Back for the third year running, and restored to its rightful time-slot (the week of my birthday), it’s the Daddy of all the Troubled Diva “interactive” blog stunts: the Which Decade is Tops for Pops? project. I know! I know! Contain yourselves, do!
For those of you who weren’t around last year or the year before: the concept is simple, and yet surprisingly difficult to explain in a nutshell. But basically, it goes like this. Over the next couple of weeks, we’ll be examining the Top 10 UK singles chart for this week in 1965, 1975, 1985, 1995 and 2005, and voting to decide which of the five decades truly is… Tops for Pops.
(Last year, the 1960s won by a comfortable margin. In 2003, the 1970s narrowly beat the 1980s, after a nail-bitingly tense tie-break round. This year, I’m cautiously predicting that we’ll have a different winner. But then, I am historically crap at making predictions, and you lot are historically hard to predict.)
In order to do this, we’ll be voting on five records each day, starting with the singles that were at Number Ten in each year, and working through the positions until we reach the Number Ones on the last day. Each day, I’ll provide a short MP3 medley, containing about a minute or so from each of the five songs. Your job is to place the five songs into order, and leave to your votes in the relevant comments box.
When voting, you have to place all five songs in order, with no omissions and no tied positions. Even if you think they’re all irredeemable crap. (This happens more often than you might think.)
You are also encouraged to make any comments you wish about each song, although this is far from mandatory. I’ll be appending the most quote-worthy of these comments to the end of each post on the main page, so that we end up with a kind of amalgamated Juke Box Jury vox-pop mélange of opinion. Or something.
Votes are then accumulated for each song, with cumulative scores aggregated for each decade, using the old “5 points for 1st place, 1 point for last place” system. Each day, I’ll be posting the running totals for each decade, so that you can track the ebb and flow of their fortunes as the project runs on.
Please bear in mind that voting stays open for all the selections, right through to the last day. So if you miss a day or two, there’s still time to catch up.
Right then: let’s bring on our first contestants. Number Tens, will you come on down!
(Be warned that I do tend to get a bit demented-game-show-host about all of this. A whiff of Davina McCall, a whisper of Hughie Green, a dash of Richard Whiteley, and a thimble-full of Les Dennis. It’s the frustrated presenter in me, you see: the Generation Game came along at a formative age.)
1965: Go Now – The Moody Blues.
1975: Black Superman (Muhammad Ali) – Johnny Wakelin.
1985: 1999/Little Red Corvette – Prince.
1995: Don’t Give Me Your Life – Alex Party.
2005: Goodies – Ciara featuring Petey Pablo.
Listen to a short medley of all
Just as last year’s 1964 selection was dominated by the newly emergent orthodoxy of the Beat Group, so the trend continues into 1965, with British all-male guitar bands still well to the fore. Go Now was the first hit for the Moody Blues, as well as being their only Number One. Featuring Denny Laine (later of Wings) on lead vocals, it bears scant resemblance to the ooh-isn’t-life-deep, what’s-it-all-about-then portentousness of their “classic period” (as ushered in by future members Justin Hayward and John Lodge), being more of a straightforward blues-based ballad. Growing up, I never cared for this much – too glum, too drizzly – but listening to it again, I am obliged to concede its undeniable merits.
(I am also struck by the similarity in timbre between Denny Laine’s opening “We already said”, and the mystery vocalist on those privately pressed acetates which might or might not be undiscovered Beatles rarities, which I wrote about last June. Since Brian Epstein later managed the Moody Blues, and Denny Laine went on to join Wings, there are certain connections to be made. Take another read of the post (I’ve also re-activated the MP3), and tell me what you think.)
Recent Googling tells me that Johnny Wakelin was a jobbing cabaret singer from the South Coast, who finally struck it lucky after many years of thankless toil (he was 37 when this hit the charts) with this decidedly opportunistic novelty tribute to the never-more-massive boxing superstar Muhammad Ali. With its jaunty end-of-Brighton-pier cod reggae, its use of Ali’s newly minted catchphrase (“floats like a butterfly, stings like a bee”) in the chorus, and even some way-ahead-of-its-time proto-rapping in the verses (forget your Kurtis Blows and your Sugarhills: hip-hop started here!), this has got the lot. (Unless you include lasting musical merit, but then I’m sure that was hardly ever the point.)
