Rage Against…the corporate pop machine?

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Well well, this year the plaudits for Christmas number one go to Jon and Tracy Morter. The success of their Facebook campaign to get Rage Against The Machine’s 1992 expletive laden track Killing In The Name to number one is definitely a poke in the eye for a Mister Simon Cowell. The Morter’s opposition to yet another X-Factor single dominating the Christmas charts was catalyst to prevent 18-year old Joe McElderry from hitting the top spot with his cover of The Climb, originally performed by Miley Cyrus.

But who are the real winners in all this? And what long term impact could this have on the charts? Several national newspapers were quick to point out that RATM and Joe are both on Sony records, and Cowell himself is a shareholder in a subsidiary of Sony. Over half a million downloads for Killing In The Name and the download and physical sales from Joe’s track will leave the boss men at Sony laughing all the way to the bank.

Had the RATM campaigners shot themselves in the foot? Hardly. I feel the newspapers that pointed this out were clearly missing the point. The way the music business works it would be very hard for a music fan to spend a penny without the big cheeses getting their mitts on a percentage of it. The intention was simply to stop another X-Factor song scoring a Christmas number one. Mission accomplished. Using a song such as Killing In The Name- with sixteen F-words and a Motherf***** to cap it off- was simply adding emphasis to the cause. I doubt it would’ve had the same effect if Joe Dolce’s Shaddup You Face had been used instead.

Simon Cowell probably woke up on Monday morning slightly disgruntled at having a fraction less column space than usual then would’ve carried on with money-making marketing machine, or doing whatever it is he does when not judging on The X-Factor. Buying white t-shirts and trousers with a 36″ chest. Perhaps.

Rage Against The Machine are a band with a loyal fan-base. The response when they reformed 2007 was phenomenal and they continue to play shows despite there being no new material on the horizon. They have announced that the profits from their Christmas number one success will be donated to the homeless charity Shelter. This is not the first time they have done such a thing. Giving shares of profits from tours and playing free shows is par for the course in the Rage camp.

Newspapers have adorned pictures of Zach De La Rocha with devils horns (while Joe McElderry sports a halo) which I can’t help but feel is typical from the media. Ooh shouty, angry vocals and language your mother wouldn’t be proud of, they must be the product of Satan! Ladies and Gentleman may I introduce you to music…with an edge! With a bit of passion. Energy. A political message. Music written by…the performers themselves! Or is all that just too much credibility for some people?

Surely Joe won’t be too upset at missing out on the top spot; it’s not like he wrote the song. He wasn’t even the first to perform it. That would be Miley Cyrus (and she didn’t even write it, those credits go to Jessi Alexander and Jon Mabe). Her version only got to number 11 in the UK charts which begs the question; what makes Joe’s version so good it deserved to go to the top? Oh yeah, the X-factor publicity and marketing machine. Sorry forgot for a moment then.

It has been stressed by all parties that the campaign was not against Joe personally. Although it’s been argued he’s worked so hard that he deserves some recognition for his efforts. He won The X-Factor. Thousands of people voted for him week in, week out, and he won. There’s your recognition. If he hadn’t won I’d say he’s been lucky enough to have been told straight that singing wasn’t the career path for him. It’s not like these contestants have been plugging away in bars, pubs and clubs for donkeys years in their search for the spotlight.

So what of Jon and Tracy Morter? Although I wasn’t exactly caught up in the excitement of it, I am pleased they got RATM to number one in the UK charts, for whatever that’s worth. Unfortunately because it was Christmas week they now sit alongside the likes of Bob The Builder and Mr Blobby (so not worth as much as some may have thought. Personally I’d have preferred something like Closer by Nine Inch Nails but each to their own).

However this isn’t the first time such hype has been used to get a seemingly random song to chart. In January 2007 Radio One DJ Chris Moyles urged people to download Honey To The Bee by Billie Piper – originally a number three hit in 1999 – to test the new chart rules on allowing songs only available for download to be eligible for the charts. It charted at number 17.

So what’s to stop the charts from being dominated by Facebook groups picking and choosing what the masses should buy in order to stop a pop-puppet hitting number one? Isn’t that marketing strategy similar to that used by The X-Factor? The Morter’s have stated this is a one-off for them. However, there’s nothing to stop another group from being started to get Spotty Jim from Accrington Working Mans Club to number one with his cover of a Scatman John song.

As glad as I am of Rage Against The Machine’s festive chart topper, this exercise has reached its limit. A song which many would agree has more than an ounce of credibility is the UK Christmas number one. If you look back over the this years number ones though, how many would you say had less credibility than Killing In The Name? Probably quite a few.

Ideally I’d be looking for a way of making the charts actually matter again. Clicking download on iTunes and the like is too easy. If people had to physically get up off their backsides and march to their local record store to ‘register’ their vote towards that weeks chart, I think the top forty over the past few years would have told a different story.

And if this type of strategy was going to make the charts credible again I’d be jumping for joy. But it won’t, so I’m going to enjoy it while it lasts. Merry Christmas!

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1 Comment

  1. I wasn’t really interested in Rage, any song with swear words, or the lacklustre xfactor song which doesnt do Joe justice…though I did wonder how many people brought the song just to prove a point….it was nice in a way to make a bit of a battle for the top (just like in yesteryear) though and maybe hint that nothing is infallible. The charts haven’t been the same in a long while….bring back the days to Top of The Pops and Foxy announcing the Top 40…..also bring back the days of festive chart toppers that are festive….get some new xmas songs out there. and ultimately make music matter not the hype.