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

Yeesh, this heat. The fabled Long Hot Summer of 1976 has had nothing on the past couple of weeks. Which Decade Is Tops For Hots? No contest, mate.

K and I have taken to commuting from the cottage, which was built to cope with such extremes of temperature. Thick walls and small windows retain the warmth in the winter, and shut out the worst of the heat of the summer. Plus we have the use of the PDMG, which has reached maturity in its fourth year, and so has never looked better.

In stark contrast, our pressure cooker of a house in Nottingham has been rendered more or less uninhabitable. Yesterday evening, we lasted less than five minutes indoors, before grabbing some clean socks and pants, and heading for the A52.

Of course, the price to be paid for all this is the 50 minute drive there and back each day. But even that’s not without its benefits: the sweet relief of the in-car air-conditioning, and the fact that K is a captive audience for the Which Decade Is Tops For Pops? project. Our respective votes have been surprisingly at variance with each other this year – until today’s selection, which sees us more or less ad idem.

Will our unanimity prove to be universal? Well, let’s find out! Here come the Number Sevens!

1966: Love’s Just A Broken Heart – Cilla Black.
1976: Convoy – C.W. McCall.
1986: System Addict – Five Star.
1996: Do U Still – East 17.
2006: You Got The Love (New Voyager mix) – The Source featuring Candi Staton.
Listen to a short medley of all five songs.

In a break with tradition, I have let Cilla Black‘s section of the medley run on for much longer than usual, as a mere minute’s worth couldn’t possibly do justice to its gob-smacking over-the-topness. No, really, this is extraordinary. Each time that you think that the arrangement has reached saturation point, somebody cranks it up yet another notch, until you find yourself wanting to scream: “She’s already on full throttle, you fools! She can’t take any more pressure! She’s gonna BLOW, do you hear?”

I’ve said this before somewhere, but my God, the fads of the 1970s were weird at times. ClackersPet rocks. And Citizen’s Band Radio, or CB for short, with its ridculous slang: “Four on that, good buddy. What’s your twenty?”

Ever the craze-jumper (he was possibly the first person ever to send marketing spam out via Prestel, and I HELPED HIM DO IT, oh the SHAME), my father soon had a CB kit installed in the drawing room at home – only to lose interest in it after the first week, thus giving my step-sisters unfettered access to chat up truckers during the school holidays. (These days, there would be a public outcry.)

Anyway. Strange as it may seem today, the concept of lorry drivers talking to each other via interactive radio sets seemed deeply glamorous and progressive in February 1976, when C.W. McCall enthralled us all with his hillbilly proto-rap “Convoy”. Who could forget the tale of Big Ben, his “good buddy” Rubber Duck, and the “eleven long-haired friends of Jesus in a chartreuse micro-bus”? Why, they even made a film out of the song, starring sexy ole Kris Kristofferson. (Not to mention – and really, we mustn’tthe parody record “Convoy GB” by Laurie Lingo & The Dipsticks, which went Top Five in April 1976.) Truly, the past is another country.

Turning once again to February 1986, I find myself increasingly staggered at what a truly SHIT time for pop music this was – as exemplified by the distressing success of the joyless, lifeless, characterless bunch of performing androids known as Five Star. Hearing “System Addict” again, I am transported back to the first job I had after graduating, at a small software house on the edge of town – where I spent a year or so festering in quiet desperation, unable to comprehend that my university education had fetched me up in such dismal, alienating, intellect-free, and okay okay I admit it I admit it, un-cool surroundings.

A couple of desks away from me, the company’s sales guy spent many an afternoon cold-calling, trying to build on our impressive track record of supplying Bespoke Software Solutions to, inter alia, Western Europe’s largest manufacturer of nightie cases, and a factory in Long Eaton which made nothing but knicker elastic. When he wasn’t getting shitty with random P.A.’s who wouldn’t put him through to the managing director (honestly, the man’s telephone manner was appalling), the sales guy liked to sing to himself – invariably homing in on the one record in the current Top 40 which irritated me the most.

