Which Decade Is Tops For Pops? – Year 5 – the Number 9s.

At this early juncture, I should explain something about the thorny matter of re-releases. In past years, I have sometimes included them (Elvis Presley’s “Wooden Heart”), and sometimes excluded them (Dead or Alive’s “You Spin Me Round”). This year, I’m definitely excluding them – and here’s my reasoning.

The objective of this little stunt is to compare the music that was actually made in each decade. Therefore, older records which happened to find popularity in a different decade – most usually because of successful marketing – would only skew the sample. Exceptions can be made for remixes which noticeably change the original, and for re-releases that still belong to the same decade.

This year, three singles fall foul of the re-release rule: Elvis Presley’s “Suspicion” (a 1962 recording which hit the charts in 1977), and two hits from 1987: Ben E. King’s “Stand By Me” and Percy Sledge’s “When A Man Loves A Woman”, which were both used in massively popular (and deliciously homo-erotic) TV advertisments for Levi’s Jeans. To fill the gaps, I’ve added Number 11 and Number 12 hits to the bottom of the lists, and shuffled everything up accordingly.

Now that we’re all singing from the same revisionist hymn sheet, let’s crack on with the Number Nines.

1967: Matthew And Son – Cat Stevens.
1977: Daddy Cool – Boney M. (video)
1987: The Music Of The Night – Michael Crawford. (video)
1997: Remember Me – Blue Boy. (video)
2007: I Wanna Love You – Akon featuring Snoop Dogg. (video)
Listen to a short medley of all five songs.

Ah, but didn’t The Artist Subsequently Known As Yusuf Islam have some great moments, before he went all soppy and sappy in the early 1970s? Boasting some terrific orchestration, “Matthew And Son” is a fine piece of slightly Kinks-esque social observation, which bemoans the plight of the Oppressed Worker and delivers a sophisticated pop take on the emergent genre of the “protest” song.

From deep and meaningful to shallow and meaningless, but in the best possible way: Boney M were rarely less than preposterous, and rarely more fun than on this, their debut hit. So good that they based a musical around it, “Daddy Cool” is production-line German disco from that eternal pop tart, Frank Farian (of whom more in a few days’ time) – and as such, it sits at the opposite end of the spectrum from Giorgio Moroder’s increasingly ground-breaking work with Donna Summer. “Daddy Cool” may be no “I Feel Love” – but at eight out of ten wedding discos, it’s the one which is more likely to get me wiggling my pin-striped booty with the bridesmaids.

Ooh Betty, Andrew Lloyd-Webber’s done a whoopsie all over the Top Ten! From the musical Phantom of the Opera, Michael Crawford buries the memory of Frank Spencer with… with…

…no, sorry. We all have our blind spots, and this brand of over-egged, pseudo-operatic Musical Theatre is one of mine. Please don’t make me think about it any more than I have already had to.

Featuring vocal samples from Marlena Shaw’s superb “Woman of the Ghetto”, Blue Boy‘s “Remember Me” was one of those crossover club hits that just about everybody loved at the time. Perhaps it got a little over-played, and perhaps it needs laying aside for a few more years before we can all start loving it anew – for such is the fate of the “used groove” – but you can’t argue with class like this, can you?

I’ve tried to do my best by Akon & Snoop Dogg, even beefing their track up with a running beat-mix from “Remember Me”, but I can already hear the howls of outrage building up in my embryonic comments box. Although bearing the DJ-friendly title “I Wanna Love You”, the word “love” is mysteriously absent from the track itself – and there are no prizes for guessing which four-letter word takes its place, either.

A couple of years ago, I penned a fairly detailed defence of the use of the f-word in Eamon’s huge hit, “F**k It (I Don’t Want You Back)” – and I’d stand by that defence today. With Akon & Snoop’s “I Wanna F**k You” – a straightforward ode of dribbling lust towards a pole dancer – the issues are somewhat different. There’s no subtlety here. No subversion of the apparent meaning. Not even any redeeming wit. They want to f**k her. End of.

