Dec 092010

Next Sunday, the Simon Cowell-helmed UK television singing competition The X Factor (based largely on American Idol, itself a spinoff of his British series Pop Idol, on which Cowell also judged) will crown the winner of its seventh go-around. As tradition has held since the show’s second season, the victor’s debut single will drop the following day so as to compete to be the “Christmas number one,” (the top spot on the UK singles chart for the sales-heavy week prior to the holiday), a feat accomplished by four of the last five champs, much to the chagrin of the show’s detractors. Last year, however, a grassroots Facebook campaign known as Rage Against the X Factor lobbied over 500,000 supporters to pay to download “Killing in the Name,” the explicit 1992 debut single by Rage Against the Machine, and the title held off the debut of X Factor winner Joe McElderry (a cover of Miley Cyrus‘ “The Climb”) to become the first download-only Christmas number one in chart history.

Emboldened by this unlikely if poetic triumph (who hasn’t dreamt of screaming “Fuck you, I won’t do what you tell me” at Cowell or Ryan Seacrest?), this year’s pool of would-be spoilsports is positively muddied with social media efforts stumping for everyone from Willow Smith to Florence and the Machine to The Trashmen’s Family Guy plot point “Surfin’ Bird.” But one protest campaign is raising the bar for potential Yuletide chart-toppers and cover songs alike, advocating for John Cage‘s notorious 1952 piano piece 4’33”, which famously consists of three movements of utter silence (read up on it).

The group, ingeniously titled Cage Against the Machine, explains on its website that because UK singles chart rules would exclude a three-movement piece from eligibility, an impressive lineup of indie artists from Pete Doherty, Billy Bragg, and members of The Kooks, The Big Pink and more convened on Monday for the recording of a new cover version. Proceeds of the single will benefit a number of charities, including, appropriately, the British Tinnitus Association, and British mega-production outfit Wall of Sound will release the track, along with several “pocket remixes,” on Monday the 13th – the same day as the debut from the eventual X Factor champ.

The new interpretation of 4’33” would be but the latest cover song to earn number-one; 2006 X Factor champ Leona Lewis‘ cover of Kelly Clarkson‘s post-American Idol debut “A Moment Like This;” Whitney Houston‘s belting rendition of Dolly Parton‘s “I Will Always Love You;” and the 1978 Boney M revival of Harry Belafonte’s 1957 Christmas number one, “Mary’s Boy Child,” are among the previous champs. The Facebook group has over 76,000 members, well short of the 700,000-plus that had signed on to last year’s protest. But if the British appreciate one concept, it’s off-the-wall ingenuity in its protest candidates, so nearly sixty years after its first performance, the controversial composition might still prove itself silent but deadly.

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