Which Decade is Tops for Pops? (2/10) – 2005 edition.

Crikey playmates, what a cracking start to the season! In not much more than 24 hours since I posted the first round, I’ve already processed 35 sets of votes, and harvested a bumper crop of comments. As a result, and because I actually have, like, work to do, we may once again have to fall short of the one-round-per-day ideal. However, I’ll do what I can to hurry things along, as last year’s season did end up dragging on for rather longer than I would have liked.

Voting on the Number 10s was also considerably enlivened by the Freaky Trigger/New York London Paris Munich Alex Party Needs YOU campaign, which sent The Voice Of Youth over here in their droves in order to bump up the scores for the much-beleaguered 1990s and 2000s. Not that any of this did much lasting damage to Prince and the Moody Blues, who maintained a steady first and second place throughout.

However, all of that could still change. Remember: voting stays open for all selections, right the way through to the end of the contest.

It’s getting late. It’s already my birthday (as of 14 minutes ago), and we 43 year olds need our sleep. So let’s put on our dancing shoes, and Flex! and Pump! to the decidely frisky sound of….The Number Nines.

1965: Funny How Love Can Be – The Ivy League
1975: Footsee – Wigan’s Chosen Few
1985: Nightshift – The Commodores
1995: Reach Up (Papa’s Got A Brand New Pigbag) – Perfecto Allstarz
2005: Galvanise – Chemical Brothers
Listen to a short medley of all five songs.

Part of me thinks that The Ivy League are merely peddling generic Merseybeat-by-numbers, of the sort I’ve heard a dozen times before. (Mostly in last year’s 1964 selection, it has to be said.) In a time where pop was evolving so fast, almost on a month-by-month basis, Funny How Love Can Be seems disappointingly static. Then another part of me spots the Searchers/Byrds Rickenbacker jingly-jangliness, and the West Coast harmonies, and the pre-echo of the Mamas and Papas, and thinks: nice. Then a third part of me says that’s all very well, but it’s still not much of a song though, is it? And so the internal debate rages on.

It says a lot about the economic impoverishment of the 1970s that its national fads and crazes should be equally shonky and low-rent. Pet rocks. CB radio. (Oh, how I remember my teenage step-sisters chatting up truckers in the sitting room, with everyone feeling obliged to use absurd phrases like “Yeah, four on that good buddy” where a simple “Yes” would have sufficed.) Water carbonation devices. Various contraptions involving spherical objects bashing into each other. A disco in Wigan. That’s how much fun we were all having.

I didn’t believe then, and I don’t believe now, that Footsee by Wigan’s Chosen Few was any sort of accurate representation of Northern Soul. It’s too brash, too chipper, with way too much “Seaside Special” forced jollity about it. The party noises in the background; the stridently dumb “la la las” that accompany parts of the main melody, using the same trick that was deployed by the Cliff Adams or Mike Sammes Singers on Music For Pleasure party medleys. No – this reeks of the quick buck cash-in job. And yet it still has that relentlessly surging and all-enveloping joyful, participative quality, for which I have always been such a sucker. (As well as just as much recording-levels-too-high distortion on the MP3 as there was on my original 7-inch; so that was deliberate, then?)

Once again, I find myself conflicted. If only we could have been judging Footsee‘s B-side instead: a bona fide Northern Soul classic by Chuck Wood called Seven Days Too Long, as covered five years later by Dexys Midnight Runners on the Searching For The Young Soul Rebels album. But we’re not.

The conflict continues with The Commodores, and their tribute to the then recently deceased Marvin Gaye and Jackie Wilson. (A subsequent reggae cover by Winston Groovy also added Bob Marley to the list.) On the one hand, it’s gloopy greetings-card drivel of the lowest order. On the other hand, there’s this lovely, delicate, softly pattering undertow, which constantly threatens to burst into full-on widescreen joyousness (rather in the manner of former member Lionel Richie’s All Night Long), but which never quite gets there, thus delivering one long tease throughout. And then there are the memories: of my second ever DJ set, down at the Marcus Garvey centre with Dymbel, where I played this off a cassette of the Radio One Top 40 show, and all the medical students danced. (How the hell we ever managed to blag our way into such a huge venue, I’ll never know. I mean, Faithless played there! Carl Cox DJ-ed there! What were we doing?!)

