Death Of The Long Play Album


For the past 33 weeks, music charts all over the world, not least here in Australia, have been dominated by Ed Sheeran.

The week his third studio album was released back in March, every one of its sixteen tracks made the Australian Top 40 singles chart. Great for Ed Sheeran. Not so good for his album.

See, the greater the availability of individual tracks to purchase and stream online, the fewer the sales of the full-length albums that those tracks come from.

Album sales in this country have trickled to truly paltry volumes. Recent releases bounce around the upper half of ARIA’s official Top 100 albums chart like yo-yos, many departing the chart almost as quickly as they arrived. Conversely, older titles are hovering around the bottom half of the chart for years and years on end.

Albums by barely established and/or niche artists now frequently achieve #1 on debut—a feat previously considered impressive for even the most established and commercially successful artist. Many of these high-flying chart entries then drop right out of the top 10 the very next week. It wasn’t that long ago when falling from #1 to #5 was about as bad as it got, but look what we’ve seen in the past twelve months alone:

  • Michael Bublé’s Christmas album took an astonishing tumble from #1 to #85 (admittedly it was at the end of the festive season, but no other Christmas album has ever plummeted so far from the top spot before)
  • A Day To Remember’s Bad Vibrations fell from #1 to #12 (what an apt name for a band I’ve no recollection of)
  • Westway (The Glitter and The Slums) by Sticky Fingers fell from #1 to #10
  • Bon Jovi’s This House Is Not For Sale dropped from #1 to #8
  • Illy’s Two Degrees nose-dived from #1 to #20
  • The Weeknd’s Starboy dropped from #1 to #8
  • I See You by The XX fell from #1 to #7
  • The Kids Will Know It’s Bullshit by Dune Rats fell from #1 to #17
  • Busby Marou’s Postcards From The Shell House dropped from #1 to #14
  • Ironbark by The Waifs fell from #1 to #7
  • Lana Del Rey’s Lust For Life fell from #1 to #7

Except for the Bublé Christmas album, every single other album in that list fell from #1 in only its second week on the chart, with at least five of those artists also being largely unknown.

As well, that list ignores the plethora of #2 and #3 debuts that fell all the way out of the top 20, or even as far as outside the top 30, in their second week. It’s a more-or-less weekly occurrence these days, and it’s been happening now for years.

Five years ago, it seemed impossible that an album could reach #1 with sales of just 3,000 units. Only 18 months ago, it still seemed so absurd that it made the press.

In 2017, the picture is even more dire. But it’s not just down to sales.

A few weeks back Melodrama, the second studio album by Kiwi songstress Lorde, shot up to #2 on the chart. It did so off the back of just 800 physical and online sales. 800 sales. #2 on the albums chart. In a country with a population of 25,000,000 people.

But there’s something missing from these lists. Something we’ve all heard of and probably been guilty of enjoying more than once in our lives.

Way back on 25 June 1989, the ARIA albums chart included titles like Hits Now ’89 at #49, Hits Of ’89, Volume 1 at #43, Hits Of ’89 Volume 2 first week in at #37, Hot Metal at #29 and Hits Now ’89 Vol. II up at #4. Yes, the ubiquitous compilation album. They’ve been around forever and many of them have been among the biggest selling albums of any given year.

But the very next week, on 2 July 1989, ARIA pulled the ‘various artists’ titles from the main albums listing and popped the top 5 compilation sellers into a little chart all of their own, right at the bottom of the page. Whether Hits Now ’89 Vol. II ever would’ve made it beyond #4, we’ll just never know (although it did spend nine consecutive weeks at #2 on the compilations chart!).

And so it’s remained for the past 28 years. Today ARIA still publishes a summary of each week’s ten biggest selling compilations, as a standalone list in their weekly ARIA Report. (ARIA never publishes actual sales volumes, although it does show the Gold and Platinum accreditations awarded to individual releases in recognition of total sales).

So what does all of this mean for the Australian albums chart in 2017?

Individual album tracks became widely available for purchase online back in about 2005. Since then we’ve seen a gradual shift—far more rapid since the advent of streaming services—towards the hugely fragmented albums chart we see today. ‘Commercial’ or ‘pop’ artists tend to have a greater volume of individual tracks purchased online, at the expense of sales of their full albums. Meanwhile, virtually unknown indie/alternative artists often achieve (relatively) solid full album sales for a week or two, but their individual tracks rarely make an appearance.

Add to this the recent inclusion of streaming figures into what has become an increasingly complex way of calculating album unit sales. Keen chart watchers might reasonably have expected the inclusion of streaming data to settle the albums chart back into a more ‘regular’ pattern of movements. But that hasn’t proven to be the case.

In his recent article on noise11.com, music journalist Paul Cashmere revealed that the Australian Top 10 albums chart for the week of 14 August was about as far from an accurate reflection of album sales as it could possibly be. As published, it looked like this:

1. ÷ Ed Sheeran
2. MELODRAMA Lorde
3. DAMN. Kendrick Lamar
4. MOANA Soundtrack
5. BABY DRIVER Soundtrack
6. EVOLVE Imagine Dragons
7. LUST FOR LIFE Lana Del Rey
8. NEVER TOO SOON Boo Seeka
9. ONE MORE LIGHT Linkin Park
10. EVERYTHING NOW Arcade Fire

That’s a list based on what’s known as Stream Equivalent Album (SEA) values—that is, a combination of CD and vinyl sales, online downloads, and streaming volumes.

However, factoring that week’s compilation album sales back into the list paints a very different picture:

1. SO FRESH THE HITS OF WINTER 2017 Various Artists
2. ÷ Ed Sheeran
3. RAY HADLEY: THOSE WERE THE DAYS VOL 2 Various Artists
4. 101 CLASSIC HITS Various Artists
5. TRIPLE J HOTTEST 100 VOL 24 Various Artists
6. SO FRESH: THE HITS OF SUMMER 2017 + BEST OF 2016 Various Artists
7. SING YOUR HEART OUT 2017 Various Artists
8. 35 YEARS OF WAKING UP WITH TODAY Various Artists
9. MELODRAMA Lorde
10. DAMN. Kendrick Lamar

So what are we seeing here? First and most obviously, seven of that week’s top 10 albums were ‘various artists’ compilations. Only three of them were long players by individual artists.

With all those compilations up there, that paltry 800 units that Lorde’s Melodrama shifted to apparently propel it to #2 really only sent it as high as #9. Not so very long ago, 800 units wouldn’t have even cracked the top 50.

According to Paul Cashmere the ARIA sales data also revealed that the #1 So Fresh compilation sold nearly 4,000 units more than Sheeran’s ÷ album. The significance of that number can’t be understated: in recent years, few albums by individual artists have amassed that many sales in total to hit #1, let alone held that much of a lead over the runner-up.

As well, if streaming numbers are removed—numbers that presumably don’t count for much toward compilation albums—then the Kendrick Lamar album drops out of the top 30 altogether.

So with all that in mind it may seem that any comparison between artist albums and compilation albums will never exactly be apples-with-apples. And that’s as maybe. But it’s a disparity that could apply across the board.

Record companies have different marketing strategies for different artists and all artists have different demographics: some have more focus on live performances and albums, others have more of a single track focus; some have far greater online sales, others are almost exclusively streaming; some have bigger vinyl sales than any other format, while others no longer release physical product at all.

If ARIA were to publish one combined chart for all artist and compilation album sales—which I firmly believe they should—for the greater accuracy it would provide, these are vagaries that would simply need to be accepted for what they are.

Whatever the potential future situation, ARIA’s current calculation of album sales in this country makes it clear that Australians are buying far more compilation albums than long play albums by individual artists. I think that’s a really sad thing.

If nothing else, it throws into question the recent 19-week reign at #1 of Sheeran’s ÷. It’s one of a handful of albums to amass a huge run of weeks atop the albums chart over the past 28 years: 18 weeks for Mariah Carey’s Music Box (1993-94), 19 weeks for Savage Garden (1997), 20 weeks for Shania Twain’s Come On Over (1997-99), 29 weeks for Delta Goodrem’s Innocent Eyes (2003-04) and a whopping 32 weeks for Adele’s 21 (2011-12). But how many of those albums would’ve achieved such chart domination, had compilation albums still been included? And yes, I’m mostly looking at you, Ms Adkins.

Meanwhile, I’ve the more distressing issue of the death of the long play album to work through.

As a teenager, birthdays and Christmases typically saw 12″ x 12″ square gifts coming my way, and I couldn’t wait to rip the wrapping paper off them so that I could turn the stereo on. As I listened intently, I’d start pouring over the front and rear covers, and the lyrics and liner notes on the inner sleeves; I’d check out the quality of the dust jacket, and I’d read every single character of the production and writing credits on the label at the centre of the shiny black vinyl platter.

During the 90s those gifts shrunk to roughly 5″ x 5″, but my excitement was always the same—it was never about the size, always about the quality. Basically, nothing could ever beat the elation of those first moments with a new album.

I still buy albums today. CD albums. Vinyl albums. And yes, I do occasionally download albums too, if it’s something I know I’m going to physically buy anyway but I’m too impatient to wait to hear it, or if it’s a title that I just know I’m not going to go scouring the stores to find—and let’s face it, there aren’t that many stores left to scour anyway.

I used to spend ¾ of my life, and almost all of my money, in record stores, browsing or buying records and CDs. I’d happily spend an entire Saturday meandering from the HMV Megastore to the Virgin Megastore, then on to Sanity and JB Hi-Fi, followed by a full afternoon of trawling through all the fabulous secondhand record stores at the southern end of Sydney’s CBD, hoping to score myself a rare or long sought-after pre-loved find.

It makes me sad that I can’t do that anymore. It kinda makes me sad that today’s generation of music lovers really can’t do that anymore either. Even for the more ‘old school’ music fans of the younger generation, getting their hands on physical product invariably means trawling through an online store and having the apple of their eye delivered in the mail. They can’t experience that pure unadulterated joy that comes from flipping through row after row of CDs or vinyl in a cramped and musty old shop. The poor things’ll never know what they’re missing.

So, they’re being produced in ever decreasing numbers, there’s hardly anywhere we can go to physically find them anymore and, even with online access to them at the touch of a virtual button, they’re no longer even selling in sufficient numbers to fill the Top 10.

Looking back over the past 50 years of music there are countless albums, irrespective of genre, that define an era or a generation—everyone knows them, recognises their covers, knows the singles they spawned, remembers the music videos, or went to the live shows and tours that followed.

When today’s generation looks back on its life in music, what will they remember? What tangible thing will they find? Shelves filled with beautiful album covers and artwork? Or a cloud account full of mp3’s and m4a’s? A Spotify account full of favourite playlists? All they’ll have are electronic files of throw-away songs. Assuming they even keep them.

What an appallingly depressing state of affairs when one of our future octogenarians looks back and finds that LMFAO’s Sexy And I Know It and Adele’s Someone Like You are the only two musical memories they have.

So thank you, long player. For all those times you stood by me. For all the truth that you made me see. For all the joy you brought to my life. For all the wrong that you made right. For every dream you made come true. For all the love I found in you. I’ll be forever thankful. You’re the one who held me up, never let me fall. You’re the one who saw me through. Through it all.

