Which Decade Is Tops For Pops? – Year 5 – the Number 1s.

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!

1967: This Is My Song – Petula Clark. (video, in French)
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.”

Imminent ghettoisation alert.

After spending over five and a half years sitting at the same desk (no, let’s not even think about it), I am shortly to be moved to a new location in the same office. Nearer the entrance, nearer the reception, nearer the kitchen. You know, nearer the action. Dead hip spot to be in, probably.

This is to allow all the people who work for one particular client to be grouped at the far (unhip) end of the office, so that the rest of us don’t get to snoop at them when we walk past. It’s a client confidentiality thing. We’re thinking that maybe they could wear T-shirts with the client’s logo on the front, to remind the rest of us to bow our heads when passing them. That way, we’d minimise the risk of instigating any potentially compromising form of social contact – which could only lead to troublesome questions like “How are you”, “How’s it going”… and, fatally, “So, how’s work?”

Over in the Hip Zone, I’ll be sitting at a bank of six desks. One desk will remain unallocated. Two others have been assigned to co-workers who are on permanent secondment in other cities. Another belongs to a colleague who is on maternity leave for the next few months. (She’s just dropped. Congratulations, S!)

Which just leaves me and JP, The Pair Of Poofs, all alone in our own fabulous little ghetto. Talk about exclusive!

I’m seeing major accessorisation here. Kylie posters! A mirror ball! A dry ice machine! Multi-coloured rope lighting! A podium! A door-whore! (“Sorry love, but you just wouldn’t Fit In.“)

Ooh, ooh, and all the heterosexuals will have to run our Fashion Gauntlet, on the way to and from the kitchen.

“State of ‘er!”

“Is she wearing that for a BET?”

“LOVE the hair, LOSE the belt.”

F**k it. We’ve had nearly six years of assimilation. Time to unleash the stereotypes.

Which Decade Is Tops For Pops? – Year 5 – the Number 2s.

The Beatles. The Rolling Stones. The Monkees. Donovan. Cat Stevens. With that kind of line-up, is it any wonder that the 1960s have been steaming ahead?

With just two days to go, that might all be about to change. Without wishing to get all Gillian McKeith on you, shall we examine the Number Twos?

1967: Release Me – Engelbert Humperdinck.
1977: Don’t Cry For Me Argentina – Julie Covington.
1987: Down To Earth – Curiosity Killed The Cat. (video)
1997: Where Do You Go – No Mercy. (video)
2007: Ruby – Kaiser Chiefs. (video)
Listen to a short medley of all five songs.

As played at the wedding of some dear friends of ours (anyone remember the story of Ron and Yvonne?), Engelbert Humperdinck‘s “Release Me” famously kept The Beatles off the Number One slot, in an act of pop injustice which rivals only the “Vienna”/”Shaddup You Face” debacle of 1981 and the Rod Stewart/Sex Pistols scandal of 1977 for the levels of froth-mouthed outrage which it has inspired. And as epoch-defining chart battles go, The Fabs versus The Hump in 67 easily tops the minor local skirmish that was Blur versus Oasis in 1995. (Hell, it even tops Girls Aloud versus One True Voice in 2002, and that’s really saying something.)

Epoch-defining? Hell, yeah. This was Hipsters versus Squares, long-haired layabouts versus Forces Family Favourites, the post-war “never had it so good” generation versus the pre-war “we didn’t fight the Battle of Britain for this” generation. And The Hump walked it.

Personally, I can’t listen to “Release Me” without experiencing certain olfactory side-effects: Mister Sheen on teak veneer, Blue Grass by Elizabeth Arden, over-boiled cabbage, and the faintest top notes of stale urine. But maybe that’s just me.

Sir Andrew Lloyd-Webber’s second contribution to this year’s Which Decade comes as a salutary reminder that occasionally – not often, but occasionally – he is capable of knocking out a bloody good tune, and “Don’t Cry For Me Argentina” stands as his greatest achievement. Or does it? Perhaps the song’s greatness is more attributable to Tim Rice’s lyrics – sorry darlings, libretto – and most particularly, to Julie Covington‘s absolutely spot-on performance. She doesn’t overdo it, you see. There’s a controlled, un-showy integrity to it. She serves the song, not the other way round.

In my tortured teenage years, I managed to twist most song lyrics around so that they became All About Me And My Unique Unrequited Suffering, and “Argentina” was one of the prime examples. God knows how I did it. But, y’know, it still means a lot. Let’s not delve further.

