Clapped-out has-been? Who are you calling a clapped-out has-been?

nmagcovOh. Sorry. That was me, calling myself a clapped-out has-been. I think this is what is known as The Doctrine Of The Pre-Emptive Strike – otherwise known as Get In There First Before They Say It Back To You. As in life, so in blog. ‘Twas ever thus.

Anyway. Reassurance is at hand! The dear deluded fools at .net magazine (also rather confusingly known as Netmag) clearly don’t think I’m a clapped-out has-been at all. Instead, they – or to be more exact, Gary Marshall of Bigmouth Strikes Again – have seen fit to include Troubled Diva in a lengthy feature on 50 “great British blogs”. The article appears in the current issue, at all good newsagents now, hurry hurry while stocks etc. (This is what is known as Returning The Compliment.)

Alternatively, if all you want are the 50 links with no supporting commentary, the magazine has helpfully listed them all here. Some familiar names (Geezer, Duck, Boat, Twat), and plenty which are new to me.

Apparently, Troubled Diva is “achingly honest”. Hmm, wonder if this means they’ve found that old post about the Fist, the Screwdriver and the Spasm? (You’ll have to do your own searching; I’m wholesome family entertainment these days.)

Bonk-blogging, the whys and wherefores thereof.

Making her debut on Guardian Unlimited’s “Comment Is Free”, Anna writes an interesting piece about her reactions to sex-blogging, in which she posits the splendid idea of starting up a Bad Sex Blog, as some sort of necessary corrective. (via)

As my own perspective differs from Anna’s in certain areas, I left a large-ish comment explaining why. Since I buggered up the last paragraph with a typo, and since it bears extracting and repeating, here it is:

But, yes, you’re quite right to call people out on this tendency to over-idealise. And in any case, crap shags are far more interesting to read about than perfect shags, just as suffering makes for more interesting literature than happiness.

Sign of the times?

Now, here’s a thing. After watching Juana Molina’s enchanting performance at The Social last night (here’s my review), I went for a wee-wee in one of the lock-ups – only to discover, amongst all the other scratchings on the inside of the cubicle door, no less than three different Myspace URLs.

I do realise that, as an unusually far-sighted music venue, The Social can be something of an industry hang-out – but surely this brings micro-marketing to a whole new level of desperation?

(In retrospect, I do feel a little bit bad about describing Juana as “care-worn” and “ungainly”. If I’d broken three of my fingernails the previous day, and had to use superglue to stick them back on, then I’d be feeling pretty care-worn and ungainly myself.)

A proper grown-up album review, like what proper grown-up music critics write.

I have to tell you: my inaugural full-length album review for Stylus nearly did for me. African music’s a bugger to write about, as it’s a genre where, for once, I can actually switch off my over-analytical brain and simply luxuriate in the sound and the spirit of the thing. It’s my – it’s our – chill-out music, consumed for pure pleasure.

But to describe just why the new Ali Farka Touré album is such a masterpiece, without resorting to a load of tedious blah about ngoni techniques and kora tunings? Well, my darlings, that’s nigh-on impossible.

Still, I gave it my best shot – and here’s the outcome.

A solemn pledge.

Look, I haven’t actually stopped writing or anything… it’s just that most of my writing has been elsewhere. Oh, my poor, poor neglected blog, how far have you tumbled?

But, look, here’s a pledge: at least one post per day for the whole month of September, even if it’s just a short one. (Fat chance of that; brevity has never been my strongest suit.)

If I succeed, then I’ll mark the occasion by peeling away yet another layer of my mystique, by means of an inaugural vidcast. (First he writes! Then he speaks! Then he moves! Whatever next! No, not that!)

If I fail, then I shall change the name of this blog to Clapped-out Has-been. Just see if I won’t.

Wish me luck!

At home with Mike and K, part 94: How to make the perfect Melon Martini.

Gordon wanted to know K’s recipe for Melon Martini. Always happy to oblige! (Plus it’s a nice easy post for an indolent day off, the odd six-and-a-half mile hike notwithstanding.)

This will serve two people, with a modest top-up.

1 canteloupe, juiced. (Ah, yes. You do need a juicer.)
2 double measures of frozen vanilla vodka. (We use Finlandia.)

(You can always substitute gaia for canteloupe: it’s certainly good for body, but K prefers canteloupe for colour, and for the heady fragrance which it gives off.)