The sales guy loved “System Addict”. Because, you know, it was obviously about us, the IT professionals – hell, it was Our Anthem! After all, weren’t we all System Addicts ourselves, merrily bashing out our BASIC stock control packages on our dinky little networked micro-computers?

Twenty years on, this song still makes me shudder to my core. Which probably says more about me than it does about Five Star.

East 17, then – and I can hear your sighs from here. Oh God, lowest common denominator manufactured pop, yadda yadda yadda. Well, think again – because “Do U Still” really ain’t too shonky. It’s a close cousin of East 17’s other great pop/rap moment, “Deep” – leery, grimy, and yet sporting some rather fetching ensemble vocal work. East 17 were like the Take That who you could actually imagine having a quick-and-dirty shag with (probably down the alley behind the chip shop) and it’s their essential rough-arsedness which saves this track from production-line blandness.

I’ve wondered in previous years whether it is strictly fair to include re-issues in this survey, and there’s a strong argument which says I shouldn’t. Nevertheless, if a song is inside the Top Ten, then it can reasonably be said to represent the popular music of its time – and such is the case with the third re-issue of The Source featuring Candi Staton‘s “You Got The Love”.

This started life in 1986 as a fairly straightforward piece of cheerfully happy-clappy soul/gospel (I have the original 12-inch in the attic), before someone had the bright idea of slapping Candi Staton’s vocals over the instrumental track from Frankie Knuckles’ “Your Love” as a sort of early bootleg mash-up – thus bringing a whole new dimension to the original song, which shifted from major to minor and sounded a whole lot better for it. Result: a top ten hit in 1991.

Six years later, the “Now Voyager” mix, which plonked the same vocal over a brand new Massive Attack-esque trip hop backing track, took the song back into the top ten. This version returned to prominence in 2004, when it was played over the closing credits of the last ever episode of Sex And The City.

And then, for no reason that I know of, someone saw fit to re-jig the “Now Voyager” mix as the “New Voyager” mix (but so slightly that you can barely tell the difference), and to bung it out again in 2006. Based on their dismal peformance this week thus far, 2006 should be grateful for such small mercies – ‘cos this is GREAT.

My votes: The Source featuring Candi Staton – 5 points. Cilla Black – 4 points. C.W. McCall – 3 points. East 17 – 2 points. Five Star – 1 point.

Accumulating your votes from the first three days, the 1970s have taken an early lead, followed by an atypically strong showing from the 1990s. However, with the votes still open for all selections, anything could still happen.

Over to you. Have Cilla’s oxyacetalyne blowtorch pipes left scorch marks upon your soul? Does C.W. McCall make you feel like “chasing bear”, fer sure fer sure good buddy? Have Five Star got you tappity-tapping your keyboard in time with their futuristic rhythms? Or do you fancy a quicky knee-trembler with East 17? Or has Candi Staton got you all weepy as you recall the reunion of Carrie and Big, Oh My God like she SO deserved a little happiness in her life, and that Michael Barynshiwotsit was like SO OBVIOUSLY wrong for her? As “Dickie” from Big Brother 2006 might squeal: my box is all yours!

Running totals so far – Number 7s.
2006: You Got The Love (New Voyager mix) – The Source featuring Candi Staton. (135)

