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Wednesday, 18 November 2015

What's it all about, Sandi?

The singer Sandi Thom’s much-discussed online ‘meltdown’ attested to just how upset she was that her latest single had not been play-listed by any of the big radio stations (i.e. the ones with lots of listeners). She was particularly aggrieved that Radio 2 had ignored it, because she considered it to be catchy and ‘perfect’ for their format. She exclaimed, tearfully, that: “It’s a fucking good song, OK? There is no reason why they need to do this to me!”
We must assume from this that it simply did not occur to her that the Radio 2 producers may not have liked her song, thus ensuring that “22 million people won’t get to hear it.”

You may recall that Ms Thom came to fame in 2006 on the back of what was essentially a clever social networking campaign, when reports suggested that 100,000 people were watching shows being streamed live from her ‘bedroom’. The internet is a wonderful thing, the story suggested, because it allowed unknown artists like Sandi to connect with huge numbers of fans and to be ‘discovered’ in a whole new way. Apart from the fact that the technical specifications required to handle such a massive number of live streams would have been beyond the simple ‘bedroom’ artist that she purported to be, Ms Thom was also already signed to a record company. The ‘100,000 live streams for an unknown independent artist’ story had, in the immortal words of Damon Runyon, more than a touch of the old phonus balonus about it, but whether we believed it or not, it certainly gave her career a splendid kick-start.

Since her big hit (You may remember it: 'I wish I was a punk rocker with flowers in my hair'), her sales have been on a relentless downward curve and, without wishing to be unkind, it is clear that her appeal has become rather more selective.

The online commentary on her confessional has been divided as to whether it represented:
a) A blubbering, pathetic illustration of an utterly bewildering sense of entitlement. She’s written a song … so what?

b) A depressingly public display of her fragile mental health. Watch it and you’ll see what I mean; it looks like there could be something more going on than ‘nobody likes my brilliant single’.  
c) A tawdry marketing ploy. How many folk were talking or writing about her single last week? How many folk are talking or writing about it now? After the meltdown and attendant furore, she was invited, among other things, to appear on the Chris Moyles Radio Show (now who could have predicted that?) 

You can judge for yourself as to what her rant really means. My feeling is that options a, b and c are all, to one extent or another, probably close to the truth.
I am, however, going to make a more charitable observation and suggest that Sandi has –intentionally or not- aired a refreshingly candid snapshot of the pathetic little beast that dwells within the heart of every creative person, the needy critter that raises its voice whenever a work of art is released into the world at large.  

It’s an abject, pitiable, whimpering thing that says:
“Look. I’ve made something. It took me a long time and I’ve put a lot into it. Like it, please. Please, please, please … like it.”

Scuttling around in the dark, neglected cellar of creativity, this wretched creature nurses a devastating and little-uttered truth:

So your sense of self-worth is based on how complete strangers react to your creative endeavours. How is that working out for you? 

Tuesday, 22 September 2015

Things I’ve learned recently on social media (part 2).

1. It is entirely unacceptable to question the character and judgement of a politician (let’s call him the leader of the opposition) by mentioning things from his past, for instance: meetings he had, platforms he shared, positions he took on big issues. To point out, for instance, that said politician had consorted with murderous anti-Semites is to play the game of the ‘right-wing’ gutter press and to indulge in an outdated, adversarial brand of politics. No matter that these events are a matter of public record; by mentioning them, you are pandering to a reactionary mentality, indulging in what is little more than sordid character assassination. The ‘new’ politics isn’t meant to be about that.

2. It is, however, entirely acceptable to share, delight in and draw conclusions from an unsubstantiated accusation made by one man about another (let’s call him the prime-minister). No evidence exists to back up this accusation (which was ‘gathered’ from an anonymous third party) and there is no record of the politician concerned ever having been a member of the so-called ‘secret’ society with the allegedly bizarre initiation ceremony. In sharing this ‘news’, one can also freely infer that it constitutes irrefutable proof that the country is run by a sinister cabal of shape-shifting lizards who all went to the same public schools and all joined the same secret societies. No matter that several members of the ‘secret’ society concerned have come forward to state that nothing of the sort has ever been part of their initiation ceremony. But of course they would say that, because they’re all part of the sinister cabal of shape-shifting lizards who went to the same public schools and all joined the same secret societies.

