The music of early 6music

Posted on 16 August 2010 in BBC, Music (1 comment)

Pretty much ever since the station launched I've been listening to 6music and lurking around its message boards, with the occasional post here and there.

One of the threads that caught my eye was a thread about the Guardian's article on former breakfast presenter Phill Jupitus who just happens to have a new book to promote about his time at the station.

Naturally the thread's got a bit of reminiscing about the good old days of Phill's breakfast show, mutterings of disgust about former managers of the station and mutterings about the quality of The Guardian's research.

One reply really caught my eye though…

I didn't listen to 6M at the start, so was interested in the book to find out more about that period. I was amused by some of the comments on page 191, where Phill noted early on that "the same classic tracks kept cropping up on the playlist". He was arguing that why shouldn't they play lesser known tracks from well known artists (e.g. Jam, Costello etc). This point has been raised here a lot recently.

However some of the earlier comments on this thread suggest all was better in the early days. But reading Phill's book does not give that impression. Are people remembering through rose tinted hearing aids?

cookingwith 7 on the BBC 6music boards

I put a rather lengthy reply which I won't bore you with (unless you really do want to read it) but the jist was, in those early days they were trying to work out what 6music was and should be. They got there in the end but some would undoubtedly prefer the original version whilst they were playing around.

And I pondered what 6music was actually playing back in those early days. Was the music mix radically different? Was it more commercial or more unique than now?

Funnily enough I don't have a batch of 6music tapes from those early shows however I did find one thing to help me - the Internet Archive had copies of the 6music site from 2002 and in October 2002 it archived a copy of the playlist page.

A couple of things stood out instantly - David Gray for starters. He's certainly not a name you'd expect on the modern 6music playlist. Then there was the Streets and then Big Brovaz with Nu Flow which I'd completely forgotten about but which meant hip hop was represented on the station from the very early days. Interestingly they playlisted older tracks and even whole albums back then.

But what did it all sound like together? Well I put together a Spotify playlist of as much of it as possible (there were just a handful of tracks I couldn't find) - if you've got Spotify yourself, you can
have a listen to it.

Putting it on at work whilst doing some documentation, it was certainly very heavy on the guitair based indie sound, compared to the playlist I'm looking at now which seems a bit more varied in styles including Laura Marling, the wonderful Steven Mason and frankly bizarrely named !!!.

Of course the playlist is only part of the picture and doesn't take into account the older music that the station that pops up and the presenters free choices - both past and present. I remember one of Gideon Coe's morning shows where he seemed to play nothing but 1990s BritPop one Friday morning (thus making me very happy), whilst now you'll hear an increasing about of classic soul and disco (which also makes me very happy.) On a station like 6music they add as much into the mix as the playlist does - more so at weekends and in the evening. Listening to the playlist doesn't sound like 6music because it is only a part of 6music and what it does. A better way of representing the station would probably to take a days worth of show tracklistings and bung them all in Spotify. The Internet Archive certainly has some.

However that's just a bit more work to do and ultimately playlists are usually about representing and establishing a station sound, and 6music certainly seems to have been more guitar based indie back then. Hey, it's what attracted me to the station!

6music has undoubtedly changed over the years. It's grown, it's more varied and it's now a lot more confident now that it's future is secure. It won't please everyone, but hey, modern technology does at least enable people to take a trip to the past… in a little way.

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Geoff Whitworth said:

Hi Andrew

Thanks for your research. I don't think the issue with the playlist has ever really been the music that comprises it (there are some really good selections on both the 2002 and 2010 listings, and IMHO some real duffers on both!), but the repetition. Coupled with the decision to reduce the A & B lists from 42 tracks to 27, this has resulted in a less that satisfying daytime listening experience.

Checking last.fm for frequency of airplay yesterday, I found that those 27 tracks were played just over 300 times in one week. That's around twenty hours of airtime, nearly a whole day spent plugging away at that same small gene pool. This isn't really an acceptable use of the station's time, consistently promoting such a narrow range of new music during the daylight hours.

Posted on 17 August 2010 at 8:07 AM

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