Which decade is Tops for Pops? – the results.

3rd place – The 1970s. (31 points)

2006: 1st place, 38 points.
2005: 3rd place, 30 points.
2004: 2nd place, 31 points.
2003: 1st place, 35 points + 1 tiebreak point.

10. Chanson D’Amour – Manhattan Transfer. 2 points.
9. Daddy Cool – Boney M. 5 points.
8. Jack In the Box – Moments. 2 points.
7. Don’t Leave Me This Way – Harold Melvin & The Bluenotes. 5 points, most popular.
6. Boogie Nights – Heatwave. 4 points.
5. Isn’t She Lovely – David Parton. 2 points, least popular.
4. Side Show – Barry Biggs. 1 point.
3. Don’t Give Up On Us – David Soul. 2 points.
2. Don’t Cry For Me Argentina – Julie Covington. 5 points.
1. When I Need You – Leo Sayer. 3 points.

(Boring statistical aside: Although David Parton scored 2 points and Barry Biggs only scored 1 point, David Parton has the least popular song, as derived by dividing the total number of points by the total number of voters on that day.)

wd70topI blame the MINDLESS BRAINWASHED MASSES, who were FED A DIET OF LIES by our FASCIST REGIME. Or rather, my Public School Punk Rocker fifteen-year old self would have done, as he KNEW THE TRUTH ALRIGHT?

But, I ask you, just look at this creaking load of smarmy smoothies. Simpering David Soul. Bleating Leo Sayer. Over-enunciating Julie Covington. Vacuum-packed swing from the twinkly-toed Man Tran. Carbon-copy ersatz soul from hired hack David Parton. Chicken-in-a-basket Philly Disco from the frizzed and frilled Moments, and boil-in-the-bag Euro Disco from the PLASTIC PRODUCTION LINE PUPPETS known as Boney M. Limp pop-reggae from Barry Biggs, a thousand miles away from the groundbreaking likes of Lee Perry, Culture, Burning Spear, all busy Chanting Down Babylon as the Two Sevens Clash.

wd70botBut then there was also Grade A Philly disco from Harold Melvin & the Bluenotes – the most popular single in the entire five-year history of the Which Decade project – and classy sophisto-disco from Rod Temperton’s Heatwave, ushering in the Saturday Night Fever era. And in any case, history has been rather kind to “Daddy Cool” and “Don’t Cry For Me Argentina”, and most of you were WRONG WRONG WRONG about the sublime “Side Show”, and Punk Rock Phase One was never even aimed at the charts in the first place, so one can hardly bemoan its absence.

Yes indeed. Crisis, what crisis? As long as we could all Get Up And Boogie at the Best Disco In Town, all was far from doom and gloom in 1977. So never mind those FILTHY FOUL-MOUTHED YOBS spitting and swearing, and those BLASTED UNIONS HOLDING THE COUNTRY TO RANSOM, because we had a lovely Silver Jubilee to look forward to, and street parties to plan! Ra-da-da-da-dah!

Which decade is Tops for Pops? – the results.

4th place – The 1980s. (27 points)

2006: 3rd place, 33 points.
2005: 1st place, 34 points.
2004: 3rd place, 30 points.
2003: 2nd place, 35 points.

10. I Love My Radio – Taffy. 3 points.
9. The Music Of The Night – Michael Crawford. 1 point.
8. Running In The Family – Level 42. 3 points.
7. Stay Out Of My Life – Five Star. 1 point, least popular.
6. It Doesn’t Have To Be This Way – Blow Monkeys. 3 points.
5. Almaz – Randy Crawford. 3 points.
4. Male Stripper – Man 2 Man featuring Man Parrish. 5 points, most popular.
3. Heartache – Pepsi & Shirlie. 1 point.
2. Down To Earth – Curiosity Killed The Cat. 3 points.
1. I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me) – George Michael & Aretha Franklin. 4 points.

wd80topI blame Thatcher.

It was February 1987, and Great Britain had, allegedly, Never Had It So Good. To ensure a landslide victory for the Conservative Party in the forthcoming general election, Chancellor Nigel Lawson had over-heated the economy to a degree which bordered on the reckless. The ace in his pack was the systematic privatisation of publicly owned utilities – a policy which sought to make grubby, short-termist shareholders of us all, with nothing more elevated on our minds than making a nice little return on our investments. This had coincided with the “Big Bang” in the City of London, which deregulated the financial markets and led to a feverish rush of share-dealing. London property prices were beginning to move sharply upwards, and the post-Election stock market crash known as “Black Monday” was still eight months away.

The age of the Yuppie was upon us: an almost mythical figure, to whom we were all encouraged to aspire. The “If You See Sid, Tell Him” campaign for the privatisation of British Gas was possibly Yuppie culture’s defining moment, ushering in a bizarre period in which it was seen as deeply cool to be working in advertising.

wd80botAnd of course, to complement the Yuppie look (striped shirt & braces) and the Yuppie lifestyle (Docklands apartment, red Porsche 911), one needed some suitably aspirational Yuppie pop. Something with the veneer of cool, but without any bothersome substance. Something with hair gel and shoulder pads; Fairlight synths and Jazz Sax; fake soul and plastic funk.

