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.
Continue reading “Which Decade is Tops for Pops? (10/10) – 2005 edition.”