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

As usually happens by this stage in the proceedings, a clear gap has opened up in the voting, placing the three oldest decades well ahead of the two youngest. In order to stay in the game, both the 1990s and the 2000s urgently need to start fielding some of their biggest hitters.

Let’s see what they’ve come up with, then. Wheel ’em out – it’s the Number Fours.

1966: Spanish Flea – Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass.
1976: Rodrigo’s Guitar Concerto De Aranjuez – Manuel & His Music Of The Mountains.
1986: Chain Reaction – Diana Ross.
1996: Lifted – The Lighthouse Family.
2006: Run It – Chris Brown featuring Juelz Santana.
Listen to a short medley of all five songs.

Hmm. Well. Now look here, 1990s and 2000s: is this the best you can offer? Tepid MOR coffee-table soul and bog standard production-line R&B? You disappoint me, you really do.

But first, it’s another of the 1966 singles which I remember hearing at the time. In fact, today’s offering from Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass is so deeply embedded into my musical consciousness, that I find myself quite unable to imagine what it would be like to hear it for the first time. For such a light-hearted and arguably slight piece, it evokes extraordinarily powerful memories of my childhood – but all of them are happy ones. My father had Alpert’s Going Places album on 8-track cartridge, and used to play it in the car on the 12-mile school run, back and forth on the A1(M) to Doncaster. As with the soundtrack to The Sound Of Music, and a compilation of Andy Williams’ greatest hits, I know every note backwards.

My chief memory of this unlikely hit from Manuel & His Music Of The Mountains (a pseudonym for the Geoff Love Orchestra) concerns a particularly rubbish dance routine by Pan’s People on the late lamented Top Of The Pops. This was one of those weeks where you suspected they only had half a day to rehearse the thing – and by gum, did it ever show up in the ropey dancing, which consisted of an awful lot of rolling around in the floor, in long skirts with multi-coloured plastic balls attached to them. It was great fun to see these balls accidentally detach themselves, and roll around all over the stage – and so much fun, that it quite distracted you from the ghastly turgidity of the track itself. It’s the echo on the string section which freaks me out the most: like muzak for those who are waiting to die. Why, I can almost smell the lavender air-freshener, unsuccessfully masking the acrid smell of…

Well, yes. Moving on! Back in 1986, K and I lurved the video for Diana Ross‘s “Chain Reaction”, which seemed to be constantly on the telly. The Dynasty-esque fab frocks alone! That bit where the Four Tops/Miracles/Pips backing singers open their mouths, and the voices of the chuffing Bee Gees come out! We even used to go into a little Northern Queen comedy routine: “Shiz a fookin STAR, and noa-bodeh, NOA-BODEH, can take that away from her!” Happy days in the matt black dreamhome…

When the Guilty Pleasures crew eventually turn their attention to the 1990s, I wonder whether they’ll attempt to rehabilitate The Lighthouse Family? Because, if truth be told, I have a slight sentimental soft spot for “Lifted” – re-issued from 1995, and now giving them their first major hit. (And as for the Francois K remix of 1998’s “High”, which soundtracked the night when… oh, but you don’t want to hear about that.) Yes, it’s all very M People – but that’s not always a bad thing. Um, is it?

Linked via a bit of synchronised beat-mixing, just to keep the party pumping, Chris Brown uses the same tempo, but to very different effect. I started off hating “Run It”: for a quote-unquote “club jam”, it seemed to posit such a harsh, stark, bloodless, sweatless, joyless party. Since then, the track has grown on me: as a study in rhythmic interplay and sonic mood, it is not without merit.

“But it’s just noise, not music! Anyone could do that! And they all sound the same!”

Oh, just listen to yourselves. We said we’d never, didn’t we?

My votes: Herb Alpert – 5 points. Diana Ross – 4 points. Chris Brown – 3 points. Lighthouse Family – 2 points. Manuel & His Music Of The Mountains – 1 point.

Over to you. Chris Brown excepted, this isn’t exactly our most cutting-edge, sound-of-the-street selection. So which old fogey floats your boat?

Running totals so far – Number 4s.
1986: Chain Reaction – Diana Ross. (125)

