Which decade is Tops for Pops? (7/10) – 2004 edition.

For the first time in this year’s survey, all of today’s vocalists are male. Prepare for a pretty-boy pop / classic rock / country & western soundclash, as we hold our noses and plunge headlong into the testosterone stew of the Number Fours:

1964: Not Fade Away – The Rolling Stones.
1974: The Most Beautiful Girl In The World – Charlie Rich.
1984: Wouldn’t It Be Good – Nik Kershaw.
1994: Streets Of Philadelphia – Bruce Springsteen.
2004: Mysterious Girl – Peter Andre.
Listen to a short medley (about a minute each) of all five songs.

As with Needles & Pins at Number 10, the first top ten hit for The Rolling Stones is, by the standards of its day, a progressive and prescient record, which – in common with much of the best pop music – simply could not have existed a year earlier. With its gritty, driving, loose-limbed physicality, Not Fade Away reveals its faux-Beatles contemporaries as woefully derivative and buttoned-up by comparison, their feet still planted in Tin Pan Alley hacksmithery. Forty years on, and you can still catch a whiff of the incendiary impact that this must have had.

Expecting some sort of toupeed & cummerbunded, rhinestone-encrusted & candelbra-bedecked cabaret nightmare, I was pleasantly surprised by Charlie Rich. Hokey yet heartfelt, there’s a deft emotional sway to The Most Beautiful Girl In The World – particularly in the latter stages of its chorus – which reels me right in. Amplified beautifully by the song’s arrangement, Charlie’s regret sounds genuine to me – and ultimately, that’s what counts.

With Nik “re-appropriating the snood as a fashion accessory” Kershaw, the situation is more problematic. Namely, that the whole stiff, lumpen, clod-hopping sound of Wouldn’t It Be Good is so deeply unappealing from an aesthetic point of view (to say nothing of the awful rock-lite guitar sound) that I find it almost impossible to concentrate on the actual song for any sustained amount of time. But, mindful of my duties, concentrate I must – and what do I find lurking behind the clueless A&R-approved AOR bluster but the thinnest, most pitiful, whiniest excuse for a song ever? For real, gloriously transcendent self-pity in 1984, you needed to look no further than The Smiths. Compared to the majesty of Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now, this primped and pouting little pipsqueak doesn’t even register as a blip on the map. Begone, Kershaw, and take your snood with you!

With Bruce Springsteen – an artist whose appeal has always been lost on me – the situation grows still more problematic. From the soundtrack of the Oscar-winning Big AIDS Movie of the same year, Streets Of Philadelphia is – for all of its understated, stripped-down, bluster-free qualities – Springsteen’s Big AIDS Song. And that’s where, for me, the problem lies. As with the film, there’s a confusion between symbolic gesture and emotional truth, which clouds objective judgement of the work’s intrinsic merits. The tragedy of AIDS is, per se, an emotionally upsetting subject – hence the film made me bawl my eyes out in the cinema like no other film before or since, and the song made me go out and buy a Springsteen record for the first and last time. However, it didn’t take long before the film stood revealed as a shallow, manipulative, resolutely minor piece of work, expressly calculated to extract as many tears as possible from its audience – the cinematic equivalent of a piece of red ribbon. Similarly, Springsteen’s song doesn’t stand up too well, either. Somehow, it revels in the suffering it describes, in a manner which I find slightly distasteful (“and my clothes don’t fit me no more“, indeed). Unlike Charlie Rich’s record – sentimental and yet somehow sincere – I simply don’t believe in Springsteen’s undoubtedly well-intentioned, yet strangely impersonal performance. It’s not a bad record – there’s an eerie, haunting quality which is undeniably effective – but it falls a long way short of the great record which it was self-consciously trying to be.

All of which makes the sudden lurch into Peter Andre‘s exhumed pop-reggae confection from 1996 all the more difficult to bear. Doesn’t the false jollity on offer simply make you want to retchMysterious Girl was bad enough the first time round; as a re-release on the back of Andre’s recent exposure on ITV’s I’m A Celebrity…Get Me Out Of Here, new and even more irritating factors come into play.

