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.

Running totals so far – Number 1s.

1973: Blockbuster – The Sweet. (108)

best! riff!! EVAH!!! (noodle)

The image was a bunch of straight-ish blokes, flouncing a ride on the glam-rock bandwagon and mincing it to the max. It shouldn’t have – but it did – hide the fact they made some bloody good, high-heel-stomping, 45s. And anyone with the nerve to come up with: “He’ll come from behind/ You’ll go out of your mind” gets my vote. (Nigel R (the UK one))

From my boyhood too, excellent stuff and wow was that “pseudo-campness” risque to me as a twelve year old boy. Weren’t the Sweet the first of many to benefit from the excellent Nicky Chinn & Mike Chapman? To be followed by Mud, Suzi Quatro, Smokey, Smokie and even I think (sadly) Racey. Stock Aitken & Waterman of their day weren’t they. (Nic)

If this track doesn’t make you want to rush out and buy a silver jumpsuit, you have no soul. (Steve)

Best Song Evah! [Look, if the Readers Wifes can end each Duckie by shouting “the best song ever” and then playing a different song each time, I can do it in your comment box.] (David)

I can’t believe Blockbuster hasn’t used this to push their G-rated video stores. All I really remember about The Sweet is that they were so blond! (Junio)

This makes number two mostly for the aa – aaaaah bit over the Jean Genie riff. (Amanda)

Manages to be trash and good – quite an achievement. (Gert)

I have to admit, I’m not that fond. One of the weaker glam hits. (Stereoboard)

2003: All The Things She Said – tATu. (80)

Trevor Horn hasn’t sounded so good since Dollar. (I’m serious, I love Dollar!) Completely worthy of five points. (Elisabeth)

Totally convinced by the TOTP performance. Trev gets it right again! (Nic)

Ah, of course, these are the lesbian nymphettes, aren’t they? Oh, they sing too, do they? Gosh, The Sun never told me that. Another case of image getting in the way of the music. Great production, pretty good song, but the titillating little-girl voices ruin it for me. (Nigel R (the UK one))

i’m giving up alcohol, so i’ll probably never enjoy this again as it should be heard, i.e. wazzed and lonely in yet another bad niteclub. the vocals are a bit weak tho, aren’t they? (noodle)

This is the first time I’ve actually heard this song. Quite good, innit? Is there a club mix? (Junio)

I have managed to avoid this so far. I don’t get it – are you sure this is the right track? Sounds like a crappy Natalie Imbroglio ripoff…I can imagine the video – I bet they look fashionably sullen in it don’t they? (Steve)

uppercase/lowercase annoyances aside, I like the song, but I suspect those baby voices will get old on me fast. (Asta)

I don’t like those shrill girly voices. (Amanda)

I haven’t actually heard this song before – quite an achievement. (Gert)

1963: Diamonds – Jet Harris & Tony Meehan. (76)

This is fantastic. Undiscovered, gorgeous and a worthy number one of number ones. I feel a purchase coming on. (Stereoboard)

Pretty damn Secret-agent-toptastic, even though it sounds like Tarantino would r@pe it given half a chance. (Steve)

A new one to me. Instantly reminded me of all those “trying hard to be cool” B-Hollywood movies of the time that are only worth watching for the sets, clothing and the music. (Asta)

Sorry, I have an aversion to Ver Shads, though I do like the Benny Hill horn bit. (David)

Was Jet Harris any relation to Jet Black? (Junio)

Classic and totally forgettable – quite an achievement. (Gert)

Can they out-Hank-Marvin Hank Marvin? I don’t think so. (Amanda)

Reminds me of childhood summers at Butlins Holiday Camp in Pwhelli. Mike, you deserve all our sympathy. Being born on the day this was Number One, proves, beyond any doubt, that you are a very Troubled Diva indeed. (Nigel R (the UK one))
(Mike adds: I wasn’t! I’ve just turned 41. On the day that I was born, Cliff Richard was at Number One with “The Young Ones”.)

1983: Down Under – Men At Work. (75)

Drunken, unpretentious, effective singalong by a bunch of good-natured blokes, taking the piss out of themselves and everyone else. It makes me smile. I love Aussies.
(Nigel R (the UK one))

I really want a steak now. (This is the jingle for a chain of Australian-themed restaurants over here.) (Junio)

Look as far as I’m concerned it’s the least worst. I do live in Australia but I’ve got no particular attachment to this song (probably because I didn’t live in Australia when it was released.) (Amanda)

loveably crap geezer-reggae. immortalised vegemite sandwiches. marked down in desperate bid to prevent the worst decade ever from winning the competition. (noodle)

Used to like this a lot, but it sounds a bit duff now. (David)

An 80s number that fails either to be entirely naff or to evoke any memories – quite an achievement. (Gert)

Beer & watered down reggae. Urk. (Stereoboard)

1993: No Limit – 2 Unlimited. (66)

come on! it’s 2 unlimited! how seminal is this!?! actually i was surprised at how chugging this is. i remember it being about 80bpm faster. although in the early 90s i was also far too partial to the stuff that came in little yellow-wrappered bottles, so that might explain it. (noodle)

Hated it then, dance-music aficionado (tosser) that I was. A track with Vocals? And at Number One, my Dears? Oh, how terribly Joe-Public. Still don’t like the vocals, but it’s got a great infectious hands-in-the-air bounciness which I now can’t help but smile at. (Nigel R (the UK one))

Get very drunk and listen to this at home. FAB! Euro dance, when done properly, can be some of the most exciting pop music around. (Elisabeth)

TechnoTechnoTechnoTechnoNotice. Has anyone got the brilliant Q interview [I think it was in their 50th anniversary special – or 25th or something] with 2Unlimited, where they tried to analyse the negative aspects of the song? Please dig it out – it’s hilarious. (David)

Different from anything else we’ve had. Good when you’re in the mood for a bit of banging, terrible otherwise. (Amanda)

Pass the poppers. (Wait, this is from 1993? OK, no poppers then.) (Junio)

this one still annoys after all these years (Douglas)

However bad this is, it is rightfully immortalised. I’ve said it before – the nineties backlash started here – the decade where taste didn’t give a shit. (Steve)

A 90s song I could sing before the MP3 came on. And memorable – quite an achievement. (Gert)

Fascinating stuff. Looks like mid-February has always been a lax period for quality singles.

Or are all hit singles, by definition, a turgid pile of putrid toss. Nope, I can’t allow myself to believe that. There’s too much at stake…. (djg)

This whole project brought back memories of the last period before lunch on Tuesdays. One memorable year (probably 1973, actually), we had Latin that period, taught by a very old and very deaf old geezer. The class was held in a funny underground classroom called the “Undercroft.” I used to listen to the chart show during the class and shout out the news to my music-loving pals. Haven’t thought about that for years. Thanks, Mike! (Junio)

Decade scores so far (after 7 days).
1 (1) The 1980s (33) — Prince! Morrissey! Bruce Springsteen!
2 (1) The 1970s (30) — Elton John! Karen Carpenter! Johnny Rotten!
3 (4) The 1960s (25) — Jimi Hendrix! Otis Redding! Dusty Springfield!
4 (3) The 1990s (24) — Kurt Cobain! Bjork! Michael Stipe!
5 (5) The 2000s (23) — Eminem! Missy Elliott! Britney Spears!
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