Which decade is Tops for Pops? (Interval Act / Tiebreaker)

Every decent song contest needs an Interval Act, doesn’t it? And this song contest is no exception. As the final few votes keep trickling steadily in, allow me to offer something to keep you distracted until Monday’s results are announced.

Actually, this is slightly more than an Interval Act. There is a strong possibility that on Monday morning, we will be faced with – gasp! – a dead heat, with both the 1970s and 1980s on equal points. In which case, we need a Tiebreaker.

As Amanda suggested in one of the comments boxes a few days ago, it might be worth taking a comparative look at the charts from this week in another part of the decade. Maybe five years on, she said. Well, this is precisely what I’m going to do now – at least for the two decades which are in the lead. Thanks for putting the idea in my head, Amanda.

It’s going to work like this. Here are the Top Three singles from this week in 1978 and 1988, in alternate reverse order. Take a listen to all six using the MP3 provided, and then score them in the normal way. Once again, you have until Sunday night to vote. On Monday, I will add up the total scores for each song. I will then aggregate them to produce two final scores, one for each decade. If needs be – and only if needs be – I will then use this score to decide the eventual winner.

Alles klar? Also, los! HERE COME THE TIEBREAKERS!

#3 in 1978: Uptown Top Ranking – Althea & Donna.
#3 in 1988: When Will I Be Famous? – Bros.
#2 in 1978: Take A Chance On Me – Abba.
#2 in 1988: I Should Be So Lucky – Kylie Minogue.
#1 in 1978: Figaro – Brotherhood Of Man.
#1 in 1988: I Think We’re Alone Now – Tiffany.

A bouncy little selection, aren’t they? Distinctly chirpier and boppier than their counterparts in the earlier part of the decade.

There’s an obvious classic here: Abba. The unanimous critical consensus which has grown up around this group in the past ten years or so is astonishing – especially given the way that they were generally dismissed as cheesy lightweights by the self-appointed tastemakers of their day. In fact, is there anybody out there who doesn’t love them? If so, then I’d be interested to hear from you.

As an obscure Jamaican import, Althea & Donna‘s single had been played incessantly on the John Peel show for most of the latter half of 1977, before being eventually licensed to a UK independent label. I had taped it off the radio months before it made the charts, and – despite never having been a huge reggae fan – had played it over and over again. Seeing it crossover to daytime radio and the national charts was quite a thrill at the time – like some sort of rare victory for, I dunno, “real” music or something (bear in mind that even in early 1978, the UK singles charts were still dominated by middle-of-the-road pop, the New Wave having yet to make much of a commercial impact). I loved the freshness and cheeky sassiness of the track, as Althea & Donna unselfconsciously bigged themselves up (“see me in my halter-back, see me give ya heart attack”), bringing the phrase “and ting” into the collective consciousness as they did so (“see me in my pants and ting”).

A crying shame about the follow-up single, then. The Puppy Dog Song was a reggae-fied version of the “Frogs and snails and puppy dogs’ tails” nursery rhyme, coupled with the one tune that every child can bash out on the piano: the dreaded Chopsticks. Every bit as ghastly as it sounds, it stiffed completely. Althea & Donna presumably got on the next plane back to Jamaica, and were never heard of again.

There’s little to choose between 1988’s two new pop princesses on the block: Tiffany and Kylie Minogue. Like any good music snob, I hated both of these records at the time – and yet now, I find them utterly charming. What is it with music snobs only being able to appreciate good throwaway pop ten years later? And what is it about good throwaway pop that makes it endure in a way that so much other supposedly “quality” music fails to do? After all, who do we celebrate now: Abba or Gerry Rafferty? Kylie and Tiffany, or The Christians and Terence Trent D’Arby? I rest my case.

Anyway, Tiffany just edges ahead of Kylie for me, on account of the song. I Think We’re Alone Now was already an old favourite of mine – as taped off the John Peel show once again, in its late 1970s version by The Rubinoos (ah, the days of Power Pop!) Tiffany’s version does it full justice, in my opinion.

Brotherhood Of Man always made me laugh. Having won Eurovision with Save Your Kisses For Me– a song with a cutesy little surprise twist at the end (“even though you’re only three – aaah!”), they followed it up with a carbon copy (My Sweet Rosalie) which had, guess what, another cutesy little surprise twist at the end (“the cutest little puppy dog you’ll see – aaah!”) It didn’t do terribly well – thus establishing one of the Golden Rules Of Pop, which Althea & Donna would have done well to heed: never follow up a Number One Smash Hit with a song about a puppy dog.

Undaunted, the BOM had a flash of inspiration. Hey – we’re two boys and two girls – and we won Eurovision – so let’s be Abba! Noticing that Abba had recently gone to Number One with Fernando, the BOM promptly hit back with…Angelo! Ker-ching! O-lay! Never ones to deliberately mess with a winning formula, they then followed it up with…Figaro! Woo-hoo! Port-and-lemons all round!

God knows why – and I don’t think I want to analyse this too closely – but Figaro sounds appealingly quaint to me now. Perhaps it’s because music like this has now slipped off the cultural radar entirely, leaving no trace. Even Radio Two is too hip to play stuff like this now. Not even local radio would touch it. Which makes me feel peculiarly protective towards it all of a sudden. Show a little respect, people – after all, let’s not forget that this was voted Single Of The Year by the viewers of the children’s TV programme Magpie. (Mind you, just as BOM were a poor imitation of Abba, so Magpie was a poor imitation on Blue Peter. I bet the nice Blue Peter children would have voted for Abba.)

Bros, then. Again, like Kajagoogoo, surprisingly bearable in hindsight. But still the worst of the bunch for me.

My votes: 1 – Abba. 2 – Althea & Donna. 3 – Tiffany. 4 – Kylie Minogue. 5 – Brotherhood Of Man. 6 – Bros. (I’m giving K the day off, by the way. He has suffered enough.)

For one last time, over to you. This could well be the most crucial vote of them all. Choose carefully now…

Continue reading “Which decade is Tops for Pops? (Interval Act / Tiebreaker)”

Which decade is Tops for Pops? (10/10)

Here we are at last then, folks. I’ve got my best bib and tucker on today, to mark the shattering climax of the project. It’s been a long and crazy journey, hasn’t it? From the sublime (Carly Simon) to the ridiculous (Blazin’ Squad) and all points in between. We’ve sighed, we’ve swooned, we’ve squirmed – we’ve squirmed again – and we’ve squirmed again. My, but we’ve had to wade through some shit. ‘Twas ever thus.

But now, weary travellers, the end of our journey is finally looming into view.

[lights down – dramatic pause – soft drumroll in background]

Yes – [adopts Davina-esque shriek] – ITSTHENUMBERONES!

1963: Diamonds – Jet Harris & Tony Meehan.
1973: Blockbuster – The Sweet.
1983: Down Under – Men At Work.
1993: No Limit – 2 Unlimited.
2003: All The Things She Said – tATu.

For me, the battle here was between Jet Harris & Tony Meehan (formerly of The Shadows), which I had never heard before and instantly fell in love with (oh, that ger-oovy Tijuana brass break!) and The Sweet, which I have loved since boyhood (oh, that siren – that riff – that “We just haven’t got a clue what to do” psuedo-campness!). Objectivity can be hard to muster at times like these. In fact, even as I’m typing this I’m wavering again, as both tunes crash around inside my cranium in an unholy soundclash medley.

It’s got to be The Sweet, though. For the riff alone. One of the early 70s classic riffs, right up there with The Jean Genie, School’s Out, Rebel Rebel, Smoke On The Water, Caroline, Get It On… ooh, it was the era of the riff alright. But if you, like me, hadn’t heard it before, then do give Diamonds a fair crack of the whip. Better than The Shadows, I would venture to say.

Until last Friday’s Top Of The Pops, I had been fairly resistant to tATu‘s alleged charms. Cynically manufactured pseudo-lesbo-softcore-wankerama, right? All I could hear was a steely harshness. Was this really, with its Trevor Horn production and the attendant media hoo-hah, the Noughties version of Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s Relax? And did tATu actually have any say at all in what they were doing?

Their TV performance changed my mind. Goodness, no pseudo-lesbo-softcore-wankerama at all! Instead, a playful, knowing insouciance which, goshdammit, almost had me convinced that they were a real life couple (but of course, this being Pop, whether they are or not is supremely irrelevant). In turn, the artful dynamics of All The Things She Said finally fell into place for me – in particular, the rushed, slightly strained urgency. Now I get it. And yes, it is a classic pop moment after all.

There was a similar tussle between Men At Work and 2 Unlimited for last place – although in all honesty, I can cheerfully live with both. Men At Work strike me as a bunch of amiable beer-swilling Aussies who accidentally struck gold, and who probably enjoyed it while it lasted – and hey, it’s a catchy tune, which reminds me of some pleasant times. Meanwhile, No Limits never fails to make me smile these days. I hated it at the time – but having since been right through the invigorating-yet-enervating mangle of hardcore-techno-nu-energy-hard-house-boshin-bangin-hardbagging-boom-boom-thwackery and out again, I am now inclined to view it with rather more fondness than before. Like The Ramones, its the very dumbness that appeals. However – and crucially – unlike The Ramones, this is more by accident than design. By any objective measure, it’s really not very good at all, is it? Still, the “techno techno techno techno” bit (sadly not featured on this medley) is another classic pop moment all of its own.

My votes: 1 – The Sweet. 2 – Jet Harris & Tony Meehan. 3 – tATu. 4 – Men At Work. 5 – 2 Unlimited. K’s votes are in the comments.

Over to you. The 1980s have suddenly surged ahead of the 1970s, with the 1960s climbing back into third position. Meanwhile, things aren’t looking too good for the most recent two decades. Were the whinging old gits right all along, then? Is pop music really not as good as it used to be? This is your last chance to make that judgement.

Continue reading “Which decade is Tops for Pops? (10/10)”

Which decade is Tops for Pops? (9/10)

It was getting really good for a while back there, wasn’t it? Too good to last, though.

Just two more days to go then, and here come the Number Twos. I’ve been dreading this.

1963: The Wayward Wind – Frank Ifield.
1973: Do You Wanna Touch Me (Oh Yeah) – Gary Glitter.
1983: Too Shy – Kajagoogoo.
1993: I Will Always Love You – Whitney Houston.
2003: I Can’t Break Down – Sinead Quinn.

Let’s get Gary Glitter out of the way first, shall we? Ten years ago, I would probably have been chuckling indulgently, and giving him the five points without a second thought. But now that we know what we know about the man, is it still at all possible to derive any enjoyment from his records? Before listening to this track, I told myself to try and view it as a collective effort, and not just as the work of one man. I told myself to leave Glitter’s crimes out of the equation, and to make a strictly objective assessment. Maybe with a different record (Rock And Roll Part 2 for example), this might have been possible. But oh deary deary me, out of all the songs that could have come up, did it have to be this one? Listening to Glitter’s lewd barking now, I find that what I once viewed as harmless comic bawdyness now comes across as grotesque, disturbing, and difficult to endure.

As for Whitney Houston – yes, the vocal gymnastics are technically impressive, but I don’t buy her ludicrously overblown, bombastic mis-interpretation of Dolly Parton’s tender, vulnerable classic for one moment. It was never supposed to be sung this way. Ghastly stuff.

Sinead “runner up in Fame Academy” Quinn‘s effort is the sound of grim careerism, of please please make me famous, of let’s mint some dosh out of this while we still can. Despite a deftly crafted chorus, this remains a bleak, joyless, soulless experience. At times like these, I despair.

Which means that Frank Ifield‘s piece of daft old hokum rises up, as if in a vacuum, to be my second favourite from this woeful selection. Well arranged, with a widescreen cinematic atmosphere that suits the song. I’m imagining him riding out of town on horseback, cheroot clamped between his teeth, never to return, as the camera pans back to reveal his jilted lady love still standing there in the middle of Main Street, clutching their infant to her heaving bosom. Or something like that, anyway.

I can’t believe that I’m actually giving the five points to Kajagoogoo – but to my surprise, Too Shy has worn rather well. It’s sorta jazz-funky, innit? Mmm, syncopated! Like it!

My votes: 1 – Kajagoogoo. 2 – Frank Ifield. 3 – Sinead Quinn. 4 – Whitney Houston. 5 – Gary Glitter. K’s votes are in the comments.

Over to you. The Seventies and Eighties are now starting to pull clear of the rest of the field. Are you all going to reveal yourselves as Whitney fans, dragging the Nineties back into contention? Or will the might of the Googoo send the Eighties shooting into the lead? The endgame approaches…

Continue reading “Which decade is Tops for Pops? (9/10)”

Which decade is Tops for Pops? (8/10)

Another strong selection today, as we reach Day 8 of the project and the Number Threes.
Enjoy it while it lasts, though. That’s all I’m saying for now. You’ll see soon enough.

1963: Please Please Me – The Beatles.
1973: Part Of The Union – The Strawbs.
1983: Electric Avenue – Eddy Grant.
1993: Little Bird – Annie Lennox.
2003: Cry Me A River – Justin Timberlake.

Listening to the Top 10 for 1963 thus far, you might have formed the reasonable conclusion that, even in the fourth year of the decade, the Sixties hadn’t really started happening yet. Kenny Ball keeping it trad, dad. The high-kicking Frankie Vaughan, with his hammy old variety act. Brenda Lee, Mike Berry, Maureen Evans and Cliff Richard, all sweetly crooning away on Tin Pan Alley. Del Shannon, representing the tired fag end of Fifties rock and roll.

And now – crashing right into the middle of all this staleness, and blowing it right out of the water in one fell swoop – nothing less than the sound of the future. The Beatles, with their first major hit, Please Please Me, sounding so advanced by comparison that they come across as positively alien. Everything feels different here: rhythms, harmonies, arrangements, the unpredictable melodic twists and turns, and the sheer youthful energy and urgency on display. The Sixties had finally started.

While admiring her immensely as a vocalist, and especially as a performer, there was still always something about Annie Lennox which kept me at bay. Maybe it was all the stuff which surrounded her. Her marketing. Her ubiquity. Her positioning within the self-congratulatory aristocracy of rock. Those Brit awards every single goddam year. Her essential safeness. Those sometimes dodgy Eurythmics albums. Dave Stewart. However, I couldn’t deny that she had her moments. Walking On Broken Glass was one of them – and for me, Little Bird was the other. You could keep all those ponderous, glacial ballads on the Diva album – I liked Annie Lennox best when she was at her most obviously Pop. And this is a right belter of a pop record, containing so many progressions that I found it impossible to limit this excerpt on the accompanying MP3 to just one minute. The accompanying 12″ remixes were great as well – especially the Todd Terry mix, which soundtracked plenty of top nights out in our scuzzy local gay club.

Justin Timberlake is, of course, pop’s current Golden Boy. The former boy band member who – in true Robbie Williams style – has taken control of his career, gaining ever-soaring popularity amongst The Kids, and even the beginnings of critical acceptance from the Grown-Ups. In the latter respect, that recent Top Of The Pops appearance with the Flaming Lips certainly didn’t do him any harm. Neither did enlisting the services of the hip-hop guru Timbaland on this track (he’s the man who gave us such ground-breaking tracks as Missy Elliott’s Get Ur Freak On and Aaliyah’s Try Again). There is a crisp, vibrant freshness here. We all love Justin now, don’t we? Don’t we?

The last time that Eddy Grant‘s Electric Avenue was in the charts – in remixed form, a couple of years ago – we had all just switched offices, to a bleak site in the middle of a semi-industrial wasteland on the edge of the city. No nearby pubs, no nice shops (unless you counted the carpet warehouse and the DIY superstore), nowhere to go at lunchtime (unless you counted the nearby Harry Ramsdens fish and chip emporium). For a committed urbanite such as myself, the culture shock was severe. And what was the name of the windswept, anonymous piece of landscaped tarmac which led up to our new offices? You’ve guessed it. Electric Sodding Avenue. Every day as I walked past the street sign in those first few weeks, Eddy Grant’s voice would start reverberating mockingly in my head. “We’re gonna rock down to Electric Avenue, and then we’ll take it higher…” I used to have a certain fondness for this track. Now, it is forever tainted with memories of my bleak daily half-hour trudge. Which is a crying shame.

I never knew what to make of Part Of The Union, which was a hit back in the days of endless strikes and Three Day Weeks, when the trade unions still wielded real power in this country. Were The Strawbs celebrating, denigrating, or merely commentating? Probably the latter, I suppose. Anyway: this piece of folk-club-singalong whimsy, although an interesting sociological period piece of sorts, has not aged at all well.

My votes: 1 – The Beatles. 2 – Annie Lennox. 3 – Justin Timberlake. 4 – Eddy Grant. 5 – The Strawbs. K’s votes are in the comments.

Over to you. The Seventies have been enjoying a run of success, but I rather suspect that The Strawbs are about to put paid to all that. Will the Beatles lead a rearguard surge for the Sixties, or will Annie Lennox shore up the faltering Nineties? Or are we all Justin fans now? The choice is yours.

Continue reading “Which decade is Tops for Pops? (8/10)”

Which decade is Tops for Pops? (7/10)

“For the first time, I’m battling to decide which is the best, rather than the worst.” (David)

It’s day 7, and it’s the Number Fours

1963: Little Town Flirt – Del Shannon.
1973: You’re So Vain – Carly Simon.
1983: Sign Of The Times – The Belle Stars.
1993: The Love I Lost – West End featuring Sybil.
2003: Stole – Kelly Rowland.

Your patience has been rewarded. Today’s selection is possibly the strongest yet, with four singles that I could easily have awarded 5 points to on other, less worthy days.

Plus one that I couldn’t. Del Shannon is one of those names that regularly pop up in lists of early 1960s hitmakers, and yet there is definitely something of the also-ran about him. In fact, beyond a certain familiarity with a couple of his other hits (Runaway, Hats Off To Larry), I know absolutely nothing about him. Was he British or American? Was he cute? What happened to him after the hits dried up? Has anyone ever quoted him as an influence on their work?

(Pause, as I discover that the man is even struggling for recognition on his own domain name, the front page of www.delshannon.com being primarily concerned with plugging a tribute act. Now, that’s sad.)

A routine piece of hack-work, Little Town Flirt already sounds four or five years out of date. Un point to Del.

That was easy to sort out. Now things get more difficult. Both Sign Of The Times and The Love I Lost are singles which I bought and loved at the time, for no particularly deep reasons. They were just fun – and “fun” has always been one of my key aesthetics of Pop. Listening to them again now, I therefore find it hard to discount the associated warm glow of nostalgia, and to give them an objective assessment instead. But if I am going to be strict-but-fair, then I suppose that in the final analysis, West End featuring Sybil‘s cover of the Harold Melvin & The Bluenotes classic is, well, a bit on the cheesy side. Although much classier than most examples of that ilk, it’s still just a dancey cover version – albeit one which carries powerful associations with some top nights out. Deux points to Sybil.

The Belle Stars are represented here by their finest hour. Bright, fresh, breezy stuff, which is only hampered by a rather synthetic production that hasn’t aged too well. Great tune, though. Trois points to the Belles.

Time for the next dilemma. The beautiful and talented Kelly Rowland offers further proof that she has far more to offer than merely supplying backing vocals for Beyoncé Knowles in Destiny’s Child. Whereas last year’s duet with Nelly (Dilemma) limited her to endlessly repeating the same melodically repetitive chorus (“No matter what I do, all I think about is you…”), Stole gives Kelly Rowland a chance to truly shine. It’s a gorgeous piece of work, and possibly my current favourite single of the moment. So how do I go about comparing it with Carly Simon‘s acknowledged classic? It’s quite impossible. Will Stole also still be fondly remembered in thirty years time? Or does that even matter? Do I accede to seniority, and mark down the precocious young upstart accordingly? Or do I strike a blow for the New over the Old?

You’re So Vain is distinctive, unique, and damn nearly faultless. Meanwhile, Stole maybe doesn’t do quite enough to transcend its genre. If you don’t like R&B, then you might dismiss it as “just another faceless R&B track”. You’d be wrong of course, but at least I can appreciate the logic. Kelly gets four points, and Carly gets five.

My votes: 1 – Carly Simon. 2 – Kelly Rowland. 3 – Belle Stars. 4 – West End featuring Sybil. 5 – Del Shannon. K’s votes are in the comments.

Over to you. As with Laura Branigan and Duran Duran on Saturday (and it’s still not too late to vote retrospectively on that), I’m predicting a closely fought battle today. Although I can’t see poor old Del Shannon picking up many points – can you?

Continue reading “Which decade is Tops for Pops? (7/10)”

Which decade is Tops for Pops? (6/10)

Today, it gets better. After yesterday, how could it not?

Day 6, and we’re into the Top Five for this week in the past five decades. Here come the Number Fives

1963: Bachelor Boy – Cliff Richard.
1973: Daniel – Elton John.
1983: Change – Tears For Fears.
1993: Deep – East 17.
2003: Don’t Worry – Appleton.

For the first time since this project began, I find that I can cheerfully live with all five of today’s selections. Elton John is the obvious classic here, complete with its staring-you-in-the-face, ooh-but-we-didn’t-realise-at-the-time depiction of unabashed homosexual longing. The line “Daniel my brother” threw us all off the scent, you see. Such innocent times.

Speaking of…well, you know…Cliff Richard has to come next. Eerily prophetic, as you hardly need me to point out. Although obviously, Cliff’s declared lifestyle choice is entirely due to classic “fear of commitment” issues. (Good grief – I’ve just remembered that I was dreaming about Cliff’s friend Mary Whitehouse last night. And Zsa Zsa Gabor. What’s going on in that subconscious of mine?) Great tune, and indelibly linked to Summer Holiday, which will always be one of the best films ever ever ever, so there.

This is where the decisions get tough. After careful consideration, I’m giving my three points to those Appleton sisters – formerly half of All Saints, one of whom is married to Liam Gallagher. This is despite their rather annoying “the world owes us a living” public personas, and their “haven’t we finished yet, the Met Bar’s open and we’ve got much better things to do than stand around here for much longer” performance style. Simply put, Don’t Worry is a perfectly well crafted and pleasant pop record – admittedly not up to the standard of All Saints, but respectable enough all the same.

I was never particularly fond of Tears For Fears – too wet, too limp, too thin, too drippy, like a piece of soggy green lettuce in the colourful salad bowl that was Eighties Pop. (Hey, it’s not yet noon on a Sunday, and I’m waxing metaphorical already. This is going to be a good day!) However, they could pen a decent tune at times, and this is one of their better efforts.

As for East 17 – they really were the Blazin’ Squad of their day, weren’t they? It’s those Home Counties Homeboy accents again. Compare and contrast with Reminisce, if you will. East 17 are heaps better, aren’t they? It’s the leeriness that puts them ahead, I think. Unlike their perpetual rivals Take That, who tempered their exposed nipples with sweet smiles and general all-round wholesomeness, East 17’s appeal was unmistakeably skanky, dirty, love-bites-in-the-bus-shelter, are-ya-shaggin-me-or-wot? And we need a bit of that in the charts, don’t we? Having said all that – I suppose that Deep is a bit of a low-rent botch job at the end of the day, even if it does make me smile fondly and indulgently. Oh, you boys!

My votes: 1 – Elton John. 2 – Cliff Richard. 3 – Appleton. 4 – Tears For Fears. 5 – East 17. K’s votes are in the comments.

Over to you. The 1980s have now taken over from the 1970s at the top. Will Elton John help to push the 1970s back up there, I wonder?

Continue reading “Which decade is Tops for Pops? (6/10)”

Which decade is Tops for Pops? (5/10)

It gets worse, I’m afraid.

Day 5 brings us the Number 6 singles for this week in the past five decades. And guess what? They’re the biggest pile of old toss yet. Things can’t sink any lower than this, can they? Can they?

Let’s open the trap doors and bring them on, then. Steel yourselves, people. This isn’t going to be pretty.

1963: Loop-De-Loop – Frankie Vaughan.
1973: Long Haired Lover From Liverpool – Little Jimmy Osmond.
1983: Gloria – Laura Branigan.
1993: Ordinary World – Duran Duran.
2003: Songbird – Oasis.

With this cheerily moronic pub singalong, Frankie Vaughan could rightfully claim to be the DJ Otzi of his day. At least Little Jimmy Osmond was too young to know better.

Although – if I’m going to be strictly honest here – I did rather like Long Haired Lover From Liverpool in its day. Partly because I was still too young to care about Cool, partly because I could play the tune on my recorder, partly because Little Jimmy was the voice of my generation (kids in the charts – yippee!), and partly because I was always partial to a Novelty Hit back then.

Novelty Hits said to me that anything could get in the charts. They kept things fresh, surprising and fun. One month, it would be Lieutenant Pigeon’s Mouldy Old Dough, with a plump old dear bashing away at the Joanna. Another month, a bunch of bagpipers skirling through Amazing Grace, which I could also play on the recorder (and did, at great length, much to the annoyance of everyone around me). Or else it might be Benny Hill, bringing us Ernie’s ghostly gold-tops, a-rattlin’ in their crate, or Ray Stevens (“Don’t Look, Ethel!”) singing about coo gosh, naked people, in The Streak. I loved all that stuff. In which case, perhaps it wasn’t too surprising that I was only 18 months away from getting into the full-on intergalactic whimsy that was Gong.

Despite enjoying something of a commercial and critical renaissance last year (up to a point, at least), Oasis are back to scraping the barrel with this tossed-off-in-five-minutes-flat piece of inconsequential whimsy. Not much more than two minutes long, and yet after the first minute it’s more or less all over bar the strumming. Lazy, complacent, pointless. Only a certain residual folksy charm saves it from the last two positions in my vote.

Back in 1993, the once ubiquitous Duran Duran had long been consigned to the dumper, with two original band members gone and no Top Ten hits in the past four years. Ordinary World (and its follow-up, Come Undone) marked a brief and unexpected comeback for the group, much in the same way as Adam Ant had bafflingly resurfaced three years earlier with Room At The Top. The song is certainly not without merit, in particular its soaringly memorable chorus and some nice guitar figures towards the end. On the other hand, isn’t it just a bit of a plodding dirge at heart?

Which leaves a rather surprised looking Laura Branigan sitting at the top of my heap, by default rather than on account of any particular merit. Gloria was one of the first of those rather nasty rock-disco fusion records which briefly cluttered up the US charts in 83 and 84 – the most notable example being Michael Sembello’s Maniac (a guilty pleasure of mine, as it happens). But the queens all loved it, of course. They – and I – went on to love Laura even more the following year, when she unleashed the absolutely fan-TAST-ic Self Control on the world (“I live among the creatures of the night!”). Compared to that, Gloria is as nothing. But at least it’s got “a catchy tune and a good beat to it”, as callers to Tony Blackburn’s “National Pop Panel” used to say without fail, every single sodding weekday afternoon in the late 1970s. And for today, a catchy tune and a good beat is all you need to get yourself cinq points from moi. Pass the poppers, the chorus is coming up!

My votes: 1 – Laura Branigan. 2 – Duran Duran. 3 – Oasis. 4 – Little Jimmy Osmond. 5 – Frankie Vaughan. K’s votes are in the comments.

Over to you. We haven’t yet had a winner from the Eighties or the Sixties. I can’t see Frankie Vaughan topping today’s poll, but will Laura Branigan go all the way? Oo-er!

Oh, and a quick reminder, as Chig thinks some of you might be cheating. Although to be fair, I don’t think any of you are. Bastion of integrity, this place. Anyway, the reminder is this: please don’t vote unless you actually have heard all the tracks in question, preferably via the medley MP3 of course. But you were doing that already, weren’t you?

Continue reading “Which decade is Tops for Pops? (5/10)”

Which decade is Tops for Pops? (4/10)

“This may well be an exciting and historical musical experiment, but we’ve had fifteen songs so far and I can count the number of good ones on one finger.”

A telling comment yesterday from djg, who I suspect might be speaking for a few of you. Maybe the real lesson to emerge from this project will be that the charts have always been full of crap.

Or maybe not. Maybe all the solid gold classics are yet to come. Who can say?

(Well, I can say. But I won’t.)

Day 4 then, which brings us the Number 7 singles for this week in the past five decades. Fingers at the ready, panel!

1963: Like I Do – Maureen Evans.
1973: Wishing Well – Free.
1983: Up Where We Belong – Joe Cocker & Jennifer Warnes.
1993: Exterminate – Snap!
2003: If You’re Not The One – Daniel Bedingfield.

So what do you reckon, then? My view: there are two Corkers, two Clunkers, and one which floats about somewhere in the middle.

Let’s dispose of the Clunkers first, then. Snap! had already given the world a couple of fairly enjoyable commercial dance hits: The Power and Rhythm Is A Dancer. You might not have liked them, but you couldn’t deny that they at least had a certain efficiency. In contrast, Exterminate runs out of ideas almost as soon as it has started. Thirty seconds in, and I was bored already.

As for Cocker & Warnes: I can only hope that they were paid well for this sub-Christopher Cross drivel. Actually, it had never occurred to me before that anything could be fairly described as “sub-Christopher Cross”, but that gruesome electric piano alone is almost enough to push me over the edge. The other tragedy of this record: Joe and Jennifer are both worth so much more than this. After all, this is the man who sang Delta Lady, and this is the woman who went on to produce that timelessly wonderful album of Leonard Cohen covers, Famous Blue Raincoat. It is only their residual vocal talent which lifts this effort one point ahead of Exterminate.

What of Daniel Bedingfield, though? K detests this, and wasted no time in placing it last. As for me: most of my instincts are telling me it’s drivel, and yet, and yet…there’s something curiously beguiling about the melody, which has slowly sneaked up on me in the past few weeks. I don’t hate it. It registers with me somewhere along the line. I’m not altogether sure this is a good thing.

Let us now turn our mind to happier things. With Focus, Status Quo and now Free, February 1973 was clearly a great time for patched and be-denimmed Hairy Rock of the old school. Where did I put my army greatcoat? And where are my Permaprints posters, as ordered from the back of Sounds? (Note: readers under 40 probably have no idea what I’m on about here.) Anyway, Wishing Well still sounds as mighty as ever to these ears. It’s a hirsute, beer-stained, faded blue lump of sheer unreconstructed testosterone, with dirty nails, split ends and the unmistakeable whiff of patchouli oil and Lebanese Black. Top of my pile, then.

Finally, and in complete contrast: a forgotten gem from Maureen Evans, which I had never heard until now. Like yesterday’s Mike Berry track before it, the subject matter of Like I Do is quite unmistakeably sexual: something which I hadn’t expected to find in seemingly innocuous early Sixties Tin Pan Alley pop. On this tune, Maureen Evans deftly spins her web of sexual jealousy, accompanied by some deliciously mocking string counterpoints. I imagine her standing there, smiling oh-so-sweetly, her eyes narrowing in spite all the while. Anyhow, the message comes across loud and clear: Bet she’s a crap shag. Serves you right for dumping me, you bastard.

Oh yeah, and the melody. Does it sound familiar at all? Because K and I were singing along to it from the first line: “Hello Muddah. Hello Faddah. Here I am at Camp Grenada…” Again, you youngsters probably have no idea what I’m on about.

My votes: 1 – Free. 2 – Maureen Evans. 3 – Daniel Bedingfield. 4 – Joe Cocker & Jennifer Warnes. 5 – Snap! As always, K’s votes are in the comments box below.

Over to you. We’ve now had winners from the 80s, 90s and 00s. Is it time for Maureen Evans to swing it for the 60s, or will Free bring it on home for the 70s? Use your votes wisely…

Continue reading “Which decade is Tops for Pops? (4/10)”

Which decade is Tops for Pops? (3/10)

Day 3, and we’re onto the Number 8 singles for this week in the past five decades.

1963: Don’t You Think It’s Time – Mike Berry.
1973: Paper Plane – Status Quo.
1983: You Can’t Hurry Love – Phil Collins.
1993: How Can I Love You More? – M People.
2003: Reminisce – Blazin’ Squad.

This was my first encounter with the Mike Berry record (complete with its bizarre “is this really playing at the right speed?” introduction). A certain period-kitsch charm aside, this is essentially a fairly slight, forgettable ditty – except that I have actually begun to find something rather creepy about it. The singer is basically trying to pop his girlfriend’s cherry – most likely late at night in a deserted graveyard, by the sounds of it – and is using every sly, manipulative trick in the book to do it. I’m particularly struck by his mention of the church bells, carrying as they do the implicit yet comfortably vague suggestion of future nuptial bliss ahead. Fall for that one love, and you’ll fall for anything! Men are pigs! Knee the smarmy bugger in the groin, then keep running and don’t look back!

Status Quo and M People are both acts which are liable to induce automatic groans of withering contempt these days – and yet in the actual years in question, both were seen as breaths of fresh air. Paper Plane was the Quo’s big comeback hit, which kick-started the rest of their career. Their brand of boogie had yet to become stale and formularised – we were still a good four years away from the likes of Rockin’ All Over The World, Again And Again, and the descent into self-parody. In 1973, the Quo were where it was at, maaan. They were also the first act which K saw live in concert – a fact with which I love to make him squirm (he saw them six times, you know!) Anyway, what I’m saying is this: you have to try not to view the band’s early work through the distorting mirror of their later work.

The same holds true for Heather “Pineapple Head” Small, Mike “Bad Sax Mime” Pickering, and the rest of the People They Call M. Although it had already grazed the lower end of the Top 40, the reissued and remixed (by Sasha) version of How Can I Love You More? was the band’s breakthrough hit – and for a while after that, they were awfully, awfully popular, right across the board. One Night In Heaven, Moving On Up, Renaissance…ah, c’mon, don’t tell me you didn’t enjoy them at the time? How were we to know that, like the Quo before them, M People were little more than a one trick pony, whose trick would pall even more quickly? It was a good trick while it lasted. That’s all I’m saying.

Onto Phil Collins, then – the man who was memorably described by Julie Burchill as looking as if he had a stocking placed permanently over his head. Now, this may surprise you, but I loved this single when it came out. There, I’ve said it. In fact – and despite his many, many heinous crimes against music, and the whole ghastly 1980s mindset which he came to represent – when it comes to Phil, I’m going to have to line myself up with the US hip-hop/R&B community (who even produced a tribute album to the man last year). He Did Some Good Stuff. At his best (and okay, so it wasn’t that often), he was capable of producing simple, direct, heartfelt, soulful tunes with great melodies and lovely, musicianly arrangements which were sometimes understated, sometimes funky. He also had the good judgement to make repeated use of the brass section from Earth Wind & Fire, one of the mightiest acts ever to walk the face of the planet. So several plus points for that alone, I reckon.

You want examples? I’ll give you examples. I Missed Again, I Cannot Believe It’s True, If Leaving Me Is Easy (there was a great lover’s rock cover of that, by the way), Don’t Let Him Steal Your Heart Away, Sussudio…and yes, even his duet with EW&F’s Philip Bailey, Easy Lover, which was Number One when K and I first got together. And let’s not forget Paperlate and – especially – That’s All with Genesis, either. With tunes like those, I can readily forgive him the horrors of Against All Odds, In The Air Tonight (oh LORD!) and Another Day In Paradise. (Well OK – no-one should forgive him for Another Day In Paradise. I’m stretching my point now, aren’t I?)

So why You Can’t Hurry Love? Silly reasons, really. I didn’t know the song too well before, and – coming as it did at the height of my I’m-Coming-Out, I’ve-Got-To-Find-Me-A-Man phase – it struck a chord. In fact, as February and March of 1983 progressed, with their endless rounds of Saturday-night-down-the-club misjudgements and disappointments, it became something of a theme song. It also helped that the song had now been given a fairly sincere sounding male vocal delivery, rather than Miss Ross’s dreamily detached rendition of yore. I could, y’know, relate.

OK, I know you all still hate it. I’ve said me piece!

Actually, I’m just putting off having to think about Blazin’ Squad. Guess what? There’s actually a worse record in the current Top 10 than David Sneddon. At least Sneddo means well, in his dull, plodding, sweetly limited way. Whereas the Blazin’ Squad’s watered-down bastardisation of G-Funk, with its hilarious-if-it-wasn’t-so-tragic fake Home Counties Homeboy delivery, is nothing but a crushingly careerist, soul-deadening experience which turns my heart to lead. Must we fling this filth at our pop kids? Besides which, I haven’t yet forgiven them for completely wrecking one of my favourite singles of the 1990s, Bone Thugs-n-Harmony’s Tha Crossroads. A pox on all your houses, Da Squad!

My votes: 1 – Status Quo. 2 – M People. 3 – Phil Collins. 4 – Mike Berry. 5 – Blazin’ Squad. K’s votes are in the comments box below.

Over to you. So far, we’ve had a winner each from the 1990s and the 2000s. Is it time for one of the earlier decades to take over?

Continue reading “Which decade is Tops for Pops? (3/10)”

Which decade is Tops for Pops? (2/10)

Day 2 of the project brings us the Number 9 singles for this week in 1963, 1973, 1983, 1993 and 2003.

1963: All Alone Am I – Brenda Lee.
1973: Sylvia – Focus.
1983: Wham Rap! (Enjoy What You Do) – Wham!
1993: Stairway To Heaven – Rolf Harris.
2003: Lose Yourself – Eminem.
Listen to a short medley (about a minute each) of all five songs.
(Apologies for the iffy sound quality on the Brenda Lee, by the way.)

After yesterday’s rather motley selection of Number Tens, I think you’ll agree that the quality rises sharply today – with one glaring exception, that is. I wonder whether anyone will place Rolf Harris any higher than fifth? (The particular problem I have with Rolf: when this was a hit, my hearty, rugger-buggerish, Antipodean line manager at the time – a perfectly nice guy in most ways – thought it was one of the funniest records ever made, and used to wander round the office quoting it and giggling. As I was at the time deeply miserable in my job, I can still never hear the line “How does it affect you blokes?” without shuddering.)

