Today, the internet is programmed to tell you what you are. The iTunes Genius Bar will tell you what music you’ll also like, Spotify will pop-up similar artists to the ones you’ve been listening to, Facebook will target its adverts specifically to your browsing habits, hence all those ads for illicit pharmaceutical suppliers and Czech escort services. A few clicks and you’ve not so much ‘found yourself’ as had ‘yourself’ found for you.
Growing up in the 80s, though, we had The Chart Show. The crudest form of sociological and cultural profiling imaginable, it disguised itself as a business-like Saturday morning music video show which did away with presenters in favour of some weird alien triangles flying about between chart run-downs, like Top Of The Pops gone Tron.
It pretended to be a cheap and cheerful link between dribbling over Michaela Strachan on The Wide Awake Club (kind of Dick & Dom’s In Da Bungalow with more children being beaten with large foam rubber hammers by a twat) and snoozing through the football, but it was actually a form of widespread national brainwashing that’d put the ‘ticky-tacky’ overlords of O2 to shame.
It tried to make you kill Bryan Adams by playing the video for ‘Everything I Do I Do It For You’ 1.7million times during its tenure at Number One, pausing and rewinding at the point which taught our impressionable youth how to correctly and accurately fire a crossbow. Ditto Wet Wet Wet. But, pivotal to its hidden plot to divide and rule was the inclusion, on a revolving basis, of three genre charts – dance, rock and indie. This, to the 80s teen, was your only intense exposure to off-mainstream culture, the implication being ‘PICK ONE NOW, CULTURAL WORMS, OR HAVE YOUR EYELIDS NAILED OPEN SO YOU CAN WATCH BRYAN ADAMS’ ‘EVERYTHING I DO I DO IT FOR YOU’ VIDEO FOR THE REST OF ETERNITY WHILE YOUR TESTICLES ARE PICKLED IN HELLLLL! MWAH-HA-HA-HAAAAA’.
Fuck you, The Chart Show! For years I resisted committing myself. The rock chart was clearly full of wankers, the dance chart was baffling to someone whose biggest drug experience at the time was secondary B&H inhalation and the indie chart was just crap home footage of fringed virgins laying in their back gardens and moaning (some of which, ironically, is now my favourite music ever).
Then, one fateful day around 1989, at the top of the indie chart, came the sound of Belzebub’s chainsaw.
DANG-DANG-DANG-DANG-DAAAAANGGGGG! I’d never heard five notes so resoundingly evil in my life. And then the voice - a demonic growl emanating from a man it’d later chill and thrill me to discover was called Black Francis – prowled in, snarling of underwater gods drowning on New Jersey sewage. The images were just as enthralling, ominous shadows with guitars playing to cults of baying maniacs, and then Kim Deal’s angelic anti-harmony, like a seraphim sunk in Satan’s sludge, cooing a crescendo about heaven-bound simians as the Chords Of Hooksome Doom descended around her once more.
By the time they got to “THEN THE DEVIL IS SIX!” I was a new-born disciple at the Church Of Pixies, utterly consumed and ready to offer them my liver to eat.
I was actually scared of buying the album. I approached it cautiously four or five times in HMV, studying it like the dusty Illuminati rune it wanted to look like. It wasn’t just the arthouse slasher-movie Vaughan Oliver artwork that worried (but enticed) me, it was the fact that Pixies had the atmosphere and aesthetic of a death cult – far more visceral, dark and irreligious than any of the panto metal gonks widdling on about felching the devil on a Styxian long boat. I instinctively knew that the moment I bought into Pixies, it’d take a midnight family snatch-back to get out again.
I was right. ‘Doolittle’ was a yawning hell-gate to the black metallic pleasures of The Jesus & Mary Chain, the sonic sprawls of My Bloody Valentine and the bleaker end of The Smiths and The Wedding Present. Though my obsessive immersion into Pixies and the pre-grunge alternative scene meant I’d never be able to take Nirvana as seriously as everyone else (knowing intimately where they’d got it all from), I was defined.
I’d go on to read NME, date gigging girls with chunks of brimstone for hearts (who actually liked pale, skinny, insecure streaks of piss with bad hair – who knew?), get just as obsessed with Suede and Britpop when they came along and eventually make a long-term living writing about how life-changing the Pixies were. Thanks The Chart Show. You BRAINWASHING BASTARDS!
The Song That Changed My Life - Oasis, 'Live Forever'
The Song That Changed My Life - Nirvana, 'Lithium'
The Song That Changed My Life - Suede, 'The Drowners'