Which Decade Is Tops For Pops? – Year 4 – the Number Nines.

Before we start: two important reminders.

1. Voting will remain open for all songs until the end of the fortnight, i.e. just before the final totals are tallied. So if you’re late to the party, or if you miss a few days and need to play catch-up, then sweat not.

2. When casting your votes, do try not to be swayed by nostalgia for your youth, or by familiarity with some songs over others. We’re looking for a reasonable degree of objectivity here – after all, this is AN IMPORTANT SOCIO-CULTURAL SURVEY, the results of which might have IMPORTANT IMPLICATIONS for the advancement of HUMAN KNOWLEDGE. Oh yes. And anyway, if everyone keeps automatically voting for the 1970s and 1980s, it just gets boring, doesn’t it?

With that in mind, let us crack on with… the Number Nines.

1966: Tomorrow – Sandie Shaw.
1976: We Do It – R & J Stone.
1986: Living In America – James Brown.
1996: Slight Return – The Bluetones.
2006: Say Say Say (Waiting 4 U) – Hi_Tack.
Listen to a short medley of all five songs.

And straight away, I’m having the same difficulties wih Sandie Shaw as I did yesterday with Pinkerton’s Assorted Colours. “Tomorrow” has many admirable qualities – but nevertheless, it remains low on impact. Or, as we IT types would have it: stickiness. Or, as common parlance would have it: it goes in one ear and out the other. During the preparatory stages of the “project”, I have played this many times over – and yet, I don’t think I have ever managed to sustain full concentration throughout. What emotion is Sandie trying to convey here?

OK, look, I’ll give it one more shot. Bear with me as I stick my headphones on.

Ah. Got it. This is all about the apprehension of a cheating girlfriend, preparing herself to break things off with her hapless cheatee. Which could make for a gripping mini-drama, but there’s a prosaic flatness to the verses which doesn’t quite come off, despite all of Sandie’s best efforts. Still, nice triplets and all that.

“Tomorrow” was also Sandie’s sixth Top Ten hit in less than 18 months. However, her initial flush of success was about to come to an end. Following a #14 position with her next single, and two consecutive #32s with the two after that, there was nothing for it but to take a deep breath, hold her nose, and submit herself to the indignities of “Puppet On A String” – which gave her a third Number One, but also finished her off as a credible hit-making artiste. Cast in this light, maybe the weaknesses of “Tomorrow” showed the writing on the wall.

Oh Lord. Now, what was I just saying about maintaining objectivity? Because in the case of R & J Stone‘s syrupy yet soulful love duet, which I hadn’t heard for the thick end of thirty years, all my objectivity goes flying out of the window. Why? Because the boy I loved at the time – madly, yet hopelessly – loved this song, and bought a copy, and played it during morning break times on the gramophone in our school common room, and so hearing this all over again brought back such strong memories of the sweet yet searing pain which I felt so keenly, because of course we never “did” it, because I never dared make my feelings known, and so the song both reflected and mocked my overblown romantic idealism, and…

…and exhale. Oh dear. The thing is: after all the obvious hits of the time have been exhumed and re-played and re-purchased and downloaded onto your iPod, thus draining them of most of their personal resonance, then all you have left are the minor hits – and so it’s often the musical also-rans of any era which end up sabotaging the emotions in this way. Except, this doesn’t sound to me like an also-ran. On the contrary, it’s quite swoonsomely lovely and stirring, and deserves to be listened to in full. (Unfortunately, and scandalously, it doesn’t appear to be available on CD.)

Oh, and one other thing: in its day, “We Do It” was thought to be really rather scandalous and risqué – presumably because a 1970s Britain which had been weaned on the light comedic smut of Benny Hill and the Carry On team couldn’t quite cope with the profound erotic resonances of the expression “do it”. (“Every night, every day, every possible way”… oo-er missus.) In fact, I even remember a hand-wringing think-piece in the Daily Mail, which claimed that the UK singles charts were sinking into a mire of filth, on account of this song, “Squeeze Box” by The Who, and Donna Summer’s “Love To Love You Baby”. Well, honestly. Such innocent times.

