Which decade is Tops for Pops? (9/10) – 2004 edition.

Maybe it’s the effect of dealing with the astronomic levels of sustained vitriol that have been directed, on a daily basis, towards the fine ladies and gentlemen of our popular music industry – but over the past couple of days, both online and off, I’ve become quite the sneery, snidey, little git. Time, therefore, for some corrective therapy. When commenting on today’s selection of tunes, I shall endeavour to say nothing but positive things about them. Even if it kills me.

Seconds away, Round Nine. Here come the Number Twos. Feel the love, people!

1964: Bits & Pieces – The Dave Clark Five.
1974: Jealous Mind – Alvin Stardust.
1984: Joanna – Kool & The Gang.
1994: Without You – Mariah Carey.
2004: Toxic – Britney Spears.
Listen to a short medley (about a minute each) of all five songs.

Barely a year into the Beatles-driven beat group explosion, and the genre is already splitting and mutating: witness the Searchers with their proto-West Coast jingle-jangles, the Stones with their grubby, rebellious blues, and the Dave Clark Five with this thrillingly brutal, gonzoid, dumb-as-f**k stompathon. If you wish, you can trace a line from Bits And Pieces through to The Kinks’ You Really Got Me (a hit five months later), The Troggs, US garage punk (Louie Louie, 96 Tears), Iggy & The Stooges, The Ramones… and, um, the Radio One Roadshow in the 70s and 80s, where it was used to introduce a daily “guess the artist” music quiz. (It won’t surprise you to learn that I used to sit eagerly by the radio waiting for the “Bits & Pieces” slot, biro and notebook to hand, ready to score myself against that day’s contestants.)

And best of all, the band had a singing drummer. Let’s hear it for singing drummers!
(Although I might be eating my words on Monday. A little clue for you there.)

When those of us of a certain age remember Alvin Stardust, the one track that immediately springs to mind is his debut hit, the immortal My Coo-Ca-Choo – a record which, like so many of its glam-rock contemporaries, somehow managed to be both cool and ridiculous at the same time. (“Cool” being defined strictly within the sensibilities of an eleven year old, I hasten to add.) However, it was Stardust’s largely forgotten follow-up that proved to be his biggest hit, and his only Number One.

As most of Alvin’s target audience were far too young to have heard anything by Buddy Holly, we perceived the “ah-huh-huh haa-huh” hiccupping on Jealous Mind as something fresh, new and fun. Indeed, our tender young minds perceived the whole notion of Alvin as something fresh, new and fun – which partly explains why this otherwise slight song fared so well. At this early stage of his new career (he had already enjoyed modest success in the early 1960s as a Brit-rocker called Shane Fenton), we weren’t buying the song so much as we were buying the idea of Alvin. As the idea grew more familiar, and the songs ever more slight, so the novelty quickly faded: Alvin’s last Top 20 hit came less than a year later, before his miraculous third re-invention as a hit maker in the early 1980s.

Bit of an old trouper, our Alvin. You’ve got to admire him for it. (And I’ve got to stick to my pledge.)

Before leaving 1974 for today, perhaps a brief postscript on 1950s revivalism is in order. Like Devil Gate Drive, You’re Sixteen and Remember (Sha La La La) in the same Top 10, there’s an unmistakeable streak of Fifties nostalgia in Jealous Mind – further evidence of a trend which was continued during Spring/Summer 1974 by the likes of The Rubettes, The Drifters and Showaddywaddy. Up until this point, chart pop had been resolutely contemporary, “now”, of the moment. Now, nearly twenty years on from Bill Haley & Elvis, it was old enough to have a history, with many of its adult songwriters and producers having come of musical age during the 1950s. A new rule of pop was duly born: the “twenty year revival” rule. This rule – which continues to this day, with early 80s influences clearly detectable in many chart hits of the 2000s – can also usefully provide pop kiddies and their parents with some measure of common ground. Even if this amounts to not much more than the whole family bopping around the living room carpet to Westlife’s Uptown Girl, or Dad fetching his old AC/DC and Def Leppard albums down from the attic to show his Darkness-loving son, in a well-intentioned if slightly embarrassing attempt at familial bonding. After all, let’s not pretend that all worthwhile pop music has always been about generational rebellion. It has always been just as much about light entertainment, and only the most dedicated rockists would seek to pretend otherwise.

Now then. What kind words can I find to say about Kool & The Gang‘s Joanna?

Well.

Um.

Okay.

It’s a simple, happy tune, expressly designed to provoke gentle finger-tapping on the steering wheel, soft-shoe shuffling at the “smart dress only” disco, smiles in the saloon bar, la-la-las on the factory floor. A little taste of early spring sunshine, to lighten up our cold war/miner’s strike gloom. These are far from ignoble aspirations for a pop song, and there are far more deserving records than this to hate.

