troubled diva  

My freelance writing can now be found at
Recently: VV Brown, Alabama 3, Just Jack, Phantom Band, Frankmusik, Twilight Sad, Slaid Cleaves, Alesha Dixon, Bellowhead, The Unthanks, Dizzee Rascal.

On Thursday September 17th, I danced on the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square.
Click here to watch, and here to listen.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Shaggy Blog Stories: a collaborative blog-stunt for Comic Relief.

I have had a Big Idea!!!

Next Friday (March 16) is Comic Relief's Red Nose Day day in the UK. What I’m proposing is to assemble and publish – in the space of just seven days - a paperback anthology of blog writing, that can be sold to raise funds for the charity.

The book will be called Shaggy Blog Stories: a collection of amusing tales from the UK blogosphere.

Here’s a short version of the Big Idea.

1. All UK bloggers are invited to select one post from their archives, suitable for inclusion in the book.

2. Because it's Comic Relief, the watchword here is Funny. So I'm looking for posts with a pronounced comedic content.

3. Please e-mail your permalinks to me at Alternatively, you can mail me with a tickled-up version of the original text.

4. The absolute final deadline is 6pm UK time on Tuesday evening (March 13) - but please send your stuff to me as soon as you can, as I’ll be assembling the book on the fly.

5. The book will be published through - a site which specialises in self-publishing, and which doesn't require any upfront costs or pre-planning. Once they have the text, the book is more or less immediately ready to sell.

6. All money raised by sales - ie. minus the fees charged by the website - is donated to Comic Relief. I would expect to raise between 3 and 4 quid per book, as Lulu's charges hover around 4 or 5 quid (depending on page count).

All with me so far? Good. Now, here’s how you can help.

1. By publicising the event on your own blog, and asking your readers to pitch in with contributions. Please link directly to this URL: (Digg users can also do their Digg-stuff here.)

2. By contributing to the book itself.

3. By buying the book next Friday.

4. By pimping the book on your own blog, once it goes on sale.

If you’d like to contribute, then please follow these guidelines.
1. Brit bloggers only! You should be currently resident in the UK, or else an ex-pat Brit living abroad. (So, yes, foreign ex-pats in the UK are also welcome to join in.)

2. Please send me ONE POST ONLY. It’s your choice, not mine.

3. Posts should contain TEXT ONLY – we won’t be using pictures.

4. Posts should not include copyrighted material, e.g. song lyrics.

5. Short posts are preferable, i.e. under 1000 words. Absolute top whack maximum is 1500 words, if it's a really really good one.

6. Although a couple of us will be proof-reading, it would greatly assist if you could check and re-edit your posts for grammar/spelling/punctuation before submitting them.

7. When e-mailing, please tell me the author name you'd like me to use. I know that many of you like to be anonymous on the web, and that's fine - but as Google doesn't index the printed page, this might be a suitable occasion to use your real name.
If you’re concerned about copyright: don’t be, as Lulu don’t retain any. The copyright rests with you. They don't own your words.

If you’re concerned about not being “good enough”: don’t be. This is a quick-fire wheeze, not a major work of literature.

(Having said that: if I receive more material than I can squeeze into the book, then I’ll be enlisting the services of a small editorial team, to help me select the best posts for inclusion.)

And if you’re concerned about the workload I’m taking on: bless you, but don’t be. I’ve got clear evenings all through next week, and I’ll be taking Thursday off work to prepare the manuscript for publication.

My thanks to Lucy Pepper of Blogzira, who has kindly offered to design the cover - and also to Anna Pickard of, for her advice, encouragement and support.

So, people. We’ve got SEVEN DAYS to produce A BOOK! Are you up for it? Of course you are.

Hooray for collective collaboration! Book deals for all!

Now go forth and publicise.


