Which Decade is Tops for Pops? (8/10) – 2005 edition.

Since one of you has asked for some clarification, perhaps this would be a good time to explain how I’m calculating the running totals for each decade.

For each of the 10 days of the contest, I give 5 points to the winning decade for that day’s round of voting, 4 points to the second decade etc.

Thus the 26 points for our current leading decade – the 1980s – are calculated as follows:
#10s – 1st place (Prince) – 5 points
#9s – 3rd place (Commodores) – 3 points
#8s – 3rd place (Art Of Noise) – 3 points
#7s – 2nd place (Kirsty MacColl) – 4 points
#6s – 5th place (Howard Jones) – 1 point
#5s – 1st place (Dead Or Alive) – 5 points
#4s – 1st place (Bruce Springsteen) – 5 points

Of course, with voting still coming in for some of the older selections, these positions can fluctuate; there has been quite a tussle between The Animals and the Doves, for instance, with the lead place regularly switching. However, my spreadsheet is built to cope.

Onto today’s selections – and to one of our strongest and most pleasingly varied groupings to date. Big balladeering! Bouncy pop! Smooth soul! Full-on dance! Hip-hop with a message! Open your minds! It’s the Number Threes!

1965: You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling – The Righteous Brothers
1975: Please Mr. Postman – The Carpenters
1985: Solid – Ashford & Simpson
1995: Set You Free – N-Trance
2005: Like Toy Soldiers – Eminem
Listen to a short medley of all five songs.

You never close your eyes any more when I kiss your lips, and there’s no tenderness like before in your fingertips…” Strewth, there’s just no let-up for 1965 Woman, is there? You’ve been slobbered over by Val, intimidated by Eric, preached at by Wayne, abducted by Del – and now you’re being whined at by the Righteous Brothers. Picky, picky, picky!

Oh, but I mustn’t be so cheap. Not even its use on the Top Gun soundtrack (which inspired a whole generation of Saturday night lads-on-the-piss to break into noisy renditions on street corners, in the preposterous hope that passing young ladies would somehow find this sweetly amusing and attractive) could dim this song’s almost universally acknowledged classic status. To say nothing of Phil Spector’s awesome production job, which is sadly diminished by the ghastly pseudo-stereo conversion job on this MP3. (I searched high and low, but couldn’t find a mono version anywhere. Sounds much better on speakers than it does on headphones.)

With this slightly pointless cover of The Marvelettes’ Please Mr. Postman, the beginning of the slow artistic decline of the once-transcendent Carpenters is all too apparent. A couple of years earlier, Yesterday Once More had expressed the most exquisite, poignant evocation of nostalgia for early 1960s pop. It said it all. There was therefore no need to go the whole hog and actually record a cover version of early 1960s pop, just to ram the point home in such a literal manner. Besides, are we really expected to believe that the singer of Goodbye To Love, Superstar and Rainy Days And Mondays could ever be this naively, girlishly love-struck? It doesn’t quite wash, does it? Although Karen Carpenter – whose voice is right up there with Aretha, Dionne and Dusty in my personal pantheon of greats – could sing a shopping list and still make it sound wonderful, there is a clear sense that her talents are being wasted, and that the duo’s artistic anchor is coming adrift.

My, but I was looking forward to hearing Ashford & Simpson‘s Solid again after so many years. Written and performed by one of the great songwriting partnerships of Tamla Motown’s golden age (Ain’t No Mountain High Enough, You’re All I Need To Get By), this was guaranteed to appeal to the good little 1980s soul boy that I was swiftly becoming in 1985. (With rock having seemingly lost its way for good, with the odd honourable exception such as The Smiths, The Jesus And Mary Chain and REM, a good number of people were making this switch at the time.)

It hasn’t dated well, though. To modern ears, the production techniques seem tinny, insubstantial, and just plain cheesy. What had felt so spirited and fresh back then feels disappointingly syrupy and cloying now. Nevertheless, there’s a residual power to the song which time has not entirely erased – especially the ecstatic “build it up and build it up” bridge to the chorus, which still has me tingling in a few mostly dormant extremities.

Ecstatic in an altogether different way, nudge nudge wink wink say no more, N-Trance‘s Set You Free has somehow, and against all the odds, actually improved with age, at least to this jaded ex-clubber’s worn out ears. ‘Cos if you’re going to make a full-on dance anthem, then for God’s sake turn the dials up to max, pull out all the stops, and give it some bloody welly.

In this respect, Set You Free is marvellously satisfying. The belting disco diva: check. The slowing-down-then-starting-up-again trick: check. The mental ravey bit where you make “interpretive” shapes with your fingers held a few inches away from your eyes: check.