I’m quite comfortable with politicians being criticised for stuff that we know they’ve actually done, whether that stuff is at the level of drunken student pranks or at the level of consorting with the odd terrorist; it’s all fair game as far as I’m concerned. I am, however, rather less comfortable with the notion that it’s fine to damn someone with an allegation quoted second hand from a single anonymous source just because you don’t like that person or his politics.

I’m beginning to see that, in order to really blend in with the social network commentariat, I’ll need to adapt my perspective, because a single set of standards isn’t going to be enough.

Saturday, 5 September 2015

Making an album, part 7: How not to write a song for Shania Twain

A few years ago, I was asked to provide some material for an up-and-coming young female country singer. A friend in the business who was familiar with my writing style (I was going to use the phrase ‘writing prowess’ there, but that would have been a bit of an exaggeration) thought that I might have some songs which -given the right treatment- could have worked for this particular vocalist. My name was passed to the singer’s manager, who also happened to be her mother. After a perfunctory phone call (“I’ve been told you write songs. We’re looking for songs”), an appointment was made for us to meet. I packed my guitar and notebook and drove out to a big house in the country, about a mile and half from the middle of nowhere.

Upon my arrival, it was made clear that the singer’s mum /manager (let’s call her The Mumager) was the director of operations. I was led into a room that could have passed for a middle-sized function suite (complete with its own stage) and it was explained that I would be auditioning my songs to her before she decided if the enterprise was to proceed beyond first base. I’m being polite here when I say that she was not the kind of person who liked to waste time with idle chit-chat. Inasmuch as I had expected anything, I thought that I would at least have met the singer before introducing her to the songs which, in my head at least, had ‘surprise country smash’ written all over them, but the daughter was -as yet- nowhere to be seen. The Mumager, with a small hand gesture, invited me to take the stage and perform. She positioned herself on a chair a few feet from the raised platform and, from that distance, looked like the smallest and possibly the toughest audience I would ever have to play to. There was no point in trying to crack a joke to ease the tension, because the meagre conversational scraps of our opening exchanges had made it obvious that my sense of humour and hers had about as much in common as scrap metal and scrambled eggs.

Mindful of that ever-useful mnemonic beloved of all performers (TNT MAFFOY – ‘Try Not To Make a Fucking Fool of Yourself’), I had come prepared with a number of possible contenders for the surprise country hit of the year. I assumed that The Mumager’s idea of country music would have been based on songs she had heard played by proper country musicians. As I’ve stated in some previous articles, I’m not a particularly gifted musician, let alone a gifted country musician. My playing style, such as it is, could best be described as ‘tipsy welterweight’; I don’t really do finesse and, rather than tease a melody out of a guitar or piano, I’m more naturally equipped to bludgeon the instrument with some ham-fisted chords. Accordingly, I figured that each song would require an eloquent preamble; rather than let The Mumager judge my songs on what she was about to hear, I needed her to judge them on what I imagined they could be, given a bit of investment and finesse. Before essaying the first strum on each song, I tried to explain how a recorded version might sound, given the proper backing. Imagine, if you will, Woody Allen trying to talk his way out of being whacked by one of Tony Soprano’s henchmen; that is more or less how my song pitches were delivered.   
“This one could turn out to be a bit like Shania Twain, if we arrange it properly” I heard myself saying. Somewhere in the background, a clock ticked. Slowly.

There was little to glean from The Mumager’s inscrutable expression, although as the audition went on, I began to suspect that my preambles were going down about as well an attempt to get her to buy into a time-share in a beaten-up caravan in Arbroath. I introduced another song. “This one would sound a bit country if we added some pedal steel” I said, probably sounding a bit feeble. Or, now that I think about it, actually sounding feeble. In my experience, one of the biggest mistakes a songwriter can make is to let people hear something that isn’t finished; where the songwriter can hear the glorious possibilities of embellishment, imaginings of beautiful harmonies, echoes of eloquent guitars, the layperson just hears whatever is placed in front of them.      

As I ran through my various would-be country classics, The Mumager said nothing, although she did nod her head occasionally. I didn’t know if that was a good thing or a bad thing, but, given her almost complete lack of chat, facial expression or interpretable body language, I chose to take any occasional nod as a positive sign; perhaps, inside, she was all cartwheels, laughter and pure country joy. Five songs (and five rather laboured explanations) later, the audition was over. The Mumager said “We’ll do number three”. And that was it; the first part of our business had been conducted, leaving me glad that the pool of sweat on the stage beneath me had not been deposited in vain.        

