A colleague told me a while ago that he doesn’t listen to new music because to do so would be pointless when “it’s all been done before”.
This struck me as attention-seeking.
But Radio 1 was playing in the room at the time, as it does most of the time at my place of work, and over the next few hours my ear drums were treated to the following pieces of music (some of them twice):
Pussycat Dolls – ‘Hush Hush; Hush Hush’
The Dolls’ execrable new record began life as a ballad on their slightly scarily-named album Doll Domination. But in order to prepare it for release as a single, it was decided that the track should contain a baffling interlude during which it turns into Gloria Gaynor’s ‘I Will Survive’. Nicole Scherzinger, taking time out from the Grand Prix circuit, sings a verse from the 1978 disco tune for no apparent reason, before returning to the original melody for one last excruciating hurrah. In the video she even dons a comedy afro last seen on one (or indeed other) of Harry Enfield’s Scousers.
Sugababes – ‘Get Sexy’
The Sugababes’ latest offering features the lyrics “I’m too sexy in this club, too sexy in this club, so sexy it hurts.” Too sexy to write an original piece of music as well, it seems, as this turnip of a single rehashes Right Said Fred’s 1991 gay anthem.
Chicane – ‘Poppiholla’
Chicane, actually a middle-aged British producer who goes by the mildly comical name of Nicholas Bracegirdle, released his “reworking” of Sigur Ros’ epic ‘Hoppipolla’ on 13th July. This ‘reworking’ seems to have consisted of inverting two letters in the title and putting a late 90s trance beat underneath it, but Radio 1 can’t get enough of it.
Kid British – ‘Our House Is Dadless’
Record of the week on Scott Mills’ Radio 1 show, this cheeky riot of a record samples Madness for its chorus, which means that the only original contribution from Mancunian scamps Kid British is to semi-rap the verses: “Constant noise but I wouldn’t have it any other way, I love my house / Total chaos, yeah it’s random / Off key, different, no house is similar / But for some reason it works.” Well, quite.
There have been other examples this summer, notably DJ Ironik’s version of ‘Tiny Dancer’. Others have taken a different approach – N Dubz’s ‘Number 1’ skips along cheerily like a naughty schoolboy with pockets stuffed with stolen chocolates, presumably hoping that someone listening hasn’t noticed that its opening riff has been lifted brazenly from The Verve’s ‘Bittersweet Symphony’.
Radio1 have played ‘When Love Takes Over’ by David Guetta and Kelly Rowland, the other one out of Destiny’s Child, every fifteen minutes since May. It still sounds just as much like Coldplay’s ‘Clocks’ though; the opening piano riff is almost identical, and the game is only given away when Ms. Rowland comes warbling into earshot like a karaoke Whitney Houston. It’s embarrassing.
All these tunes recycle old material in different ways, and most do so self-consciously. Perhaps that makes it better. Perhaps it is anachronistic to talk about ‘original’ music and condemn sampling and referencing as plagiarism. ‘Bittersweet Symphony’ itself was itself based on a Rolling Stones hook.
There does seem to be a definite trend recently, however, of artists using previous pieces of music as more than simply a starting point for new creations. In the case of Chicane and Kid British, the echoing seems to be laziness in pursuit of commercial success: both artists have taken memorable compositions, added their own embellishments and sold the result. In the case of Sugababes and Pussycat Dolls it is more playfully allusive.
T.S. Eliot said of imitation in poetry:
Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal; bad poets deface what they take, and good poets make it into something better, or at least something different. The good poet welds his theft into a whole of feeling which is unique, utterly different than that from which it is torn; the bad poet throws it into something which has no cohesion. A good poet will usually borrow from authors remote in time, or alien in language, or diverse in interest.
By these criteria, none of the artists above can be praised for their work. Each of them deliberately imitates, nurtures and elaborates on the mood or ‘interest’ of the original piece of music. The possible exception is David Guetta, whose ‘When Love Takes Over’ shares little in common with ‘Clocks’, the tune it mimics.
So the one conclusion that emerges from this knotty debate is that T.S. Eliot would have preferred David Guetta to the Sugababes. I’m not sure where that leaves us but there it is.