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.

Running totals so far – Number 1s.

2007: Grace Kelly – Mika (119)

Absolutely love this – a perfect pop single. Still haven’t tired of it after hours of over-exposure. (Sarah)

Best by a mile. Always makes me smile. I have even been known to dance round the kitchen to this song. (Clare)

Until Sarah played me this on Saturday night, I had so far completely avoided this record. I hated Mika entirely on the basis that his album cover screamed “SWISS, YOU ARE GOING TO DESPISE THIS RECORD” to me. I found him irritating in the extreme after about 5 tracks, but I have to admit that this record works for me. Top marks! (SwissToni)

I haven’t heard the Mika album and have no intention of doing so. But as a one-off, the return of pomp and circumstance to the charts that is “Grace Kelly” is very welcome. I think it’s a bit unfair that everyone seems to have latched on the “Why don’t you like me?” line and translated that as: Mika just wants everyone to love him. I’m prepared to give him the benefit of the doubt and assume that the sentiment is directed only at the significant other of the song’s narrator. Above all, however, “Grace Kelly” is great to sing along to – which I always do when it comes on the radio, even (especially) the falsetto bits! (jeff w)

First time I heard this, not so long ago, I did think it was Scissor Sisters for a moment, then, ooo there’s a touch of Freddie M there. So I went to find more. Big mistake. But this has an ascending notes earworm quality that’s catchy enough. (asta)

So this is the latest hot thing of 2007? That’s neat that’s neat that’s neat, I really love your Tyger Feet. Not sure what it’s got to do with one of the icons of the 20th century. A bit worrying that I like it because of its resemblance to Mud…Don’t feel a need ever to hear it again, though. (Gert)

This could just be one of those infectious pop songs that I love at the time, and then spend a decade avoiding until its rehabilitation in WDITFP (so what’s going to happen to it if WDITFP will be retired by then?!?), but this is its time, so today it wins. (Adrian)

Reprises some of the sounds of the sixties and seventies that we’ve heard in these charts. (Amanda)

Who else could marry Ben Folds and the Darkness? (Geoff)

Takes away the Scissor Sisters’ classiness and chucks in the kitchen sink. (betty)

He has one other good song – “Relax (Take It Easy)”. I’m quite shocked at how bad – and how derivative (the Scissor Sisters should sue) the rest of the album is. It’s nicely arranged, but talk about polishing a turd… (mike)

The worst song of the year, completely hideous. Like a nightmarish cross between The Darkness and Scissor Sisters – the “so I try a little Freddie mmm” bit is particularly cringeworthy. This is one earworm I’d rather be without! (loomer)

1987: I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me) – George Michael & Aretha Franklin (96)

Not exactly a classic, but so much better than the competition. I like this a lot. It’s well written. I’m not a big Aretha fan but she’s a talented professional. And George! (Gert)

Well, at least they can both bloody sing. (betty)

At the time, I think he needed her more than she needed him. (diamond geezer)

I can’t quite believe that Aretha did this song, but that voice is just sensational, even on this material. They’re not a terribly believable pair either are they? (SwissToni)

I haven’t thought much of anything recorded by her since, oh, 1972. She coasted on her Queen of Soul wheels all through the 80s and it’s evident in this song. Still. It’s Aretha. Oh yeah, there’s somebody else on this song too. He doesn’t muck it up too much so, yes second place. (asta)

Regardless that it’s a bad song and has a typically bad eighties production, it’s still Aretha and she’s still got the greatest soul voice ever. (Alan)

Aretha was quite rubbish in the 80s wasn’t she? A long way from either’s best, but catchy enough 80s pop. (loomer)

The soundtrack to a bad St Elmo’s Fire rip-off. And that’s very bad. (David)

1977: When I Need You – Leo Sayer (79)

I like the pared-down sound of this. It’s a bit schmalzy, but the simple instrumentation doesn’t overpower the vocals and I think that results in a well-executed love song. (Adrian)

Even at age 11 going on 12 and too young really to notice much of what was going on, I still felt instinctively that this ballad was aimed more at my parents’ generation than at me. What saves it now, as with a couple of other singles in the ’77 top 10, is the superb craftsmanship of the recording. The song may be a bit of a turd, but it’s a highly polished one. (jeff w)

A soppy classic, was this Carole Bayer Sager? Remember it more now for Will Mellor singing it in Hollyoaks and taking it to the charts Robson & Jerome-style, a telling fate. (loomer)

I rather liked him up until this point. Indeed I own “The Show Must go On”, “Moonlighting” and “Long Tall Glasses” on 7″. But I think he wrote those ones. But not this. (NiC)

Re. earlier Leo Sayer: “One Man Band” was the one for me – and I agree that “When I Need You” marks the moment where he ceased being interesting. (mike)