Links to this post: rARsh!, Tired Dad, Edvard Moonke, The skewed worldview of Lubin Odana, Blogzira, Mock Duck, the craic girl, Living for Disco, huskyteer,, I am livid, JonnyB's Private Secret Diary, Tokyo Girl Down Under, Naked Blog, Everything Is Electric, Peach Arse, Becky's T-Blog, David Belbin, pandemian, Merlot and Missives, Miss Tickle, Smaller Than Life, Reluctant Nomad, Cartside, Advancing the sum total of human knowledge and endeavour!, Rise, A sometimes blog, Mat Bowles, Darren's Journal, The Sad Case Of Mr. X, My Boyfriend Is A Twat, Time For Tea And Cake, TheCatGirlSpeaks, Boob Pencil, Chicken Yoghurt, Tim Worstall (by proxy), This Is The Goo I've Got, Kitchentable, enduring ramblings, Nicole In London, you and me and the devil makes three, Random Reflections, An Unreliable Witness (which deserves to win some sort of prize), petite anglaise, blue cat, The Oracle, 1000 Shades of Grey, Struggling Author, Comfy Pants Production Co, meredic, DundeeMedStudent, Just A Blog, Stately Moans, [from fuck-up to] fab!*, Niles's Blog, There's life Jim, but not as we know it..., Grantham New Town, The Beauty Offensive, Rites of Passage in 60s/70s NE England, So Many People (you're telling me), Wu Wei, Argy Bargey, Quinta das Abelhas, Better Oot Than In, Goodballoon's paunch, Tampon Teabag, Music Man, The Cartoon Blog,,, Chocs Away, Old Girl!,, I'm A Seoul Man, Betty's Utility Room, (Contains Mild Peril), Ignorminious' Misty Mind, The Bargain Basement, Longstory, Incessant, pointless barking, journeying, Rullsenberg Rules, Savage Popcorn, papersurfer, The Girl with The Golden Mind, Blaugustine, For Which Relief Much Thanks, The Curmudgeon, rachel-catherine, The Windsor Castle Hot Air Balloon Festival, the further adventures of boz, Tomato And Basil Sandwiches (aren't you just loving some of these blog names?), TGI Paul, Between The Pavement And The Stars, the (French) mountain dweller, Medication Time, itisi, A Simple Equation, what's new, pussycat?, Clairwil, L'oeil de Mouche, Pickled Politics...

...and probably many more - but I'm going to have to stop linking to them, in order to give my full attention to the submissions. Many, many thanks to all linkers.

NEW: Click here for progress updates. And please note the revised deadline, which is now Tuesday at 6pm.

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Freelance Friday #3

Just two pieces this week: gig reviews of Amy Winehouse (worth skimming for the ace Madonna quote, if nothing else) and The Musical Box (a Genesis tribute act, but a rather superior one). Keep scrolling down; they're coming up next.

Next week: album reviews for LCD Soundsystem and Mr Hudson & The Library.

The Musical Box: Selling England By The Pound - Nottingham Royal Concert Hall, Thursday March 8.

This review will be appearing in today's Nottingham Evening Post.

Unlike other tribute bands, Genesis disciples The Musical Box take their devotion to the absolute extremes of historical accuracy. Every last detail of the band’s 1973 Selling England By The Pound tour is faithfully reproduced: not just the music, but also costumes, masks, backdrops, slides, and Peter Gabriel’s eccentric little speeches between songs.

The problem with this approach is that it kills any chance of spontaneity. Consequently, the show felt frozen in time, as if we were watching moving waxworks. However, for the real Genesis, the 1970s were a period of experimentation. This was, after all, “progressive” rock. To have their music portrayed in this way felt oddly regressive, and perhaps against their original spirit.

There again, as one of the old songs has it, “I know what I like, and I like what I know.” Thirty-four years on, the prog-rock crowd has inevitably become more conservative. There’s a comfort in hearing the familiar, and rolling back the years. And in any case, classic epics such as Supper’s Ready still deserve to be heard live, where their full power can be unleashed.

This crowd certainly knew what they liked, giving the band a standing ovation and roaring their appreciation.

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Amy Winehouse / Mr Hudson & The Library – Nottingham Rock City, Monday March 5.

An edited version of this review originally appeared in the Nottingham Evening Post.

It’s always good to see a support act find the right audience, and Mr Hudson & The Library were ideally suited to Amy Winehouse’s good-natured, receptive crowd. Their prime asset was pianist Torville Jones, whose alternately rippling and pounding flurries sat well with the band’s melodic, likeable pop-rock. Funky hip-hop drumming and steel-pan percussion were blended with blokey, conversational “awright geezah” vocals, and distinct echoes of Joe Jackson at his peak.

Amy Winehouse cut a surprisingly petite figure on stage. Dressed in a tiny pink crop-top, her size-zero frame topped by that extraordinary, gravity-defying beehive hairdo, she delivered a controlled, assured performance, with none of the unhinged excesses that you might have expected from recent press reports. Her razor-sharp tongue was only unleashed once, in response to an over-excited woman at the front who screamed “I want your babies!”

