Which decade is Tops for Pops? (1/10) – 2004 edition.

Thanks to the recent hiatus, this is nearly a month overdue (it was supposed to run on the week of my birthday) – but no matter; it’s finally time to welcome back the second annual instalment of the Which decade is Tops for Pops? project. (It is almost impossible to resist the urge to whoop at this stage, but let’s not burn ourselves out before we’ve even begun.)

If you were reading this site in February 2003, then you’ll already know the procedure. If not, then please allow me to explain.

Over the next ten instalments, we will be systematically comparing the records in the Top 10 UK singles chart for this week in 1964, 1974, 1984, 1994 and 2004. Today, we’ll be looking at all the records in the Number 10 position; tomorrow, we’ll look at the Number 9s; and so on until we reach the Number 1s.

Each day, I’ll be posting a short MP3 medley of the five songs under consideration, containing about a minute’s worth of each song. Your job is to listen to the medley and place the five songs in order of preference. It doesn’t matter how rubbish you might think they are; all five songs must be ranked, with no tied positions and no omissions.

(Note: to save on my space and your time, I’ve encoded the medleys at a scintillating 96kbps, for that authentic “listening on a cheap transistor radio” pop experience.)

Once you have scored the songs, please place your votes in that day’s comment box. I will then aggregate total scores for each song based on your votes, with 5 points for each 1st place, 4 points for each 2nd place, etc.

In this way, we will eventually end up with 10 sets of combined votes, i.e. one for each chart position. Using the same inverse points system, I’ll then aggregate combined votes for each decade, thus establishing, at the end of the 10 days, which is decade truly is Tops for Pops. I’ll also be keeping a running total going each day, so that you can track how the decades are faring against each other.

Still confused? Oh, don’t worry; it will all become clear soon enough. Perhaps I should instigate a mentoring scheme between old hands and newcomers? No, perhaps not.

Last year, the 1970s and 1980s pulled clear ahead of the rest of the pack, finishing with a dead heat which had to be resolved with a tie-breaker. Eventually, the 1970s were crowned victorious. This year, I have a sneaking suspicion that the decades will be rather more evenly matched… but there again, I could be wrong. It’s all down to you, readers!

Onto business, then. Here are the Number 10 singles for this week in 1964, 1974, 1984, 1994 and 2004.

1964: Needles And Pins – The Searchers.
1974: The Wombling Song – The Wombles.
1984: It’s Raining Men – The Weather Girls.
1994: Breathe Again – Toni Braxton.
2004: Dude – Beenie Man featuring Ms Thing.
Listen to a short medley (about a minute each) of all five songs.

Last year, when the Top 10 for mid-February 1963 fell under the microscope, many of you commented that the music didn’t feel like the 1960s; it felt stale, out of date, in need of change. Frankie Vaughan, Mike Berry, Brenda Lee, Del Shannon, Maureen Evans, Frank Ifield, Kenny Ball’s Jazzmen: this was the sound of the 1950s clinging on for dear life. The one shining exception in the 1963 chart was The Beatles’ Please Please Me, which sounded like it was beamed in from a different universe – a harbinger of the future.

Sure enough, just over a year later, the Top 10 for 1964 bears scant relation to its dusty Tin Pan Alley predecessor. The 1960s had finally begun in earnest, with the whole British “beat group” explosion already in full swing – and this record by The Searchers is a classic example. Indeed, with its jingly-jangly folk-rock guitar sound already hinting at developments to come from the likes of The Byrds, Needles And Pins is in itself something of a stylistic trailblazer. Co-written by Jack Nitzsche and Sonny Bono, and originally recorded in the US by Jackie DeShannon, this cover version swaps the genders, turning the man into the wounded, brooding, victim of the woman who has deserted him. A surprisingly mature, progressive record to find in the pop charts of this period…

…in stark contrast to The Wombles, with an extended version of the theme tune to their animated TV show. Dismissable kiddie crap, then? Actually, no. This, and many of The Wombles’ surprisingly long run of hits, is of a much higher musical order than it strictly needs to be, with its deft, distinctive melody underpinned by a really rather lovely orchestration. Nestling between the whimsical jauntiness of the main refrain, there is even a hint of real wistfulness in the “Uncle Bulgaria” verse. You won’t find such richness in the collected works of The Tweenies or The Teletubbies, that’s for sure.

