It’s all getting very tense. With narrow margins and tied positions abounding in the voting for the Number Twos and Number Threes (and beyond), the relative positions of our five hopeful decades are changing faster than I can re-edit and re-publish.
I’ll be honest with you: I thought the 1980s were going to walk it this year. A couple of weeks ago, having studied the form of all fifty singles, I wrote down a detailed series of predictions for each round. At this stage in the contest, I had expected the 1980s to be eight full points ahead of the pack, and a whopping sixteen points ahead of the 1990s. However, at this precise moment (which could change with the next set of individual votes), the 1980s are dead level with the 1960s, with the 1990s still mathematically in the running for first place. So you never can tell.
Like all the best contests, everything rests on the final round. So cue drumrolls, and pray be upstanding for the Number Ones!
1965: Tired Of Waiting For You – The Kinks
1975 – Make Me Smile (Come Up And See Me) – Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel
1985 – I Know Him So Well – Elaine Paige & Barbara Dickson
1995 – Think Twice – Celine Dion
2005 – Sometimes You Can’t Make It On Your Own – U2
Listen to a short medley of all five songs.
With their third hit and their second Number One, The Kinks were looking unassailable in February 1965, and indeed there is little to quibble over here; Tired Of Waiting For You is a strong, memorable piece of quintessential British beat group pop. Nevertheless, quibble I must: the lyrical theme is not one of Ray Davies’ strongest. There are, after all, worse things in life than unpunctuality. And what’s with the Comedy Italian Waiter vocal stylings, then? She keep-a you waiting; you make-a me crazy!
Over the past few weeks, prompted by Marcello’s detailed re-appraisal, I’ve been re-acquainting myself with the first two albums by the original line-up of Cockney Rebel (1973’s The Human Menagerie and 1974’s The Psychomodo), which I’ve dragged down from the attic and played again for the first time in the thick end of thirty years – and bloody excellent they have turned out to be. However, following major ructions during their 1974 tour, three of the five members of the band walked out, leaving just Steve Harley and the drummer behind. Swiftly re-grouping, Harley recruited a bunch of hired hands, added his name to the front of the band, and recorded this song, which is widely reckoned to be a bitter attack on his former band-mates.
It’s a strange one, though. By far and away Cockney Rebel’s most successful, popular and enduring hit, Make Me Smile also marked a sharp break away from the charmingly idiosyncratic violin-based sound of the old band, and into a more conventionally guitar-based arrangement. A largely disappointing album swiftly followed (you could tell he’d got the session men in). Two smaller hits later (one a cover version), and it was all over for Harley’s Top 40 career.
It’s therefore tempting to conclude that Harley must have used up of all his remaining creativity and originality on this one magnificently splenetic piece of pop genius. If you were one of the aggrieved ex-members of his band, you might even view it as some sort of karmic retribution.
But hey, you don’t need to know all that! A classic’s a classic, which I don’t mean to diminish in any way…
…except that I’m trying my best to prepare the ground for Elaine Paige and Barbara Dickson‘s masterpiece. Yes, you heard me, masterpiece. You gotta problem with that?
OK, I’ll come clean; this was my break-up song with J, whom I had started dating in the autumn of 1984. It was one of those nice break-ups, where you’re a little bit upset – appropriately upset – but not unduly traumatised, because Things had run their course and Things were not meant to be. All very amicable: a quick little blub, then smiles all round.
Very shortly after our break-up, J and I ran into each other at Part Two: Nottingham’s big gay club of the time, one of the best in the country in its day, and still subject to fond reminiscences from dewy-eyed queens of a certain age. (Here he goes, then.) This was a place where you might find Su “Hi De Hi” Pollard flailing around on the dancefloor (with its perfect beat-mixing to upfront US imports and pre-releases way before that sort of thing caught on in the provinces), Justin Fashanu skulking on Cruise Alley, and Noelle “Nolly” Gordon holding court in the upstairs lounge bar. It was also almost certainly the only gay club ever to feature a resident chaplain – for all your spiritual needs – and a dark-room round the back. Needless to say, it was my second home.
So there we were, standing on the aforementioned cruising walkway above the main floor, all polite how-are-you’s and have-you-seen-so-and-so’s, when suddenly the dance music stopped and I Know Him So Well came on. (Wow, slow records in clubs. Takes you back a bit, that does.) At which point all conversation between us ceased, as we stood there rather stiffly and awkwardly, half-smiles still frozen upon faces, trapped in the mutual realisation that, f**k it, Auntie Elaine and Auntie Barbara had nailed our situation to a tee.