  • 5 points. One of those “inseparable from my childhood” songs. Critical faculties be damned. (Ben)
  • Brilliant. brilliant. brilliant. Damn those boys wrote some good pop songs. Not a bad wee warbler they got to sing it either… (Gordon)
  • Possibly my favourite Diana Ross song (except where she does the Mad Scene from Jingle Bells but that’s a whole different story…) (Gert)
  • It’s been a while since I last heard Chain Reaction, and it benefits from that. The memory of the over-the-top spinning round amid dry-ice video is fading too and so distracts me less from what is a better song than I previously thought. (Adrian)
  • One of the few songs I can imagine myself doing drag to. Those dresses! (Chris)
  • My 5 points definitely go to La Ross. This was a favourite for me and my Mum to dance to at parties… my Mum even had a full length black sequinned fishtail dress!! (tgi paul)
  • 5 points: Fewer points than she has on her driving licence, and not a patch on the Steps version, obviously (cough, splutter), but 1986 was my second year on the gay scene, and there was a whole bunch of young queens who did a very funny synchronised routine to this (especially on gay Thursdays at Birmingham Powerhouse). It still makes me laugh to think what they did to ‘you taste a little then you swallow slower’. Oh, happy days! (Chig)
  • Marvellous. Go Bee Gees! “You get a medal when you’re lost in action” remains one of the worst pop song lyrics ever but that just makes it the more entertaining. (Will)
  • I was all set to be bitingly sarcastic about this, but she caught me in a moment where a bit of sparkle and glitter seem to be just the thing to change my mood. (asta)
  • I hate myself for it but it deserves the number one spot. (Stereoboard)
  • Catchy. If I heard it on the radio I’d say “oh, good”. (Chris Black)
  • it’s only the drum machine lets this soaring warbler down (diamond geezer)
  • I feel a bit disrespectful putting Lady Di second. But it was the drums, the drums – which nearly put her third. (z)
  • Classic Bee Gees “we made the words up as we went along” lyrics and instantly memorable tune. Alright, I suppose. (betty)
  • Good, in a Eurovision kind of way. Which isn’t bad, but it doesn’t really stand out in any way. (Simon C)
  • I’ve always disliked Diana’s voice and combining her reediness with Bee Gee backing does nothing to improve it. (David)
  • I can’t hear this Ross song without thinking of the 1994 World Cup opening ceremony – did she sing it before messing up the penalty I wonder? Part of me thinks her awful penalty kick should endear her to my english-footyness but it doesn’t. (dem)
  • I think I went from liking it to loving it to hating it over a few weeks time back then. Same thing happened now, over the course of a 1-minute clip. Things just move at a different pace these days don’t they? (Koen)
  • I remember detesting this as it clung on to the number one spot for far, far longer than it should have done – horrible woman. (Simon H)

1966: Spanish Flea – Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass. (114)

  • Such a jolly, upbeat tune it’s hard not to like it. An easy first place. (Adrian)
  • Chipper to an almost offensive degree, but somehow irresistable with it. (Ben)
  • trots along like an adorable nodding donkey (diamond geezer)
  • Just so cheering. I loved hearing it again, made me smile. (z)
  • Reminds me of the thrill of of going away on holiday. Even if it was only to North Wales, sigh … The Very Best Of Herb Alpert is a seminal album. (betty)
  • I think Herb Alpert is somehow hardwired into the brains of anyone who was conscious in 1970s Britain. If I could I would give all 15 points to Herb. Anything to do with fleas (apart from them being real, here and biting me which they currently aren’t) reminds me of William Blake which also makes this good. (dem)
  • Wasn’t this used as a soundtrack to something like the “Confessions Of A…” films? Or does it just sound like it should have been? Fun. (tgi paul)
  • You have GOT to hear this pisstake of Spanish Flea – scroll down to the entry for Jan 25th and then click on the mp3 symbol. (jeff w)
  • My Dad was a big fan. I heard this all the time. And then I heard it again when it became the theme to a TV game show I CBATG. (asta)
  • I’m not sure what to say. It’s such a familiar tune, probably from bad light entertainment programmes in the 70s. Or the EL Patio restaurant in Stretford circa 1972. I suppose in the 60s it was a groundbreaking precursor of World Music. but it just sounds so artificial now. And yet, not unpleasant (Gert)
  • This does at least make me smile with it’s cheesiness but I can’t take it seriously at all. (David)
  • Sorry, too hackneyed, though I can see how it could provide you with happy memories. (Chris Black)

1996: Lifted – The Lighthouse Family. (73)

  • far better than any MOR melody deserves to be (diamond geezer)
  • I quite liked it at the time: it got a lot of airplay on GLR at the time before it became Radio Londumb Live. But it’s not a laster. (Gert)
  • Its main redeeming feature being that as BMW driving sales executive oriented soul goes, at least it’s not Simply Red. (Alan)
  • I think you could have something on the Guilty Pleasures inclusion of the Lighthouse Family. (Adrian)
  • Whilst a little formulaic, it’s very much the “You’re Beautiful” of it’s day. (Gordon)
  • The marzipan sweet in today’s box of chocolates. What a f**king awful song this is – but entirely in keeping with their general output. Unfortunately I’ve been more recently re-acquainted with this song than I’d have liked – my old live-in landlord in Nottingham had a particular penchant for the Lighthouse Family, and the odious strains of ‘Lifted’ regularly wafted up from his room. (Ben)
  • The Lighthouse Family make me yearn for The Christians and they are to The Christians what Shameless is to Boys from the Blackstuff. (dem)
  • If only this were an instrumental too. How I dislike the The Lighthouse Family. At least the Manson Family were more entertaining. (Will)
  • May it never be lifted around here again. Awful saccharine-pseudo-soul-shite. (I don’t like it) (NiC)
  • a special place in hell is reserved for the Lighthouse Family (jeff w)
  • I’m sure they now live in Terry Wogan’s granny flat. (Andy)
  • Lifted? Zonked more like. (tgi paul)
  • the ultimate call centre hold music (Simon H)
  • Dull dull dull dull dull. This is dull. Oh, and it’s rather dull. (David)