Indeed, as The Wombles’ hit-making career continued, composer Mike Batt used it as an exercise for dabbling in a wide variety of musical genres: glam-rock, reggae, classical waltz, vintage rock and roll… the fourth album even contains a full-blown Rick Wakeman pastiche, “The Myths And Legends Of King Merton Womble And His Journey To The Centre Of The Earth“. Such a shame, then, that Batt has recently seen fit to blot his copybook by inflicting the awful Katie Melua upon us. (“Feeling twenty-two, acting seventeen” has to be the most memorably grating line in pop since J-Lo’s “Don’t be fooled by the rocks that I’ve got, I’m still Jenny from the block“.) I’m sorely tempted to deduct points for that alone – but I try to be a fair man.

Unlike last year, I have failed to find MP3s of two songs from this year’s crop, and in each case am subsituting the Number 11 record from the same chart. Thus it is that Richard Hartley & The Michael Reed Orchestra’s The Music Of Torvill & Dean EP (lead track: the inevitable Bolero) is nudged out by – Hi! Hi! We’re your Weather Girls, and have we got news for you! I think we’ve all been spared, don’t you?

It’s Raining Men had been knocking around as an import 12″ in UK gay clubs since the summer of 1982, meaning that by the time it charted, some of us were growing just a little bit sick of it. Indeed, it’s a record which I could cheerfully never listen to again. That’s not to deny its genius; it’s merely to admit that even great jokes can eventually wear thin. Yes, it’s a comedy record – but what a comedy record. Like the musical equivalent of one of those uber-successful US comedies which have been written by committees of 20 or more, It’s Raining Men simply crams in Big Moment after Big Moment after Big Moment, with devastating efficency. I wonder how many of you will be on the point of throwing your hands up in the air for a rousing chorus of “GOD BLESS MOTHER NATURE, SHE’S A SINGLE WOMAN TOO!”, just as the the medley switches to…

Toni Braxton‘s dire ditty. Plod plod, plink plonk, whine whine. Any more than a minute of this arid, self-pitying, soulless dirge would rob me of the will to live, I think. Apologies if I’m treading all over someone’s treasured memories, but I speak as I find.

Finally, I am fully expecting Beenie Man featuring Ms. Thing to grate horribly on many of you. Ruffneck dancehall ragga over a minimal, repetitive backing, enlivened only by the judicious use of steel drums; this will have some of my more seasoned readers covering their ears in horror. And yet, and yet, it works. There’s an insistent rough-edged energy to Dude which exerts a physical pull that I find wholly appealing. So there.

All I would say is this, though: when voting, try not to be overly swayed by nostalgic associations with your own personal Golden Age Of Pop, whichever decade it might be. In other words: don’t let’s be beastly to the Noughties.

My votes: 1 – The Searchers. 2 – The Weather Girls. 3 – Beenie Man featuring Ms. Thing. 4 – The Wombles. 5 – Toni Braxton. K’s votes will appear in the comments shortly.

Over to you. (That’s my catchphrase, that is.) Please leave your votes in the comments box below. The gloves are off. May the best decade win!

Running totals so far – Number 10s.

1964: Needles And Pins – The Searchers. (138)

  • Classic clingy-clangly, jingly-jangly intro, and I love the wonderful deadpan, matter-of-fact delivery, masking the anger our boy’s really feeling. You just know that the girl’s going to come running back eventually, and then he’s going to tell her to get lost, don’t you? (Nigel)
  • Pure, not a whiff of cynicism, marketing, or over production. (asta)
  • as mike indicated, incredibly prescient. i’d have guessed it at least a year later than this. if all 60s records were this good, we’d have no contest. (noodle)
  • Just because it’s so so so innocent and charming that it makes the Beatles of the same era look like goat-shagging devil worshippers. (Vaughan)
  • the jangly guitar one is nice… in a flash i was amazed at the extent of jangly guitar use throughout the 40 years since this one came out… (jill)
  • Indifference. I like the 60s, I like jangly guitars, not sure why I find this uninspiring. (Demian)
  • My heathen roots come out, and I’m just not into this at all. (lyle)
  • Heard them doing this in 1964 at Newcastle City Hall. Support band for Roy Orbison. Me still at school. (Peter)

