I know, I know. Posts about Spotify being stupid are ten a penny online. But dammit, I’m allowed one of them.
Let’s take a look, then, at Spotify’s “This Is The Shangri-Las”, described as “The essential tracks, all in one playlist.” When it comes to the Shangri-Las, this should not be a difficult thing to make, considering they were only active for such a short time; all their actual records were released between 1963 and 1967. Not even Spotify can screw this up, right?
Hmmmmmm. Even the most casual Shangri-Las fan will see a few things wrong there. Let’s take them one by one.
Monster Mash Re-Recording (150 Rock ‘N’ Roll Classics)
Oh, could it be true? Please say it’s true. Please tell me the Shangri-Las recorded a version of Bobby Pickett’s “Monster Mash”. That might possibly be the best thing which has ever existed in the entire world.
Well, no. Of course they bloody didn’t. To add insult to injury, this isn’t even the original recording. How this ever got labelled as a Shangri-Las track is a mystery.
Duchess of Earl (Boys Can Be Mean)
Absolutely nothing to do with the Shangs – this is the Pearlettes from 1962, with their cover of Gene Chandler’s “Duke of Earl”.
Oddly, Spotify has the song credited to the Pearlettes and the Shangs, so some metadata has got confused somewhere. Why Spotify felt the need to grab a song from a compilation CD when there’s plenty of Shangs-specific albums on the service is also a mystery. That just seems designed to lead to this kind of confusion.
He’s So Fine (Leader of the Pack)
This one is particularly strange. No, the song is nothing to do with the Shangs – this is The Chiffons from 1963. But things get strange when we check where the song has come from.
It’s another compilation album, called “Leader of the Pack” from 2011, which is most certainly not the original Shangri-Las album from 1965. It contains 14 songs which are actually by the Shangs… and this single one which isn’t. So a) bad luck Spotify, you played the odds and lost, and b) I find it difficult to believe that 2011 album is a legitimate release. It probably shouldn’t even be on Spotify at all.
Little Bell (Boys Can Be Mean)
From the same compilation album as “Duchess of Earl” comes “Little Bell”, which of course was not the Shangs, but their Red Bird labelmate The Dixie Cups.
Again, the metadata on this credits The Shangri-Las and The Dixie Cups, but at least I can see where the confusion comes from this time. This almost certainly stems from the 1986 compilation album The Dixie Cups Meet The Shangri-Las. (Needless to say, that album is just a bunch of hits from both groups, rather than anything more interesting.)
* * *
So, my question is: how are Spotify’s “This Is…” playlists put together? Are they curated by actual people, or is this just an algorithm going rogue because of incorrect metadata? For the answer, let’s take a look at Spotify’s guide to playlists; the relevant section for us is “Editorial – Made by us”:
“We handcraft thousands of editorial playlists. You can tell it’s one of ours by that little Spotify logo on the top left corner.
Our Editorial team is made up of genre, lifestyle, and culture specialists from around the globe. Their understanding of the right music for every moment is based on years of experience and careful consideration of listening habits.
We also personalize some of these playlists so they have different tracks for different listeners, because we know everyone’s taste is different. Therefore, a playlist with sing-along hits can have songs each listener would know the words to!”
So reading between the lines, the “This Is…” playlists are mainly a real person making them, and an algorithm doing some tweaks. Let’s hope the four tracks above weren’t added by Spotify’s Editorial team; you would think that a team of specialists would at least be able to figure out whether a track for a Shangri-Las playlist was actually by the Shangri-Las or not.
Of course mistakes happen. If it had just been one wrong track, I would have rolled my eyes and ignored it. But I would suggest that four incorrect entires – on a playlist of just 21 tracks – is taking the piss. A full 20% of the playlist is entirely wrong. And worst of all, “Sophisticated Boom Boom” isn’t even there. Come on. This is not the carefully curated playlist Spotify claims it is.
May I suggest: if you want a decent overview of the Shangri-Las, listen to the “Remember” compilation instead. And don’t miss “Dressed in Black”.
I have to admit, Dirty Feed and podcasts is a bit of a sore point. I did three episodes in 2012… and the fourth one has yet to materialise. Yes, a wait of seven years and counting is taking the fucking piss. All I can say is that it will return one day. I’ve spent far too much on jingles for it not to.