Lloyd-Webber is not the only svengali figure from our Number Nines round to make a return in the Number Twos, either. Step forward Frank Farian: the man behind Boney M in the late 70s, Milli Vanilli in the late 80s… and in the late 90s, No Mercy, a Latino three-piece vocal group from Miami. “Where Do You Go” is unashamedly corny Europop, what with its Eurovision-esque Spanish guitars and its 1980s Italo-disco “woh-oh-ohs”, and I vaguely seem to remember being massively irritated by it at the time. Ten years on, and the kindly, forgiving Eurovision fan in me finds it perversely enjoyable.

Last time round, Frank from Germany whupped Our Andrew’s sorry ass. For this re-match, I’m confidently predicting that the tables will be turned.

During the latter part of 1985, Curiosity Killed The Cat had enjoyed a good deal of attention in the all-important “style press” of the day, leading eager style queenlets such as I to expect something rather special. Plus the band – with the possible exception of gangly lead singer Ben Vol-Au-Vent Poltroon – were droolsomely gorgeous looking in a clean-cut smoothie kind of way, which always helps.

You can therefore imagine my disappointment when “Down To Earth” was revealed as yet another drippy, ploppy, piddling little piece of clueless yuppie-pop nonsense, which communicates nothing but its own everything-just-SO self-satisfaction. “You’re shattered by the final frame of the movie scene that generates your every aim.” Whatever you say, Mister Vol-Au-Vent Poltroon.

And so to cheeky chappy Britpop revivalists the Kaiser Chiefs, serving up the sort of cheery knees-up that you could easily imagine as the opening performance on TFI Friday in 1997. “Ruby” isn’t really about anything much, other than a vague sense of emotional nothingness at the end of a seemingly insignificant relationship. It’s a kind of extended shrug; a “so that was that then, now I’m off out with the lads”. And that’s only if you listen closely – when actually, the track is nothing more or less than another sloshing-about-at-the-indie-disco party tune, to stick on the same playlist as “Same Jeans”. For some of you, that’s not nearly enough. For me, it’ll do nicely for now.

My votes: Julie Covington – 5 points. Kaiser Chiefs – 4 points. No Mercy – 3 points. Curiosity Killed The Cat – 2 points. Engelbert Humperdinck – 1 point.

Over to you. With three first places and one second place over the last four rounds, the 1960s are surging ahead – but will The Hump stop them in their tracks? The 2000s are still looking useful, and I’m expecting the Kaiser Chiefs to keep them well in the game. Having sagged badly in the middle rounds, the 1990s are staging a major comeback – but could La Covington lead a rear-guard action for the established order? And at this late stage, can anything to be done to save the 1980s? Mister Vol-Au-Vent Poltroon and your sorry Stu-Stu-Studio-Lined lackeys, you’re letting not just yourselves but your whole decade down.
Continue reading “Which Decade Is Tops For Pops? – Year 5 – the Number 2s.”

Which Decade Is Tops For Pops? – Year 5 – the Number 3s.

“Can I just say that one of the things I really like about this project is that over the years many people with considerably different tastes, backgrounds and influences have been reasonably candid about their views on these records and there has never been a mocking of people for holding those views, and certainly no personal attacks. It’s a model of how the personal internet should work.”

Hear hear, Gert. And if it’s a diverse range of opinions that you’re after, then look no further than the previous round, where it’s still neck and neck between The Tremeloes, Man 2 Man and En Vogue. Meanwhile, back at the Number Sixes, the Rolling Stones and Heatwave are also still slugging it out for pole position. I ask you: could it get more exciting? Could it? No, but could it though?

Time to chuck five more songs into our democratic melting pot. Hold onto your hats, it’s the the Number Threes!

1967: I’m A Believer – The Monkees. (video)
1977: Don’t Give Up On Us – David Soul. (video)
1987: Heartache – Pepsi & Shirlie. (video)
1997: Don’t Speak – No Doubt. (video)
2007: Starz In Their Eyes – Just Jack. (video; alternative X Factor spoof video)
Listen to a short medley of all five songs.

Proof positive, should any still be needed, that so-called “manufactured” pop can be as capable of transcendence as music made by any other means, The Monkees more or less defined the classic boyband template, setting the bar high as they did so. They also benefitted from working with some of the top songwriting talents of their day – such as Neil Diamond, who wrote “I’m A Believer”, and still includes it in his live show to this day. Flawless stuff, and so much a part of the iconography of pop that any fresh objective assessment is rendered almost impossible.