The situation gets no less problematic with nascent “superstar DJ” Paul Oakenfold’s cover version of Pigbag’s 1981/82 hit, recorded under the alias of the Perfecto Allstarz. An avid club-goer at the time, I just couldn’t see the point of this record. Pigbag’s original had hung around for so long in the early 1980s – it was an indie hit for a good year or so before it hit the official singles chart – that I ended up becoming totally sick of it, and not even a 13 year gap could change that. Besides which, it added little of substance to the original, wasn’t played in any of the places I went dancing, wasn’t at all representative of club music of the time, and wasn’t even representative of the then all-conquering Perfecto label, or of Oakenfold’s DJ-ing style.

(Say what you like about the arrogant monster that “Oakey” became in the late 1990s, but his set at Birmingham’s Steering Wheel club, one Saturday night in the spring of 1995, remains one of my peak clubbing memories of all time. Just go and ask Chig about the moment he dropped Jam & Spoon’s Odyssey To Anoonya.)

Listening to Reach Up ten years later, I find myself warming to it a good deal more. Pointless cover version or not, it just works. The driving percussion is spot on; the brass is tight and punchy; the organ break adds something new; and I can even handle the utterly of-its-time standard-issue 1990s disco diva wailing. Big up to the man like Oakey!

More than any of the preceding four songs, I wanted to like the Chemical Brothers the best. One of the last surviving big dance acts of the late 1990s, they just keep steaming along like an admirably anachronistic juggernaut, doing their own thing and refusing to bend with the prevailing climate. And now they’ve roped in Q-Tip from my old favourites A Tribe Called Quest, and brought in some Middle Eastern samples à la Britney, and really it should all work on paper, except…

…well, it’s a bit dull, really. Come on, admit it. There’s just over a minute on this medley, and your attention’s already wandering, isn’t it? I said ISN’T IT? HELLO? WAKE UP! IT’S MY BIRTHDAY!

Yeah, well. K and I both thought this was one of the toughest ever selections to rank, and (unlike yesterday’s Number 10s), I have no idea how the voting is going to pan out for this one.

My votes: 1 – Perfecto Allstarz. 2 – Wigan’s Chosen Few. 3 – Commodores. 4 – Chemical Brothers. 5. Ivy League.

Over to you. Please leave your votes in the comments box. IT’S MY BIRTHDAY! Time for bed. Nighty night, Troubled Diva Pop Panel!

Running totals so far – Number 9s.

1995: Reach Up (Papa’s Got A Brand New Pigbag) – Perfecto Allstarz (140)

  • Woah there, cowboy! Yeah, I like it. I liked the original (I was a teenager and the love of my life taight me to dance to it), and I suspect I like this one even more. Great bassline. Top horn. Marvellous squelchy synth. Don’t like the Hammond sound much but you can’t have everything. (Clare)
  • Mariachi band horns,an organ and a diva wail set to a club beat. It works for me. (asta)
  • why didn’t I catch this back in the 90s? A superb tune that actually works in a cover version. I’ll take the Mariachi but we can get rid of the screamer. (Gert)
  • Like Alex Party in the number tens, this is from prime clubbing-era for me. (Adrian)
  • From the time when anything with “Perfecto” in the title was a ‘must buy’ (Even Better than the Real Thing (Perfecto Mix) being one of the best 12″ I ever had bought!) (Gordon)
  • this brings back good memories of playing it to dancing lary drunken sportspeople at university. (Stuart)
  • I hated this record first time around, and didn’t hear this remix until a couple of months ago when it surfaced on the modern jive scene, whereapon I discovered that I really liked it. It’s cheerful (incisive comment!) Nostalgia scares me sometimes. (Emma)
  • This basically IS Wigan’s Chosen Few except more armageddonish on the drums and you have to provide your own crowd noises. Monster diva vocals, thumbs up. (Tom)
  • Why not? A good riff’s a good riff, and some money for Pigbag is a good thing. (Alan Connor)
  • “I just couldn’t see the point of this record” … agreed. I usually can’t see the point of a note-by-note cover of the original song. (Barry)
  • Paul Oakenfold. Hmm. He’s a superstar DJ, you know. Except I wouldn’t know him if he came up to me and said, “Hi, I’m Paul Oakenfold, and I’m a superstar DJ. Would you like me to spin some platters, man?” (Because you know he’d say “man”, wouldn’t you?) This record is number three on my list purely on the basis that the original was really good, and for this hip’n’happenin’ 90s version, Mr Oakenfold sorted through his record racks, found a drum pattern he liked, and stuck it underneath the original. Remember, this is genuine DJ talent – he could play the records at your office party for just thirty grand and a rider consisting of copious amounts of Bolivian marching powder. (Vaughan)
  • Just f**k off. I hated the Pigbag original with a passion and this just mixes it with monolithic bludgeoning house which I also hate. (David)
  • Vile filth on a par with Brandon Block doing that Bee Gees cover. Is this the same label that put out Grace records? What went wrong? I could warm to Dodgy if this was the alternative. (noodle)