Place at least four or five ice cubes into a cocktail shaker.
Add the juice and the vodka.
Shake vigourously, in order to get a good foam on top.
Pour into two cocktail glasses. (Go on, all the way up to the rim.)

(Not that I’ll be enjoying one again in the immediate future, as I’ve just gone on the wagon for a short while. Mens sana in corpore sano, and all that.)

Groin strain moan.

Does everyone who works in an office get the same health and safety training videos that we do? You know, the ones where you’re so busy thinking…

  • Ooh, I wondered what had happened to Selina Scott. Fancy being reduced to this! Fame can be a fickle mistress…
  • Those fringed boots were a mistake. She’d never have got away with them on BBC Breakfast. That’s what happens when you lose the stylists, I guess.
  • His trousers want burning. I wouldn’t be seen dead with those sorts of creases round the crotch.
  • Got to be around, what, 1997? 1998? Hang on, that cerise Wallis-does-Prada jacket of hers has to push it on a good couple of years. I used to be so good at this! Has fashion homogenised, or have I just lost my antennae?
  • God, how did we cope with PCs like that? The size of them!
  • You’re not telling me she’s a professional actress. Look at the way she’s making that phone call, bless her.
  • There’s something about this which reminds me of porn. I keep thinking someone’s going to… eww, pimples!

…that you end up not paying the slightest bit of attention to the content?

(And in any case, how difficult can it be to lift a sodding cardboard box in the first place? Besides, I work in an office, not a warehouse, so it’s all completely irrelevant to my needs. You’d think they’d target these things a bit more precisely. Is it some sort of statutory requirement these days? Tsk, Nanny State Britain…)

Well, maybe – just maybe – if I’d paid a bit more attention to yesterday’s “Manual Handling” video (I know, I know, don’t set me off), I wouldn’t have ended up straining my groin while unloading the car last night, and this afternoon’s pruning session wouldn’t have left me in so much physical discomfort. Oh, the irony.

Still, Co-codamol helps. As does the melon martini which K has just this second handed me (that new juicer’s a godsend). And there’s dressed crab for later, straight off the back of the fish van an hour ago. And I’m not back at work until Tuesday, woo-hoo! Loving these four-day weekends that I’m taking all the way through August!

Bah. I never was much good at playing for sympathy. Well, have a good weekend. I certainly intend to.

Arbeit macht frei.

(Today, Joe asked his readers: What’s the worst job you ever had? This is an extended version of the answer I left in his comments.)

Aged 17, in the summer of 1979, I took a holiday job at a wholesale warehouse, back in the South Yorkshire town where I was born. Well, I say “took”, as if there were some element of choice in the matter; in actual fact, there was none.

Rather than have me loaf around at home for six weeks, my father decided that it would be “character-building” for me to step out into the “real world”, and so had a word with the bosses of the warehouse: two brothers, both the living embodiments of the puffed-up small town plutocrat. From their handlebar moustaches, cherry-wood pipes, watch-chains and waistcoats, to the cut-glass decanters of whisky in their offices and the mahogany veneer on the dashboards of their Bentleys, they could have stepped straight from a left-wing political cartoon of the 1920s. All they needed to complete the picture were little bags of cash piled up on their desks, each marked with a big pound sign.

The interview, with the warehouse’s kindly operational manager, was a mere formality. After no more than a couple of minutes, he beamed his congratulations. “You’ve got a job!” Fifteen pounds a week, start Monday.

Up until this point, I had never been burdened by much in the way of hard manual labour, as the soft folds of flesh on my palms would (and still do) testify. Indeed, I was more or less your classic lily-livered nine-stone wimp, with meekness to match. Whereas nowadays, I can generally laugh off my perpetually troubled relationship with the physical world (“I exist on a rarified cerebral plane!” “I’m an effete drawing-room fop!”), my exceptional lack of physical co-ordination and stamina was still a source of great self-consciousness and shame.

Nevertheless, I was greeted warmly by my new colleagues, most of whom were only three or four years older than me, when I joined them at the loading bay for crate-shifting duties. The work was tough, and my body never stopped aching from one day to the next – but I did my best, and my comparative lack of skill was accepted with no more than mildest of ribbings. (“How many O-levels did you say you had? Ten? Yeah, but I bet you can’t lift this crate – here, catch!”)

However, it was only a matter of time before word got out that I was “a friend of the boss” – which was hardly surprising, as the older of the two brothers frequently gave me a lift back to my father’s office at the end of the working day. In truth, I despised the man – and felt downright loathing towards his lazy, arrogant younger brother, with the scarlet face and the liver spots, who barely bothered to disguise the contempt he felt towards the men whose labours kept him in creature comforts. Since rank-pulling was all he had, he duly insulated himself with delusions of his own natural superiority, and strutted round the warehouse in a perpetual state of faux-patrician peevishness.

