What with all the furore surrounding the fiftieth anniversary of Doctor Who back in November 2013 you might have thought that the programme had celebrated enough anniversaries for now. After all - fifty one and a bit years on from the first episode? Nothing that special.

But today, 25 January 2015, sees the fortieth anniversary of the beginning of what is probably my favourite run of sixteen episodes (four stories in the old money) from the show. There are of course stories and episodes that I like more than that, but this particular period - from 25 January to 10 May 1975 - was the most consistently enjoyable time for me watching.

There is a danger that in writing this I will go over old ground but checking back on the Dimensionally Transcendental Confession blogs covering the relevant period it appears that I restrained myself from going into too much detail. It was almost as if I knew I was going to write this blog five years hence.

My enjoyment of these particular four months of Who probably had a lot to do with my age but also because, in those pre-video days, it was the first time that I was able to experience the shows more than once. My dad had started work at the Radiophonic Workshop by this point which meant that I got to see discarded scripts.

25 January wasn't the beginning of Season 12. The show had actually started at the tail end of 1974 with Tom Baker's debut as the Fourth Doctor in Robot. This too was one I'd seen the script of (and even seen some of in advance of transmission) but I hadn't been too impressed for reasons which I went into in more detail elsewhere.

But episode one of Ark in Space changed all that.

For a start there was something about having a TARDIS team of three that felt like a breath of fresh air. In retrospect Harry Sullivan was far from a bumbling imbecile and actually quite shrewd and clever. What with him, the ever smart Sarah-Jane Smith and the newly rejuvenated Doctor here was a team to strike terror into the hearts of any monster trying to take over the universe for no very good reason.

But the monsters in the Ark in Space weren't just trying to take over the universe. It was far more sinister than that. The far future setting was claustrophobic and nightmarish, especially before any of the Ark crew were awakened from suspended animation. Sarah-Jane getting caught in the hibernation mechanism was another brilliant touch, the sense of mindless mechanisms going through the motions in the absence of humanity added another dimension to the disturbing atmosphere.  And that was even before we got on to the body horror of the Wirrn's modus operandi and the grisly fate of Dune the Chief Technician.

Yes they used bubble wrap, sprayed green to represent Noah's infection, but that didn't stop me being terrified when we first see his bubble-wrapped hand, the sense of horror portrayed by the actor convincing enough to make the young me really start to imagine what it might be like to undergo such a gruesome metamorphosis.

The story and concepts were so strong that they overcame the limitations of the budget.

But one thing that really stood out for me was the end of the story. Unlike in almost every story that I'd seen before the Doctor and co didn't just slip away quietly in the TARDIS. They stayed to help, teleporting down to the abandoned Earth to give the receiving station a once over before the sleepers from the Ark came down to start repopulating it.

For me this was a huge development. Not only was the Doctor crew staying in the same (non 20th century Earth) place and time for more than one story - he'd left the TARDIS behind too. Two consecutive stories set in the same world.

The previous year had seen the debut of the Sontarans in The Time Warrior. However at the time I hadn't remembered the name of the race, just the name of the eponymous Time Warrior (Lynx) so the title of the next story The Sontaran Experiment offered me no spoilers whatsoever which meant that I shared Sarah-Jane's shock at the end of the first episode when the villain made his appearance.

A lot has been said in recent years about how the character of Strax in the latest incarnation of Doctor Who has taken the threat away from the Sontarans making them a bit of a joke. I'm not so sure. Watching Styre's first scenes now it's easy to imagine them in Dan Starkey's voice (although Styre does appear to have less trouble telling the difference between human genders).

"Female number one. First assessment. Would appear to have no military justification. Offensive value therefore nil."

The Sontarans were always ridiculous. Styre is a dangerous sadist but is also petty and small minded.

The bleakness of post solar flare London was another thing that impressed me about the story at the time. The Sontaran Experiment was shot entirely on location which gave it a very different feel from anything that had gone before.

And once again the end of the story continued with the unusual travel without the TARDIS theme as the three of them beamed back up to the Ark. From the Radio Times I knew that the next story had Daleks in it which seemed a bit much for the newly awoken human race to cope with...

