Oh, is it that time of the year again? Why, I do declare it is! Let joy be unbounded, as we gird our loins for Year Five of our seven year quest: Which Decade Is Tops For Pops?
Before we start, here’s a brief introduction for newcomers. Over the next couple of weeks, we shall be examining the Top Ten best-selling UK singles from this week (my birthday week, as it happens) in 1967, 1977, 1987, 1997 and 2007. Today, we shall be looking at the five singles at Number 10; tomorrow, we look at the Number 9s… and so on until we reach the Number 1s, at the end of next week.
On each day, I shall be publishing a short medley of the five songs under examination. Your job is to listen to the medley, to arrange the five songs in descending order of merit, and to leave your vote in the comments box.
I’ll be totting up the points for each day, and adding them all together, using a simple scoring method which is frankly too tedious to bother you with at this early stage. You’ll soon pick things up as you go along.
Suffice it to say that at the end of the ten days, one of our decades – the Slinky Sixties, the Sexy Seventies, the Excessive Eighties, the Naughty Nineties or the Neglected Noughties – will be crowned this year’s winner.
Last year, 1976 brought it home for the Seventies, who duly notched up their second victory in four years. Can the Top 10 from February 1977 work similar wonders – or will we finally see some big points for those two perennially scorned decades, the Nineties and the Noughties, neither of whom have even so much as placed in the Top Three?
Are we all ready, then?
OK, eyes down (and indeed eyes sideways, as we’ve got video links for the first time this year, Youtube be praised) … it’s the Number Tens!
1977: Chanson D’Amour – Manhattan Transfer.
1987: I Love My Radio – Taffy. (video)
1997: Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Dub – Apollo Four Forty. (video)
2007: The Sweet Escape – Gwen Stefani featuring Akon. (video)
Listen to a short medley of all five songs.
Not too shoddy an opening selection, is it? Listening to Donovan‘s gentle whimsy, a small window opens onto the Sixties’ Next Big Thing: hippy psychedelia, which would hit its historic peak over the “Summer of Love” in five months’ time. The first clues are there – the wacky surrealism, the langourous nonchalance, the “anything goes” attitude – but at the same time, there’s not much of the overtly counter-cultural on display here. “Mellow Yellow” might take us on a dandified strut down Carnaby Street or the King’s Road, but we’ll search in vain for a signpost to Haight-Ashbury.
Ten years on, and the next soi-disant Youth Revolution was swiftly gathering momentum – but looking at the February 1977 singles chart, there was no evidence whatsoever that punk rock was on the way. Never mind the bollocks – here’s Manhattan Transfer, stalwarts of the peak time TV variety show, with their biggest UK hit – and also possibly one of their downright naffest musical moments. Displaying little of the slick sophistication of their best material, “Chanson D’Amour” is well-executed but swiftly irritating swayalong schlock for the Sing Something Simple generation, whose main redeeming feature is to summon up images of a Morecambe and a Wise, gleefully hamming it up to the ra-da-da-da-dahs.
Another ten years on, and with yet another musical paradigm shift waiting in the wings, most of the country’s gay clubs were happy to continue ploughing the same old Eurodisco furrows. Why bother learning how to jack your body, when you could simply pass the poppers and party like an eternal 1983? Within this increasingly impoverished cultural cul de sac, walloping belters such as Taffy‘s “Midnight Radio” (to give it its correct original title) were as manna from heaven – and this one duly ruled every gay dancefloor in the country for weeks on end, stretching well back into late 1986.
However, when it came to promoting “Midnight Radio” as mainstream chart crossover material, a hideous compromise was made. Since BBC Radio One (The Nation’s Favourite!) actually stopped broadcasting at midnight, handing its airwaves back over to Radio Two (Brian Matthew! Sheila Tracey’s Truckers Hour!) for the wee small hours, none of its DJ’s were likely to promote a song with lyrics like “Wo-oh, my guy, my DJ after midnight, I love my radio, my midnight radio”. Instead, an absolute clunker of a re-worked chorus was forced upon the UK singles market: “I love my radio, my deejay’s radio.” Big Yuck! Sacrilege!