I have been involved in another podcast these last few years, mind. Over on Ganymede & Titan, the Red Dwarf fansite which is unaccountably still running and updated in 2019, we just published our 100th episode of DwarfCasts. The reason we managed to get to 100 episodes is because all I have to do is turn up and speak loudly and annoyingly about Red Dwarf, rather than actually do any of the hard work of getting the show prepped, recorded, edited, and published. So when I say I’m proud of that 100th episode, it’s nothing to do with me, and everything to do with Ian Symes, who put that beautiful little documentary together.1
Still, it got me thinking. Maybe 100 episodes of a podcast made over 13 years isn’t the most impressive thing in the world, even if that is 98 episodes more than most podcasts manage. But it strikes me that there’s something pleasant about devoting myself to the same thing for that length of time. Indeed, take a look at Ganymede & Titan as a whole – I’ve been writing for the site for 16 years and counting, and if you look back at the very first incarnation of the site, it’s been going for a full 20 years. And doing the same kind of thing for so long means that I’ve ended up writing and talking about areas that I never would have examined if I’d done what so many people did.
Because most sensible 90s Red Dwarf fans did the following: got a job, got a family, and stopped thinking that much about Red Dwarf. I managed the first two, but somehow never stopped doing the third. And sure, I’ve written about my frustration about that at times. I do have a bit of a love/hate relationship with the show these days.
But if I’d done what normal fans do, and drifted away from doing anything in fandom, I’d never have written some of my favourite pieces on the show. On the development of Holly in the early days of the show, on the very earliest stirrings of Rob and Doug playing with the nature of reality, or about how the glimmerings of one of Red Dwarf‘s most famous episodes can be seen in Hancock’s Half Hour, to name three of many.
All this is on my mind as we come up to this January, and the 10th anniversary of Dirty Feed. In one sense, anniversaries are an arbitrary waste of time. But as an excuse to take stock of where we are, and what’s to come, I find them useful. Over the last ten years, I’ve published stuff on here I love, and stuff which I now think is a bit crap. But the fact that I’ve been publishing stuff in the same place for a full ten years feels meaningful, somehow. As with the DwarfCasts, I haven’t been as prolific on here as I would have liked to have been; other bits of life got in the way. But over the years, it adds together into a really nice archive of fun stuff.
There’s an advantage to plugging away at the same thing for years, without getting bored and flitting to the next thing. You don’t have to give it endless chunks of your time each week. Nor do you have to worry about any kind of long-term plan, or where exactly it is you’re going. And after a few years, you may just look back in surprise.
Without even realising it, you’ve made something you’re proud of.
A fun thing happened a week or so back. Radio presenter Nathan Turvey1 posted the following absolutely delightful thing.
And don’t miss Kenny’s little message to Nathan at the end of the reel.
Understandably, this went down extremely well on Twitter. At the time of writing, that video has had nearly a million views, and a ridiculous number of replies. Which is fascinating for such an arcane subject. After all, radio jingles are not exactly the most popular thing to talk about on Twitter. Believe me, I know. I’ve tried to talk about them on there for years.
Which proves one thing: topics are esoteric and simply not talked about… until they suddenly are talked about. People just need a gateway into them. And I don’t mean that in a sneery way at all; quite the opposite. There are plenty of topics I never think about, until I suddenly do.
The reason that has happened here isn’t difficult to figure out. The story of a 13 year old writing to his radio hero and getting back some jingles made just for him is an irresistible one. As a jingle nerd I’ve heard audio of Kenny making jingles for other people before… but for professional DJs, never for a kid who just looked up to him. Combine that story with the presence of Kenny himself – where the word genius really does apply – and you have a story which is pretty much guaranteed to go viral. And quite right too. We all need as many glimpses of pleasure as we can get these days.
My point is simply that subjects can be seen as impossibly nerdy and esoteric, when they actually aren’t at all. To take a similar example: old Radio 1 jingles weren’t exactly a popular conversation on Twitter… until Radio 1 Vintage played some of them, and people remembered how great they were. Or moving away from jingles entirely: chatting about Doctor Who continuity errors was confined to a decreasing section of society… until a certain Russell T. Davies relaunched the show in 2005, and a brand new legion of fans got involved in the UNIT dating controversy.
To be absolutely clear: nobody is better because they talked about this stuff before other people. You can’t do everything at once. My first love is sitcoms, but I only got round to watching Are You Being Served? properly this year. A fair few people enjoyed my observations about the show, but I’m sure plenty of what I talked about had been discussed by people decades earlier. This is not about cultural gatekeeping.
It’s just a reminder not to worry about whether the things you love are important, or popular. Because those statuses can flip in an instant. And then flip back again. And certainly don’t let anybody sneer at you for your interests.