Of course it turned out I was wrong about that. Far from returning to the Ark and the TARDIS the Doctor and co were dragged half way across space and time without so much as a by your leave by the Time Lords, one of whom informs the Doctor in one word that they require help with a very particular problem.


The Daleks had appeared in the series every year since the beginning of 1972 but what was on offer here was something very different.  And even though we only had a black and white TV at the time there was something dark gunmetal green about Genesis of the Daleks, a grim impression that has stuck with me ever since (and which I was pleased to see reflected in the design of the DVD cover).

The premise - the origin of the Daleks - was one that interested me a lot more than the previous few Dalek tales and the first proper glimpse we got of Davros at the beginning of episode two excited me because I mistakenly thought his wheelchair was part of a Dalek under construction.

However there was a lot that actually was in the story to enjoy too. This was one occasion on which the getting captured, escaping and recaptured plus to-ing and fro-ing between the same locations seemed to work. A lot has been made of the Kaleds as Nazi analogues but watching the series again you get the distinct impression that the sadistic slave-labour using Thals were no better. Pre-Dalek Skaro was an arena of bastards the like of which probably wouldn't be seen again until The Caves of Androzani nearly 10 years later.

The Kaled scientists were very well drawn though. Davros's sinister sidekick Nyder sticks in the memory decades later. He had such great lines - his dismissal of the Doctor and Harry's concern with "your views are not important" is almost as chilling as his line upon uncovering Gharman's treachery, "Thank you. That's what I wanted to know."

Thanks to the LP version of this story it is still one with which I am very familiar. But obsessive child that I was the narration at the beginning of the LP bugged me.

"I stepped from the TARDIS..."

No you bloody well didn't. You were in the middle of beaming up to the Space Ark from the devastated surface of future Earth.

But on the whole the LP version represented a tighter version of the story containing all the key scenes, all of which have become iconic and quotable. Genesis of the Daleks - all the hits! Includes You Will Tell Me, Have I The Right?, She Is A Norm, But Would You Do It?, And I Sent Sarah and Harry in There, Have Pity, No Tea Harry and many, many more.

Of course Genesis of the Daleks has its flaws. The giant clams for one. The fact that the two races that have been fighting each other for a millennium live in domed cities within walking distance of each other. But all in all the story deserves its reputation as one of the best ever stories - and like the equally well regarded Caves of Androzani the ending is bleak and the Doctor's presence hasn't really done much other than make things marginally worse.

Plus of course he starts the Time War.

The ending shot of the Doctor, Sarah and Harry flung through the universe by time ring isn't a particularly impressive one, but it excited me at the time as it meant that the three of them were on their way back to the Ark.

And - despite them reusing the rather naff time ring shot at the beginning of the episode - there was the Ark fading back into view. And there was the familiar set, Sarah, Harry and the Doctor shimmering into existence in the same place in the Ark control room from which they'd left.

In  common with the previous two stories, the title left little doubt as to who the villains of the piece were (childhood forgetting of the name notwithstanding). Once again, pre-transmission I thought having to cope with an infestation of Cybermen was a bit of a pain for the Ark's sleepers. Furthermore I was perturbed to see in the Radio Times that the cast did not include Wendy Williams as Vira. As was so often the case in those days at school we spent one morning in the playground acting out what we thought was going to happen in Doctor Who that week. On that occasion the Doctor (played by me) found a list headed "Deaths" at the top of which was the name Vira.

Of course the real explanation was very different. This was the Ark at an earlier point in its existence, when it was still a space beacon in orbit around Jupiter. This bothered me a bit, partly because of the way that they had to wait for the TARDIS to join them but mostly because I liked the far future of the Ark and wanted more.

But never mind all that. There were going to be Cybermen! For someone who'd grown up on Doctor Who but whose memories of the Cybermen were brief fragments from my time as a toddler, this was a heady prospect.

Apparently Revenge of the Cybermen now has a bad reputation, but at the time (and on a more recent re-watch) I actually rather enjoyed it. True, some of the special effects were woeful, one of the Cybermen's heads was very loose and the Cyberleader continuously referred to the Doctor as "Dacter" but I really got into the story and enjoyed being back on Nerva despite my initial resistance to the earlier time period. Kellman's double treachery also intrigued me and I though it a shame that he died when he did as I'd have liked to have seen more of his motivation. And I remembered what what it was that I had found so frightening about the Cybermen as a toddler - the expressionless faces like a child's drawing of a skull, bland and blank even as they gunned down the Vogans with their head cannons.