The daughter was called through from the west wing and we were finally introduced. I played the song for her and –thankfully- she seemed to like it. We ran through it a few times until we found the right key for her and, before I left, I gave her a handwritten copy of the lyric to practise with. A few weeks later, we were in the studio recording a decent version of the song but, sadly, it didn’t turn out to be a surprise country hit; this, I realise, has been a recurring theme in my musical career.   

Of the five songs I pitched that night, one had seemed to me like a stand-out candidate (and it wasn’t number three). I had the feeling at the time that they would (and should) have picked song number four: ‘Read my Lips’. 

Like the vast majority of songs that I write, this had started with some chords on a guitar or piano, before I improvised a vocal melody over the top. Only after that initial ‘brainstorming’ phase would I have considered a subject matter, a title and some words to suit the mood that had been set by the basic components I had already put in place. As I played around with the chord sequence and melody, I had not only pictured someone like Shania Twain singing it, I also had the distinct feeling that it would somehow have suited a lyric with a universal theme. With, however, no pressing need to finish it, the song was filed away in my burgeoning ‘one-day-I-might-do-something-with-this’ file. Once I had accepted the assignment to try and write a hit for someone, it seemed like an obvious choice. I drafted, tweaked and re-drafted the lyric several times until it felt just right. I imagined a tight rocking band delivering the backing with some real torch and twang, while Shania belted out an empowering lyric along the lines of my-man-gone-done-me-wrong-so-he-can-sling-his-hook-and-I’ll-be-just-fine.
I thought that the tune was catchy and that the universal theme gave it some extra hit potential, but with my modest track record I don’t suppose many folk would see the percentage in betting on that. The Mumager was unmoved by the song (and my sales pitch), so ‘Read my Lips’ was consigned to the ‘pending’ file.  

Writing a pop lyric presents a different kind of challenge and is, in some ways, harder than writing something just to please yourself (which is what I usually do). It’s quite easy to write lyrics, but it’s rather more difficult to write good lyrics and, in my experience, even harder to write good lyrics for someone else.

A few years ago, I was in a band in which I had to write for another young female vocalist. She had a lovely voice, she looked the part and she had some pretty good ideas of her own, but her lyric-writing pace could best be described as ‘sluggish’ and I often had to push matters along in order to get new material into our set. A man in his forties composing for a woman in her twenties was not necessarily a recipe for insightful writing and, in my desire to increase the band’s productivity, I tended to steer very firmly to the lyrical middle of the road, drafting lines that were, for want of a better term, generic. 

I’m not saying that there’s anything wrong with generic lyrics, but –sooner or later- you’ll find that you’ve been through the desert on a horse with no name and it’ll feel good to be out of the rain; or, as is more likely, nobody will have a clue what you’re talking about. I know that for some writers, this is actually something like a state of bliss. It is often the case (for a variety of reasons) that songwriters don’t particularly wish to be understood and plenty of folk have sustained entire careers on being vague and evasive in their songs.

Perhaps one of the reasons that Coldplay –to take but one example- have sold so many albums is that, in addition to the fact that their music is relatively easy on the ear, their words are usually just vague enough to have a broad appeal.

Take the lyrics to ‘Yellow’:

Look at the stars,
Look how they shine for you,
And everything you do,
Yeah, they were all yellow.

I came along,
I wrote a song for you,
And all the things you do,
And it was called "Yellow".

So then I took my turn,
Oh what a thing to have done,
And it was all yellow.

Your skin Oh yeah your skin and bones,
Turn into something beautiful,
You know, You know I love you so,
You know I love you so.

What does that even mean? I’d suggest that the answer is ‘nothing’; or maybe it’s everything. These lyrics are so vague that any notion of meaning is conferred entirely by the listener. ‘Yellow’ can mean whatever you want it to mean, which in pop music terms, probably makes it a good (that is, commercially appealing) lyric.

Take, by way of contrast, Joni Mitchell’s ‘Song for Sharon’. Here’s the opening few lines:

I went to Staten Island, Sharon.
To buy myself a mandolin
And I saw the long white dress of love
On a storefront mannequin
Big boat chuggin' back with a belly full of cars...
All for something lacy
Some girl's going to see that dress
And crave that day like crazy
On a storefront mannequin     

In addition to delineating a very personal and perceptive observation, these lines prepare the listener for the complex subject matter of the song. In exploring the idea of the path not taken, ‘Song for Sharon’ compares Joni Mitchell’s life -that of a successful musician- with that of a friend who has “a husband, a family and a farm”.
Mitchell acknowledges the powerful attraction of that “long white dress of love” (and all that it implies) then reflects on the lifestyle choices she has made in pursuing her muse. The lyric explores the tension between, on the one hand, her need to create art and, on the other, the desire for love, constancy and security.  