So in that case, why do I find myself becoming increasingly obsessed with this song, which I must have played half a dozen times in the past 24 hours? Maybe it’s because I’m trying to absorb the shock – because, yes, having a song like this in the Top Ten does shock me. Maybe it’s because I’m trying to work out, from a generational distance of at least twenty years if not thirty years, how this song is being consumed by its target audience. Do they find it funny, or horny, or thrillingly transgressive (I’ll bet this is huge with 13-year old boys), or are they even listening that closely in the first place?

Although this country doesn’t boast much in the way of a pole-dancing culture, it’s a safe bet that “I Wanna F**k You” will be blaring out thrice nightly, in every titty-bar from New York to L.A. Well, of course it would, as it handily perpetuates the fantasy that the dancers are gagging for it, and that the punters have some sort of legitmate claim over them.

On the other hand, perhaps people aren’t as dumb as I’m making out. Of course this track perpetuates an erotic fantasy. That’s the whole point. It’s a fantasy – and as such, does its existence necessarily have to be a harmful one?

But then again: is it just me, or isn’t there something bleak, desolate and almost mournful about the atmosphere on this track? Doesn’t it exude some kind of languid, disconnected loneliness, which intensifies with each repeated listen, to the point where the tune becomes perversely enjoyable?

Or maybe I’m over-analysing, and it’s just a pile of lazy, offensive crap (and also Akon’s second consecutive appearance in the 2007 Top 10, but I can’t think of anything remotely interesting to say about that). We shall see, soon enough.

My votes: Cat Stevens – 5 points. Blue Boy – 4 points. Boney M – 3 points. Akon & Snoop Dogg – 2 points. Michael Crawford – 1 point.

Over to you. Votes in the comments box, please. I’m predicting an early lead for the 1960s, but what do I know?
Continue reading “Which Decade Is Tops For Pops? – Year 5 – the Number 9s.”


Ah, the sweet smell of desperation…


Do you fancy a hot date this Valentine’s Day? Well spend the big day with your loved one and Tuesday 13th February with Shayne Ward.

If you’ve not got your tickets yet there’s still chance to spend a night with last year’s X Factor winner at Nottingham Arena.

Hmm. Perhaps that “major arena” tour was a little over-optimistic after all?

Having turned down the chance to review Shayne’s Nottingham show this evening (the interview was quite enough, and we’ve decided to see Dreamgirls instead; even more Gay Points), I have instead sub-contracted the assignment to Chig, who will be hot-footing it over from Birmingham this evening, notebook and pencil in hand. (The relief from my editor was palpable.)

As usual, K and I won’t be celebrating Valentine’s Day, because a) we don’t do slushy, b) it only distracts attention from my birthday on the 17th, and c) it’s a bag of bollocks, as this lethally accurate post from last week’s Post of the Week shortlist illustrates.

Alternatively, maybe I’ll send him one of Meg’s Anti-Valentine cards instead. It wouldn’t be the first time…

While we’re on the subject of Post of the Week: although the project is going every bit as well as I had hoped, we could still do with a few more volunteers. To this end, we have introduced a new category of volunteer: the Permanent Judge.

The duties of a Permanent Judge are dead simple, and not in the least bit time-consuming. Once every four to six weeks, you’ll be asked to read the shortlist – which contains between six and twelve of the week’s best posts – and to e-mail the names of your favourite five posts, in order of preference. You’ll have from Saturday lunchtimes to Sunday nights to do this. I can’t imagine it taking any longer than 30 minutes at most, and you’ll get to read some damn good stuff into the bargain.

If you’re interested, then please e-mail me.

What do you think of Post of the Week, anyway? I’d be interested to hear your opinions, criticisms, suggestions, whatever…

Which Decade Is Tops For Pops? – Year 5 – the Number 10s.

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!

1967: Mellow Yellow – Donovan. (video)
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…
Continue reading “Which Decade Is Tops For Pops? – Year 5 – the Number 10s.”

Cryptic crossword clue.

I devised this one while lying in bed this morning, basically as a displacement activity for getting out of bed and cracking on with the day. Yes, that might be an extra clue.

