Which decade is Tops for Pops? (4/10) – 2004 edition.

Three days down – and already, your votes are stacking up differently from last time. A year ago, the 1970s and 1980s quickly established a clear lead, and hung onto it for the rest of the project. This time round, it’s the 1960s and 2000s which are steaming ahead – with the 1990s trailing badly. Time to bring on the Number Sevens, then:

1964: I Think Of You – The Merseybeats.
1974: Remember (Sha La La La) – Bay City Rollers.
1984: Jump – Van Halen.
1994: Pretty Good Year – Tori Amos.
2004: Thank You – Jamelia.
Listen to a short medley (about a minute each) of all five songs.

Riding the crest of the Merseybeat boom, the appropriately titled Merseybeats were enjoying their second – and, by some distance, their biggest – hit with I Think Of You, which peaked at #5. (Christ, I’m sounding like Dale Winton on Saturday afternoons.) What appeals about this record: the unadorned immediacy, the low-res production values, and the ragged edge to the performance (especially on some of the double-tracked vocals). The song only just hangs together; it could fall apart at any minute, and probably frequently did. You sense that the band had only just finished rehearsing it before being rushed into the studio to make a quick Merseybeat buck while the fad lasted.

I reserve a special loathing for the ghastly, unforgiveable Bay City Rollers, who were on the point of supplanting the Osmonds as Britain’s number one teen scream sensation. Where the Osmonds were at least partially redeemed by a certain well-meaning sincerity – a detectable niceness – and a measure of creative input which occasionally produced some creditable pop music (Crazy Horses, the sublime Let Me In, the ambitious “concept album” The Plan), the Bay City Rollers were pure, 100%, solid gold, production line pap. More than possibly any other teen band before or since (and I have given the matter some thought), the sole raison d’etre of the Rollers was – as Peter is so fond of saying – to extract the maximum amount of money from the purses of teenage girls in the shortest space of time. The band’s total indifference to the processed dreck which passed for their music is blatantly evident, at all times. When listening to Remember, and indeed to all their hits, one struggles in vain to detect even a shred of feeling, or even of enjoyment. The ugliness at the heart of the Rollers remains unsurpassed to this day. Yes – they even make Westlife look good. And for that alone, I detest them.

After even a minute of the above, the sheer relief brought on by the opening strains of Van Halen‘s mighty Jump is enough to make me want to mount my desk and punch my fist in the air. This is one of a select handful of commercial FM rock-lite anthems which – for me, a confirmed opponent of the genre – work quite brilliantly. (Other examples: Boston’s More Than A Feeling, Rainbow’s Since You Been Gone, Bon Jovi’s Living On A Prayer.) There’s nothing more to add other than: BOOOOOGIEEEEE!!!

In the current pop climate, it’s impossible to imagine a record as gentle, as delicate, as understated and as downright peculiar as Tori Amos’ Pretty Good Year getting within sniffing distance of the Top 10. In 1994, with Radio One in the process of shedding its dated Smashie & Nicey image and making determined efforts to Get Hip with the Music Press Kids, such a thing was still entirely possible. A tender, haunting melody, beautifully sung and played, and with the added bonus of a set of bonkers lyrics that mean absolutely nothing at all. We like!

We also like Jamelia, the newly crowned queen of UK R&B (those Winton-isms are flowing thick and fast today), with her top quality follow-up to last year’s gloriously addictive Superstar. Its message is one of proud defiance: what doesn’t destroy me makes me stronger. “For every last bruise you gave me, for every time I sat in tears, for the million ways you hurt me, I just wanna tell you this: you broke my world, made me strong, thank you. Personally, I think it’s great that a song with subject matter like this should currently be getting heavy radio airplay. More power to ya, Joh-meeel-yoh!

My votes: 1 – Van Halen. 2 – Tori Amos. 3 – Jamelia. 4 – The Merseybeats. 5 – Bay City Rollers.

Over to you. For my money, Van Halen, Tori Amos and Jamelia all deserve healthy smatterings of 5 points each, while I’m keeping my fingers crossed for a string of last placings for the Bay City Rollers. As usual, please leave your votes in the comments box.

Running totals so far – Number 7s.

1984: Jump – Van Halen. (117)