  • I still remember the first time I heard it and realised, instantly, that it was a classic. It was just.. different.. amidst all the house music. This mix isn’t too shoddy either. Super. Great. Smashing. (Gordon)
  • I’d give it 10 points if I could. I don’t care which version it is. Candi Stanton can sahng and this song is so life affirming and optimistic that it always gets me. (asta)
  • Classic. Chig drifts off with memories of Flesh nights at the Hacienda…. (Chig)
  • wipes the floor in any decade (diamond geezer)
  • OK, Candi has a great voice. I’d like to hear her record Cilla’s song. (Chris Black)
  • A great song survives being put through an unnecessary mincer. (PB Curtis)
  • 4 points – this despite my abhorrence of any mucking about with Massive Attack. Staton’sYoung Hearts Run Free is far superior, with Victim a close second. (Joe.My.God.)
  • The new backing isn’t as good as the Frankie Knuckles, but the vocals are still excellent. (Adrian)
  • So uplifting. Not as good as the 1991 version but remixes are the only way 2006 is going to get points. (Lucie)
  • I’m sat here listening to the original as I type because that’s all we wanted to do when listening to this. However it’s the only one that had me singing and swaying along – the best out of a very bad bunch! (Bryany)
  • This version just reminds me how much I like the other two versions (ignoring Candi’s original acapella version obviously) so it annoys me even though it’s still good. It’s a bit like seeing Goya’s pictures defaced by the Chapman brothers; there’s something good under there but I’d prefer it if it didn’t exist in this state. OK, that reference is a bit far-fetched; but i’ve had a couple of pints so it stands at this (and because I’m recording it, every future) moment in time. (David)
  • I didn’t especially like it first time round but in comparison to most of the stuff I’ve heard (10s, 9s, 8s and 7s) this has a refeshing sound. but I could really do without the idiot-dance stuff in the background. (Gert)
  • Brilliant song. Marked it down for the pointlessness of yet another very similar remix and rerelease. (Koen)
  • 2 points – just because it’s the legendary Candi Staton, but good grief, are we really back to bloody remixes? Remember all those Stars on 45 debacles and “great original with techno drums” {date} carbuncles? (Andy)
  • What the hell is the point. The original is a great soul record, but all that’s happened here is they’ve put a different beat on it. Yawn yawn. (Alan)
  • Is it destined to be re-issued every five years for eternity though? (betty)
  • A great feast of the two things that make me hate house music – unarpeggiated piano chords and over-reverberated wailing lady. Bury it deep. (Simon C)

1966: Love’s Just A Broken Heart – Cilla Black. (128)

  • The 60s dared where the 80s feared to tread, and this is a great example of that. At least experimentation that blows up in your face is memorable. For the other end of the spectrum, see Five Star. (PB Curtis)
  • Beautiful song. Never heard it before, and I immediately liked it from the first few bars. And then it builds, and -indeed- never stops building. Brilliant. (Koen)
  • Oh I say, I think Cilla simply must have top marks for her remarkably near-perfect diction. And for effort. (z)
  • 5 points – for classic Petula Clark-esque drama. (Joe.My.God.)
  • Stirring stuff – a hint of Brel? (Stereoboard)
  • I can’t remember ever having heard this before but as you said – extraordinary. (Hedgie)
  • It sounds as if Cilla is being led to the gallows and is giving us every note she’s got left. (asta)
  • No contest really. Not with this competition! The sound over Cilla being aurally teased to orgasm. (Andy)
  • Christ, the musical arrangement makes Muse seem restrained. The whole thing brings to mind the image of a kettle whistling away furiously on the hob with someone turning the heat up every now and again rather than down. (Ben)
  • Always understood the value of understatement, didn’t she? (betty)
  • I’m stunned, I’ve never heard this song in my life before. Remarkable over-the-top, maybe her finest hour. But still not very interesting. (Chris Black)
  • Nice, but feels a bit unfinished. (Simon C)
  • strained diva battles against orchestral whirlwind (diamond geezer)
  • Plinky-plink, plonky-plonk, plinky-plink, plonky-plonk. The planned key change was dropped for health and safety reasons. (Will)
  • I read Cilla Black and I say “No! Cilla!” I really can’t stand her voice – be it the little girlie stuff, the affected diction to hide the common-as-muck Scouse accent or the bit where she gets all butch. Or the screeching that passes as high notes. (Gert)
  • Well on my way to becoming a Mouser (that’s mock scouser, la) I’m trying to work out what part of Liverpool the young professional scouser sounds like she comes from and pulling me hur out in frustration. (dem)
  • When did Cilla have a plum in her mouth? (Bryany)
  • Can’t stand the woman – get those sinuses scraped luv! (Tina)
  • Fun… if your idea of fun is having two Black & Decker drills pierce your eardrums simultaneously. No better case for the existence of the Devil and his purchasing of souls is provided outside of David Hasselhoff’s career than in the case of the popularity of Cilla Black. (David)
  • Thanks to David I now have a hankering for Cilla and Carol to do a duet, just so they can release it as Black & Decker. (Will)
  • I think she should record hip-hop, beacuse I don’t get either. (Chris)

