Get with the beat

SOMEONE asked me a ridiculous question the other day. The sort of question no one can give a straight answer to, yet which most people enjoy pondering over.

SOMEONE asked me a ridiculous question the other day.

The sort of question no one can give a straight answer to, yet which most people enjoy pondering over.

It was this: “What is your all-time favourite song?”

Now, I'm sure you'll want to go away and ponder your own answer to that, but I want to tell you mine first.

It was: “Of all time? Ooh, er. Possibly Visions of Johanna by Bob Dylan. Or Furry Sings The Blues by Joni Mitchell. Or Tangled Up In Blue by Bob Dylan. Or maybe No Woman No Cry by Bob Marley. Or Ballad Of A Thin Man by Bob Dylan. Or right now perhaps Nothing Else Matters by Metallica. Or Dosed by the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Or something by Bob Dylan.”

That was forgetting all those other great songs I love by Elvis Costello, Steve Earle, the Dixie Chicks, Patti Smith… And what about older classics such as St James Infirmary, I Cover the Waterfront, Grapevine?

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See what I mean? I told you it was a daft question.

What does my answer tell you? Quite a bit about my taste, perhaps - and that I'm not as anti-American as some people think - but not a lot about the songs themselves.

If I picked titles by Rihanna or Lily Allen, The Beatles or The Beastie Boys (not that I would) it would be just as valid.

Louis Armstrong may have had something when he said there were only two kinds of music - good and bad. But that still leaves room for plenty of each kind.

So what are we to make of the Mercury Prize, the 12-strong shortlist for which was announced this week?

If the prize truly aims, as is claimed, to celebrate the diversity of new British music, why are most of the listed albums (as always) major-label offerings aimed broadly at the “pop” market?

If classical strings mixed with jazz drumming is your bag, are you going to look further than the Basquiat Strings? And if it isn't, are you going to give their album a chance?

If it's really about quality rather than popularity, why do I (and everyone) have a strong hunch that Amy Winehouse or Arctic Monkeys will win?

And - given the prize's history of honouring acts whose careers are just about to nosedive - do any of the nominees really want to win? Arctic Monkeys appear to have bucked that trend last year, but can they do it again?

Truth is, like all awards, the Mercury is a loaded lottery that's all about PR and nothing about real merit. You simply can't judge merit that way.

Which is better, apple jelly or blue denim? Apple computers or the Evening Star? Chalk or cheese?

Some cracking books have picked up the Booker Prize over the years - and some truly dreadful ones. Some great films have been laden with Oscars, but more have been overlooked.

And have you noticed how many shampoos, beauty treatments and household cleaners have started advertising themselves as “Product of the Year”?

So here, on the principle that if you can't beat 'em, join 'em, is my shortlist for the 2007 Semmens Award for Awards:

Nationwide Mercury Music Prize

The Brits

Classical Brits

MTV Awards

Kerrang! Awards

Billboard Awards





Cannes Palme d'Or

Man Booker Prize

Orange Prize

Green Prize

Pink Prize

Sir Prize (aka Sir Uncle Tom Cobbleigh and all…)

And here, in case you missed them, and in case you give an arctic monkey's, is the 2007 Mercury shortlist: Arctic Monkeys - Favourite Worst Nightmare, Amy Winehouse - Back to Black, Fionn Regan - The End of History, Maps - We Can Create, The View - Hats Off to the Buskers, Jamie T - Panic Prevention, Bat For Lashes - Fur and Gold, Basquiat Strings & Seb Rochford - Basquiat Strings, Dizzee Rascal - Maths and English, New Young Pony Club - Fantastic Playroom, The Young Knives - Voices of Animals and Men, Klaxons - Myths of the Near Future.

One of those will bag the gong on September 4.

What's your favourite song of all time, and why? Write to Your Letters, The Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN or e-mail

I KNOW it was only a publicity stunt for a movie, but I enjoyed the pictures of Homer Simpson offering a doughnut to the famous Cerne Abbas giant on his Dorset hillside.

I have a lot of sympathy with some pagans, but not those who declared the 180ft Homer cartoon “disrespectful”.

What, after all, could possibly be more disrespectful than the Cerne Abbas giant himself?

So far from being the “ancient fertility symbol” the po-faced pagans claim, the chalk carving was almost certainly made in the middle or late 17th century.

I'm inclined to believe the theory that it was a giant “up yours” to Oliver Cromwell.

I think its makers would be amazed that it's still there. And I think they'd approve of Homer Simpson as a worthy continuation of their tradition of crude satire.

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