I consider the punk rock era to be the most exciting and stimulating period in popular culture. However, punk did bring an unwelcome and tiresome side-effect: the notion of ‘credibility’. Nothing better than inverted snobbery, this was the notion that some records are inherently better than others, simply because they emanate from artists equipped with the ‘correct’ accoutrements.
A particular haircut, background, taste in drugs or political leaning imbues a band or singer with the necessary attributes to make the ‘credible’ list, and thenceforth they are taken more seriously. As a result, some truly rotten songs receive far more attention and kudos then they deserve, from moody teenagers mocking the sublime perfection of ABBA.
While it may be a bit much to lay the blame entirely at the feet of punk (the preceding generation of prog-rockers were equally snooty in their tastes), this tendency is weapons-grade nonsense. It took my young self a long time to learn this lesson, but once I did, the blinkers fell heavily away and the light shone in. The trouble is, we’re still afflicted by this stupid prejudice today.
For our sins, the annual toe-curl of The Brit Awards is almost upon us. I don’t have any special knowledge, but I’d hazard an educated guess that Sam Smith and Ed Sheeran will do very nicely. I’m sure they’re splendid fellows both; unfortunately I don’t believe they’re especially good. Having watched Ed do his loop-pedal driven singalongs, and Sam warble his over-emoted ballads, it’s clear their skills are ‘quite good’ at best. Nevertheless, they excel because they ride high in the credibility roster. Sheeran plays his own instrument, writes his stuff and has an armful of tattoos. Bingo! He’s an auteur. Smith has a streaked quiff and sounds like he’s crying. Bang! He’s a tortured soul singer. This places the pair above criticism; they’re credible and that is that.
Taylor Swift may pick-up Best International Artist, but she’ll never enjoy the swooning admiration afforded Sam and Ed. She just ain’t credible enough, even though she’s markedly more talented.
As a truculent student, I once boarded a coach from Derby to Barcelona (never do this, by the way, it’s awful). In the seats in front of me were a pair of teenage girls, excited to be going on holiday and singing Wham! songs to one another. Jerk that I was, I told them Wham! had no social relevance and they should explore some Theatre Of Hate records instead. I’d like to take this opportunity to apologise to my fellow passengers. They were right, I was wrong – and fully deserved the two word responses they threw at me. Despite being regarded as a proper, credible, indie outfit, Theatre Of Hate now sound a bit tuneless to me, very pretentious and slightly dull. Wham! though, bounce out of my DAB with all the freshness and exuberance they promised when they first appeared. I’ll concede ‘Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go’ is a bit annoying, but ‘Everything She Wants’ is a pop masterpiece, with a genuine social narrative. Because that idiot student on that uncomfortable bus considered George and Andrew to be bereft of credibility, he couldn’t see then what I see now.
I’d also proffer Dead Or Alive’s ‘You Spin Me Round’ as a solid counterpoint to those followers of the credibility myth. For a couple of years, in the early eighties, Pete Burns and his band were on the fringes of the futurist/goth club scene. Their single ‘Misty Circles’ allowed them some indie credibility, and even their cover of ‘That’s The Way (I Like It)’ was greeted as a subversive release, and assumed to be ironic. Then the group dropped ‘You Spin Me Round’. Produced by Stock, Aitken and Waterman, we could no longer pretend Pete and the chaps were anything other than a full-on mainstream pop act. The veil of credibility fell away, and the sheer glorious force of that fabulous single swept all before it. Arch followers, determined to distance themselves from the band’s newly acquired success, couldn’t wait to castigate the record. But what fools! Listen to it! Anyone failing to appreciate its brilliance is surely missing the point of pop music.
So my message to anyone torturing themselves, wrestling with the relative ‘coolness’ of an act or album, and expending sweat in the effort to identify what’s credible, is this: leave it be. Calm yourself and remember, the opposite of credible is incredible.