“You want my babies?” she retorted, coolly arching an eyebrow. “Who let Madonna in?”

Backed by an eight-piece band, immaculate in sharp black suits and skinny ties, Amy’s show was equal parts supper-club cabaret and Stax soul revue. As such, it seamlessly combined the jazzier material from her debut album and the sharper girl-group stylings from the chart-topping Back To Black, beefing up the former and smoothing the edges off the latter. The vocal performance was sublime: languid and flirty, smooth and dirty, and perfectly pitched for the material.

The set climaxed with Back To Black’s opening three numbers, played in reverse order: Me And Mr Jones, a truly stunning You Know I’m No Good, and the inevitable Rehab. For the encore, the 2-Tone revivalist knees-up of Monkey Man (Toots & The Maytals/The Specials) was followed by a splendidly sassy reworking of The Zutons’ Valerie.

Rock City was lucky indeed to catch this rising star in such an appropriately intimate setting.

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Thursday, March 08, 2007

Impending Big Announcement Alert.

There's going to be some Big News on this blog, just after midnight tonight.

I want to tell you now, but I shan't.

It is all very exciting.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Some popular myths about blogmeets dispelled.

1. They are full of super-confident high achievers, comparing the advances they got from their book deals.

(If you are fortunate enough to be admitted to one of their conversational bouquets, the customary salutation is “Congratulations on [insert recent major achievement]! Can I just say that I love your work?”)

2. They are full of earnest geeks, assessing the latest plug-in widgets and swapping CSS hacks.

(A suggested conversation-opener: “So, is anyone Twittering the SXSW keynotes?”)

3. If you turn up on your own without knowing anyone, no-one will talk to you. In fact, they’ll think you’re a bit weird.

(Meeting total strangers off the Internet? Who would do such a thing?)

4. If you meet a blogger whom you a) don’t read or b) have never heard of before, admitting as much will spell certain social death.

(The recommended face-saver at such moments is “Oh! I am aware of your work!”)

5. The prime purpose of a blogmeet is to network, network, network. If you come away without being added to half a dozen new blogrolls, and without the phone numbers of a couple of good agents stuffed in your pocket, the event will have been a failure.

All of which is by way of a reminder that there’s a Nottingham blogmeet this Saturday, from 14:00 until mid-evening, in the café/ bar of the Broadway cinema on Broad Street. (If you're not local, here's a map.) All are welcome.

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Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Which Decade: Cumulative scores, after five years.

(Click here to view all of this year's Which Decade posts on one page.)

And finally, here are the scores which matter the most. At the top of the table, the 1960s take over the lead from the 1970s, by the most slender of margins. At the bottom of the table, the 2000s increase their lead over the 1990s - but with a 26 point gap between third and fourth place, the 2000s face an almost impossible struggle.

1 (2) The 1960s - 168 points.
2 (1) The 1970s - 166 points.
3 (3) The 1980s - 159 points.
4 (4) The 2000s - 133 points.
5 (5) The 1990s - 125 points.

With two more years of the Which Decade still to run, I'm predicting an upswing for the 1970s - especially when we reach 1979, one of the greatest years ever for chart pop. (Generational bias, you say?) Nevertheless, there's still plenty of fight left in the 1960s, and who knows what as yet undreamed of heights the 2000s might reach? As for the 1980s and 1990s, it's going to be very much down to the luck of the draw, combined with your tolerance for commercial dance and the collective works of Stock, Aitken and Waterman.

Thanks to all who have voted, and particularly to all those who have left comments along the way: Adrian, Alan, Amanda, asta, Ben, betty, Chig, chris, Clare, David, diamond geezer, Dymbel, Geoff, Gert, Hedgie, jeff w, jo, JonnyB, Koen, Lionel d'Lion, loomer, Lyle, Marcos, NiC, Oliver, Pam, robert, robin, Sarah, Simon C, Simon & The City, Stereoboard, SwissToni, TGI Paul, Will and z. Why, you've been quite the little community. Thank you also for playing so nicely, and not getting all het up like some other online music forums I could mention. As always, a selection of your comments has been appended to the respective final scores for all 50 of this year's songs.

