Maybe I don’t realise it but I am potentially sounding like a long haired dinosaur rock enthusiast. Lovers of ‘progressive rock’ will lament the passing of the concept album. Concept albums were all but symphonic in their approach to how different songs would be presented as essential cogs in the single wheel of the experience of listening to an entire album.
Examples more well known to normal people that I can cite might include the early Pink Floyd stuff like Dark Side Of The Moon, or Jeff Wayne‘s War of the Worlds, or albums made by Yes or Vangelis, or maybe the more poppy The Point from Harry Nilsson about poor Oblio. In more recent decades we look to The Orb or Orbital, and so on. The idea of ‘concept albums’ is that whilst they may contain individually identifiable songs, which, if you really must, you can listen to on their own, the whole album was best consumed from start to finish.
A modern variance might by the ‘mix’ album where dj-trickery leads from one song neatly seguing into another as part of an atmospheric theme. However, most albums are sold as a random disjointed collection of songs. Usually the songs have nothing to do with each other and are just ‘there’. The only thing ‘common’ between them is that they are all by the same artist. These albums are not designed to be listened to from end to end. They are not concept albums. They are places were ‘singles’ are stored ready to be listened to individually and in any order. It doesn’t matter if a song is missed out.
And so it is with today’s music radio stations. No longer is their output designed to be listened to end to end. It is no longer a symphonic collection of individual good things that ‘fit’ together to enhance the whole they are forming, but just a collection of ‘singles’ designed to give the listener the opportunity to press their scan button as soon as one ends and the next begins when it doesn’t fit their mood, and what might be on offer from another radio station might.
It would be really nice if radio stations went down the route of providing, at least at certain times, ‘concept radio‘.
Well over a decade ago, BBC Radio 1 broadcast some late night ‘concept radio‘ shows put together by Chris Morris. Chris Morris is probably better known for the satirical and controversial TV show ‘Brass Eye‘ which seriously took the piss out of the way media was going / has gone.
But the series of ‘concept radio‘ experiences he produced were called ‘Blue Jam‘.
How to explain ‘Blue Jam‘. Well, it was an hour of bizarre slightly off-the-wall discussions, verbal exchanges or ‘situations’, maybe sketches, that would ‘just happen’ inbetween ambient songs or instrumental pieces of music that somehow fitted the overall bizarre mood of the hour. Quite often it was a little disturbing or made no real sense, but it was a whole hour of ‘mood‘ rather than something that was supposed to make conventional sense. It was absolutely brilliant.
It seems to me that if radio was to take a break from trying to imitate an iPod left playing on random, but to try to craft hours that were as compulsive as Blue Jam was at the time, that radio might redeem itself from the grave it so wishes to plunge into when it comes to extended listening.
We have peaks and troughs of music radio playing ‘love songs’ in the evenings. It’ll be different this time next year, but currently love songs infest late night radio again. These are programmed because nobody is bothering to listen, and the hope is that somebody might have left the radio on by the side of the bed they are having sex in.
In Liverpool, one of the radio stations has ‘The Peaceful Hour‘. Some of the songs played aren’t necessarily that peaceful, just power ballads. The mood is broken by loud and out of tempo commercial breaks, so the whole show tends to be a bit pointless compared to what it could be had a bit of thought and effort gone into it.
Probably the last legal ‘concept radio‘ shows left in this land are the ones put together to showcase a specific music genre. These of course are rapidly disappearing from the BBC local radio stations because of the cuts, and disappeared many years ago from the commercial sector who have slowly been able to convince an ineffectual Ofcom to allow them to only broadcast homogenised iPod programming.
They are however available via the pirate radio sector. Pirate radio will play a specific genre and ensure that everything about it fits the mood. Pirate radio is the last ‘concept radio‘. Could that be why so many listen to them rather than to legal radio?
But back to Blue Jam. Isn’t it time we had something a brilliant as Blue Jam back on our radio?