The myth that we have been sold here is that Mysterious Girl was re-released due to “overwhelming public demand”, as whipped up by a “campaign” by DJ Chris Moyles on Radio One’s breakfast show. Do we believe that? Or do is it considerably more likely that the single was already earmarked for re-release before Andre even went into the “jungle” alongside John Lydon, Jordan, Jennie Bond et al? The essence of the Moyles campaign was that Andre’s record is “so bad that it’s good”, and that re-releasing it would be, groan, ironic. By buying it, we would somehow be in on the joke – and not only that, but we would be granting a formerly washed-up pop star an escape route from the dumper. The second myth, therefore, is that Andre is back in the charts at our behest – that we have gifted him a form of redemption (witness the slightly bemused, pathetically grateful smile with which the admittedly simple-minded Andre now performs the song on TV). The success of Mysterious Girl thus represents a triumph for the sort of ubiquitous OK/Heat-magazine celeb-culture which was once an amusement, but which has now become a suffocating force upon popular culture.

Or am I reading too much into a daft little pop song? Oh, quite possibly. I’ll shut up now, shall I?

My votes: 1 – Rolling Stones. 2 – Charlie Rich. 3 – Bruce Springsteen. 4 – Peter Andre (because K & I once got pissed and danced to it at chucking-out time at the Admiral Duncan 8 years ago, so at least there’s one happy memory associated with it). 5 – Nik Kershaw.

Over to you. A walkover for the Stones, do we think? The 1960s are already leading the pack; maybe today’s selection will increase that lead. Meanwhile, after a disastrous last couple of days, support for the 2000s is collapsing. With a reminder that voting is still open for all the other selections… please leave your votes in the comments box.

Running totals so far – Number 4s.

1964: Not Fade Away – The Rolling Stones. (123)

  • Hey, Bo Diddly. Delta, Kansas and Chicago blues go mainstream. Blame or laud the Stone for it. I applaud them. (asta)
  • obviously nowhere near their best, but a fine statement of intent. unlike the vast majority of white Brits ripping off the Blues who followed them (i’m talking to you, Clapton), the Stones managed to bring something of themselves to the music and retain its amoral cool. (noodle)
  • Not sure why the (early) Stones don’t get accused of ripping people off in the same way Oasis do… but this is easily the best record of the lot. (Gordon)
  • Although my strongest memory of the song is as music on a video advert that featured a skeleton, its sounds excellently scruffy and dirty. (sarah)
    Reminds me of hot summer nights in my first year of uni, sitting on a field talking, drinking and sharing. Lovely. (zbornak)
  • Just plain yummy! Tops for jingly jangly pop guitar and the tamborine that makes some part of your body twitch in response every time you hear it. (jo)
  • With its pelvic thrust of a relentlessly pounding beat, this one is bursting with the pent-up sexual energy of the early sixties. These boys are dangerous, you know, and a threat to the moral well-being of all our children. What better recommendation? Brilliance. (Nigel)
  • fantastic; rich, textured and dirty. (quarsan)
  • Very good, but as others have said, nowhere near their best. Proper Bo Diddley is better. (I hereby throw down the gauntlet to incorporate comedy catchphrases into meaningful everyday speech) (PB Curtis)
  • The Stones were only ever good from 1966-70. The early stuff is bad skiffle. The later stuff is bad boogie. Really. Also, reminds me endlessly of Memorex cassettes, this track. (Vaughan)
  • I really feel I ought to get into the Stones. There again, I’ve been thinking that in vain for over twenty years. This track isn’t going to make me a Stones fan. (Gert)
  • I have always detested this song with a passion, though by coincidence I’ve been going through a phase of listening to Gimme Shelter on repeat play recently (Hg)
  • i can envisage the size of mick’s mouth as he sings this – truly one of their worst.songs.evah. (zed)

1974: The Most Beautiful Girl In The World – Charlie Rich. (103)