I dare say that James Brown‘s “Living In America” will pick up a fair few votes – but for me, it has always been a bit of a dud. Yes, of course his 1960s and especially early-to-mid 1970s work was classic classic classic all the way, and of course it was good to have him back after so long – but, if you’re going to try to re-create your classic funky sound, then why employ Dan “Instant Bloody Replay” Hartman to do it for you? It just all sounds so air-brushed, so ersatz, so hollow – so typically bloody mid-1980s, in fact. But played on the tinny laptop speakers last night, with the nasty hi-gloss sheen all but obliterated, I have to confess it sounded OK. Which will be why my partner K gave it 5 points, while I only gave it 2.

Eek, more instant nostalgia: it’s Britpop’s fabulous Bluetones, with easily their finest hour. OK, so it’s three parts Stone Roses to three parts Lloyd Cole, sprinkled with a little bit of Aztec Camera’s “Oblivious”, with weedy vocals and inconsequentially lumbering lyrics, and who remembers the band’s three other Top Ten hits nowadays (Cut Some Rug? Marblehead Johnson? Solomon Bites The Worm? No, thought not) – but come on, this was their moment in the sun, and despite all the above: IT WORKS.

About the only positive thing you can say about Hi_Tack is that at least they had the good grace to take the piss out of themselves – for high tack this most certainly is. A bog-standard Ministry Of Sound Dance Anthems Part 94 club-throb backing is pasted beneath some samples of an old Paul McCartney & Michael Jackson hit which was never much cop in the first place, all of which provokes the simple reaction: why did they bother?

(Answer: for the same reason that they colluded in similar pointless “desecrations” of Rockwell’s “Somebody’s Watching Me” and “Message In A Bottle” by The Police.)

Googling tells me that the chaps behind Hi_Tack were also responsible for one of my all-time most loathed dance tracks: “The Launch”, by DJ Jean. (Don’t remember it? Lucky old you.) And that concludes the case for the prosecution.

My votes: R & J Stone – 5 points. Bluetones – 4 points. Sandie Shaw – 3 points. James Brown – 2 points. Hi_Tack – 1 point.

So. Will Sandie stir you? Will R & J Stone make you swoon? Will the Godfather Of Soul make you get up offa that thang? Will The Bluetones get you misty-eyed for the days of TFI Friday and your local indie disco? Or will – heaven forfend – Hi-Tack make you wish it was Friday night down your local Ritzys?

Over to you. Favourites first, least favourites last, comments welcome, you know the drill.

Running totals so far – Number 9s.
1996: Slight Return – The Bluetones. (148)

  • Modern classic. Forever brilliant. Song of our time. Etc. Etc. It was just “right”. Of the time? Yes. But still demands your attention today. (Gordon)
  • I love the indie music of 1995 and 1996 and was terribly disappointed at having to put the Number 10 track from 1996 bottom, so I’m delighted to be able to rectify that today. I do remember Cut Some Rug, Solomon Bites The Worm and, particularly, the marvellous Marblehead Johnson. If… was a great Bluetones track too. As was Bluetonic. And Mark Morris has a lovely voice. OK, I sound like the Bluetones Police. (Will)
  • A highly underrated band who went almost unnoticed at the arse end of the “Britpop” scene but deserved to be a lot bigger than they were. (Alan)
  • “You don’t have to have the solution, you’ve got to understand the problem” has been my number one guideline the past few years (doing PhD research), and I always get a bit teary at the end with the final “I’m coming home”. Save this from the anti-Britpop reformation, please. (Koen)
  • Sing along, toe-tapping wonderfulness (Bryany)
  • blessed by simple timeless charm (diamond geezer)
  • Aah, a cheerful jangly memory (Andy)
  • hooray for jangly indie guitars (Lucie)
  • had forgotten how much I liked this song (Tina)
  • Indie boy guitar takes up a fair chunk of my music collection, although I don’t think I’ve got this track, so it’s a refreshing return to hear it. (Adrian)
  • I’m surprised I don’t know this, because I basically really liked this whole genre back in the mid 90s and still do now; after a while the metrosexual girly boy voice and twanging guitars can get too much but it’s a thoughtful song and he has a pleasant voice, and can sing. Can’t really distinguish the words on my lappy. (Gert)
  • I was very happy in Feb 1996 – I had a boyfriend! – and this brings back good memories. (Chig)
  • Rises above the baleful influence of Roger McGuinn (or more probably REM, at that time) with some sloppy funky drumming. (PB Curtis)
  • Not my cup of tea, but I’ll admit it has some merit. (Simon C)
  • indie wiffle. yawn. (asta)
  • 1 point – for being and representing everything I hated about Britpop. The Bluetones were (and still are) a tedious say-nothing do-nothing waste of space. It’s not so much that the world would have been a better place without them that no-one would have noticed. (Ben)

