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

OK, I have kept you waiting long enough. With victory for the 1970s looking increasingly likely, this is the last chance for our four other decades to make their mark. All rise please! It’s the Number Ones!

1966: These Boots Are Made For Walking – Nancy Sinatra.
1976: December 1963 (Oh What A Night) – Four Seasons.
1986: When The Going Gets Tough, The Tough Get Going – Billy Ocean.
1996: Spaceman – Babylon Zoo.
2006: Thunder In My Heart Again – Meck featuring Leo Sayer.
Listen to a short medley of all five songs.

Some time in the spring of 1966, my parents threw a party. In the course of this, they somehow acquired a small collection of 45rpm singles, probably brought along by one of the guests. As my parents had only minimal interest in pop music, these 45s remained the mainstay of the family singles collection for several years afterwards. I must have played them many dozens of times over the next few years, A-sides and B-sides both, before commencing my own collection in the early 1970s.

The full list of singles from spring 1966 was as follows:

  • Homeward Bound/The Leaves That Are Green – Simon & Garfunkel.
  • Substitute/Waltz For A Pig – The Who.
  • Wild Thing – The Troggs.
  • Hold Tight – Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick & Titch.
  • I Don’t Want You/Ball And Chain – The Anteeks.
  • These Boots Are Made For Walking/The City Never Sleeps At Night – Nancy Sinatra.

No prizes for guessing which single was my favourite. “These Boots Are Made For Walking” was sassy, provocative, and faintly perverse – even to a four year old. It also sounded like no other record I had ever heard: those weird descending chromatics on the bass, for instance, matched by Nancy’s downwardly drawled “walk all over you” at the end of the chorus. This is a song which has never quite gone away over the past 40 years, its singularity rendering it impervious to the vagaries of fashion. In other words: a classic.

(So much so, that the song even resisted my attempts to massacre it a couple of weeks ago, down at karaoke night at The Foresters. Oh yes. As if one humiliation hadn’t been enough…)

And speaking of classics, and of songs which have never gone away: there is something about the arrangement of the Four Seasons’ “December 1963” which is just… perfect. Every little contributory element of the song’s irresistable groove is somehow weighted to precisely the right degree, maximising pleasure levels throughout, and turning what might have been a slight and rather corny little number about losing one’s virginity into something far greater than the sum of its parts.

(Full disclosure time: the boy I loved bought a copy of this, on the same afternoon that I bought my copy, so we ended up with two copies in the school common room. Such telepathy! We were meant to be together! It was a sign!)

By the spring of 1986, I was rapidly losing any last vestiges of interest in guitar bands, with the exception of The Smiths, REM and the Jesus And Mary Chain. The ground-breaking thrills of post-punk had atrophied into the weedy, wilfully under-achieving new orthodoxies of “indie”, as encapsulated in the wildly overrated C86 cassette that was issued, manifesto-style, by the NME.

Instead, my affections had transferred themselves to the alternative canon of soul/funk: from the classics of the 1960s and 1970s to the latest 12″ imports, including the new genres of hip-hop, Washington DC go-go – and, within a few months, Chicago house music. And my my, what a snobby purist I was already becoming, policing my genres of choice in much the same way that I had insisted on “real” punk during 1976 and 1977.

So, just as I had derided the Boomtown Rats for not being properly punk enough in 1977/78, I was now doing the same with Billy Ocean, and the suspiciously poppified pseudo-funk of “When The Going Gets Tough”. Where everyone else saw a catchy-as-hell slice of pure, participative fun – for this was a song which dared you not to sing along with it – I saw nothing but naffness.

How wrong I was, and how great this is – transcending even the same synthetic 1980s production job which has blighted most of 1986 over the past two weeks. And thank heavens that I have learnt to transcend such pointless snobberies in the meantime.

