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.

Running totals so far – Number 2s.

1977: Don’t Cry For Me Argentina – Julie Covington (122)

I haven’t heard Julie’s version for years, but it is still the version all others are measured against. My recall of its superiority seems to be justified. And I’d like to think it’s thanks to Rice and Covington too and not the sqitty Webber bloke. (NiC)

I’d like to share a thought about the lyrics to DCFMA. Well, more a story wot I heard on the radio once. See, I never thought those lyrics made much sense, and although that may be OK for Noel Gallagher it’s not something Tim Rice ever did. Well, you can’t much in a musical can you? The song was originally called “It’s Only Your Lover Returning” a lyric which stood in place of the first line of the chorus each time until the end. Which makes sense of the second line “the truth is, I never left you”. ALW liked the Argentina line better, and one blazing row later they all went back to the studio the next day and inserted the other line, every time. Partly a lyrical choice but also because the musicality of the line is different. “Don’t” fell on beat one but “It’s only” fell before the bar line – hence weaker to ALW’s ears. And let’s face it his ears are his strong point. Try it. (robin)

This has been part of my life almost as long as Tina Charles’ ‘I Love To love’ – I think Elaine Page first introduced it to me, or was it the Argentine Fans at the world cup final when I was a kid? Anyway, I’ve sung this in the shower more times than any other record I think (i’m sure it pip’s Abba’s ‘Waterloo’ and Robbie’s ‘Angels’ to the top of the shower chart!) Oh, the number of times i’ve been on that balcony in Buenos Aires – with Head and Shoulders in my hair… (Simon & The City)

I think I’m voting for some of these songs on the strength of a memory-jogging emotional response. I’m taken straight back to a cosy 70s childhood, tea in the kitchen with radio 2 on in the background. (Sarah)

“Don’t Cry For me, Argentina” isn’t my favourite slice of Lloyd Webber it must be said, but who after reading this essay by Tom Ewing wouldn’t give it maximum points? (jeff w)

A timeless classic; ALW’s best moment. I enjoyed Madonna in the movie, but Julie Covington’s is still the definitive account of this song. (Hedgie)

Somehow she makes it ‘her song’, and not even Madonna can wrest that away from her. (diamond geezer)

Better than Madge’s (but what isn’t), though not as good as Donna or Sinéad, but probably the definitive straight reading of what is perhaps shclokmeister Andrew Lloyd Weber’s best tune and at least she isn’t Elaine bloody Paige. Btw – check this “obituary” of Andrew Lloyd Webber, not very kind! (loomer)

This voice is too pure and clear to ever sell the line ‘ Couldn’t stay all my life down at heel’. Give me Patti Lupone any day–Elaine Paige in a pinch. This was the last ALW production I have had any time for. Once he and Tim Rice parted ways it was all shlock. (asta)

I loved the ‘Rock Follies’ tv show. Asta’s right about this one. Julie’s all wrong for the Evita role. (Amanda)

I agree it’s not as good as Sinead’s version. But she was one of the Rock Follies and thus one third of a great deal of my teenage masturbatory fantasyland. (Alan)

Sure, good voice, but some of those vowel sounds really grate and I agree that the voice doesn’t fit the song. Vastly overhyped at the time and I still don’t like it. (z)

I really dislike her voice; that swinging between little girl breathiness (but no Marilyn) and that harsh grating metallic sound. A memorable tune, especially a stupid Goodies sketch – ‘Don’t Cry for Me Marge and Tina’. I do so like the David Essex ‘Oh What a Circus’. Possibly because I fancied David Essex? (Gert)

Her singing makes me shudder in a really bad way. Good song by all means, but not like this. (Simon C)

2007: Ruby – Kaiser Chiefs (102)

Now I’m not a huge fan of the current music scene, but this song is alone in this selection with passion. Well, IMO anyway. (Lionel d’Lion)

I really liked their first album, it was quirky and unpredictable. This is just bland. From “I Predict a Riot” to rubyrubyrubyrubyrubyrubyruby, there’s no comparison really, is there? (Alan)

They are something I only ever read about in free papers, much like Paris Hilton and Kate Moss. F-k knows what they’re about. Still sounds like pop though. (Simon C)

It’s by numbers Kaiser Chiefs, and they were never really that good were they? (SwissToni)

Not the Kaiser’s best, IMHO, and tarnished with by my knowledge of Chris Moyles’ Donny, Donny, Donny, Donny… parody. (Adrian)

Considering the large number of pre-existing tracks with raucous guitar accompanying an over-produced thin reedy unexpressive voice, I’m not really sure what this adds to human existence. (Gert)

Is there any band around just now more loathsome than the so-called Kaisers? I don’t hate this half as much as their previous ubiquitous fare like “I Predict A Riot”, but give it time. (loomer)

The modern day Tremeloes? (betty)

Sounds like a football chant (but only suitable for a lower league Spanish fishing village) (diamond geezer)

No No and No. Deeply turgid, despite the best efforts of the chorus to pep things up. This sort of thing needs to be much more chipper, tight, and en pointe to work. (Hedgie)

1987: Down To Earth – Curiosity Killed The Cat (85)

