Music Features

Joe Blogs #7: Berry The Hatchet

When reporting on a story, journalists are fond of exclaiming that “Twitter exploded” during the event, presumably in an effort to make the happenings in question much more earth-shattering than they really were. What “Twitter exploded” really means is that for the journalist writing the article, a decent proportion of their timeline was taken up with links and opinions on the subject. Seeing as, due to the very nature of Twitter, a user’s timeline is filled with people with similar interests and views to them, it represents a minuscule snapshot of what’s really occurring on the social network. Anyway, to see what Twitter’s really “exploding” about, have a look at the worldwide trending topics and shake your head in disbelief. It’s a maelstrom of nonsensical hashtags, people sending messages to One Direction and Justin Bieber, and disheartening, sexist and/or racist attempts at observational comedy.

With the aforementioned in mind, I can confidently assert that Twitter EXPLODED earlier today when a piece by Dave Berry, entitled ‘The 10 albums every man should own’ appeared on the website of British newspaper, The Daily Telegraph. You can read the article in its entirety here.

For the uninitiated, Dave Berry is a moderately famous television and radio presenter whose current main job is co-helming the breakfast show on London radio station, Capital FM. While unremarkable, he seems an amiable sort of person who, before today, had only registered in my consciousness as one of those people who I’d sort of heard of. I knew there was a media personality called Dave Berry, I’d recognise a picture of Dave Berry as someone who’s a media personality, but the two wouldn’t quite be linked in my brain.

There are, quite clearly, numerous problems with Dave Berry’s column. Personally, the thing I found most offensive is that there’s a section of the Telegraph’s website called ‘Men’ (I’m glad that under-represented demographic have finally been given a chance to have their opinions heard). It’s poorly written and takes a gratingly patronising “matey” tone, though that’s likely to be part of the remit when writing for a section of the Lifestyle pages called ‘Thinking Man’ (billed as “Lively opinion on the male condition”, it currently contains such vital nuggets as ‘Ten spoof accounts to follow on Twitter’ and ‘Why you should never offer to help your girlfriend move house’).

Whilst the Twitterstorm (read: minority of snarky commenters) did mention the above, the real opprobrium was reserved for Berry’s album selection itself, not to mention the fact he’d committed the unforgivable sin of getting Beth Orton and Beth Gibbons confused (later corrected in the article). Because, as we all know, no real music fan has ever got the name of one single worthwhile artist wrong, ever.

The article was shared around with sarcastic comments and smug glances (or whatever the online equivalent is) by people safe in the knowledge that they exhibit better taste and, by extension, are more worthwhile human beings. As for Berry’s Beth bother – something he later flagged up as a sub-editing error rather than his lack of knowledge – Twitter had soon set up a #daveberrystyle hashtag, where people could “hilariously” spoof the mistake by getting other famous musicians and personalities purposely confused. You know, pretending to not know the difference between Brian May and Professor Brian Cox – real Wildean stuff.

As for the list itself, we could all pick holes in it all day. Lists are made to be debated, and you’ll never get consensus on something as undefinable as ‘albums every man should own’. Yes, purists may balk at the fact that he’s picked compilations, a best of, and Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, but it’s the opinion of one person. Besides, the presenter of a breakfast show on a popular commercial radio station is unlikely to proclaim that everyone should own something by Neu!, or Arthur Russell, or an artist you’ve heard of but I haven’t because you’re so much cooler and more obscure than I am.

Taste in music, like any art form, is entirely subjective and people like to wear their own as a badge of pride. Liking a certain type of music often carries with it something more complex and involved than just the music itself, and in some cases there can be an entire sub-culture underpinning it, which comes with its own sense of belonging and identity. By its very nature, people think their taste in music is better than other people’s, but all too often, people blur that line that separates fact from opinion.

What those who talk and write about music often neglect to mention is that the biggest selling records are rarely the most critically-acclaimed. There’s snobbery around people who are perceived to purchase their music in supermarkets but it’s tapping into potential buyers like that which will make a record go multi-platinum. Take a look at the Top 40 all-time best-selling albums in the UK and you’ll see Simply Red, Shania Twain, Dido (twice), James Blunt and the soundtrack to Dirty Dancing. In America, Cracked Rear View by Hootie & The Blowfish has been certified 16x platinum. These are albums and artists that few would proudly state they like, but obviously they are (or, at least, were) hugely popular. You can sing the praises of The Velvet Underground & Nico all day long, but it’s Breathless by Kenny G that’s sold twelve million copies, not Lou Reed and pals. No wonder Lou’s always so grumpy.

True, Dave Berry’s made a poor attempt at fulfilling an even worse brief, but it’s really brought to light the snobbery that continues to exist. The Twitter backlash and subsequent desperately unfunny Daily Mirror article are part of the reason why people often express their musical preferences apologetically if they feel they’re likely to be construed as uncool. It’s why the horrendous notion of ‘guilty pleasures’ exists – because people feel as if music that isn’t held in high regard can only be enjoyed ironically.

Dave Berry likes Oasis and Ed Sheeran – so what? More people probably like them than the artists you and I would evangelise about, so who’s the person with laughable taste now?