OK, so I might be projecting a little here – after all, it’s not as if we ever had a discussion about it afterwards – but knowing J as I did, I’m fairly confident that the signficance of the moment wasn’t lost on him either. Because, you see, I knew him so well.
Do feel free to cringe. After all, Auntie Elaine and Auntie Barbara never exactly had much in the way of Edge, and it was all a bit horribly Musical Theatre, and weren’t the lyrics written by Tim Rice, that Tory twit who did all that stuff with Andrew Aargh No Make It Stop Lloyd-Webber?
To which I say: yes, but the music was written by Benny and Bjorn from Abba, and we never have a bad word to say about them these days do we, and that drama-queeny over-dramatisation of my not-all-that-dramatic-really situation was all part of its charm, and rather appropriate in a droll sort of way, and I like the way that Auntie Elaine and Auntie Barbara maintain this serene composure all the way through, all very reflective and mature…
…and not at all like that screeching Celine Dion creature, whose own break-up song practically has her clinging onto her man’s shoes as he drags her across the carpet and out of the door. Have a little dignity, love! And how about trading in some of that vocal technique for a bit of genuine emotion?
Yeesh, power ballads. Worse than that: histrionically self-flagellating power ballads. The one useful thing I can say about Think Twice is this: if you copped off with someone for the night in 1995, and you went back to his place, and you decided to have a quick scan of his music collection while he disappeared off for a slash, and you found a Celine Dion album in his wrought iron “CD tower”… then you knew you were on for a crap shag. So I was told.
(Quick F**k Me Fact, with all due apologies to Low Culture: Think Twice was jointly composed by the man who wrote 21st Century Schizoid Man for King Crimson and the man who wrote Making Your Mind Up for Bucks Fizz.)
And finally… U2, a band I have never particularly got on with, end this year’s contest with one of the finest tracks of their 25+ year career. Written in memory of Bono’s late father, Sometimes You Can’t Make It On Your Own slowly builds, with a beautifully judged grace and power, and without whatever it is that U2 do which habitually puts me off them.
My votes: 1 – Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel. 2 – Elaine Paige & Barbara Dickson. 3 – The Kinks. 4 – U2. 5 – Celine Dion.
Celine aside, this is an excellent selection – easily the best of the week – which only seems right and proper when you’re dealing with the elevated territory of the Number Ones. I’m also quite pleased with the segues on this one, even if the medley does cut off abruptly at the end (the mixing software can be a bit temperamental at times). Why, even K enjoyed listening for once…
Over to you. As you can see below, it’s neck and neck for both first and last positions, so vote carefully. I hope you’ve enjoyed participating as much as I’ve enjoyed putting the whole thing together.
Voting for all selections remains open until Friday night.
I’ll be announcing the winners over the weekend.
Running totals so far – Number 1s.
1975 – Make Me Smile (Come Up And See Me) – Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel (142)
- You said it: utter classic. Even for me (I was 2 years old at the time), from hearing it on oldies stations. Oooooh lalala. (KoenS)
- One great big snarl of a song, made even greater now you’ve pointed out just how catty and cynical it really is. Love the way you’re singing along and waving your arms in the air, thinking you know precisely where it’s going, and then it surprises you and catches you out with one of those just a quarter-second too-long breaks in the beat. Class. (Nigel)
- The ooh la la las bring Powderfinger to mind. A lovely song; no beef at all with his Dylanny vowels; like the rudeness on TOTP (“are you CHEWING, boy?”); my friend claims to be his cousin; one of the tracks you’re always glad to see on covermount CDs with stupid weekend papers. (Alan Connor)
- Nothing grabs the attention better than a good pause. (djg)
- I heard a story that the amazing guitar solo that Jim Cregan played at the first take was also played some intoxicated… to the extent that he couldn’t remember playing it the next day. Whatever…. amazing solo amazing song. (NiC)
- A classic, but not as good as the Duran Duran version, obviously. [Cough, splutter.] (Chig)
- in theory it’s a very poor song, but it has a certain je ne sais quoi, personality. (Gert)
- Never heard this before. It sounds like about a dozen others of its time, which isn’t a criticism. For me, it embodies a kind of jauntiness that’s missing today. (asta)
- another admission of bias: i know and love this song by the duran duran cover, their live version circa 84, when andy taylor had the wild hair and played his guitar accordingly. so, the original is always going to lack some teeth musically for me. another strike against it is due to duran duran again. they professed love for roxy music, who i didn’t know before then. the “street life” compilation was a nice little introduction. then i began to see where duran duran held their influences closely. and anyone else who sang even similarly to bryan ferry sounded terribly affected… hello, steve harley. (hedgerow)
