Monday, 29 December 2008

A love is not a victory march

The race for the Christmas number one slot was a bit different this year, what with the contest being fought mostly between a TV show winner and a dead guy who has never released a single over here, the result being the same song occupying the top two slots and featuring again further down the chart.

This is what happens when Simon Cowell tries to convey that he has musical discernment. Normally the X Factor winner would be given any old chart fodder for their first single, guaranteed to go to number one. This year, the bizarre decision was taken to use an epic Leonard Cohen song, covered by many, but the definitive version being widely regarded to be Jeff Buckley's from the album Grace.

Now, Grace is among my favourite albums ever, and Hallelujah is one of the high points. So naturally I joined the throngs of those expressing their dismay at the choice. Campaigns began on Facebook to implore people to overthrow the X Factor grip on the charts by getting other versions into the top ten on download sales. In a moment of festive madness, I even decided to join the flashmob planned to fill Trafalgar Square with hundreds of Buckley fans who would all burst into song at a given moment. The reality was rather more muted, as The Times was unfortunately on hand to note, but hey - I guess I can now say that I have sort of featured in a broadsheet newspaper. (In response to the article, I should like to point out that (i) they may have been up to twenty of us at one stage (ii) nobody was taking it particularly seriously (save for one rather intense individual) (iii) it was rather embarrassing when what I presume was the combination of cold and ridiculousness prompted us to all forget the words to the second verse and (iv) no eardrums were irrevocably damaged in the making of the protest, but I can't promise it was entirely melodic either).

Like many who objected to the song choice, I have nothing against Alexandra Burke - I think she has a great voice, seems like a lovely person and I wish her a long and happy career. Nor do I feel that the song is off-limits for covering - Buckley's version was not the last, and nor will Burke's be. For me, what was objectionable about the whole thing was seeing a great song commodified. It wasn't that the winning performer had chosen it because it had always been a favourite of theirs, or that they had performed it earlier in the competition and had their 'breakthrough moment' with it. Rather it seemed a case of, "This is the product, you have to sell it." To take a song loved by so many and to use it in that way rather taints what emotive music is about.

Inevitably, despite their passion, the Buckley fans lost the battle for the top spot. But to get an unreleased version to number two, ahead of another X Factor alumnus was pretty impressive. And perhaps the whole thing will prompt a few more people to give Grace a listen, which is no bad thing. Maybe Cowell will reflect upon the overall response and conclude that his choice was ill-judged. Or maybe he'll be buying the rights to another classic song as we speak...

Jeff Buckley
Originally uploaded by
Café du Monde

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