Once again this was a story I got to enjoy over and over again as I had the scripts to read afterwards. I was particularly intrigued by the stage directions this time around - when the Doctor is shot by the Cybermen at the end of episode two they describe him as having "A FIT OF THE CAGNEY STAGGERS" a turn of phrase I had to ask my parents to explain. Furthermore the description of the closing shot of that episode "AND WE CLOSE ON HIS UNPLEASANT STEEL MASK" was one that stayed with me and I was slightly disappointed upon re-watching it to find out that this wasn't the case, the final shot actually being of the prone post-Cagney staggers Doctor.

The TARDIS did turn up at just the right moment - the end of episode four - and before there was even time for our heroes to stop and say cheerio they had to rush off having been summoned to attend a real emergency back on Earth by the Brigadier.

And there the season ended. Had original plans for the following story Terror of the Zygons come to fruition and it had actually been included in Season 12 instead of being held back as the Season 13 opener I would have been looking at an even longer run of consecutive weekly episodes to consider one of my golden ages of the series.

The Doctor, Sarah-Jane Smith and Harry Sullivan, not actually in the TARDIS.


Top of the Pops was the centre of the musical week but as more and more bands begun to produce promotional videos the mimed performances were often a disappointment as you wanted to see the video.

This early eighties over-experimentation with video didn't go unnoticed by the satirists - nowadays they can't show a retrospective of early eighties music without wheeling out the Not The Nine O'Clock News parody Nice Video, Shame About the Song. But even though I did like Not the Nine O'Clock News and thought that the parody was well observed in places I couldn't quite shake the feeling that the writers didn't quite "get" it and were probably in the process of turning into a parental generation banging on about the rubbish that young people listened to in the name of music today.

Or rather the rubbish that they watched. By now everyone had to have a video and inspiration was beginning to wear a bit thin. Having scored an unexpected big hit with Too Shy, Kajagoogoo threw everything (including cameos from Kenny Everett and Christopher Timothy) at the video for Ooh To Be Ah and ended up with a bit of a mess. Other bands contented themselves with videos which attempted to reproduced the experience of them playing live with varying degrees of success.

But everyone had to have a video.

Of course there were still bands and directors experimenting with the medium. After producing a whole album of videos for Soft Cell - unique at the time in that they weren't being made to sell singles but to illustrate an album - Tim Pope went on to produced myriad memorable and psychedelic clips for The Cure.

Other bands went the other way. In a (subconscious?) mirroring of The Clash's refusal to appear miming on Top of the Pops, The Smiths initially refused to make promo videos before eventually caving in in style by getting Derek Jarman to direct them.

But everyone had to have a video and Top of the Pops was not fit for purpose.

Denied access to MTV the UK made do with The Chart Show, which launched on Channel Four in 1986. In keeping with the show's video only format it also eschewed presenters, instead mimicking a clunky computer desktop in which snippets of information about the band would appear mid-song - a gimmick later appropriated by the BBC for their Top of the Pops repeat compilations TOTP2. If a band hadn't shot a video then a snippet of their single during the chart countdown would be accompanied by a still photograph.
The Chart Show also attempted to spread the net a bit wider when it came to what they'd show. In addition to the normal chart the show would run down the "specialist" charts of Dance, Rock and Indie, focussing on each one of them (showing several videos from it) in a three weekly cycle.

However it became clear to me that the show probably had a rota of editors some of whose musical tastes reflected mine and other whose didn't. This was at a time when dance music was becoming big and Stock Aitken and Waterman made their breakthrough and unfortunately a lot of the acid house records and all of the PWL output were at the time on independent labels. This meant that if you got the editor who liked dance music on the week that the Indie Chart was due to be shown, all you got was Kylie and S-Express. To be fair the reverse sometime happened - once Dance Chart week was obviously overseen by the editor who liked Indie/Alternative music as we got Renegade Soundwave's Probably a Robbery. In retrospect the cross-fertilisation of indie and dance music that was happening at the time was actually very interesting in its own right, but that's another story...