The contempt was, needless to say, mutual. It was also contagious. One by one, my former comrades gradually cold-shouldered me, their former good-natured joshing replaced by icy stares and silent, barely suppressed malice. Only the older men continued to treat me as before, their knee-jerk them-and-us mentalities tempered by observation and experience. Occasionally, one of them would take me aside and discreetly ask after my welfare. (“Some of these young ‘uns, they won’t understand.”)

I should have confronted the situation, of course – but my sense of disempowerment was total. Instead, I bit my lip and knuckled down, my already low self-esteem plummeting ever further.

Eventually – and presumably this was for my own well-being, and kindly meant – I was moved out of the loading bay, and taken to the larger and much quieter warehouse round the corner. There, I was given a small (and fairly blunt) hand scythe, with which to cut down the tall weeds that flanked the long entrance drive. The job took many days, and was mind-numbingly arduous. I particularly remember the younger brother standing over me as I struggled on the first morning, taking puffs on his pipe, and hissing into my ear: “Don’t let them see you’re a weakling.” Once again: them and us. I deeply resented being placed into the middle of this set of assumptions and perceptions, but continued to say nothing.

(What I wanted to do, more than anything else, was show solidarity with my fellow workers, to explain that I was no management stooge and no industrial spy, that I thought that their bosses were wankers just as much as they did, and that I hadn’t even wanted the shitty job in the first place. But you can see the potential pitfalls in that.)

There was one last humiliation in store. My step-sisters – who had their own reasons for despising me, but that’s a whole other story – had a friend whose boyfriend worked at the same warehouse. Word of my progress, or lack of it, filtered back, and was eventually, and with no small measure of relish, thrown in my face. (“You don’t do any real work. We’ve heard! You just sit in the garden all day!”)

Still saying nothing, I comforted myself only with thoughts of escape. Four months later, I seized my chance, never to return.

A few years later, I met the younger brother once again, at a formal dinner that was regularly staged by the self-styled intelligentsia of the local business community (no women admitted). My father had dragged me along, eager for the fifth generation of first sons to make his social debut, and had duly shoved me into an ill-fitting hired dinner suit, with a particularly rank frilled trim on the lapels.

“Monty, do you remember my son Michael?”

“Of course! We showed you how the other half live, didn’t we!”

I think I was supposed to thank him for his avuncular magnanimity, and for the valuable life lessons that he had bestowed upon me.

Oh, I had certainly learnt some lessons. But they weren’t the sort of lessons that anyone could teach, even if they had been minded to do so. And so I assumed an appropriately grateful expression, and smiled, and turned away as quickly as good manners would allow.

Stylus Singles Jukebox: Reductive Mimesis.

God, there must be a more interesting way of linking to this column every week than this. If it’s boring for you to read, then just think how boring it is for me to write. However, since part of Troubled Diva’s function is to serve as your One-Stop Portal for All Things Mike, link to it I must.

Things that are more interesting than the fact I’ve done another bunch of singles reviews by acts you’ve never heard of (*) :

1. Today is Madonna’s 48th birthday.

2. A new Primark store opened in Nottingham today, where the old Littlewoods used to be. Yesterday lunchtime when I walked past, there were throngs of people peering through the windows, ooh-ing and aah-ing at the super-low prices. That’s how exciting it gets round here.

3. K rang at lunchtime to tell me I’d been quoted in the Nottingham Evening Post a few days ago, moaning about the surly service in a local Indian restaurant. Which is a bit toe-curling, as said moan was blogged a few years ago, and I haven’t eaten there in even longer.

4. I’ve just only realised (although thinking about it, the connection is blindingly obvious) that a Nottingham pal from years ago is the force majeure behind that programme which goes out on Channel 4 on Friday nights, sandwiched between the two Big Brother shows. And he’s got a blog.

5. That new bicarbonate-of-soda jet-stream thingy which the dental hygienist used on me this morning: it might be a trifle messy, but DAMN does it shift the tobacco stains. Looking at me now, you’d never guess I was a guilty chuffer. Really, the thought of ruining that newly acquired gleam of confidence is enough to make me never want to smoke again.

