Which decade is Tops for Pops? – the results.

3rd place – The 1970s. (30 points)

Last year: 2nd place, 31 points.
Two year ago: 1st place, 35 points + 1 tiebreak point.

10: Black Superman – Johnny Wakelin. 5th place, 1 point, least popular.
9: Footsee – Wigan’s Chosen Few. 4th place, 2 points.
8: Angie Baby – Helen Reddy. 1st place, 5 points, most popular.
7: Shame Shame Shame – Shirley & Company. 1st place, 5 points.
6: Goodbye My Love – The Glitter Band. 4th place, 2 points.
5: The Secrets That You Keep – Mud. 3rd place, 3 points.
4: Sugar Candy Kisses – Mac & Katie Kissoon. 3rd place, 3 points.
3: Please Mr. Postman – The Carpenters. 4th place, 2 points.
2: January – Pilot. 4th place, 2 points.
1: Make Me Smile (Come Up And See Me) – Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel. 1st place, 5 points.

As the 1970s slowly slips from first to second to third place, so does any sense of purpose and direction about its pop music. Take away the three undeniable classics from Steve Harley, Helen Reddy and Shirley & Company – distinctive, unique, pushing at the edges of their genres – and you’re left with seven rather ploppy, soppy pieces of feather-light inconsequence. The relative paucity of your comments on songs such as Sugar Candy Kisses and January says it all: with nothing much to love or to hate, your overall reaction was a resounding “so what”.

Not a great year, 1975. With glam-rock all played out and disco still finding its feet, 1975 was the year when the Bay City Rollers went stratospheric, while an ever more pompous and facile prog-rock emerged from the underground, smoothed over its trippier edges, and started shifting serious units in the album charts. Snobbery was rampant. Albums were “serious”, singles were “for kids”, and the divide between the two had never been greater. Even as a 13-year old at the time, I felt that the singles charts were getting a bit beneath me. Who still needed Mud and The Glitter Band when you had Roger Dean gatefold sleeves and Rick Wakeman performing The Myths And Legends Of King Arthur on ice?

With the singles chart regularly being denounced by the more haughty members of the then all-powerful music press, a paradigm shift was badly needed. Luckily, we got two, as the combined forces of punk/new wave and disco eventually pulled the Top 40 out of the mire during 1978, thus restoring some measure of legitimacy to the form. As for poor little 1975, the session men had well and truly taken over the asylum.

Which decade is Tops for Pops? – the results.

4th place – The 2000s. (27 points)

Last year: 5th place, 26 points.
Two years ago: 4th place, 27 points.

10: Goodies – Ciara featuring Petey Pablo. 3rd place, 3 points.
9: Galvanise – Chemical Brothers. 2nd place, 4 points.
8: Only U – Ashanti. 3rd place, 3 points.
7: Angel Eyes – Raghav. 3rd place, 3 points.
6: Black & White Town – Doves. 2nd place, 4 points, most popular.
5: Almost Here – Brian McFadden & Delta Goodrem. 5th place, 1 point, least popular.
4: Soldier – Destiny’s Child. 4th place, 2 points.
3: Like Toy Soldiers – Eminem. 2nd place, 4 points.
2: Wooden Heart – Elvis Presley. 5th place, 1 point.
1: Sometimes You Can’t Make It On Your Own – U2. 4th place, 2 points.

Time and again when totting up the voting, I see the same divide: while first, second and third places are shared between the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, it always seems to be the two most recent decades which are left scrapping for fourth and fifth places. And so it is with the final scores, as the 1990s and 2000s occupy the back positions for the third year running.

At least the 2000s had their brief moment of glory this year, as respectably consistent placings for Ciara, The Chemical Brothers, Ashanti, Raghav and the Doves combined to put the decade in the lead for one day only. However, this good early start was swiftly demolished by a catastrophic run in the top five, with two fourth places and two fifth places sending the Noughties into an irreversible free-fall.