1976: Convoy – C.W. McCall. (107)

  • A cheesy classic, when this first came out it had us all talking this kind of guff in the playground and begging our mums and dads to buy us a CB Radio. Also for innovative use of the word “trucking”. (Alan)
  • We listened to this on a country tape we had in the car and sang along all the way to scotland (we were young then and stupid but I did like the lyrics – they’ve even got a bear in the air – marvellous. (Harriet)
  • My word, that camp chorus comes out of left field, doesn’t it? The verse reminds me of something – maybe Stan Ridgway’s Camouflage? (Will)
  • Sort-of started my Colt-truck-driver fantasies. (Chris)
  • The chorus is awful, but he does a pretty decent rap. Catchy. (Simon C)
  • I’m not proud of this and I’ve been forced into giving something that admittedly makes me smile but isn’t that great. 5 points because of the other tracks. (David)
  • Of course it’s crap but Convoy scores so high because it’s the first time in this year’s WDITFP that I was transported to my innocence and felt a genuine shiver down my spine and MDMA reminiscent warm scalp feeling. (dem)
  • Cheesy. Yes. Fun. YEEHAAAWWW (did the Muppets do this at some point?? That’s all I can picture..) (Gordon)
  • This played every radio station, everywhere, all day, for a year, in my memory. It was a tortured youth. I also hold it responsible for the spread of CB radios into suburban compact cars.–a fad that lasted five miinutes, thank god. Or–that’s a 10-4 fer sure, good buddy. (asta)
  • Not heard this in years, but it still pops into my head when stuck in traffic jams behind bloody caravans. (Simon H)
  • I preferred the British version, which I was given on my 10th birthday by my best friend Conor, who didn’t realise that the opening line ‘It was a foggy day on the sixth of May’ is about my birthday itself! Spooky, but true. (Chig)
  • My least favorite of all the CB radio hit songs. Anybody remember Johnny Cash’s One Piece At A Time? Or the hilariously tragic Teddy Bear by Red Sovine? By the way, I suggest hunting down the parody of Convoy , Rod Hart’s C.B. Savage in which he affects a lithping gay accent and tries to pick up truckers. (Joe.My.God.)
  • I wanted to make special mention, re: CW McCall, of slightly Cramps-esque trucker/rockabilly combo, Deadbolt. A bit of a one-note gag, but their track “The Mocker” requires inclusion in the CB genre. (PB Curtis)
  • A real historical curiosity. Not music at all really, as bemusingly funny now as it was then. (z)
  • Distractingly the underlying beat is the same as the Teletubbies theme tune. (Lucie)
  • Not as good as hearing CB enthusiasts on the VHF radio band though (mainly middle aged housewives saying “Bysie bye good buddoy!” in Cannock accents). (betty)
  • Gimmick songs are hideous, all of them. This made me cringe with embarassment when I was 11; the fact that it still does so testifies to its singular quality. (PB Curtis)
  • mercy’s sakes alive, looks like we’ve got us a rubber duck (diamond geezer)
  • Convoy is increasingly growing on me, but I’m still not sure what it reminds me of. Have dug out my copy of Camouflage and it wasn’t that. I’m wondering if it was, of all things, car ad from The Simpsons… (Will)

1986: System Addict – Five Star. (80)