Vale, LP.

RIP, my graphically equalised friend.

Why “Marriage Equality” Has Become Embarrassing


As a gay man, the "marriage equality" debate—no it isn't "gay marriage"—that inexplicably continues to rage in Australia has become embarrassing.

When the issue inevitably crops up in the news every single morning, I now instinctively tune out, just like I do whenever I hear any reference to Donald Trump. I wonder how many other Australians do the same?

I just don't want to hear about it anymore.

More importantly, I don't want my fellow non-LGBT Australians to have to hear about it anymore. It's nothing to do with them.

They should neither be subjected to the ongoing debate, nor be put in a position of having to vote on whether certain members of society should be entitled to marry.

It's just wrong to put anyone in that position. The population at large wouldn't be asked to vote on what the law should be for any other matter, so why this one?

Obviously, as a member of the LGBT community, I have something of a vested interested in the outcome of this debate. Of course my preference is that the decision would be taken in the most appropriate way, as per any other similar decision.

But right now I'm at the point where I really don't care if an outcome is achieved via a plebiscite, a postal vote, a conscience vote or any other kind of decision-making mechanism. I just want an outcome. I just want the debate to end.

Having said that, I don't really want to feel like a reality TV contestant by having my potential future life either endorsed or dismissed when "Australia votes". I especially don't want that to be the case when the vast majority of Australians probably don't have a strong opinion on the topic one way or the other.

Look at how much respect our political process currently has. Think about how many Australians literally resent having to turn up to vote on election day. Look at how that resentment and widespread apathy has worked out for our federal political system for most of the past decade.

Do we really want to apply that resentment and apathy to this issue as well?

But I don't like inequity either. I don't like the idea that one set of people can be denied the right to do what another set of people can do, just because "that's how it's always been". In these supposedly enlightened times, "that's how it's always been" should never be considered a valid argument against anything.

Women and indigenous Australians have already been through (and, arguably, continue to go through) exactly the same trials and tribulations. Have we learned nothing from the past?

Existing anti-discrimination laws protect the elderly, the young and the disabled. They also outlaw discrimination on the basis of, among other things, sexual preference—clearly, though, the latter protection only extends so far.

Australia is also a secular society. Your religious views are your own and there's always been an acceptance that everyone is entitled to their own position on religion.

But while an individual's religious beliefs might inform their own position on this issue, churches and religious organisations should not become actively embroiled in marriage equality campaigns. That shouldn't be the role of any church or religious group. Share your teachings with those who voluntarily choose to hear them—don't push them on all and sundry.

Ultimately, this whole thing has become a national embarrassment. We have friends and neighbours overseas who are baffled by the inability of such a young country, which has always been broadly perceived as liberal and forward-thinking, to make a decision on this.

I could marry my same-gendered partner in either of our fellow Commonwealth countries New Zealand or Canada. I could marry him in England, Scotland, Wales or Ireland. I could marry him in any of the Scandinavian countries. I could marry him in France, The Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, or Portugal. I could even marry him in any one of the 50 states of the USA.

And yet here we are, languishing down here at the ass-end of the world, still waiting for equality, largely thanks to our fucked-up political situation. Coz let's face it, that's pretty much what it all boils down to right now: a Prime Minister who was so desperate for the gig that he made agreements that went against his own clearly stated positions on multiple issues, just to secure the top job.

Apathy and resentment? Pfft! Why would there be any of that here?…

RESOLVED! How Car Insurance Naming And Shaming Paid Off


Readers of my Name And Shame Game post a little while back may recall that I wasn’t best pleased with Real Insurance.

To be fair, I really wasn’t all that bothered by the guts of the issue because actual impact on me was minimal. It became more a principle thing: their process was broken, my customer experience was appalling, and they’d failed at every possible step. 

They had to be told—so I did. Quel surprise! 

You can see (a slightly modified version of) how I told them here.

Given the unrestrained shaming and naming in that post, it’s only right that I should give an update on what eventuated: an entirely unexpectedly positive experience.

So after following up for a third time about why I’d still received zero response from them within the more than reasonable timeframe I’d requested said responses, I clearly informed them that I was about to refer the matter to the external industry body, the Financial Ombudsman Service.

Here in Australia, the number of unresolved provider issues being referred externally has sky-rocketed in recent years, as customers have become less and less tolerant of rubbish service. Organisations typically pay chunky fees for issues that are legitimately (as opposed to spuriously) referred, so the merest hint of escalation from a customer has become a successful tactic for achieving resolution virtually everywhere.

But reaching one’s wits’ end to the point of needing to get an independent body involved, just to force an organisation to resolve a situation, is a nasty old business, whatever way you look at it and however they choose to sweeten the deal.

By the time a push from you comes to a shove from their industry ombudsman, you wanna hope the folks at the source realise it’s way beyond having let things go ‘too far’.

To their credit—or to mine, on several levels, as it turned out—a lovely lady from Real Insurance called me within (what felt like) moments of my threat of external referral being sent. To my very great surprise, her tone was sincere and her repeated apologies sounded quite genuine.

She went into a level of detail about my ‘feedback’ that clearly indicated she was very familiar with it. My breakdown of events had even been reviewed by multiple members of their ‘leadership’ team, she said, several of whom had expressed their gratitude to me for having provided such detailed feedback, as it allowed them to pinpoint exactly where their processes had fallen down.

Assuming this was an accurate retelling of how things panned out, I have no concerns about having provided too much detail—an accusation frequently laid at my door—because this time it quite literally paid off.

Not only was my feedback heard and apparently acted upon, I also received a full refund of the excess payment I’d been told multiple times not to make before eventually being threatened with legal action if it wasn’t made immediately.

Better still, I was also given an additional financial sweetener to thank me for my “loyalty and patience”.

Couldn’t ask for a better outcome than that, right?

…actually, yes I could. The best outcome in the world would be for none of these issues to be repeated when any other Real Insurance customer has to go through the same process. That’s the only way of knowing that Real Insurance really did use my feedback to address at least those multiple points of process failure, if not others, to improve all their customers’ experiences. 

That’s an outcome I really couldn’t ask better of.

Review: SBS’s “EUROVISION TOP 40 SONGS”. Wednesday 10 May 2017, 8:30pm.


“EUROVISION TOP 40 SONGS”. SBS. Wednesday 10 May 2017. 8:30pm.

 A review.

Every year, Australia’s ‘Special Broadcasting Service’ (aka SBS) shows greater and greater dedication to Eurovision, the European song contest that’s been staged annually since 1956 and which SBS has broadcast in Australia since 1983.

It’s a competition which, let’s be fair, most Australians have never really come to grips with. Even with the dawning of a golden age of TV singing competitions in the early 2000s, Eurovision still copped more than its fair share of derision; often the harshest criticism came from outside of Europe, which I always found kinda strange since nobody from outside of Europe had ever been asked to participate, let alone enjoy the spectacle. But I digress.

Maybe it’s down to the internet, or maybe it’s globalisation, you can call it whatever you want but, undeniably, over the past ten years, Eurovision has enjoyed ever-increasing visibility here in Australia.

These days, there’s pre-show build-up and media coverage that simply never happened before; the annual albums and winners’ singles now hit the Australian charts—at a guess, only three or four Eurovision songs had ever made the local charts prior to 2012; and the audience numbers for the grand finale, always one of SBS’s highest-rated programs of any given year, just keep getting bigger and bigger.

I consider myself a fan of Eurovision, without the ‘atic’ bit on the end. That’s to say, I wouldn’t exactly call myself a devotee: I don’t research the songs and artists ahead of time, I don’t join online communities of other Eurovision geeks to compare notes and predict outcomes, I don’t bother with the semi-finals and I don’t get up at 5am to watch live broadcasts direct from Europe (I reserve that level of devotion for other equally geekish escapades). But I’ll happily admit to having watched the grand final on SBS every year since the early 90s. I really do enjoy the music, almost as much as I’ve enjoyed massively taking the piss out of the whole thing for so many years. In short, with hand on heart, I love Eurovision—just not fanatically.

On 3 March, the SBS website proclaimed “Do you have a strong opinion on what the greatest Eurovision song of all time is? We’re airing a Top 40 Eurovision song special on 10 May. Here’s your chance to have your say on which songs are the BEST.” Fans were invited to “vote early and often” for their favourites from the past 60 years of Eurovision song contests.

Because I’m not an overly devoted mega-fan (refer previous paragraphs) I didn’t get the memo, as it were, about the voting—which upset me greatly, when I realised far too late that I’d missed it, coz there’s nothing a slightly OCD geek likes more than a good survey and some voting opportunities. So without having seen it, I can’t say whether it was based on a list of songs, or if it was just a freeform text open-slather vote-for-whatever-the-fuck-ya-wanna-vote-for randomfest; I assume the latter but could be wrong. Either way, there was always gonna be one inevitable outcome of a public vote for a competition that’s more than six decades old.

So last night, SBS presented Eurovision Top 40 Songs… there’s something slightly clunky about that title, but anyway. There’s always cause for concern when two long-serving and much-loved hosts both give up a gig at the same time and are replaced by two new hosts, both of whom are probably good at what they do in their own way and, to be fair, it’s only one of them that annoys me like nails down a blackboard but, you know, they’re just not Julia Zemiro and Sam Pang, quite frankly. Maybe they’ll grow on me, we’ll see.

Their initial voiceovers, over some reasonably slick opening titles, proclaimed “It’s the world’s ultimate song competition”, and that “Australia has fallen in love with it”… as if all of this were only a recent development. On entering their glitzy but, clearly, very tiny workspace, the hosts announced “I’m Joel Creasy…”, “…and I’m Myf Warhurst and we are your new Eurovision hosts. I’m so excited”; the complete absence of excitement from Myf’s cheesy scripted words was truly palpable.

Myf went on to educate the audience (most of whom were no doubt already aware) that “since 1956 over fourteen hundred songs have been sung at the contest”. “Over the past month, you voted for hundreds of them and we’ve whittled them down to a smorgasbord of your favourites”, Joel helpfully explained.

Myf: “starting our Top 40 isn’t ABBA, surprisingly”. Really, Myf? “Surprisingly”? And why would that be? Do you know something we don’t? We’ll soon see.

