Which Decade Is Tops For Pops? – Year 5 – the Number 7s.

Wow. What an unexpected and wonderful birthday present (yes, it’s today; no, that’s fine, you couldn’t be expected to remember) the Which Decade project has seen fit to bestow on me.

Five years, 44 rounds of voting and scoring… and yea, on the 44th day, something rather marvellous has happened.

At the time of writing, the votes for this year’s Number 8s are stacked up in exact chronological order. Sure, this has happened several times before; but always with the 1960s in first place and the 2000s in last. However, for the first time ever in the history of Which Decade Is Tops For Pops, the 2000s have the leading song (The View’s “Same Jeans”), and the 1960s have the losing song (The Royal Guardsmen’s “Snoopy Vs. The Red Baron”).

Many congratulations to The View for salvaging the reputation of this most beleaguered of decades; you must be feeling very proud of yourselves right now.

To underline the magnitude of their victory: “Same Jeans” is the first winning song from the 2000s since The Source’s “You Got The Love”, on Day 4 of last year’s contest. However, since “You Got The Love” was essentially a microscopic re-twiddle of a 1990s backing track and a 1980s vocal, which would have been excluded under this years rules, we have to go all the way back to 2004 to find a previous victor from the 2000s: Britney Spears’ “Toxic”. Thus it is that “Same Jeans” breaks a drought which has lasted for no less than twenty-three rounds of voting.

Welcome back to the game, Noughties. Now, let’s see whether you can capitalise on your renewed success, as we get our critical teeth stuck into the Number Sevens.

1967: Peek-A-Boo – New Vaudeville Band. (video)
1977: Don’t Leave Me This Way – Harold Melvin & The Bluenotes.
1987: Stay Out Of My Life – Five Star. (video)
1997: Ain’t Nobody – LL Cool J.
2007: Too Little Too Late – Jojo. (video)
Listen to a short medley of all five songs.

My my, but wasn’t February 1967 an uncommonly whimsical time for chart pop? Following Donovan’s surrealist strut and the Royal Guardsmen’s ever-so-slightly-sweary beagle-based novelty, the New Vaudeville Band, with their exaggerated plummy accents (shades of Neil Hannon from The Divine Comedy?) and their nostalgic 1920s tea-dance stylings, come across like a somewhat sanitised Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band – as the above video link will confirm. (It’s worth watching just for the introduction from the bosomy old broad in bottle-green, and for the performance of their US Number One hit “Winchester Cathedral” which follows.)

“Peek-A-Boo” was the work of the songwriter Geoff Stephens, who also penned pop hits such as “The Crying Game” (Dave Berry), “Semi-Detached Suburban Mr.James” (Manfred Mann), “Goodbye Sam, Hello Samantha” (Cliff Richard, pre-empting gender-bending by over a decade) and the mighty “Knock Knock, Who’s There?” (Mary Hopkin). It’s a cute but slight affair, whose initial charm wears off fairly swiftly.

There were, of course, two competing versions of “Don’t Leave Me This Way” in the Top 20 of February 1977, nine years before the Communards took the song to Number One. Thelma Houston’s fine rendition peaked at Number 13, but this superior version (originally recorded in 1975) by Harold Melvin & The Bluenotes – featuring Teddy Pendergrass on lead vocals, and best heard in its dizzying, ever-intensifying, seemingly endless full length version – made it as far as Number 5. (In the US, where Thelma’s cover of the Bluenotes’ original reached Number One on the pop charts, the fortunes were reversed.) Thirty years on, and despite saturation exposure to the Communards version in the 1980s, the song has lost none of its power, and I’m banking on a solid stream of first placings.

Five Star‘s ghastly “System Addict” was at Number Seven in last year’s snapshot of the 1980s, and it is our unique misfortune to have them back at Number Seven this year, with the even more forgettable “Stay Out Of My Life”. To all of you who are about to lose just over a minute of your lives to its anaemic, cloying, personality-free wretchedness: be at least grateful that you didn’t have to spend 79p on its acquisition (and, yes, I resent every last penny).

“I Can’t Live Without My Radio”, “Rock The Bells”, “I’m Bad”… yes, in his early days on Def Jam records in the 1980s, LL Cool J produced some of the most compelling and ground-breaking hip hop cuts of all time. And then he recorded a rubbishly piece of slush called “I Need Love” (or “I Need A Hit”, as we all called it), hit the charts, and generally went a bit rubbish. Successful, but still a bit rubbish.

LL’s utterly pointless version of Rufus & Chaka Khan’s classic “Ain’t Nobody” was taken from the soundtrack of Beavis & Butthead Do America, and the single came packed with a picture of Beavis & Butthead on its front cover. At the time, it felt like a new benchmark of marketing over content – and it also felt like the most insignificant Number One in British chart history. (Go on, I bet you had forgotten all about it. YouTube doesn’t even have a video.) The slow devaluation of the Top 40 was just beginning, and “Ain’t Nobody” was at the vanguard.

All of which leaves Jojo‘s rather effective little lament to a love affair turned sour, which has been hanging around inside the 2007 Top Ten for several weeks now. Yes, “Too Little Too Late” is part of the new breed of real hits, which are hanging around because people actually like them, and are getting the chance to know them before they disappear from sight.

