TV review - Danny Baker's Great Album Showdown, BBC4
The Year of Making Love, BBC3
God bless Danny Baker. The BBC hasn't always just recently, and he's not done a lot of blessing back. But there's clearly been enough of a rapprochement for him to go into a studio and record Danny Baker's Great Album Showdown, three talk shows about the heyday of the vinyl album. That's not the reason for the blessing incidentally. He gets the blessing for introducing the first episode as a "scientifically specious adventure into sound".
And since I'd just watched a programme that was scientifically specious but pretended that it was anything but, I couldn't help but give a little cheer. The point of the show, he explained, was to celebrate "one of the most wonderful creations in the history of art" – the long-playing record – and in particular the period of its great ascendency, which Baker identifies as the early Seventies (somewhere between Woodstock and the Sex Pistols first LP, as Larkin almost certainly wouldn't have put it).
To help him, he had three studio guests, all with album boxes containing their own most treasured LPs, and the kind of enthusiast's knowledge that tugs a conversation this way and that, with a Brownian motion, as he suddenly remembers something he loves even more than the thing he's in the middle of rhapsodising.
It wasn't exactly a tidy programme. There was the odd grinding gear as he shifted between studio chat and the autocue set-ups for the drop-in films (never an easy transition) and his own recommendations for the album hall of fame he was constructing seemed rushed and a little peremptory (nobody got a chance to disagree). But for any viewer with fond memories of sliding a record from its sleeve, it certainly captured the distinctively physical pleasure of LPs, something more than mere nostalgia. Because they couldn't be moved without jolting the music out of existence, you couldn't move (much) as you listened to them.
And because shifting the needle around always came with the risk of damage, you mostly listened to them as their makers had intended, rather than chopped into a private playlist. They were even the right length for rapt, shoegazing audition. Any longer than 40 minutes, as the producer Stephen Street pointed out, and you'd have to sacrifice the bass notes to get all the grooves in. Most importantly, vinyl aged. An MP3 will never acquire the patina of love that some of the records the guests had brought with them clearly displayed.
The scientifically specious programme, incidentally, was The Year of Making Love, introduced as an "experiment", a word so wretchedly abused these days that you imagine real scientists will soon have to stop using it. It began with a match-up session, all raking spotlights and strobe-induced delirium, at which 100 singletons were paired up, notionally after scientific analysis of their compatibility by two resident experts, Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic and Emma Kenny. Dannie, who works in a nail bar in north London, then helpfully established the general intellectual level at which the show operates: "I'm hoping that science can find me my perfect partner because they're scientists, right? They can like find out anything."
In what followed, we were not once troubled by an explanation of the methods the two experts had employed to establish the compatibility of their guinea pigs, or by any theory as to what compatibility might actually consist of. Instead, we just tagged along on a series of dates of varying success, as the participants laid waste to their own privacy. Natalie and Rogan didn't pan out, but Kirsty and Andy did, so much so that he finally plucked up the courage to ask her to be his girlfriend. He asked her shortly after she'd climbed out of the bed she'd shared with him in an Amsterdam hotel, so what her status was before I'm not sure. As you may already have gathered, I date from the age of vinyl.
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