And so SBS’s Eurovision Top 40 Songs countdown ran thusly:

40. Italy 2013: L’ESSENZIALE Marco Mengoni
39. Greece 2005: MY NUMBER ONE Helena Paparizou
38. Great Britain 1967: PUPPET ON A STRING Sandie Shaw
37. Iceland 2013: ÉG Á LÍF Eythor Ingi
36. Serbia 2011: ČAROBAN Nina
35. Spain 2016: SAY YAY! Barei
34. Cyprus 2012: LA LA LOVE Ivi Adamou
33. Estonia 2009: RÄNDAJAD Urban Symphony
32. Great Britain 1981: MAKING YOUR MIND UP Bucks Fizz
31. Israel 1998: DIVA Dana International
30. Serbia 2015: BEAUTY NEVER LIES Bojana Stamenov
29. Russia 2012: PARTY FOR EVERYBODY Buranovskiye Babushki
28. Sweden 2011: POPULAR Eric Saade
27. Romania 2013: IT’S MY LIFE Cezar
26. Italy 1958: NEL BLU DIPINTO DO BLU Domenico Modugno
25. Russia 2015: A MILLION VOICES Polina Gagarina
24. Turkey 2009: DÜM TEK TEK Hadise
23. Ireland 1987: HOLD ME NOW Johnny Logan
22. Serbia 2007: MOLITVA Marija Šerifović
21. Netherlands 2014: CALM AFTER THE STORM The Common Linnets
20. Latvia 2015: LOVE INJECTED Aminata
19. Australia 2015: TONIGHT AGAIN Guy Sebastian
18. Denmark 2013: ONLY TEARDROPS Emmelie de Forest
17. Italy 2015: GRANDE AMORE Il Volo
16. Ukraine 2004: WILD DANCES Ruslana
15. Ukraine 2007: DANCING LASHA TUMBAI Verka Serduchka
14. Finland 2006: HARD ROCK HALLELUJAH Lordi
13. Austria 2014: RISE LIKE A PHOENIX Conchita Wurst
12. Turkey 2003: EVERYWAY THAT I CAN Sertab Erener
11. Russia 2016: YOU ARE THE ONLY ONE Sergey Lazarev
10. Bulgaria 2016: IF LOVE WAS A CRIME Poli Genova
09. Belgium 2015: RHYTHM INSIDE Loïc Nottet
08. Ireland 2011: LIPSTICK Jedward
07. Norway 2009: FAIRYTALE Alexander Rybak
06. Germany 2010: SATELLITE Lena
05. Belgium 2016: WHAT’S THE PRESSURE Laura Tesoro
04. Sweden 2015: HEROES Måns Zemerlöw
03. Sweden 1974: WATERLOO ABBA
02. Sweden 2012: EUPHORIA Loreen
01. Australia 2016: SOUND OF SILENCE Dami Im

Riiiiiiiiiiight…. so last year’s Eurovision runner-up is #1, is it? The BEST Eurovision song of ALL TIME, is it? And by an Australian artist, too… who woulda thunk it?

So according to my calculations, this Top 40 of allegedly “favourite” Eurovision songs, “the BEST” Eurovision songs of “all time” no less, contains 25 songs—63% of the list—from the six Eurovisions (to-date) of the current decade. There are nine songs in the list from last decade: the earliest is from 2003, three of them are from 2009 alone, and two are from 2007, so it’s hardly a fair representation of an entire decade.

So that’s 85% of the list taken up by songs from the last 14 Eurovisions, representing just 23% of Eurovision’s total time in production… and then we’re left with all of seven slots for any “favourites” or “BEST” Eurovision songs of “all time” dating from 1956 until 2002. Right. OK. Makes perfect sense to me.

As our hosts counted down from forty to one, they made multiple references to how jury votes and tele-votes are sometimes so different and that they’d often wondered how and why it could happen; at the same time, they seemed oblivious to the fact that their nearly-two-hour presentation was telling a very similar story; without them even realising, I daresay it answered their question right before their eyes. I guess the irony of repeatedly claiming not to understand these differences, while presenting a countdown of most popular songs in which nearly 80% of the available content was effectively ignored, was probably lost on them.

But, really, what more could we expect? Who else would be on the SBS website voting for their favourite Eurovision songs? Most of them, who probably thought Conchita Wurst was the coolest thing they’d ever seen, probably weren’t even an ovum the night Dana International’s ‘Diva’ won the competition nearly 20 years ago. And even if you’re old enough to have sufficient knowledge of Eurovision pre-dating 2003, you still would’ve been in the minority—arguably, the Eurovision wisdom that comes with your advanced age wouldn’t have had much impact on the final result.

In the end the outcome of the voting, if not rigged outright, must surely be exactly what SBS wanted—an absolute focus on Eurovision’s most recent past in order to rope in its most recent converts, without getting bogged down in a whole bunch of old crap that only die-hard fans would be interested in. It’s colour-by-numbers for today’s TV: splice in a bit of ABBA, Bucks Fizz, Sandie Shaw, Johnny Logan and, very briefly, a really ancient surprise from 1958; add some grating, tedious commentary from some Z-grade ‘celebrities’—you probably won’t even know some of them and a couple clearly don’t know much about Eurovision at all—et voilà!: the year’s most pointless countdown of anything related to Eurovision, including about 20-odd performances that weren’t even old enough for me to have forgotten, never mind needing a reminder of.

And I swear if that damn Joel Creasy lets one more line of camp innuendo fall out of his flapping gums…

But anyway, thanks, SBS. Top marks for enthusiasm—shame about the execution.

Now bring on the actual show!

The Name And Shame Game: Car Insurance


The Name And Shame Game is an ongoing (if occasional) series of posts in which I name and shame organizations that should know better than to provide shit service to bitter, grudge-holding, ranty old bitches like me.

This time: my recent adventures with Real Insurance, a brand through which parent company Hollard issues numerous types of insurance products.

* * * * *

12 April 2017

Dear Real Insurance and Hollard Insurance,

Re: my recent claim on the car insurance policy I’ve paid Real Insurance for, without ever having claimed anything, for more than six years 

My Ref: I/M/A/\LoyalCustomer
Your Ref: 2017.01.21/AllClaimants/Shafted

I’m directing this feedback about my recent experience with both Real Insurance and Hollard Insurance to these two generic customer service email addresses, because I can’t find any specific instructions on either of your websites that tell me how else I can provide it, other than having yet another telephone conversation with your inept staff which, frankly, I’ve got plenty of time but zero inclination to do.

I’ve had a good deal of experience using websites over the past twenty-odd years; I also have a certain understanding of good website design. So, while I could be mistaken about the degree of difficulty with locating the most appropriate feedback option on your respective websites, I don’t think I am.

In any case, it turns out that I don’t actually need to speak with anyone, because I’m not submitting this feedback to you as a complaint per se; indeed, from the very helpful, if indirect, clarification of “complaint” and “dispute” on the Hollard website, I was able to determine that I don’t actually have a dispute that needs resolving at all. Thanks for helping me see that. If only you could’ve resolved my actual claim with such speed and efficiency.

Given that at least one of your websites states that you “work hard to give [me] great products, great pricing and great customer service”, and encourages me to “let [you] know straight away if [I] ever feel less than satisfied in any of these areas”, then now is definitely the time for me to provide you with this feedback, because I am very greatly dissatisfied in at least one of the aforementioned areas.

Here’s the story of a lovely lady, who was… as it happens, the other party with whom I was involved in a minor collision on 11 January this year. Ostensibly I was at fault, since the rigid rules of car insurance dictate that, irrespective of what actually happened, if I initiated contact with the other vehicle, and I then dare to claim on the policy that I’ve never claimed on despite having poured money into it hand over fist every month of every year for the past six years, then the incident was clearly my fault.

The other party and I are both 100% agreed that the incident was actually caused by a third-party, who left the scene without stopping. I know, right—what’s the world coming to? But apparently, such agreements between two wholly unrelated parties can’t possibly amount to anything because, again in accordance with the rigid and accusatory position of insurance companies, any claim in which neither party acknowledges fault, and where the finger of blame points to an unknown third-party, must be completely dodgy.

Guilty until proven innocent—the mantra of the insurer; such is the restoration of my faith in humanity, it makes my heart sing. Oh, how I love dealing with insurance companies. Ho-hum.

The day after the incident, I contacted Real Insurance to ask about my options and next steps and was duly advised of same by Jade; after confirming the other party’s preferred course of action, I contacted Real Insurance again on 20 January and advised Heather that I wished to proceed with an ‘at fault’ claim. Heather ended this call by informing me that she would send me a text message containing the details of my nearest smash repairer, who I could contact about getting the initial quote for repairs to my vehicle.

I received no text message.

I mentioned the missing text message in my response to a customer satisfaction survey on 22 January (I imagine my responses to that survey might be significantly different if you asked me to complete it today). I was marginally reassured when said missing text message appeared, to my very great surprise and (sort of) delight, on 24 January; I obviously wouldn’t know if this was down to Heather, or to someone else at Real who actually looked at my feedback and acted on it but, either way, it was reassuring.

I contacted the smash repairer immediately on receipt of the text message and Terry booked my car in for a repair quote on 1 February—which, I should clarify, was most definitely their first available slot, not my first opportunity to get there.

On the day, a chirpy little bloke called Barry reviewed the damage to my vehicle—this amounted to a five-minute walk-around and a handful of photos on his iPhone. I couldn’t help thinking the whole exercise seemed a tad perfunctory. Afterward, he told me my insurer would get in touch at some point with further instructions.

For six long hot weeks, I heard nothing further, until a missed call from Margaret at Hollard on 13 March. I attempted to return Margaret’s call multiple times over the following days, but on each attempt, the wait time to be answered was longer than the time I had available to wait for anything, let alone for an unknown person I was calling for an unknown reason.

On 15 March I called again, this time while I was able to keep working throughout the extended wait that I had accurately anticipated. After more than half an hour on hold, I was answered by Sharon. Sharon attempted to transfer me to Margaret. Margaret turned out not to be available.

To her credit, Sharon did try to assist me on Margaret’s behalf but, after several minutes of ummmm’s and aaaaah’s and other assorted variations on the concept of ‘nothing helpful’, Sharon told me she couldn’t see the relevant notes on my file and would need to email Margaret to ask her to contact me again. Sharon then proceeded to read her email to Margaret out aloud, word-by-word, as she typed it; it was as if she wanted to prove to me that she was indeed generating the email as promised which, I guess, was nice of her to do, but I really didn’t need such detailed confirmation. But at least she did something, for what it was worth—maybe if I’d been more grateful at the time, everyone else involved in this process might’ve done something too.

At any rate, the upshot was that I spent 44 minutes on the phone and came out the other end still none the wiser as to why Margaret had called me two days prior. Following my previous abortive attempts to be answered by Hollard, I also purposefully made note of numerous other aspects of this call:

  • I waited more than 34 minutes to eventually be answered by Sharon
  • I spent nearly 29 of those 34 minutes listening to possibly the most irritating hold music I’ve ever had the misfortune of being stuck in an oft-repeated loop of
  • The hold message I heard repeatedly was “Thank you for waiting. Unfortunately, we are experiencing a large volume of calls at the moment. One of our Hollard insurance consultants will be with you shortly”
  • That hold message was played at intervals of roughly 55 seconds
  • You told me you’d be with me shortly 37 times
  • According to my definition of ‘shortly’, you actually weren’t with me shortly at least 35 of those 37 times
  • I spent 7 minutes listening to Sharon say nothing helpful whatsoever
  • I was on hold—again— for 4 minutes, waiting for Sharon to not locate Margaret
  • The outcome of the call was 44 minutes of… (see previous paragraph)

That same day I received a letter in the mail from Jenny at Auto & General, the insurers of the aforesaid lovely lady. The letter advised me that A&G had “contacted [my] insurer, who [had] advised that they [were] unable to represent [my] interests in relation to this matter as [I] [had] not paid [my] excess”.