1986: Living In America – James Brown. (121)

  • The Godfather of Soul. Dan Hartman aside, if you turn up the bass on this it’s STILL thumpingly good. And come on, NO-ONE can “AAAOOOWWWW” like JB. (Gordon)
  • The Godfather doing what he does best, maybe not the best he had ever done it, but still better than everybody else. (Alan)
  • Barrelling down the open highway on a bright summer day. Yes, we still sometimes get an open highway with nary a cop in sight. (asta)
  • While I’m no big fan of the man, at least this song has some things that the others lack. Quality and some kind of purpose, I guess. (Simon C)
  • It’s the only one I really know, but, considering that this is the chart from a couple of weeks after I got a seriously gorgeous stereo for my 18th, you’d think I’d appreciate it more – too synthetic for that style of music. (Gert)
  • Happy memories of student discos (with me DJing and playing this). (Chig)
  • I always skip this on my James Brown’s greatest hits CD, because it isn’t a patch on his earlier stuff. However, that means I’ve not listened to it in an age, and it’s not as bad as I remembered. (Adrian)
  • The chorus is OK but I don’t like Brown’s vocal style. I suspect that’s tantamount to heresy in some parts. (Will)
  • only my over-familiarity breeds acceptance (diamond geezer)
  • Marred by the 80’s-ness of it all (Andy)
  • catchy but unmemorable, must be the only track of his that is (Tina)
  • airbrushed 80s awfulness (Ben)
  • Still as soulless and manufactured sounding as I recall. (NiC)
  • With synth drums. NO NO NO NO NO. That’s like Hendrix playing the banjo. Worst thing he ever did, by a long long long way. (PB Curtis)

1976: We Do It – R & J Stone. (106)

  • Top chorus. Look – it modulates, for fun! Easily the best of the bunch. (PB Curtis)
  • Wow! Never heard (of) it before, and it’s gor-gee-us! Syrupy soul is very much my thing these days, and this is an excellent example. (Koen)
  • There’s a bit of feeling here (no pun intended) so it scrapes in first. (Chris Black)
  • I can see the bell bottoms and Dorothy Hamill bobs from here. I have no idea what these performers looked like, but that’s how they sound. (asta)
  • That sounded much better than I recalled. Rather good in a syrupy way. Maybe I’m getting old. (NiC)
  • I didn’t realise I knew this ’til the chorus, and it’s fun in a cheesy way. (Adrian)
  • abhor the verse, adore the chorus (diamond geezer)
  • Possibly the blandest verse of all, if it cut straight to the chorus and stayed there it’d be a Eurovision contender, or something, dunno really. Forgettable. (Andy)
  • To a nine year old, this just seemed smutty, and therefore embarrassing. I can’t get past the slightly uncomfortable feeling that it still brings back. Sorry. (Chig)
  • ne of those records I’d completely forgotten about until I heard it – sub Saturday Night Fever pap with a soul diva who apparently couldn’t sing very well. Very bland. (Alan)
  • I love a good ‘diva’ ballad. Pity this isn’t one. (Gordon)
  • syruppy gloop but partly redeemed by a halfway-decent chorus (Ben)
  • I liked this at first, but it got steadily stickier until I waded in treacle. (z)
  • cheese in extremis (Tina)
  • Started off promising but as soon as she went into that pre-menstrual squawking that masquerades as emotion, ooh no, my ears are bleeding. And if I wanted Bee Gees on backing vocals, I’d get the Bee Gees proper. (Gert)