A further decade down the line, and the musical shifts that Chicago House had set in motion were now at their popular, commercial peak. Dance culture was mainstream, and ubiquitous, and yet to harden over into the diminishing returns of Ibiza Trance, which were to deal it an almost fatal blow towards the end of the decade. And so it was that interesting, well-crafted, non-formulaic, genre-blurring tunes such as Apollo Four Forty‘s Van Halen-sampling “Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Dub” got a crack at the Top Ten – complete with one of the few instances of jungle/drum-and-bass rhythm patterns selling in large quantities, even if Apollo Four Forty themselves were anything but a jungle/drum-and-bass act. Covering broadly similar ground to The Prodigy, one of the biggest dance acts in the country at this stage, “Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Dub” stands up remarkably well.
And so, with a weary sigh, we turn to the singles chart of 2007 for the first time, ready for whatever half-assed pap that the Noughties might throw at us – but stop! Wait! Reconsider! After a slow ten year slide in relevance, during which genuine popularity was routinely overshadowed by efficient but meaningless target marketing, newly liberalised regulations are already re-establishing the Top Forty as a genuine barometer of taste. With most new entries now falling outside the Top Ten, the “climber” is back, and we are once again seeing those gratifyingly smooth rises and falls which are a more accurate reflection of the way that we fall in and out of love with our favourite tunes of the day.
None of which offers much by way of defence for Gwen Stefani‘s latest effort: a slight piece of retro-tinged pop fluff, with shades of Madonna’s “True Blue” and faint echoes of the soda fountain, which falls some way short of the standards set by her enjoyable run of hits from a couple of years back. Cute but forgettable – and I promise you that we’ll hear better.
My votes: Donovan – 5 points. Taffy – 4 points. Apollo Four Forty – 3 points. Manhattan Transfer – 2 points. Gwen Stefani – 1 point.
Over to you. Please leave your votes in the comments, starting with your favourite and working downwards. No tied positions are allowed, and all five songs must be ranked. You’ll find me very strict on that.
And there’s one more earnest plea, which I make at this stage every year: when casting your votes, please try to rank them in terms of merit, and not just in terms of subjective nostalgia appeal. OK, let’s go…
1967: Mellow Yellow – Donovan (147)
Solid, superior and sweet (like the very best custard) (diamond geezer)
it’s quite threatening with that just too slow military beat (Amanda)
crap hippy whimsy, this is no “Sunshine Superman” (loomer)
1997: Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Dub – Apollo Four Forty (114)
Makes good use of archetypal Van Halen riff but rather disposable, forgettable late 90s dance offering.. not as good as “Stop The Rock” and their Status Quo lift (loomer)
Drum ‘n’ bass for ageing greboes. (betty)
Not their best moment (that would be Pain in Any Language, with Billy Mckenzie) (David)
This seems to have aged very badly. I quite liked it at the time, but it was always impossible to dance to without looking like you’re being electrocuted. (Chig)
1987: I Love My Radio – Taffy (111)
What do you mean I can’t vote based on subjective nostalgia? (but this stills whops the competition) (diamond geezer)
Entirely lovable. Big favourite are these synth sounds that end up somewhere between “poor attempt at cello” and “neutered electric guitar” and that are therefore great. (Koen)
Everything I hate in Eighties music (Amanda)
1977: Chanson D’Amour – Manhattan Transfer (98)
A simple yet sophisticated tune. Key to good song-writing. Sung by people who can sing. (Gert)
True kitsch has got to be worth something. ‘Joo tadoor’ indeed. (Amanda)
I’ve just come back from Brussels where I went to an Italian restaurant that had a live chanteuse. This reminds me of her, except she was better. The silly rat-tat-tat-tat-tat thing sounds like something Eric Morecambe used to do… (Will)
They were all left handed, if I remember correctly. What an annoying faint vibrato in the lead singer’s voice. (z)
goodness, even my ingrained nostalgia for the 70s can’t save this. Those creepy accordions, that overcooked Piaf warble! *shivers* (jeff w)
couldn’t take it for even one minute (robert)
2007: The Sweet Escape – Gwen Stefani featuring Akon (70)
Fairground bubblegum (all too easily popped) (diamond geezer)
Fluff, with cotton candy and extra caramel. urrrrgh. (asta)
It’s great driving, cooking, cleaning music. (jo)
Well done for sparing us the painful Akon bit, which has probably gained it more points than it deserves, but still… it’s no pop classic. (Chig)
I’m not sure about that yodelling at the beginning of the clip. It’s nothing special, over-produced to hide thin tinny voices with no substance or colour. (Gert)
Tired. Barely making it through the motions. (Hedgie)
what the hell happened to make her this boring? (Alan)
I’m depressed that I even have to give this one a point at all. (Lyle)