Just love the things you love, and the rest will take care of itself.
There are some things I will never understand.
Take, for instance, this Amazon review of Soupy Twists!, Jem Roberts’ excellent look at Fry & Laurie:
“As seems to be the norm now, about a third of the book is padded out with unused snippets of sketches (although I recognised some so that might be quite a loose definition).”
Or how about this SFX review of The Hidden Art of Disney’s Golden Age?
“Generally, though, this is an unspectacular volume. It’s full of doodles and drawings which reveal their artists’ technique and imagination without being very eye-catching; many are for toons that were never made. For example, several pages are devoted to the abandoned “Mickey’s Sea Monster”, with loads of design ideas for a Disney sea serpent (the best monsters are cute but also a bit scary). There are glimpses of an unmade Fantasia-like cartoon called Japanese Symphony, with parasol-wielding geishas and dancing butterflies.”
Or how about the review I distinctly remember of a Red Dwarf DVD, which called the deleted scenes “filler”? (Sadly, I can’t find that particular review, or the police might have to investigate a sudden nasty spate of poison pen letters.)
Regardless: I will never understand it. I will never understand somebody lifting up the lid on the creative process, to see a glimpse of what could have been… only to be greeted with calls that it’s padding, unspectacular, or filler. Of course, sometimes such work can be worthwhile in its own right; for what it’s worth, I was hooting with laughter at the unused Fry & Laurie stuff. “Split beaver pornography slipped through the net.”
But sometimes, it’s not about whether the work itself is entertaining. The path not taken is one of the biggest insights you can have into how something was made. If you ever thought the end of the Red Dwarf episode “Dimension Jump” was anti-climactic… just look at the deleted scenes, and see just how much worse it could have been, and how they arrived at the ending they did.
I know people engage with work in different ways. There are many who just don’t care about going behind-the-scenes at all. And that’s fine. But if you’re reading a book about Fry & Laurie rather than just watching the programmes again; if you’re reviewing a book specifically about Disney’s “Hidden Art” rather than just watching the cartoons; if you’ve wandered away from watching the episodes on a Red Dwarf release and into the extras menu… then I have to assume that you care about more than just watching the finished products themselves, and you want to go deeper.
So to shrug your shoulders at this stuff is frankly baffling. The chance to see brand new unseen work from people you love… or the chance to understand why you love them in the first place. Both approaches are valid for unseen material.
But indifference, or even boredom? That’s just weird.
Something very odd happens in Episode 54 of Are You Being Served?, you know. Something which has never happened before.
Mind you, Series 8 of the show had already seen its fair share of upheaval. We wave goodbye to Mr. Goldberg, see in Mr. Grossman… then four episodes in, wave goodbye to Mr. Grossman and say hello to Mr. Klein, turning the Men’s department into a full-on ridiculous revolving door situation. We also say goodbye to Mr. Lucas, who admittedly had been lessening in importance for years, but was our original audience identification figure in the show’s early days. In his place comes the enormous waste of time and space which is Mr. Spooner.1 Finally, Young Mr. Grace disappears – he briefly returns for the 1981 Christmas special, but that’s it – and hands over the reins to Old Mr. Grace, who somehow manages to be even more of a creepy fucker than his predecessor.
Elsewhere, there are signs that the show itself is getting restless. While Croft displayed a taste for expanding the scope of his other sitcoms – with perhaps a few rickety film sequences too many in Dad’s Army and the like – for the first seven series, Are You Being Served? stayed resolutely within the walls of the Grace Brothers department store.2 Most of the action takes place on the shop floor of the Ladies and Gentlemen’s departments, the canteen, or an office. Occasionally they might sneak into the boardroom, and the show took the odd trip to other departments – most memorably in Series 5’s “A Change Is as Good as a Rest”, where they all go and work in the Toy Department for a week. But we never, ever go outside the building. Grace Brothers is all we ever see.
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Netflix headquarters, 15th September 2031. Despite people’s doom-laden predictions, the company is doing very nicely, thank you. But it’s doing nicely because they’ve finally started making smart financial decisions.
Across the road is where all those smart financial decisions are made. Right next to programme development, in fact. We’re not in the cool section of the place, though. We’re in a nondescript office block. Overspill, where all the boring projects go. It’s surprising it hasn’t been knocked down, and all these people just work from home. In a couple of years, exactly this will happen.
