Radio: Two cheers for Madonna, three for Peel

It is unusually satisfying to see a statistic which confirms your suspicions. This one said that Madonna's new single "Beautiful Stranger" is the most frequently played of all time. It was played something like 2,000 times last week, beating the previous record-holder, Cher's "Believe", by a factor of about 25 per cent.

Which is fine by me; Cher's song was particularly emetic, and its synthetic voice-wobble frankly gave me the creeps. "Beautiful Stranger" may be cursed by lyrics whose inanity, even in the keenly contested field of pop lyrics, is insultingly spectacular, to the point where you suspect the songwriter guilty of misanthropic cynicism ("I'm in love with a beautiful stranger," sings Madonna. "To know him," she adds, "is to love him." But, Madonna, you feel like asking, if he's a stranger, then you don't know him; and if you don't know him, then you don't love him, do you?), but it does have a very appealing tune, and is beautifully arranged.

But you do notice it being played all the bloody time. I could have sworn that Radio 1 played it twice on Thursday morning, once at the end of Zoe Ball's breakfast show and - I'm not exaggerating - three minutes later on Simon Mayo's post-breakfast show. Which is getting ridiculous. It's not even as good a song as "Ray of Light" and, besides, this decade has been soured irretrievably for me by the failure of Gay Dad's sublime single "Joy" to make any impression whatsoever on the charts. What we are seeing here is musical anti-socialism: the precious resource of airplay being granted to those who need it least. In his sublime 1994 Biographical Dictionary of Film, our very own David Thomson imagined a technology that could interrupt anything with an ad break: and that what would fill that interruption would, most fittingly, be "the insolent, in-your-face `attitude' of Ms Ciccone". I like Madonna rather more than Mr Thomson does, or did, but I begin to see what he means.

Which is why it is still so important to listen to John Peel, for he still plays music that you do not suspect has been played anywhere else at all. (I remember, incidentally, the first time I heard an older person say "John Peel? Is he still around?" It was in 1982.) This column has been rude about John Peel before, but only because he is responsible for Home Truths, the programme that ruins your weekend almost before it's started. But his Tuesday-to-Thursday slot on Radio 1 is as good as it ever was. For those of you who would prefer not to know how the latest single by the Secret Goldfish goes, this might mean "as unlistenable as it ever was" but at least we can agree on some kind of consistency. (Actually, the Secret Goldfish, who were in session last Wednesday, are extremely cute, listener-friendly in an Orange Juice, Beautiful South kind of way, and chart success for them would not be an aberration in the natural order of things.)

This is all the more remarkable given that the revolution always quietly implied by John Peel - that one day the insultingly unimaginative music of daytime Radio 1 will be binned, and the weird stuff we play in this barely tolerated musical ghetto will triumph - has, to a slight degree, happened. It certainly is the case that DJs other than Peel now play the kind of music he has on his show. (At least, that is the case on Radio 1. I cannot say the same of regional chart-music shows, where whole months can pass without your hearing an original piece of music, unless, by some fluke, one gets to number one.)

But what was always great about Peel was the way he recklessly exposed listeners to music it would never have occurred to them to hear. So while he played the Heaving Kidneys' latest speed-metal threnody, it would abut classic blues tracks by someone whose first or middle name was "Blind"; obscure chanteuses, ancient ska stompers, or the wilfully deranged poetry of Ivor Cutler. There was more crossover between Peel and Radio 3 than - well, Peel and Radio 1.

This continues. At present he is running through what he whimsically calls the "Peelennium", which means that every evening he's on air, he plays a song or two from olden days, running through them year by year. One year per evening: and last Wednesday he was on 1926. Which meant that Peel listeners got to hear "Come on Boys, Let's do that Messin' Around" by Blind Blake; "The Black-Bottomed Charleston Foxtrot" by Bert Ferman and his Orchestra; "Birdsong at Eventide" by Henry Hall and his Gleneagles Hotel Band; and, best of all, "She Knows her Onions" by The Happiness Boys, whose coyly lubricious lyrics celebrate the wiliness of one Sally Brown: "She's just a farmer's daughter/Brought up in Iowa/Her father never taught her/The things she knows today...." ("Iowa" is here pronounced "eye- oh-way", for the purposes of (a) rhyme and (b) comic effect.)

We also learnt that in 1926 the National Grid was set up, that Winnie the Pooh was first inflicted on the world, and that Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa all became self-governing dominions within the Commonwealth. No one but John Peel could do this kind of thing half as well. (No one else tries, come to think of it.) So could we give Home Truths a rest now?

In other words: don't give up the night job.

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment

Filming to begin on two new series due to be aired on Dave from next year

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Kit Harington plays MI5 agent Will Holloway in Spooks: The Greater Good

'You can't count on anyone making it out alive'film
Arts and Entertainment
War veteran and father of Peter and Laust Thoger Jensen played by Lars Mikkelson

TVBBC hopes latest Danish import will spell success

Arts and Entertainment
Carey Mulligan in Far From The Madding Crowd
FilmCarey Mulligan’s Bathsheba would fit in better in The Hunger Games
Arts and Entertainment
Pandas-on-heat: Mary Ramsden's contribution is intended to evoke the compound the beasts smear around their habitat
Iart'm Here But You've Gone exhibition has invited artists to produce perfumes
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

    Everyone is talking about The Trews

    Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living
    Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

    Homeless people keep mobile phones

    A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
    'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

    'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

    British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
    Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

    Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

    Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
    14 best kids' hoodies

    14 best kids' hoodies

    Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

    The acceptable face of the Emirates

    Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk