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A routine piece of hack-work, Little Town Flirt already sounds four or five years out of date.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

Running totals so far – Number 4s.1973: You’re So Vain – Carly Simon. (107)

bitter, sardonic california blues. perfect. (noodle)

Best! Song! Evah! (David)

Drunk girls’ karaoke AGAIN! (suebailey)

Biting lyrics and the voice to go with them. (Asta)

Brilliant lyrics, catchy tune. Mute the strings a bit and it’s perfect. (Junio)

Can’t be faulted, can it? Knowing wit, relentless, addictive tune, dark-brown voice, and some of the sharpest, bitchiest lyrics in pop. (Nigel R (the UK one))

1983: Sign Of The Times – The Belle Stars. (77)

Sigh. Girl groups. They were Fun once, weren’t they? A bouncy, refreshing, unpretentious little tune that makes me go all warm and giggly inside. I’ll have another alcopop, please. (Nigel R (the UK one))

Pop music at its most cheerful and poppy, good intro. (Gert)

I have great memories of this song, but the vocals and the arrangement seem so thin now I listen to it again. (Junio)

Shame on me, I thought this was Bananarama (Steve)

I thought this was Bananarama too. *blush* (suebailey)

almost redeems the clapping song. almost (noodle)

1993: The Love I Lost – West End featuring Sybil. (57)

The slow bit does nothing for me, but the uptempo section is good. (Junio)

A super-slick and faultless production. So super-slick and faultless, in fact, that I have just thrown up over my keyboard. (Nigel R (the UK one))

below par disco slapped over the most banal stock aitken & waterman beat imaginable (noodle)

2003: Stole – Kelly Rowland. (47)

Maybe it is just the newness, but I love this song. (Asta)

not unpleasant, but instantly forgettable (noodle)

She’s got a good voice all right, but the actual tune is a bit bog standard, isn’t it? (Junio)

I prefer the backing singers to the lead singer. Her vocal is quite unnecessary. It would work quite well without it. (Amanda)

I don’t like that shouty-in-pain bit on backing vocals. (Gert)

Would someone please put her out of her (and my) misery? (Nigel R (the UK one))

What is it with Kelly Rowland? Why do people like her? Why did people buy ‘Dilemma’ in such large numbers when it was blatantly utter tripe? Is it because it had the words ‘I love you’ in it a lot? Is the British public that fickle? (Alan)

No Nelly, no welly. (David)

No rhythm. No blues. (djg)

Is she related to Kevin? (Steve)

1963: Little Town Flirt – Del Shannon. (42)

the morrissey of the high school hop (noodle)

Mucho bio of Del Shannon on www.delshannon.com. I remember him as a big star, of course. Bill-topper. He’s now (a) dead and (b) in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Seems to have worked with and written for various artists. A victim of the Beatles’ gigastardom, like so many balladeers. Whole armies of them – one and two-hit wonders. Just like today, if you think about it.

(I remember Neil Sedaka once remarking that after he heard his first Beatles song, he immediately realised his own career was over.) Thks for that. Nice memories. Little Town Flirt really is quite awful, I agree. (Peter)

Oh, harmless enough. I like the jingly-jangly intro, and there’s a feckless innocence about it which is quite endearing. (Nigel R (the UK one))

It grew on me after a few listenings. No doubt it will wash off tomorrow. (Amanda)

Like the backing vocals, but the lead is bla-bla-bla-bla-bland. (Junio)

No amount of hand-jiving will convince me this is good. (Steve)

I find it slightly offensive. (Gert)

Decade scores so far (after 6 days).
1 (2) The 1970s (22) — The Ronco Buttoneer! Angela Rippon on Morecambe & Wise! Cresta: it’s frothy, man!
2 (1) The 1980s (21) — Sinclair C5s! Skinny leather ties! This is a journey into sound!
3= (5) The 2000s (16) — Bob the Builder! Ketamine! Condoleezza Rice!
3= (3) The 1990s (16) — Handbag House! Usenet! The Criminal Justice Act!
5 (4) The 1960s (15) — Merseybeat! Pop Art! Martin Luther King!
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