Like the Monkees, Dishy David Soul came to prominence as part of a hit TV show (Starsky and Hutch), and was therefore almost guaranteed to gain major-league exposure with his first single release, if only for the curiosity factor. With its winsome pleading for a second chance from his Lady Love, “Don’t Give Up On Us” plays perfectly to Dishy David’s adoring female fanbase – and its the underlying sincerity of his performance which rescues it from the slush bin. Plus there’s a strong tune and a deft arrangement, which always helps.

Pepsi & Shirlie‘s curiosity-factor fame-boost sprang from their roles as backing singers for Wham!, and it proved just about enough to sustain them through two Top Ten singles in early 1987 – despite “Heartache” earning a slagging from none other than Margaret Thatcher on BBC1’s Saturday morning children’s show Swap Shop. (“Very professional, the voices, yes, but where’s the heartache?”) The sub-“Billie Jean” rhythm and the horrid, horrid 1980s hi-gloss/hi-tack airbrush production job haven’t worn well, and the whole track feels lifeless and forced.

Making her second appearance in this year’s Which Decade, Gwen Stefani enjoyed prolonged success as the lead singer with No Doubt before going solo, and the adult-contemporary maturity of “Don’t Speak” stands in marked contrast to the dayglo juvenalia of her more recent work. Although the track isn’t for me stylistically, I’ll happily concede that as a break-up song, it strikes all the right chords. This stands as yet another example of how it’s often the unfashionable songs which endure the longest.

And so to Just Jack‘s utterly splendid “Starz In Their Eyes”, which – once you’ve got over the obvious comparisions with Mike Skinner of The Streets, which in my case took several weeks – delivers a timely and welcome broadside to talent-show-pop culture, with articulacy and wit. There’s something about the chugging funkiness of the chorus which reminds me of 2000-era disco-house cuts such as Spiller’s “Groovejet” and Modjo’s “Lady (Here Me Tonight)”, and there’s something about Just Jack’s vocal delivery, particularly in the “Dog and Duck karaoke machine” section, which sticks in the memory in the most deliciously compelling way. This is my favourite track in the 2007 Top Ten to date, by some distance.

My votes: Monkees – 5 points. Just Jack – 4 points. David Soul – 3 points. No Doubt – 2 points. Pepsi & Shirlie – 1 point.

OK, so the Monkees are almost certain to keep the 1960s ahead – but hey, just look at the plucky Noughties, snapping at their heels in joint second place. Will Just Jack spell further good news for our plucky underdog of a decade? Over to you.
Continue reading “Which Decade Is Tops For Pops? – Year 5 – the Number 3s.”

SwissToni’s Earworms.

I’ve been doing a spot of guest-blogging over at SwissToni’s Place, as part of his excellent “Earworms of the Week” series. The concept of the series isn’t necessarily to list your ten current favourite tracks; it’s more about listing the ten tracks which have been occupying the most space on your internal jukebox. It’s a subtle but significant difference…
Continue reading “SwissToni’s Earworms.”

Freelance Friday.

In order to introduce some semblance of consistency into this here rag-bag of a blog, I’m only going to post freelance pieces here on Fridays from now on – so you’ll get all the “pro” stuff in one dollop.

This week, we have:

1. An interview with the Living Goddess that is Joan Baez. The honour!

2. An interview with Jason Reece from …And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead, whose Nottingham show I’ll be reviewing on Sunday night. When reading the piece, please try to imagine Jason’s heavy, deliberate, infinitely world-weary drawl, shot through with heavy irony. That one took all of my “rapport-forming” skills, I can tell you. But I made him laugh a couple of times, before he got bored towards the end, so that was cool.

3. A review of the X Factor live show, which ended up as half think-piece, half gig report. I basically hated the whole show, and returned home fuming, with hatchet freshly sharpened – and so the extended preamble is really just my way of calming myself down. This review – to my mild alarm, as it might well have made me The Most Hated Man In Nottingham in some quarters – also turned out to be my first cover story for the paper, in that it was plugged at the top of the front page, alongside a colour photo of Leona Lewis. “Read our verdict inside! Page 26!” Yeah, that’s right, spell it out for everybody…

Highlights from the show which didn’t make it to press included Chig texting one of the backing dancers during the interval – as he recognised two of them from last year’s Eurovision in Athens, where they performed as part of the Turkish entry. He is such a pop tart. I am in awe. The backing dancers were also doubling up as “backing singers” for the various X Factor “stars”. I think those quotation marks tell you all you need to know.

But the best moment? That was when we realised that some sharp wag at the Arena had decided to pipe Just Jack’s “Starz In Their Eyes” over the PA system during the interval. For those that don’t know it, it’s a blisteringly accurate demolition job on the whole “reality pop” phenomenon. Sheesh, talk about apposite.