1984: It’s Raining Men – The Weather Girls. (132)

  • But who would have thought that just 20 years later I’d be dancing to this half-naked in Fire Island in Princes Street with a bottle of poppers stuffed under me nose? (Peter)
  • Hang on, while I catch my breath: the second I heard this I was up on my feet, punching the air, and auditioning for Pan’s People again. For sheer energy and exuberance, this guilt-free celebration of getting your rocks off is a winner, a guaranteed floor filler at even the greyest office party, and a song so infectiously saucy and tongue-in-cheek that even that Spice Girl person couldn’t balls it up. And twenty years on, I still know every last step of the dance routine. (Nigel)
  • very encouraging for a sixteen year old straight boyfriendless girl! (Gert)
  • kind of inverted nostalgia – i don’t really have the extreme negative reaction i had to it’s raining men as i did what is it? 20 years ago but i can’t be so untrue to the girl i was once and put this anywhere but last. i was young and i didn’t see that it was funny or camp or anything except for scary. (jill)
  • I expected to like this more than I did. Perhaps it’s been done too much. I thought it might evoke some pleasant memories but all I see are drunken young-fogeys at civil service office parties before they couple off and have that shag they’ll spend the rest of the year pretending never happened. (Demian)
  • Would be higher, were it not for too many distorted and unpleasant recollection of drunken aunties dancing to it at wedding receptions. (Vaughan)
  • Silly in the extreme, but it still works. (asta)
  • Still does it for me even though Geri Halliwell nearly killed it! (Christian)
  • Spent those college years hanging out in gay bars. Makes we weepy for some flourescent clothing and a fruity beverage. (jo)
  • Gay club and hen night saturation. (Michael)
  • One disco too far, said the ex DJ (Gordon)
  • it’s THE WEATHER GIRLS!!!! FOR FLUCK’S SAKE!!!!!!!! i’m afraid my obsessive Homer-philia probably skews the score here, but come on. i can’t think of another song more calculated to make me grin my face in half and hump the nearest stranger. audio poppers. (noodle)

1974: The Wombling Song – The Wombles. (109)

  • That Wombles record is the first record I ever bought, and I won’t hear a word said against it. (diamond geezer)
  • If not for the instruction against weighting nostalgia too highly, this would be number one because I carried a childhood fondness for Wombling songs far into my adulthood. That said, it made me yearn for more sophisticated Womble choons like Minuetto Alegretto, Hall of the Mountain Womble (‘ere, get this orchestra off my mountain) or the one about trains (ooh ticket collector ticket collecting all day long, if you let me look at your engine I’ll sing you a wombling song…) because this is a dumb crowd pleaser as far as the Wombles’ repertoire is concerned. (Demian)
  • What is there not to like? Fantastically jolly in a cosy, “Vicar of Dibley” sort of way. Mike Batt sorely underrated, even though he did pen the execrable “I’m Snookering You Tonight” song. Would have been better with Bernard Cribbins doing the lead vocals though. (Nigel)
  • genius pop. had it been remember you’re a womble i’d have had no choice but to place it higher. (noodle)
  • Just because I *still* have a sentimental attachment to the time of 5.35pm on a weekday. Doesn’t everyone of that era? (Vaughan)
  • This never made it to North America… at least not to any radio station I listened to. For that, I am eternally grateful. (asta)
  • Sadly not featuring a relative: MacWomble the Terrible aka Cairngorm MacWomble (Gordon)
  • when i heard this as a small boy, i wanted to go and buy a shotgun. (quarsan)

2004: Dude – Beenie Man featuring Ms Thing. (94)

