Which Decade is Tops for Pops? (3/10) – 2005 edition.

I note with interest that a fair number of regular readers de-lurked yesterday, to say something along the lines of “Happy birthday, but the music’s sh*te so I shan’t be voting”. Which surprises me, as – so far at least – we’ve had some unusually strong selections to choose from, with at least something to recommend every single track. (Yes, even Johnny Wakelin. Well, just about.)

That pattern continues today, with what to my mind is another wholly reasonable and respectable selection of chart goodies. Why, there’s even a bit of a forgotten classic amongst them. Wheel ’em out! It’s the Number Eights!

1965: Come Tomorrow – Manfred Mann
1975: Angie Baby – Helen Reddy
1985: Close (To The Edit) – Art Of Noise
1995: Total Eclipse Of The Heart – Nicki French
2005: Only U – Ashanti
Listen to a short medley of all five songs.

Another day, another beat group. Was nothing else going on in 1965 at all? Never having heard it before, I was surprised by the old-school staidness of this track, from the normally more bluesy Manfred Mann. Strip away the veneer of modernity, and what you’re left with is essentially re-heated cabaret: a corny old belter, of the tried and trusted “starts off dead quiet, then gradually builds up to a shattering fortissimo” school. You could easily imagine a Dorothy Squires or a Shirley Bassey getting their chops around this one. Which wouldn’t bother me, except that I’m not sure that the combination works at all well. That clunking rhyme in the first verse doesn’t help matters much, either.

With Helen Reddy‘s stunning piece of subversive MOR – brooding, menacing, allusive – the limitations of my five-minute-medley format become all too apparent. To do this song justice, you really do have to listen all the way through, building a picture in your mind of the disturbed girl and the predatory boy who falls into her web. Here, I’ve picked out the pivotal central section, with its deft orchestral flourishes helping to build the mood; but do try and get your hands on the full version if you can. Deeply weird magic realism noir of the highest order.

At the back end of 1983, the Art Of Noise – led by prime pop strategists Trevor Horn, Anne Dudley and Paul Morley – released an extraordinary six-track EP called Into Battle With The Art Of Noise. Radical and ground-breaking, its lead track (Beat Box) became a major influence on the New York electro/hip-hop scene. Several samples from this EP, and the basic rhythm from Beat Box, are re-used on Close (To The Edit) – but in a fiddly, over-egged fashion which diminishes the original impact. The first was a cult club track, beloved of theorist intellectuals. The second was an overground pop smash, with a groovy state-of-the-art video that got everyone talking. But with twenty years of technological progress dividing us, what do we now make of this overtly self-conscious attempt to create something so NEW, so ADVANCED, so NOW?

What I make of it is this: that nothing dates quite so badly as the wilfully fashionable. Strip away the cleverness, the silly noises, the “ooh listen to what I can do with this button on my shiny new Fairlight” trickery, and what are you left with? A jaunty novelty jingle – but a curiously hollow, joyless, boastful one.

Matt black dreamhomes. Track lighting and chrome. Oversized red plastic framed glasses. Hello Tosh, gotta Toshiba? Betcha all the advertising execs loved this one.

I remember seeing the band being interviewed on The Tube, and showing off their expensive new kit to a decidedly suspicious and unimpressed Jools “real music” Holland. Get with the program, rockist, I sneered, sitting there in my student digs in my oversized plastic framed glasses, dreaming of smoked glass, chrome and lacquered black ash. In retrospect, I think he might have had a point after all.

“GOOD AFTERNOON BIRMINGHAM PRIDE! OO-WA OO-WA! ARE YOU HAVING A GOOD TIME? We’ve got some great acts for you on the main stage later this evening! We’ve got the one and only, the fabulous Miss MARY KIANI! We’ve got the one and only, the fabulous Miss ANGIE BROWN! But now, will you put your hands together and welcome to the stage … THE one … THE only… the FABULOUS… MISS! NICKI! FREEEEENCH!!!!

“Hello BIRMINGHAM! It’s great to be here! All RIGHT! Let’s see those HANDS IN THE AIR! Bit more volume on the monitors please, Gary. All RIGHT! You might KNOW this one! If you DO, I wanna hear you all SINGING ALONG…!”

