Yesterday evening, BBC2 screened the last ever edition of Top Of The Pops, a programme whose whole raison d’etre was to reflect the state of the current UK singles charts. Without wishing to get into the chicken-and-egg whys and wherefores of the situation (or else we’d be here all day), it is fair to say that as the British public’s general interest in keeping up with Top Of The Pops has declined, so has their interest in following the UK singles chart. Coupled with the decline (both in quality and significance) of Radio One’s weekly Top 40 countdown, and the scarcity of other opportunities for singles-based acts to perform on terrestrial TV, the whole notion of deriving any measure of continuing significance from the UK singles charts is looking increasingly quaint and dated.
Here on dear old Troubled Diva, where “quaint” and “dated” are far from dirty words, we plough on regardless of this Major Cultural Paradigm Shift. Here on dear old Troubled Diva, where The Charts Will Always Matter (and that’s a pledge), let us turn our minds instead to happier matters. It’s the Number Fives!
1976: Mamma Mia – Abba.
1986: How Will I Know – Whitney Houston.
1996: One Of Us – Joan Osborne.
2006: All Time Love – Will Young.
As well as marking my fourth birthday, February 1966 also marks the first time that the hits of the day started registering in my mind, and taking up residency in my long-term memory. Only “She Loves You” by The Beatles pre-dates this; my parents had it on a 45rpm single, and my father would sometimes get me to dance to it, vigorously shaking my non-existent “mop top” from side to side as I did so.
This cover of The Beatles’ “Michelle” by one-hit-wonders The Overlanders is the first single in our 1966 Top Ten which I recognise from back then – and it won’t be the last, either. I can remember singing along to it on the radio, probably encouraged to do so on account of the French portions of the lyric, as we would have had a French au pair staying with us at around that time. (Hence also my early familiarity with the nursery rhymes “Frere Jacques” and “Au Clair De La Lune”.)
As I didn’t properly encounter the original verson for a few more years to come, The Overlanders’ version is, for me, the definitive one. OK, so it’s more or less a straight note-for-note copy, no doubt conceived for the purpose of a quick cash-in – but we four-year-olds were never too hung up on “rockist” notions of “authenticity”.
However, now that I am forty-four, and possessed of a more sophisticated set of critical faculties (oh yes), I find myself having difficulties in evaluating this song. Do I mark it up for being a delightfully catchy and memorable little love song, or I mark it down for being an unimaginative carbon copy? What a conundrum, readers!
In the case of Abba‘s “Mamma Mia”, a different problem raises its head: namely, that it is almost impossible to say anything usefully informative or thought-provoking about such a well-worn classic. Because we all love Abba, don’t we?
Or are we sick of them yet? Niftily constructed and immaculately performed as it is, has continued exposure to this song (hell, they even made a musical out of it) dimmed our enthusiasm? Could we happily never hear it again? And even if that’s the case, then doesn’t “Mamma Mia” still deserve the string of maximum points which I’m expecting it to pick up?
Whitney Houston‘s second ever UK hit is one of those tunes which I’ve always enjoyed, but never quite loved. For me, it has always stood slightly in the shadow of Aretha Franklin’s stylistically similar “Who’s Zoomin’ Who” – a hit from only a month or so earlier, which shared the same producer (Narada Michael Walden). Nevertheless, this is good, solid stuff, which thankfully hasn’t yet been buggered around with by some clueless, witless dance act (although you sense its time will surely come).
Update: As Adrian‘s girlfriend rightly points out, “How Will I Know” has already been sampled, on LMC vs U2’s 2004 Number One hit “Take Me To The Clouds Above” (yes, the very same line). I stand corrected.
More conflicted emotions in the case of Joan Osborne, whose “One Of Us” is as palpably ridiculous as it is horribly enjoyable. Listening to it again for the first time in years, I got the giggles good and proper. Why did I buy it when it came out? What were we all thinking? What was Prince thinking, when he covered it a year later on the Emancipation album? But then again, this was a time when we thought that Alanis Morissette was an Important New Voice, that Tony Blair was a dynamic and progressive new force in British politics, and that Gary Barlow would enjoy the biggest solo success after the demise of Take That. Strange days indeed.
Hey, does anyone still remember Shayne Ward? You know, the one who won that TV talent show thingy? The one we were talking about this time last week? No? Anyone?
How very different from the continuing success of that other TV talent show survivor, the ever-likeable Will Young, who must now be fast approaching the status of Untouchable National Treasure. “All Time Love”, while admittedly slushy in the extreme, benefits from a essentially touching sincerity in its performance which poor young Master Ward has shown no signs of being capable of approaching. Honestly, this one makes me go right gooey inside! I must be getting soft in my old age.
My votes: Abba – 5 points. Will Young – 4 points. Whitney Houston – 3 points. Joan Osborne – 2 points. The Overlanders – 1 point.
A tough selection, this one – as I can happily live with all five of today’s songs, and how often can you say that?
Over to you. What’s your stance on Beatles cover versions? Has your Abba love withstood all the over-exposure? Does Whitney make you shimmy? Does Joan Osborne, like, make you really think about, like God and stuff? Or does dear old lovelorn Will make you want to knit him a nice boyfriend? Gosh, I can hardly wait to find out.