At the time I used to fill endless Scotch E180 VHS cassettes with videos from The Chart Show as well as Top of the Pops appearances and other live TV performances, confident that I was creating an archive of visual music that I would enjoy into my dotage. Little did I realise that the Scotch skeleton was lying through his teeth when he told us we could watch Scotch forever.  In recent years upon attempting to play tapes I've discovered that snow and static are the order of the day.
I'm going to tell you how it's going to be 
I've been replaced by DVD
To be fair the only reason I've dragged VHS cassettes from the archive recently has been in a bid to transfer them to my computer so I can then upload to the final platform in the story of music video: YouTube.

When YouTube first started out in 2005 I couldn't see how it was going to catch on. Compared to all the other fledgling social networks it seemed like too much work, the idea of having to make a video and then sit through a long uploading process. Even the tagline "Broadcast Yourself" sounded vaguely insulting.

Of course in the end where YouTube came into its own was as a way of salvaging all those videos and Top of the Pops appearances from decaying VHS music tapes. Plug your old VHS into the computer and the treasure contained within can be preserved digitally forever, static and interference included. Furthermore YouTube turned out to be the saviour of many lost memories. Remember that video from one of your favourite bands you only saw thirty seconds of on The Chart Show twenty years ago? Here it is complete in all its three minute glory.

But it's not as exciting.

How much of this is simply as a result of getting old and how much is due to genuine change I have no idea, but with everything being available all the time there isn't the anticipation of a band's new video appearing on The Chart Show. Or, more importantly the excitement of the Top of the Pops debut of one of your favourite bands.

No matter how much some might have sneered at the mainstream appeal of Top of the Pops, when a band finally appeared it meant that they'd made it. It was a rite of passage, a defining moment and ultimately more exciting than seeing a promo video.

I miss it.

Like Doctor Who, Top of the Pops was always a part of my childhood for as far back as my memory goes. It was just something that was always there, and my infant brain saw it in much the same way as Winter, Spring the Sun or the Moon.

I remember dancing in front of the large black and white television in the family flat in Birmingham much to the amusement of my parents plus Tony and Jill, the couple upstairs who didn't have a TV but always came down on Thursday evening to watch. Personally I couldn't quite see what was so funny about my dancing - I had decided that it must consist of clenched fists bounced up and down in front of me - but I enjoyed the music and the experience plus I was getting attention so it was all good.

There was always music around whether it was the records my parents would put on - the Beatles (interesting if sometimes scary) or Bob Dylan (inexplicably sad because I thought the combination of his voice and the harmonica sounded like crying) but Top of the Pops was the centre of the week.

Earliest memories were of the bands playing or of women dancing to the songs - Pan's People they were called. I always wondered if one week Pan was going to turn up - I had no idea who he or she was but assumed they were in charge. Then short films of the songs started being shown when the bands couldn't or wouldn't appear and this - the birth of the video - was where things started to get interesting.

There are some early videos that I remember but can't track down - including one for the Laughing Gnome by Bowie which must have been reissued at some point in the 70s - but the main early memories centred around Space Oddity and Bohemian Rhapsody, both from 1975 (the Bowie single being another reissue). The narrative as told by the video of Space Oddity was haunting and frightening and stayed with me. I used to wonder what had happened to Major Tom and didn't buy my babysitter's explanation that "I think 'e died." As a child five years is a long time and so Major Tom's reappearance in the video to Ashes to Ashes in 1980 was as exciting a moment for me as the reappearance of the Cybermen in Earthshock.

But it's Bohemian Rhapsody that everyone else remembers. Looking at it now it's rather tame and the effects used basic, but - combined with the unusual nature of the song itself at the time this was all people could talk about at school the next day. It was at number one for a long time and there were parts of it that you looked forward to seeing every week - specifically the weird bit in the middle. One week Top of the Pops, wearying of the lengthy song outstaying its welcome, faded it out just before that bit and my sister burst into tears.

