Will Silence Be This Year's UK Christmas No. 1?
In the United Kingdom, singles that are No. 1 on the UK Singles Chart the week before Christmas are for some reason called Christmas No. 1s - we can't imagine why. It's something of an honor to our friends across the pond. The Beatles are the only band to have four consecutive Christmas No. 1s, with the Spice Girls just behind them with three.
Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody" by is the only single to have achieved the distinction twice. If you saw Love, Actually, you might remember the phrase from this scene.
However, from 2005 to 2008, the spot always went to the winner of the British talent show The X Factor, and the only thing that could stop its Idol-esque stranglehold on pop music honors in 2009 was... A Facebook group that decided to push Rage's "Killing In the Name Of" to be 2009's Christmas No. 1.
The group grew like a wildfire; not only did the song break X-Factor's streak of Christmas No. 1s despite being 17 years old, "Killing" was the first download-only single to receive the distinction, and had the most download sales ever in a single week on the UK charts.
This year, a similar campaign has been set up, but the song choice is much more esoteric. Started by a group calling itself Cage Against the Machine, the song being pushed into kicking the mainstream juggernauts while its down is a brand-new recording of avant-garde composer John Cage's famous silent work "4'33"."
John Cage is one of the insane cats you just can't not love. Our favorite Cage anectdote is a recital he gave where he had onstage a piano and a bale of hay. Cage walked onstage, announced that the concert would be over when the piano ate the hay, then walked off.
John Cage, "4'33""
"4'33"" is his best-known work, though. The origin of the song is that Cage spent some time in the anechoic chamber at Harvard, a room designed to absorb all sound rather than reflect it, making it virtually soundproof.
Cage sat in the room and was surprised to find he still heard sounds, namely the low throb of his blood pulsing and the high whine of his nervous system working. This inspired him to compose a work in which the only notes are the ambient noises of the audience. "4'33"" is the result, and you can still buy the sheet music. Or see it at right.
Cage Against the Machine will be recording its cover with the full blessing of the copyright holders of Cage's work this coming Monday (December 6), and will release the single for sale on the Ace Label. All proceeds will go to charity, as the intended purpose of the release is simply to continue denying more corporate endeavors the honor.
Listeners interested in participating in the campaign should join the group. The chart battle begins on December 13 - people are cautioned not to buy the single before then, as sales before the week before Christmas do not count towards the Christmas No. 1 title.
"4'33"" was last covered - after a fashion - by Mike Batt on his 2002 album Classical Graffiti. Batt used a minute of silence to separate album tracks from remixes and credited the work to Batt/Cage as a joke. Cage's estate later sued Batt for copyright infringement, and the two sides decided to settle the matter by having back-to-back performances of the respective works to determine if Batt's recording was really a ripoff of Cage's silence.
Batt later settled out of court for an undisclosed six-figure sum. He also responded by registering copyright on hundreds of silent pieces, including "4'32"" and "4'34"." It is therefore very important that live performances of "4'33""watch the clock carefully, lest they accidentally play the wrong quiet.
Jef With One F is the author of The Bible Spelled Backwards Does Not Change the Fact That You Cannot Kill David Arquette and Other Things I Learned In the Black Math Experiment, available now.
Get the ICYMI: Today's Top Stories Newsletter Our daily newsletter delivers quick clicks to keep you in the know
Catch up on the day's news and stay informed with our daily digest of the most popular news, music, food and arts stories in Houston, delivered to your inbox Monday through Friday.