This time round, I think that the present decade has been sorely hard done by. A couple of glaring horrors (Brian McFadden, Destiny’s Child) and a pointless re-issue (Elvis Presley) aside, this was as strong a Top Ten as we could reasonably have wished for. Bold, tough, futuristic R&B from Ciara and Ashanti, which simply couldn’t have been conceived of ten years earlier. Solid, above-par offerings from “proper music” stalwarts (Doves, U2). Interesting blends of Western and Eastern styles from Raghav and the Chemical Brothers. Eminem back on form with the arresting “Like Toy Soldiers”, which at least forces you to form an opinion on it. Come on, this was hardly a shonky selection! Compared with the strained, over-sexualised fakery of most of last year’s Top Ten, we’re practically living in a Golden Age!

Nevertheless, you have spoken decisively. This modern pop, she is not for you; and even when you do show an interest, it rarely converts to passion. (This is the only decade which failed to score a first place on any of the ten days.)

There’s little point in pretending that this isn’t generational, either. Of course most of you will always opt for the music of your own youth, with all of its accumulated personal resonances. So next year, I’m going to do what I can to draft in some bona fide Young People, to see whether they draw the same conclusions.

We said we’d never let this happen to us, didn’t we? Yeah, whatever.

Which decade is Tops for Pops? – the results.

5th place – The 1990s. (26 points)

Last year: 4th place, 27 points.
Two years ago: 5th place, 25 points.

10: Don’t Give Me Your Life – Alex Party. 4th place, 2 points.
9: Reach Up – Perfecto Allstarz. 1st place, 5 points.
8: Total Eclipse Of The Heart – Nicki French. 4th place, 2 points.
7: Run Away – MC Sar & The Real McCoy. 4th place, 2 points.
6: Here Comes The Hotstepper – Ini Kamoze. 3rd place, 3 points.
5: I’ve Got A Little Something For You – MN8. 4th place, 2 points.
4: Cotton Eye Joe – Rednex. 5th place, 1 point.
3: Set You Free – N-Trance. 3rd place, 3 points.
2: No More I Love You’s – Annie Lennox. 1st place, 5 points, most popular.
1: Think Twice – Celine Dion. 5th place, 1 point, least popular.

I never was much good at making predictions. Witness this piece of misplaced optimism, from last year’s results:

The glories of the Britpop years were just about to begin. Had our sample been taken from the Top 10s of 1995, 1996 or 1997, I suspect that the 1990s would have placed a lot higher than fourth.

How wrong can you be? In a year which is chiefly remembered for the twin mass movements of Britpop and Dance, 1995 is instead represented by a rag-bag of cheesy commercial dance hits which bear little relationship to what was being “dropped” in “credible” clubs of the time. Some (N-Trance, Perfecto Allstarz) have worn well. Others (Alex Party, The Real McCoy) less so. Most feature that essential accessory of the era, the wailing disco diva – as ubiquitous then as Mariah-esque cadenza trills and Enrique-style potty-strain grunts are now.

This isn’t just a freak result from an atypical week, either. In the recent 1000 UK Number Ones poll which I hosted at I Love Music, no hits between 1992 and 1996 charted in the Top 100. By contrast, at least one hit charted from every other year between 1962 and 2004. There’s no denying it any longer: something went very wrong with chart pop in the early-to-middle 1990s.

Or maybe we’re all just trapped in the traditional cycle of popular taste, where thirty years ago equals classic, twenty years ago equals cool, and ten years ago equals stale/boring/hideous. Whilst it’s difficult to imagine MN8 ever being elevated to “cool”, or Nicki French being elevated to “classic”, perhaps we should let the perspective of another ten years settle before making our final damning judgement.

Which Decade Is Tops For Pops: polling stays open until Friday night.

It’s close.
It’s really close.
My God, is it ever close.

With polling still open for all ten selections, a flurry of late votes have been sending our five hopeful decades yoyo-ing all over the shop. The key battleground is for first position, with the 1980s and 1960s slugging it out in a truly epic catfight.

At the time of writing, an outright victory for the 1960s – while still possible – is the least likely outcome. Instead, we are looking at either a one point victory for the 1980s, or else a tied first position.