  • Whereas all the other 7s feature something irritating, be it over-orchestration or hillbilly proto-rap, this is a simple, beautiful song. I have no qualms whatsoever about putting this first, and then I’m not even factoring in the antiquity value of songs from and about the early days of computing… (Simon C)
  • Was I the only preteen who wanted five star to be my brothers and sisters so I could join in their co-ordinated song and dance routines?? yeah, thought so. (Lucie)
  • I *love* this track and can’t believe how many of you slate it. I guess it must be because I’m a whole lot younger than most of you. (Oliver)
  • Unfair. You’re just being unfair. Just cos *your* memories of the time were horrible… I was 13/14, had just got a new walkman, and – a few weeks before “The Boy with the Thorn in his Side” would change my life forever, this was a damn fine song. Good as any other that week, anyway. (Koen)
  • Their strongest song, but it still sounds feeble. However, ‘boxes that go beep, little lights that leap’ just about sums up my computer knowledge, so I do have some empathy. (Chig)
  • I liked this at the time. This is no longer the time. (Gordon)
  • I feel dirty and used… and not in a good way. 3 points by default. Ew. (David)
  • just the wrong side of manufactured tweedom (diamond geezer)
  • I hate Five Star. End of. Although this is probably their most catchy/memorable tune. I probably won’t forgive you for reminding me of it. (Gert)
  • Urgh, I have nightmares about this band, eighties pap of the worst kind. (Alan)
  • As much fun as chewing Bacofoil. (betty)
  • The worst I’ve listened to so far this week. (z)
  • After listening to Candi and Cilla, I have to wonder if these people are even alive. (asta)
  • The sort of song Patrick Bateman would chainsaw people’s heads off to if he’d left his Huey Lewis & The News tape in the car. (Ben)

1996: Do U Still – East 17. (75)

  • mm, there is a certain appealingly underlying griminess there, isn’t there. (z)
  • I like the fact that that Brian guy kept getting into scraps in nightclubs! (Tina)
  • Lord forgive me for I have no choice but to award an excessive 3 points. At least they usually had a half decent chorus among the ‘wigger’ isms. (Andy)
  • Very reminiscent of Deep. Better without the rapping. (Will)
  • I’m still trying to understand how it is that I DON’T RECALL this song. I’ve astonished myself, but it doesn’t ring any bells. Me! And boybands! I must have spent early 1996 in a coma. (Chig)
  • They were probably the last of the boy bands to actually have some kind of character of their own before they all became completely faceless. (Alan)
  • They were always trying so hard to be cool and they so were not! (Bryany)
  • Not one of their best, but quite endearing for all that. (betty)
  • Bless them. They did their best, and it wasn’t always awful. This one is, though. (PB Curtis)
  • I quite liked East 17. But this is no “Stay” or “Deep”. (Koen)
  • They had some better material than this, didn’t they? The chorus is ok, but the rest is just awful. (Simon C)
  • Don’t remember ever hearing this. Not their worst moment but still shite. (Lucie)
  • Oh dear, white boys do rap. Formulaic. I’d given up boy bands by then. Actually, I never really did boy bands. (Gert)
  • proof that white boys should stick to singing and cut the rap (diamond geezer)
  • Awww, East 17 – my postcode for 20-odd years of my life! Those boys went to the same school as me, though they had already left by the time I went there to do my A levels… I remember the excitement when we first saw the video to “House of Love”, filmed around “The Stow” dog stadium. Walthamstow doesn’t get a lot of publicity y’know, funny that… (anxious)
  • All the way through East 17 all I could think of was ‘In me burberry in me burberry…’ (dem)
  • See these guys, they’re from my ‘hood / Feels bad to diss them though they’re no good (NiC)
  • Another song responsible for highly rating Five Star. Five Star are best summed up by someone ringing up children’s TV to ask them why they were so shit. No, this isn’t production-line pop… it’s home made cake that no-one wants at a school fete. It reminds you that mass-production can work on occasions. (David)
  • It’s not that it’s bad, it’s that it’s really REALLY bad. (Gordon)
  • No wonder Brian Harvey tried to run himself over. (Ben)
Decade scores so far (after 3 days).
1. The 1970s (13) — I’m just a love machine!
2. The 1990s (10) — I vont to get high but I neffer know vye!
3= The 1980s (9) — And when the electricity starts to flow, the fuse that’s on my sanity’s got to blow!
5. The 2000s (4) — Cock it and pull it!

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