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…

Running totals so far – Interval Act / Tiebreaker.

Arrrrgh it all just melded into one horrifying television variety showcase. Had to listen to them twice just to tell most of them apart. (Asta)

1978: Take A Chance On Me – Abba. (96)

My first, my last, my everything – Seventies forever! (Steve)

how could they ever have been so reviled? now that the students have got bored of liking them “ironically” – see above – the rest of us can swoon in awe at the greatest singles band of all time. (noodle)

…I bought my Dad this for his fiftieth birthday. Also the first (and last!) pop record he ever had! (Gert)

Okay, so it’s not Dancing Queen. It’s still a standout in this group. (Asta)

Good, but not their best by a verrry long way. (suebailey)

I love them NOW, but this is far from their best. (Junio)

Compared to their other work, oddly sterile and lacking any real emotion. (Nigel R (the UK one))

I’m not an Abba lover but then I’m not an Abba hater either, just a bit indifferent. (Amanda)

1978: Uptown Top Ranking – Althea & Donna. (77)

Up there with Marshall Hain’s Dancin’ in the City as one of the best one-hit wonders ever. Still haven’t the faintest idea of what they’re singing about half the time, but its sheer getting-ready-for-Saturday-night-on-the-town joy is infectious. (Nigel R (the UK one))

listen to the voices!!! bored, sassy, ever-so slightly flat. “we’re going out on the pull tonight, and if you don’t like it grandad, up yours. and ting.” (noodle)

It’s just top rankin’. (Junio)

The Black Box Recorder cover version of Uptown Top Ranking on their first album is well worth a listen – Sarah Nixey’s disinterested Home Counties vocals are worth it alone. (Mark)

Wonderful track, I feel ashamed I only heard this first on Ch4’s “Top one-hit wonders” (Steve)

It annoys me, it always has, but at least it has some sort of style. (Stereoboard)

1988: I Think We’re Alone Now – Tiffany. (69)

just a classic, children behaaaaaaaaaave !!! (Pam)

I wonder why I used to hate this quite as vehemently as I did… Oh, because I was a miserable Goth. Of course. (suebailey)

clearly would have won most of the last 10 days. 4th today because the performance fails to do justice to the song, but still more punk than April Lasagne will ever be in the rest of her shitty 10-minute career. (noodle)

Great track, but Tiff’naaay is and always will be a poor man’s Cyndi Lauper – nil point from the East London judges. (Steve)

Way too tinkly tinkly, but a nice hook. (Junio)

Her nothing-special delivery leaves a lot to be desired (the Rubinoos and even Lene Lovitch did it better), but still a great evocative song about two kids trying to get a shag, or, at the very least, a snog and fumble. Oh, to be a teenager again! (Nigel R (the UK one))

Tiffany or Kylie? Kylie or Tiffany? Wait, they’re the same decade so it doesn’t matter a damn. (Amanda)

Better than the recent cover, but Debbie Gibson was so much better. (Gert)

I so wanted to like this more, I just can’t. (Stereoboard)

I hesitated, but when I saw that Gert had voted for a record just because she had bought it for her dad, I knew it would be ok to vote for Tiffany just because she’s the only famous person anyone has ever thought I looked like. Obviously this is no longer the case; it was a late-80s hair thing. (‘bel)

1988: I Should Be So Lucky – Kylie Minogue. (67)

Because it makes me think of the French & Saunders mockumentary when the opera singers were intoning, “I Shed Be Sew Lacky …” (Junio)

pete waterman is phil spector and berry gordy rolled into one. except without the killing women thang, obviously. for me, kylie’s best period was the “rhythm of love” album, but this comes close. cloth-eared rock bores who hated this at the time will now tell you they’ve always loved her, even tho she’s almost become a parody of herself. (noodle)

How little we knew back then – deep in our hearts you’ll always be Charlene – this is like Sunny D in muscial form. (Steve)

Though I love and adore her unceasingly, she’s trying so hard here not to sound Australian, she sounds almost Home Counties. (suebailey)

Sweeps you up into its merry-go-round ride of pure, simple, unpretentious, cheeky Pop, which has absolutely nothing to say and simply won’t let you go. Utter nonsense and I love it to death. See you grinning out there on the dancefloor. (Nigel R (the UK one))

1978: Figaro – Brotherhood Of Man. (45)

MAN, this funks – very Boney M (Steve)

I have to have to put this top as it was the very first pop record I ever bought with 69p of my 10th birthday money – and this is the first of the entire selection I have had to put the volume up! In fact of the 56, this is definitely the best. (Gert)

I have no shame. I like them better than Abba. (suebailey)

As this kind of drossy pop goes, this goes decently enough. And I’m sure it was an Abba hommage not a rip-off. (Junio)

Surely this is BOM self-parodying themselves imitating Abba. There’s a good reason that it has been banished from the airwaves. (Stereoboard)

Slime. Slime. Slime. Probably went down a storm with the package tours in the Benny Hill bar in Majorca. Possibly the worst song ever chosen for the Top of the Pops project. (Nigel R (the UK one))

I definitely don’t like second-rate Abba especially with an oompa beat. (Amanda)

1988: When Will I Be Famous? – Bros. (45)

So this is what Bros sound like. Like girls? (Not that there’s anything wrong with that.) (Junio)

i liked bros “ironically” at the time, which means not liking them at all really, doesn’t it? now, after the horror that was one true voice, we can recognise bros for the talented pop monkeys that they were. not as good as brother beyond. (noodle)

Wanted to hate this, but it’s aged suprisingly well – compared to current boyband efforts, the brothers Goss sound quite refreshing. (Steve)

Who would have thought it? They’re just marvellous. (suebailey)

How I sniggered at them, never realising they actualy made a couple of excellent chart records. And who’d’ve thought an anthem for the consumer Eighties, would be so uncomfortably relevant to the Reality-TV Noughties? (Nigel R (the UK one))

Is there really a line in there that goes, ‘You’ve read Karl Marx…’? (Amanda)

Their best song, in my opinion, but…I remember walking past the Royal Concert Hall one night when they had just finished a gig. It was the scariest experience of my life seeing all those teenage girls (I was a smug twenty-year-old). Me and my friends had to find the nearest pub to get a drink to settle our nerves. (Gert)

*hangs head in shame*
I used to be a Brosette. I also had a perm at the time. (Tinka)

I was once mistaken for Matt y’know (from behind, in the dark). (Stereoboard)

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