Automobile financed, Ethel Merman starts to rise and shine, we hear. (5,4)

I’ll leave the solution in the comments – but no advance peeking, do you hear? I’m placing you on trust…

Update: OK, so maybe that one was too easy. In which case, try this one.

Minty Yorkshireman’s ejaculation into African dictator’s behind. (6,6)

Welcome to Troubled Diva.

(Last revision: January 22nd 2009.)

Hello, I’m Mike Atkinson, and this is my personal weblog.

Firstly, and despite frequent evidence to the contrary, I am not “Troubled Diva”. That’s the name of the blog, not the name of its author. I dreamt the name up in a hurry, before I knew what I was going to do with this site, and then it stuck, so here we are. I particularly dislike the forced glottal-stop between the “d” at the end of “troubled” and the “d” at the beginning of “diva” – but hey, what can you do. It’s a brand, of sorts.

I’ve been writing Troubled Diva since October 2001, which either places me at the end of the “first wave” of British blogging, or at the start of the “second wave” of British blogging. I’ve probably got a foot in both camps.

I’m in my mid-forties, I’m as gay as a goose, and I’ve been sharing my life with my partner K since 1985. We registered our civil partnership in April 2006, and as such are now legal, decent, honest and truthful. Farewell, twilight subculture! Hello, equality under the law! That we should have lived to see the day!

During the week, we live in central Nottingham, where I work as an IT consultant, and where K runs a company which specialises in improving the detection and treatment of cancer in pets. From Friday evenings until Monday mornings, we de-camp to a village in the Derbyshire Peak District, somewhere between Ashbourne, Bakewell and Buxton. We’re a little bit country, and a little bit rock and roll. But I’m more rock and roll than he is.

Ah yes, rock and roll. I’m a freelance music journalist in my spare time, and I provide regular gig reviews, album reviews and interview features for the Nottingham Evening Post. I’ve written for Guardian Film & Music, Stylus and LeftLion, and I’ve also covered the Eurovision Song Contest for Slate and Time Out (London).

Ah yes, the Eurovision Song Contest. I’ve attended it in person on five occasions, and I have to warn you that, for two or three weeks a year, Troubled Diva does go Full On Eurovision Crazy. I’ll leave you to negotiate around that in the way which suits you best.

As for the rest of the blog: it’s primarily a “personal” site, which means that the main subject matter is Me And My Fabulous Life. There are diary-style pieces; there are autobiographical reminiscences; there are various scraps of half-baked commentary on what we must loosely term “popular culture” (as I’m too shallow to engage with anything else); there are competitions and collaborative stunts; there are occasional excursions into podcasting and vidcasting … but there is also much linkage to other sites of interest, and to other blogs in particular. I’m one of those bloggers who does feel very much like part of an extended community, and blogging has introduced me to many wonderful like-minded souls, many of whom I now regard as good friends.

(Of course, the downside to all of this community-mindedness is that a certain self-referential cliquiness does creep in from time to time. Advance apologies, but it can’t altogether be helped. Such is the nature of our medium.)

My “site style” is a wildly inconsistent one, and I have no wish to make it more consistent. Consistency is for freelance work; the blog is where I cut loose, muck around, take risks, and generally do what I damn well please – but, and this is crucial, only if I think it will entertain others. I may swing between wild extremes of self-aggrandisement and self-deprecation – frequently within the same blog post – but I do my best to steer away from self-indulgence. Troubled Diva isn’t written for myself; it’s written for its readership.

As for frequency of posting, that also varies considerably. I might post six times in a day, and then not at all for two weeks. This depends on all sorts of factors, but mainly on the ever-shifting balance of priorities in my life. I do have a tendency to over-commit, which is a tad awkward when you’re as fundamentally lazy as I am. So bear with me, reader. It all evens out in the end.

Troubled Diva has received more than its fair share of bouquets over the years. It has been shortlisted for all sorts of blogging award doo-dahs – most notably the 2005 Bloggies, when it made the final five in the Best Gay Lettuce Bacon & Tomato category. I’ve talked about blogging on the radio, I’ve given lectures about blogging to a writers’ conference, a book festival and an MA Creative Writing class, and the site has been featured in various newspapers and magazines, both in the UK and abroad.