In the final lines, she sings:

But you still have your music
And I've still got my eyes on the land and the sky
You sing for your friends and your family
I'll walk green pastures by and by

This is open to interpretation, but not in the same way that ‘Yellow’ is open to interpretation. Where ‘Yellow’ trusts the imagination of the listener to sprinkle some fairy dust over its prosaic phrasing, ‘Song for Sharon’ probes the complexity of big life choices. In laying out the consequences, regrets and rewards of opting for the life of a musical free spirit and rejecting the role of wife and mother, Mitchell sketches her ambivalence so skilfully that, by the end the song, we’re not really sure which woman has got the best deal.

There is no right way or wrong way to compose a lyric, but ‘Song for Sharon’ is clearly the work of a poet, while ‘Yellow’ could easily have been written by someone employed to churn out greeting cards for Walmart. I’d love to sit at Joni’s end of the song-writing table, but it’s a very long table and the reality is that I’m way down at the other end, using the wrong cutlery, knocking over the condiments and trying not to slurp my soup. But at least the songs on my album will make a series of statements that I’ll be reasonably happy to make. And, although ‘Read my Lips’ may have been written with the specific aim of having a hit by putting words into someone else’s mouth, it’s still something that I’m proud of. If I hadn’t had to audition this song, I might never have gotten around to finishing it. The discipline of pulling it all together, the imagining of Shania Twain performing it, improved me as a writer.

The Mumager might not have cared much for my material, but her daughter is now doing very well for herself on the Irish country circuit; by the sounds of it, she wanted something closer to old-school country than I could provide. My recorded version of the song is very close to what I had in mind when I wrote it. The band (Les, Fraser and Peter) absolutely nailed the arrangement, with Peter’s country-tinged guitar, in particular, bang on the money for the mood I wanted to create. 

On the subject of the album, work is now moving into the closing stages. I’ve recorded around 50 pieces of music and they currently sit in three distinct piles, each of which will hopefully see the light of day pretty soon.

More will be revealed shortly, but -just to be on the safe side- I have left instructions in my will that, in the event of my sudden death, the entire body of work should be performed at Hampden Park with a 60-piece orchestra, a male voice choir and Shania Twain on lead vocals. 

And, if we can swing it with her management, I’d like her to be dressed as Catwoman. 

Friday, 4 September 2015

Things I’ve learned recently on social media (part 1)

1. If a TV producer makes a programme about people on benefits, then s/he is exploiting both the folk in the programme and our tawdry desire to look down upon those who are worse off than us.  It is a shameful thing and there is a name for it: ‘poverty porn’.

2. If a ‘pro-life’ organisation uses images of aborted foetuses in its literature, it is using scare tactics to make its point and is disgracefully trying to traumatise children, young women and indeed any woman who has gone through the abortion process. It is coercive, exploitative and shameful to use these images in campaign literature.  

3. It is perfectly acceptable to use the image of someone’s dead child washed up on a beach to make a point about your response to a humanitarian tragedy.

I think it’s going to take me a while to get the hang of these rules.

Saturday, 15 August 2015

Vanity Project

Napoleon Bonaparte once said that you should never interrupt your enemy when he's making a mistake. I’d imagine that the Conservatives must be enjoying not interrupting the spectacle of the Labour leadership contest, in which Jeremy Corbyn’s campaign -having started out as a bit of a joke- has gathered enough momentum to make the prospect of victory quite realistic.

I happen to believe that Mr. Corbyn is wrong about most things, but I respect principled politics and principled politicians; our national discourse is all the richer when ideas (from the left or the right) are presented honestly to the electorate. Elections though, are usually decided by a huge number of floating voters and, as a consequence, pragmatism invariably trumps principle. The evidence of the last few decades indicates that the Labour Party doesn't do pragmatism very well, because it hasn't been very good at spotting -and picking- ‘winning’ leaders. Of its last seven choices, only one managed to win an election and his name (Lord Voldemort) is never mentioned now in polite company. 

