Stylus Singles Jukebox / Which Decade voting deadline.

(Yes, I know I’ve posted about almost nothing but music for the past few weeks. I’ll be getting back to more of the usual balance once the Which Decade stuff is done and dusted, OK?)

In this week’s Stylus Singles Jukebox, I say comparatively pleasant things about Laura Lynn (the “Schlager queen of Flanders”, no less), Kasabian (you can’t go wrong with a schaffel-glitter-stomp, I always say), Marisa Monte (classy Braziliana for grown-ups) and Shanadoo (yay for Japanese Eurobosh!), whilst blowing farly lukewarm over Sistem (Eurovision-related Romanian dance music can do so much BETTER).

I also make a couple of appearances on the accompanying Singles Jukebox Podcast, doing the “recitative” thing. (Next time round, I’m going to make a stab at the “ad-libbed off the cuff ramble” thing, as this seems to be emerging as the predominant mode of address.)

The voting deadline for this year’s Which Decade Is Tops For Pops project is midnight on Thursday (UK time). I’ll be announcing the results during the course of Friday Saturday (sorry).

As for the next Troubled Diva podcast, that’s more likely to appear on Monday (although judging by the TOTAL LACK OF RESPONSE to the first one, I MIGHT JUST NOT BOTHER, hah, that’ll show them, etc etc etc.)

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.

Continue reading “Which Decade Is Tops For Pops? – Year 4 – the Number Ones.”

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

Once again – and this happens every year – there is still plenty of jockeying for position going on across the board, as a steady flow of late votes continues to trickle in. As various songs quietly swap places further down the page, this has a knock-on effect on the cumulative scores for each decade. So, if you’re late to the party, then be assured that late votes can still make a difference.

As I write this, the Spencer Davis Group and the Miracles are battling it out for first place among the Number 8s, with the lead regularly swapping – and the same holds true for the Cilla Black/Candi Staton bitchfest in the Number 7s. Meanwhile, Crispian St Peters is only just ahead of Tina Charles in yesterday’s Number 3s. It’s so exciting! But wait, there’s more! It’s the Number Twos!

1966: 19th Nervous Breakdown – Rolling Stones.
1976: Forever And Ever – Slik.
1986: Starting Together – Su Pollard.
1996: Anything – 3T.
2006: Nasty Girl – Notorious BIG featuring Diddy, Nelly, Jagged Edge & Avery Storm.
Listen to a short medley of all five songs.

A few days ago, some of you confidently predicted that there wouldn’t be a better song this year than Abba’s “Mamma Mia”. Well, here’s your challenge, right here, right now.

This classic number from the Rolling Stones represented a quantum leap forward from the beefed-up R&B of the band’s earlier hits, ushering in a darker, more menacing, more confrontational attitude. As a result, “19th Nervous Breakdown” broke their run of five consecutive Number Ones, and kicked off a sequence of six “dark period” hits, ending with the incandescent “Jumping Jack Flash” just over two years later. It’s about now that Mick Jagger became the British establishment’s premier whipping boy – indeed, I remember genuinely believing that he was the most evil man in the country, thanks to the sustained outrage of my parents and grandparents. Listening to this track, you can still see why the Stones must have seemed such a threat.

But how do you compare a swaggering rock workout like this to the intricately crafted pop of “Mamma Mia”? Both convey a certain sense of accusation – but where the one shakes its fist, the other merely wags its fingers. So which is the greater record? Which moves you the most? Are you Rock or are you Pop? Which SIDE are you on?

Ah, it’s the age old question – and one which I prefer to side-step, having a foot in both camps. However, of one thing I am certain: that there will be a string of 5 points for the Stones. Maybe even our first ever 100% score, who knows. Because, yeesh, have you seen the state of the competition?

Slik – featuring a fresh-faced Midge Ure on lead vocals, before he graduated into Pop’s Mister Worthy And Dull (sorry, but all the Live Aids in the world won’t excuse him ruining Ultravox) – were being heavily promoted as The New Bay City Rollers, with the tartan swapped for bowling shirts, and the cheesy grins swapped for “mean and moody” poses which generally included chewing on matchsticks. (Grr!) Other than that, both bands were Scottish, and both used the services of the same songwriting/production partnership.

Not that you can tell this at the beginning of “Forever And Ever”, which is impressively weird for a teen group, all monk-like chanting and, erm, clanging chimes of doom. But just as you’re thinking “You know, I could quite get into this”, the whole track lurches into a godwaful chunka-chunka-chunka satin-scarf-waving limp-wristed (sorry) Thing Of Complete Hideousness, which has NOTHING to do with what has come before it. 5 points for the verse, but 1 point for the chorus. I’m seeing a string of second places. Unless… unless…

“Can I do yer chalet?” Rejoice, rejoice, IT’S SU POLLARD, HERE TO SAVE THE EIGHTIES!

(In fact, so eager was Su to do her duty, that she barged in ahead of Slik on the MP3 medley. An unstoppable force, that’s our Su.)

I’ve written about “Starting Together” before, you know. But to recap: it was the theme tune from a BBC documentary series about a young couple getting married. This was particularly memorable for its video, in which Su, looking fetching in a furry white winter cap with matching pom-poms, indulged in a playful snowball fight in the woods with said young marrieds.

OK, so it’s shit. But at least it’s entertaining shit, unlike…

3T, who were benefitting from heavy attention due to being Michael Jackson’s nephews. Tito’s sons, weren’t they? Three of them, right? Hence the awful name 3T, which makes them sound like a bunch of straight-to-cabaret no-hopers off The X Factor.