- In the words of Randy Jackson, “it was a’ight, it was there, it was good, but I wasn’t feeling it dawg, it was just a’ight.”. Sorry Steve, you’ve been pwned by Celine tonight. (Barry)
1965: Tired Of Waiting For You – The Kinks (124)
- The best British band bar none, and Ray Davies the country’s most quintessentially English song-writer (without Ray Davies, no Morrissey, no Jarvis, no Britpop; well, that’s what I think anyway). Run-of-the-mill aural wallpaper all the same, this one, only enlivened by that twangy-twangy intro. If I was hearing it for the first time, without knowing any better, I’d wonder what all the fuss was about. (Nigel)
- No, not one of their best. But not bad either. Interesting drumming (why am i commenting on the drumming so much lately? I never even notice this usually). (KoenS)
- this also takes me back to the pub covers band but I always enjoyed drumming on this – classic beat group ‘roll round the kit’ on the first bridge (David Dubmill)
- This has such a great guitar/drum intro.. Hey let’s make it it the chorus. The rest of the song… so-so.. but great chorus. (asta)
- not their best tune, but still a top band (Simon H)
- It is technically good, well constructed, good harmonies. And boring. (Gert)
- Ultimately I find this to be rather tiresome. Perhaps that’s the intention? I prefer their upbeat snarling. (djg)
- I might not listen to The Kinks for another ten years. Maybe I’ll get them when I listen to them afresh. (Alan Connor)
- Looking back over all the selections in this poll, the 60’s Top Ten doesn’t really jump out at me. There are lots of songs from the other decades that I love far more than any of these 60’s songs. However, none of the ten 60’s tracks suck, whereas at least two or three songs from all of the other decades suck quite royally. If the 60’s end up winning, then it’s deserved because of the far greater consistency with these ten tracks. (Barry)
1985 – I Know Him So Well – Elaine Paige & Barbara Dickson (116)
- Well this is why I thought 1985 would walk this little exercise. This song, Dead Or Alive and King would all appear in my top 30 singles of all time. I loved Abba, my Mum loved Barbara Dickson, and I had my first boyfriend at around this time. (Christ! It’s 20 years!) And although I love the song if you take it seriously, the video of them on the moving walkways is SO FUNNY! Or is that a French & Saunders version that’s playing in my head?
(Trivia fact: My sister played the Elaine Paige role in the first amateur production of Chess, from which this song comes. Rowntree Theatre in York, since you ask. She was bloody good too.) (Chig)
- As this is the only one of the five (indeed of the fifty) that I have had on my MP3 player recently, I guess it has to go top. It’s unfortunate for the 1970s that there was nothing by Bjorn and Benny in the top 10 to help them. (Will)
- The Chess LP was one of the few decent ones there were in our music-starved home when I grew up, and I used to play it all the time. And it is a good song. (Simon)
- I have happy piano-bar memories of belting this out with drunken drag-queens back in the eighties, and that’s good enough for me. The only halfway-decent song from the musical mess that was Chess, but, even as such, so vastly over-orchestrated that it drowns out the true emotion of the song itself. However, as ever, it’s Dixon’s understated, vulnerable and melancholy delivery which makes this a classic for me, proving a perfect counterpoint to the Singing S***bag’s too-perfect and over-the-top histrionics. (Nigel)
- I like Tim Rice’s face, and his quiz books. A good treatment of that moment in a relationship, and fond memories of kids who were too tough for this song singin it on the way back from a school trip. My first taste of virtually-non-ironic celebration of something that’s a bit silly. (Alan Connor)
- I like the melody, like the voices. It’s the instrumental arrangement, the production, I have problems with. That electric guitar that starts to wail just as your clip of the song ends doesn’t bode well either. (KoenS)
- You can call them Auntie. You can wrap them up in a lovely story, but I still think this is rubbish and the fact that it seques so neatly into Celine is another mark against it as far as I’m concerned. (asta)
- I think I’m the only Canadian voting here (am I?). So there are some tracks on this poll that I’ve never heard, because they weren’t hits over here. With this song, I’m feeling the divide more than ever before — I’ve never heard, or heard of this song. And it was a #1 hit in ’85, during the years I had my ears glued to the radio every night?So while this was #1 in the UK, we had Foreigner’s “I Want To Know What Love Is” (according to the charts of 1050 CHUM AM, which I consider to be my mid-80’s authority on such matters). Phew. That’s one of my favourite songs of 1985. I would have been embarrassed had it been some crap like Corey Hart’s “Sunglasses At Night”, which inexplicably ruled the radio for a good chunk of the year. (Barry)