Immediately following my fruitless 44-minute call to Hollard, I called Jenny at A&G. (As an aside, save for punching in a few numbers, my wait time to speak with Jenny was less than a handful of seconds—quite the comparison wouldn’t you say, Hollard Insurance?) I clarified with Jenny that she’d evidently had more success obtaining information from my insurer than I’d had, as I’d not yet received any request to make any payment of any kind and that even when I had been able to talk to someone, it wasn’t the person who’d contacted me and they weren’t able to help me in the end anyway. Jenny advised that she’d wait another week or two and someone would contact me again to re-confirm the situation if it was still outstanding.

On 23 March I finally heard back from Margaret, who advised me of the outcome of the repair quote, and I agreed to proceed. While speaking with Margaret, I referred to the call from A&G and specifically asked her if I should make the required excess payment while I was on the phone with her. She advised that this wasn’t necessary, as I’d be asked to pay by the smash repairer when the repairs were undertaken.

At the time I thought this arrangement sounded a bit odd but, with no previous experience of paying an excess for an ‘at fault’ claim, I had no reason to doubt that it should be so. I further assumed that Margaret would be in contact with A&G to confirm the outcome of the conversation we’d just had, since A&G had clearly already been in contact with Hollard; blind optimism is a wonderful thing.

Later that same day, Nolene from the smash repairers called to book my vehicle in for its repairs. The soonest they were able to do it was 5 May; momentarily, I found myself thinking that the planet’s first supercontinent had broken up and drifted to the location of today’s seven continents in less time than all of this was taking. Once I’d shaken myself free of that little dream sequence, I took the opportunity to question the payment arrangement that Margaret had mentioned. Nolene advised that, while it wasn’t the most common approach, some insurers did arrange for excess payments to be made via the repairer. Again, despite it seeming a little odd to me, I had no reason to suspect that it wasn’t the case.

On 6 April I received a follow-up call from Martha at A&G, who asked if there’d been any progress with Hollard. When I advised that my repairs had been scheduled for 5 May, she told me she’d get back in touch with Hollard—by this stage, it’s fair to say that poor Martha clearly wasn’t best pleased. Sensing this, I re-confirmed that, despite having been ready and able to make the excess payment since January, I’d never once been provided with any instruction to do so by either Real or Hollard; I reiterated with Martha that the delay with the excess payment being made was absolutely not down to me because, in fact, I’d only ever been explicitly told to not make the payment.

Today, 12 April, I received a call from Carol at Hollard, advising me that A&G were about to commence legal proceedings because I still hadn’t made my excess payment. Refreshingly (for me, at least) I was able to retain my composure, while I informed Carol that I knew this to be the case because I’d had a very pleasant chat with Martha from A&G just last week. I further informed Carol that, during my conversation with Martha, I hadn’t just agreed to her taking whatever action she needed to take, in order to extract some kind of blood from the Real/Hollard stone, but I’d actively encouraged her to do so.

I also told Carol today that I’d been ready to pay the excess since the first time I spoke to Real Insurance in January and that, despite having asked more than once if I should do so, I had repeatedly been told that it wasn’t necessary—given this, I asked Carol to explain why I was now being threatened with legal action for not having made a payment that I’d been specifically advised not to make; Carol’s only response was a stock scripted apology for the provision of incorrect information. Despite this, when Carol advised that she would email the payment instructions to me she was also exceedingly clear that I should make the payment as soon as I possibly could—despite everything that had been discussed and despite multiple apologies on her part for the conflicting information I’d been provided with by Hollard to-date, the expectation of a more-or-less immediate transaction was put firmly onto me.

As a matter of principle, as soon as I was able to do so this afternoon I made the payment of my $800 excess, as per the instructions provided in Carol’s email. If only you’d provided these instructions to me three months ago, all of this fuss and bother could’ve been avoided; the fact that you didn’t, and that it consequently wasn’t, has only left me with a less than positive impression of Real Insurance, Hollard Insurance, and your awful, inconsistent, ill-informed, slow to answer, slow to respond, snappish, shitty customer service.

In fact, to say that all of this has made for an appalling customer experience on my part would be one of the greatest understatements of my life—and even as someone who’s known for dramatic flourishes, much ranting, and frequent exaggeration, that’s still a big call.

Among other things, the grossly inefficient way this seemingly straightforward case has been handled has resulted in much wasted time for Jenny and Martha at A&G, for Terry, Nolene and Barry at the smash repairers, and for your own staff members Jade, Heather, Margaret, Sharon and Carol, as well as having taken up a vast amount of my own time and energy—and now, it’s also sucking the life of whatever poor sap’s been charged with the task of reading this feedback.

So now, my dear parent company Insurer and sub-brand, I have some questions for you, which I would ask you to respond to at my earliest convenience (see date specified below), lest further action be initiated against you. To paraphrase your recent written instruction to me, it is important you attend to this promptly, as I will not cover any legal costs incurred due to you delaying the response to my questions.

Question 1: why should I, as a loyal Real Insurance customer of more than six years’ standing, have received threats of legal action regarding a payment for which I’d never received any instructions, nor indeed any specific request, to make?

Question 2: why, today, did I receive an email stating “It is important you attend to this promptly, as we will not cover any legal costs incurred due to you delaying the payment of the excess”, when I’ve not been the cause of any such delay—nor any delay at all—at any point along this process to-date?

Question 3: why have I spoken with five members of Real/Hollard staff who, it would seem, have not made any reference to notes on my file regarding previous conversations, agreements or other undertakings in respect of this claim? (The assumptions I made with this question are as follows: 1) notes were actually left on my file; 2) staff are able to reference my file and relevant notes; and 3) your offices are not stuck in a 1980s time-warp, where access to information is restricted to those with a physical copy of a paper file—feel free to clarify if any of these completely reasonable assumptions of a 21st-century organisation are, in any way, erroneous and, if any of them are, I promise to provide you with suggestions for how to improve your horrible, ineffective processes).

Question 4: why are your staff so willing to launch into accusations of payments not made, when it was their own colleagues who told me not to make said payment in the first place? I can only assume the “guilty until proven innocent” approach is industry-standard for Insurance.

I would like to receive a response from both Real and Hollard, explaining how such an appalling customer experience could possibly happen. Further, I would like both Real and Hollard to explain what you will do for me, as a long-term loyal customer, to compensate me for the time, stress, and inconvenience I’ve been caused, and the harassment to which I’ve been subjected, throughout this needlessly drawn-out situation.

(In respect of the former, I don’t expect it to even happen and, if it does, I fully expect it to be full-to-overflowing with stock-standard apologies, scripted explanations that are either too generic or too complex to mean anything to my specific situation, and platitudes that amount to virtually nothing; in respect of the latter, I don’t have any expectation of any form of compensation at all, but as always I’m more than happy to be proven wrong—what’s that turn of phrase again? “don’t ask/don’t get”.)

I would very much appreciate this feedback being forwarded to the most appropriate person or area within each of your organisations and I request a written response by COB Friday 29 April, or I will not hesitate to escalate my concerns to the Financial Industry Ombudsman service. I fully appreciate that the FOS is something of a toothless tiger in many respects, particularly with situations that don’t require any specific resolution but which, instead, seek only to hold organisations who provide shit service—in this case, that’s you, Real and Hollard—accountable for the complete and utter shittiness of said shit service.

Ultimately, whether you do or don’t take accountability for the aforementioned shit service is really neither here nor there, as the story will eventually be published on the World Wide Web for all to see and will, no doubt, generate a storm of comments and feedback from tens of thousands of other people with similar, if not worse, experiences of Insurance companies, such is the very high esteem in which you are all held, worldwide. Top marks for consistency, if nothing else.

Thanks & regards,

mattsoldmanrants

* * * * *
So I dropped the car off at the smash repair place this morning. Helpfully, Hollard sent me a text message three days ago (see image)—yes, that’s three days before the date of the booking that I made more than six weeks ago, back when they told me I could go ahead and make it. Maybe this is the SMS that Heather promised to send me back in January? Or maybe this is what Margaret was calling me for back in March—to ask if I got her text? I wonder if I should write back…

And what of the written responses I requested by COB Friday 29 April, from both sub-brand and parent company? Well, ten days before my somewhat arbitrarily chosen ‘deadline’ I received an email from Johann at Hollard.

Johann’s email advised me that, among other things, my feedback had been “referred to the Claims Manager to give them the opportunity to review your claim and contact you”. I was also informed that they would “monitor the progress of your request to ensure your concerns are addressed promptly”.

Now, I dunno what the word “promptly” implies for you, but the 19th of April was sixteen days ago now and I still haven’t heard from them (again); I think Hollard Insurance must’ve referenced Urban Dictionary for its definitions of words like promptly, timely, straight away, soon and shortly coz, from where I’m watching this whole car crash of a situation play out, they’ve not kept one single promise with any of the things they’ve so far claimed would happen promptly, timely, straight away, soon or shortly… at least, not according to the traditional definitions of any of those words. It’s funny, though, when they told me to immediately make the overdue payment they’d never asked me to make, the how-to instructions were in my inbox faster than I could type an eleven letter word…

In the end, though, you know what the funniest part of all this is? Just watching it happen. I seriously don’t care what happens from here. I’m not stressed or worried. I have no issue or complaint that needs resolving. I just want them to squirm. I want someone within this appalling organisation to do something now because they have to, not because they choose to. But more than anything else, I just want them to acknowledge how shit their service, and this whole situation, has been. And I want them to acknowledge that, if it can pan out like this for someone who’s neither overly bothered nor hugely impacted by the situation in question, it could be so much worse for someone having a genuinely difficult time with whatever lead to their own claim. And that’s not good.

Something else that’s really not good, and not just with Hollard, not just with Insurance companies, but throughout the corporate world: in 99.9% of cases, with 99.9% of organisations, save for a handful of people who have to deal with feedback like this because it’s their job to do so, these situations will never, ever see the light of day anywhere else.

Nobody but that handful of necessary participants in the review and resolution process will ever know exactly how shit the organisation was in this case. There’ll be no process review, there’ll be no staff review, there’ll be no over-arching review of the big shit—all the residual shit that sits around the shit in the middle that either results in or results from the shit service; it’s impossible to know how to describe it, because nobody will ever look at it to try to understand what happened: was it a series of systemic failures? Or was it just a couple of otherwise minor shitty things that conspired to create a chain reaction? Or is there a much bigger problem here?

Nobody will ask those questions, neither for the benefit of their customers nor their business, because “it’s only one customer”, they’ll say, “it’s only one situation—how could it possibly be that important?”. “It’s no big deal”, they’ll tell themselves, “it’s just one thing that kinda went a bit wrong. How could it possibly reflect our usual standards, or the whole end-to-end process, or all our staff, or the entire organisation?”.

And in 0.1% of cases, someone might actually ask the most important question of all: “how could this possibly happen—and what are we going to do to stop it happening again?”

 

NB:

* all names changed to protect the identities of individual Real and Hollard staff whose individual ineptness may have been due to dodgy processes or systems that were outside of their control… for some reason, I’m willing to give them the benefit of the doubt.

** elements of original letter may have been slightly altered for dramatic/comedic effect

 

Hit Or Miss? (aka Why We Know Sweet Home Alabama)


Last week, from the little radio on a colleague’s desk, I heard the dulcet tones of Lindy Layton, as lead vocalist on the 1990 Beats International hit Won’t Talk About It. Never heard of it? Or her? Or them? That’s not entirely surprising—it was 27 years ago, after all.

