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

Finally, after a long and arduous slog, our musical journey reaches its summit, as we prepare to stroll amidst the very peaks of popular song from the past five decades. And what peaks we have in store! There’s menace, there’s war, there’s death, there’s destruction… and, to complete the horror, there are novelty euro-dance crazes. I did warn you these were going to be a bit weird, didn’t I? Buckle up tight! It’s the Number Ones!

1964: Little Children – Billy J. Kramer & the Dakotas.
1974: Billy Don’t Be A Hero – Paper Lace.
1984: 99 Red Balloons – Nena.
1994: Doop – Doop.
2004: Cha Cha Slide – DJ Caspar.
Listen to a short medley (about a minute each) of all five songs.

For the past forty years, one song above all others has given my beloved K The Fear, to the point where he is physically incapable of listening to it. Not because it’s a particuarly bad record – if pressed, he would admit that it has considerable merit – but because, quite simply, it creeps the living f**k out of him. That record, ladies and gentleman, is Little Children by Billy J. Kramer & the Dakotas – the fourth Liverpudlian act in 1964’s top ten, and also the sixth “beat group” to feature in it.

So why should a seemingly harmless Merseybeat ballad have caused K such sustained mental anguish? Listening closely for the first time last week, I began to understand why. The track fairly oozes menace, with unspoken threats hanging heavy in the air. You can almost see the bag of sweeties outstretched in one hand, the switchblade concealed in the other. To the tender ears of a four-going-on-five year old such as K, I can well imagine this sounding quite terrifying.

With Paper Lace (still the most successful Nottingham band ever, which tells you all you need to know about our local music scene), the nightmare continues, as our second singing drummer tells the terrible tale of heroic, tragic, foolish young Billy and his poor, unheeded, heartbroken fiancée. Once again, we are in ambivalent territory. Is this chicken-in-a-basket variety-club cheese, or a bleak noir masterpiece? An innocuous campfire singalong, or a seething anti-war polemic? What would it sound like if Billy Bragg had recorded it? More to the point: what would it sound like if Nick Cave had recorded it?

With Nena‘s 99 Red Balloons, our terror scales new heights. Again, that ambivalence: is this the nadir of fake plastic schlager-punk, or the apotheosis of cold war paranoia? And more importantly, how ever did that atrocious English language translation slip under the net?

In its original German version (99 Luftballons), the words sound great: spiky, crunchy, memorable, even vaguely credible. So why – in the name of God, why – go and make the sodding balloons red? And where the Hell is “99 Decision Street” when it’s at home? (Apart from being a place to “worry, worry, super-scurry“, of course.) And was “there’s something here, from somewhere else” really the best description you could come up with? And couldn’t you have at least bothered to make the thing rhyme properly?

As a student in West Berlin during much of 1983 and 1984, I came to regard the ubiquitous, inescapable 99 Luftballons with great fondness. As for 99 Red Balloons, I successfully managed to avoid hearing it more than a couple of times at most. The process of assembling this project, and having to stare this appalling version in the face, has trampled over my cherished memories, and has almost succeeded in killing off my affection for the original. Quick, I need cheering up! Let’s have some Doop!

The first and only instrumental track in this year’s selection, Doop is a one-hit-wonder novelty track that has actually worn rather well. It’s frisky, it’s fun, it’s a little bit different, and it conjures up cartoonish images of gurning 1920s flappers doing the Charleston on E – which is no bad thing, right?

Would that we could say the same thing about DJ Caspar‘s one-dimensional, hectoring, Cha Cha Slide. Is he a DJ or a drill instructor?

“Criss Cross! Criss Cross! I said f***ing Criss Cross, OKAY? Pay attention, you slackers at the back! Five hops this time! No, five hops, you useless f***ers!

So there we have it: the most sinister of this year’s songs, the two daftest and most meaningless, and the only two which describe some sort of narrative. Tough choices, huh?

My votes: 1 – Billy J. Kramer & the Dakotas. 2 – Doop. 3 – Paper Lace. 4 – Nena. 5 – DJ Caspar.

Over to you. With the 1960s now seven points clear at the top, the real race is now between the remaining four decades, who are bunched up together with only a single point separating them. Like last year, it’s going to be another photo finish…

Please leave your votes in the comments box. VOTING REMAINS OPEN UNTIL THURSDAY NIGHT FOR ALL TEN SELECTIONS. I’ll be announcing the final results on Friday.

Running totals so far – Number 2s.
1984: 99 Red Balloons – Nena. (111)
1974: Billy Don’t Be A Hero – Paper Lace. (88)
1964: Little Children – Billy J. Kramer & the Dakotas. (81)
1994: Doop – Doop. (80)
2004: Cha Cha Slide – DJ Caspar. (40)
Decade scores so far (after 9 days).
1 (1) The 1960s (33) — Congratulations, and celebrations!
2= (4) The 1990s (26) — You’re gorgeous! I’d do anything for you!
2= (2) The 1970s (26) — I was defeated! You won the war!
4= (5) The 2000s (25) — Where is the love?
4= (2) The 1980s (25) — The only way is up!

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