With that in mind, the impulse to elect Mr. Corbyn looks -from the outside- like some kind of death wish, oddly reminiscent of when the Conservatives put Ian Duncan-Smith at the helm in 2001. IDS might have appealed to a large proportion of their grass roots supporters, but he had absolutely no chance of becoming Prime-Minister. Anyone who wasn’t a ‘grass roots’ Tory back then could see that, just as anyone who is not a grass roots ‘principled’ leftist now can see that the electorate will never hand Jeremy Corbyn the keys to 10 Downing Street. The Conservatives at least recognised their mistake quite quickly and, within two years of his coronation, Duncan-Smith was forced out. His successor, Michael Howard, knew that his job was not to win the 2005 election, but to stop the rot and lay the groundwork so that the leader who followed him could have a decent stab at victory in 2010.

The Corbynistas are perfectly entitled to follow their principles and 'go left', but they won’t get a Labour government; in fact, they’ll be lucky to have a Labour Party at all (although I suspect that some kind of schism is what some of them really want). If their candidate wins, they can -to paraphrase David Steel’s oft-quoted remark- go back to their constituencies and prepare for a decade of oblivion. The 2020 election can be written off and, perhaps, 2025 as well. The task faced by whoever succeeds Corbyn will be so huge that s/he might –like Michael Howard- be able only to lay the groundwork for his or her successor to win in 2030, by which point the electorate will presumably be fed up of 20 years of uninterrupted Conservative rule. It hardly needs pointing out here that a Corbyn victory would delight the SNP, because they’ll be looking to exploit what they would see as the rich opportunities afforded by continued Conservative hegemony.    

I can understand why folk born from the mid-seventies onwards might have a romantic view of the Corbyn candidature, because they may not know much about Labour’s last significant lurch to the left, when a ridiculously ‘principled’ manifesto led to humiliation at the polls in 1983. Older Labour supporters though, don’t have that excuse. If you’re old enough to remember 1983 and you’re still backing Corbyn, you can’t seriously claim to have Labour’s interests at heart, at least not the ‘broad church’ Labour Party that was once serious about winning elections. Anyone who thinks that it lost in 2015 because it wasn't far enough to the left is seriously deluded. The fact is that Labour loses UK elections when it goes left and, if you’re looking for evidence to back up that statement, I’ll simply refer you to every general election result of the last 50 years.

The British political system works best when there is a strong opposition to hold the ruling party to account. Without that, all governments become complacent and corrupt (or perhaps that should read: even more complacent and corrupt). The incumbents have to believe that there is a genuine prospect of them being evicted by the electorate at the next time of asking; in that sense, a Corbyn-led Labour Party won’t provide any sort of meaningful opposition.

As it pauses at this existential fork in the road, Labour should consider that it owes something to the country, not least to the 9.5 million people who voted for them and the millions of floating voters who could, in the right circumstances, be persuaded to elect a centre-left government. Instead of indulging in a vanity project, the party should reflect on the fact that it owes it to those voters to act like an effective opposition.

If it puts Mr. Corbyn at the helm, we might, over the next few years, get some interesting debates and some wacky ideas about wealth appropriation, but we won’t get the most important thing of all: a sense that here lies a government in waiting.

Saturday, 1 August 2015

You're allowed to change your mind

If you're one of those folk who have been critical of the anti-democratic drift of the EU over the last 20 years or so, you’ll have been surprised /delighted /relieved (delete as appropriate) to find that some of the most quoted members of the chatterati are beginning to suggest that continued membership might not necessarily be in Britain’s best interests. Up until fairly recently, voicing that opinion in polite company (or, in the case of social media, impolite company) would have you labelled as a ‘xenophobic, immigrant-bashing little Englander’. So embedded is this tiresome cliché in the dusty attic of the bien pensant worldview that Alex Salmond recently felt emboldened enough to state that a possible ‘Brexit’ vote in the 2017 Euro referendum was one of the reasons that made another plebiscite on Scottish independence ‘inevitable’. In playing to his gallery, the former first minister would have been more honest to state that another referendum was inevitable ‘because of reasons’, because that is all that his followers require. He could have named a plague of frogs as a ‘reason’, or Jeremy Paxman’s beard or perhaps Zane Malik leaving One Direction; he doesn’t need an actual reason, because we all know what his party is after and what they’ll be doing over the next few years to further their aims.