Which brings us to Mariah “The Singing Kettle” Carey, with her fantabulous multi-octave range, her astonishing improvisational skill (why sing just one note when you can squeeze in twelve?), and her intuitive talent for sensitive, empathetic interpretations of much-loved classics such as Harry Nilsson’s Without You. Can’t you just feel the pain in this record? Doesn’t it leave you emotionally battered and spiritually drained? Mariah: yours is indeed a special, special gift.

Bidding an emotional farewell to our favourite “troubled” diva (and, lest we forget, a major inspiration for this site), we descend, with loud shrieks of untrammelled glee, upon the best Britney Spears single for years. Toxic is C21st pop at its best: energetic, inventive and bold; smart, sexy and thrilling. Who but the dourest of indie-snob purists could fail to succumb to its heady delights?

My votes: 1 – Britney Spears. 2 – Dave Clark Five. 3 – Alvin Stardust. 4 – Kool & The Gang. 5 – Mariah Carey.

Over to you. With just one more set of songs to come, the 1960s have increased their lead to a seemingly unassailable five points – although last-minute voting further down the charts could still theoretically change all that. Meanwhile, at the bottom of the pack, I’m hoping that a strong showing for Britney Spears will raise the 2000s from the ignominy of defeat. Please leave your votes in the comments box – then come back on Monday for what I promise you is an utterly bizarre final round of Number Ones. (Death! War! Horror! Menace! Novelty dance crazes!)

Running totals so far – Number 2s.
2004: Toxic – Britney Spears. (113)

  • I want to be clear about this. I am NOT a Britney Spears fan. But I love this tune… right down to the cheesy spy movie guitar riffs. Sue me. (asta)
  • this is not me. Somebody else left this comment. It’s the erm cheesy indian strings that do it for me and erm the need-a-monkey-gland-injection-to-get-close-to-it youthful energy. (Demian)
  • #2 – Yes, that’s right. Me voting Britney at number two. Reason? Well, I heard this record first without knowing who it was, and thought it was rather good. Then I discovered that it was by Britney and, naturally, tried to disown it because I’m a musical snob. But here I am. Confessing. I like a Britney song. Although why she had to write lyrics about the dangers of sucking on highly toxic Crayola crayons is, of course, beyond me. (Vaughan)
  • I reckon everyone’s allowed to make one classic record, even if the rest of their back catalogue is crap. I fear this may be Britney’s second. (diamond geezer)
  • Close to perfect pop. (zbornak)
  • Ace Cathy Dennis pop song. Similar (but superior) to Rachel Stevens’ ‘LA Ex’. Already her third best single. (dumptruck)
  • If you don’t like this, you probably don’t think Slave 4 U is audio chocolate, and I suspect you’re probably also a communist. (Josh)
  • could have been #1 if it had been a little bit madder (do you think if we had a whip-round we could get enough cash together for Basement Jaxx to do a remix?) (Hg)
  • perfect pop for the now generation. My only coomplaint is that if you took the Bollywood strings out it would be half as good; hence the #2 slot. (ade)
  • This is the sound of a perceptive but unimaginative producer who’s playing all the cards that are cool and fresh today. Unfortunately, there’s not even a single pair in that hand. (Simon)
  • I just wish she didn’t sound like she was slowly strangling on her own plegm all the time. (Somewhat)

1964: Bits & Pieces – The Dave Clark Five. (105)

  • “HELLO! WE’RE HERE AT GOOLE HARBOUR FOR THE FANTASTIC RADIO 1 ROADSHOW! I’m Dave Lee Travis, the Hairy Cornflake, and we’re now going to invite three stupid locals up on stage to play . . . BITS AND PIECES!!!” I like the drums. And even though it’s from 1964, it reminds me more of 1984 and the Radio 1 Roadshow i went to at Cricket St Thomas. (That’s Cricket St Thomas – NEAR CHARD!) Thank you. (Vaughan)
  • This takes me right back to when I was first discovering the 60s, around the time when the Golden Oldies Picture Show was on TV… And despite it’s appropriation to advertise Walker’s Bitsa Pizza crisps (see if you can guess how they subtly changed the lyrics) it still comes out on top, possibly because Bitsa Pizza remind me of visits to my Nan’s. (Adrian)
  • a million adverts have not diminished it. I want to sway from side to side and stomp. (Demian)
  • #1 by about a zillion miles. This is the only song of the five that doesn’t make me want to rip my ears from the side of my head. (Somewhat)
  • This is pretty heavy for 1964 – does it predate The Kinks? Could easily envisage a punk/metal cover -and sure enough, the ever-enterprising Joan Jett did a version, according to AMG. Nice Motown beat. (dumptruck)
  • good for snapping gum and applying Brylcreem (asta)
  • Again a jingle, again a jangle. It’s a theme. (jo)
  • Great song for stomping. Basic, raw, simple. That tambourine player was busy, wasn’t he? DC was a crap drummer though, his intro fills are totally off. Stompy! (ade)