By the time Major Tom made his reappearance the videos on Top of the Pops had started to become more commonplace and many of them were quite memorable - from the Police cavorting about in front of a Saturn V at Cape Canaveral to Madness and their flying saxophonist. And then in 1981 - which was the year it all changed anyway - things took a turn for the interesting. Not put off by the limited budgets and effects available to them, the New Romantic bands started experimenting resulting in such disturbing nightmare imagery as Visage's Mind of a Toy - it may look silly now but at the time it was impressive (although some of that may be due to the fact that I was far more impressionable back then). One band that became known for their videos were Ultravox who produced mini-movies. Nowadays everyone goes on about Vienna but the ones that impressed me the most at the time were the videos for the two singles that followed at the end of that year the dreamlike The Thin Wall and epic bombastic The Voice.

My own idol Toyah was not exempt from experimenting with video and produced a number of worthy entrants to the canon although - perhaps due to her label's independent status - not all of her singles received an accompanying film. This is a shame as I'd have loved to see the video take on Good Morning Universe...

And my feelings there were symptomatic of a shift in attitude. Whereas at first the video had been a substitute for a live (mimed) performance, so much artistic effort was being put into them that ultimately you ended up being disappointed if you didn't get to see it. This came to a head when Adam Ant returned to the Top of the Pops studio in 1982 for Goody Two Shoes. Up until then he'd been too big to appear and as a result his playful videos had become essential watching and part of the anticipation of the release of a new single. Furthermore his live appearance was just cavorting about with a load of scantily clad dancers - no band in sight, miming or otherwise. That was boring. We wanted to see the video, dammit!

Of course Top of the Pops couldn't become a video only show - that would miss the whole point of its existence. And yet the video continued to grow and grow, artistic experimentation giving way to glossy nothings as pop continued to be big business. Many of these videos ended up never being seen until - and it was only a matter of time - they begun to be sold on VHS. What had started out as a promotional tool had become an end in itself and something people would spend good money on in addition to the albums and singles.

Across the Atlantic MTV had already taken advantage of this new musical form and was going great guns but back in the UK there was still no way to get access to many of them. Until the arrival of a new show on the fresh faced young Channel Four. The Chart Show.

To be continued.

I am a rationalist and were it not for the fact that I prefer not to define myself by what I don't believe in you could probably call me an atheist because most of my world view coincides with most of the world view of an atheist.

I say most of because I think there are exceptions. Whilst I do not agree with the lazy but oft repeated mantra that "atheism is just like another religion" there are certain aggressive aspects of behaviour I have observed in atheism that I also don't agree with. Of course one could argue that they're just down to human nature rather than any flaw in the atheist argument - after all we are all human whether or not we believe in a god or gods.

One particularly distasteful atheist argument is the "religion is a mental illness". I don't think this is a valid analogy for many reasons. In general people choose religion - or have it forced upon them as children - and can change their minds about it later. Furthermore their religion can be very important to them and can help them through difficult times.

Mental illness is another matter all together. I'd give anything not to suffer from depression.

Also, religious belief and thought is something that has existed for a very long time, possibly since the dawn of consciousness. It's probably ingrained in the structures of the human brain - although of course this doesn't meant that we can't outgrow it. After all the urge to overeat and the urge to hate the outsider are in there too but we can rise above them.

As I have so often done in the past on this blog in order to work out why some modern aspect of human behaviour exists I am going to turn back the clock to prehistoric times. And there we find Thugg the Caveman and the rest of his hunting party making their way across the veldt in search of things to hunt and gather.
The current leader of the tribe is Dugg - or Dugglass as he prefers to be known - who is taller than the rest of the tribe. Furthermore there is something in his bearing that make people want to obey him - whether it's the long beard or the pronounced brow ridges Thugg cannot say. But like many others he feels safer when doing what Dugg tells him. 
Not everyone feels this way. Only the other day Yugg disobeyed Dugg's instructions about sticking to the path and ended up tripping and sliding down the slope to his death. And two moons ago Pugg ignored Dugg's advice and instead of hiding behind the Big Rock started pacing up and down in full view of the sabre-toothed tiger which made short work of him only minutes later.
And so it went on. Those who felt the natural inclination to obey Leaders like Dugg - whether due to an ingrained subservience or simply fear - survived to pass on their genes. And eventually - despite the entreaties of the tribal bard Dylug - it became second nature to follow Leaders instead of watching parking meters. Although given that parking meters didn't yet exist the last part wasn't too difficult. Of the few that didn't feel this way some were strong enough to become Leaders themselves.