None of which is to say that I’m prepared to find any value in Babylon Zoo’s irredeemably gruesome “Spaceman”: a jingle from a jeans ad, which brought accidental and strictly fleeting glory to its creator, a boggle-eyed loon in silver trousers called Jas Mann. This sort of thing used to happen quite regularly in the 1990s. (Anyone remember Stiltskin? Robin Beck? Freakpower?) At least in our media-fragmented, de-centralised 2000s, it takes more than a thirty second jeans ad to get a single in the charts.

On the other hand… at least in the 1990s, it took more than slapping a dance beat over an second-rate old disco record to get a single in the charts. Step forward, Meck featuring Leo Sayer, and their graceless re-working of Sayer’s “forgotten classic” Thunder In My Heart. (Ever get the feeling we’re running short on forgotten classics?) Because obviously, what Thunder In My Heart needed all along was one of those bits where everything goes muffled like a wonky old cassette tape, WHY do people persist on doing this in the middle of dance tracks, WHY WHY WHY?

And there you have it: our final selection for this year, complete with yet another tell-tale gap in quality between our three oldest and our two youngest decades. 1990s and 2000s: you’ve let yourselves down again. With the best will in the world, there’s not much we can do to help you, if you can’t help yourselves. Tsk.

My votes: Nancy Sinatra – 5 points. Four Seasons – 4 points. Billy Ocean – 3 points. Meck featuring Leo Sayer – 2 points. Babylon Zoo – 1 point.

Over to you, for one last time. Voting will remain open for all ten selections, until I say “stop”. Which will be some time towards the middle of next week. So if you want to play catch-up, then now’s your chance.

Running totals so far – Number 1s.
1966: These Boots Are Made For Walking – Nancy Sinatra. (145)

  • Brilliant. The music, lyrics and vocal attitude all come together in a perfect harmony of woman scorned. If you want to hear how easily this can all fall apart, just listen to Jessica Simpson’s version. (asta)
  • Hands down the best single out of all 50 of the tunes in this feature. (jeff w)
  • I turned the volume back up; only the second time this fortnight. Fabulous, great bass and enjoyably spiky lyrics. (z)
  • Still brilliant (and my Mum bought the 45 as well!) I’ve replayed the medley a third time just to hear it again. Great voice, great lyrics, great music. She sings the song like she means it.. And thanks for teaching me the phrase ‘weird descending chromatics”. (Chris Black)
  • Anytime you EVER hear a sequence of ‘dropping’ guitar chords this is what you think of. Damn good tune to boot. (Gordon)
  • Timeless. Dig the bass guitar. Forgive the linguistic contortions. (Will)
  • An absolute classic, kind of piss-taking ironic, but, actually, pretty good lyrics. Not formulaic, not copy-cat, not attempting to do vocalisms outside her ability and thus sounding great. (Gert)
  • 5 points: of course. It’s a fantastic song, performed fantastically. Everybody will also no doubt love the version as performed by the Leningrad Cowboys and Red Army Choir, which is almost as magnificent in a lunatic way. (JonnyB)
  • This always reminds me of seeing it performed at Funny Girls in Blackpool in the early 90s. It is a classic. (Adrian)
  • These Boots and December ’63 are two of my favourite all time tracks, I love them both, I can’t decide which is the best, help, arrrgghhhhh, damn it, ok Nancy just pips it …… (Bryany)
  • I suppose I’d better be truthin’ and keep to samin’ when I say that I Iove this song even with the ‘interesting’ grasp of the English language. It just adds to the faintly psychopathic charm. “Yeah, I’m so mad I’m making up words! Wanna take that up with Mr Knife or my boots? Huh? HUH? Well DO YA?” Bloody great. (David)
  • Most songs which I’ve heard as much as this one have lost their appeal but this still sounds great. Didn’t realise how dry the lyrics were when I was a kid, though. (betty)
  • if this wasn’t a Junior Choice fave, it should have been (diamond geezer)

1976: December 1963 (Oh What A Night) – Four Seasons. (117)