4. A gig review of Duke Special, who I interviewed last week. A slight disappointment, given the expectations which he had set – but a decent little gig all the same.

There, that little lot should keep you busy. Happy reading, pop-pickers.

Which Decade Is Tops For Pops? – Year 5 – the Number 4s.

You know: for a while back there, I thought that we were going to get our second ever run of perfect 5s, to match Harold Melvin’s recent triumph. But no: for a couple of you renegades (and I name no names here), Mason & Princess Superstar’s chunky club track has the edge over The Beatles’ all time classic (© Mojo, Uncut, The Word, Rolling Stone, Dad Rock Monthly etc etc). Such heresies are what we live for, here at WDITFP.

As for today’s selection, things could get a little more unpredictable once again. At the time of writing, I have no idea which one of these five tunes is going to come out on top. Could we be looking at our closest photo-finish since the epic tussle – still going strong, incidentally – between The View and Depeche Mode, back in the Number 8s? Set your stop-watches: it’s the Number Fours.

1967: Here Comes My Baby – The Tremeloes. (video)
1977: Side Show – Barry Biggs.
1987: Male Stripper – Man 2 Man featuring Man Parrish. (video)
1997: Don’t Let Go (Love) – En Vogue. (video)
2007: This Ain’t A Scene It’s An Arms Race – Fall Out Boy. (video)
Listen to a short medley of all five songs.

Every year without fail, one or two hidden gems reveal themselves during the course of assembling the project – and here’s a case in point. Over the past few weeks, I’ve devloped quite an unseemly obsession with the first hit to be scored by The Tremeloes, following their split from front man Brian Poole. “Here Comes My Baby” has so many of the elements I love: it’s ridiculously catchy, with a spirited rhythmic thrust that puts me in mind of “If I Had A Hammer” by Trini Lopez – and to top it all, THERE ARE COWBELLS. I’m such a sucker for a good cowbell – in fact, it’s probably half the reason why I retain such a soft spot for Hi-NRG.

Despite all of its surface cheeriness, “Here Comes My Baby” sports a incongruously melancholic set of lyrics – thus pre-dating the collective oeuvre of Steps by over thirty years. Sticking with the love-lorn and the bereft, Barry Biggs‘ “Side Show” provides a neatly turned example of the time-honoured “sad showman mocked by the gaiety of the fairground” lyrical archetype. This time, however, both the jauntiness and the melancholy are reflected in the song’s light pop-reggae stylings. There’s a wonderfully haunting quality to the tune and the arrangement – plus a great el cheapo synth break further down the line, which somehow evokes the gaudy cheapness of the fun fair – and in other circumstances I would have had no hesitation in doling out the 5 points…

…except that, with Man 2 Man featuring Man Parrish on the agenda, no-one else was likely to get a look in. “Male Stripper” is the second late-period Hi-NRG hit in the 1987 Top 10 – and my my, it has lost none of its power over the years. In fact, I think it still makes me feel a little bit “funny” down there. Hey, I never said that my sexuality was sophisticated. Shall we move on?

Much as I enjoyed En Vogue‘s soulfully sassy early 1990s hits such as “Hold On” and “My Lovin'”, R&B and rock have never struck me as a particularly winning combination. Fine on their own – but stick ’em together, and they don’t half curdle in the churn. Throw in a dollop of Power Ballad, and the stench can become unbearable. Although I dare say it will find its supporters in the comments box, I find “Don’t Let Go (Love)” a deeply annoying piece of music, which is currently tying with Five Star as my Dud Of The Year. (Hey, at least Michael Crawford has some comedy value.)

And so to Fall Out Boy, who make their second consecutive appearance on Which Decade, following last year’s “Sugar We’re Goin Down”. (Oh, so they’re American, are they? Why did none of you correct me last year? I feel such a fool!) This is another case of a single which would normally fall into the Not My Sort Of Thing category, but for which I have developed a creeping fondness. I like the slight nods to pomp-rock, especially with some of the backing vocals – and as such, I guess that you can forge certain stylistic links between this song and the recent work of My Chemical Romance and Muse. (Er, can you? How the hell should I know; this falls so far outside of my generational demographic, that it’s almost embarrassing to be caught discussing it in public.)

My votes: Man 2 Man – 5 points. The Tremeloes – 4 points. Barry Biggs – 3 points. Fall Out Boy – 2 points. En Vogue – 1 point.

As I say, this one’s wide open. Will Man 2 Man give the lagging 1980s a much needed boost? Or Will The Tremeloes widen the 1960s’ lead even further? Over to you.
Continue reading “Which Decade Is Tops For Pops? – Year 5 – the Number 4s.”