6. If you wade through this week’s Stylus Singles Jukebox podcast, you will hear me use the term “reductive mimesis”, without any apparent irony. You know, one day the wind will change and I’ll get stuck in Pretentious Music Journalist Mode. Reductive bloody mimesis, I ask you! I want slapping for that.

7. I’m voting for Aisleyne. She’s real.

(*) Since you ask: Bela B featuring Charlotte Roche, David Guetta vs The Egg, Alesha, Da Buzz and The Spinto Band.

The “Can’t Be Arsed To Do A Madonna Live Review” Madonna Live Review.

1. I do like Wembley Arena’s new (to me) bar-queue-busting wheeze, whereby drinks sellers wander round the venue with big plastic barrels strapped to their back, stop-me-and-buy-one style. It’s certainly the only way that I would ever have bought Smirnoff Ice – but faced with a massive queue or an instant transaction, Smirnoff Ice suddenly seemed an attractive proposition. It’s clever marketing: that little moment of Positive Affirmation with the product. Next time I see a bottle of Smirnoff Ice, I’ll think: Ooh yes, that time that I beat the queue at the Madonna concert. Lovely stuff.

2. I thought the audience would be wall-to-wall The Gays, but not a bit of it. 10-15% percent, maybe. Mind you, it was Madonna’s ninth and final night at Wembley, and what self-respecting London boy is going to wait that long?

3. At a stadium gig, the people nearest to you can make or break the whole show – witness Joe.My.God and his Madge-nemesis, the Tall Queen – so thank the Lord for the well-behaved gaggle of Short Queens In Interesting Spectacles, who were directly in front of us. Good as gold, the lot of them.

4. This was the first stadium gig where I actually remembered to pack my binoculars (after several years of trying). These made all the difference at the start, but progressively less as the show went on. Because, unlike at Earls Court in 2001, the visibility at Wembley Arena was really not bad at all. Why, you could almost call it intimate.

5. Still it was nice to be able to lend them to my neighbour. (“Wow, I can see her wrinkles!”) Gave me a warm altruistic tingle, so it did.

6. I’ve already said this on the podcast, but this was a notably warmer, more inclusive performance than 2001’s tightly scripted, icily aloof exercise in Sod The Back Catalogue, This Is My Art. This time round, Madonna actually seemed aware that she was playing to an audience of real live human beings, and actually seemed vaguely bothered about making them feel good. Why, there was even the odd moment of genuine rapport. You know, just like you get at Robbie Williams, or Neil Diamond.

7. Madonna looks seriously great in riding gear. (Was that a proper dressage hat? My companion Dymbellina thought it might have been.) And it takes a brave 47-year-old (as she was then – happy 48th birthday, Missus!) to wear a leotard cut quite so high. (OK, so there was some sort of flesh-coloured body stocking underneath – but still, someone had been awfully busy with the old Ladyshave.)

8. But the outfit that suited her best? No question, it had to be the white Saturday Night Fever trouser suit, as displayed during the final disco-themed section of the show. This also featured the best choreography – loads of Travolta-esque pastiche, expertly done – and also the best re-workings of tracks which I’d never thought much of before: a transformed “Erotica”, and a bootleg mash-up of “Music” with John Otway’s “Bunsen Burner”. (Or was it something older? Before my time, probably.)

9. However, maximum cheese points go to the staging of a heavily re-worked “La Isla Bonita”, in a style which can only be described as Kids From Fame meets The Love Boat. This was a rare moment where the 2001 show did it better – another being the choreography of “Ray Of Light”. (This time round, it was all Kraftwerk-esque robotics, whose stylings evoked the video for Kylie’s “Can’t Get You Out Of My Head”. Interesting, but 2001’s staging was stunning.)

10. Still, there was only one serious misfire, namely Madonna’s attempt to “rock out” on the last album’s only dud, “I Love New York”. This misfired because, although she can appropriate the trappings of just about any other popular music genre, Madonna simply cannot stretch her range to accommodate Rock. This is the one genre where mere pastiche can never cut it – and since Madonna does not possess one Rock bone in her entire body, the exercise was doomed to failure. (Also, she really needs to put that guitar away. It made its point in 2001.)

11. Oh, but here’s me, focussing on the gripes! Don’t get me wrong: this was a fantastic show, and here are some more reasons why.

