judd Phillips, the Sun Records promotion man, took Jerry Lee to New York and arranged for him to audition for Steve Allen. Impressed by Jerry’s combination of musical virtuosity and audacious showmanship, Steve Allen eagerly agreed to have the young man perform on his NBC-TV program the following Sunday night. “The Steve Allen Show” of July 28 opened with a skit by Shelley Winters and Anthony Franciosa in which Franciosa re-enacted his marriage proposal to Winters.

The show grew duller as the hour passed. With less than five minutes left to the show, Jerry Lee was given his signal. He sat at the big piano and looked sideways at the camera, eyeballed it the way he looked at those girls in that Arkansas beer joint, and then began to rake the keys and howl about the shaking that was going on. He rose, still pounding, and he kicked the piano stool back. He played some high notes with the heel of his shoe. Then he stopped and looked at the camera sideways again. Neither he nor Steve Allen had ever heard louder applause.