I also administer a site called Post of the Week, which ran as a regular feature on this blog before being launched under its own domain in January 2007. It’s basically an attempt to promote good writing on personal blogs, and to draw people’s attention to blogs they might not have heard of before.

I have edited and published a paperback anthology of British blog writing, within the space of a week, in order to raise money for Comic Relief 2007. The book is called Shaggy Blog Stories, and copies are still available for sale. I’ve also contributed a piece for another blog anthology, You’re Not The Only One.

In March 2008, I launched a community blog for the aforementioned village in the Derbyshire Peak District. The village blog has gone from strength to strength, and I spend a lot of my spare time helping to administer it.

To get a flavour of to what expect around here, I have assembled 25 of my favourite posts on their own dedicated page. There’s a massive archive to dip into, and I’ve provided links to the highlights over here. Ooh, it could keep you busy for months.

I hope you enjoy the Troubled Diva Experience. Comments are encouraged – indeed, I can be quite the petulant little madam if I feel I’m not getting enough of them – and a range of quality souvenir merchandise is available in the foyer.

Further assorted “about this site” / “about the author” posts can be found here:

troubled diva: the first 5 years, summarised
dramatis personae
potted autobiography
4 things · 100 things · 100 other things
BBC Nottingham profile & interview
what makes me “good”?
the zbornak mini-interview
the ages of mike (in pictures)
blogging questionnaire
“finish this sentence” meme

Showing my workings: an explanation for the feed readers.

Blessed are the RSS watchers; for they shall see the “inappropriate humour” posts, slapped up on a whim and hastily withdrawn. Context is key, and I sometimes forget that not all who pass though these doors are necessarily equipped with that context.

Cursed are the RSS watchers; for they shall be burdened with scores of old posts, re-published in order that New Blogger “labels” might be added. My apologies for the intrusion.

I’m loving these new-fangled “labels”, though – as they are helping me to bestow retrospective order upon the more unkempt areas of my archives and sidebar. For while most people – normal, sensible people with a sense of perspective and a functional set of priorities – are happy to let their archives grass over, I like to tend to mine, keeping them neat and clipped and accessible, with their more prominent features clearly marked.

It’s a time-consuming process to be sure – but there’s something about grinding monotony in the service of neatness and tidiness which appeals to something deep and primal within me. In Neolithic times, while others were out a-hunting and a-gatherering, I would have been the one stuck back in the cave, ranking mammoth tusks by size, or age, or curvature, or pointiness. Or maybe organising a “Mammoth Tusk of the Week” poll amongst my fellow Neanderthals.

Anyway. Before the SHEER UNADULTERATED JOY of Which Decade Is Tops For Pops kicks off again on Monday, I’m having a behind-the-scenes Maintenance Week.

And interviewing pop stars. And getting some order back into the Nottingham house, after the kitchen refit. And sourcing a 20-second “walk” interlude for the dressage music (thank God for BPM analysing freeware, and iTunes smart playlists). And keeping a watchful eye on Post of the Week. And savouring home-grown leeks, donated by lovely fellow bloggers. And purchasing the word “bottom”, twice. (More explanation here.) And enjoying exceptional posts written by good friends. Busy busy busy!

When Mike met Shayne.

shwrdMy nice little chat with former X Factor winner Shayne “Big In Asia” Ward is in the EG supplement of today’s Nottingham Evening Post – and it can also be found online.

(Complete with some strange punctuation; those triple question marks are supposed to be dot-dot-dots.).

OK, so perhaps Shayne wasn’t the most scintillating of conversationalists (although not as script-perfect as his People would wish him to be, as careful reading between the lines will reveal) – but at least I got a decent amount of phone time with him. In contrast, my editor was granted the grand total of forty-six seconds to speak to Beyoncé Knowles – and yet he still managed to spin an entertaining feature out of it. I’m looking, and I’m learning.