2005: Galvanise – Chemical Brothers (139)

  • Normally I hate the Chemical Brothers but I love this. (David)
  • Yes they’re past it but this is potent. It gets my #1 because of the office party DJing the other week – this was the first song we played that really blasted the floor and it felt very, very good. (Tom)
  • Great track. How tiny must your attention span be when it actually starts to wander during this. Pretty great album too, worth buying for its two highlights alone: the quietly affecting “ballad” ‘Close your eyes’ and the closing track, ‘Surface to Air’, which embodies everything that’s great about dance music (well, except for the screaming souldiva). (KoenS)
  • Ok, it sounds bland and boring in the medley, but I had a positive reaction to this when I first heard it on the dancefloor. We’ve so just seen the beginning of these mid east samples, btw – middle eastern sounding western dance music is going to be the next big thing, and it’s a match made in heaven. It’s going to be a lot better than this, too, but this is still good enough to come in first. (Simon)
  • And Simon has a point-ish about Middle Eastern dance tune thingies. I’d just rather hear the real thing than so some patronisingly culturally imperialist western white boy rip off. (Gert)
  • I would have put this in second place, but the seemingly endlessly repeated ” my hand is on the button” bit at end of this song really tore it for me. The preachiness was already annoying enough. Too bad, because I like the mix of west and mideast. (asta)
  • The first time I heard this I thought it was dull. The third time I heard it I liked it. I’ll probably be off it again in a week or so. (Emma)
  • Oh, they’re still going, are they? (Dymbel)
  • Are they not aging well, or is my hipsterosity terminal? (noodle)
  • The one with the glasses used to have very bad hair, didn’t he? And the other one has my surname, although we’re not related. These would be good enough reasons to vote against them, but then we’ve also got the fact that they come across a bit like desperate older brothers trying to cling to their clubbing youth, even though their idea of a good night out now involves an evening in a ‘quiet pub’ (no jukebox, please!) and an early night. The best I can say about this track is that it plods interminably. I can’t wait until they become The Sanatogen Brothers (it happens to us all eventually). (Vaughan)

1985: Nightshift – The Commodores (108)

  • Used to love this song. And then hated it, mostly for its mid-’80s production values which seemed to take the soul out of Soul (or so I thought). Hearing it again, I must say those same production values (the crispness of it all) make it sound quite good. (KoenS)
  • …there’s something about the word Marvin when sung that makes me pathetically sentimental. (noodle)
  • Tough choice here. I like the idea of a musical tribute to Marvin and Jackie. I think the melody suits the lyric. It’s the chorus that bothers me about this song. The idea that they’re all up in heaven jammin’ together on the Nightshift just makes me want to scream, ” They’re dead. Leave them alone” and “… I bet you pull a crowd….”??? Couldn’t they find anything better than that to rhyme with ‘proud’? (asta)
  • …gloop, really, but the kind of gloop one can hear over and over again without wishing to beat one’s head too hard against a wall. Possibly on this basis I should have put it at number one. (Emma)
  • I don’t think I’ve ever really listened to the lyrics before. I guess when I was ten I probably didn’t know who Marvin and Jackie were. (Adrian)
  • Glutinous and frankly Tony Hadley sounded more sincere on “True”, at least Maaaaarvin was getting him a shag. But a good tune. (Tom)
  • I know, I know, it’s a bit awful, really. Smooth soul voices, 80s style keyboards, that horrible tasteful guitar plucking. Urgh. Except . . . well, there’s that unmistakeable tinge of sadness about the whole thing. It’s all about the past and about DEATH. And, of course, who can resist songs about DEATH. I know I can’t. I just wish The Commodores had made it a bit more obvious, and perhaps had a rousing chorus in which they wailed “They’re DEAD! Everyone’s DEAD! It’s only us still here! DEAD, I tell you, DEAD!” But they don’t. Never mind. Hopefully they’ll get the chance to dance on Lionel Richie’s grave one day, whilst singing an uptempo acapella version of Hello. We can but hope. (Vaughan)
  • Mirroring the Chemical Brothers – normally I love the Commodores but I hate this. I hated it at the time. Mind you I’ve always hated ‘Sexual Healing’ as well and the sound of this is a bit related. (David)
  • 5th – mainly just because the others are better, but also because I don’t believe in the afterlife, which makes the sentiment of this completely redundant. Call me hard-hearted… (Chig)