  • this is f***ing ace. I’m stepping right out of my delusional credibility bubble and my bottom is twitching and itching for some lycra or spandex to hug its skinny whiteness. (Demian)
  • the sort of track I have forgotten, but it pumps, it rocks, it it yells passion. (Gert)
  • If only because it is a screaming, air gutar playing, watching drunken white guys pump their mullets up and down, kind of a song. (jo)
  • Just makes me want to get up and dance, even after all these years. It takes me back in an instant to the beach parties we’d hold at Crystal Cliffs. (asta)
  • This is incredibly good. You can tell these guys got where they were because they loved playing their instruments rather than being hungry for fame. Grumble grumble today’s youth grumble. It’s got that wonderful hit quality which managerial decisions and producer-centric music so effectively kills. Also, it ROCKS! (Simon)
  • that opening riff is the pop equivalent of genghis khan’s golden horde marauding into eastern europe. this was to be a last golden peak for the band before they let that ball-less nazi sammy hagar replace diamond dave and shit all over their legacy. sorry. i really hate sammy hagar. (noodle)
  • This is what, I think, should be called stadium rock, but reminds me much more of kitchen-at-student-party rock, when you?ve had too many Strongbows and you realise all the fit boys/ girls have already copped off, so you might as well talk about ?serious? music with that bloke with the beard and dodgy cigarettes. It reeks of unwashed hair and sweaty armpits, and grown men who simply should know better than to talk about ?record machines?. But I spent most of my teen years in student kitchens talking to blokes with beards and dodgy cigarettes about record machines, so it gets my vote. (Nigel)
  • even better than the Aztec Camera version, I can now admit. (dymbel)
  • While all my thirteen year old friends were learning the guitar, I had two – TWO, count ’em – cheap Casio keyboards. I could play Axel F by Harold Faltermeyer and the intro to Jump by Van Halen. The former melody allowed me to think I was Thomas Dolby, or some such electronic egghead, but really I wanted to RAWK with the guitarists. Learning to play the intro to Jump on my Casio – and then putting it through a fuzz amp and turning it up to 11 (metaphorically) – allowed me to play with the big boys. I think this record may also have coincided with the appearance of my first chest hairs – God, how RAWK is that?! – although sadly I have to report that those were the only three chest hairs that ever appeared. (Or is that too much information?) Record rapidly declines in quality after the intro, though. As soon as David Roth Lee Roth David Roth (whatever) starts singing, in fact. (Vaughan)
  • merits some points if just for David Lee Roth’s split leaps. But unfortunately I heard it week in week out as part of my Body Pump class at the gym, where we did girly benchpresses in time to the music. (elisabeth)
  • pompous, vacuous, self important and vain. went down well with young conservatives. (quarsan)

1994: Pretty Good Year – Tori Amos. (99)

  • excellent voice, piano playing and that sexy breathing – brilliant woman. (zed)
  • It’s a girl and her piano. I just like the sound. If you can’t have Kate Bush anymore, at least you can have Tori. (jo)
  • Beautiful. But more than that, a song like this having made it into the top ten makes me hate the general public slightly less. (Simon)
  • Is that a line about burning cds? How prescient – regular Mother Skipton. (Demian)
  • lovely melody… decent title… too bad she couldn’t come up with a decent lyric. So what if she mentions CD burning? She could have mentioned plasma TVs for all the sense it makes. (asta)
  • the anti-morrisette. don’t know why y’all are down on the lyrics, it’s impressionistic, maaaan. when she sings “pretty good year“, that little choke in her voice says everything you’ll ever need to know about my life. (noodle)
  • Um, can I say ‘kooky’ at this point? Kooky. There. I said it. God, I hate that word. “Hello, I’m not mad. But I’m just a little bit weird. You can call me kooky.”

    “I heard the eternal footman / Bought himself a bike to race.”

    See, it’s TRYING to be profound, isn’t it? But it’s failing, because it’s just bad Sixth Form poetry (not that there’s anything wrong with bad sixth form poetry, as I’ve written enough of it).

    I get the feeling that Tori probably finds it quite tiring being kooky all the time. She probably likes nothing better than watching Julia Roberts’ movies and curling up with Sex & The City – until a music journalist calls for an interview:

    “Oh, I’m watching Carrie and the – oh, Q magazine? Hi, yes. It’s Tori. I’m just standing in a bucket in the garden, empathising with the trees.”

    I liked Cornflake Girl. I always hoped it was part of a series – Tealeaf Boy, Artichoke Woman, Crumpet Hermaphrodite.

    I’m being unduly harsh. I like Tori – but in a kind of “ooh look – trees and flowers” way. (Vaughan)

  • If I want sensitive introspection to the point of vanishing up its own atonal asshole, I?ll choose Morrissey, thank you very much. Sorry, I have never understood the fascination surrounding this humourless woman, and am totally immune to her supposed charms. Music to make me itch. (Nigel)

2004: Thank You – Jamelia. (87)

  • This is wonderful– a song that moves and has worthwhile lyrics. What a concept. She’s a complete unknown over here. Shame. (asta)
  • having only heard lumpen totp performances of her recent stuff, i’d come to the conclusion that she’d ditched the fabulous sonic inventiveness of her first album. i see now i was well wrong. this is micro r&b. makes me wonder why anybody bothers to be excited about the libertines. (noodle)
  • I sort of like the way all the different noises are woven together but it leaves me cold up until the point where she starts her ranty thing – she doesn’t actually sound like somebody who’s really been hurt and I’m thinking ‘for every nail you chipped, every time you scuffed my expensive shoes, every unkind thing you said about my records…’ (Demian)
  • like those weird noises in the background and the bright production. I’d be less convinced by the lyrics too if I hadn’t seen her sing it on TOTP with her little knowing smile. (elisabeth)
  • As many others have commented – the lyrics are great. Although I do appear to be missing the verse about kneeing him in the groin and leaving him in a crumpled heap on the kitchen floor while she pours flour over him, spits in his eye, and then steals his shiny new sports car and drives it into a canal in a fit of righteous anger. Go girl. (Vaughan)
  • At the moment, I really like this, but I suspect more for its defiant, don?t-mess-with-me-anymore subject matter than for any musical worth. As bland and forgettable as most other getting-ready-for-Saturday-night songs. Now, how did it go again? (Nigel)