  • it’s a very clever song, and the mood changes in the chorus are fantastically done. now, i’ve cried along to this a few times in the past… (noodle)
  • just such a lovely song, performed immaculately (Hg)
  • A voice as smooth as the finest honey, and as warm and as reassuring as good bourbon. It’s a little schmaltzy, but so what? This guy really is in love, and doesn’t mind who knows it. And that’s what really counts. (Nigel)
  • This is cheesy, containing every cliche that we can imagine from 1970s Country. It also has a fab tune, and because, of course, it’s about me, I love it (Gert)
  • This is tough, because I had what you’d call a childminder, who played country music non-stop. I despise country music, but I can manage to stay in the room when Charlie is singing. (asta)
  • almost spoiled by uncountable terrible versions by pub singers. (quarsan)
  • It’s a great song, and made me maudlin when I was wee. Shame about the arrangement, it all sounds like it should be being sung by Dionne Warwick instead. I’d like to hear this with just a guitar, I bet it’d be fantastic. (PB Curtis)
  • He looks like a pissed Uncle at a wedding. Now, tell me, would you want a pissed Uncle drooling his stinking saliva all over you while he sings and slurs this and tries to grope you (probably). No. Thought not. (Vaughan)
  • sheer muzak. i’m sure that i’ve been wooed by at least 8 blokes ‘singing’ this song. bad choice, crap song. (zed)

1994: Streets Of Philadelphia – Bruce Springsteen. (94)

  • In a very bizarre and roundabout way this has reminded me that it’s ten years today that I had an operation to repair my dislocating shoulder – I was taken to Philadelphia as a recuperation. The film, that is, not the city. Have you ever been to the city of Philadelphia? Quite a strange experience, especially when you have the thickest tour guide in the history of tour guides. A really really good film, incidentally, that had me weeping buckets. Must watch it again sometime. This clip doesn’t do justice to the tune, which, although not one of The Boss’s best,is definitely a tune of quality. (Gert)
  • It’s a terrific walking song. What do I mean by a walking song? Unfinished Sympathy, Bittersweet Symphony, Philadelphia. Cold day. Hands in pockets. Headphones on. Listen. Walk. Block out world. It works. (Vaughan)
  • just beautiful. i never realised what the fascination was with bruce until Q handcuffed me to the bed and made me listen to brucie’s lyrics over and over again until i could recite them off by heart. an exceedingly talented artist who mumbles when he sings. (zed)
  • Good in the way that Nothing Compares by Sinead whatshername is good, in that it’s helpful when you want to spend an entire evening crying and being melodramatic but can’t quite get started. (sarah)
  • He’s loathsome, this isn’t bad. (Stereoboard)
  • never a fan of his and I can see the mawkish side of this track, but it gets my vote for being brooding and almost magnificent despite an occasionally irritating vocal (Hg)
  • personally I think he’s a better songwriter than singer, someone needs to cover this methinks. (Gordon)
  • I don’t get him either, but this is OK, I s’pose. Neil Young’s song from that movie is much better, and I ‘m still annoyed that that wasn’t the main theme. (PB Curtis)
  • brucie does like to care, but this is about something beyond his ken and his usual sure touch fails him. actually souds like he’s covering a whitney houston song (quarsan)
  • Who’d have thought I’d ever put Bruce so low? Well produced, terribly worthy, and all that, but there’s no feeling involved. He’s just going through the motions, and, unusually for Springsteen, completely failing to empathise with his subject matter. A red ribbon of a song: everyone wears one because, well, everyone else is wearing one. (Nigel)
  • Boring, wanky and annoying – insipid parent’s car music. I do like the film though. (zbornak)
  • I cry at a lot of bad records when I’ve had a few, and this still doesn’t do it for me. Less nauseating if you can block out the mental image of Tom Hanks’ smug face. (noodle)
  • There’s a reason it sounds like they are booing at all of his live concerts. BLECH. (jo)

1984: Wouldn’t It Be Good – Nik Kershaw. (64)

  • oh the era! sends shivers down my spine as to just how awful the suits were in those days – too tight and the sleeves were too short, the trousers too short and they even wore white socks. the hair, the gel, the make-up – and i still loved the music. (zed)
  • I’m sorry. I know it’s a really piss-poor song, but I liked it at the time and I still feel affectionately nostalgic towards it. (Somewhat)
  • In the 1980s, it was clear that emerging musical technology was being used to make ‘interesting’ new noises rather than good records, and this – like FGTH’s Relax, in my lonely opinion – is a perfect example of that. I was surprised at how slow this was, which only made it worse. (PB Curtis)
  • Don’t let the fact that the man is quite patently a bruised ego and former precocious youth with abysmal fashion sense sway you. He is an icon of all that is wonderfully wrong and right about the 80s. He just shouldn’t have happened. But he DID. Like Bros. Like Kajagoogoo. Why? WHY?