  • You are right, it does work… odd… (Gordon)
  • it’s dancehall. it’s all intrinsically awesome. like being massaged by warm rubber pellets of olive oil. if you don’t get it, you prob’ly like jamie cullum, y’bastard. (noodle)
  • Beenie.. Shaggy.. there’s a sameness to these performers that gets old fast. (asta)
  • I hadn’t heard this before so it was a pleasant surprise. He doesn’t remind me of Shaggy – I always think of Shaggy as a gimmick but with Beenie Man I can tell that when he was a wee slip of a lad and spending time with the Jamaican sound systems and the likes of Bunny Lee, his ears were open. It made me reach for my Trojan boxed sets and some Paragons. (Demian)
  • Bit retro this, isn’t it? No one had told me Musical Youth had reformed. Quite pleasant, but something which could have been recorded any time in the past thirty years. (Nigel)
  • *shudder* (lyle)
  • Again, not a very musically justifiable point, but I’ve always had a deep hatred of ‘somebody featuring someone else’ artist titles. It just makes the chart rundown last longer. “And now, in at number three with a bullet – Alanis Morrissette featuring a bloke she met on the bus versus the entire population of Swaziland featuring Bob’s mate Derek who just happened to be passing the studio. JUST JOIN THE BAND OR PISS OFF, WILL YOU?” And in this case it gets even worse, because the ‘featuring’ person doesn’t even have a good name – MS THING, for heaven’s sake? What sort of unadventurous, rubbish name is that? “So, Deirdre, what are you going to call yourself for your pop career? Think dangerous, dynamic, sexy – think street.” – “Well, I thought I might call myself Ms – Thing.” – “Thing?” – “Yeah, Thing – as in, er, Thing, cos it’s, like, different innit?” Oh, f*** off. Um, you don’t me not providing strictly musical and aesthetic reasons for my decisions, do you? (Vaughan)
  • My favourite Beenie Man song is Bad Man Chi Chi Man. You really should disqualify him. (Nixon)
  • Oh, f**k. Didn’t realise that. “Chi chi man” is a pejorative Jamaican term for a gay man, akin to “Batty man”. Bad Man Chi Chi Man has a chorus which – though difficult to decipher through the patois – is commonly agreed to advocate the murder of gay men. As a result,Peter Tatchell and Outrage! have been calling for the arrest of Beenie Man and two other reggae artists. Does that make “Dude” a lesser record? Now, there’s the rub. (mike)
  • hard to think of a dancehall artist that isn’t a homophobic twat. on the other hand, T.S. Eliot was a pompous nazi prick, but a kick-ass poet. (noodle)
  • I’ve seen Beenie Man live in a small Jamaican town once, and to say he’s homophobic would be a gross understatement. When he says “all of you wanna see some batty man dead, put yo gunhand in the air!”, the crowd goes “wooo!” and the air is full of hands shaped like pistols. He probably loves a crowd going “wooo” more than he hates gays, but it’s still quite disgusting. And yet, I can’t stop loving his music. (Simon)

1994: Breathe Again – Toni Braxton. (50)

  • Miserable self-pitying waste of space, isn’t she? “I shall never breathe again.” Like, you think I really care, love? (Nigel)
  • Well if you must dear… (Gordon)
  • I don’t remember Toni, thank heavens. But I’ve taken an immediate dislike to her because her name sounds like that of a hairdresser. Toni Braxton’s Cut ‘n’ Blow Dry Parlour, anyone? (Vaughan)
  • I am not in the least surprised that I have no memory of this song whatsoever, even though I only heard it two minutes ago. (Demian)
  • like listening down an echo-chamber in hell. (noodle)
  • Ugh. Although listening to this, I suddenly felt that she and a few others were the canaries in the coal mines for all the packaged pop products we’ve been inflicted with in the past few years. (asta)
  • if i was capable of overlooking the past me then toni braxton would be 5 but with things as they are… this song manifests the same kind of reaction as watching glitter (mariah’s attempt at movies) i know i heard something but it’s so nothing at all like anything to do with goodness and humanity that all i’m aware of is time has passed. (jill)
  • May Toni soon hold hers. With that voice I’m never sure if she’s pre-op or post. (jo)
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