In assuming, however, that his voters believe the EU to be an unequivocal force for good, he may just have miscalculated. True, there are still plenty of folk prepared to trot out the line that has been gospel since sometime in the mid-eighties. A few weeks ago, I was speaking with an acquaintance on the topic of the Euro referendum; this individual was very pro-EU and couldn’t understand why anyone could get worked up about what she described as "essentially just a trading block". This struck me as something more than just ignorance, more than just a stock phrase trotted out by someone who hasn’t been paying much attention to the news; it belonged somewhere in the realms of cognitive dissonance.
Yes, the EU was initially sold to the British electorate as a trading block (some readers may be old enough to remember when it was actually called the Common Market), but it has clearly metamorphosed into something that is bigger, more powerful and -as more and more folk are realising- quite unwilling to be swayed from its agenda by anything as tiresomely inconvenient as ‘democracy’.
And this is the point that can’t be made often enough to those who would trot out that party line about xenophobic, immigrant-bashing little Englanders: The EU is not Europe. The EU is a concerted attempt to run Europe from a central source. You can be in favour of increased co-operation, trade, labour movement and so on without being in favour of central planning and big, unaccountable government.

There will be plenty of opportunities over the next couple of years to discuss the merits (because there are some) and demerits (because there are some) of our EU membership but, with the interventions of people like George Monbiot, Caitlin Moran and Owen Jones, there are signs that the intellectual sands are shifting.

In a recent column in The Guardian, Jones said:

"Let’s just be honest about our fears. We fear that we will inadvertently line up with the xenophobes and the immigrant-bashing nationalists, and a ‘no’ result will be seen as their vindication, unleashing a carnival of Ukippery. Hostility to the EU is seen as the preserve of the hard right, and not the sort of thing progressives should entertain. And that is why – if indeed much of the left decides on Lexit – it must run its own separate campaign and try and win ownership of the issue.”

This is going to be difficult for some folk on the left to handle. So distasteful is the notion that they might be sharing some common ground with those xenophobic, immigrant-bashing little Englanders, that the 'progressive' possibility of leaving the EU has had to be given its own cute little name: Lexit. Did you see what they did there?

To get back to the point: how should you react to these developments if you’ve been one of the folk who have been critical of the anti-democratic drift of the EU over the last 20 years or so?

The so-called intelligentsia is always a few years behind the beat, so should you sit back and feel a bit smug about the fact that they are just beginning to understand something that you’ve known for a very long time? Should you rejoice in the possibility that there might now be a chance of a reasoned debate on the topic of EU membership without some nitwit comedian, singer or actor labelling you as a xenophobic, immigrant-bashing little Englander?

Or should you take the optimistic view that, if the likes of George Monbiot, Caitlin Moran and Owen Jones realise that they have been wrong about the EU that they might just consider the possibility that they could also be wrong about some other big issues?

I’ll stop right there.

I don’t want this blog to get too ridiculous.

Tuesday, 23 June 2015

File under 'stuff'

A few weeks ago, I got involved in a conversation with some friends about what to do with our old vinyl and CD collections, the assumption being that -in the digital age- nobody really wanted to keep hard copies of anything anymore. I begged to differ, because I’m one of those sad folk who does want to keep hard copies. I like having products to hold, look at, read, smell and –most of all- file.  
It is a truth universally acknowledged that a man in possession of a sizable music collection will have to devise an efficient filing system. CDs, for instance, should always be displayed in alphabetical order, preferably in the room in which you do your listening. Unfortunately, I don't have that luxury for my own collection, which resides in the living room, wherein other members my family are to be found, usually watching something they call 'the television'.  Due to some legal mumbo-jumbo that I don’t understand, I am not allowed into this room without giving written notice, but at least I know that when I fancy listening to an old CD, my meticulously-curated display will allow me to find it within a couple of minutes.

An alphabetical system should be easy for the layperson to understand. Under a properly administered system, The Eisenhowers, for example, would sit comfortably between The Eiderdown Blankets and Ejector Seat Button. It almost goes without saying that, when filing any act beginning with the definite article, the ‘The’ should be ignored, unless the act in question is The The, in which case, you must simply ignore the first ‘The’ in favour of the second, or –if you wish- ignore the second in favour of the first.
But even something this simple can throw up the odd challenge. The demands of maintaining accurate filing will often wake me up in the middle of the night, as I fret over where to place acts like Boards of Canada (under B or C?), Captain Beefheart (C or B?) or Admiral Fallow. Is that bearded bloke who sings for them an actual Admiral whose name happens to be Fallow? If it is, file under F. 