Wow, 1987 was the last great year in the 80s for glitzy pop wasn’t it? Before acid house and SAW came to spoil the party. This is much like their other hit “Misfit”. The singer guy with the double-barrelled French surname was on a Pop Years programme most recently and is still quite hot. (loomer)

Hey, I liked Ben Vol-au-vent Poltroon. I went through a phase of going out wearing a blazer, stripy T-shirt and a beret. (David)

Brings back great memories of the 80s, probably because I haven’t heard it since then. It’s aged well. (Adrian)

Boasts that same quirky soulful wanderingness that good jazz melodies have. (diamond geezer)

Vaguely finger-clicky, but basically soulless. (Clare)

It sounds like the music they played in restaurants with pink and light green colour schemes and white wicker furniture. (asta)

I’m going away to look up the lyrics in a minute. A high point for incomprehensible, pretentious ’80’s nonsense? (betty)

I too vaguely remember this band being sold as “cool” to the gullible public. How hilarious. Compare this to Pepsi and Shirley’s effort – underneath quite respectable vocal performances both songs have identikit production values. Vile vile vile. Conclusive proof the 80s were the “style” decade. (Hedgie)

I was never into the Curiositys back then. I thought they were a low-rent Wet Wet Wet. This hasn’t changed my view. (Gert)

You have made me realise how DONE i am with 80’s music. (jo)

1967: Release Me – Engelbert Humperdinck (78)

I’m old enough to remember this but young enough that the controversy passed over my head. Well, the Beatles will have to take their chances like any other pop band. I’m with the wrinklies on this one. I like his voice and the solid if rather stolid melody. (Hedgie)

I’m firmly on The Hump’s side re this alleged Outrage you refer to. Those baby boomers, eh? Cry baby boomers more like. (jeff w)

I’m not sure how to score this. It’s terrible but in a memorable, strong kind of way. (Amanda)

I like this when I’m drunk; or rather I like singing this when I’m drunk. I know it’s a classic, I know it’s well put together as a song etc etc but it just doesn’t float my boat. (Gert)

Oh boy! Me and my mate always used to sing this at the top of our voices in the car on the way home from the pub on a sunday night (in the 1990’s not the 1960’s I might add…!). I was always drunk, he was always just up for a good time (and still is…) (Simon & The City)

Awful at the time and I didn’t understand why fawning women thought it was a love song when it was full of spite. And blimey, isn’t it slow. (z)

I like the mention of Proustian olfactory side effects. This reminds me of the smell of Cherry B and Park Drive cigarettes, because it was played over the PA in a club my parents used to take me to (they let kids in, for reasons I’ve never understood). It used to rival Tom Jones’ Delilah for getting all the drunken blokes singing along in the pub style. (betty)

Just awful. MOR dreck for wrinklies. Most infamous chart injustice of all time. I remember it more for being The Fast Show theme. (loomer)

Doilies, lemon spray furniture polish and silk flower arrangements. Shoot me now. (asta)

I’ve never understood the chart longevity of this tedious syrupfest. (diamond geezer)

*must-fight-urge-to-make-poor-please-release-me-from-listening-jokes*… (Adrian)

1997: Where Do You Go – No Mercy (63)

I’m flabbergasted I’m giving this 4 points. Utterly forgotten, but still fresh on rehearing. I love the soulful latino vocals and twinkly Spanish guitar on top of that dance-friendly beat. Fun and unpretentious – yet beneath the gossamer-light fluff this has precise German engineering. (Hedgie)

This track reminds me of fabulous nights in Euro Discos – and the latino boys are lovely… (Simon & The City)

Very Club 18-30s. Cheerful but tiresome. (Clare)

The reference to Peter Sarstedt’s “Where Do You Go To My Lovely” tantalises but the song fails to anything interesting with it. (Amanda)

I remember this being a carbon copy in every sense of Everything But The Girl’s “Missing”. (loomer)

Halfway through listening to this I started thinking that a version by the Wurzels would be really cracking. (betty)

mmmm… after watching the video of this cute Latino threesome, my head was pounding like rolling thunder too. However, since you said we’re meant to be voting based on merit and not shaggability, bottom of the heap I’m afraid. (Oliver)

This will forever be a Saturday Night Live skit of the ever obnoxious Roxbury Brothers head dancing to their ‘signature’ song for me. (jo)

I’d probably enjoy this if I could get rid of the mental picture of Doug and Steve Butabi bouncing their heads in time to the beat. I know, different song, but not that different. (asta)

Sounds to me like the illegitimate child of Boney M and Black Lace. (Stereoboard)

Horribly formulaic. No merit. I was bored after 20 seconds, the thought of a full length song makes me shudder. (Gert)

Not even the cheerfulness and happy-party-vibe of it can disguise what an utter dog of a song it is. (Simon C)

Decade scores so far (after 8 days).
1 (1) The 1960s (32) — Release me, and let me love again!
2= (4) The 1990s (23) — Just like a river flowing to the sea, you’re running back to me!
2= (2) The 2000s (23) — Do ya, do ya, do ya, do ya! Ahaa-ahaa-aaaa!
4 (2) The 1970s (22) — And as for fortune, and as for fame, I never invited them in!
5 (5) The 1980s (20) — You’re shattered by the vital pain, that is needed now to tell you not to go insane!

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