  • 11.1 The artist’s entrance, descending from the roof inside a giant mirror-ball which opened up like a lotus flower.
  • 11.2 The version of “Like A Virgin”, performed on top of a saddle, attached to a floating pole.
  • 11.3 The choreography during “Jump”, the nature of which should be fairly self-explanatory. (Although I did keep having to excise memories of a certain French & Saunders sketch.)
  • 11.4 The one bit of rock pastiche that did work: Madonna’s lurching performance of “Let It Will Be”, which kidded you that she was off her face, in Courtney Love self-destruct mode, while simultaneously demonstrating that she was fully in control (in amongst all the free-form slipping and staggering, there were some perfectly timed moves).
  • 11.5 The whole use of a smaller spur stage, as linked by a catwalk, as lined by a throng of beseeching, nearly hysterical super-fans – which had the effect of dragging Madonna closer to her audience, unable to hide behind her usual glacial artifice.
    • 11.5.1 (Not that this didn’t stop her from chastising the beseeching super-fans, firstly for smoking, and secondly for acting as if they were “at a hamburger stand”, all grab-grab-grab. “They must have got free tickets! Thank God for the rest of you!”)

12. Honestly, it was worth every penny. All those Swarovski crystals don’t pay for themselves, you know.

It wasn’t me.

notme2Now, I know that some of my blogging compatriots are getting a fair deal of media attention these days…

…and I am aware that the quickest short cut to such attention would be via a nice juicy quote-unquote “scandal”, preferably involving bodily fluids…

…and God knows I’m enough of an attention whore to do most things…

…but, well, there are limits.

So, lest you think otherwise: it wasn’t me. Sorry to disappoint you.

(PS. If anyone would like me to expand on this point this further, maybe by means of an article in a national newspaper – broadsheet preferred; suggested title: “REVEALED: MYSTERY BLOGGER AT HEART OF ROAD RAGE ID MIX-UP” – then please contact me at the usual address. If desired, I can also work in a mini-rant on the ramifications of the case for civil liberties (pro- or anti-identity cards, according to editorial prejudice – please specify). Or else you can just camp out in the PDMG and wait for me to sally forth for a bit of light pruning. Tea and biscuits provided. Mind the geraniums.)

Which decade is Tops for Pops? – THE WINNER.

1st place – The 1970s. (38 points)

2005: 3rd place, 30 points.
2004: 2nd place, 31 points.
2003: 1st place, 35 points + 1 tiebreak point.

10: Dat – Pluto Shervington. 1st place.
9: We Do It – R & J Stone. 3rd place.
8: Love Machine – The Miracles. 2nd place.
7: Convoy – C.W. McCall. 3rd place.
6: Love To Love You Baby – Donna Summer. 2nd place.
5: Mamma Mia – Abba. 1st place, most popular.
4: Rodrigo’s Guitar Concerto De Aranjuez – Manuel & His Music Of The Mountains. 4th place, least popular.
3: I Love To Love – Tina Charles. 2nd place.
2: Forever And Ever – Slik. 2nd place.
1: December 1963 (Oh What A Night) – Four Seasons. 2nd place.

slkmdgRight from Day One, when Pluto Shervington’s “Dat” took the lead, there was never any real doubt as to which decade would be this year’s winner. Throughout all ten rounds of voting, the 1970s remained ahead, earning them the highest score of any decade in any of our four years to date. Despite fielding only two winners, from Pluto and Abba, only one song from 1976 finished below third, with five songs finishing second. That’s what we call conclusive.

But before this all started, did we think that naff old 1976 had it in them to win? After all, approved rock history tells us that these were the dark days before punk rock came along and Saved Music. Or something.

Interestingly, there isn’t a single record in this top ten which could be said to belong to the “rock” tradition, however tangentially. This is pop all the way, with the odd foray into light soul, reggae, disco, country & western and easy listening. The only faint hints of “rebellion” come from Pluto’s taboo-breaking meat-related purchase, and CW McCall’s “bear”-dodging escapades on the Great American Highway.

As a lad, I remember an NME singles review column from round about this time, bearing the headline “Don’t Look Now, But You’re Living In A Golden Age”, which went on to make specific mention of several of the songs in this list. At the time, it seemed like a decidedly questionable proposition. But in these newly liberated, post-Guilty Pleasures days, it would seem that the dear old “rockist” NME showed remarkable presience.

The Top Ten and the Bottom Five.

(Positions are calculated by dividing the numbers of points scored by the number of people voting on that day.)

