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.

Running totals so far – Number 3s.

1963: Please Please Me – The Beatles. (119)

It has to be…this is flawless pop. (Steve)

Not their best, but suitably upbeat ditty (Gert)

For me, their best-ever period. Way before the Maharishi and psychedelia and the mega-ballads made them all Serious, Self-Important and Over-Rated. Just a bunch of starting-out Scousers, chucking our way two-and-a-bit minutes of some of the best harmonies Pop never knew it could produce. It makes me want to smile, and to stop thinking, and to fall in love for ever. Isn’t that what good Pop Music is all about? (Nigel R (the UK one))

For context. Look what surrounded them at the time. (Asta)

the next time somebody tells you they were “the boy band of their day”, batter them to death with a crate of unsold one true voice records (noodle)

1993: Little Bird – Annie Lennox. (92)

I have great admiration for Annie’s talent, but this song is all talent and no heart. (Asta)

Stunning track, stunning voice but it’s not the Eurythmics. (Steve)

I always felt that the Eurythmics got boring after too much exposure on pop radio, but they’re always good to come back fresh to. (Gert)

She uses her voice really nicely here–you know she can belt it out, but she doesn’t feel she has to. (Junio)

Personally I think she’s bonkers and I prefer the late Eurythmics stuff… but who cares when you’ve got someone whose voice swoops and soars and seduces you into the music like… like… like, well, like only Annie Lennox’s voice can swoop and soar and seduce you into the music? (Nigel R (the UK one))

i hate annie lennox. from the heart (noodle)

1983: Electric Avenue – Eddy Grant. (79)

Never really appreciated it as a youngster. Definitely a grown-up’s song. (Gert)

I don’t like reggae as a rule, but this song does it for me. (Asta)

Easily his best song. But then, that’s not hard. (David)

Another rare singalong song that doesn’t bring me out in hives. (Junio)

Reggae’s never been my thing; at least not until about two in the morning after a couple of – well, you get my meaning. But I once lived off Electric Avenue and, yes, I did sing it every day on my way to Brixton tube, just as they’re still doing today. A folk song for London SW9. (Nigel R (the UK one))

I hated it at the time, and the fact that I have to see a sign that reads Electric Avenue every day, prompting this rubbish to go round in my head, has not made it any better. (Stereoboard)

gruff tough electropop in no obvious need of a shit noughties remix (noodle)

2003: Cry Me A River – Justin Timberlake. (66)

rule 1 of making awesome modern soul – employ timbaland (noodle)

Nearly my Number Two, because it’s an immediately gorgeous and wonderfully seductive song, best listened to at a candle-lit supper in a restaurant you can’t afford (and, anyway, you’re not really thinking about food, are you?). But I find the delivery so anodyne and emotionless. Still, anyone who gets his hand on Kylie’s bum. . . (Nigel R (the UK one))

God – I had no idea…I like Justin Timberlake…someone stop me. (Steve)

I want to dislike him, but I can’t. (Junio)

Oh just stop whining please (Asta)

Is all modern pop music entirely manufactured? (Gert)

1973: Part Of The Union – The Strawbs. (49)

This is just fab – singalongatastic. (Steve)

a classic,but I would agree it didn’t age well (Gert)

don’t care if it’s dated, I still love it. I used to buy Marxism Today, fgs (suebailey)

My dad had this on a single, and he is most definitely a union man. (Stereoboard)

Dreadful drunken chant which did neither the excellent British folk-music scene, nor the working-class it claimed to support, any favours at all. A product of the strike-torn 70s, with no enduring appeal. As I recall, the band also ran into trouble when it was claimed the song was a blatant rip-off of “Union Maid” by the great Woody Guthrie. (Nigel R (the UK one))

undoubtedly still playing this dross in half-empty folk clubs every night for the rest of their lives. scabs (noodle)

Aaarrrggghhh! it’s the Norwich Union ad. (David)

It’s the first time I’ve found something to like in all of the tracks. (Amanda)

Decade scores so far (after 7 days).
1 (1) The 1970s (27) — Bless This House! Fondue sets! Harmony hairspray!
2 (2) The 1980s (25) — My Little Pony! Shoulder pads! Prestel!
3 (3) The 1990s (19) — Leather waistcoats! Freedom rings! Suits you, sir!
4 (3) The 2000s (17) — Dumbing down! Digital TV! The dotcom bubble!
5 (5) The 1960s (16) — The permissive society! Cherry B! Cravats!
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