In mid-1990 UK outfit Beats International just missed the Australian Top 10 with their début single Dub Be Good To Me; Won’t Talk About It was the follow-up, but it stalled at number seventy and was largely forgotten, as were Beats International and poor Lindy. Of course, both songs had been hugely successful in the UK, and because I was into anything that was big in the UK back then, Won’t Talk About It became—and remains—one of my favourite songs of all time.

Somehow, it’s made its way onto the playlist of one of those “90s, noughties and now” classic hits radio stations, in spite of the fact that it was never actually a ‘hit’ here—at least not in the most commonly accepted meaning of the word.

But lovers of pop culture have always been a fickle bunch. What’s red-hot one minute is often passé the next—or vice-versa, depending on which end of the timeline you’re looking at it from. For pop music, in particular, it’s near impossible to define the required ingredients for even the most fleeting success, let alone lasting popularity. This makes some of today’s

For pop music, in particular, it’s near impossible to define the required ingredients for even the most fleeting success, let alone lasting popularity—which makes some of today’s favourite “classic hits” something of a mystery.

Said “classics” belong to that disparate collective of songs that get the punters at karaoke bars and work Christmas shindigs a bit too moist. You know them—the ones that get excitable folk shrieking and whooping and falling over each other to get onto the parquetry, where they proceed to kick up their dancing heels, badly mimimg select portions of misheard lyrics, and making comically exaggerated eye and hand gestures. Go on, you can admit it: we’ve all been there.

The tendency to call them “classics” leads to all kinds of misremembered truths. Unless you’re au fait with such things, you’d probably just assume they were all huge hits when first released and that they’ve simply stood the test of time, as pop music sometimes does. Why else would people who weren’t even born when a song was originally released still love it today?

It’s not an entirely unreasonable assumption—but neither is it entirely correct.

While many pop music gems somehow defy the transient nature of pop-culture, some of the songs that now have gaggles of girls (and guys) drunkenly singing along while dancing around piles of shoes and clutch purses, were never actually big hits at all; some of them were never even released.

How, then, did so many of these golden oldies attain “classic” status if they were never all that popular to begin with? And is this a phenomenon we can expect to see more of in the future?

Perhaps unsurprisingly, in the olden days, the success of any release was, with very few exceptions, almost entirely down to radio, such was that medium’s might over many decades.

The Buggles conjectured that video had already killed the radio star by 1979, but the end of radio’s hit-making dominance was still more than two decades away. In many ways, radio and video worked together to fuel some of the biggest album sales of the 80s and 90s.

The passing of time has, in some cases, seen the reputation of an iconic million-selling album morph into the mistaken impression that all of its singles (real or imagined) were also hugely successful—et voilà! A “classic hit” is created.

But not all the high-rotation favourites of today’s Classic Hits radio playlists originally featured on immensely successful albums either, so how they achieved their latter-day “classic” status is a bit of a mystery.

Let’s take a look at the evidence…

Exhibit A: Cold Chisel’s 1978 début Khe Sanh. It was a massive number 1 hit for months and months and months, right? Wrong! Khe Sanh just missed the Top 40 on its first release, radio airplay was banned on account of its “controversial lyrics” and the album it came from—the band’s—stalled outside the Top 30. Eighteen months later, a new recording of the song appeared on the band’s second album, which flew off record store shelves in huge volumes.

Cold Chisel went on to immense success before splitting in late-1983, but lead singer Jimmy Barnes’ solo career took off the following year, so it’s perhaps no coincidence that Khe Sanh became colloquially known as Australia’s ‘unofficial national anthem’, despite never having been a massive seller in its own right.

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Exhibit B: the four singles from Fleetwood Mac’s bazillion-selling 1977 album Rumours. They must’ve been the biggest hits of the 70s, right? Wrong! The album outsold all others in Australia that year and it’s still the world’s 8th-highest-selling album of all time. But while none of the singles generated huge sales of their own, all four of them—Go Your Own Way (chart peak #20), Dreams (#19), Don’t Stop (#30) and You Make Loving Fun (#65)—certainly pulled their weight where Rumours‘ overall sales are concerned.

Their undoubted contribution to its success was textbook in terms of promotional singles doing their job. Those four songs are still among the most recognizable pop tunes of the 70s, and Fleetwood Mac’s perennial radio presence ever since means they’re all considered “classics”.

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Exhibit C: some songs are successful just because they are, others almost by default thanks to the popularity of the artist or album (or the movie, TV show or advertising campaign) that spawned them. And then there’s Lynyrd Skynyrd’s 1974 single, Sweet Home Alabamathe “classic hit” status of which has more arcane origins. It was the band’s first U.S. Top 10, but it was never released in Australia. The album it came from barely caused a blip on the Australian charts and the band itself never had a high-profile here at all.

Even after a third of the band was killed in a plane crash in 1977—a tragedy which virtually guarantees sales for even the least-known of artists in today’s globalised world—any significant increase in local Lynyrd Skynyrd sales was still years away. Yet somehow, Sweet Home Alabama consistently made it onto radio playlists throughout the 80s and 90s—alors, a “classic hit” without ever having been one.

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Exhibit D: they’d had some success over several years, but in 1977 The Eagles’ Hotel California only reached #60 on the Australian singles chart. It was the eighth Eagles single to chart locally, but none of the previous seven had been big hits—although they’d all gone significantly higher than #60. Even though this one went Top 10 virtually everywhere else in the world—it even hit number five in New Zealand—somehow it tanked in Australia.

The album of the same name, which the song came from, reached #1 six months before the single was released. While the two previous Eagles LPs had seen notable success, neither was exactly a ‘massive’ hit; Hotel California, on the other hand, spent twelve consecutive weeks at #1 and charted for an entire year—a bona fide massive hit, then, and very possibly the source of the song’s eventual “classic hit” status as well.

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Exhibit E: seven Pink Floyd albums had charted in Australia by the end of 1979, the first three of which were relatively minor hits, while the last four all reached the Top 2, with two of them hitting #1. So it’s surprising to learn that Pink Floyd’s first appearance on the Australian singles chart was with Another Brick In The Wall in February 1980; no Pink Floyd single had ever charted here previous to that.

Eight years earlier Money, from the near-million-selling Dark Side Of The Moon album, charted in Europe and went to #13 in the U.S., but it was never released at home in the UK, nor here in Australia. Yet somehow it’s gone on to become one of Pink Floyd’s most recognised tunes. The band only achieved relatively modest success beyond 1980. There were no hugely successful compilations, and there certainly wasn’t another juggernaut on the scale of Dark Side Of The Moon so, presumably, Money’s “classic hit” status is solely due to the success of that album.

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The 80s and 90s offered their fair share of “classics” that were also driven to radio either by volume-selling albums, or for reasons just as mysterious as for some of their earlier brethren.

Exhibit F: pretty much anything by Crowded House. There’s a long list of Crowded House songs that were never significant hits in their own right, but which nonetheless wound up indelibly etched on the Australian music psyche, thanks in very large part to ongoing TV and radio exposure and some massive album sales. Two albums by Australia’s

Two albums by Australia’s favourite adopted Kiwis are among our biggest sellers of all time. But, believe it or not, only three of the 24 Crowded House singles released between 1986 and 2016 actually made the Top 10—Don’t Dream It’s Over peaked at #8 in 1987, Better Be Home Soon reached #2 in 1988, and Everything Is Good For You (arguably one of the least-recalled Crowded House singles) spent a single week at #10 on début in 1996.

So what about all those other Crowded House songs everyone seems to know at least part of? There was also Weather With You, Something So Strong, Into TemptationFall At Your Feet, World Where You LiveFour Seasons In One Day, It’s Only Natural, Now We’re Getting Somewhere and Distant Sun—almost inevitably you know some part of each and every one of those songs, without any of them ever having been huge hits.

Exhibit G: anything by Hall & Oates. Hall & Oates have been the darlings of AOR/MOR radio ever since their releases were brand new. They only ever had two Top 10 singles (Rich Girl in 1977 and Maneater in 1983) and one Top 10 album in Australia. And four of their best-known hits—Kiss On My List (1981), Private Eyes (1981), I Can’t Go For That (No Can Do) (1982) and Out Of Touch (1984)—all missed the Top 10.

But with their inoffensive melodies and catchy singable choruses, they achieved almost permanent “classic hits” rotation.

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Exhibit H: Hit Me With Your Best Shot by Pat Benatar. Released in early 1981, Hit Me With Your Best Shot was the second single from Pat Benatar’s second album and her fourth single to hit the local charts. Thirty-five years later it feels like it’s always been around—surely it was a massive hit, a cracker classic of the 80s?—and yet, it only went as high as #9 in the U.S. and, despite spending four months on the Australian singles chart, it stalled at #33 here.

Such was the perceived retro popularity of Hit Me With Your Best Shot that it was among the tracks released on the 2008 interactive video game Guitar Hero III, though no doubt more due to its U.S. hit status than anything else… which, come to think of it, is possibly responsible for the “classic hit” status of a load of other songs too.

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Exhibit I: Sounds Of Then (This Is Australia) by GANGgajang. When you think of iconic Aussie ‘theme’ songs, a few stand out above the rest. There’s our actual and quite glorious national anthem Advance Australia Fair (replete with second verse that hardly anyone knows the words to) and, of course, the aforementioned unofficial national anthem Khe Sanh. We also have the 1988 Bicentennial song Celebration Of A Nation, and that favourite of marketers and advertisers across the land, We Are Australian, a song so utterly patriotic that there’ve been multiple pitches for it to become our national anthem. A handful of other songs, like I Still Call Australia Home, are notable for being the one-time signature tunes for Tourism Australian, the Rugby World Cup, the 1987 America’s Cup, the AFL, the NRL, Telstra, Qantas… basically, anything quintessentially Australian.

And then there’s this little mid-80s pop gem, from slightly obscure Australian band GANGgajang. It featured in a Coke ad in 1993, it was the theme for the Nine Network’s new year promo for 1996, and it’s also found its way onto numerous film and television soundtracks over the years. Yet in early 1986 it became the most successful of GANGgajang’s ten charting singles by ascending to the dizzying heights of #35.

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Exhibit J
: Show Me Love by Robin S. Show Me Love was a stock-standard 120bpm house tune that scaled the lofty heights of #78 in Australia in February 1994; unless you frequented nightclubs at the time, or were especially enamoured of dance music, you probably never heard it. Robin S never charted in Australia again but, elsewhere in the world, it seems Show Me Love still had legs. Aside from a handful of other songs, Robin S largely stuck with remixes and reissues of that one track: Show Me Love ’97, Show Me Love 99, Show Me Love 2002, Show Me Love 2006, Show Me Love 2008, Show Me Love 2009… talk about milking it.

But since 2003 Show Me Love has also been sampled in at least 17 other tracks—you might recall its keyboard riff throughout Jason Derulo’s 2011 Top 5 hit Don’t Wanna Go Home; it’s also been covered by countless other artists over the past decade, including Sam Feldt’s version which reached the Australian Top 20 in 2015. It’s a pretty impressive roll call for a song with a “classic hit” status that’s largely due to its success for others, rather than for its original artist.