This was all very well until one day someone - probably a Leader who was becoming tired of having to be everywhere at once - came up with a supernormal stimulus which plugged straight into the Leader-following behaviour. Suppose there was an all seeing all knowing all powerful leader in the sky behind whose back it was impossible to go and who, if you disobeyed, would condemn you to everlasting torment in his own private torture dimension?

Like all supernormal stimuli once it took hold this belief would be very difficult to shake. Whilst the Leaders wouldn't necessarily believe it themselves it did turn out to be a very useful tool for controlling their followers. And after millennia in place this behaviour pattern might prove difficult to shake even when logic and reason argue that it can't possibly be true.

So religion isn't a mental illness. Perhaps if it has to be compared to anything it's a bit like an addiction - or a bit like the appendix - the remnant of a more primitive past that still holds sway over the human mind but which in these enlightened days we would probably be better off without.

Anyone know any good faith diets?

Do you ever have dreams in which there are two versions of the same person?

The strangest thing is that in the dream you don't really notice. It's really quite odd - there's Jack and of course there's Jack as well.

Often one of them is a lesser instantiation - they have less talent or inspire less fear. You say I thought Jack was frightening but they're nothing compared to Jack! Sometimes it's something less negative - Jill will show you something and you think That's interesting - I bet Jill would like that, I'll have to remember to tell her about it!

This last one sometimes occurs in real life - when Jill shows you something just for a second you think that Jill would be interested and resolve to tell her before remembering that the notion is ridiculous.

It must be caused by an error in brain processing. A person is probably represented in the memory space by a complex object with myriad properties and associations. Perhaps sometimes two versions of the object are called into being by accident. Whilst awake the error trapping is probably far more stringent which is why the impression is momentary but when dreaming it's another matter altogether.

In dreams it's the pattern recognition part of the brain, the infamous Question Machine, that drives what you imagine is happening to you rather than any external stimulus so it's quite possible for you to "recognise" (which in a dream simply means "conjure up") two different person objects as having the same identity. Most of the time you probably don't spot the anomaly but sometimes it comes to your attention.

Continuity errors in dreams can be disturbing if you notice them. Sometimes a dream will throw up a non fact like "that time you spent in Australia last year" but not have any false memories to back them up with.  The practical upshot of this is that if you notice this anomaly you begin to worry in the dream that you are losing your mind or your memory. This often happens to me - dreams spent in a semi panic due to the fact that I don't really recall something major that I know has happened to me (in the dream world).

Spotting mistakes in dreams can also happen when there are accidentally two versions of a person. However, because the person doubling is so much more "real" than the lack of memories about a supposed past event (sometimes both versions of the person are in your field of view at the same time) there has to be a semi rational explanation. Thankfully there are many possible explanations for double people - the second version could be a clone or a sibling (both of which explanations I've seen used in one recent dream which actually contained two sets of double people).

But why does this happen in the first place? Well due to the way that dreams may work it could well be that the people who end up doubled are ones who are very much on your mind. When attempting to make sense out of the red noise of unconsciousness the expert pattern recognising question machine that is your subconscious picks patterns that you've been thinking about a lot. As a result our dreams are usually populated with our hopes and fears, sometime those that we didn't even know we had.

Next time you dream of two versions of the same person ask yourself whether you should be paying them more or less attention in real life. If there was a noticeable difference between the two this may give you further clues.

Dreams may not predict the future but they can certainly shape it.

Things may have changed a lot when it comes to listening to music. Whilst the fact that I have no idea what is in the charts these days is most likely to be an indication of advancing age than anything else, it does nevertheless feel that people aren't as into music as much they used to be. Whilst the tribes seem as strong as ever (Belieber or Directioner?) it's more disposable and the energy seems to be missing. However I can't really judge without being young myself and the only experience I have of that was in the past.

It was exciting back then - all these new things to discover. The absence of an internet meant that information was far more difficult to come by and therefore far more precious. You scoured the music press for the smallest clipping. And as for the music - well without YouTube, SoundCloud, Spotify, Last.fm, illegal and legal downloads you simply had to wait. Sometimes if you were lucky a DJ - John Peel or Kid Jensen, sometimes even Peter Powell - would play something they'd got hold of in advance or that had been recorded specially for their show. Well that was what tape decks had been invented for wasn't it?

