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
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump


Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

Arts and Entertainment
William Pooley from Suffolk is flying out to Free Town, Sierra Leone, to continue working in health centres to fight Ebola after surviving the disease himself

Arts and Entertainment
The Newsroom creator Aaron Sorkin

Arts and Entertainment
Matt Berry (centre), the star of Channel 4 sitcom 'Toast of London'

TVA disappointingly dull denouement
Arts and Entertainment
Tales from the cryptanalyst: Benedict Cumberbatch in 'The Imitation Game'

Arts and Entertainment
Pixie Lott has been voted off Strictly Come Dancing 2014

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

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

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

    Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

    Scandi crush: Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

    Th Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
    La Famille Bélier is being touted as this year's Amelie - so why are many in the deaf community outraged by it?

    Deaf community outraged by La Famille Bélier

    The new film tells the story of a deaf-mute farming family and is being touted as this year's Amelie
    Calls for a military mental health 'quality mark'

    Homeless Veterans campaign

    Expert calls for military mental health 'quality mark'
    Racton Man: Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman

    Meet Racton Man

    Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman
    Garden Bridge: St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters

    Garden Bridge

    St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters
    Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament: An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel

    Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament

    An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel
    Joint Enterprise: The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice

    Joint Enterprise

    The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice
    Freud and Eros: Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum: Objects of Desire

    Freud and Eros

    Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum
    France's Front National and the fear of a ‘gay lobby’ around Marine Le Pen

    Front National fear of ‘gay lobby’

    Marine Le Pen appoints Sébastien Chenu as cultural adviser
    'Enhanced interrogation techniques?' When language is distorted to hide state crimes

    Robert Fisk on the CIA 'torture report'

    Once again language is distorted in order to hide US state wrongdoing
    Radio 1’s new chart host must placate the Swifties and Azaleans

    Radio 1 to mediate between the Swifties and Azaleans

    New chart host Clara Amfo must placate pop's fan armies
    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'It's life, and not the Forces, that gets you'

    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'It's life, and not the Forces, that gets you'

    The head of Veterans Aid on how his charity is changing perceptions of ex-servicemen and women in need
    Torture: It didn't work then, it doesn't work now

    Torture: It didn't work then, it doesn't work now

    Its use is always wrong and, despite CIA justifications post 9/11, the information obtained from it is invariably tainted, argues Patrick Cockburn
    Rebranding Christmas: More public bodies are refusing to give the festival its name for fear of causing offence

    Rebranding Christmas

    More public bodies are refusing to give the festival its name for fear of causing offence. They are missing the point, and we all need to grow up