1. 19th Nervous Breakdown – Rolling Stones.
2. Mamma Mia – Abba.
3. These Boots Are Made For Walking – Nancy Sinatra.
4. Borderline – Madonna.
5. Chain Reaction – Diana Ross.
6. Slight Return – The Bluetones.
7. Dat – Pluto Shervington.
8. Keep On Running – Spencer Davis Group.
9. You Got The Love (New Voyager Mix) – The Source featuring Candi Staton.
10. Spanish Flea – Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass.

46. Anything – 3T.
47. That’s My Goal – Shayne Ward.
48. Thunder In My Heart Again – Meck featuring Leo Sayer.
49. Burning Heart – Survivor
50. Open Arms – Mariah Carey.

Cumulative scores for the decades to date, after three years:

1 (2=) The 1970s – 135 points.
2 (2=) The 1960s – 134 points.
3 (1) The 1980s – 132 points.
4 (4) The 2000s – 101 points.
5 (5) The 1990s – 99 points.

It’s still neck and neck at the top, with the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s regularly swapping positions. Next February, we start all over again – with what I must warn you is a truly shocking selection of ropey old toss.

No, I can hardly wait either! Thanks to all who particpated. It’s been a blast.

Which decade is Tops for Pops? – the results.

2nd place – The 1960s. (37 points)

2005: 2nd place, 33 points.
2004: 1st place, 36 points.
2003: 3rd place, 28 points.

10: Mirror Mirror – Pinkerton’s Assorted Colours. 3rd place.
9: Tomorrow – Sandie Shaw. 4th place.
8: Keep On Running – Spencer Davis Group. 1st place.
7: Love’s Just A Broken Heart – Cilla Black. 2nd place.
6: A Groovy Kind Of Love – The Mindbenders. 3rd place.
5: Michelle – The Overlanders. 5th place, least popular.
4: Spanish Flea – Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass. 2nd place.
3: You Were On My Mind – Crispian St Peters. 1st place.
2: 19th Nervous Breakdown – Rolling Stones. 1st place, most popular.
1: These Boots Are Made For Walking – Nancy Sinatra. 1st place.

cstpFor a year which is commonly held to contain some of the most ground-breaking pop music of the last half-century, our 1966 selection looks a tad under-baked. Here are Pinkerton’s Assorted Colours and The Mindbenders, trotting out the same sort of neat-n-tidy neo-Merseybeat that has been regularly charting since 1963. Here are Cilla Black and Sandie Shaw, delivering the sort of MOR ballads that would sit easily amongst the TV light entertainment shows of the day. Here’s Herb Alpert, standing right outside the prevailing pop/rock/r&b fashions with his cheesy MOR. And here are The Overlanders, pointlessly carbon-copying one of the Beatles’ sappier numbers for a quick buck.

However, the remaining four singles in our top ten do contain music that was, in some way, pushing against genre restrictions and moving things forward. There has never been an easy-listening standard quite like the gleefully perverse “These Boots Are Made For Walking” – a song which is custom-made for the epithet “kinky”. Crispian St Peters, though destined only to enjoy two UK hit singles, messes with the Roy Orbison/Everly Brothers template to agreeable effect. The Spencer Davis Group are helping to define a grittier r&b-influenced rock sound – and the Rolling Stones are right out there, rising further above the herd with every new release, and giving establishment Middle England the heebie-jeebies good and proper.

After floundering about for a bit, the top three brought the 1960s to an almost triumphant conclusion in our voting, shortening a six-point gap between winner and runner-up to a difference of just one point. That’s not bad going for a forty-year-old. But really, this year’s winner was never in any doubt…

Which decade is Tops for Pops? – the results.

3rd place – The 1980s. (33 points)

2005: 1st place, 34 points.
2004: 3rd place, 30 points.
2003: 2nd place, 35 points.

10: The Captain Of Her Heart – Double. 2nd place.
9: Living In America – James Brown. 2nd place.
8: Burning Heart – Survivor. 5th place, least popular.
7: System Addict – Five Star. 4th place.
6: Borderline – Madonna. 1st place, most popular.
5: How Will I Know – Whitney Houston. 3rd place.
4: Chain Reaction – Diana Ross. 1st place.
3: Eloise – The Damned. 3rd place.
2: Starting Together – Su Pollard. 3rd place.
1: When The Going Gets Tough, The Tough Get Going – Billy Ocean. 3rd place.

mblineIn contrast with the hapless, harshly judged 1990s, the decade of Big Hair, upturned collars, rolled-up jacket sleeves and saxophone solos has lucked out big time this year. Is this decidedly motley Top 10 from February 1986 really worth 12 more points than its nearest rival for third position? Did Double’s weedy synth-pop and James Brown’s over-produced ersatz funk really deserve to come second? Did Whitney’s unexceptional dance/pop and The Damned’s slightly desperate, give-us-a-hit-at-all-costs cover version really deserve to come third? And as for Batty But Loveable Su Pollard finishing any higher than fifth… HELLO, what were you thinking?