——

Exhibit K: Angels by Robbie Williams. Williams had never had a significant hit here until Rock DJ went to #4 in 2000. Angels had been six UK singles earlier; it, and the intervening five singles, had all made the UK Top 4. Angels hit the UK chart at the end of 1997, where it bucked the trend of the day by taking nine weeks to hit its peak and spent 20 weeks on the chart—nearly twice as long as most singles charted at the time. Stranger still, it amassed another 46 chart weeks by the end of 1999, a feat virtually unheard of at the time—and every one of those weeks off the back of physical sales alone.

Angels was already the favourite singalong hit of drunken Brits by the time it belatedly charted here in April 1998; then, it just kinda bounced up and down between #100 and the #40 peak it achieved nearly two years later, after 24 very interrupted chart weeks. In December 2005 Williams’ Greatest Hits was certified 7xPlatinum, having made the upper reaches of the annual list of highest-selling albums two years running; by then, Australians were also loving Angels instead.

——

So can this whole thing of ‘old-song-becomes-classic-without-ever-being-a-hit’ carry on? Will today’s tweens, teens, and 20-somethings see the same kind of “classic hits” we see today, in another twenty or thirty years?

On the balance of probabilities, considering the variable outcomes of Exhibits A thru K, I’d say the answer is “probably not”. So many of the examples cited above seem to be considered classics on the basis of either album success, or ongoing radio airplay.

But albums hardly sell in any significant volumes anymore, and radio airplay has been largely superseded by YouTube and streaming services; it’s difficult to see how today’s “classic hits” would ever have evolved under those conditions.

Still, Aussie music lovers across the country are safe in the knowledge that Sweet Home Alabama will still have them singing along, at least to its chorus, for years and years to come… even if they’re not entirely sure how or why they actually know it.

Internet Killed The Radio Star


Last week was record-breaking on pop music charts all over the world. It was also quite a telling week regarding the state of music in the digital age.

Here in Australia, Ed Sheeran’s third album ÷ (aka, Divide) debuted at number one, already certified 2xPlatinum for first week sales of more than 140,000 units. During the 90s and early-2000s plenty of albums racked up multi-platinum first-week sales and debuted at number one, but these days it’s a double-whammy that almost never happens; in fact, it’s a feat only achieved so far this decade by two other albums.

Sheeran also set a chart precedent ten weeks ago when Divide’s first two singles were released at the same time and debuted at numbers one and two; no other artist had ever sent two singles to the Top 2 of the Australian chart, on début, in the same week.

Six weeks later, while Shape Of You and Castle On The Hill were still on the two top rungs, the third track from Divide, How Would You Feel, also crashed into the chart at number two, pushing Castle On The Hill back to number three; the same artist occupying the entire chart podium had only ever been seen twice before—when Beatlemania took off in 1964, and, inexplicably, when Karise Eden won The Voice in 2012.

Last week, the remaining thirteen tracks from Divide all debuted within the Top 40. Yep, every single track.

And if you think that sounds weird—it certainly is, at the very least, highly unusual—then spare a thought for Irish music lovers: the entire Top 16 of last week’s Irish singles chart was the tracks from Divide!

Shape Of You and Castle On The Hill were, officially, Divide’s first two singles, while How Would You Feel was designated as a ‘promotional single’. And the other thirteen? Well, at least for now, they’re just tracks on the album. And this is where the modern way of things starts getting a tad confusing, if you actually try to understand how it all works. So let’s forget the complexities of the present for a bit, and take a step back in time for some context.

In the olden days (but, really, not that long ago at all) a single was a single, and in 99% of cases its prime objective was to promote album sales. A single had a physical release in at least one format, it was played on radio (sometimes) and on music TV shows (sometimes) and it only hit the chart if enough people went to a retail outlet and paid for it; subsequent singles from the same album would follow more-or-less the same pattern. Total sales volumes and resultant chart positions were determined by a physical exchange of cash for product—a CD, a cassette, or a black vinyl platter that, as if by magic, had somehow been infused with music. It was a pretty straightforward process: 1 payment = 1 exchange = 1 sale. 100 payments = 100 sales, 35,000 payments = 35,000 sales and, in the latter case, a gold record accreditation.

It was also extremely rare in the olden days for any non-single album track to ever see the light of day on TV or radio.

In the olden days, albums were always the big-hitters. Other than any singles already released, we were largely unaware of an album’s content until we actually bought it—and so, there was a vested interest in buying it; invariably, we enjoyed some tracks more than others, and there were sometimes even tracks that we didn’t like much at all. But we still viewed an album as a body of work and we listened to each track in the order in which it appeared on the album; even in the age of random play and ‘shuffle’, some music lovers stood firm in the belief that this was the order in which the artist wanted us to hear the album.

These days, the content of any album is readily accessible online, at least to ‘preview’, without necessitating any kind of purchase whatsoever. Individual album tracks can mostly be paid for and downloaded, whether they’re a single or not; in fact, as far as digital downloads go, these days there’s virtually no discernible difference between an album track and an actual single, other than the fact that some singles are available before an album’s release and some have their own bespoke cover art; some also contain additional tracks or remixes, both of which usually leads to an ‘EP’ designation and a price hike.

These days, album tracks, as with singles, can also be streamed. While downloads count towards a track’s total sales just as physical purchases did in the olden days, the part played by streaming involves a more complex equation. According to ARIA CEO Dan Rosen, it goes something like this: “Say for example it was 175 streams equating to one sale, once you work out that conversion you tally up all your streams, divide it by that number, tally up all your iTunes downloads and add the two and that’s the number for the ARIA chart”… clear as mud, right?

These days, there are virtually no physical sales of singles—although, the vinyl revival of the past few years has seen that changing, if only in small numbers. Specifically in the case of the thirteen Ed Sheeran tracks, though, it was the enormous number of times they were streamed that saw all thirteen of them hit the chart at once; purchased downloads only accounted for the tiniest proportion of this seemingly bizarre outcome. Such is the way the charts are calculated these days that three of the tracks made it all the way to the Top 10, joining the first two singles that were still sitting pretty at the top of the chart—and streaming volumes just keep getting higher and higher, to the point where digital services accounted for more than 60% of total market value in 2015.

Meanwhile, Divide, saw an almost 50/50 split between physical CD sales and digital downloads, which in itself is also quite unusual for any album these days.

Measures of success have also shifted. In the olden days, whether a single was successful or not was largely inconsequential as long as the album it was promoting sold like hot cakes; and if it did, then even the least successful of singles could go on to be fondly recalled as a massive hit.

In 1970s and 80s Australia, full-length LPs were still relatively expensive. Nevertheless, Australians snapped up albums like Cold Chisel’s East, ABBA’s Arrival and Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours in massive numbers; it was as if everyone everywhere knew every word of every song on every big-selling album. Some of those albums also featured singles that were hugely successful in their own right, although that certainly wasn’t always the case, but at any rate albums were the artists’—and the record companies’—bread and butter; singles were merely promotional tools.

Fast forward a decade or two and the radio producers and presenters who were air-guitaring and lip-syncing to all those songs in the 70s and 80s were now adding them to their playlists; even if they were never big hits to start with, their status as pop and rock classics was now assured, thanks almost entirely to radio and music video airplay decades after their release.

But there was trouble brewing. Long before the Internet started to skew how we watch TV and movies, it also had a significant hand in the slow demise—or, at very least, the destructive realignment—of the music industry.

In the olden days, the only way to hear those non-single album tracks was to preview the album at a retail outlet—some larger retailers, like Virgin and HMV, offered ‘listening posts’, others had a stereo at the counter to serve the same purpose, while smaller stores would simply play whatever you wanted to hear through their speakers, in turn allowing everyone else in the shop to hear and thusly pour scorn all over your questionable taste in music… or was that just mine? In most cases, though, the only way some people ever heard those tracks was to actually buy the album.

Since 1998 the Internet has given rise to a constant evolution of how we consume music. Today, anyone can go online, preview album tracks, largely ignore them, buy individual songs, or use streaming services to listen to some or all of any given album, the latter of which avoids a purchase and results in artist royalties that are, at best, variable and, at worst, contemptuously minimal—for example, a track apparently needs at least 1,000 streams on Spotify to earn the artist a paltry $1.

Industry bodies have acknowledged artists’ record sales for decades. In Australia, the first sales accreditations were established by record companies in the 1970s. The numbers weren’t always consistent between the companies and levels were sometimes different between singles and albums but, generally, a Gold accreditation was awarded for 50,000 sales and Platinum for 100,000 sales. The physical award that was presented to the artist was generally a gold or platinum-coloured copy of the vinyl disc, in a great big frame with a plaque—thus the terms “gold record” and “platinum record”.

Having taken end-to-end management of the national charts in-house during 1988, in 1989 ARIA revised accreditation levels down to 35,000 for Gold and 70,000 for Platinum—possibly something to do with the organisation having been created by a conglomerate of the four major local record companies in 1983.

Even though the reduced numbers meant greater recognition of singles sales, albums were still far and away the biggest hitters. Throughout the 90s, high-selling albums regularly achieved certifications of between 5 and 10xPlatinum, while the really big ones—Alanis Morissette’s Jagged Little Pill, Savage Garden’s 1997 début, and Shania Twain’s Come On Over—were certified up to 15xPlatinum. Earlier mega-sellers, like The Best Of ABBA, the Grease soundtrack, Michael Jackson’s Thriller, John Farnham’s Whispering Jack, Meat Loaf’s Bat Out Of Hell and Dire Straits’ Brothers In Arms, have all, over time, been accredited for sales in excess of 20xPlatinum.

In 1993, Whitney Houston’s mega-hit I Will Always Love You became the first single ever accredited 4xPlatinum by ARIA, recognising local sales of more than 280,000 units. Five years later Elton John smashed that record when his tribute to Princess Diana, Candle In The Wind, achieved an unprecedented 14xPlatinum certification, a record that went unbroken for seventeen years. But, under ‘normal’ sales conditions, Houston’s achievement technically stood for two decades, although it looked like it was about to be bettered multiple times before then—Lou Bega’s Mambo No. 5 and The Offspring’s Pretty Fly (For A White Guy) had also joined the 4xPlatinum club in 1999, but it wasn’t until 2003 when, after twelve weeks at number one, Eminem’s Lose Yourself was well on its way to becoming ARIA’s first 5xPlatinum single. Then… nothing. But finally, after the best part of a decade of a consistently small volume of digital sales, Lose Yourself was, all at once, awarded seventh Platinum certification (and therefore, by inference, its fifth and sixth) in mid-2013.

But by then, a 7xPlatinum accreditation for a single had become so commonplace that, in July 2014, LMFAO’s Party Rock Anthem was certified a whopping 15xPlatinum—not only making it the only single to ever sell more than a million units in this country, but also placing it just behind the only eight full-length albums that have ever sold more. And since 2013, ten other singles have also been certified between 10 and 13xPlatinum.

That’s how much things have changed, certainly since 1993, but most significantly in just the past five years.

In the olden days albums were, by far, the bigger sellers—singles just propped them up—but these days it’s the reverse. As a general rule, singles now sell by the (digital) truckload, sometimes bouncing around the chart for up to two years. But long-player sales have been so depleted that it’s not uncommon for an album by a niche artist to début at number one off the back of a couple of thousand sales, before disappearing from the chart altogether within three or four weeks.

