We all need words to live by, a guiding light to show us the way. This can be something our parents have instilled in us from an early age, some words of wisdom passed on by a caring teacher, or even something that a kind stranger said in passing that struck a chord with you. And yet, sometimes words of wisdom pop up in the unlikeliest of places… in this case, Graham Norton’s commentary of the 2013 Eurovision song contest. No seriously, bear with me on this one!
For those of you that don’t remember, or have purposely blocked out the memory, let me paint you a picture. A fellow by the name of Cezar from Romania gave a performance that could best be described as an operatic dubstep vampire turning up the flamboyance levels to 11. It was one of those “what an Earth am I watching?” moments that give Eurovision it’s ‘so bad it’s good’ status, and make it fuel for drinking games across the continent. As always it was made even better by Graham Norton’s rapier wit, announcing at the end of the performance those fateful words that have stayed with me to this day: Just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you should.
Lord knows why that stuck with me, but it did, and has henceforth been referred to by me on a regular basis as Norton’s Rule. It has had numerous applications during these past few years, aiding debate in such important philosophical questions as “reckon I could eat this whole cake by myself?”, and “should I buy a sword?” (Yes and no respectively). Increasingly however, as this site grows, I find myself applying Graham’s most sacred commandment to the field of music.
Ambition is generally something to be admired. What purpose does climbing Everest or landing on the moon really serve other than to push the boundaries and do something that has never been done before. The trick is knowing where to draw the line, knowing what things have never been done purely because no one in their right mind would want to. One of my favourite genres, Progressive Rock, often gets a bad rep for this very reason. I love tracks that are long and complicated, that I can spend hours listening to and still find something new, yet even I can’t stand more than five minutes of any of Keith Emerson’s musical wankery. I love a good concept album that I can get absorbed in and over-analyse, yet even I listen to Dream Theater’s The Astonishing and find myself thinking “Rush did this exact story better in 20 minutes than they’ve done in 2 hours”. Hell, I’ve heard some experimental releases that can only loosely be described as music.
Norton’s Rule doesn’t just apply to those making musical misfits that no man was ever meant to hear, it also applies to those taking the opposite approach and being lazy with their art. Nearly all albums have filler tracks, and as albums become longer due to the increasing use of streaming we are confronted with more and more of them. Artists are so concerned with keeping up with a steady flow of releases every couple of years in order to remain relevant that they’re happy to just have something out there instead of taking the extra time to make the album better. Quality is always better than quantity, and yet we have the likes of King Gizzard releasing five albums in the space of a year, making a publicity stunt of all the duff tracks they had lying around.
Just because you can just shove an album out into the world with very little effort in this modern age we live in doesn’t make it a good idea. Treat each release like it might be your last. Only share your very best songs, try to attach some meaningful and memorable artwork, do everything in your power to make it a classic album. That doesn’t mean it will necessarily be a classic album, there is no magic formula when it comes to music, but by giving it your all you are giving your music the best possible start in life. Make no mistake, that extra effort shows. Take Graham Norton’s wisdom to heart and apply the rule to new projects. First make sure you are doing things for the right reasons, and then always be sure to go the extra mile.