Paul Fitzpatrick: London, May 2022
In the analogue era, weekly music publications were a big deal.
My music-mag allegiances tended to reflect my musical tastes so along the way I was an avid, NME, Melody Maker, Sounds and Blues & Soul reader.
I’d get these publications the day they came out from my local newsagent, and devour every inch of copy from cover to cover.
Every column, every review, every chart, every letter and even the adverts… usually in a single sitting
Apart from attending gigs, being a devotee of a particular music-mag was as close as it got to being part of a musical community back then.
Whatever your publication of choice was, you’d have your favourite journalists, you’d trust their reviews and you’d have faith that the publication would feature and promote the right bands.
An edition I always looked forward to was the annual Poll Winners issue.
First of all who didn’t love a poll, plus it was a way to sense-check whether this was a community you wanted to be part of.
Looking back, I think the 72/73 NME poll (excerpt above) where Gilbert O’Sullivan’s vocal talents were rated ahead of Plant, Rodgers, Gillan and Daltrey in the ‘Best Male Vocalist’ category, may well have been the tipping point for me to move on to another publication at the time.
Back in the day, these music-mag polls were a huge deal, often supported by live events to anoint the winners.
Assembling ELP, Wishbone Ash, Focus, Genesis, Argent and ahem FUDD to share a stage for the Melody Maker poll concert in 1972 would have been quite an event.
If those were the halcyon days for polls then it’s all a bit different today. Nowadays we have polls for the Greatest Album Of All Time rather than ‘Disc Jockey of the year’.
The current bible is Rolling Stone magazine who update their Top 500 albums annually, supported by a glossy edition that tends to feature the usual suspects in the Top 10 – Marvin, Joni, Stevie, Bob, etc.
Given its wide scope the Rolling Stone poll is a decent reflection of critical and popular tastes, and despite differing opinions and musical leanings, most of us can still appreciate quality when we hear it, after all you don’t have to be a Beatles or Beach Boys fan to acknowledge that they produced classic albums that stand the test of time.
But of course polls can polarise…. they can offer affirmation or they can infuriate, based on individual opinions.
To focus on the latter, I spoke to a good pal recently who was incandescent with rage about a recent Scottish newspaper poll that invited its readers to vote for the best Scottish musical acts of all time.
Like me this guy is a big fan of the Average White Band (AWB) and after all they’ve achieved, he expected to see them in the top 10 alongside the usual suspects – Simple Minds, Sensational Alex Harvey Band (SAHB) and The Blue Nile.
Sure enough Simple Minds were placed at number 2 but as he started looking down the list for AWB he got to number 50 and thought he must have missed them, unfortunately he hadn’t, AWB were voted the 85th best Scottish band of all time.
AWB, a band with platinum albums, number one singles and global recognition were positioned behind acts like Arab Strap and Horse (no, me neither!), and to add salt to the wound, Rod Stewart (who’s not even Scottish) was ensconced at number 8.
The Sensational Alex Harvey Band didn’t fare much better at number 60, well behind Caledonian stalwarts, Gerry Cinnamon and Jim Diamond, and the sublime Blue Nile were stranded at 17.
Apart from differing musical tastes a big driver of these ‘Best Of All Time’ polls is generational.
Whilst Gen Z’s want to listen to 21 year olds singing about heartbreak and Millennials understandably have different musical tastes to someone born in the 50’s, it doesn’t explain why the Bay City Rollers and Pilot were rated higher than SAHB & AWB, as they’re all from the same era.
A couple of my other favourite Scottish bands, Hipsway and Love & Money, were well down the pecking order at number 81 & 82 which I can accept on the basis that they had relatively short careers, and another, Cado Belle wasn’t even listed, for that matter neither were Nazareth, but AWB at number 85… come on!
The list of Scottish artists that have had number one singles in America is a relatively short one.
AWB with ‘Pick Up The Pieces’, a funky instrumental that confused the hell out of America in 1975 when the general public came to realise that they were grooving to six pasty white boys from Scotland rather than James Brown’s backing band, are one of the few Scottish bands who made it to the top of the US charts.
The success of the song catapulted the band to instant stardom and as Hamish Stuart put it, ‘we literally went from rehearsing in a house with blankets over the windows to sharing a studio with Aretha Franklyn and attending parties with Cher, and Jack Nicholson‘.
So Tabby, my good friend, I’m with you 100%…. polls aint what they used to be!