As veterans from 2003 will know, a tied first position will result in a bonus tie-break round. If this happens, then I’ll be pitching the Top Three for August 17th 1965 against the Top Three for August 17th 1985, i.e. six months after my birthday. After listening to all six songs, you will be asked to place them in order of preference, with points awarded in the usual manner. The decade with the highest number of points will then be the ultimate winner.

Some time on Saturday, I’ll either be announcing the winner or posting the tie-break round. In the meantime, you can catch up with last-minute voting using the handy one-click guide below, complete with information on this year’s Key Marginals.

10: Moody Blues, Johnny Wakelin, Prince, Alex Party, Ciara.
With Prince and the Moody Blues way ahead of the pack, the main battle here is between Alex Party (1990s) and Ciara (2000s).
9: Ivy League, Wigan’s Chosen Few, Commodores, Perfecto Allstarz, Chemical Brothers.
With the Perfecto Allstarz (1990s) and the Chemical Brothers (2000s) still vying for first place, the Key Marginal here is Wigan’s Chosen Few (1970s) versus The Commodores (1980s). The Commodores need to maintain their small lead in order to keep the 1980s in the game.
8: Manfred Mann, Helen Reddy, Art Of Noise, Nicki French, Ashanti.
Helen Reddy is streets ahead in first position. However, another Key Marginal for the 1980s sees the Art Of Noise struggling to maintain a narrow lead over Ashanti (2000s).
7: Val Doonican, Shirley & Company, Kirsty MacColl, MC Sar & The Real McCoy, Raghav.
The Key Marginal here has Kirsty MacColl (1980s) snapping at the heels of Shirley & Company (1970s) in a bid to take over first position. Meanwhile, there is very little to separate The Real McCoy (1990s) from Raghav (2000s).
6: The Animals, Glitter Band, Howard Jones, Ini Kamoze, Doves..
The first Key Marginal for the 1960s has current leaders The Animals defending a strong challenge from Doves (2000s). Below them, there is almost nothing separating The Glitter Band (1970s) from Ini Kamoze (1990s).
5: Wayne Fontana & The Mindbenders, Mud, Dead Or Alive, MN8, Brian McFadden & Delta Goodrem.
The most settled of all the rounds, with a comfortable distance between all five positions. Dead Or Alive (1980s) lead the pack, with the largest share of the vote of any of this year’s songs.
4: Del Shannon, Mac & Katie Kissoon, Bruce Springsteen, Rednex, Destiny’s Child.
Springsteen is way out in front, but Rednex (1990s) and Destiny’s Child (2000s) remain locked in mortal combat for fourth place, in the most tightly fought tussle of all.
3: Righteous Brothers, Carpenters, Ashford & Simpson, N-Trance, Eminem.
Good news for the 1960s, as The Righteous Brothers lead by a huge margin. Below them lies an epic four-way struggle, with only a few points separating second from fifth place. Representing the 1980s, Ashford & Simpson badly need to raise themselves from the bottom of the pack, in this most unpredictable of all the Key Marginals.
2: The Seekers, Pilot, King, Annie Lennox, Elvis Presley.
The only round to feature not one, but two Key Marginals. Wrestling for first place are Annie Lennox (1990s) and The Seekers (1960s). Below them, Pilot (1970s) and King (1980s) are wrestling just as hard. Only Elvis Presley (2000s) is out of the fray, trailing a long way behind in fifth place.
1: The Kinks, Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel, Elaine Paige & Barbara Dickson, Celine Dion, U2.
One thing is certain: with 21 fifth places out of 26 at the last count, and no placings higher than fourth, Celine Dion is set to go down in the Troubled Diva history books as by far and away the least popular constestant of the last three years, even beating Blazing Squad’s dismal score from 2003. At the top of the pile, Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel have cause for cautious optimism. But perched in mid-table, our two rival decades are pitched directly against each other in what is possibly the most crucial Key Marginal of them all. Which will it be? The Kinks (1960s) or Elaine Paige & Barbara Dickson (1980s)? As in all the best contests, it’s all resting on the final vote. What are Ladbrokes quoting, I wonder?

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

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.”