1964: I Think Of You – The Merseybeats. (72)

  • Suddenly, I?m thirteen again. This is just so.. so? well, ?lovely? is the only word I can come up with. Apart from ?bless,? that is. Oh yeah, and ?aww, poor sweet baby?. Irresistibly charming in its impossible innocence, as he plaintively yearns for something he?ll never get. A wonderfully acne-ridden couple of minutes, back before Pop got too clever by half, when you were Misunderstood, and all you ever wanted was a snog from Tracy in the next class, and shagging was something the Cool Kids talked about but never did. All I really want to do is to give him an enormous hug beneath the plastic palm trees the next time we bump into each other in the Hawaiian ballroom at Butlin?s. (Nigel)
  • Every scouse bloke of a certain age had a group in the 60s. The Fourmost. We once supported the Pacemakers at the Cavern but the drummer joined the army and the bassist married me sister. This is one of them I guess. (Demian)
  • again, charming sixties production. the sound of 15 minutes of fame being grabbed by the throat and rogered silly. (noodle)
  • with a fraction of the beatles agressiveness, this could have been a half decent track. (quarsan)
  • This time, the 60s lets us down. Overly twee and, well, *safe* … there are loads better. (elisabeth)
  • I held my breath there for a sec wondering if they’d be able to hold onto the notes. (asta)
  • It’s a sad fact about 60s records that were like an emasculated Beatles (imagine Ringo with his balls removed) that today they sound just plain chilling. I can imagine this record soundtracking a scene in a David Lynch movie in which a deeply disturbed obsessive methodically chops the fingers from the object of his strange desires, while he/she screams in agony: “I think of you / every minute / I lie awake / each lonely night . . . oh God, whoever would have thought there would be so much BLOOD.” (Vaughan)
  • Sheer Drivel. Is the entire top ten of this year taken up with shallow talentless substandard Beatles imitators? (Gert

1974: Remember (Sha La La La) – Bay City Rollers. (45)

  • I so loved them in the 70s, and in the 80s we used to do aerobics to this track – more, more, more please. (Gert)
  • I was 10 in 1974 and MUCH to my parents horror, *puts head down in shame*, I loved the Bay City Rollers. Had the tartan scarf AND the lunchbox and sang S-A-T-U-R-D-A-Y N-I-G-H-T like my highly experienced 10 year old self knew what I was singing about. *Puts head back up and looks to audience* “Please, Forgive me.” And oh lord…..It was CRAP. (jo)
  • Would have come in last if not for one simple fact. Although I didn’t actually hear a Bay City Rollers’ record until I was about 12 years old, and therefore already secure enough in my taste in music to laugh like a drain at it, I was initiated into their tartan army at the tender age of four – when my mother bought me a pair of Bay City Rollers SOCKS. Long socks. Multi-coloured stripes. Each stripe bearing a letter of the band’s name. You can’t even begin to imagine how cool this made me in the school playground. The harder kids would stop their bullyish taunting for seconds, possibly minutes, while they admired my multi-coloured socks. Then they would ask me if I liked The Bay City Rollers . . . and I wouldn’t know. Oh, the tragedy. So for their role in dispensing equal parts crushing torment and utterly superior fashion sense for five year olds, a grudging fourth place. (Vaughan)
  • It took me a while to figure it out, but I have it pinned down now: This is exactly what you would get if you had a music teacher quickly make something up to go with the lyrics some 14 year old student has written. (Simon)
  • it’s like all the elements of great pop are there, but they’ve been assembled by a bored work experience kid at kwikfit. (noodle)
  • It’s hard to believe there’s only a decade between these and Van Halen. There should be a big wall with spikes on top between them and everybody else. This is music by and for people who either lack or don’t like arses in my opinion. (Demian)
  • I wonder how such nostalgia flavoured (nonsense) lyrics were supposed to appeal to young teenagers. I suppose the girls were too busy looking at the band to listen. (Amanda)
  • It the Archies! No wait.. the Archies had more talent. (asta)
  • So that’s where Elvis Costello got the idea for Oliver’s army. (Stereoboard)
  • They were always a little bit creepy, weren?t they, with their tartans and cut-offs and leering grins, a clutch of manufactured Caledonian Chucky dolls, out to corrupt civilisation. Thank God for David Cassidy, then. Oh, I?m supposed to be talking about the music, am I? Well, it?s tuneless, emotionless crap, isn?t it? Although I will not hear a bad word said against ?Shang-A-Lang? which is just crying out for the Pet Shop Boys? treatment any day now. (Nigel)
Decade scores so far (after 3 days).
1. The 1960s (12 points) — Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!
2. The 2000s (11) — The phone lines are now open!
3. The 1970s (9) — Cuddly toy!
4. The 1980s (8) — Hit me with your laser beam!
5. The 1990s (5) — That’s you, that is!

ADMIN: Part 5 of the Which Decade? project will appear on Monday.

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