But the most important things were the records themselves. They were the central artefacts in the process, ultimately desirable and sometimes even collectable. After all if you were a true fan of a band it was essential that you owned their entire output. That was a given. To this day it still rankles that I never got hold of Soft Cell's Mutant Moments EP or A Man Could Get Lost/Memorabilia 7" single. The fact that I now have the songs contained therein is scant consolation.
Re-issue! Re-package! Re-package!
Re-evaluate the songs
Double-pack with a photograph
Extra track (and a tacky badge)
- The Smiths, Paint a Vulgar Picture
There were rules of course and when a band broke them it felt like a bit of a rip off (and I apologise in advance here for covering some of the same ground as in a previous blog entry "Extended Remix"). As an obsessed fan you had to buy everything, sure - which of course helped get the single into the all important charts - but in return you expected a reward. The tacky badge or photograph were all very well, but what really counted was the extra track (or tracks). Furthermore both the seven and twelve inch singles should contain something unique to the format so your desire to own both of them was fully justified. Ideally different B-sides and a different mixes of the A-side. Where ten inch singles were issued the tracks should be different again. It was only fair.

The only exceptions were cassette singles (or "cassingles" as they were so execrably known for a short while) and the cassette versions of albums. Despite the fact that I taped stuff from the radio and loved my home made tape collection - and I used to copy all my vinyl LPs onto cassette so I could listen to them on the move - there was something altogether false about official cassettes. I preferred my collection to consist of things I could buy. Tapes were more informal. After all if you bought the album on cassette then - aside from the card insert - a copy you made would be pretty much equivalent.

Besides the sleeves were way too small, and the enjoyment of record sleeves were part of the whole experience.

Whilst singles were obviously released as a taste of the album to come - the bigger the hit the more people would buy the album - I did have a set of internal rules about was and what wasn't acceptable when it came to the relationship between the two.

Firstly, singles should only come out before an album. After all, once you'd heard a song on the album then being made to buy it again on the off chance of a new B-side was annoying - however not many bands adhered to this rule so I was more forgiving of it being broken provided the related rule two wasn't broken as well.

Rule two: B-sides should not be album tracks. I'll repeat that: B-sides should not be album tracks.

B-sides were a bonus - extra material from your beloved band. I never subscribed to the theory that they were somehow substandard - there just wasn't room for them on the album. Furthermore they gave you an additional reason to buy the single which almost certainly would be on the album. They were there so you could tape them onto the end of the side of the tape upon which you'd put the album. Sometimes there'd be too many of them to fit on one side of the C90 which, whilst annoying, still mean that there was more precious music in your collection.

Breaking both these rules meant that you could end up with an album that was next to pointless (or a handful of singles that was pointless) to the serious collector.

Of course you could understand why the record companies did it. If an artist  on the rise had a moderately successful hit single which made a large number of punters buy the album a few weeks later then the temptation to release another track from that album in that hopes that it too would go top ten and provoke another rash of album sales must have been strong. After all it made sound economic sense. And if there wasn't anything to put on the B-side aside from one of the tracks from the album then so be it.

But it was annoying to a collector like me, not least because it meant I still had to buy the superfluous single on both seven and twelve inch to avoid a hole in my collection which would nag at me for years.

A major offender was the David Bowie album Let's Dance. It was only eight tracks long anyway, two of which were re-recorded tracks from earlier in his career - Cat People (Putting Out Fire) from the sound track of the film of the same name the previous year and China Girl which he'd co-written with Iggy Pop and which Iggy had included on his 1977 album The Idiot. To add insult to injury three of the four singles released from the album contained album tracks as B-sides. This meant that there was only one track unique to the album. Frankly this was just taking the piss.

Still, at least I wasn't a fan of Michael Jackson as I seem to recall that every last track on Bad was released as a single. Whilst this no doubt contributed to the fact that the album was one of the best selling of all time it must have made an obsessive Michael Jackson fan's record collection very irritating.