Big fish, little fish, cardboard box! What’s your name, where you from, what you on? Want some of my water? CHOOON!

Bonus points for early use of jungle/drum-and-bass breakbeats in a commercial crossover hit – for rhythmically, there was clear distance between this and the usual four-to-the-floor handbag house order of the day. In fact, I don’t think I ever actually heard this out at the time – and at the time, I was out all the time – so maybe that’s what has helped keep it so fresh.

There’s a whole back story to Eminem‘s Like Toy Soldiers which, if you know your way round it, can make all the difference to your appreciation of it. Although it’s complicated, and could be viewed as somewhat parochial, it’s a story with which most of his core audience will be familiar.

Minuscule simplistic précis (so far as I understand it, and I’m certainly no expert): Eminem signs 50 Cent; hip hop world’s collective noses put out of joint; usual internecine strife between warring labels; Ja Rule records nasty personal attack, singling out Eminem’s young daughter by name for a particularly vicious slur. Instead of taking the expected traditional route of recording an equally vile response, à la Biggie and Tupac (and look where that got them), Eminem takes the moral high ground, expressing a weary, sorrowful abhorrence of all these pointless, destructive and ultimately petty feuds. It’s a powerful, arresting piece, which slots right in with Eminem’s recent anti-Bush tirade Mosh as evidence of a growing thoughtfulness, seriousness of intent, and dare we say maturity?

My votes: 1 – Righteous Brothers. 2 – Eminem. 3 – N-Trance. 4 – Ashford & Simpson. 5 – The Carpenters. I had particular difficulty ranking the middle three positions, but ultimately decided to yield to genius.

Over to you. The 1980s increase their lead from three points to five, while the 1960s re-enter the race at last. Meanwhile, thanks to the double whammy of Brian-n-Delta and Destiny’s Child, the once mighty 2000s continue to crumble. Will Eminem turn it round for the 2000s? Will the Righteous Brothers send the 1960s soaring? And how the hell has 1975 managed to hang on in second place anyway?

Running totals so far – Number 3s.

1965: You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling – The Righteous Brothers (156)

  • To me, an absolutely perfect pop song. Song, lyrics, performance, production. The latter bit meaning that no amount of karaoke can spoil the original. (JonnyB)
  • This really isn’t fair to the other four songs. I expect this track to win and complete the momentous comeback for the 60’s in this poll. It’ll be real tight heading into the final two days. (Barry)
  • No contest. It’s one of those songs. I predict most people will it first; most of the rest will put it last. (Gert)
  • From the opening note, this song rings true. It’s probably why they used it in the movie Top Gun. It lent Tom Cruise the emotion he is incapable of portraying on the screen. This is a power ballad that works. (asta)
  • God how I love that song. And how does such a small and thin man come out with ‘that’ voice? (jo)
  • I’d give much to be able to hear this for the first time. (Alan Connor)
  • What makes it so remarkable is how sepulchral the voices are. (Tom)
  • Of course, once upon a time it truly was bloody and heart-wrenchingly brilliant, all its ponderous and doomy self-importance notwithstanding. Now it’s so much a victim of its own success and ubiquity in these sort of polls that whenever I hear it I reach for my nearest Wombles CD. Still, it’s my Number Two because, well, because in the end it truly is bloody and heart-wrenchingly brilliant. (Nigel)
  • Spector’s ultimate pop symphony I suppose. Though it has nothing on “Da doo ron ron”. (KoenS)
  • a ‘classic’ and all, but I’ve never really liked it much; also I have ultra-grim memories of bashing out clumsy, ageing drunks’ crowd-pleaser versions of it when I was drumming in a pub covers band in the late ’80s to early ’90s. (David Dubmill)
  • I’ve always had an aversion to them. This is just a dirge to me. Take it away. (Will)

2005: Like Toy Soldiers – Eminem (97)