Grappling with the problem of whether I should file 'A band called Quinn' under A or Q is bad enough, but even more problematic is the question of where to place the 2003 album by the splendid hip-hop jazz collective The RH factor. The ‘RH’ in that moniker stands for ‘Roy Hargrove’, so should it be filed under ‘R’ because it’s the first identifier after the redundant definite article, or under ‘H’ for Hargrove?  That coy nomenclature creates a headache for the dedicated filer; if the project had simply been called The Roy Hargrove Factor, I would have avoided a whole lot of sleepless nights and at least one bitter online fall-out and resultant caution from the police.     
Compilation albums should be filed at the end of your collection, after The Zutons or ZZ Top. ‘Greatest Hits’ albums should be filed with the artists, even if the collection has a name which would –under normal conditions- place it somewhere else in your library. There is, among the CD filing community, a militant faction which believes that all compilation CDs (including, ridiculously, ‘Greatest Hits’ collections) should be filed together, under ‘C’ for compilations. This is nonsense of course, unless you are some kind of anarchist. No serious person would argue that ‘Kate Bush - The Whole Story’ could legitimately be filed under ‘C’, or indeed, ‘W’. 

As an aside, I also have a section in my CD collection for stuff that I've recently bought, but which hasn't yet been properly filed because I'm still listening to it. Stop sniggering at the back.  

You may scoff, but scientists have proven in various studies that folk who don’t have their music and books in alphabetical order are more likely to become terrorists, drug dealers or used car salesmen. Not having a filing system is bad enough, but Dante’s ninth circle of hell is reserved for folk who take CDs out to play them and then put them back in the wrong case. That sort of thing really is not a million miles removed from how Hitler and the Nazis got started in 1920s Germany.  

And what about vinyl, I hear no-one ask?

My extensive (and impressively tragic) collection now resides at two upstairs locations. Singles are stored in a cupboard in the master bedroom (I don’t think my wife has even noticed this), while albums are kept in what -if about a ton and a half of domestic flotsam and jetsam were removed- I could more or less legitimately describe as my ‘music’ room, which contains -among other things- a USB turntable and a USB tape deck.  This reminds me that I have a big box full of tapes that I have yet to convert to MP3. I’m wondering if it is going to be worth the bother. The Chickasaw Mudd Puppies, anyone? Or Babylon Zoo? Or how about two albums from the one artist (Todd Rundgren) on the same tape? Was that a thing back then? Now that I think about it, some of this stuff might actually be worth some money; my guess would be somewhere around 43 Vietnamese Dong.     

If you have ever thought about buying either a USB turntable or a USB tape player to 'convert' your old stuff to MP3, let me tell you what is likely to happen. All of your old vinyl and tapes can essentially be put into two categories:

Category 1: Wow! I'd forgotten how good this was! I think I'll buy it again on CD. 

Category 2: This isn't very good. That's probably why I don't listen to it anymore.
All of my CDs have also been ripped to MP3 and stored on an external hard drive. For this, I use a simple system to avoid unnecessary clutter in the folders allocated to each letter of the alphabet. 'Major' artists (four albums or more) get a sub-folder within the alphabetical folder for all of their albums. For example, the 'B' folder will have a 'David Bowie' sub-folder containing all of his work. ‘Minor’ artists (three albums or fewer) just get filed under the appropriate letter. 

Given my meticulously-filed collection of stuff, you may well ask why I have felt the need to back-up my collection to a hard-drive. I have taken this precaution, dear reader, in case there is some kind of apocalypse and I am the only survivor able to provide an extensive selection of middle-aged white guy pop tunes for the survivors. In the event of societal meltdown and an anarchic descent into violent chaos, it will be 'survival of the fittest' and only those of us with truly essential skills will endure. I’m sure you’ll agree that I’ve carved out my own particular niche in the post-apocalyptic landscape.  

I hope this brief guide might prove useful to anyone who is thinking of how best to arrange their collection. I have very particular views on filing, but I appreciate that there are alternative opinions and lifestyles out there. Without wishing to appear judgemental, all I would say is that folk who don’t properly catalogue their stuff are probably the kind of sick weirdos who believe in astrology, feng shui and other new-age mysticism. 

Such folk may, on the surface, appear to be harmless enough, but just don’t expect them to understand that the spirit of rock and roll resides in the ability to administer a system of classification that unambiguously locates a particular artefact in a position relative to other artefacts in a collection on the basis of its subject and /or name.