For the hardcore stats-geeks among you - and don't roll your eyes, I've had requests - here's the spreadsheet which I've been using to collate this year's scores. (Is that OK for you, Clare?)

Join me next February, as our glorious mission enters its sixth year, bringing us ever closer to finding the answer to that eternal question: Which Decade Is Tops For Pops?

We now return you to your regular scheduled programming.


Which Decade: your Top Ten and your Bottom Five.

(Positions are calculated by dividing the numbers of points scored by the number of people voting on that particular day.)

1. Don't Leave Me This Way - Harold Melvin & The Bluenotes.
2. Strawberry Fields Forever/Penny Lane - The Beatles.
3. I'm A Believer - The Monkees.
4. Grace Kelly - Mika.
5. Let's Spend The Night Together - Rolling Stones.
6. Daddy Cool - Boney M.
7. Mellow Yellow - Donovan.
8. Don't Cry For Me Argentina - Julie Covington.
9. Boogie Nights - Heatwave.
10. Same Jeans - The View.

46. I Wanna Love You - Akon featuring Snoop Dogg.
47. The Music Of The Night - Michael Crawford.
48. Heartache - Pepsi & Shirlie.
49. I Shot The Sheriff - Warren G.
50. Stay Out Of My Life - Five Star.

(Note that there is nothing from the 1980s or the 1990s in the Top Ten, and three songs from the 1980s in the Bottom Five.)


Which decade is Tops for Pops? - THE WINNER.

1st place - The 1960s. (34 points)

2006: 2nd place, 37 points.
2005: 2nd place, 33 points.
2004: 1st place, 36 points.
2003: 3rd place, 28 points.

10. Mellow Yellow - Donovan. 5 points.
9. Matthew And Son - Cat Stevens. 3 points.
8. Snoopy Vs. The Red Baron - Royal Guardsmen. 1 point, least popular.
7. Peek-A-Boo - New Vaudeville Band. 3 points.
6. Let's Spend The Night Together - Rolling Stones. 5 points.
5. Strawberry Fields Forever/Penny Lane - The Beatles. 5 points, most popular.
4. Here Comes My Baby - The Tremeloes. 4 points.
3. I'm A Believer - The Monkees. 5 points.
2. Release Me - Engelbert Humperdinck. 2 points.
1. This Is My Song - Petula Clark. 1 point.

And so, for the second time in five years, to the 1960s: a decade which has only once finished below second place. 1967 picked up our highest share of top scores, with Donovan, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and The Monkees all finishing in first place. These more than compensated for the rare occasions (Royal Guardsmen, Engelbert Humperdinck, Petula Clark) when it fell out of favour.

Whereas our 2007 Top 10 was consistently OK but rarely spectacular (unless you count "Same Jeans" and "Grace Kelly" as "spectacular"), our 1967 Top 10 veers wildly between godawful corniness and genre-defining transcendence, rarely pausing for half measures. It's also our most optimistic selection, as befits the relative innocence of the times.

However, perhaps we are once again drinking in the Last Gasp saloon. If 1997 represented the end of the road for post-Britpop "credibility", and if 1987 sounded the death knell for "style" pop, and if 1977 marked the overthrowal of the Boring Old Farts by the New Wave, then maybe 1967 marked the end of the first rush of creative energy that had been set in motion by Merseybeat. Could something like "Here Comes My Baby" have existed in 1968, after the schism created by the Summer of Love? For in the post-psychedelic world, as the Serious Artists graduated to the albums format, the singles chart rapidly became the target of their sneers: a playground for the very young, or a graveyard for the middle-aged. Bubblegum and MOR flourished, as the concept of the "beat group" more or less died overnight.

Congratulations, 1967. You sat on the cusp, hinted at the best of what was to come, and reaped the benefits accordingly. Just be warned, though: you might not find things quite so easy in a year's time.


Which decade is Tops for Pops? - the results.

2nd place - The 2000s. (32 points)

2006: Equal 4th place, 21 points.
2005: 4th place, 27 points.
2004: 5th place, 26 points.
2003: 4th place, 27 points.