Thankfully lot of the bands I was really into were very conscientious when it came to giving their fans value for money. During the Safari years and at the peak of her chart success Toyah was constantly determined not to rip fans off. In 1981 her Platinum album Anthem contained only two tracks that people had heard before (and I suspected that the first of those It's a Mystery had been included only under protest).

You'd have expected that after the success of the album a further single would have been lifted from it - but no. Instead a brand new track - Thunder in the Mountains - was recorded and released.  Eventually in addition to the 11 track LP there were a grand total of 14 other tracks realised that year (if you counted the two on Flexipop magazine - both of which were unavailable elsewhere) on EPs and singles. That was like having a whole extra album.

My other favourites, Soft Cell, were equally dedicated to giving their fans value for money with long versions of both the A-sides and B-sides on their 12" singles (with extra verses, new lyrics and everything), extra tracks alternate mixes etc - and I forgave them for issuing Say Hello Wave Goodbye as a single after it had already appeared on the Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret album due to the magnificence of the remix on the A-side and the B-side Fun City. Plus of course there was a brand new single only a couple of months later in Torch.

The collector mentality had not gone unnoticed by the record companies. It wasn't long before they realised that a few additional formats could help kick start a single in to the all important top forty. Furthermore they could skip on studio costs if they included no extra tracks or remixes. And thus was the picture disk born.

I had mixed feelings about picture disks. On the one hand they felt like a rip-off because they invariably contained the same tracks as the regular seven or twelve inch but at lower quality - and sometimes ramming them onto the turntable itself was a bit of an effort.

On the other they looked great.

These days it's all a lot simpler and now I actually think I prefer it that way. What is important is the music itself and for the avid collector making sure you track down every last byte of music is the important thing.

But unfortunately there isn't an equivalent of the Camden Record and Tape Exchange for downloads.

So the World Cup is upon us again? I can't entirely believe it. Surely all that business with the vuvuzelas was only last year? Or a couple of years ago, maximum. Four years ago is just... stupid.

Not that it makes a huge difference to me anyway as I am not now and never have been interested in football. This is a fact that occasionally people seem to find hard to get their heads around. Every so often when meeting someone in a social situation they will ask What team do you support? When I tell them I don't follow football they look at me as if I've just told them I haven't got a head.

I must admit that from the outside the whole football fandom thing does look insanely complex and it's a relief that I have never been into it as it's probably a lot of work.

But on the other hand it does seem to give people a lot of pleasure and for that reason I can't justifiably complain about its existence. The world isn't created and run for my benefit and if something bores me or I have no interest in it then the easiest thing to happen, the thing that is the most energy efficient, is for me to ignore it rather than expecting everyone else to shut up. The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few or the one, as Spock once said. Kirk's rejoinder that sometimes "the needs of the one outweigh the needs of the many" is both illogical and selfish.

The same thing applies to other things I'm not interested in such as X-Factor, Strictly Come Dancing or the Eurovision Song Contest.  It would be the height of egomania for me to expect everyone not to talk about their enthusiasms on Twitter just because I have no interest. If it really bothers me there is the mute facility but I've rarely used that as sometimes it's useful to know what the ingredients of the zeitgeist are even if they don't actually appeal to me.

Besides, when people start complaining about things on Twitter then other people start complaining about them complaining and if they're not careful everyone will end up in a spiral of intolerance which can only end in tears.

So live and let live, I say. There may come a time when something that interests me happens and I want to talk about it online with like minded individuals without the worry that I'm going to end up as the target of someone's displeasure because what I am saying is of no interest to them.

Actually this already happened.

Last year was the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who and for a couple of months leading up to the anniversary - and perhaps a month or so afterwards - social media was awash with lively discussion and appreciation of various types. I was very interested in all of this. At last there was something everyone was into examining and expressing opinions about that I could join in with, enjoy and get pleasure out of. Even if only for a couple of months.

But then it started. The complaining tweets: I'm getting sick of Doctor Who, Doctor Who really doesn't interest me and Why don't you all shut up about Doctor Who? over and over and over again.

Yes I fully appreciate that it doesn't appeal to everyone and that a media frenzy about something in which you have no investment is at best dull and at worst annoying.

How do you think I feel most of the time during football tournaments or the run of a popular TV talent show?

Can't you let me have this couple of months once in fifty years? Is that too much to ask?

Well apparently it was.