Unmissable: A lot of fanfare, but where’s the new music on the Beeb? God only Knows...
You must have seen it: a collection of (mostly) current pop stars giving a collective rendition of The Beach Boys’ classic God Only Knows on behalf of the BBC and Children in Need.
All backed by the BBC Concert Orchestra and with the support of cool choirmaster Gareth Malone, there’s Brian Wilson, of course, Stevie Wonder, Sam Smith, Chris Martin, One Direction and, if you look at the group shot, Dave Grohl of the Foo Fighters hiding right on the side, almost trying to edge out of shot.
He probably heard the final mix and wanted to slip away quietly.
It’s not the fact that you cannot improve or expand on what is one of pop’s genuine masterpieces, a beautiful and uplifting song brilliantly performed by the Beach Boys and recorded by a visionary producer.
This new version isn’t awful, and the whole enterprise has its heart in the right place (just, I think). But it all feels far too self-congratulatory. There’s Zane Lowe and Lauren Laverne in the line-up, busy doing a whole lotta nothing. Pharrell Williams is happily doing that sockless thing that he does, Kylie’s floating around in a bubble and (lord help us) Paloma Faith is having a lovely time on a swing. Well at least she’s having a lovely time, eh?
The thing is, the Beeb in recent years has hardly provided much of a primetime platform for live or new music on its screens (despite the good work done across its radio network). The most you’re going to get is Later... on BBC2 – which becomes less and less essential viewing with every year.
Of course, Top of the Pops got the chop years ago and BBC4 still has plenty of archive stuff on, and a few new documentaries, but where does this self-proclaimed “love” of music rear its head on BBC1 or even BBC2? One live performance on Graham Norton every seven days?
Look at iPlayer this week and what is there under “music”? There’s Sounds of the 80s, Mr Blue Sky: The story of Jeff Lynne and ELO, the Radio 1 Teen Awards and Never Mind the Buzzcocks. Oh, and a live Jeff Lynne concert.
I think the Impossible Orchestra project, as it is called, has good intentions but is a bit of a smokescreen for a corporation that fails to deliver on that promise – a promise that it really cares about its musical output.
The whole project brings back memories of the last time the Beeb behaved in such a way – the Perfect Day abomination from 1997 (yes, it really was 17 years ago).
That time around such stellar names as Boyzone, Gabrielle, Ian Broudie of the Lightning Seeds and memorably (if that’s the right word) Heather Small of M People.
Of course, there were some big names back then too. Just like we have original writer Brian Wilson as part of the Impossible Orchestra, back in 1997 we had Lou Reed leading us through the rather unlikely rendition of his David Bowie-produced track, along with Bono, Tom Jones, Shane MacGowan and Bowie himself.
Unsurprisingly, Sir Elton John is the only star to have made the cut from last time around. For God Only Knows there’s no sign of Bowie or, of course, the late Reed – instead we’ve got Jake Bugg and Jamie Cullum.
Last time around the idea helped raise more than £2million for Children in Need - this time it looks like the video alone cost £2million to make. Maybe not, and maybe it’ll do a lot of good. I just wish it carried a more sincere message.