  • Breezy pop fun and wonderfully put together. If anyone actually dislikes this then there’s something wrong with them. Then again people say that about some songs that I detest so what do I know? Oh yeah, I know there’s something wrong with me. Whatever. (David)
  • Probably in my top twenty singles of all time. Just wonderful, joyous and danceable. (betty)
  • This is one of those tracks that still makes me smile. Just so funky. (Rullsenberg)
  • Uses the same beat as Another Brick in the Wall (minus high-hat). A wonderful pop song that always gets people dancing, harder to do than it sounds (the ‘getting people up to dance’ bit not the ‘wonderful pop song’ bit… although that’s pretty hard as well it seems). (Gordon)
  • better than Autumn, not quite as springy as Summer (diamond geezer)
  • It would have ranked higher, but it bothered me then, ( and bothers me on relistening) that this was the most memorable night of his life and yet he couldn’t remember her name. men. (asta)
  • On the cheesy side but hard to fault. And in my innocence I was oblivious to the obvious connotations. (Will)
  • I really think I ought not to like this. I can’t say I care for the attitude of the lyrics, but it was thirty years ago. But it’s very catchy, I’m boogying while typing, and it’s very cheery and sunny. (Gert)
  • For no particular reason, I’ve never liked this. Which is a poor justification for marking it down. But I have. So there. (JonnyB)
  • “It was over far too soon”? There are people out there who can help with those kind of problems, you know. (Ben)

1986: When The Going Gets Tough, The Tough Get Going – Billy Ocean. (98)

  • Pop excellence. Billie did keep copping for problems with his songs and videos so he deserves praise. From telling girls to get in his car supposedly condoning curb-crawling to him being attacked for featuring actors in this video rather than singers he deserves some good luck. (David)
  • Doesn’t offend me as much as a lot of big hits of the era. He’s got a great voice, actually. (betty)
  • 3 points: if only for the ‘backing singers’ in the video (Turner, Douglas and DeVito). Actually that’s not fair, it’s still catchy, singable and should really be in the “80s soul” singles collection, no? (Gordon)
  • ahh, that bassline – I bet Heart FM love this (diamond geezer)
  • Not really my sort of thing, but if you write a bassline like that you deserve at least three points. Production aside, you CAN imagine the great motown groups doing this. (JonnyB)
  • Proving that sounding terribly eighties doesn’t have to end up naff after all. (NiC)
  • Takes me back… not in an entirely good way, but when I’m in a good MOR mood this works its magic. (Rullsenberg)
  • Time has redeemed this a fair bit, as it got played to death when it was out. (Adrian)
  • I’ve not got past such snobberies, so as far as I’m concerned it’s still naff. Nevertheless, it has enough changes of direction to keep it in third place. (Will)
  • A girl I really liked told me she was into Billy Idol and I misheard her and when Billy Ocean came on the radio I turned it up for her thinkiing she meant him. Just seeing his name in the list dragged the memory kicking and screaming into daylight and my gut tightened. (dem)
  • Go and Get Stuffed doesn’t sound good twenty years later. Fairly ubiquitous then, now, it’s forgettable disposable crap. Although listenable to. (Gert)

1996: Spaceman – Babylon Zoo. (59)