1976: Rodrigo’s Guitar Concerto De Aranjuez – Manuel & His Music Of The Mountains. (72)

  • This gets the top marks partly because I decided on a tie-breaker on who had the longest title and artist name and partly because I like spanish/classical guitar styles. Manuel is no Andrés Segovia (or even John Williams) but it’s nice enough. (David)
  • 4 points. Ooh, get me – bucking the trend! I really like this – very 70s, but spooky and seedy at the same time. A bit like Derek Acorah. (Ben)
  • Sexy or what! Bit over-produced but what the hell, still sexyful. (Andy)
  • 4 points. Cough. When this was in the charts, the women in a local paper shop were talking about it as it played on the radio … “ooh, this is lovely! It’s by Manual And His Mountain Music!” Sorry, this has a certain charm for me, but then again I don’t mind Mantovani and James Last, so am not to be trusted at all. (betty)
  • I really can’t see what the objection is. It’s an OK bit of music. (Will)
  • It is a dirge I know, but I remember it SO well. I used to think it was such a sad song. My Sister and I used to choreograph gym routines to this! (tgi paul)
  • Reminds me of being herded into the school gym on Sunday nights to watch tired old spaghetti westerns, usually featuring James Coburn. (asta)
  • I like soaring strings as well and spaghetti western themes OK? Would have been better without the insistent woodblocks or whatever. (Stereoboard)
  • Outshone by The DeerHunter. This is a little TOO OTT. (Gordon)
  • See comments for “Michelle” – why cover a perfectly good tune and not do so at all well nor bring anything. Is that Mantovani on orchestra? Is it in fact the El Patio restaurant in Stretford in 1972? And it is actually one of my fave tunes. But only stops being bottom because of the sheer utter drivel of 2006. (Gert)
  • As if the guitar didn’t have enough problems with its image being considered a plinky-plonky not-quite-serious instrument, for some reason this boring lobotomy of a shite-composition has somehow acheived status as a canonical guitar piece. One can only hope that the unholy Finnish-Spanish alliance between Nokia and Fransisco Tarrega will help restore the balance and make people appreciate the guitar for the wonderful instrument it is. Errr… (Simon C)
  • Manuel and the music that sounds nothing like they play in any mountains I’ve ever been to. (Alan)
  • complete hillocks (diamond geezer)

2006: Run It – Chris Brown featuring Juelz Santana. (66)

  • I guess the song isn’t that special, and that there are similar sounding ones that are better. But it’s good to know there are artists out there who actually try to explore some new territory, which this has to be in terms of decades, so I’ll allow the 00’s some comforting 5 points for this. (Simon C)
  • Nothing ground-breaking, but quite listenable. (Adrian)
  • Nowt new but love the ‘lil jon-esque’ beats. (Gordon)
  • Such a bogstandard R & B track that there’s something quite fascinating about it. (betty)
  • This would have fared better on almost any other day so far, for my money – even if it is a bit of a rip-off of Usher’s ‘Yeah’. (Ben)
  • The beat is a bit too similar to Usher’s “Yeah” but I like Chris Brown’s cheeky rhymes in general. (jeff w)
  • I’ve been on a bit of a counterpunch rhythm jag lately, and while this ‘borrows’ heavily from Usher’s Yeah. I still like it. (asta)
  • It’s actually a better remake of “Yeah”, as far as I’m concerned. Too bad about the rest of his output. (Koen)
  • I thought it was going to kick in at some point, but it didn’t. (Stereoboard)
  • a decent tune drowned in jarring irrelevance (diamond geezer)
  • I’m very conscious that I seem to be giving the one point to the black act in each selection, especially when they’re called Christopher, but I am judging it on the music. Anyway, Diana Ross is black and she has my five points, so that’s alright then. (Chig)
  • Well, I never realised there was still a career advantage in being a poor imitation of Michael Jackson. I’m sorry, it’s crap. (Gert)
  • Can’t believe its been #4 this year and I don’t recognise it at all! No wonder Top of the Popshas died! (tgi paul)
  • Are we a bunch of old fogies or is current chart music so poor?? (Lucie)
  • I was looking forward to putting The Lighthouse Family bottom, “but it’s just noise, not music! Anyone could do that! And they all sound the same!” (Will)
Decade scores so far.
1 (1) The 1970s (25) — now a full seven points clear at the top.
2= (3) The 1980s (18) — catching up with the 1960s.
2= (2) The 1960s (18) — Herb Alpert could push them ahead; Diana Ross could keep them back.
4 (4) The 1990s (15) — slightly narrowing the gap, but struggling badly.
5 (5) The 2000s (14) — not even Will Young could lift them off the bottom.

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