The government’s permission that six adults from different households might meet together outdoors allowed back garden lunch with my sisters in Somerset. It was the first opportunity for us to meet together since our father’s funeral on 17th March and we sat laughing about memories from our youth.
My middle sister had found a bundle of seven inch vinyl singles and we pondered how much bad music there had been when we were young. My sister had played Benny Hill’s Ernie to her grandson from an online music site. “Is this for real?” he had asked.
It was a valid question. Who had really gone to a record shop and bought Ernie? How many times would anyone have wanted to play it? It had reached No 1 in the charts in times when topping the chart demanded sales of hundreds of thousands of discs. Up and down the country, there must be many homes where Benny Hill’s song is among the record collection.
Ernie may not have been the worst. It was made as a novelty record and was never intended to be appreciated for its musical qualities. There were countless other songs that were recorded and were meant to be considered for their musical merit.
How did so much bad music find so many listeners? Was Top of the Pops to blame? Every Thursday evening, we would watch it, no matter what was played, we would watch the programme from beginning to end.
It is estimated that appearance on Top of the Pops could add up to a quarter of a million copies to the sales of a record, which would explain how unlikely songs became hits. But to feature on the programme a record had to have reached the lower reaches of the charts, and to gain a foothold in the charts, it had to have received radio airtime.
Of course, there was the scandal of Payola, record companies giving inducements to radio stations to get their records played as part of the stations’ normal playlists, but is it likely that any company would have promoted Clive Dunn’s Grandad through such means? Perhaps Clive Dunn needed no promotion, his role as Lance Corporal Jones in Dad’s Army would have been sufficient publicity for the record, but there were many recording artists who wouldn’t have had such a profile, how did they achieve success?
How did so much bad music do so well?