Until then, boring meetings take place here. And today’s boring meeting is about what to do with the latest selection of legacy content, where the rights are running out. David Smith presides over a room of greyness.
“Morning everyone. Let’s get this over with, we all have other things to do. What’s coming up next month, Mary?”
All eyes turn to Mary. She speaks, though it’s clearly an effort to give a flying fuck. “OK. We have Survivor, but the new rules kick in with this season – we only had the rights for this season for a year anyway, due to the new right-to-be-forgotten ruling….”
David rolls his eyes. That one had been a fucker for every company making programmes involving the general public.
Mary continued. “The Price is Right we won’t bother with – that hologram of Bob Barker was a disaster. And then there’s this thing called Black Mirror.”
David frowns. “What? Should I recognise that?”
“I wouldn’t blame you if you didn’t. It was a show we commissioned years back. Science fiction, all very dated now, of course. The main problem is the music rights – they run out next month.”
“Worth bothering with? How many views do we get on that show now, anyway?”
Mary consults her iPad Lisa. She looks up. “It actually gets a fair few streams a month, but the cost of those rights… take a look.”
She hands him the iPad. David glances at it. “Hell, no.”
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I remember the very first time I ever became aware of KYTV.
It wasn’t through actually watching it, like a normal person. That would be too easy. No, it was reading a rather snotty reference to it in What Satellite magazine, where some idiot columnist made some outraged remark about the BBC making fun of their precious satellite television while forcing everyone to pay the licence fee. It was a remark which, if Geoffrey Perkins or Angus Deayton had read it, I suspect would have filled them with glee. Irritating various people who deserve to be irritated is entirely within the remit KYTV had set itself, after all.
In any case, it’s easy to accuse the columnist of over-sensitivity. “A parody of cheap satellite TV” might be part of what KYTV is doing, but it most certainly isn’t all of it. If that was true, then for a start, they wouldn’t have been able to reuse so much material from the show’s radio predecessor, Radio Active. No, the targets KYTV had in its sights were fairly scattershot. For every joke about dishy dish girls, there’s another about BBC2 theme nights. And for every joke satirising cheap and exploitative TV, there are jokes which aren’t much about TV at all. You could stick Martin Brown in any environment, and he’d be funny.1
Which brings us to Challenge Anna: the last episode of Series 1 of KYTV, the best episode of the show made up until that point, and up there with the best full stop. In the programme’s sights are Challenge Anneka – a BBC show – and Treasure Hunt – a Channel 4 show. Indeed, neither programme is the kind of thing which Sky or BSB could really afford to make in 1990. And while the feature “Spin the Wheel” could be viewed as what could happen to the formats if dirty old Sky got hold of them, jokes about companies helping out on the show in order to get their name mentioned are very much digs at the Beeb.
Sadly, KYTV has fallen down the cracks of comedy history somewhat – more, in fact, than Radio Active itself, which has had an ongoing successful stage revival, and this year is up in Edinburgh for the team’s 40th anniversary. So let’s redress the balance. With many thanks to Darrell Maclaine-Jones, I have in my possession the script for Challenge Anna. And contained within are all kinds of differences to the broadcast episode – with whole scenes included which didn’t make the final cut.
Let’s take a look, shall we?
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This year, I’ve been trying to do a bit more writing than usual over on Ganymede & Titan, the Red Dwarf fansite run by “over-entitled pricks who are upset that it isn’t actually 1992 anymore”. And one thing I’ve been doing this year is taking some Standard Red Dwarf Facts™, and digging a little deeper than usual with them.
Here’s three of those pieces in particular that I think turned out OK.
G&TV: Covington Cross
This is one of the most endlessly parroted facts among Dwarf fans: the outside village from Emohawk: Polymorph II was an abandoned set from US series Covington Cross. Which, indeed, is absolutely correct. But nobody has ever actually gone through both shows and pinpointed shots where exactly the same parts of the set are used. I have, and for some reason I am proud of this.
Take the Fifth
This is a bit of an odd one, in that this is a “fact” that we had pretty much convinced ourselves of over on G&T: that the penultimate episode of each series of Red Dwarf is where they usually hid the worst episode of the run. But does this end up being true? (I would do well to examine my own assumptions more often.)
You Stupid Ugly Goit
Probably the best thing I’ve written so far this year, on a very early piece of Red Dwarf lore. It’s generally known that at the start of the production of Series 1, Norman Lovett was originally out-of-vision, and the decision was made to make Holly a visual character after shooting had already started. But the details of exactly what was reshot to make this happen are very complicated. I think I drag up a few new things to consider here.