10. The Sweet Escape - Gwen Stefani featuring Akon. 1 point.
9. I Wanna Love You - Akon featuring Snoop Dogg. 2 points, least popular.
8. Same Jeans - The View. 5 points.
7. Too Little Too Late - Jojo. 4 points.
6. How To Save A Life - The Fray. 2 points.
5. Exceeder - Mason. 4 points.
4. This Ain't A Scene It's An Arms Race - Fall Out Boy. 2 points.
3. Starz In Their Eyes - Just Jack. 3 points.
2. Ruby - Kaiser Chiefs. 4 points.
1. Grace Kelly - Mika. 5 points, most popular.

You see? You see? Downloading is changing EVERYTHING.

For why else would the 2000s, after four years of ignominy, suddenly spring into life in 2007? The answer has to lie, in part if not in whole, with the recent changes in the way that the chart is compiled, and with the shift in the singles market from CD to MP3.

Under the new rules, songs can qualify for inclusion in the charts even if they aren't available as physical CD singles. That "Top 40" display rack in Woolworth's, Virgin and HMV? It has been rendered null and void, ever since Gnarls Barkley's "Crazy" reached Number One in April 2006 on downloads alone.

Until the start of 2007, songs were only allowed to chart on downloads if a full CD release was planned for the following week. Now that rule has been scrapped, the whole notion of a single as existing in a physical format has been sabotaged. Any song, from any era, so long as it can be downloaded as a single entity from a legal source, can qualify for inclusion.

At a stroke, this demolishes the short-term marketing strategies which had contributed so effectively to the devaluation of the Top 40 over the last ten years or so, and whose early effects can be detected in our 1997 selection. The techniques of building up demand through pre-release airplay, or of mobilising a committed fan base to snap up multiple format copies of a single in its first week, or of heavy first-week discounting to ensure a speedy purchase - all of these fall by the wayside, if all we have to do is log on to the iTunes music store as soon as we hear something we like, search, click, and cough up our standard 79 pence.

As a result of all this, songs are once more permitted to rise gradually and gracefully up the charts, as their popularity spreads outwards. Few songs crash straight into the Top 10, only to drop out of the Top 40 three weeks later. And equally importantly, the singles-buying demographic has widened once again, restoring the charts to their status as an accurate gauge of the nation's favourite tunes. Just like it used to be in the old days, when Engelbert and Petula sat next to the Beatles and the Stones.

How could all of this not lead to a rise in the overall quality of the Top Ten, if only from the perspective of an older audience such as thee and me? You may not personally care for all of the singles featured in our representative sample, but you have to admit that they're a diverse and interesting bunch, with next to nothing in the way of out and out crap. (Yes, even that Akon and Snoop single works, in its own way.) Basically, I can see a reason why people would genuinely like all of these tunes - and that's not something that I've been able to say for a lot of the shit that the 2000s have flung at us thus far. ("Reminisce" by Blazin' Squad, I'm looking at YOU.)

And so I, for one, am rejoicing. For if the 2000s still have it in them to finish second, then that suggests two things. Firstly, that the quality of chart pop music is not in a state of inexorable decline after all. Secondly, that the readers of this site - few of whom are under 25 - aren't incapable of appreciating and fairly evaluating new pop music, even long after they have ceased to "follow the charts".

It gives me hope, people.


Monday, March 05, 2007

Which decade is Tops for Pops? - the results.

3rd place - The 1970s. (31 points)

2006: 1st place, 38 points.
2005: 3rd place, 30 points.
2004: 2nd place, 31 points.
2003: 1st place, 35 points + 1 tiebreak point.

10. Chanson D'Amour - Manhattan Transfer. 2 points.
9. Daddy Cool - Boney M. 5 points.
8. Jack In the Box - Moments. 2 points.
7. Don't Leave Me This Way - Harold Melvin & The Bluenotes. 5 points, most popular.
6. Boogie Nights - Heatwave. 4 points.
5. Isn't She Lovely - David Parton. 2 points, least popular.
4. Side Show - Barry Biggs. 1 point.
3. Don't Give Up On Us - David Soul. 2 points.
2. Don't Cry For Me Argentina - Julie Covington. 5 points.
1. When I Need You - Leo Sayer. 3 points.

(Boring statistical aside: Although David Parton scored 2 points and Barry Biggs only scored 1 point, David Parton has the least popular song, as derived by dividing the total number of points by the total number of voters on that day.)

I blame the MINDLESS BRAINWASHED MASSES, who were FED A DIET OF LIES by our FASCIST REGIME. Or rather, my Public School Punk Rocker fifteen-year old self would have done, as he KNEW THE TRUTH ALRIGHT?

