Why I hate the concept of Guilty Pleasures

This whole concept of Guilty Pleasures is a joke.

Who is deciding what music is cool to like? And what music you have to be ‘guilty’ about liking…

There’s always someone telling you what you should not be listening to, as if music was some sort of measure of cool. Those eternal lists in music mags never reflect what people actually like. Instead they reflect what people feel like they should be seen to like. The same albums over and over selected from the classics list. Probably never listened to years as the earnest owner slips on Abba whilst musing about the Beach Boys and never admitting that Abba were equally good, unless with an ironic smirk.

My recent list of my favourite bass players was a good example of this. Some people on the Internet called it ‘disgusting’ because I didn’t include Tamla Motown in the list! Is there some sort of rule I missed out on? If I like a heavy bass sound then that’s what I like. Music doesn’t follow rules.

The flip side of this the guilty pleasures concept. The idea that some of the music you like is so ‘naff’ that you have to admit to liking it ironically.

Well fuck that!

If Mud’s singles still song great they sound great, if Britney Spears Toxic sounds better than Radiohead then that’s the way it is.

I’m not guilty. I don’t feel guilty. I like all types of music for all types of reasons and none of it is with any kind of guilt.

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Award winning journalist and boss of Louder Than War. In a 30 year music writing career, John was the first to write about bands such as Stone Roses and Nirvana and has several best selling music books to his name. He constantly tours the world with Goldblade and the Membranes playing gigs or doing spoken word and speaking at music conferences.


  1. spot on… unfortunately there are some people have their nme guide to what is cool in their hand constantly..the whole basis of deathdisco was / is that if we like it then we play it .. its why im happy to play Justin Timberlake alongside the strokes..

  2. bra-flaming-vo sir! you know whats cool? ELO, the eagles, KC and the sunshine band, waiting for a star to fall, together in electric dreams, dont stop moving, and many many more – cos it’s my head and i put what i want in it.
    all that guff when johnny cash died – a certain type of person only likes him cos he’s on ‘the list’. johnny cash was and remains boring as hell to these ears. you too bob dylan.
    as you were.

  3. Top one John, Absolutely spot on for me.
    Which is more important, what you like or what the taste makers really really want you to like?

  4. Good points well made. Music is music is music…. There was a brief period in my life, round about 1977, when as a young pup I swallowed the Year Zero party line hook, line and sinker, only to keep discovering all the great music I was supposed to hate. I’m listening to ABC’s Poison Arrow as I type this – and have also enjoyed Wings, Bad Company, B-52’s, Chic, ELO, Wild Beasts, The Jam and more today – it’s all down to personal taste and for this music-lover variety is the spice of life.

  5. I just did 4 weeks work at 6 music, I managed to keep schtum the fact that I fucking can’t stand Radiohead.

  6. Interesting view john. Personally myself, ive noted that people who only like one genre of music tend to be the type of people who were only exposed to a certain genre of music as youngsters. For instance, a friend of mine works in youth projects. The music courses they run are automatically geared towards ‘Rap’ music (or whatever sub-genre is the ‘in’ word now).
    This is wrong, i think youngsters should be exposed to all forms of music from an extremely early age, and then, and only then, will we have a society that is truely open to all forms of music and culture. In that scenario, we wouldnt have to have guilty pleasure’s, we’d all be open to new experiences….

  7. Thing is,
    I do feel guilty for liking certain songs.. as I know they’re badly written, with no meaning or emotion.. There’s just something subconscious in me that agrees with them.
    I’m guilty because I know that the song has created a smokescreen or diversion over sincere, real music and was created with only money in mind, yet still my basic animal reaction is to enjoy it.
    So I think this justifies my guilt. what you reckon?


    • Does it really matter how or why music is created? Surely its the way it makes you feel that counts. Lots of great music is just a lucky accident.
      Is it really important how worthy the intentions of the creator?
      Do we ever even know that the feelings we have when we hear a piece are the ones the original writer or performers meant us to have?
      Just take the Kingsmen’s version of LOUIE LOUIE. No one knows what the lyrics are but when I hear it I have a vision of ….. well the point is what my vision is doesn’t count one jot.
      It is, as you say, all in your subconcious. Don’t feel guilty it is out of your control.

  8. @Fran B

    Your basic animal reaction to enjoy any kind of music is entirely justified ! It means it’s good stuff, transitory or not. It doesn’t matter if it was “only made for money”. It may (possibly) have been, but the creator would have had an excited buzz making it anyway and it clearly strikes something in you and in others. It’s often better stuff in many ways than something that was created with “sincere” intent (sorry for the use of “”) that doesn’t cut it for you.

    On a personal note, I think that John made a good point with this…there are loads of “classic” records that I know are good LPs but I just don’t get excited by them. I’m still trying to get into Bob Dylan to be honest…I’ve tried all his albums but nothing really stuck with me apart from “Love & Theft”. I’d rather some Right Said Fred any day

  9. Couldn’t agree more… Variety is the spice of life… I listen to what i want when i want… I don’t care what other people think of my ” Taste ‘ in music !

  10. The main issue I have with so-called Guilty Pleasures nights and the whole marketing niche that’s sprung up round them is that it’s usually a load of cool people trying to out-cool each other with their uncoolness. Much like the hipster craze for wearing the sort of old-style NHS glasses that anyone actually forced to wear as a kid wouldn’t ever want to be seen in again. The word “twats” springs to mind and no amount of “cool because it’s so uncool” fashion psychology will ever make me like shit music.

  11. We purchased these 3 various albums called ‘Guilty Pleasures’ quite a while back they are superb I’ve played them many times, they take me right back to my childhood. httpss://www.amazon.co.uk/Guilty-Pleasures-Vol-1-Various-Artists/dp/B0002SV4OQ. These tunes included on these compilations wipe are one million times better than the dross in the insignificant pop chart of today. So many young people love the delving back into the wealth of great music of the 60s 70s and 80s era. It was damn more exciting, hence the popularity of the nightclubs Flares and the Reflex nightclub brand for the last 15 years or so, often filled with young revellers mingling with the 30+ crowd enjoying the nostalgia, the clothes, the dance moves and everything.
    I think it’s sad and lonely place to be if people are only interested in one genre, music has the power to set the mood for the rest of the day. Crazy Horses by the Osmonds is one of my favourite guilty pleasures, a record that was played on an American rock station and the DJs would not reveal who sang the song! It’s superb yet the rest of their material is naff! Nik Kershaws “Wouldn’t It Be Good” is a fantastic track, a lyric that sums up the human condition in a song and so true too. Abba singles are amazing, fuck it even most of the Hot Chocolate singles were great too. However people who cite old guilty pleasures of Brotherhood Of Man, Black Lace, Nick Berry or Demis Roussos may need to get their heads checked! Should you feel guilty for listening to Gary Glitter records because of what society thinks? The end of the day it’s all down to personal taste and as the old saying goes if we all liked the same thing the world would be indeed a boring place!


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