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.

Running totals so far – Number 3s.

1967: I’m A Believer – The Monkees (149)

OMG..the Monkees. I have an unatural adoration for The Monkees. In my early television viewing years the show used to be on every afternoon sandwiched between H.R. Puffenstuff and The Banana Splits, all three were the 1970’s equivalent of a pre teen psycadelic trip. Just the mere opening refrain of that somg makes me bop in my seat, it’s just so damn HAPPY. (jo)

Being a big fan of the songs that Neil Diamond wrote, I do like this a lot. and I have to say that the Monkees sing it better than Neil! I never minded the maunfactured nature of the Monkees, they were there to sing nice songs and they did! (Gert)

Whoever “manufactured” the Monkees made sure that they had some good pop songs. (Amanda)

It’s deceptively simple and bright for all it’s manufacture. There’s no irony or cynicism here. How refreshing. (asta)

I remain astonished that anybody hasn’t given this five points – it’s nigh perfect. (diamond geezer)

By any criterion you care to name, this pisses all over Strawberry Fields/ Penny Lane from a great height. (jeff w)

One of those songs that almost sum up the “sixties so far” before the “summer of love”. (Alan)

A classic, but looking a little worn these days. (Adrian)

I think it’s best I don’t say what I think about the Monkees. (Marcos)

1997: Don’t Speak – No Doubt (106)

At the height of Britpop, No Doubt sailed to the top of the charts and showed us how it was meant to be done. (Oliver)

I sense that’s probably not going to be a popular choice, but this month ten years ago my marriage was breaking up, and I sat around listening to this song over and over and it helped me out a vast amount because it summed up everything I was feeling at the time, so it is always going to be a hugely special song for me. (Alan)

Why oh why do I love Gwen and her extremely odd way of singing, those lips, the pouting…but every song turns into an ear worm for me. (jo)

An earworm if ever there was one. Memorable song and vocalisation, but still unsure if this is my cup of tea. (Hedgie)

Sugary and soppy, yes, but sung from the heart since she wrote it after being dumped by the bass player. (Marcos)

Not their best song but it has a very distinct sound and it better than a lot of subsequent solo Stefani stuff. (Will)

One of those corny songs that plays on cheap emotions that was obviously going to be a big hit but still appealing for all that. (betty)

This sounds like an Eighties throwback even though it’s from the Nineties. (Amanda)

Over-exposed commercial-radio-fodder – grates more with every play. (diamond geezer)

A sort of poor woman’s Tori Amos. In her voice I can hear that she is grimacing in a way to convey emotion. I think she might be building up to vomit after the unimaginative dance bit. I think by this stage I was being very picky-and-choosy when it came to pop. (Gert)

Don’t sing, more like. Oh how I hate this band and this song is a primary factor. Ghastly, the guitar solo is the icing on a poisonous marzipan-filled cake. (loomer)

2007: Starz In Their Eyes – Just Jack (102)

Clever, tuneful and hip – who’d have thought it of modern music? (diamond geezer)

Just seems to be a step above millions of other tracks of that ilk. You want to hear more. (JonnyB)

When he first popped up I was annoyed that he so clearly derived from The Streets. However this is bloody good. (Hedgie)

I’m not sure about the chorus but it definitely has a Streets-style mockney charm. (Amanda)

I often feel that the newer tracks suffer from being that much less familiar. While one tries to judge them on merit alone, I find it hard not to give the track I know really well the nod ahead of the one I’m less familiar with. I have the feeling this might’ve been higher had I heard it more times, but for now 3pts. (Oliver)

I’m getting a little bored of “daan to earf geeza” music to be honest, but as far as it goes this isn’t too bad. (Alan)

Just Jack is getting overwhelmingly mocked in my current social circles, to the extent that I’ve had to reluctantly defend “Starz in Their Eyes” from some of the more venomous attacks. Reluctantly cos, well, it’s Alright and no more. Lyrics score zero for insight, but perhaps five out of ten for pathos. And the music’s quite catchy innit. (I gather many of Jack’s other songs sound like Jamiroquai. Oh dear.) (jeff w)

Don’t mind this too much, but hardly a cutting-edge target is it? (loomer)

I hated this when I first heard it (on Later….) and thought he was insipid. It’s grown on me masses though. I’m not sure it’s as clever as it thinks it is, to be honest. “V.I. Person”? horrible line. (SwissToni)