But, I ask you, just look at this creaking load of smarmy smoothies. Simpering David Soul. Bleating Leo Sayer. Over-enunciating Julie Covington. Vacuum-packed swing from the twinkly-toed Man Tran. Carbon-copy ersatz soul from hired hack David Parton. Chicken-in-a-basket Philly Disco from the frizzed and frilled Moments, and boil-in-the-bag Euro Disco from the PLASTIC PRODUCTION LINE PUPPETS known as Boney M. Limp pop-reggae from Barry Biggs, a thousand miles away from the groundbreaking likes of Lee Perry, Culture, Burning Spear, all busy Chanting Down Babylon as the Two Sevens Clash.

But then there was also Grade A Philly disco from Harold Melvin & the Bluenotes - the most popular single in the entire five-year history of the Which Decade project - and classy sophisto-disco from Rod Temperton's Heatwave, ushering in the Saturday Night Fever era. And in any case, history has been rather kind to "Daddy Cool" and "Don't Cry For Me Argentina", and most of you were WRONG WRONG WRONG about the sublime "Side Show", and Punk Rock Phase One was never even aimed at the charts in the first place, so one can hardly bemoan its absence.

Yes indeed. Crisis, what crisis? As long as we could all Get Up And Boogie at the Best Disco In Town, all was far from doom and gloom in 1977. So never mind those FILTHY FOUL-MOUTHED YOBS spitting and swearing, and those BLASTED UNIONS HOLDING THE COUNTRY TO RANSOM, because we had a lovely Silver Jubilee to look forward to, and street parties to plan! Ra-da-da-da-dah!


Which decade is Tops for Pops? - the results.

4th place - The 1980s. (27 points)

2006: 3rd place, 33 points.
2005: 1st place, 34 points.
2004: 3rd place, 30 points.
2003: 2nd place, 35 points.

10. I Love My Radio - Taffy. 3 points.
9. The Music Of The Night - Michael Crawford. 1 point.
8. Running In The Family - Level 42. 3 points.
7. Stay Out Of My Life - Five Star. 1 point, least popular.
6. It Doesn't Have To Be This Way - Blow Monkeys. 3 points.
5. Almaz - Randy Crawford. 3 points.
4. Male Stripper - Man 2 Man featuring Man Parrish. 5 points, most popular.
3. Heartache - Pepsi & Shirlie. 1 point.
2. Down To Earth - Curiosity Killed The Cat. 3 points.
1. I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me) - George Michael & Aretha Franklin. 4 points.

I blame Thatcher.

It was February 1987, and Great Britain had, allegedly, Never Had It So Good. To ensure a landslide victory for the Conservative Party in the forthcoming general election, Chancellor Nigel Lawson had over-heated the economy to a degree which bordered on the reckless. The ace in his pack was the systematic privatisation of publicly owned utilities - a policy which sought to make grubby, short-termist shareholders of us all, with nothing more elevated on our minds than making a nice little return on our investments. This had coincided with the "Big Bang" in the City of London, which deregulated the financial markets and led to a feverish rush of share-dealing. London property prices were beginning to move sharply upwards, and the post-Election stock market crash known as "Black Monday" was still eight months away.

The age of the Yuppie was upon us: an almost mythical figure, to whom we were all encouraged to aspire. The "If You See Sid, Tell Him" campaign for the privatisation of British Gas was possibly Yuppie culture's defining moment, ushering in a bizarre period in which it was seen as deeply cool to be working in advertising.

And of course, to complement the Yuppie look (striped shirt & braces) and the Yuppie lifestyle (Docklands apartment, red Porsche 911), one needed some suitably aspirational Yuppie pop. Something with the veneer of cool, but without any bothersome substance. Something with hair gel and shoulder pads; Fairlight synths and Jazz Sax; fake soul and plastic funk.

In other words, something like Curiosity Killed The Cat, Five Star and Pepsi & Shirlie (if you were young); George Michael and Level 42 (slightly older); Crawfords Randy and Michael (older still) - or, for the champagne socialists, the Blow Monkeys (but stick them on the CD player during your dinner party, and no-one would be any the wiser). Dance music? You'll be wanting some latter-day Hi-NRG cheapo knock-offs, suitable for swinging your gold lame puffballs down at Stringfellows.

