What a eventful Which Decade it has been thus far. As we enter the final round, all eyes are on the mid-table tussle between the 1970s, 1990s and 2000s. It already looks certain that our most recent two decades will, for the first time ever, not occupy the bottom two places – but more excitingly than that, there’s a very real chance that one of them might end up finishing in second place. Just how consensus-busting is that, pop-pickers?
Shall we crack on? Bring ’em out – it’s the Number Ones!
1977: When I Need You – Leo Sayer. (video, in a tree, with Muppets)
1987: I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me) – George Michael & Aretha Franklin. (video)
1997: Discotheque – U2. (video)
2007: Grace Kelly – Mika. (video)
Listen to a short medley of all five songs.
As with the Hump, so with Our Pet. Sitting at Number One in 1967, we find – possibly to our slight dismay, given the excitement of the lower positions – a second consecutive Forces Family Favourite, performed by that doyenne of the Light Programme, Miss Petula Clark.
To further underline its pre-rock-and-roll credentials, “This Is My Song” was composed by none other than Charlie Chaplin, who had originally envisaged it as the instrumental theme from his final movie, A Countess In Hong Kong. Having penned some English lyrics to sit over the top, Chaplin was all set to offer the song to Al Jolson, unaware that he had passed away 17 years earlier. Thus thwarted (and it allegedly took a photo of Jolson’s grave to convince him), the song was next offered to Chaplin’s neighbour in Switzerland, the aforementioned Miss Clark.
Never exactly thrilled with the English lyrics (and who could blame her, for with all its beatific talk of smiling flowers, one wonders whether Chaplin was conducting some era-appropriate psychedelic experiments of his own), Clark soon took to performing the song in French as much as possible – as evidenced by the video which I’ve linked to above. Meanwhile, a rival version by Harry Secombe entered the charts in March, overtaking Petula’s version a few weeks later, and eventually peaking at Number Two.
All of which is a lot more interesting than “This Is My Song” itself. Good grief, 1967. What were you thinking?
“Everybody loves Leo!” (Leo Sayer, 2007)
My Crypto-Maoist Year Zero Punk Rocker fifteen-year old self might have been wrong about “Daddy Cool” and “Boogie Nights”, but he’s not about to make any posthumous concessions to “When I Need You”. Boring then, boring now. Next!
Poor old Aretha Franklin. Having been roped in by Annie Lennox to add a bit of weight to “Sisters Are Doing It For Themselves”, she was now doing the same thing for George Michael: another early 1980s pop star who was busily trying to swap delusions of Style and Subversion for delusions of Authenicity, Passion and Commitment. “I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me)” is an OK enough tune, but it doesn’t half sag under the weight of its own “meeting of the giants” self-importance, what the Ross/Turner-invoking references to “rivers”, “mountains” and “valleys”. Don’t be blinded by nostalgia, Voters Of A Certain Age!
Let us now turn to the vexed question of U2: a band whose lumbering earnestness turned me right off in the 1980s, and whose equally lumbering attempts at corrective “irony” turned me off equally in the 1990s. (Although I will concede that the not-too-earnest, not-too-silly synthesis of their 2000s work really hasn’t been too bad at all.) Come on, now: “Discotheque” is basically a collection of admittedly quite groovy noises in search of a song, isn’t it? Well, can you remember how it goes? Thought not.
And so, finally to Mika: an act upon whom I have resisted Forming A Position for quite long enough. Having been perfectly vile about all of our other Number Ones, it would only be fair to be equally vile about “Grace Kelly”.
However, not only I am absolutely f**king desperate for the 2000s to come second, I am also quite fond of this arch little show-tune confection, which makes a pleasingly theatrical Grand Finale to this year’s offerings. It communicates little beyond “I Am The Fabulous Multi-Talented Mika, And You Must Love Me As Much As I Love Myself” – but in pop, we can allow that. For the course of a single, at least.
(As for the album, I’m with Pete: rarely has an act got on my tits as rapidly as this uppity charlatan. Oh wait, I forgot about Joanna Newsom.)
My votes: Mika – 5 points. George Michael & Aretha Franklin – 4 points. U2 – 3 points. Leo Sayer – 2 points. Petula Clark – 1 point.
This is it, then. The final vote. Unless late votes on the other rounds throw a spanner in the works – and they still quite easily might – the 1960s would appear to have it in the bag, although I’m forecasting last place for Pet. Meanwhile, the nostalgia factor might well give the 1980s a final shot in the arm. But whither the 2000s? Where do you stand on Mika? Or will you defend U2 against my heinous slurs? Or does everybody really love Leo? Over to you.
Continue reading “Which Decade Is Tops For Pops? – Year 5 – the Number 1s.”