It was also a surprise to discover that, despite what sounds to me like an almost embarrassingly clunking and unsophisticated “ITV Light Entertainment” parochialism, Black Superman reached Number One in Australia, and spent six months in the US charts. That’s what being topical could do for you in the 1970s. As for Wakelin, his only other brush with the UK singles charts came eighteen months later, with In Zaire: a topical novelty hit about – you guessed it – Muhammad Ali. Again. And which of us can truly blame him?
By February 1985, Prince had hit his commercial peak. With Purple Rain still selling well, this double A-sided reissue of two singles from his previous album was a well-aimed ploy to boost sales of his back catalogue. Three months later, with expectations running high, the comparatively abstruse neo-psychedelia of the Around The World In A Day threw a bold curveball, sending large sections of Prince’s mainstream rock audience packing and yielding three notably (and progressively) smaller hits. “He’s gone barmy! He’s lost it!”, they cried. How wrong they were. The creative peaks of Parade and Sign “O” The Times were yet to come.
At the end of 2004, freed from all the standard restrictions of major label recording/publishing deals, and operating with more or less total artistic freedom, Prince topped Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the highest earning acts of the year, ahead of Madonna and Elton John. Not bad going for someone who had been regularly written off as a spent force over the previous fifteen years.
K’s first comment on hearing Alex Party’s insistent little euro-handbag confection: “This reminds me of lycra crop tops.” To which I’d add: silver trousers, fluffy bras, and button-down Ralph Lauren checked shirts, untucked and hanging down to the knees like a salwar kameez. You had to be there.
This hasn’t worn too well. Indeed, I’m even quite surprised to find it in my CD singles collection, filed away on the top shelf in the spare room between Alcatraz and Alizée. I guess it was bought as an instant-access memory jogger, to remind me of amiably interchangeable lager-n-whizz fuelled nights of boozin-n-cruisin down Nero’s club on St. James’ Street. Yeah, you had to be there.
Which leaves the stripped down, sultry, sexy R&B/hip-hop/can-we-say-crunk? of Ciara and Petey Pablo. Like Usher’s Yeah from last year, there’s a nagging electronic noise running all the way through the track, which will either entrance or torture you. (Actually, it reminds me of Maceo & The Macks’ rare groove classic Cross The Tracks.) Lazy-ass musical illiteracy, or bold less-is-more radicalism? For me, it’s firmly the latter: this joint is smoking, as I believe the youngsters would have it.
A relatively strong opening to this year’s jamboree, then. My votes: 1 – Prince. 2 – Ciara. 3 – Moody Blues. 4 – Alex Party. 5 – Johnny Wakelin. As ever, K’s votes are in the comments.
(He tried to resist, but I was having none of it. They’ll all be asking what happened to you, I nagged. I’ll never live it down, I pleaded. It’s nearly my birthday, I whimpered.)
Over to you. Let the game commence! Please leave your votes in the comments box below.
Running totals so far – Number 10s.
1985: 1999/Little Red Corvette – Prince. (217)
- It’s Prince. Says it all. Okay, his 2001 concert at the Montreal Jazz Festival is still one of my all-time favorities because it showed he still had it. Only in retrospect can I recall it as a hint of what was to come in Musicology– a return to his 99/corvette roots. (asta)
- It was college. I was fan from the first notes of Head way back and I’ve followed him along since with a brief period of respite with that whole symbol thingie. (jo)
- Something for the 80’s to be proud of. (Simon)
- I thought this set was a deadcert for the 60s, but even in a cold attic on a mid-February Sunday afternoon I can’t not dance to 1999. (Stereoboard)
- 1999 might be overplayed but stands the test of time while LRC is possibly his masterpiece. (Dymbel)
- I love the songs, but the fact that these were rereleases from three years earlier cheapens this pick a little bit. (Barry)
- There’s something a bit queasy about Prince whinging about some girl being an easy shag but blimey what a tune, also 1999 is pretty good, or will be when I allow myself to play it again, maybe in 2009. (Tom)
- Ah, Prince. The king of bad timing. Release a record about the turn of the century some fifteen years early. Perhaps he was worried that his career would end up in a spiral of self-ridicule and pretentious, directionless pomposity, but at least he’d have a surefire ‘banker’ a few years down the line, the proceeds of which he could retire on, as everybody played this track to death in the actual year 1999.Oh. Silly me. That happened, didn’t it?