The divergence between olden days volumes and today’s—and the very reason why Divide’s opening week tally of 140,000 units is so significant—is crystal clear with a few historical comparisons. In December 2003, for example, Guy Sebastian’s Just As I Am had opening week sales of 164,000 units; in 2006, Anthony Callea’s A New Chapter couldn’t edge any higher than number 45 with sales of nearly 5,500 units. By January 2014, the entire Top 500 albums combined sold just under 182,000 units; in March 2015, one-time superstar Madonna’s Rebel Heart debuted at number one on less than 7,000 sales, before nosediving to a measly 1,300 sales in its second week; three months later, just 3,777 sales pushed Ed Sheeran’s previous album X back to number one; and even in the UK last week, Sheeran’s new album sold more units than the rest of the Top 500 albums combined.

As well, the hugely reduced volume of overall album sales results in a whole lot of super weird in/out up/down activity on the albums chart that simply wasn’t seen before about five years ago; ultimately, it calls into question the relevance, or even the validity, of the chart, particularly given outcomes like the one seen last week with Ed Sheeran—for example, why should non-single tracks appear on a singles chart, rather than their streaming and download volumes being combined to reflect sales of the album they feature on? Surely that makes more sense and it couldn’t be that hard, could it? I mean, I’m no mathematician or statistician, but it seems logical to me that each download of a single track from a 16 track album should amount to 1/16th of a sale of that album… shouldn’t it?

At any rate, it’s unlikely any of the thirteen Sheeran tracks will see the light of day on the radio again, once post-release hysteria has been quelled, unless they’re released as a single.

Cue the question of ‘what does the future hold?’, because, at the current rate of change, music seems to be evolving in ever-decreasing circles.

Radio’s been around for a century, and for much of the last sixty years it was the go-to source for music that people wanted to hear; today you’re more likely to see people gathered around a smartphone’s Spotify playlist, while radios merely generate background noise in kitchens, on desks and in mechanics’ workshops across the country.

Music television took off in the early-80s and, for music lovers, was an essential resource for at least twenty years; today, a music video isn’t even guaranteed for any release and, more often than not, if there is one they’re usually not much more than an ultra-fancy YouTube lyric video. Music Television, as we knew it in the olden days, is virtually dead; the ABC’s Rage, which celebrates its 30th anniversary next month, is now pretty much the sole survivor.

The ability to quickly and easily convert CDs into individual audio files in the late 90s lead directly to the P2P file sharing revolution, which, come 1999, had music lovers all over the world partying like it was, indeed, 1999 as they uploaded and downloaded free song after free song after free song—as quickly as their glacially slow dial-up connection would allow them to; but even Napster, the one that arguably started it all, was dead within seven years.

So-called “legitimate” online services have very much become the accepted norm since the local launch of the iTunes Store in late-2005, and they more-or-less had a monopoly until about 2012; but since 2015 the increasing uptake of streaming services has seen digital download revenues decrease by more than 10%, year-on-year—in other words, as streaming uptake increases, the number of paid downloads decreases.

What’s next, then? How soon can we expect streaming to also become obsolete? From what we’ve seen in the last ten years alone, its demise is probably just around the corner. Should we expect a replacement with an even shorter life-cycle?

Whatever it turns out to be, it will inevitably be some form of online platform. And, it’ll mean yet another nail in the coffin of the video and the radio star.

 

Don’t Look Back In Anger


Yesterday, I watched an older man shaking with rage as he screamed at a younger man on a crowded railway station platform. I didn’t witness their initial exchange, but I’m guessing the younger man had asked the older man to move back from the pedestrian area so that he and his three young daughters could pass, whereby minimising the risk of falling off the platform or being hit by the oncoming train.

Now, when I say the younger man “asked”, the ensuing back-and-forth slanging match suggests it may have been more an aggressively issued command than a polite request. The two men continued to exchange menacing stares and harsh words until a set of train doors conveniently came to a halt right in front of said man-with-daughters.

Ironically, after having been so grossly offended by the older man’s unacceptable lack of social awareness, the younger man shot one final menacing stare back along the platform and called out “asshole”, before proceeding to force his way into the carriage like a salmon swimming upstream, as if oblivious to the tide of exiting passengers. Perhaps he’d never heard that old saying about the goose and the gander. Or perhaps he was, at that moment, literally blinded by his own anger?

I’m not sure when we became a society of such angry people. Is it a recent phenomenon, or have we always been like this?

Today, everyone has strong opinions about everything all the time, and we feel a need to air those strong opinions, in one way or another—often via blogs like this one. We’re frequently incensed by the opinions of others, and we dismiss their words on the basis that we simply disagree, rather than accepting—and being grateful for the fact—that everyone has different perspectives. Typically, anger about the views of others is most evident in the online world. In fact, online anger is so commonplace these days that it’s apparently become de rigueur to issue death threats to anyone who holds even the most unremarkable point of view, simply because it differs, however moderately, from our own.

There are public demonstrations, almost at the drop of a hat, against virtually anything we’re angry about, however relatively large or small the issue—and I almost guarantee that statement alone will generate multiple strong opinions; many demonstrations invariably become violent, despite organisers’ alleged intentions for peaceful protest.

We’re angry about other angry people, in particular terrorists and religious extremists. We’re angry that the concept of ‘terrorism’ has had the entire world almost permanently on edge for more than 15 years; it’s unnerving, even frightening, it’s psychologically exhausting and emotionally draining—and that makes us angry.

We’re angry about the incidence of oppression and dictatorship, war, death and destruction all over the world. We’re angry about the part our own nations play in warfare. We’re angry that the so-called “leader of the free world”, the United States, repeatedly inserts itself into the hostilities of other nations, then involves, almost involuntarily, any nation that wants to remain on their list of so-called “allies”. We’re angry with the leaders of our own nations for not rejecting this or, at least, for not objecting more strenuously or conscientiously.

We’re angry about things that shouldn’t really concern us; chief among these is sexuality. We’re angry about the sexuality of others and about our own sexuality. We’re angry about sexuality that isn’t the same as our own and about sexuality that is the same as own. We’re angry about those who are angry—or, at least, who take issue with—sexuality and we’re angry with those who aren’t angry—or, at least, who don’t take issue with—sexuality, or with those who are angry about sexuality.

Our indigenous people, the so-called ‘first Australians’ (a description which almost certainly angers them), have an ongoing seething rage about the European invasion of their land in 1788, as well as everything that’s happened in the ensuing 229 years; many post-1788 Australians share that seething rage with, and on behalf of, our indigenous people.

We’re angry that it took until 1967 for a referendum “to alter the Constitution so as to omit certain words relating to the People of the Aboriginal Race in any State and so that Aboriginals are to be counted in reckoning the Population“—or, in other words, Australians were asked to vote on whether or not indigenous people should be recognised as actual human beings, rather than capturing them within the “Flora and Fauna Act” as animals. We’re still angry that indigenous folk were, for so long, not recognised as human beings. We’re also angry that so many people are still so bogged down with anger about it taking until 1967 for said referendum.

And on the topic of anger-by-proxy, we live in an age of ‘outrage culture’ where many of us are, for whatever reason, angry about something on behalf of someone else. Never before have such levels of referred anger been so prevalent. We’re outraged about something that’s happened (or not happened) to others. We’re often outraged on behalf of a less-privileged class of people—typically, “less-privileged” by comparison with ourselves and despite us having no first-hand experience of the conditions about which we’re presently outraged. We’re outraged about the assistance that isn’t forthcoming to ease or resolve these situations. We’re even outraged by the lack of outrage of others. Outrage is, of course, another word for anger.

One ethnic minority doesn’t much care for another and so there is anger and hostility between the two (or sometimes more) of them, whether here in Australia or at home.

Some Australians are so angry that they use guns to maim or kill others, such that it seems that someone in, for example, western Sydney is shot on an almost hourly basis. And many angry Australians evidently decided, at some point in the quite recent past, that carrying knives around with them as they go about their day-to-day business, and stabbing anyone they have even the slightest disagreement with, is normal behaviour; some claim their knives are necessary for self-defence against other extremely angry Australians. Many of us are angry that this should be the case and we’re angry that more isn’t being done to stop it.

We’re angry about domestic violence and violence, generally, perpetrated by men against women—in fact, we’re so angry about it today that you’d almost think it never existed before about ten years ago; some of us are angry about that unbalanced view, too. We’re angry about the (seemingly) increasing levels of violence in today’s society, generally; we’re angry at inaction to curb societal violence, but we’re also angry about action that is taken to curb societal violence and we’re very angry about the perceived knock-on effects of some of those actions.

We’re angry with our Governments; we’re as angry with the prevailing political parties as with the opposition parties. In fact, we’re angry about politicians generally. We’re angry about their behaviour. We’re angry about their perceived elitism and dishonesty and piss-taking and out-of-touchness. We’re angry about pre-election promises that aren’t honoured once they’re swept to power. We’re angry about virtually everything they do and, more likely, don’t do.

We’re angry about gender equality, religious equality, income equality, marriage equality, social and class equality, ethnic equality, indigenous equality, equal opportunity, so-called ‘postcode discrimination’, freedom of speech, civil rights—essentially, we’re angry about anything and everything that we can or can’t do, and all the levers and mechanisms we perceive to play a part in such matters.

We’re angry about the destruction of trees and parklands for the construction of housing, roads and other infrastruture, yet, conversely, we’re also angry about a lack of housing, roads and infrastructure. We’re angry about historical elements of our built environment being destroyed to make way for new elements of our built environment. We’re angry about our built environment becoming increasingly high-density. We’re angry about the appalling cost of housing. We’re angry about a perceived onslaught of foreign investment in said high-density accommodations and we’re angry about the ever-decreasing ability of first home owners to afford to buy their own home.

We’re constantly angry with our fellow road users. We’re angry with drivers who hog the right lane on motorways. We’re angry with drivers, particularly truckdrivers, who ‘tailgate’ on highways. We’re angry with drivers who we perceive to have cut in or otherwise cut us off on suburban roads. We’re angry with virtually everyone on our clogged inner-city streets. We’re so angry that, at some point, the phenomenon of “road rage” became an actual thing.

We’re angry with the drivers of over-sized vehicles, because said vehicles are too big, take up too much space on narrow roads, block our forward vision, and are too slow. We’re angry with taxi drivers because they’re usually crap drivers who pilot their vehicles erratically and who stop anywhere irrespective of legality or impact. We’re angry with cyclists just because car drivers always are; we’re angry with cyclists because they’re too slow and they hold us up and there are now stupid laws in place that mean we must drive at least one metre away from them; we’re especially angry with cyclists who use the road when there’s an available bike lane.

Basically, our roads are almost exclusively populated by angry people.

We’re not engaged with our neighbours; we’re no longer talking to people in the street; in fact, more often than not we’re going out of our way to avoid eye contact altogether. We’re more likely to call the police about a neighbour’s noise than to ask the neighbour if they could take the decibels down a notch or two. We’re more likely to ignore a bewildered tourist with a map than to ask if they’re lost. We’re hesitant to help anyone who appears to be in any kind of trouble and we’re almost certainly not going to intervene in any kind of street conflict.