1966: Tomorrow – Sandie Shaw. (100)

  • Sandie Shaw is always worth a point-boost for having a proper distinguishable torchy voice. And although very clearly Sixties, it manages to avoid being too formulaic. (Gert)
  • Sandie’s greatest hits are much played around Chig Mansions and we’ve always loved this one. (Chig)
  • It’s as forgettable and formulaic as Pinkerton’s Assorted Colours, but pleasant enough while you’re actually listening. (Will)
  • You were being a bit unfair I think in your blurb, I *do* get the gripping mini-drama, maybe even because of the matter-of-factness of the verses. (Koen)
  • First record I ever bought was “Girl don’t come” (at the same time as Gene Pitney “24 hours from Tulsa” – 1965 I guess. (Tina)
  • Very typical track for Miss Shaw, nothing spectacular but she knew her audience and gave them what they wanted. (Alan)
  • God, it’s that thumpa thumpa beat AGAIN! What IS IT with the 60s? Or, more specifically, where is all the good stuff? (Gordon)
  • I really can’t stand her voice. The melody isn’t interesting enough to be memorable. (asta)
  • That juxtaposition of sweetness and nasal yow-yowness hurt my teeth. I really wanted to put her last as she could do so much better than that, but Hi Tack were just too awful. (z)
  • Sez you: who’s this squawking Sandie Shaw wannabe, is what I want to know. Rubbish. (PB Curtis)
  • alas, so very yesterday (diamond geezer)
  • …proving the 60s had gold plated shite as well. (Chris)

2006: Say Say Say (Waiting 4 U) – Hi_Tack. (65)

  • A bit of energy overcomes the other weaknesses. (Chris Black)
  • It IS a good dance tune, even if it was probably very easy to make. (Chig)
  • The better elements are entirely down to the original. I’m not a fan of dancifying old tracks and this is tedious. (Will)
  • “Best disco groove collection #34”-fodder. (Simon C)
  • Of course I remember the original, and I do wonder what creative processes went into making this. “Hmm, we have a mediocre McCartney song, let’s arrange it and call it a piece of art and get the suckers to buy it.” I prefer it to that ghastly one from the 70s, but what strikes me is that 60s-90s, if they were played in a pub, as long as they weren’t too loud, it wouldn’t intrude, but this one could never be played to relax yet some twunting tosser will no doubt play it in a pub because he’s too stupid to understand the effect music has on punters. (Gert)
  • Pish. Such people shouldn’t be allowed near a mixing desk. (Lucie)
  • Crap version of a crap song. Some record exec needs a slap. (Andy)
  • All I can think to say is, what the hell is the point in this record? Electronic dance music fodder of the worst kind. (Alan)
  • This sounds like a deathknell, like a social inept embarassing would-be peers by saying the things they’re Just Too Cool to say themselves: “Yeah! Me too! I totally take drugs, I think they’re brilliant, they way they make your head go MAD WOOOOOO. Yeah. Er. Mad.” Goodbye, This Type Of Music: I never really knew what to call you anyway. (PB Curtis)
  • a ghastly talentless remash (diamond geezer)
  • what a mess. (asta)
  • I cheated, I’m typing this as your preview plays and I’ve ALREADY got Hi_Tack in 5th, despite not even knowing what it sounds like. Ohh it’s just started. Ohh god.. *skips track* (Gordon)

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