Just poor. The Streets with a bit of a tune (or is that just me?) (Lionel d’Lion)

Just incredibly annoying singer songwriter pumped up a bit to make him look a bit street. (Geoff)

Hmm, he sounds like a nagging old char woman. Seems to have been annoying me on the radio and telly for the past three months at least. (betty)

1977: Don’t Give Up On Us – David Soul (75)

It’s not hip, it’s not clever, but it’s got that something. Great seventies orchestral arrangement that’s intelligent rather than James Last, and a superb bridge section, like wot ‘proper’ songs have. (JonnyB)

Now if this had been a straightforward love song I’d have liked it less. A charming bastard pleading and trying to put responsibility for being dumped onto her, when he’d misbehaved, yes, that cuts through the smooch and works for me. (z)

If the Monkees were up against Silver Lady or This Time I’m Going In With My Eyes Open, they would have to yield first place. But this was the weakest of David Soul’s big three. This was just about the time I was systematically getting into pop and I veered between this sort of song and punk. It’s a nice song, and he has a nice voice. (Gert)

One huge trip down memory lane. Reminds me of my parent’s New Year parties in the 70s – I thought they were so glamorous (even with my Dad’s dancing). (Sarah)

He was a source of ridicule at the time, especially as one of my friends had a huge crush on him. Er, I wonder if she ended up getting married to an older man? This has aged better than I would’ve expected, in that it’s not completely intolerable. (betty)

David Soul got rightly mocked in my (10 year old) circles at the time for pandering so blatantly to the female record buyers of the UK. Even our mums liked this – hardly rock’n’roll, was it? Not compared to the excellent fusion-funk by Lalo Schifrin and Tom Scott you heard week in, week out on Carkeys and Clutch anyway. Today? “Don’t Give Up On Us” is probably ripe for reclamation by Sean Rowley if he hasn’t done so already. “Silver Lady” is better though. (jeff w)

Unlike the work of Cat Stevens, this falls into my definition of soppy and sappy. (Amanda)

One of those K-Tel abominations from the 70’s. A little bit of Bread with a twinge of Air Supply. (jo)

Nice voice, but why couldn’t he have stuck to car chases? (Alan)

A severe afront to the auditory organ. (Marcos)

Like drowning in a vat of sickly treacle. (diamond geezer)

This one is so bad that I suspect forced listening is grounds for human rights charges before the International Criminal Court. (asta)

When I was a kid, I used to squeeze my brow together in an attempt to get a deep vertical furrow above my eyebrow like David Soul’s. Thirty years later, I really, really wish I hadn’t. (David)

1987: Heartache – Pepsi & Shirlie (48)

It’s taking me all my objectivity not to let nostalgia win out again and award this top marks, but this is my favourite classic 80s pop record here yet! Wonderful, this was produced by SAW (though uncredited) who were still vital and great in 1987, before becoming horribly overexposed and wretched in the last 2 years of the 80s with Kylie/Jason/Sonia/Big Fun(!) et al. (loomer)

Oh, how very School Disco. There was a very particular way 80s female vocalists were coached to sing, wasn’t there? Very Madonna. (Clare)

80s through and through, plastic synth lines, and boppy ladies. (Stereoboard)

A tacky guilty pleasure. (David)

Dreary hack work. (Hedgie)

Maybe it was just me who wondered why they were singing “It’s a hard egg”? (diamond geezer)

This was the time I began to get a bit jaded with pop, not being prepared to accept that people would buy crap like this. I am not sure I can anything positive about this, but it’s not quite awful enough to justify any meaningful criticism. Definitely one for demonstrating the engineer/producer’s talents. (Gert)

I’m so disappointed in the 80s representation. I’m starting to doubt my memories of my favourite decade… (Sarah)

The 1980s is full of this sort of plinky nonsense, isn’t it? (Will)

Arse-paralysingly grim (Marcos)

Their finest hour was probably doing a promotional makeover for Rimmel cosmetics in a magazine. Shirlie was wearing Passion Fruit lipstick if I remember correctly. God, this song has absolutely nothing going for it, has it? (betty)

Decade scores so far (after 7 days).
1 (1) The 1960s (28) — Not a trace of doubt in my mind!
2= (3) The 2000s (20) — Maybe you’ll make the evening news!
2= (2) The 1970s (20) — We’re still worth one more try!
4 (4) The 1990s (19) — It looks as though you’re letting go!
5 (5) The 1980s (18) — Tell me, am I history?

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