So maybe the 1980s have benefitted from the luck of the draw this time. Nevertheless, in amongst all the dodgy (and remarkably similar) spray-on gloss effect production jobs lurked the odd gem or two. Madonna’s “Borderline”, Diana Ross’s “Chain Reaction”… and OK, maybe even Billy Ocean’s “When The Going Gets Tough” is ripe for re-habilitation, Guilty Pleasures style.

Still, however you look at it, February 1986 really wasn’t one of pop’s finest hours. Little did we know that a whole clutch of era-defining moments were just around the corner: Prince’s “Kiss”, Cameo’s “Word Up”, Run DMC and Aerosmith’s “Walk This Way”, the renaissance of post-electro hip-hop as spearheaded by LL Cool J and Def Jam records, the dawn of DJ/sampling culture, and the emergence over the summer of Chicago house music. For me and for many other pissed-off music fans, 1986 was the year of The Rebirth Of The Groove. It’s just that, looking at this little list, you wouldn’t quite have known it yet.

Which decade is Tops for Pops? – the results.

With apologies for the continued delay. We were out looking at prize poultry at the Manifold Valley Agricultural Show – don’t scoff, the poultry was STUNNING – and then Clare Boob Pencil popped round for tea (and stayed for sardines). You know how it goes.

Equal 4th place – The 1990s. (21 points)

2005: 5th place, 26 points.
2004: 4th place, 27 points.
2003: 5th place, 25 points.

10: I Wanna Be A Hippy – Technohead. 5th place.
9: Slight Return – The Bluetones. 1st place, most popular.
8: Children – Robert Miles. 3rd place.
7: Do U Still – East 17. 5th place.
6: Open Arms – Mariah Carey. 5th place, least popular.
5: One Of Us – Joan Osborne. 4th place.
4: Lifted – The Lighthouse Family. 3rd place.
3: I Got 5 On It – Luniz. 5th place.
2: Anything – 3T. 5th place.
1: Spaceman – Babylon Zoo. 4th place.

jmannbzooSharing its disgrace with the 2000s, this year sees the overall lowest scores awarded to any of our decades to date – and by quite some distance at that. (Previously, the lowest score ever awarded was 25 points.)

Despite a promising start, with decent placings for The Bluetones and Robert Miles, the 1990s quickly tanked, with 50% of our selection finishing in last place. And yet, running my eye down the 1996 top ten, it looks on the face of it like a perfectly reasonable, diverse and representative selection, with Britpop, dance, soul, hip-hop, rock and pure pop all rubbing shoulders.

Maybe 1996 just got unlucky, slammed into the lower positions by an unusually strong showing from the earlier decades. In particular, Robert Miles, Joan Osborne and Luniz seem to have suffered from this, with all three picking up plenty of favourable comments along the way. And I’d also put a good word in for Technohead’s novelty toytown rave, and the Lighthouse Family’s thoroughly pleasant MOR soul. In fact, I own a whopping 60% of the 1996 top ten on CD single, and have happy memories and associations with all of them.

Nevertheless, this is a truly dismal result for the 1990s, which opens up an unprecedented 12 point gap between third and fourth places – a gap which has always existed between the oldest three and the youngest two decades, but which this year has become a yawning chasm.

Which decade is Tops for Pops? – the results.

Equal 4th place – The 2000s. (21 points)

2005: 4th place, 27 points.
2004: 5th place, 26 points.
2003: 4th place, 27 points.

10: That’s My Goal – Shayne Ward. 5th place.
9: Say Say Say (Waiting 4 U) – Hi_Tack. 5th place.
8: Sugar We’re Goin’ Down – Fall Out Boy. 4th place.
7: You Got The Love (New Voyager mix) – The Source featuring Candi Staton. 1st place, most popular.
6: Check On It – Beyonce featuring Slim Thug. 4th place.
5: All Time Love – Will Young. 2nd place.
4: Run It – Chris Brown featuring Juelz Santana. 5th place.
3: Boys Will Be Boys – The Ordinary Boys. 4th place.
2: Nasty Girl – Notorious BIG featuring Diddy, Nelly, Jagged Edge & Avery Storm. 4th place.
1: Thunder In My Heart Again – Meck featuring Leo Sayer. 5th place, least popular.

swardlwalshWith each passing year, as humiliation upon humiliation is heaped upon the beleaguered 2000s, so my desire to see them do well increases. It’s the usual Support The Underdog syndrome, in other words. But how can you help a decade which so steadfastly refuses to help itself?