Brenda Lee delivers a competent ballad in a suitably plaintive style, but maybe its stock sentiments are just a little bit too run-of-the-mill Tin Pan Alley. Which leaves three great singles with barely a hair’s breadth between them.

As a precocious eleven year old, the Focus single blew my little socks off – as did its follow-up, Hocus Pocus. I’ve even got a copy of their Moving Waves album up in the attic, unplayed since the 1970s. Jan Akkerman and Thijs Van Leer, where are you now?

As for Wham Rap! – I bought the original (flop) 12-inch version of this in the summer of 1982, back when Wham! still had considerable lashings of street cred (no, really – they did!) Ever the snooty “I heard them first!” indie kid, I actually thought they “sold out” when Bad Boys was released (with the following year’s Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go coming as the final betrayal).

But the true classic here has to be Eminem’s Lose Yourself – one of his most arresting singles to date, and one of my favourite singles from the past couple of months. I love its epic, widescreen quality, which lifts it above some of his more routine whinings (such as the ultimately annoying Cleaning Out My Closet).

My votes: 1 – Eminem. 2 – Wham! 3 – Focus. 4 – Brenda Lee. 5 – Rolf Harris. K’s votes are in the comments box below.

Over to you. Remember – no tied places, and no omissions. Will Rolf Harris surprise us all, and provide the 1990s with a second consecutive victory? Democracy is a strange and wonderful thing.

Continue reading “Which decade is Tops for Pops? (2/10)”

Which decade is Tops for Pops? (1/10)

Just under a year ago, I did a comparative evaluation of the Top Ten singles from the same week in five different decades, in an attempt to establish which decade was truly Tops for Pops. (Result at the time: the Seventies.) However, it was a bit of a half-baked job, as I didn’t actually bother to sit down and listen to each of the songs before making a decision. In fact, I had never even knowingly heard some of the songs that were listed. Disgraceful, I know.
So this year – and to mark the week of my birthday – I’m going to redo the exercise properly. And this time round, I’m also going to invite your participation.

This is how it’s going to work, then.


I’ve collected together the entire Top 10 singles for this week in 1963, 1973, 1983, 1993 and 2003. Each day for the next ten days, I will be publishing details of the five matching songs which are up for comparison. Thus today, we’ll comparing the singles at #10 in each year – tomorrow will be the #9 singles – and so on, up to the #1 singles on the final day.

To make things easier, I’ll also be posting a short MP3 medley of the five songs in question, containing around a minute or so of each.

Your job is to listen to each song (most probably using the medley MP3) and to cast your votes accordingly in the comments box for that day. You’ll need to put all five songs in strict order – no tied positions, and no omissions. Even if you loathe all five songs from the bottom of your soul, you’re still going to have to order them somehow. Tough, eh?

I will then award points to each song accordingly, using the old “inverse points” method. The total for each song will then be added to the cumulative total for each decade, with the favourite getting 5 points, the second favourite getting 4 points, and so on. Thus at the end of the ten days, we’ll have a combined comparative total for each of the five decades. That way, we’ll know once and for all…which decade is Tops for Pops!

Was all that clear enough?
It wasn’t?
Ach, don’t worry too much. You’ll get the hang of it soon enough.


Here we go with Day One, then: the Number 10 singles for this week in 1963, 1973, 1983, 1993 and 2003.

1963: Sukiyaki – Kenny Ball & His Jazzmen.
1973: Roll Over Beethoven – Electric Light Orchestra.
1983: Oh Diane – Fleetwood Mac.
1993: Sweet Harmony – The Beloved.
2003: Stop Living The Lie – David Sneddon.
Listen to a short medley (about a minute each) of all five songs.

To kick things off (and just in case nobody else decides to have a go, which is entirely possible), here are my own deliberations.

The turkey of the pile for me is, quite clearly, David Sneddon. The charts have frequently been riddled with winners of TV talent shows in the past – most notably in the Seventies, when Opportunity Knocks and New Faces were in full swing. Berni Flint, Candlewick Green, Showaddywaddy, Sheer Elegance, Lena Zavaroni…these were the true spiritual heirs of Hear’say, Will Young, Girls Aloud and David Sneddon. The only difference now is that TV talent show winners automatically go to Number 1 rather than Number 8. The songs and performances are usually as crummy as ever, though.

Both the Fleetwood Mac and the ELO records are exercises in souped-up 1950’s nostalgia, but with wildly varying levels of success. Where ELO rock out, symphonically, Fleetwood Mac merely plop along, drippily. Besides which, without Stevie Nicks on lead vocals, Fleetwood Mac are as nothing. The fragment of ELO on this medley doesn’t perhaps do the track full justice; a couple of minutes later, the strings are sawing away in full effect, with a rather wonderful Beethoven’s Fifth-style melodic counterpoint to Chuck Berry’s original song.

It’s difficult to say much about the Kenny Ball track other than: It’s Trad, Dad. Fairly bog-standard trad, at that – but harmless enough. Which leaves The Beloved. Stylistically and subjectively, the Beloved track is the one that’s most up my particular street, being all chugging electro-disco. However, I do have to admit that it’s not one of their strongest efforts – too simplistic, too few ideas going on.

My votes are as follows, then.
1. ELO
2. The Beloved
3. Kenny Ball
4. Fleetwood Mac
5. David Sneddon.
(You’ll also find K’s votes in the comments box below.)

Now it’s your turn. Let’s sort this out once and for all, shall we? [turns and points to camera] Which decade really is…Tops for Pops?

Oh, this could be so much fun!
[claps hands together repeatedly, in short swift movements]

Continue reading “Which decade is Tops for Pops? (1/10)”