I can’t stand “Anything”. Really, really can’t stand it. Worst record we’ve had so far. Hell, even Mariah Carey was good for a snooty giggle for a couple of seconds. This is just… ugh. And, especially given their pedigree, it’s disgracefully badly sung. Adenoidal, that’s the word. But, oh, just wait till we get to the witless necrophiliac slobberings of the collected might of (deep breath)…

Notorious BIG featuring Diddy, Nelly, Jagged Edge & Avery Storm. One has been dead since 1997, and the rest are a bunch of vultures crowded round the still profitable cadaver, and dribbling mildly offensive pre-pubescent inanities all over it. Putrid stuff, which tempts me to re-activate my inner Unreconstructed 1980s Gender Politics Warrior… but maybe not, maybe not.

Nevertheless, at least “Nasty Girl” is built around a cute and catchy 1980s soul/funk retro backing, the niftiness of which lifts it up to third place in my voting. Sorry, Su. Fair’s fair. Luvya loadz.

My votes: Rolling Stones – 5 points. Slik – 4 points. Notorious BIG – 3 points. Su Pollard – 2 points. 3T – 1 point.

Over to you. Come on, it’s the Stones all the way, isn’t it? So perhaps the real battle is for last place. It’s gonna be tough!

Continue reading “Which Decade Is Tops For Pops? – Year 4 – the Number Twos.”

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

Right then. You can either have thoughtful and well-researched analysis of the next five songs, but wait an extra day for the post to appear – or else you can have an ultra-quick off-the-top-of-my-head scribble on each one, and have the post appear today.

The latter it’s to be then. Will the Number Threes please present themselves.

1966: You Were On My Mind – Crispian St Peters.
1976: I Love To Love – Tina Charles.
1986: Eloise – The Damned.
1996: I Got 5 On It – Luniz.
2006: Boys Will Be Boys – The Ordinary Boys.
Listen to a short medley of all five songs.

Of these five, the fluffy pop-disco of Tina Charles inevitably has the strongest nostalgic emotional pull. Not only did I enjoy it at the time, but a slightly naff late 1980s remix (with added stuttering vocal samples and extra WOO!-ing) was one of the staples of my dancefloor, back in my DJ-ing days. (Guilty Pleasures? We were doing Guilty Pleasures back while you were still feeling guilty about them.)

However, I did ask you to be objective. So, not wanting to be hypocritical, today’s five points will be going to Crispian St Peters. Like the Cilla Black song, this is another “builder” – which continues building after the MP3 medley cuts off – but unlike Cilla, there’s still a degree of restraint here. Great tune, great execution, and it shows the likes of the Mindbenders up good and proper.

I keep forgetting about original punk rockers The Damned‘s run of hits from 1985 to 1987, when they were at their most consistently commercially successful. Perhaps that’s because I had long since fallen out of love with them, and couldn’t connect the watered down poppier approach of the new line-up with the demented full-on glories of the old. “Eloise” – by far and away their biggest hit – is a cover of a 1968 hit by Barry Ryan, which is regrettably unknown to me. The mot juste is “episodic” – and there’s nowt wrong with “episodic”. However, I still can’t get beyond that mid-1980s production job, which has afflicted all of the 1986 hits we have listened to so far, to a greater or lesser extent. The Damned and weedy synths? Does not compute.

I think the Luniz might just be rapping about DRUGZ, hyurk hyurk. Yes, I rather think that they are. Hip-hop’s best known spliff-heads Cypress Hill are referenced in the lyric, which immediately sets up unfortunate comparisons: Cypress Hill did this sort of thing so much better, before they went all stadium rock and lost the plot. Still, at least this isn’t as bad as Afroman’s frightful ode to the weed, “Because I Got High”, and I quite like the drawled, fuggy menace of it all .

So, what’s your position on ska-revival-revivalism, as catapulted back into the charts on the back of the lead singer’s credibility-jettisoning appearance on Celebrity Big Brother? I saw the Ordinary Boys perform this live a couple of years ago, with Preston’s lead vocals replaced by a surprise guest appearance from the DJ/comedian Phil Jupitus, and I remember thinking: blimey, best lead vocals we’ve had all night. It’s OK, but it’s slight. Trouble is: they’re reviving “Baggy Trousers” period Madness, and I never did care much for “Baggy Trousers”.

My votes: Crispian St Peters – 5 points. Tina Charles – 4 points. Ordinary Boys – 3 points. Luniz – 2 points. The Damned – 1 point.

Over to you. Will Tina Charles keep the 1970s soaring ever further into the lead, or will Crispian St Peters lead a rear-guard action for the 1960s? Could The Ordinary Boys give the 2000s a much-needed shot in the arm? Are you finally ready to embrace hip-hop? And will you judge The Damned’s cover as harshly as you judged The Overlanders?

Continue reading “Which Decade Is Tops For Pops? – Year 4 – the Number Threes.”

How very un-rock-and-roll.

The game’s up! The struggle to hang on the last vestiges of street credibility is over! And I work so hard at it, as well. (See below, ad infinitum.)

But when faced with THIS, which will be gracing the racks of newsagents and supermarkets across the UK for the rest of the month, I might as well roll over and admit defeat.


Yes, it’s our cottage kitchen. Three years after the famous photo-shoot (scroll down to the third paragraph), the readers of Period Living magazine have finally been deemed ready for the paradigm-shifting interior design concept which we have dubbed New Rustic Minimalism.

Here’s an extract from the full article.

Oh, and I bought my first pair of vari-focals last week. You can’t fight your destiny, can you?

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?

Continue reading “Which Decade Is Tops For Pops? – Year 4 – the Number Fours.”