Ah, Nicki, Nicki, Nicki. You adorable old trouper, you. Like a favourite Auntie who’s sung a bit of cabaret, knows a few “theatricals”, and slips you a complicit wink at family weddings, our Nicki has been a constant presence on the British provincial gay scene over the years. And lo and behold! With this walloper of a Bonnie Tyler cover, she even fluked herself a massive international hit. Top Ten in America and everything! Our Nicki! Whoda thought it! She’s still big in South America, you know!

All of which means that I am prepared to exercise great leniency in the face of one glaring fact: that our Nicki doesn’t appear ever to have studied the lyrical content of Bonnie Tyler’s anguished lament, preferring instead to deliver it with a mile-wide “aren’t we having fun!” grin on her face. At all times. Even if the audience consists of six monged-out disco-bunnies, the barman and the cleaner. Now there’s professionalism for you. For yea, even as we speak, our Nicki will be heading up the motorway to Second Wednesday In The Month Homosexuals Night at Sticks Disco in Rotherham (second left past the bus station, NCP car park open till 2am, aromas reduced to four quid a bottle), there to gamely ply her trade, without even the merest shadow of doubt or despair crossing her beaming countenance. And somehow that cheers me.

(Footnote: it has been my life’s ambition to walk into the “dark room” of a gay club, to ease myself into the centre of the silent space, and to burst into a rendition of the key couplet from this song. Once upon a time there was light in my life; now there’s only love in the dark. Nothing I can do; a total eclipse of the heart. You know, just to freak the queens out good and proper. And you thought I was nice.)

There has been an unusually high level of stylistic consistency so far this year. Three beat groups for 1965; three dance tracks for 1995; and for 2005, three tracks with their roots in R&B/hip-hop music. (Or “urban”, if you will; I won’t, thanks all the same.) Up until now, I’ve never been that impressed with Ashanti – a bit formulaic, a bit also-ran – but with Only U, she has served up a stormer. There’s an intense, claustrophobic feel to this, as Ashanti confesses to being gripped by an erotic obsession that she can barely control. Dark, raw, edgy, brutal; like Art of Noise, this pushes at sonic boundaries, but unlike Art Of Noise, it does so with a purpose.

So what’s it to be? Reheated cabaret, subversive MOR, wacky noises, gay disco or R&B concrete? My votes: 1 – Helen Reddy. 2 – Ashanti. 3 – Art Of Noise. 4 – Nicki French. 5 – Manfred Mann.

Over to you. K is excused from voting on this round, as I didn’t get round to splicing the medley together until after he went to bed, and no-one wants gay disco over their cornflakes. Your mileage may vary.

Running totals so far – Number 8s.

1975: Angie Baby – Helen Reddy (149)

  • Boulevards ahead of the pack. (djg)
  • I had forgotten how much I loved that song. Along with with Bobbie Gentry’s Ode to Billy Joe this was a top mid 70’s adolescent angst song. And lord knows, I was an angst filled, melodramatic adolescent. (jo)
  • My theme tune is ‘Angie Baby’. “It’s so nice being insane, no one asks you to explain.” (Blue Witch)
  • More scary songs, please! Even ones which sound a bit like “Witchy Woman”. (Alan Connor)
  • They don’t write songs like this any more.. pity. (David)
  • That’s just a tune, that is. Just popping over to iTunes… (Emma)
  • That’s a tune, that is. Just popping over to Limewire. (David)
  • “Never to be found”?? God that’s terrible, what happens next? Thank god for soulseek. (KoenS)
  • Oh my. Did this woman ever have a hit that wasn’t earnestly about something? ” I am Woman” still makes my blood pressure rise. But this is suposed to be about Angie Baby, a creepy little ditty if ever there was one. I wonder what would happen if If Angie met Billy Joe MacAllister the night the lights went out in Georgia….. (asta)
  • Being that it was 75 I bet she wore a yellow polyester/nylon blouse with enormous collar under a brown polyester tunic with a floral tie belt… (Gert)
  • Helen, on the other hand, has the voice of a midwest diner waitress, three lousy husbands behind her and 6 kids relying on her. But at night, she gets up on the stage in the local bar in front of those ungrateful shitkickers and testifies to the uncrushability of her soul. The arrangement here is clever and dramatic, too, creating a kind of country/soul epic that really ought to be number 1 except Ashanti is still busily kicking my arse round the house. (noodle)
  • It sounds intriguing on this showing but hard to make a judgement. Story songs tend to wear out quickly for me, though. (Tom)