Interesting that like Space 1999, which in no way resembled space travel in the future, this track in no way resembled the music we were listening to in 1999. It has those horrible ’80s block chords, though. There was only one synthesiser setting in the ’80s, it seems, and it was the one that Van Halen used at the start of Jump. (Vaughan)
- Is this one ear-f**king because I was virginal when I first heard it? And can still remember excitedly hearing he daffy “Mommie, why has everybody got a bomb?” outro on Annie Nightingale back in the day? No. It is daft/topical, and it has the moves. (Alan Connor)
- In James Hamilton’s original 1983 Record Mirror review, the final line was quoted, in good faith, as “Mummy, why does everybody have a bum?” Which has a certain ring to it, I feel. (mike)
- This is my least favourite Prince era, including the jazz-funk noodling. (noodle)
- Production has aged surprisingly badly. Sound reproduction doesn’t help, but the whole thing feels like toy music. Still, I always loved it and don’t have any emotional attachment to any of the others. (Clare)
- still recovering from hearing it overplayed 1,999,999 times in 1999, and then pseudo-ironically 2,000 times at the start of 2000. (eric)
- Entering a double A side is kind of cheating in the context of this sort of competition (but arguably, a high risk strategy too – I’ve never quite gotten the appeal of Little Red Corvette, the verse is completely hookless, it’s only in the bridge and chorus that it comes alive). (zebedee)
1965: Go Now – The Moody Blues. (160)
- ENORMOUS INTRO followed by some soul emoting, but really, BIG TUNE INTRO. (Tom)
- I’m an old romantic at heart – no, really, this bitter, cynical and twisted exterior is just a front – and thus I’m voting this song into top place because I’m sure it’s been used in some TV dramas that made me cry like a girl at the moment when he left her, or she left him, or he left him, or she left her. Or whatever. In fact, I’ve already worked out that if anyone ever splits up with me again – which will, of course, actually entail getting together with somebody in the first place (I knew there was a flaw to my plan) – then at the exact moment they begin their farewell speech, I will ask them to pause so that I can rush over to the CD player and put on this song, whereupon I will pick up a hairbrush and mime singing the lyrics to them, whilst pointing dramatically towards the front door with a look of hurt pride on my face. (Vaughan)
- Maudlin and overblown. Not necessarily bad things. (alext)
- This a cover, right? The Shirelles? Well, it was the era of British rock groups having big hits with covers of songs by American R&B groups. (Barry)
- Currently opening for a Moody Blues tribute act in Vegas, apparently. (noodle)
- just one of those songs that really grates on my nerves. (adhoc)
- I think you’ve cracked the mystery tapes. I’ve listened to the sample over and over and I’m convinced the singer is the same… whereas I wasn’t convinced about a Beatle connection before. (asta)
2005: Goodies – Ciara featuring Petey Pablo. (132)
- This makes me wanna get up and do my thing. Which, frankly, nobody wants to see. Lil’ Jon is the mischievous god of booty-shaking right now. (noodle)
- Portamento heaven-sento. (Alan Connor)
- Something about her fascinates me. The sneer? And that trance whistle thingie…..sticks in my head. (jo)
- This wasn’t a fair fight — I’ve had this song on heavy rotation for weeks. (Barry)
- disposable non-anthem, but a tasty snack-of-the-week. (eric)
- Not bad for its genre. Doesn’t mean I like it or will start listening to pop radio. (Gert)
- I don’t really like this, but I’ll give it a respectful nod and move on. (Simon)
- it’s pretty good(ies) but I’m bored of it, why oh why do R&B hits take so long to come out over here, we have Internet now mr record man! (Tom)
- I’m tired of this. Now if it’d been Ashanti’s “Only U”… (KoenS)
- a fine blend of the irresistably irritating – like a rash that you just can’t help scratching. (adhoc)
- The noise sounds like the one you get when you leave the phone off the hook. (Chig)
- The whole sound of that is horrible – no mid range, like nails on a blackboard. (Tim)
