Several shades of tacky

Last updated 10:04 25/09/2012

A compilation of classical music arrived the other week. And I'd love to be able to recommend to you a really wonderful wee starter-kit of classical music. It's safe and obvious in so many ways (Pachelbel's Canon in D, Bach's Goldberg Variations, Debussy's Preludes) but it's really a lovely listen. And for every tried and tested piece - Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No 2 or Faure's Requiem Op 48 - there is something about the flow, the arrangement. Fifteen tracks that seem to follow a logical sequence and take in so many great composers (Chopin, Verdi, Villa-Lobos, Vaughan Williams) and offer a few surprises (no Beethoven, Brahms and Mozart but selections from Canteloube, Tallis and Delibes).

I've listened to this album a few times now. It's really quite charming, quite clever. I've got many of the pieces already, but as is the way with any compilation of classical music that offers a range of composers and pieces across a few periods, I've found a few new pieces to enjoy and I've been reminded of some old favourites.

But I can't recommend this album. Not at all.

That's because it's called Fifty Shades of Grey: The Classical Album - and the cover tells us that it's "Music selected by author E L James".

I've not read any of the books that make up clit-lit's tawdry trilogy. And I'm not about to. There'll be movie versions of the books - and I won't see them either. Because there's only so many times you can join the gang and read The Da Vinci Code to "see what all the fuss is" or tune in to the first episode of The Ridges or New Zealand's Got Talent "just so you can say you saw them".

I'm all for enjoying a bit of trash - a bit of mindless escapism even. But I'm very pleased to say I never did read The Da Vinci Code, nor will I. And I wasn't even tempted to watch The Ridges or New Zealand's Got Talent. It didn't even cross my mind to check in with the first episodes of either show.

But good luck tearing me away from Come Dine with Me on a Saturday night (or for that matter the convenient omnibus that screens on Saturday morning to recap the entire week's offerings). And I'll watch all manner of trashy films - but there's trash that still requires taste, that offers something by playing its hand as trash, by knowing what it is - and then there's the rubbish that serves itself up as being just a bit too pleased with itself; that people jump on board with seemingly because everyone else is doing it, so it becomes water-cooler talk when the weather pleasantries have passed. It gathers numbers that reward its safety - success, judged purely on takings, will have the many tell the few that the quantity now suggests a form of quality.

Just last week I wrote about James Rhodes and his attempts - in his own way - to break down or chip away at some of the fustiness that wraps itself around classical music like some ermine cloak.

But the antidote to classical snobbery is not a classical CD dressed up to fit the brand of the fantasy-porn ramblings of an unimaginative and thoroughly bored housewife having a go at writing a book after posting fan fiction based on the Twilight series under the internet-moniker Snowqueens Icedragon.

I was killing time in the cinema complex the other week, waiting for a movie to start and the bookshop had Fifty Shades of Grey: The Classical Album proudly displayed on the counter.

Someone might, you see, buy the book and then need just the perfect bit of Bach to soothe them through the first 150 uneventful pages before the rooting kicks in. It's a 514-page book so why not let 70 minutes of classical music make you feel classy while you kick into your ludicrous and smutty escapism? You could put the music on repeat and if you drift off during your escapist romp you might dream of some real-time bodice-ripping in the good old ice-age of whenever these greatest hits from classical music were first knocked out.

The pieces pushed together to huddle under the Fifty Shades of unsubtle marketing and lame brand association never needed this. This is music that is beautiful and powerful and that can fill the heart and mind with joy, can evoke longing and hint at hope; this is music that moves and stirs - that shows, rather than tells...

The book, from what I can gather, tells everything while showing very little.

The condescending liner notes in the CD begin, "there has always been a dark side to Classical music". Puh-lease! Let people hear that for themselves; don't tell them it's there so that they will then go looking after a lifetime of reluctance, Coldplay, Sheryl Crow and Mumford & Sons.

This is the music that allegedly motivated EL James as she raced on through - ignoring taste and talent - to write her books that ache with inertia, that are surely designed for one-handed reading50 Shades.

James tells us in the CD, "I am thrilled that the classical pieces that inspired me while I wrote the Fifty Shades Trilogy are being brought together in one collection for all lovers of the books to enjoy".

Ew. Boo!

Here some lovely - often quite perfect - music has been ruined by brand association. So I really would like to recommend it as probably a perfect starter-kit of sorts; a beginner's guide-type compilation that would highlight a few key works and introduce a few new sounds to the ears of any keen beans wanting to hear some of the reasons why classical music is undeserving of the tarring it gets with the snobbery-brush.

But could you really own a CD that is named after one of literature's most embarrassing car-crashes? Or do you own it already?

And this got me wondering what the worst examples of music being shamelessly misrepresented due to its retooling to sprawl under an ill-fitting brand you've, er, come across?

Are there CDs you could not own - or ever listen to - because of the way the cover looks, the name of the compilation, the TV show, book or ad-campaign that it is tagged to? Or can you look past the tackiest of retreads and rewrites when it comes to marketing and branding if the music means something to you, if the song still sounds good no matter how it has been made to look?

Postscript: Of course this is all just a bit of a chuckle at the ugly, crass, tacky tie-in. The classical music world is probably loving its new audience - the 50 Shades: Classical Album has topped classical charts around the world. How ridiculous. 

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