1975: Footsee – Wigan’s Chosen Few (104)

  • YES. This kind of thing is why the 70s were good. Make exploitative Northern Soul record, good idea. What’s northern soul? Well, it happens in clubs. Oh, great, let’s put some club noises on it! On what? Hardly matters, really. (Tom)
  • Motown meets Krautrock! Awesome! (Barry)
  • Not accurate? maybe not. So what? If it could have been on Thunder, Lightning, Strike it’s good enough for me. (KoenS)
  • Re: Wigan’s Chosen Few, KoenS has a point. I’ve always been a little too hung-up on “authenticity” – it’s the residual 80s soul-boy in me. However, Footsee was being touted at the time as the New! Authentic! Sound of the Northern Soul scene, and as such it did do a disservice to the great music that was actually being played. But there again, maybe that’s a marketeer’s fault rather than Footsee‘s fault. (mike)
  • It’s like I’m at a real 70’s party – I can almost see the fondue (not smell it – that would be gross). (Stereoboard)
  • I’m glad you mentioned the distortion because I was thinking my headphones needed replacing or that a kazoo was the feature instrument. This sounds like something manufactured by Ralph’s Carpet Warehouse– tawdry and bound to stink up the room. (asta)
  • happy, summer, top down, beach music..innit. (jo)
  • Is the whole song made up of intro. It’s actually the only one of the five that i wouldn’t want on a compilation album. But none of them is any more than transient blandness, in the end. (Gert)
  • Who? Wigan? Chosen? Would anyone really choose someone from Wigan (and a big HELLO to all Mike’s Wigan-based readers – I love you really!) This record, however, has the sounds of people whooping, cheering and clapping. I hate records featuring whooping, cheering and clapping, as the sounds of people enjoying themselves always seem so unconvincing. I bet they were doing that while being prodded with the barrel of a machine gun. Can you tell that I have nothing of any earthly use to say about this song? We want more people crying, wailing and generally sounding monumentally depressed on records. Yes, we do. Don’t argue with me. (Vaughan)
  • I lived in a bastion of Northern Soul in 75, but it was only later that I realised crap like this didn’t represent the good stuff. (Dymbel)
  • …where I have to wonder WHO chose them and for god’s sake WHY! (Gordon)
  • Sounds like organised fun. (Alan Connor)
  • Don’t clack those things near me, you could put an eye out! (timothy)

1965: Funny How Love Can Be – The Ivy League (94)

  • (1st place.) I’m as surprised as you, believe me. Anyway, before the Human League found synthesisers and moved to Sheffield, they were actually a 60s beat combo (yes, Phil Oakey is older than he looks). I think what I like about this record are the Big Drums (big drums, very big), and the fact that it’s a blatant rip-off of a Francoise Hardy record from the same year, the title of which slips my mind at the moment. But the best bit is undoubtedly the first line: “There she goes with her nose in the air” – which implies that it might well be a song about a dog. And there aren’t enough songs about loving dogs in this world, are there? (Vaughan)
  • This tune just destroys me. I couldn’t have told you who it was by until I listened to the medley, but I’ve always loved this song muchly. I’m such a ho for melodrama. (noodle)
  • Precisely because it doesn’t go the whole Byrds / Mamas & Papas hog, I like it. Sounds closer to the dippy end of those Pebbles compilations. And the harmonies are sad. (Alan Connor)
  • Indeed, the West Coast harmonizing redeems much of the track’s underlying blandness. (KoenS)
  • Nicely melodic and mid-paced. Good for air-drumming. (David)
  • Actually this song isn’t particularly good, the sunshine sound of sixty-f**king-five, how did people cope with pop being so narrow back then? Pretty enough for what it is. (Tom)
  • move right along, please…did someone sing something? (Emma)
  • i’m gonna have to sit this round out, as, well, they all sound like crap to me. (eric)

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