- a god-awful dirge that I hated from the minute I first heard it, with no redeeming features whatsoever apart from the fact that it stopped Elvis from having four consecutive number ones. (diamond geezer)
- Dreck. I got this song all wrong, because obviously I thought it was a tribute to the trio behind doing the Funky Gibbon. Sadly, it isn’t. There aren’t enough songs based around old comedy troupes – well, apart from that Motorhead classic Cambridge Footlights Tossers. I was also disappointed by this song because not only could I deduce no evidence of the input of the infamous Petey Pablo (who he?), but due to excessive tiredness I initially read his name as Patsy Palmer, and wondered what Bianca from EastEnders was doing featuring on anyone’s record – particularly one by Graeme Garden, Tim Brooke-Taylor and Bill “Oh my God! The birds! The birds!” oddie. Next. (Vaughan)
- I’d have preferred “Funky Gibbon” myself… (Adrian Mc)
1995: Don’t Give Me Your Life – Alex Party. (128)
- Totally fab euro-dance track, can’t wait for the nineties revival when I hear this. (KoenS)
- a rare dance triumph which for some reason I’ve never ever tired of – it’s amazing what tunes can be written on just three notes. (diamond geezer)
- I love this song, especially for the plinky bell-peal synths in the chorus and the sexy chunky woman who used to mime to it on TOTP. (noodle)
- I remember going to see Alex Party do a club PA on an otherwise very miserable 21st birthday, and while it is 100% of its time, I kind of like that about it. (alext)
- That vocal is PURE mid-90s disco diva, isn’t it? It’s a very particular style, which you wouldn’t find 10 years earlier or 10 years later. There may be other examples of this in the days to come. (mike)
- 995-me was “all about” Blurnoasis but it’s stuff like this that gives me more of a nostalgic thrill these days. (Richard)
- Guess what this song reminds me of? Clubbing in Nottingham with you! Sorry about that. (Chig)
- Hmmm, struggle to get past the ubiquitous-pop-pap aftertaste. Still, kinda bouncy fun. (Clare)
- Sounds like very Ottowan’s Hands Up Baby Hands Up Give Me Your Life. (Gert)
- …which I’m sure is still getting played at Club Med or Princess Cruise aerobic classes. (asta)
- Not to sound too much like a rockist circa 1977, but I could play that keyboard figure. (Junio)
- Instantly retitled Don’t Give Me Your Song for obvious reasons. What was it with mid-90s records that had silly sounds on them for no reason whatsoever? (Vaughan)
- I’m almost offended by the shoddy workmanship of Alex Party’s entry. (Simon)
- I just finished listening to the medley, and already I can’t remember a thing about it. That can’t be a good thing. (Barry)
1975: Black Superman (Muhammad Ali) – Johnny Wakelin. (84)
- Insane. The non-rhyme of “This here’s the story of Cassius Clay/Who changed his name to Muhammed Ali”, the inane chorus, the neutered reggae which I didn’t even know existed in ’75… great. (KoenS)
- It’s got chutzpah! (Barry)
- …narrowly steals third, mainly ‘cos the accompanyment reminds me of “Don’t stick stickers on my paper knickers”. (Adrian Mc)
- The fact that he was some supperclub crooner only improves matters. (Tom)
- I enjoyed the clip of this and air-drummed along with it but the vocals are pretty horrible. (David)
- I do like this, but it reeks of “Seaside Special”, don’t it? Who did “In Zaire”? That was loads better. (noodle)
- Bad visions of rainbow shirts and clogs. (jo)
- This made it into the charts in North America? Shocking. Is there any record of Ali trying to get it yanked? (asta)
- For some inexplicable reason, this made me want to do the ‘ikky-ticky’ dance that bemused pop music fans did on Top of the Pops in the ’70s, whenever music like this was played. Oh, you know the one? You just stayed glued to the spot and bend your knees repeatedly in time to the rhythm. With a cheesy smile on your face. Desperate. Then you go home and drink yourself into sad oblivion with the harshest, cheapest gin you can find.I’d give this song a better placing, if only I didn’t think that songs about sportspersons are a bad idea. Remember that classic by The Fall – Martin-AH! Navratilov-AH!? Or The Pogues classic Barry McGuigan is a Weakling Tosser? No, me neither. (Vaughan)
- Daft/topical can be bad/dull, too. (Alan Connor)