  • Tupac to Notorious B.I.G. – Jam Master Jay of Run DMC. now Ja Rule and 50 Cent beefin and Murder Inc under investigation. This is a plea for an end to it. I doubt whether anyone but Eminem could do it so well. The fact that he has any credibility within the community speaks volumes. (asta)
  • Suddenly, with this and “Mosh”, I’m much less bored by the little man. (Alan Connor)
  • Thought he had lost his way but this is a great track, and yes, possibly he is maturing. (Gordon)
  • this one is bolstered by the fact that my son, now 9, really likes it so I associate it with him singing the chorus to himself while on buses and so on; the drum pattern and the use of the Martika chorus are very good though. (David Dubmill)
  • Bless, but I am slowly coming round to admiring this sweet boy, and I’m even starting to think he might even be a major talent, but his brand of white-boy rap just doesn’t do anything for me. Sorry. (Nigel)
  • I still can’t get on this bus no matter how good the stereo. (timothy)
  • Horrible. Maturity is not what I look for in pop, and it looks especially bad on Eminem. I liked him when he was a South Park character. (KoenS)
  • Awful. How easy is this? Steal a chorus, mouth some shit in the verses. Fearne Cotton is more controversial than this dirge. (djg)
  • lyrically pretty good, musically dire (apart from the fun Martika sample) (Simon H)
  • The Martika version was not that great, but in comparison to M&M’s rubbish it sounds like it’s in the same class as You’ve Lost. Martika is of course an anagram of Tikaram. Have you ever seen Martika and Tanitta together? Have you ever wondered why? (Gert)
  • Shit. And worse, preachy shit. And worse, preachy, boring, shit. Eminem’s “moral high ground” here is basically a defensive response to Benzino getting some actual (if long-ago) dirt on him and publishing it, i.e. the moment Benzino lands an actual punch Em plays the peace card. Up until then Eminem had been happy to continue the beef and, by dint of being a much better rapper than Benzino, win it too.

    Or at least, he was a much better rapper: recently he’s sounded tired and lacking in inspiration, which is presumably why this fairly desperate attempt to pull the ‘Stan’ trick a second time was recorded. The fact is that Eminem used to be a pretty good battler – funny, fresh and disarming – and that energy actually used to inform and nuance his more serious stuff (“Square Dance” is so much better than “Mosh” because it sounds like a hip-hop beef turning political, there’s less of a sense of distance). These days I’m not so sure. “Like Toy Soldiers” isn’t a call for peace, it’s a low, passive-agressive blow. This track is fighting just as dirty as Benzino – using Em’s big weapon, his mass audience, to win over the floating votes of casual listeners who think “oh those awful rappers, always fighting”. The pop equivalent of those Tory election posters. (Tom)

  • Tom, re your comments about Eminem – I think that is perfectly relevant if you’re interested in what he is going on about. I’m not and I’m sure there are a huge number of people like me. For them, what makes the record is the Martika chorus and then the interesting snare-rolling drum pattern, and then the general flavour of the rapping (not the specifics of the lyrics or what they refer to..). Come to think of it I did listen to a bit of the lyrics once and heard some stuff about the ‘hip hop game’ or something and I just tuned out. I knew I wasn’t interested in it. (David Dubmill)
  • The Eminem ‘meaning’. As David says, if you are devotee of rap music this will have a far different meaning that the majority who are here to vote for the Top for POPS. I have his current and last albums, based solely on his commercial success. I bought them because I liked the way he sounds, and his use of lyrics. Same reason I own Nas, Ja Rule and Tes albums. The back story doesn’t interest me at all – how much of it is just hype anyway? They are hardly in “da hood” these days… unless those big houses on MTV Cribs are all fakes 😉 (Gordon)

1995: Set You Free – N-Trance (96)

  • Far too little love here for this total classic. Everything’s turned up to 11, as it should. The souldiva voice. The hyper beats. The cascading piano during the verses. The synth that breaks it down into the chorus. Massive. (KoenS)
  • (1st place) Because finding that lovin’ feeling is even better. (Tom)
  • I’m quite surprised at this. It’s one of my 90s dance singles that iTunes keeps trying to feed to me, and I keep refusing, but it’s aged pretty well. With the nostalgia box ticked too, and the high energy feel good vibe, suddenly it tops today’s list. (Adrian)
  • this has weathered damn well in my opinion.. it also helps that I associate it indelibly with my son’s late ’90s Jumping Up and Down on the Bed sessions – we would crank up the ‘Now That’s What I Call Music’ CDs and this was one of the top selections. (David Dubmill)
  • despite my better judgement, I seem to have happy memories of mentalist dancing to this tune… (Simon H)
  • Almost hypnotic: A little Madonna, A little Pat Benatar, my head is swimming. (timothy)
  • I don’t think this song blew up over here, even though “Stayin’ Alive” was huge. A quick glance at the band’s official website reveals why … the song was first released in 1992, rereleased a few times, and finally became a big UK hit in 1995. There, I’m smarter than I was two minutes ago. (Barry)
  • I have a theory about dance music, formulated round about ten-thirty one Sunday morning in London’s Farringdon, when no-one was paying any attention to me. It’s just a high-class and expert whore, isn’t it? You as the punter pays your money, and it comes on to you suggestively, teasing you up and down and up into ever-increasing levels of stimulation for two-thirds of the session, before hopefully, and depending on how up for it you really are, letting loose and bringing you the biggest and messiest aural climax of your entire life. And this track, unfortunately, only gets as far as foreplay. And I want my money back. (Nigel)
  • Sheesh, the 90s done even badder. What a mess. (Clare)
  • Not me. It was this sort of record that put me off modern pop music. The sort that I really hate in pubs etc. I mean, it really has to be bad to be worse than the above. (Gert)

