I’ve linked to and talked about Freaky Trigger more than a few times — Tom Ewing’s spark of inspiration to go the fanzine route but to make it native to the Web a decade back remains one of the best general English-language cultural discussion sites out there. Its UK focus may limit the appeal to general readers but in terms of a collection of intelligent, passionate writers (and often commenters) it is top of the line.
It started due to Tom’s interest in music thanks to the now-retired New York London Paris Munich blog — well worth a scrounge in the archives — but the current main feature on music on FT, aside from Tom and company’s continuing work flying the poptimist flag, is a project he’s been literally working on for years and which still has a long way to go: Popular, which he describes as:
The UK’s 1000+ Number One Hits since 1952, reviewed, in order, irregularly, for as long as I can bear to keep doing it. A history of pop in the shape of a chart.
You can subscribe to the feed here if you’re up for following the whole FT site feed, and I do recommend it very much — this is the kind of project that was made for the Web and which could easily have constituted a book on its own (and may yet, for all we know).
This post is prompted by a recent entry which in ways can give a newcomer a perfect handle on the whole thing. Given the UK focus there are plenty of songs which are utterly unfamiliar to even a dedicated music freak, but others are just part of the pop consciousness well beyond music. And “Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen is just such a song.
Being able to look at an older, perhaps overly familiar piece of art in general with fresh eyes and providing a different perspective is something which not many writers have. Tom’s one of the lucky ones, and his take on said masterpiece of grandiosity is one of the best. To quote the opening:
There is a pub in North London called The Swimmer At The Grafton Arms. It prides itself on well-kept beer and a well-kept jukebox, the latter with an deeply tasteful selection of fine rock and soul music. I haven’t visited for a couple of years, but it used to have, on this jukebox, a Queen Greatest Hits CD. And next to Track One on this CD, “Bohemian Rhapsody”, was the handwritten instruction: “DO NOT PLAY. NOT FUNNY.”
For me, that kind of sums up “Bohemian Rhapsody”’s very weird place in rock music. It is known by millions, loved by millions, but somehow still not quite….respectable.
Partially due to the song’s fame, the comments exchange has been one of the most detailed already in the history of Popular and it’ll doubtless grow. Larger point — if you like what you see, keep track of it, at least dip in from time to time. As what constitutes the ‘charts’ continues to fragment and make less and less immediate sense as such, Tom’s sociomusical history provides a far richer focus to the endless lists.