Which decade is Tops for Pops? (5/10) – 2004 edition.

Four days down, and the 1960s & 2000s are still neck and neck at the head of the pack – with the lead switching every time that someone chooses Jim Reeves over George Michael, or vice versa. Something tells me all of that could be about to change. Please make way for… the Number Sixes.

1964: Diane – The Bachelors.
1974: Devil Gate Drive – Suzi Quatro.
1984: Relax – Frankie Goes To Hollywood.
1994: Renaissance – M People.
2004: Hey Mama – Black Eyed Peas.
Listen to a short medley (about a minute each) of all five songs.

There’s nothing new under the sun. Forty years before Westlife elevated it into an art form, The Bachelors were busily forging careers as the original Irish stool-rockers. On variety show after variety show, there they were: side by be-stooled side, palms oh-so-lightly slapping against thighs, velvet dickie bows quivering against adam’s apples, warbling their own particular brand of syrupy piffle. However, as syrupy piffle goes, there’s something about Diane – the group’s only UK Number One, and their biggest international hit by far – which tickles me in a strange place.

In early 1974, the songwriting team of Nicky Chinn & Mike Chapman were hitting their commercial and creative peak, with three of their biggest and best hits: Mud’s Tiger Feet, The Sweet’s Teenage Rampage, and this absolute belter from Suzi Quatro. All Chinn/Chapman singles followed the same winning formula: an exciting and distinctive intro, which grabbed your attention within the first five seconds; verse/chorus, verse/chorus, completely different middle bit, repeat chorus to fade (upwards key change optional). As such, Devil Gate Drive worked the formula to perfection, with its stylised and shamelessly inauthentic air of greasy, leather-clad,That’ll Be The Day/American Graffiti 1950s rock & roll revivalism – and oh, how we pop-mad pre-pubescents lapped it up at the time. Even now, I find it impossible to give it an objective assessment; indeed, I cannot imagine what it would be like to hear it for the first time in 2004. If this applies to you, then do tell.

At last: with today’s 1984 selection, we have our first indisputable, unassailable, out-and-out classic. Will it be a straight set of five points all round for Frankie Goes To Hollywood, or is anyone out there prepared to buck the critical consensus? Twenty years later, Relax still sounds like some sort of high water mark for “intelligent”, “conceptual”, image-driven early 80s pop. Indeed: after Frankie’s three iconic Number Ones, dealing in turn with the Big Themes of sex, war and love, there was nowhere left to go – for early 80s pop, and for Frankie themselves. As a result, December’s Band Aid single, Do They Know Its Christmas, felt in some way like a full stop – like the cast party at the end of the run. Six months later, Live Aid brought back the superstars, and redrew the map.

You may scoff now – but in March 1994, it was still officially OK to like M People. One Night In Heaven and Moving On Up had been well received, and Renaissance merely continued the dominance of Pineapple Head, Mister Badly Mimed Sax Solo, Excitable Bongo Man, and their cohorts. For us, this was likeable, proficient, “quality” pop-dance crossover material. We had yet to realise that Pineapple Head was a one-trick pony, and the band were still a good six months away from jumping the shark with the piss-poor, formula-stretching Sight For Sore Eyes. More importantly, M People had yet to inflict the execrable Search For The Hero Inside Yourself upon the world. As it was, Renaissance – a tribute to the emerging super-club of the same name – had a simple but effective killer piano riff, and we bopped away to it without shame.

Those of you who had “issues” with the records by Beenie Man and Reel 2 Real may well regard the Black Eyed Peas in an altogether more favourable light. Fuller, sleeker, and more melodic than its ruffneck cousins, Hey Mama – like Where Is The Love and Shut Up before it – is hip hop for people who don’t like hip hop. Even as the purists loathe it, copies of the band’s album (Elephunk) have been flying off the shelves at Asda & Woolworths for the past several months. Me, I’m something of an agnostic here. Whilst I don’t have any problem with commercialised, “inauthentic” hip hop – and indeed, against all my better judgement, had something of a major soft spot for Where Is The LoveHey Mama is too slight, too bitty, too also-ran for me.