2005 – Sometimes You Can’t Make It On Your Own – U2 (101)
- A beautiful, powerful, serene tribute to his Dad, which made me tearful first time I heard it. The line ‘it’s you when I look in the mirror’ sends shivers through me. I know exactly what he means. (Chig)
- admission of bias: long term u2 fan. but, i was probably the only one who thinks “all that…” is one of their weakest albums and a serious step backward. but this song really did take me back when i first heard it. part of me was “it’s all the same stuff again!”, while another part of me was “damn, this is brilliant…” without knowing really why. i just kept on being moved by the song… then i heard the backstory, why bono wrote the song. damn. it all made sense. it’s all brilliant. (hedgerow)
- Too recent to be sure about this, generic U2 in a lot of ways, and I haven’t been a follower since after ‘Joshua Tree’ but certainly their best single in over a decade – touching lyric. Even Dymbellina likes this one. (Dymbel)
- This is the kind of thing that usually ends up buried on an album but which they are very good at. A return to form without a doubt! (Gordon)
- The best for a long time. I only saw U2 once… they were very spotty teenagers supporting Stiff Little Fingers in about ’78… they’ve done well! (NiC)
- (1st place) I don’t have any issues with U2. I have some with Bono, but not when he’s singing with the band. (asta)
- Maybe I’m mellowing with age, but Bono doesn’t grate nearly as much as he used to. (timothy)
- Slightly too bombastic bit a great tune nontheless. I don’t need to know about any dead dads though. Maybe he should’ve talked to him when he was alive rather than prostrating himself in my ears. (djg)
- Sounds like stuff from Joshua Tree sort of era. IS that good or bad? Should I get their album? Am I sure that I really care? (Gert)
- Listening to this, I’ve realised I can’t name you a single U2 song from the past twenty years (well, apart from that Pet Shop Boys thing), let alone whistle you one of their drones. There is, of course, a reason for this. And I have looked, really I have, but nowhere can I find a gaping hole in my life. Fantastically forgettable. (Nigel)
- I have the same long term animosity towards U2. I almost liked Vertigo but this reminds me of what I can’t stand about their back catalogue. (Will)
- I can’t abide that guitar, and they need to be punished for, well, for everything. (Alan Connor)
- ooh look – The Edge can play his one and only riff more slowly than normal (Simon H)
- Annoying and stupid. (Clare)
1995 – Think Twice – Celine Dion (42)
- I don’t think I’ve ever really liked anything she’s done, but I can tolerate this. We just HAD TO, when it was out, because it was on the radio all the time. I think this holds the record for the slowest climb to number one. It was like, for ever. (Chig)
- This was #1? I don’t think anyone in Canada even remembers this anymore. (Barry)
- Didn’t she once represent Switzerland in the Eurovision Song Contest?? I think they should have a rule like Yorkshire County Cricket Club where only folks born within the national boundary should be allowed to sing for their country. (Tina)
- I believe the bit about the bad shag. Vocal Stylings that could leave your hair curled. (timothy)
- Tee hee, this woman is silly. Oh no, sorry. Serious. She’s very serious. (Clare)
- Never liked the “serious”/”us” thing. (Alan Connor)
- This blends so well with Paige & Dickson, I found it hard to distinguish between them. (Stereoboard)
- Actually, that confused K earlier on.
“I don’t understand – why has it gone crap?” (mike)
- I feel so sorry for 1995. I loved 1995. But it was the indie music I loved it for and everyone knows that indie singles lose their credibility if they get higher than number 25. (Will)
- Before I read who it was I was thinking – this is really really really bad, quite possibly the worst of the entire 50 – and that is saying something. (Gert)
- This may actually be my Official Exact Bar-None Least Favourite Song of All Time. Powerballad, yes. With a horrendous guitar sound. Ms Dion torturing her vocal chords (and everyone within earshot in the process)… It’s the sound of a really bad hangover. Without any memories of the fun the night before. (KoenS)
- I loathe Celine Dion and all she represents. (djg)
- Does she have to receive any points at all? Can I just abstain from my 5th vote? (Simon H)
- Oh God. As a Canadian, and resident of Quebec, I’m really sorry world. No, really. (asta)
- “Ignore Once?” I’m prompted as I spell-check this comment. No, try and ignore till the very last syllable and chord of recorded time and beyond. (Nigel)
Decade scores so far (after 9 days).
1 (1) The 1980s (31) — Wasn’t it good! Oh so good!
2 (2) The 1960s (29) — Please don’t keep-a me waiting!
3 (5) The 1990s (28) — This is getting serious!
4 (4) The 1970s (26) — Maybe you’ll tarry for a while!
5 (3) The 2000s (23) — Don’t leave me here alone!