1975: Please Mr. Postman – The Carpenters (90)

    I think you’re overly harsh on ‘Please Mr Postman’, which has improved with age for me (definitely my least favourite Carpenters song at the time of first release, even not knowing the original…) from the opening drum fill into “Stop!” to the arrangement in the instrumental break. And I hate sax solos in MOR pop tunes usually. (zebedee)

  • My litmus test for good pop music is simple: does it make me feel sixteen again, does it slap an inane grin on my face, and does it get me up and dancing round the room, while the kids outside my ground-floor window laugh at the funny man making a tit out of himself? This passes the test on all counts. Just under three minutes of pure, achingly-perfect pop. And then there’s That Voice, very probably the best, and certainly the most under-rated, in the entire history of female pop music. (Nigel)
  • Karen’s singing far outshines the Marvellettes’, but that’s a bit of a problem here. I can’t hear a Carpenters song without imagining Karen standing arms length from a piano, gazing sad-eyed into space. Where’s the lust, the anxious teenage pleading? This is really lovely, though. (Barry)
  • You simply cannot go wrong with this song. A particular favourite of mine is on the OST of Backbeat, where a ‘supergroup’ of grunge- and other chagrin-rockers lighten up and gleefully romp through this and a handful of other early ’60s classics. Singer Greg Dulli of Afghan Whigs sings this especially well. But The Carpenters do a pretty ‘nice’ version as well I guess. As I said, you can’t go wrong, try as you might. (KoenS)
  • Pleasing enough in a twee way, but about as relevant then as Wooden Heart is now. (David ex-Swish)
  • Whitebread Motown. The personification of square. Still… I don’t despise the Carpenters. I think Karen had a lovely voice. I think Rainy Days and Mondays and Goodbye to Love are terrific pop songs. I don’t even blame them for We’ve Only Just Begun. It’s not their fault that every white middle class couple in a certain demographic used is as their wedding song. I just think they should have left this alone. (asta)
  • Too simple, although this must be the first time I put a song I can honestly say that I like in fifth place. (Simon)
  • I just don’t get the Carpenters. The tunes are nice enough, but I really don’t like her voice. (Gert)
  • This pains me no end. Any other track of theirs and they’d get top billing. Why oh why oh why. (Gordon)
  • It belongs on a kids show. Too chipper, too cheesy. It practically drips. (jo)
  • Bland. Joyless. Neutered. Crap. (djg)
  • Oh Karen….It all went horribly wrong didn’t it? (timothy)

1985: Solid – Ashford & Simpson (86)

  • This song has stood the test of time pretty well. I was rather indifferent to it at the time, but twenty years on, it sounds fresh and original. (Gert)
  • It has this layered, over-planned 80’s arrangement that I like, no matter how soulless. (Simon)
  • Strangely, the last time I heard this was yesterday in the toilets at the Barnsley v Torquay game. Seems strangely appropriate. (djg)
  • This is the sort of thing that was on my local commercial radio station as a child. Let down by its chorus, which is a pretty big minus. And “Oh yes it is” added vocalisations. (Will)
  • Solid, solid as my cock, as my brother and I used to sing. Oh yes, we used to sing Last night a DJ shagged my wife too, you know. And I just can’t get it up. Look, we were young, OK? (David ex-Swish)
  • The verses have not aged well, A & S sound adrift on a sea of quease, marking time until the chorus, which still works and probably always will work. At the risk of offending the anti-hip hop ‘krew’ here what this track needs is for someone to nick the chorus and MC over where the verses used to be. (Tom)
  • Hmmmm, early power ballad? All i can see is the horrid video in my head when I hear it. maybe that is the problem with the video generation. Songs are tainted by the visuals they left behind. (jo)
  • When did soul start getting annoying? Before this, no doubt. (Alan Connor)
  • Yech. They dragged this duo out of the Sleeze’n’Cheese Retirement Home to be celebrity judges on American Idol last season and had them sing this. Double Yech. (asta)
  • Until today I thought this track was called “Sorry”. It should be. (Nigel)

Decade scores so far (after 7 days).
1 (1) The 1980s (26) — The thrill is still hot hot hot hot hot hot!
2 (2) The 1970s (21) — Why don’t you check it and see! One more time, for me!
3= (5) The 1960s (20) — I get down on my knees for you! If you would only love me like you used to do!
3= (2) The 2000s (20) — Still knowing this shit could pop off at any minute!

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