My votes: 1 – Frankie Goes To Hollywood. 2 – Suzi Quatro. 3 – M People. 4 – Black Eyed Peas. 5 – The Bachelors.

Over to you. It’s a Frankie walkover, right? Or are you all secret renegade stool-rockers? Come on – surprise me. Please leave your votes in the comments box.

Running totals so far – Number 6s.
1984: Relax – Frankie Goes To Hollywood. (147)

  • Trevor Horn’s monumental production; the “naughty” lyrical content; the electronic cowbell in the left speaker – the electric clapping in the right; the 1980’s; pubs with acres of mirrored pink and blue neon; soundtrack to my ‘rebellious’ phase – Ow OW OWWWWWW!!! (ade)
  • oh those crazy scousers with their strange antics.writhing around in chains with a skipped up beat.i was just young enough to sing the words out loud and still remain innocent.when you wanna cum indeed.eheheh. (courtenay)
  • MY era, and so much more than just a piece of music at the time. Subversive and features the first man I’d seen that had pierced nipples. Which had quite an effect on my 10 year old head (namely – why the f*** would ANYONE want to do that). (Gordon)
  • The dirtiest song ever to be played at our school disco. I think Mr Kemp the maths teacher/DJ was either too square or too hip to even know who Mike Read was. Either way, he missed the song’s subtext and it was never banned at my school.(Michael)
  • i had one of those knock-off FRANKIE SAYS t-shirts. i’m so ashamed. few pop videos have featured water sports as successfully. if you don’t understand why this is objectively better than the Beatles’ entire career then perhaps you should treat yourself to the Katie Kahlua album and give up on this pop music stuff, eh? (noodle)
  • utter genius – transcends its era, transcends its notoriety, one of pop’s Big Shiny Moments (Hg)
  • This song IS the 80s before it all went tragically wrong. Probably why it shows up so often in television soundtracks. Director wants to set mood of club life wild abandon and excess– cue up Relax. (asta)
  • Relax is an extraordinarily turgid arrangement, with splotchy Fairlight nonsense splattered here and there only highlighting, by it’s failure to distract from it, the pedestrianism that roots this track. It didn’t take very long at all to get absolutely sick of hearing this record at the time, and that’s still my “sez me” viewpoint. (PB Curtis)

1974: Devil Gate Drive – Suzi Quatro. (120)

  • An icon, a star, perhaps the first real female rock star. (Gert)
  • Mmmmm, Suzi Quatro! Harder than Gary Glitter, better hair than Marc Bolan. Tight Leather. Nice reverb on her vocals. Her guitarist husband always made me chuckle – too fast to live, too fat to rock. (ade)
  • Because I loved her when I was 8. Hey, it starts with COUNTING, that’s always a winner. Crikey though, she has a far rubbisher voice than I remember. (PB Curtis)
  • Far, far too many hours of Happy Days have forced me to choose this. I thought she was the hottest chicklet I had ever seen, bitchin’ hair, leather jacket, played guitar. Way cool! Yo look, It’s the Fonz! “Do you wanna touch, yeah, do you wanna touch, yeah?” Oooooops sorry, that’s Joan isn’t it? (jo)
  • she didnt own a skirt.she sang with really tough expressions and pioneered the whole feathered hair cut thing . even without listening i cant get this tune out of my head. my mum used to make me do a medley for her friends that also included gary gltter, david essex, and ken dodd all finished with a tommy cooper fezzed up shrug. i didnt wear leather though….they used to laugh…i was 4-what was she thinking… (courtenay)
  • introduced black leather to a generation of english boys. this is a good thing and she should be respected for this achivement (quarsan)
  • First time I’ve ever heard this. Her voice is no better than hundreds doing the university circuit, but there’s something in the energy of it that appeals to me. (asta)
  • featuring Little Jimmy Osmond on lead vocals, apparently. (noodle)