    Incidentally –

    “Near a tree by the river
    There’s a hole in the ground
    Where an old man of Arran
    Goes around and around.”

    Of course he does, Nick. Of course he does. NURSE, THE PRETENTIOUS WANKER DRUGS! OVER HERE! NOW! Mr Kershaw, you might just feel a little prick! Oh, I forget, you are one . . . (Vaughan)

  • wonky, lumpen and almost admirably uncompromising in its grim unlovability (Hg)
  • Insipid crap, but not as funny as when he got delusions of being some sort of Jazz Fusion player a few years later. (noodle)
  • Hey I just noticed that the title is a bit like the title of the opening song to Pet Sounds which is kind of funny because that’s just about my favourite song ever and this isn’t. (Demian)
  • two words guaranteed to strike fear into my heart: eighties revival. bland, vacuous and with a total lack of subtlety or taste (quarsan)
  • It clashes, it clangs, it’s sterile and it’s passionless, and is consumed with self-pity and envy, without a trace of irony. Must be the eighties then. (Nigel)
  • I think you are wrong in the Nik Kershaw one – there is that lovely bit in the middle where he stops singing and you get the electronic bits – turn it up loud on a decent system and let the sound wash over you. The rest of the song is ok but that 5 or so seconds makes it way better than Peter Andre, at least for me. (Debster)

2004: Mysterious Girl – Peter Andre. (52)

  • Mint! When it was first released, I was 15 and overly convincing everyone that I fancied him. A few years later, and I’m walking through the Biggmarket with my friend and it’s blasting out of every bar we walk past. It’s just so poppy and bouncy and cheesily good. (sarah)
  • I like this. So there. If we could get away from his pretty-boy looks, pumped-up pecs, and the fact he has cynically manipulated the public into reviving his “career”, then we might just see it for what it: a harmless piece of pop pap, which we’ll all have forgotten by tea-time, but is fun for the moment. Should never have been re-released though. (Nigel)
  • noodle trivia – in our house, the telly guide is often known as the Peter Andre. this is because of a referential chain that started out by mispronouncing Guide as Geed, which became Andre Gide, which became Peter Andre. i’m sure y’all wanted to know that. it’s a pretty enough song, if you can block out the celebgoss vomit surrounding it. (noodle)
  • I have no idea who this is. I’ve never heard this song before and will be happy not to ever hear it again… although I suspect that should I ever lose my mind and book myself on a Carnival Cruise to a Club Med for mid-life crisis couples this will be the the number one song. (asta)
  • Tripe then, tripe now. But reassures me that I don’t need to watch the top end of the charts too carefully. (Gordon)
  • Peter’s lucky, because in between the two airbags where his head currently resides, he can’t hear this. We can. The man also has dreadful, dreadful hair. (Vaughan)
  • I wish he would just fuck off back to obscurity (or re-release Flava). Also, he wore too much make-up the day I met him. (zbornak)
  • He already has a face that looks like someone never got tired of kicking it, so I’ll have to settle for his bollocks, I guess. The bright thought that sustains me through the unnecessary and unwarranted revival of this squawking cruise ship entertainer’s fortunes, is the one where I realise that he gets to make that trip to oblivion TWICE. (PB Curtis)
Decade scores so far (after 6 days).
1 (2) The 1960s (20) — Fab! Gear! Groovy!
2 (1) The 1980s (19) — We are the World! Go for it!
3 (5) The 1990s (18) — Top one! Sorted!
4 (4) The 1970s (17) — Magic! Supersonic!
5 (3) The 2000s (16) — Bling! Bling!
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