Despite having disqualified one single from this year’s 2006 top ten (Dead Or Alive’s “You Spin Me Round (Like A Record)”) on the grounds that it was a straight re-release (and substituting the record at Number 11, Will Young’s “All Time Love”), our top ten is still riddled with re-mixes, re-makes and re-hashes. Hi_Tack and Meck have slapped perfunctory dance beats and hackneyed sound effects on top of a couple of quote-unquote “forgotten classics”. An old Candi Staton vocal from 1986 gets re-issued for the third time, with yet another backing track. A rapper who has been dead for 9 years is milked for cash yet again, surrounded by as many hangers-on – sorry, sincere admirers and upholders of his legacy – as could fit in the studio. And even one of the few original compositions is a re-release from June 2005, hyped up on the back of the singer’s appearance on Celebrity Big Brother.

Of the acts that remain, one is another direct product of Reality TV (Shayne Ward, the recent winner of X Factor), and another (Will Young) owes his inital exposure to winning Pop Idol. Which leaves two US R&B acts (complete with their now obligatory second fiddles in the “featuring who?” slots) and one young British indie band. Hardly a vintage selection, in other words – and containing precious little that could be held to encapsulate the best of contemporary pop.

And didn’t this just show up in your votes! Only two songs (“You Got The Love” and “All Time Love”) placed inside their respective top twos, and the remaining eight all songs placed either fourth or fifth. Is this mere generational bias (after all, the Troubled Diva readership is a tad light on Yer Actual Young People these days) – or, four years into our survey, is the consistently low placing of the 2000s an indicator of a harsh objective truth?

I love it when journalists quote my boyfriend verbatim.

They cheekily describe their particular style as ‘rural minimalism’, preferring a clutter-free look. “We’re too particular to accumulate,” admits K, “we take forever placing just one ornament!”

Period Living magazine, September 2006.

“I like Gieves and Hawkes, Paul Smith, that British-with-a-twist look. Right now I’m in Tim Little shoes, a pair of beige trousers by Hackett and a light blue striped shirt by Gieves and Hawkes.”

Nottingham Evening Post: Is It The End Of The Tie?

Last night, about an hour into watching the delightfully funny and unpredictable (*) Paris When It Sizzles, starring Audrey “Goddess” Hepburn in a succession of exquisite Hubert de Givenchy tulip skirts:

K: Can you pause it for a moment? Now, shall we stick with the Chablis? I thought that the first bottle went so well with the film.

M: You know, it’s a good job there isn’t a journalist on hand to write this down.

Do you match your fine wines to your classic movies? A ballsy Bourgogne with your Truffaut? A nice drop of Gewürztraminer with your Fassbinder? Blue Nun with your Ken Russell? If so, then do share your recommendations with the group.

(*) And suprisingly filthy for its day, if subtly so. Watch what William Holden does with the cushion while talking about censorship, just after explaining the “slow dissolve”…

It’s not often that I open my daily newspaper and shriek with delight…

thegirlbook…but that’s what happened to me this morning, as I unwrapped my Guardian and saw Abby “Girl With A One Track Mind” Lee adorning the front cover of the G2 supplement. Inside, there’s another gorgeous full page colour photo, and an excellent article/interview from Zoe Williams, which makes all the right points, brings up the right issues, and represents Abby to the world in a way that I found instantly recognisable.

(It has also allowed me, at the privacy of my own breakfast table, to sneak the peek at her cleavage which I so rigorously denied myself when we met for cocktails in the spring – a self-denial which did not go unrecognised. (“You’ve been really good! You’ve not looked at my tits once!”) But I have parenthesised long enough, and risk indiscretion.)

As with Petite Anglaise before her, I am delighted to see Abby intelligently and courageously playing the hand that she has been dealt. And I can’t wait to get stuck into her book, on the train down to London on Sunday afternoon (I have an appointment at Wembley with Her Royal Madgeness, of which no doubt more later).

Update: Well well! It would seem that The Girl’s nemesis has decided to dip her toe into the world of blogging! (Someone, somewhere – and lest you think otherwise, NOT me – is Having A Larf.)