  • My record of the year for 1996, and I still love it now, even though it’s de rigeur for people to say that they hate this. Love the change of speed and the helium vocals. Loved to laugh at him and his ridiculous ego. (Chig)
  • Despite the slagging this has received, I am not ashamed to own up to owning the 12″ of this. (Simon H)
  • Rather to my surprise, I like this. Great sound. Not sure if I’d like it as much as Billy Ocean on the 10th hearing. So it gets placed just below him. (Chris Black)
  • Sorry. You’re all wrong. So many comments about what a jerk the guy was (true) and how it was music for an advert (also true). But it’s a superb bit of nutter pop. (JonnyB)
  • sorry, I only loved the first 30 seconds – as did Levis (diamond geezer)
  • Hmmm… those opening bars they used on the ad WERE interesting but the rest, the bulk of the song (and the dohbrain singer’s arrogance) urgh. (Rullsenberg)
  • Dodgy lyrics, and the disappointment that rippled across the land the first time you heard the full version (on TOTP most likely!) this isn’t all that bad. It’s just not THAT good. (Gordon)
  • Ha ha, what percentage of the sales was down to people buying it because they’d only heard the intro? The rest of the song is the sort of awful dirge a grebo band who were supporting Pop Will Eat Itself at Birmingham Burberries circa 1986 would perform. (betty)
  • The sped-up section, as featured in the ad is actually rather fun, I think. If only Our Jas hadn’t insisted on the bulk of the single being performed at the “right” speed. (jeff w)
  • Sorry. For some reason I hoped that there was an all-of-it-sped-up version of Spaceman, and that somehow justified buying the single. Again, what more can I say… Sorry. If only I’d bought the 7″ and played it on our old 16/33/45/78rpm record deck at 78rpm… (Adrian)
  • The chorus of Babylon Zoo was good but unfortunately there was a song wrapped around it and that wasn’t good. (dem)
  • This was very quickly deleted from my mp3 player when I inadvertently ripped it from a compilation CD. It’s all noise. (Gert)
  • Shiny, metal, dirge-like tripe. The gulf between Jas Mann’s self-proclaimed talent and his actual talent is stunning. (David)
  • “I love you, Jas, you know I do, but you haven’t got the range.” (Will)
  • Wasn’t he going to be the future of rock’n’roll? What a load of pooh it still is. (NiC)

2006: Thunder In My Heart Again – Meck featuring Leo Sayer. (46)

  • Not so bad a remake, I think. The powerful vocal performance still shines through. (jeff w)
  • I hope nobody thinks I’m rating this relatively highly because it features Leo Sayer. I’m afraid I draw the line at liking Leo Sayer (street cred and all that…!) but I’m putting it third because despite its mediocrity it’s far better than the other two, and actually sounds as if someone’s put somethought into the writing of it. (Gert)
  • A bit repetitive with stupid “other end of the phone”/”next door” effects but it has potential… (Will)
  • Interesting definition of “featuring” displayed by Meck here. I take it that’s “featuring” in the sense of “supplying the only good things about this track”. (David)
  • I have a soft spot for many of the pop acts from the 70s when I was very young (b. 69) – Brotherhood of Man, David Essex, Peters & Lee, Dean Friedman and Leo Sayer. I think it started with an unflattering fly on the wall documentary about him where he thought he was going to get off with a very young Swiss fan and didn’t but the process of losing my Leo Sayer soft spot definitely ended when I saw him performing this with Meck. Clay idols and all that. (dem)
  • I liked the orignal and (sadly) I got excited by this for a short while. (Chris)
  • C’mon it’s really just Leo with a bunch of wonky computer tricks. (asta)
  • another rehashed forgotten ‘classic’ – next! (diamond geezer)
  • So “forgotten” was this classic that it was on Leo’s own reissue of When I need you in 95… (Adrian)
  • Thunder in my Heart ? I didn’t like the “Underwater Earthquake in My Kidneys” bit in the middle. (Chris Black)
  • My version of ‘You Make Me Feel Like Dancing’ (1996-ish) tops it. Leo’s a great bloke though, should be a presenter or summat. (Andy)
  • Is there any end to the dance/sample of a 70’s/80’s hit vocal track production line?
  • I reckon that Undercover have a LOT to answer for, after all it was their ‘remix’ of Baker Street that started all this (or thereabouts). (Gordon)
Decade scores so far.
1 (1) The 1970s (35) — Still beatable, but only in the event of a major upset in the voting.
2 (2=) The 1960s (31) — Come on, Nancy! You’ve got work to do!
3 (2=) The 1980s (29) — Same goes for you too, Bill.
4= (5) The 2000s (20) — It’s neck and neck at the bottom…
4= (4) The 1990s (20) — So which decade is Flops for Pops?

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