1985: Close (To The Edit) – Art Of Noise (118)

  • ‘Moments In Love’ is an all-time favourite of mine but I’ve never particularly liked this. Of course it sounds ahead of its time – but to some extent that’s because Trevor Horn & Co. had access to technology that was too expensive for the vast majority of musicians at the time. (David)
  • Loved it then, love it now. It’s the art student choice. (Emma)
  • I have to say that the section you’ve picked doesn’t do it justice, though maybe that’s the rose tints. Saying “strip out the ridiculous noises” is point-missing, surely, like saying well, you can’t play a Timbaland track on an acoustic guitar. The message here – anything is pop if you put your mind to it. The end of the 7″ mix – “Oh to be in England” – is thrilling. Easy winner. (Tom)
  • Anne Dudley Rocks the world. (Alan)
  • I’ve ummed and ahhed over this for a day now, and it’s not as cheesy as I remember. The Fairlight is always going to sound like a period piece, but the record is tight, the beat is kicking, and with a little more restraint (but c’mon, this was the Eighties) we’d be talking stone cold killer classic. As it is, the AoN are very unlucky to wind up fourth. Luck of the draw. (noodle)
  • Before I’d listened to it again, I thought this’d walk it. I still like it, although it’s probably helped by my remembering just how different it was when it came out. (Adrian)
  • I’m really going to have to dig out my cassette single version of Close (To The Edit) – like the marathon cassette single version of Two Tribes, it melds together various different remixes into one huge piece of music which goes on for about 20 minutes or so. (mike)
  • It isn’t good, at least I don’t think it is, but I’m not really sure. However, they are taking liberties here, which is a good thing. At least if the song is good, that is, so I guess the song is good, after all. (Simon)
  • This hasn’t aged well. (asta)
  • Yeah, don’t like this. Made me look up and play “We Just” by Moses, though, which is always a good idea. (KoenS)
  • Very clever, but dated and dull. (Stereoboard)
  • They’ve ALL dated. The 13-year-old me thought it was silly, didn’t realise it was clever. (Alan Connor)
  • I really only ever liked their Peter Gunn theme. Along with Tangerine Dream AON are a band I can live without. (jo)
  • Where is the song, exactly? (djg)
  • I’m resisting getting out my 85 diary but, surely, they can’t all be as bad as this and Commodores. (Gert)

2005: Only U – Ashanti (109)

  • Holy Prokofiev! Ashanti lures us in with the spoken intro, and then THE POUNDING BASS STRINGS OF DOOM stomp us into bloody r’n’b-crumbs as she morphs into the Avenging Angel of Relentless Stalkers, fire in her eyes, boiled rabbit carcasses swinging at her belt and a voice like those angels that come out of the box at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark. (noodle)
  • “What’d I say Roy?” “Now only if it’d been Ashanti.” And here it is. This track is the mutant lovechild of Beyonce and Gary Numan. Trrrfic. (KoenS)
  • last really good 2005 track in this contest (zebedee)
  • She’s been sort of lost in the shuffle lately and rightly so. There’s nothing special about her. She’s doing her best to combine Beyonce’s”Naughty Girl”and ” Baby Boy” in this song, and I give her an A for effort and the song a B. (asta)
  • I kind of like it as it is (in the medley). Then I imagined hearing it ear-blastingly loud after three or four drinks more than what’s good for me, and that really made me see the light. (Simon)
  • What the f**k is this? Very odd. Can you tell I don’t listen to R1 any more? (Clare)
  • She normally annoys me with her constant..oooo,baby..yea..nasal thing. But I do love the big FAT sound on this song. (jo)
  • Unpromising intro of formulaic telephone voice and cheesy strings but a cracking beat and riff. (David)
  • Very heavy R’n’Glitter rhythm, not the most exciting of songs though. (Tom)
  • I’m not overkeen. I keep waiting for it to go somewhere. (Emma)
  • Fairly standard stuff, despite the ‘rock edge’. Why does she keep having to say her name? Is it due to the short attention span of her intended audience. Perhaps it will remind them which ringtone to order? (djg)