1994: Renaissance – M People. (80)

  • i remember having an argument in a pub with some Thick Indie Kids just after M People won the Mercury Music Prize. here’s a tip – never try to introduce logic into a conversation about music with Thick Indie Kids. this is my fave song from the Emmies, as no body was calling them. of course they became an embarrassment later on, but how can you bring yourself to hate a band that has a member called Shovel. remember kids, at the time, it was this or F***ing Sleeper. (noodle)
  • the theme to The Living Soap, and a sparkling pop jewel (diamond geezer)
  • every Mondeo rep’s motorway soundtrack of choice; she sings like she’s got a cock in her mouth; the bloke who stood in the background and didn’t do anything on every ToTP performance. (ade)
  • I never liked her strangulated voice, she always sounded as if she was on the point of gagging, which in turn always made me feel a bit nauseated. Plus, what is that thing that happens at the end of the clip, there? Sounds like filler, not even a proper middle eight. (PB Curtis)
  • souless, de-funked and utterly dull (quarsan)

2004: Hey Mama – Black Eyed Peas. (73)

  • I’d like to deduct points from the Black Eyed Peas for that awful line about dropping bombs like they’re in the Middle East. We’re a long way from Where Is The Love, aren’t we? (mike)
  • #2 – cos it’s a wee bit different, a wee bit innovative and god knows the charts need BEP at the moment! A great of example of a good chorus saving a song. (Gordon)
  • OK it’s “urban” dinner party music but I quite enjoyed this one. Not as good as the previous singles though. (Michael)
  • you are Arrested Development in disguise and i claim my 5 pounds. (noodle)
  • Annoying but strangely hypnotic. (Somewhat)
  • #5 – Strictly because they are EVERYWHERE lately and if I see one more satellite radio advert with the peas or hear one more white kid trying to sound tragically hip by blasting the peas out his window, I shall scream. (jo)
  • the sort of thing young people listen to. (quarsan)
  • Shut UP, you bleepy boinky dullards. Get proper jobs/haircuts/singing lessons etc etc. (PB Curtis)
  • because this is the soundtrack to the iPod advert; because anyone who proclaims to “drop bombs” needs a good kick in the bollocks. Is that a Stylophone I hear? Mathmatisse?? Puh-lease! (ade)

1964: Diane – The Bachelors. (59)

  • Y’know what – the more I listen to it, the more I realise that I’ve been far too hard on The Bachelors, whose barbershop-meets-doo-wop ensemble singing is actually rather delightful. Best of all, they sound like they’re beaming from ear to ear while they’re singing the song. (mike)
  • That pronunciation of “smile”, and those sudden bursts of nasal excitement (“I can see”) swing it for me. Karl Denver lite perhaps, but this is fecking great. (PB Curtis)
  • Again we harken back to happy days, the 50’s and music that was still played around my house by the rents before they discovered Procol Harum and Van. Cheesy, but I like it. (jo)
  • I feel it should only be sampled while wearing bobby socks and sipping a vanilla shake. (asta)
  • The Brylcreem oozes out of the speakers despite the pleasant vocal harmonies. This is Heavy Metal Sing Something Simple. (ade)
  • everything that was bad about 60s music. And subsequently everything that’s bad about every decade. Heard if before, several million times. (Gordon)
  • Really dire – the yoof really had it bad in the 60s, didn’t they? (Gert)
  • dreadful track. I’m sure they did something decent, other than bring the world cup-a-soups, but this isn’t it. (Adrian)
  • Actually worse than Westlife, if that were possible. (Somewhat)
  • Stool rock – in the medical sense. (Lyle)
Decade scores so far (after 4 days).
1 (1) The 1960s (15 points) — Go to work on an egg!
2 (2) The 2000s (13) — The slag of all snacks!
3 (4) The 1980s (12) — If you see Sid, tell him!
4= (3) The 1970s (10) — Watch out, there’s a Humphrey about!
4= (5) The 1990s (10) — It’s good to talk!

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