If countries were ranked on the quality of music playing in public spaces, Australia would be third world. Shopping centres, supermarkets, fashion boutiques and most disappointing of all, music stores. They’re all drought ravished, impoverished wastelands. Of pop music.

Sanity? Call it insanity, because that’s the only thing inspired by the constant blaring pop remixes. They might play the odd decent tune, but I’ve never heard it. The other chain music stores are just as bad.

Only in the independents do you ever hear anything decent, as the people who run those stores aren’t just there to make money, they’re also passionate about music. Crazy huh?

The sugary gunk discharged from supermarket and shopping centre speakers, dropping like so much putrid waste into the ears of helpless shoppers - it’s just as bad. All the blandest hits from the last decade on repeat, it’s a wonder more staff haven’t snapped.

The worst offenders are the fashion boutiques. Striving for funky cool with their carefully selected store décor and music, but every time I find something funky, I throw it in the bin.

On planes I now feel ridiculously safe. While statistically safer than car travel, there’s something unnatural and unnerving about being so far up in the air for so long. Landing and take-off are supposedly the most dangerous parts, however as soon as I hear some exhausted pop song being piped through the cabin, I know I’ll be fine.

It’s no longer a plane, it’s an elevator with wings, and if there is a God, none would be so cruel as to make this song the last I’ll ever hear. If a plane ever does play something decent, that’s when I’ll reach for the life jacket. Then remember that in Australia most flying is done over land, not water, and put it back.

I understand the attraction of pop music. Instantly accessible with relatable and easy to learn lyrics, and tunes that stick in your head. Listening to the Top 40 there is the odd song I quite like, but music is so much more than just what’s most popular.

With every public space, someone chooses what to play, and they’re wasting an amazing opportunity. Travelling around the world many spaces play the same crap as in Australia, but I’ve also heard jazz in French supermarkets, traditional string instruments in Chinese airports, salsa in Spain, and classical music dotted through Scandinavia, among so many other examples.

Some studies have suggested that classical music makes you smarter, and even if that’s rubbish, it’s surely better than what’s being played at the moment. My choice of music in public spaces would be rock, country, punk, and basically anything with a guitar and some feeling - but I know that’s a personal preference.

All I’m suggesting is that we put a bit of thought into what’s being consistently poured into our ears. Independent music stores use their selections to introduce customers to the new, innovative and different, or to remind them of forgotten gems. Why can’t other public spaces do that too?

We’re now in the season of Christmas carols, so it’s the ideal time for a change. Let’s ignore the pop stars cashing in with their renditions of the classics, and all the other done-to-death recordings.

Instead, let’s draw from the hours of innovative and musically spectacular Christmas inspired recordings that are out there. I can hear you thinking, ‘Not possible. There aren’t that many.’ There are, all you need to do is have a look. Please, I’m sick of having third world ears.

Comments on this post will close at 8pm AEDST.

Follow Xavier on Twitter: @xaviertoby

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    • dave says:

      06:05am | 29/11/12

      Third world ears, first world problem…

    • iansand says:

      06:10am | 29/11/12

      I hate to tell you this, but there has been A LOT of thought put into what we hear in supermarkets.  There are entire consultancies devoted to creating the mix of music most likely to encourage us to buy.

      Muzak is one of them http://www.muzak.com/

    • Nathan Explosion says:

      06:52am | 29/11/12

      I remember being pleasently surprised walking through Safeway and realising they were playing the Eurovision album.

      It was quite cool being able to shop while listening to the Russian grannies!

    • Hopium says:

      08:45am | 29/11/12

      I love it when the big retailers play “War is Over” at Xmas.

    • The Meek with the thorn in his side says:

      10:34am | 29/11/12

      Agreed… missing the point almost as much as Nissan (I think) when they had the Dandy Warhol’s ‘Bohemian like you’ on an ad for their newest model… they focused on the first line - “You’ve got a great car” - while using a voiceover to mask the second - “What’s wrong with it today?”

    • Jeremy says:

      09:33am | 29/11/12

      Why don’t they play such refined Christmas hits as - ‘This Christmas (Share Your Turkey With A Tramp), and ‘Tis The Season To Drop The AVO’. Something Australians can relate to whilst buying holiday bribes for each other.

      p.s. Shopping in most Chinese cities is awesome - they play great, fast EDM at ear-splitting volumes. Everyone gets hyped-up and buys clothes. Love it.

    • Chris L says:

      03:51pm | 29/11/12

      My favourite is Wierd Al’s Christmas At Ground Zero.

    • SimpleSimon says:

      09:37am | 29/11/12

      Hear hear. I remember once hanging out in JB for a lot longer than necessary when I realised they were playing the Master of Puppets album. But JB are probably an exception; there are a lot of people there who prefer alternative music, and they have control over their own sound system.

    • Jay2 says:

      11:05am | 29/11/12

      Yes, JB is definitely an exception, several times I’ve actually bought the cd of music playing in store.

      The rest, supermarkets, I’ve honestly thought “Good lord, why oh why,would they play this tripe?!”, but yes Xavier, those fashion boutiques, I’ve concluded, are actually trying to drive shoppers out of their stores.
      Maybe they’re after REAL shoppers, the truly dedicated ones that could shop while nails are being run down a blackboard OR listen to their music.  Mind you, it’s pumped out so bloody loud, that every crappy song starts to blend into one bad noise! The worst part of the volume is then conversations between the employees get louder to compensate, as does mobile phone conversations (with the person holding the phone holding one well manicured digit over her ear) and “SPEAKING…IN ...LOUD…MEASURED…SENTENCES…LIKE THIS…”.
      At least trolo’ is amusing (okay once), which is more than I can say for that other supermarket/boutique ‘stuff’.  Maybe I should donate the 1983 xmas gift doozy I received,  “Let there be drums!” to them, EVEN that would be better…just.

    • The Meek with the thorn in his side says:

      10:39am | 29/11/12

      Agreed. The tendency to play music from the earsplittingly awful end of the pop spectrum is very upsetting. Not all pop music is bad, and there’s plenty of it out there, both new and old. If someone is not planning on buying a One Direction album, hearing it in the store isn’t going to change that (in fact, it’ll probably strengthen their conviction). Trotting out old classics (my local store was playing a disc of outtakes from Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Rumours’ the other day) or some of the top quality new music that’s floating around has got to be better for sales… and it’s sure as hell better for my ears.

    • James says:

      04:09pm | 29/11/12

      It’s simple, play awful music and everything or anything else around you looks fare more appetizing and worth giving a try.


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