* * *
Meanwhile, back to Dirty Feed. And although I published some fun stuff last month, overall things have been a little quiet over here recently. I do have some silly ideas in the works, though, building up to the site’s 10th anniversary next year.
Stay tuned, as the kids definitely don’t say any more.
As someone who passed their GCSEs through being reasonably clever rather than working hard, found out the hard way that I couldn’t do that with my A-Levels, and then had an absolutely disastrous experience at university for exactly the same reason, it’s perhaps not a surprise to hear that I suffer from the standard exam-based anxiety dream.
You know the one. The one where you’re going into an exam you haven’t prepared for, and don’t know any of the answers. To be fair, this is less an anxiety dream, and more my brain reenacting exactly what I did when I was 18, over and over and over again. 20 years later, I’m still having it on a regular basis. Which, I guess, is my punishment for wasting an opportunity others would have loved to have.
Still, many people have those kind of dreams. I work as a TV channel director, and people in our line of work have a whole raft of standard anxiety dreams specific to our job. I’ve had every single one of the following dreams, and when I’ve told other people in the industry, most replied with: “Oh, so it’s not just me, then?”
In an attempt at some kind of therapy, here is the kind of nonsense our brains decide to inflict on us.
1) It’s ten minutes before the late news is on air. I decide to go to the toilet… and suddenly find myself on a train leaving work. I ring up the playout suite to apologise, and inform them of my situation. Nobody is pleased.
2) Everything is going fine, for once. Ah, right, the live programme’s ending. Time to find the button we press to manually take it off air and go to the next event… what? Where is it? It’s not where it usually is! Help!
Eventually, engineering show up. The button had been moved overnight, and was hidden under all my paperwork. I feebly protest my innocence.
3) For some reason, control of the most important channel in the UK has moved to my childhood home. Time for my shift. I go downstairs into my living room, and the last shift has already left, leaving the room in the dark. They’ve also turned off all the monitors I need in order to run the channel. I spend ages switching them back on, then realise we’re coming up to a live programme. Studio talkback is now controlled through my family PC speakers, and the channel is now controlled through my family PC. I wake up in a sweat, and ponder what Freud would have made of all this.
4) I forget to give the continuity announcer sound, which means their live announcement won’t go to air. When I finally remember, I can’t find the required button because I rapidly start losing my eyesight.
And perhaps the worst:
5) I dream the entire shift, everything goes smoothly… and then wake up and have to do the whole thing again for real. Thanks, brain.
On the plus side, I did once dream of Kathy Burke sitting in a darkened studio, complaining that her weather graphics had crashed. I’m sure you could get a sitcom episode out of that.
It’s 1999, or thereabouts. I’m sitting in a friend’s living room. We’re watching a recording of something from BBC Two. Probably TMWRNJ1 or the like. We’re both huge comedy fans.
Unfortunately, I make an error. Being a comedy fan is fine. But foolishly, I try to have a conversation about the nice BBC Two ident in front of the programme. I like that kind of thing, you see. I mean, at that point, I didn’t even know the phrase “TV presentation”, let alone “TV presentation fan”. This was long before I knew there were other people like me. I just knew it was something I was interested in.
I shortly wished this was not the case.
I can’t even remember the word used towards me. Sad? Boring? Whatever it was, it was negative, and I was an idiot. I mean, I was used to hearing this stuff right through school, but I thought I might escape from it when I went to college. Seemingly not. A swift stab in the heart, job done.
I feebly protest, but can’t get the words out. We get on with watching telly. I brood.
* * *
It’s 2015, or thereabouts. I’m sitting in a certain TV channel’s control room – now on the other side of the television. I’m busy tweaking that evening’s schedule, for imminent transmission over the next few hours. And that involves actually watching a condensed version of that evening’s material.
A ‘2’ in the guise of a toy car glides across the screen. Ah, I know what to do. To make this look good, the 2 figure needs to exit cleanly off the side of the screen before going into the programme. That happens at precisely 15 seconds in. But I’m doing a 10 frame visual mix into the programme, so that means this ident needs to run for 14″15f in order to look good. Hang on…
* * *
CHOOSE YOUR OWN ADVENTURE®! Choose from 2 possible endings:
1) Don’t let anybody ever tell you the silly shit you’re interested in doesn’t matter. You might find it immensely useful years down the line. People might even end up paying you money to be good at it.
2) Needless to say, I had the last laugh.