I like to think of “Too Little Too Late” as a necessary corrective to Akon & Snoop’s witless slobberings of a few days ago. Jojo’s image is that of a comparatively ordinary girl-next-door, and the plight which she describes is an easily identifiable one. Unfortunately, this is badly undercut by the auto-tuning software, which makes her sound like a whiney robot – but not even that can altogether prevent little glimpses of true emotion from poking through the sheen. I particularly like the wordless wailing at the end of the track (not featured on the MP3 medley), in which Jojo is either celebrating her new freedom, or exorcising her pain – but most likely a mixture of both.

My votes: Harold Melvin – 5 points. Jojo – 4 points. New Vaudeville Band – 3 points. LL Cool J – 2 points. Five Star – 1 point.

Over to you. After three days of voting, the 1990s are our clear leaders – blimey, whoda thunk it, there is hope, etc etc – with the gap between the other four decades still too close to call. Why, even the 2000s are still in the running. There’s everything to play for here, in what could be our most open competition to date.

Running totals so far – Number 7s.

1977: Don’t Leave Me This Way – Harold Melvin & The Bluenotes (154)

Gorgeous honeyed tones and actual emotion. A winner in any category, any decade. (asta)

The stand out amongst the group. I wonder why Thelma’s version is the only one heard these days? (Amanda)

I love Harold Melvin et al (for same reason as I liked that Moments record – cf. previous comments), but in this case I actually prefer the Thelma Houston and Communards versions. For some reason, I feel this song needs to be belted. (jeff w)

As I was three when this was out, obviously I’m most familiar with the Communards’ version. The lack of histrionic falsetto on this version gives more impact. I like it. (Adrian)

Classic song. But I so much prefer the Communards version by a degree of magnitude. This actually sounds fairly mediocre and forgettable, but what a voice! I don’t think there are any pop singers today with a voice that is a patch on this. (Gert)

the perfect accompaniment to a celebratory birthday party (diamond geezer)

2007: Too Little Too Late – Jojo (95)

the sort of inoffensive background music you might hear at a birthday dining-out experience (diamond geezer)

I don’t like processed vocals either but there’s a still a song there (Amanda)

Even with help, this voice is forgettable. The tune is worthwhile. (asta)

I really loved JoJo’s first LP but the new one is sadly lacking something – poor material, average production, and too many pale imitations of e.g. Beyonce. “Too Little Too Late” has grown on me a bit, but it’s still a shadow of the (too similar) “Leave (Get Out)”. Don’t get me wrong, I’m pleased it’s doing well, but the weight of expectation I had means that the weaknesses that you highlight in the record count for more with me. (jeff w)

Oh please, the woman can’t sing. There’s no personality in there. Another one where the studio engineers do a splendid job in masking her complete lack of talent. Wobbling like you’re on a bouncy castle does not convey emotion… (Gert)

1967: Peek-A-Boo – New Vaudeville Band (92)

Novelty accents and a workable attempt at a tune count for a lot in this line-up. (Hedgie)

sufficiently quirky to afford relief that you were too young at the time to be blamed for buying it (diamond geezer)

I enjoyed it, but I remember it from 1967 and it still charmed the child in me. (z)

It’s got a retro twenties/thirties crooner vocal. It would less horrible without the sixties brass arrangement and whistling over the top. (Amanda)

Ghastly. What a dreadful singer. He manages to sing in three different registers and hopes no one will notice the unsubtle changes. Awful tune. Dreadful lyrics. Give me Siouxsie and the Banshees. Make it stop. (Gert)

Uncovered! The Hidden Link between Rudy Vallee and Tiny Tim. I think it was found at the local landfill. (asta)

1997: Ain’t Nobody – LL Cool J (79)

It’s got some elements I like; namely the intro and the ‘Ain’t Nobody’ chorus. (Amanda)

Good choice of track to rap over. Not sure that LL adds much, but he doesn’t detract either. (Adrian)

I hate the genre, but as the genre goes I like this. Ish. Although, obviously, I would prefer Rufus and Chaka Khan. Frankly, the fact that I’m putting this second says more about the crapness of the rest. (Gert)

DON’T Mess with CHAKA! I am sick of Mr. Lip Licker anyway, what is wrong with that man? (jo)

Was there a car payment due? Another house to buy? The opening notes are promising and then, aw…sh*t. (asta)

1987: Stay Out Of My Life – Five Star (45)

The clichéd synth tricks overpower the vocals until the chorus. I haven’t decided if this is a help or hindrance to the song. (asta)

nostalgic grimness sufficient to trigger the realisation that you used to be 20 years younger (diamond geezer)

I think I said last year that they’re just the sort of band whose album would soundtrack a Patrick Bateman killing spree. Well, I stand by that. (Ben)

No five star, you stay out of mine. (Stereoboard)

Decade scores so far (after 3 days).
1. The 1990s (11) — Uh, the lord works in mysterious ways! He musta put you on this earth for all men to praise!
2= The 1960s (9) — What can I do? You’re so fancy and free!
2= The 1970s (9) — My heart is full of love and desire for you!
4= The 1980s (8) — Stay out of my life! I don’t wanna know the truth!
4= The 2000s (8) — I’m starting to move on! I’m gonna say this now: your chance has come and gone!

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