In all of this, do we ever ask ourselves why? Is it because you never know what someone will do? You never know how people will react? Someone might get violent? When did our world become this way? Is our collective hesitancy and mistrust and fear a product of our anger? Or is it the cause?

Or has it always been this way?

 

*Disclaimer: references to “we” and “we’re” are used, intentionally, to reference the broader society, and are not intended to suggest that the anger in question is that of the author, nor anyone known to the author, nor necessarily to anyone reading this statement right now.

Thanks To Everyone I Ever Knew


“Thanks to my mother and father, <name> and <name>, and my sister <name>; it’s the continued love and support of family that made this possible. Thanks to all the brilliant people at <organisation>—especially <name>, <name>, <name>, <name>, <name> and <name>—for the long hours, and the many days and nights of dedication they put into this project. Believe me, I wouldn’t be up here if it wasn’t for you—tonight is as much for you as for me. So many thanks to my best friends in the world—<name>, <name> and <name>—for sticking by me through this whole thing and giving me all the support and love I could need—I love you guys. If I missed anyone, apologies…you know who you are. Thank you all.”

So what was that, then? Must be an Oscar’s acceptance speech, right? Guess again. But surely whoever said it must’ve just won something—a Grammy or an Emmy? Nup, try again. A Logie or an ARIA or a Brit Award? Nope, it’s none of those.

Regular imbibers of this (sometimes) humble opine-fest will know by now that, despite occasionally dabbling in it myself, I don’t really hold social media in the highest esteem (yes, I know—oh the irony!). Why? My reasons are many and varied—most, I daresay, not of the slightest interest to avid users—but I won’t bang on about them here.

Whatever my misgivings about the individual and societal impacts of social media, there’s one thing, in particular, that’s really struck me about the way that so many users of this ubiquitous all-pervading beast have come to engage with fellow users.

No, I’m not about to launch into that tired old accusation of narcissism, so often leveled at social media users.

Actually, I’m not often lost for words, but it’s proving difficult to find a single word that accurately reflects what I’m trying to say—’altruism’, maybe? Whatever the word, the action I’m trying to describe seems somehow less calculated than the really narcissistic stuff; that is, the actions themselves are clearly intentional, but the result possibly isn’t. Or, at least, not consciously. Maybe. I think…

The selfies, the check-ins, the constant updates about our every thought and move, and don’t even get me started on all the photos of food and drink! All of that stuff falls into the narcissism bucket. We make almost unconscious assumptions that everyone who can see what we post wants to know everything about what we’re doing, where we’re going and how we look, whether at the time or after the fact; they want to know exactly what we’re thinking and to hear all about the fiddle-faddle and frippery of our day-to-day. But there’s something else going on here too—perhaps a variant of altruism, if not true altruism.

It’s that “everyone” thing. “Can everyone please copy and paste this to their own status?”… “Thanks everyone for all the <insert topic> messages”… who is this “everyone”? Does “everyone” only apply if we generate a 100% response rate from our list of social media comrades? Or, in the event of a less-than-100% hit rate, do we actually use it to make those who didn’t react feel guilty?

Or has “everyone” just morphed into another of those catch-all words, like “guys” before it, that’s now used to address any proportion of a total number of people? For example, if I had 479 Facebook friends and 42 of them posted birthday wishes, is an 8.7% hit rate sufficient for me to use “everybody” when thanking them? Or would I only say it if I wanted to have a go at the 91.3% of so-called Friends who made no online reference to my birthday at all?

And as if all the variations of friends and “everyone” wasn’t confusing enough, Twitter users (whether celebrity or pleb) also have “followers”, which is quite similar to “fans”. But there’s something almost sinister about “followers”. Charles Manson had followers. David Koresh had followers. L. Ron Hubbard had followers. Do the likes of us ordinary folk really want “followers”?

Or maybe that’s the answer? Or even the question? Despite the disturbing lack of clarity that’s permeated this post thus far, maybe I just found the answer to the question I’ve been trying but largely failing to pose?

Coz whether or not we consciously set out to achieve a response rate, there’s a reassuring sense of popularity that comes with the number of Retweets and Likes that our social media posts receive, isn’t there? We like “everyone” looking at what we’re saying. We’re being noticed. We’re being agreed with. We’re being envied. Why else would we post in the first place? It’s ego-inflating.

YouTubers have long had “fans”; maybe it’s become so much a part of the new normal that the rest of us now think of our own social media buddies as fans, too? After all, they’re following us because (presumably) they want to, because they like us and want to know about our day-to-day existence, because they want to see photos of what we’re doing, where we’re going and what we have; basically, because they want to envy us—as if they were our fans.

And, knowingly or otherwise, we now respond accordingly.

Every time something happens, we take to status updates as if we’re sweeping gracefully up onto a stage, accepting a big shiny lump of gold or glass, then giving thanks, acceptance speech-style, to everyone we ever knew. It’s nice, I guess. It’s a bit tedious too, to be honest.

Oh and in case you hadn’t worked it out yet, that ‘acceptance speech’ back at the beginning of this—it was a Facebook post about going for a mini-break in the mountains (and don’t worry, I’m not publicly shaming anyone I know—believe it or not, there are others in the world who rant about this stuff too!).

The post was written by a lady whose baby hadn’t slept properly, if at all, for most of its short life; she and her partner had taken their infant daughter through one of those sleep training assessment course thingos for about a year. Once they’d finally gotten her into a wake/sleep routine that seemed to be working, they decided to take themselves off for dinner and an overnight stay at a luxury resort, far away from where they lived in the US state of Vermont, leaving the child in the care of relatives.

So no, despite the Academy Awards acceptance speech histrionics, it was just someone going out for dinner and thanking a bunch of people for some stuff they did. It’s unlikely this lady—or anyone, for that matter—would ever verbalise such gushy sweeping praise in everyday conversation, but she obviously felt that her much-needed weekend away was the culmination of the combined efforts of all these people, and that they were, therefore, deserving of the praise she heaped on them via social media; that half the people referenced weren’t tagged and, as such, weren’t likely to actually see the online praise apparently didn’t detract from the woman’s desire to post it.

In the olden days, people used to write letters and send cards through the post to thank each other for stuff. Later, they wrote emails for the same purpose. Today we use online public forums and social media to talk about, to talk to and/or thank people who’ll possibly never see what we’ve said (assuming they’re old enough to read at all); it’s a wonder anyone ever feels appreciated for anything any more.

What a different place today’s world might be, if only we quit the Oscars speeches and actually thanked each other again.

The Puzzling Parlance of Please


For Tina and Henry… 
please
pliːz/
adverb
  1. used in polite requests or questions.
    “please address letters to the Editor”

The world’s awash with Trump right now, so I thought an undemanding (if slightly facetious) language lesson might be just the ticket to lighten the mood.

The subject of today’s discussion has long been a linguistic bugbear of mine, though doubtless of little consequence to anyone else (as with the majority of my linguistic bugbears); it’s a word most of us use daily, though it could be argued that it’s not always used where it counts.

I’m still undecided if this misuse is just because we’ve become polite to a fault*, or if people genuinely don’t recognise that there’s a difference. I suspect the latter.

I noticed it again on the train yesterday morning: “Please change at Town Hall for T4 Eastern Suburbs line trains”. There are examples of it everywhere.

If it’s true that there’s a time and a place for everything, “please” is frequently both mistimed and misplaced. There’s appropriate courtesy and there’s courtesy that’s redundant. As in so many cases, it all boils down to context: do the words form a request or an instruction?

It may well be appropriate to kick off a request with “please”—for example, “Please close the door after entering” or “Please don’t feed the birds” or “Please send expressions of interest to the Manager”; we’re not obliged to adhere to these requests, we’re merely being asked to do something (or not).

But there’s no need for said niceties if the sole purpose of the words is to provide instruction or information—“DO NOT USE LIFTS IF THERE IS A FIRE”, “Press red button to open doors”, “Enter your PIN to sign in”, and so on.

So “Please change at Town Hall for T4 Eastern Suburbs line trains” doesn’t work because the “please” alters the context, by turning an instruction into a request—as if Sydney Trains were asking us to change lines, whether we need to or not. Clearly, the words aren’t asking us to do that, they’re simply informing us that we can connect to the Eastern Suburbs line if we change trains at Town Hall station. It’s just a statement of fact, so there’s no “please” required.

Here’s another one I saw recently: “Please swipe security pass to proceed through barrier”. So, do I have a choice? Is there some other way I can proceed through the barrier without swiping my security pass? If the answer is no then, again, it isn’t a request, it’s an instruction. If I can’t get through the barrier any other way, if there’s no alternative to swiping my security pass, there’s no need for “please”; I either swipe my pass or I don’t proceed through the barrier.

Here’s another, from a recent call to my car insurer: “For car insurance, please press 1. For home, contents and landlord’s insurance, please press 2…” and so on. Do I have any choice in the course of action to be taken? Can I either press 1 or press anything other than 1 if I want to discuss car insurance? Or, is it the case that I must press 1 to discuss car insurance? If I have no alternative but to press 1, it can’t be interpreted as an open-ended option with multiple ‘next steps’ available; nor, unless some other generic option is provided (which, in this case, it wasn’t) can it be interpreted as something that I can either do or not do and still end up discussing car insurance with someone. This is simply an instruction so, again, no “please” is needed.

The most likely culprit here is an inability to distinguish between the concepts of instruction, information and request on the part of those charged with authoring, reviewing and/or approving such words. I’m telling someone how to do something, so I must say “please” or it will sound too harsh.

While the line might seem a fine one, it really isn’t; when providing relevant instruction for the benefit of the intended consumer, it’s actually pretty simple to avoid the message being interpreted as harsh: just word it properly.

Example: “Remove all jewellery, belts, shoes and mobile devices before passing through scanner or you will be punched in the face”. Undeniably harsh. Threats of physical violence tend to have that effect, regardless of context.

Refined: “Please remove all jewellery, belts, shoes and mobile devices before passing through scanner or you will be punched in the face”. It’s still harsh. “Please” does nothing to diminish the threat; nor does it negate the requirement to remove said items.

Further refined: “Please remove all jewellery, belts, shoes and mobile devices before passing through scanner”. Closer to OK, but still not quite right. The upshot here is that you have no alternative but to remove any of the named items from on or about your person, if you ever wish to move beyond the security screening point. It’s a mandatory requirement—saying “please” at the beginning makes about as much sense as a 1980s Mum or Dad shouting “PLEASE GO TO YOUR ROOM, YOU AWFUL LITTLE BRAT!” to their hideously behaved nine-year-old (who may or may not have been me).

Final refinement: “Remove all jewellery, belts, shoes and mobile devices before passing through scanner”. This one gets it right. It’s brief and to the point. It’s authoritative without sounding harsh, but neither does it give an impression of being unenforceable or that there’s any alternative—we’re being told, not asked.

So, please, next time you see or read (or even say) “please”, stop for a moment and consider if the words are asking or telling. Keep an eye out for them coz they really are everywhere.

Why not challenge yourself—please see how many redundant ‘please’ pleas you can find.

 

*arguably an odd thought, considering that society’s moved so far away from manners and politeness in so many areas where they should count, yet it’s also become painfully polite where it’s really not needed.