And the ban played on

Why should the Criminal Justice Act have the only say on what sort of music is out of bounds? Jonathan Sale finds out which beats should be muffled
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The Independent Online
Does the Devil have the best tunes? He certainly has the beat tunes, according to the Criminal Justice Act, whose first birthday we celebrate (if that's the word) this week. Section 63, which gives the police extra powers over raves, specifically points the finger at "sounds wholly or predominantly characterised by the emission of a succession of repetitive beats".

Other varieties of musical discourse go unmentioned. Yet one person's opera can be another's unholy racket. Just ask the neighbours of Garsington Manor in Oxfordshire, whose owners have turned it into a mini-Glyndebourne (the neighbours lost the battle over what they saw as "noise pollution" earlier this year).

Legislation against any particular type of music tends to hit a bum note. The puritans tried to wipe out Morris dancing and music-making. A more unpleasant example of musical dictatorship was the Third Reich. The Nazis censored any composer who was too modern or Jewish or, in the case of Stravinksy, both. Mozart's music was authorised - but not the words of his operas, which came from a Jewish librettist. They had to be rewritten by a guaranteed goy.

To Hitler's cloth ears, jazz was almost as bad; it was, after all, played by blacks. Nazi musicologists tried to censor the playing of "blue" notes and funky rhythms. Fortunately, German partygoers agreed with the idea that it don't mean a thing if it ain't got that swing - and they carried on swinging.

Today's ravers have carried on dancing, often to a series of CDs on the Sabrettes label, cheekily entitled "Repetitive Beats", with musicians including Steve Hillage of System 7. Since all proceeds go to anti-Criminal Justice Act organisations, merely owning one of these subversive CDs is probably enough to have you locked up in the Home Secretary's cellar for the duration.

But if any type of music is to be banned, at illegal raves or anywhere else, why should it just be this sort? Couldn't the Criminal Justice Act be made more democratic, by vetoing other styles as well? I asked a handful of music lovers for their choice of hits that they would like to see smashed. Most replied that they were against this form of musical censorship - but since I mentioned it ...

Annie Nightingale, DJ: "Everything that's No 1 for 16 weeks. Bryan Adams's "(Everything I Do) I Do It for You" was No 1 for 16 weeks at a time when my show went out just after the charts on Sunday afternoon - and people thought it was my theme tune!"

Terry Jones, ex-Python, film director and author: "I'd ban Frank Sinatra. It's not just the fact that he sounds off-key - musical friends assure me he's not, he just flies around the note - but also the sentiments. If I hear "My Way" one more time, I shall go out and commit something illegal."

Jon Sevink of the Levellers: "Dead artists recording old numbers from slices of old sessions, like the "new" Beatles number with out-takes of John Lennon's voice - Paul McCartney must be short of a few houses. And Nat King Cole was dug up for a macabre duet with his daughter Natalie, singing 'Unforgettable'. It was extremely forgettable. Fortunately, the phrase about 'repetitive beat' lets the Levellers off the hook. Our music is never in time enough to be covered by the legislation."

John Peel, DJ: "Almost anything with standard keyboard intro, syn drums and unutterably bland lyrics - formulaic stuff that makes you yearn for the days of Stock Aitken Waterman. I recently spent a day listening to FM stations on the car radio and that was what every station seemed to be playing. They were all so anonymous that I don't remember who they were by."

Steve Hillage of System 7: "I'm a tolerant person, but if I had to ban anything, I would not allow Meat Loaf to sing 'Land of Hope and Glory' at Conservative Party conferences!"

Bamber Gascoigne, author, broadcaster and Covent Garden Board member: "Any loud music from a car, particularly from a parked car. It doesn't matter what it is - even if it's music you like. It's the concept that people can arrive in a quiet environment and play their music loud. You hear this music coming and think it's going past - and then it stops next to you. Living as we do in a tourist environment, this does happen to us. I sometimes think I'll go out to complain but I never do."

John Wells, writer, actor and librettist: "I would give a great deal to ban two signature tunes on Radio 4. First of all there's the music of Breakaway, a terrible travel programme on Saturday mornings; I'd like to break the composer's neck away. And then there's the jingly-jangly signature tune that introduces Sport on 4, not to mention Cliff Morgan's voice."