‘Tis the time of year when British music fans start looking ahead to the last great event of the year: The Christmas Number One.
This has been something of a national obsession – successfully ported from what’s nothing more than a sales and marketing tool for the music industry – since the NME first started publishing an official singles chart in 1952. People are encouraged to push their favourite to the top of the charts in the buying frenzy before Christmas by buying singles.
Usually, the winner is some mass appeal pop song. Then along came Simon Cowell. Beginning in 2005, there was an unbroken string of Christmas Number Ones from winners of his Idol-like show, The X Factor.
Around this time last year, a couple from Essex said “Enough is enough.” Using nothing more than a Facebook account and the power of social networking, they launched a campaign from their home to push Rage Against the Machine’s expletive-laden “Killing in the Name” to number one to fend off X Factor winner, Joe McElderry.
Their campaign went global, receiving support from all corners, even Sir Paul McCartney. And when the final figures were totalled up, damned if the winner wasn’t Rage.
So what about Christmas 2010? There’s a new Facebook campaign dubbed “Cage Against the Machine.” The goal is to push John Cage’s 1952 composition entitled “4’33”” (read as “Four minutes and thirty-three seconds”) to the top. This is an even weirder choice than “Killing in the Name” because Cage’s composition is nothing more than four minutes and thirty-three seconds of dead silence.
Cage conceived the piece to get an audience to consider that all sound could, in its own way, be music. The work is performed by a single pianist who sits down in front of piano and does nothing for precisely 4:33. The “performance” consists of all the other sounds that can be heard as the pianist just sits there.
A number of people have “covered” the track (Frank Zappa, Sonic Youth and New Waver’s “techno remix”). You can even buy it on iTunes for 99 cents. There was even a major plagiarism suit brought by Cage’s estate against a U.K. singer named Mike Batt when he released a song of silence.
I think this is brilliant. Anything that makes Simon Cowell’s head explode is fine by me.