1987: you were the last gasp of Eighties Style Pop, which had begun so promisingly at the start of the decade (ABC, Human League, Soft Cell), but whose initial attempts at daring, subversion, and wit had gradually rendered down to mere vapid meretriciousness. And as for any musical legacy: this year's unpredecented fourth place speaks volumes.


Which decade is Tops for Pops? - the results.

5th place - The 1990s. (26 points)

2006: Equal 4th place, 21 points.
2005: 5th place, 26 points.
2004: 4th place, 27 points.
2003: 5th place, 25 points.

10. Ain't Talkin' 'Bout Dub - Apollo Four Forty. 4 points.
9. Remember Me - Blue Boy. 4 points.
8. Barrel Of A Gun - Depeche Mode. 4 points, most popular.
7. Ain't Nobody - LL Cool J. 2 points.
6. I Shot The Sheriff - Warren G. 1 point, least popular.
5. Clementine - Mark Owen. 1 point.
4. Don't Let Go (Love) - En Vogue. 3 points.
3. Don't Speak - No Doubt. 4 points.
2. Where Do You Go - No Mercy. 1 point.
1. Discotheque - U2. 2 points.

Well, this is a surprise.

I was expecting a much stronger result for the 1990s this year - especially after the first few rounds of voting, which actually placed them in the lead for a couple of days. There was a brief moment of resurgence towards the end, thanks to reasonable showings from En Vogue and No Doubt - but the combined weight of No Mercy and U2 dragged the decade back down from second place to last place, in just two days.

Whereas all our other decades managed to produce at least one winning song, the 1990s never finished any higher than second place - something which they managed four times (Apollo Four Forty, Blue Boy, Depeche Mode and No Doubt). Thanks to Warren G, Mark Owen and No Mercy, they also managed to finish last on three occasions.

Personally, I think 1997 has been rather hard done by. Looking through the ten songs, I'm struck both by the lack of so-called "manufactured" pop, and by the comparatively uncommercial nature of many of the tracks. "Ain't Talkin' 'Bout Dub" and "Remember Me" are club tracks with substance; neither pander to obvious crowd-pleasing formulas. "Barrel of a Gun" and "Discotheque" are similarly uncompromising rock tracks, which make no concessions to daytime radio-friendliness. "Don't Let Go (Love)" and "Don't Speak" are mature ballads, which favour emotional integrity over stock schlockiness.

This was a period when the radical and controversial changes that Matthew Bannister had introduced at BBC Radio One were starting to bear fruit. With the "Smashy and Nicey" era firmly dead and buried, this was a new, credibility-chasing, almost self-consciously "intelligent" re-incarnation, which was keen to distance itself from the "disposable" - hence the preponderance of slightly more stretching material in the charts.

However, "stretching" does not necessarily equate to "enduring", and it has been interesting to discover how little some of these tracks are remembered. The age of high new entries and rapid descents was upon us, with its consequent devaluing of the upper end of the charts. "Ain't Nobody" and "Discotheque" might have reached Number One - but most of us have struggled to remember them, even just ten years on.

1997 was also the year when the Britpop wave started to recede. Blur pointedly turned their back on the genre, and started looking towards American alt-rock acts such as Pavement for inspiration. Oasis brought out the disasterous cocaine-nosebleed that was Be Here Now, and lost ground which they have never fully recovered. Pulp were on extended hiatus, pending the release of the similarly career-dampening This Is Hardcore in 1998. Instead, the year belonged to Radiohead's OK Computer and The Verve's Urban Hymns, two albums whose weighty solemnity signalled that the party was drawing to an end.

By the end of the year, the Spice Girls were straddling the globe, paving the way for the resurgence of Robbie Williams in 1998, and for the rise of pure pop acts such as Steps and B*Witched. 1997 thus stands as something of a high water mark for "credibility" in the charts - which is precisely why I was predicting a good result. Perhaps you're all a good deal more Pop than I had given you credit for.


Sunday, March 04, 2007

Is it just me...

...or has last night's lunar eclipse revealed the Man in the Moon with shades on, kissing a baby monkey?

It's not just me, is it? K's sitting next to me, and he can see it too...

Update: Ah, good. It wasn't just the red wine, then. Here's a hand-drawn outline of Sunglasses Guy, which might make things a little clearer...


Which Decade - VOTING IS CLOSED.

Voting for this year's Which Decade is closed. The results will be appearing soon(ish).