1995: Total Eclipse Of The Heart – The one and only, the fabulous, Miss Nicki French (80)

  • (1st place) Because responses are personal, and I was, in 1995, that very compere bigging up the unstoppable Nikki to a crowd who were yelling for me to remove my trousers. A fond memory, enough to overcome how this just isn’t Steinman/Tyler. (Alan Connor)
  • And this would be number 1 on another day. Proof that Jim Steinman should only be allowed to write songs, not produce them. By removing Bonnie Tyler’s leathery over-emoting and slapping on a classic pop-house rhythm, Nicki comes up with the dictionary definition of “giddy pop thriller”. This record kills indie schmindie miserablists at 500 yards. (noodle)
  • I really like this genre of ‘take a ballad and add a thumping House beat to it’.. the quality of the songs shines through. I think it’s a genre that will seem increasingly poignant with time. This one isn’t as good as the cover of Duran Duran’s ‘ordinary World’ but it’s nice. (David)
  • What I would love is a ‘mash-up’ of the backing to this with the Bonnie vocals, Nikki just doesn’t have the lungs for it. Obviously the song itself is a masterpiece of cosmic proportions and an upliftin’ house refit is a perverse yet satisfying thing. (Tom)
  • It’s doing bad things to a wonderful song and I think it is awful. But in terms of attitude, I guess it takes some for heresy of this magnitude. (Simon)
  • No, no, no give the American Welsh lady her song back and find something else to mess about with. (asta)
  • Run away! Run away!! Not My Thing. Doesn’t help that I also hated Bonnie Tyler’s version. (Emma)
  • Don’t put old songs over that beat! It’s rubbish. This is so bad, I actually found myself yearning for the irritatingly pompous original. (Stereoboard)
  • But the worst is Nicki French, because I have the Bonnie Tyler version on vinyl and it’s like Chteauneuf de Pape to this Liebfraumilch. You would never guess from this clip it was written by Jim Steinman. (Gert)
  • I loathe hi-energy dance cover versions. There are no situations where i would want to hear this nonsense. (djg)
  • I’ll have you know, young man, that I have Nicki’s home phone number right here in my mobile, and a wicked part of me is thinking she’d really like to read this…I am so, SO tempted…. 🙂 (Chig)

1965: Come Tomorrow – Manfred Mann (69)

  • never heard this before, keen to hear it all – the guitarist seems to be playing a different tune to the rest of the band! (zebedee)
  • More fag-ends of the beat boom. I like the “saddest song you’ll hear all year” line, very Merritt, but the rest is tripe. (Tom)
  • I’m sure the beat groups fared better last year, maybe it was getting a bit stale by now. (Adrian)
  • I think I confused this with a far superior Yardbirds song of the same name. This one’s crap. Despite its Beat-y disguise, its actually a conventional late 50s ballad with one of the dullest tunes I’ve ever heard. I can imagine Adam Faith being offered this before rejecting it for being pish. Can’t we have the Stones or something next? (noodle)
  • Really insipid. I don’t like Manfred Mann much, or Paul Jones’ voice. You can hear him trying to adopt a voice here and it sounds very clumsy. (David)
  • Oh dear. Even contemplating a young skinny Paul Jones doesn’t really improve this does it? (Emma)
  • I can’t imagine anyone wanting to cover this, which just about sums it up. (djg)
  • There are no swallows(?) skylarks or other songbirds in this selection. Move along. (asta)

Dear Lord I hope these tunes improve as we head towards the #1… (Lyle)
Abstain (if not Flame). They’re all as bad as each other. (chav gav)
Oh dear, my ears need a good solid dose of music to clear out this platoon of Solenopsis Invicta fire ants. (Gert)
Why do so many people hate music? This was a brilliant selection. (noodle)

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