There’s a video of Leo singing You Make Me Feel Like Dancing wearing a skin tight cap sleeved t shirt and disgusting jersey trousers, through which you can see his nipples, his navel and the not very enticing Sayer crown jewels. I’ve just checked it on YouTube and the picture quality isn’t good enough to see the full horror. Thank God. (betty)

I bet they’d have featured this on Crackerjack (I don’t think this stands in its favour). (diamond geezer)

Whining and annoying. Okay, it’s not totally bad, but I could happily live a lifetime without ever hearing this cheesy contraption again. (Gert)

This song annoyed me for months when it was released. It still has the power to make me grit my teeth. (asta)

How could the muppets descend so low? Yuck – I’ve always hated this whingey whiney dirge. (Hedgie)

An artist I hated from the very word go. Didn’t you just love it on Celeb Big Bruv when he said “I was like Rod Stewart and Elton John, I played in the same league.” No, Leo luv, you really didn’t, you squeaky-voiced little shortarse. (Alan)

1997: Discotheque – U2 (69)

Loved this and still do. Bless – hooray for them for trying to loosen up. (Hedgie)

It’s not prime U2 by any means, and it’s off a pretty poor album, but I have to say that I love the swagger of the Edge’s guitar on this song. Bono’s a burk, but the Edge alone puts this song above the rest of this stuff. I love that sensible Larry Mullen was forced to wear a lyra muscleman top for the pop tour, and that he usually covered it up with a black vest! (SwissToni)

Although I love some of their tracks (and the early albums) – I’ve never been an obsessive follower of their work. This one just passes me by. (Sarah)

The U2 song has interesting things going on in the background, but by this stage of their careers the band stood for everything that was rotten in the state of pop and thus, even now, must be discouraged at all costs. (jeff w)

I am a U2 fan, but this was about the time they lost it for me. I couldn’t understand why such a talented group of rockers was producing commercial pap, without the self-aware irony of the Pet Shop Boys. (Gert)

I actually bought this album on the strength of this single. What strength? I could swear I have never ever heard this track in my life. (David)

This was a single? How did that happen? This would have been the end for most bands. (asta)

They’ve made a bit of a comeback in the last few years. This was what they came back from. The absolute low point of their entire career. (Alan)

The most overrated band of all time, this is just a rubbish retread of “The Fly”, and I suppose “Vertigo” is a retread of this. Fairly horrible, especially the video, god they’re ugly. There was a Morales mix though, so all is not lost. (loomer)

That bit of guitar on the extended version of New Year’s Day. That’s the only thing I’ve ever liked by U2. (betty)

Discotheque? I’d love to dance to this. On Bono’s head. (Geoff)

1967: This Is My Song – Petula Clark (57)

I know someone who said her voice was better than Dusty, which I thought was total sacrilege. But she is rather good I suppose. No surprise that there’s a French version, it’s very reminiscent of Piaf. Quite like it, but hardly the most memorable of no 1s. (loomer)

Sounds like it comes from the fifties rather than the sixties. (Amanda)

I don’t remember this version, I do remember the Harry Secombe one. Chaplin’s songs were always sickly sweet and syrupy, and the only way to pull them off is to sing them with a hefty dose of world-weary cynicism (Smile is the classic example). Petula is just too nicey-nice for it. Actually, Piaf would have been perfect. (Alan)

I like the tune, but words should never have been added. (z)

The instrumentation is deeply irritating. Pet’s voice is fine, but she’s no Dusty for me. (SwissToni)

This is an earworm of the worst kind. My Dad, whose taste in music was in all other respects admirable, had a weak spot for Petula. I think he had a crush on her. Whatever. Downtown I could handle, but this was beyond the pale. As a point of trivia– Petula performed in Montreal last March. She’s still adored here. Her concert was almost entirely in French. No, I didn’t go. (asta)

Although she has a good voice, I was never really aware that she’d released anything other than ‘Downtown’. If they’re all like this – she probably shouldn’t have bothered. (Sarah)

Shame it’s not a song, just an arrangement of black dots on a stave. The intervals are all wrong. I think I once wrote a song like that. And the balalaika (or whatever) accompaniment is just incongruous. (Gert)

Decade scores so far (after 9 days).
1 (1) The 1960s (33) — Flowers are smiling bright! Smiling for our delight!
2 (4) The 1970s (28) — I never knew there was so much love, keeping me warm night and day!
3 (2) The 2000s (27) — Should I bend over? Should I look older, just to be put on your shelf?
4 (2) The 1990s (24) — You can reach, but you can’t grab it! You can’t hold it, control it, you can’t bag it!
5 (5) The 1980s (23) — When I think of all those disappointments, I just laugh! I just laugh!

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