1974: Jealous Mind – Alvin Stardust. (65)

  • this is almost so bad that it’s good… the slide guitars, the whiny voice… and by the way, The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band wants its bass line back from Spirit in the Sky. (asta)
  • I like the slapback echo on his voice. Like a Tesco Value Range Gene Vincent, he was quite menacing at the time, now he just looks daft. Love the Rubber Bullets guitars. (ade)
  • annoying, like the timewarped bastard lovechild of Marc Bolan and Shakin’ Stevens (Hg)
  • I said to myself, ‘Who is this Alvin Stardust?’. You’ll be pleased to know his official website refers to him as ‘The Godfather of British Rock & Roll’ as well as the ‘KING of glam. The upturned collar, the leather pants, the burns. I had to click ‘BACK’ in horror. Can I just say, Ew? (jo)
  • Adam F’s dad sounds positively prehistoric here. His Elvis imitation gets on my norks. (dumptruck)
  • For a girl named Alvin, she still manages to make this song sucks my ass. (Josh)
  • I get confused with Alvin, a man so desperate to cling to the ragged coat-tails of vacuous celebrity that he’ll try anything. Being a born-again Christian a few years ago. Now he’s in Hollyoaks (or is it Family Affairs?) And all this based on a flash-in-the-pan career in which he was the cheapest exponent – all fake leather and ridiculous sideburns – of an already cheap musical genre, Glam Rock.I have forgotten this record already. Can you tell? (Vaughan)
  • I can’t remember how this went, and I only heard it a minute ago… (Adrian)

1994: Without You – Mariah Carey. (64)

  • I must be having one of my little spells. No it’s just the available selection today. Again, I do not own a single thing sung by Mariah Carey, but with this cover of the old Air Supply song I can see why she had so many fans. Without all the vocal gymnastics, she’s got a gorgeous voice. (asta)
  • #1: wobbly diva torch-song, what not to like? (Hg)
  • #1 since this is one of the few songs where she doesn’t try to beat out Ella on the old Maxwell ad and break the glass. I really always did like the song though. Poor Harry, rolling over in his grave. (jo)
  • Horrendously oversung cover of great song that manages to remove any trace of emotion. In spite of received wisdom, Mariah can actually come up with a great song (Dreamlover, Vision Of Love) but this is about as bad as she gets and yet was by far her biggest UK hit. Vile. (dumptruck)
  • God, she must have been a f***ing irritating little kid in the school choir. “Carey, 3C – could you just sing the tune of the hymn rather than the hundred and fifty-seven little twiddly bits.””But Miss, I’ve got a ten-octave range, and my highest notes can only be heard by bats.”To which, of course, everyone undoubtedly thinks – “Poor bats.” (Vaughan)
  • yes luv, you’ve had opera training. yes luv, you can sing 400 notes when really only one will do. Mushy, overblown, pompous ego-wank, sucks ANY feeling out of the song and replaces it with the sound of dollar bills in tills and breast implant appointments. (ade)
  • I’ve happily sat through Glitter TWICE, but Without You is too much for me. (zbornak)
  • This bland diva nightmare so deserves to be sixth, except I can’t place her any lower. (diamond geezer)

1984: Joanna – Kool & The Gang. (58)

  • The year is 1984. “Hello darling – do you want to take a ride in my Cortina GT? We can cruise along the wide open roads of suburban Essex, while you fondle my fluffy dice and we listen to my Kool & The Gang cassette. Or I’ve got Sade, if you like. Then we can go back to my place and you can make mad passionate love to me in my bachelor living-room with the fake black leatherette sofas, to a soundtrack of Jennifer Rush singing The Power of Love.” Have Atomic Kitten covered this one too? There’s quality for you. (Vaughan)
  • Who’d have thought the band that did ‘Jungle Boogie’ would turn out so weedy?. Pleasant enough 80s pop, but I always preferred ‘Cherish’ and the disco stuff. (dumptruck)
  • I remembered this as much better than it sounded here; it was rather insipid. Still, dull neutrality is better than outright badness. (Somewhat)
  • The lounge music of the 80’s. (jo)
  • I guess you had to know her. (Demian)
Decade scores so far (after 8 days).
1 (1) The 1960s (29) — Laughing, singing, dancing, swinging, music fills the air, at the discotheque!
2= (4) The 1970s (24) — I am the DJ, I am what I play!
2= (2) The 1980s (24) — Last night a DJ saved my life! Hang the DJ!
4 (2) The 1990s (23) — Yo DJ, pump this party! God is a DJ!
5 (5) The 2000s (20) — Hey Mr. DJ, put a record on, I wanna dance with my baby!
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