In other words, something like Curiosity Killed The Cat, Five Star and Pepsi & Shirlie (if you were young); George Michael and Level 42 (slightly older); Crawfords Randy and Michael (older still) – or, for the champagne socialists, the Blow Monkeys (but stick them on the CD player during your dinner party, and no-one would be any the wiser). Dance music? You’ll be wanting some latter-day Hi-NRG cheapo knock-offs, suitable for swinging your gold lame puffballs down at Stringfellows.

1987: you were the last gasp of Eighties Style Pop, which had begun so promisingly at the start of the decade (ABC, Human League, Soft Cell), but whose initial attempts at daring, subversion, and wit had gradually rendered down to mere vapid meretriciousness. And as for any musical legacy: this year’s unpredecented fourth place speaks volumes.

Which decade is Tops for Pops? – the results.

5th place – The 1990s. (26 points)

2006: Equal 4th place, 21 points.
2005: 5th place, 26 points.
2004: 4th place, 27 points.
2003: 5th place, 25 points.

10. Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Dub – Apollo Four Forty. 4 points.
9. Remember Me – Blue Boy. 4 points.
8. Barrel Of A Gun – Depeche Mode. 4 points, most popular.
7. Ain’t Nobody – LL Cool J. 2 points.
6. I Shot The Sheriff – Warren G. 1 point, least popular.
5. Clementine – Mark Owen. 1 point.
4. Don’t Let Go (Love) – En Vogue. 3 points.
3. Don’t Speak – No Doubt. 4 points.
2. Where Do You Go – No Mercy. 1 point.
1. Discotheque – U2. 2 points.

wd90topWell, this is a surprise.

I was expecting a much stronger result for the 1990s this year – especially after the first few rounds of voting, which actually placed them in the lead for a couple of days. There was a brief moment of resurgence towards the end, thanks to reasonable showings from En Vogue and No Doubt – but the combined weight of No Mercy and U2 dragged the decade back down from second place to last place, in just two days.

Whereas all our other decades managed to produce at least one winning song, the 1990s never finished any higher than second place – something which they managed four times (Apollo Four Forty, Blue Boy, Depeche Mode and No Doubt). Thanks to Warren G, Mark Owen and No Mercy, they also managed to finish last on three occasions.

Personally, I think 1997 has been rather hard done by. Looking through the ten songs, I’m struck both by the lack of so-called “manufactured” pop, and by the comparatively uncommercial nature of many of the tracks. “Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Dub” and “Remember Me” are club tracks with substance; neither pander to obvious crowd-pleasing formulas. “Barrel of a Gun” and “Discotheque” are similarly uncompromising rock tracks, which make no concessions to daytime radio-friendliness. “Don’t Let Go (Love)” and “Don’t Speak” are mature ballads, which favour emotional integrity over stock schlockiness.

wd90botThis was a period when the radical and controversial changes that Matthew Bannister had introduced at BBC Radio One were starting to bear fruit. With the “Smashy and Nicey” era firmly dead and buried, this was a new, credibility-chasing, almost self-consciously “intelligent” re-incarnation, which was keen to distance itself from the “disposable” – hence the preponderance of slightly more stretching material in the charts.

However, “stretching” does not necessarily equate to “enduring”, and it has been interesting to discover how little some of these tracks are remembered. The age of high new entries and rapid descents was upon us, with its consequent devaluing of the upper end of the charts. “Ain’t Nobody” and “Discotheque” might have reached Number One – but most of us have struggled to remember them, even just ten years on.

1997 was also the year when the Britpop wave started to recede. Blur pointedly turned their back on the genre, and started looking towards American alt-rock acts such as Pavement for inspiration. Oasis brought out the disasterous cocaine-nosebleed that was Be Here Now, and lost ground which they have never fully recovered. Pulp were on extended hiatus, pending the release of the similarly career-dampening This Is Hardcore in 1998. Instead, the year belonged to Radiohead’s OK Computer and The Verve’s Urban Hymns, two albums whose weighty solemnity signalled that the party was drawing to an end.

By the end of the year, the Spice Girls were straddling the globe, paving the way for the resurgence of Robbie Williams in 1998, and for the rise of pure pop acts such as Steps and B*Witched. 1997 thus stands as something of a high water mark for “credibility” in the charts – which is precisely why I was predicting a good result. Perhaps you’re all a good deal more Pop than I had given you credit for.

Los Campesinos! – The Social, Nottingham, Thursday March 1.

An edited version of this review originally appeared in the Nottingham Evening Post.

loscamAlthough they have been playing for under a year, and are juggling their musical activities with full-time degree courses, Los Campesinos! have already built up the sort of grassroots buzz that other, more career-minded young bands would kill for. As yet uncorrupted by success, the Cardiff seven-piece radiates a shambling, unforced charm which is hugely endearing.

Their songs are complex, cleverly worked affairs, stuffed full to bursting with tricksy arrangements, unexpected changes and literate, articulate lyrics. Despite all this precociousness, the material remains accessible, catchy and melodic. Yes, it’s as indie as indie gets – but there’s none of the sullen dourness which so often mars the genre. John Peel would have adored them, without a doubt. As one song puts it, their aim is “to find the perfect match between pretentious and pop”. You have to love them for it.

The band’s sound is propelled by fluid, chiming guitar runs, and augmented with violin, glockenspiel and melodica. Their short, energetic set climaxed with the crowd favourite and future classic You! Me! Dancing!, and the equally anthemic Sweet Dreams, Sweet Cheeks. These are still early days, but their potential is huge. Once those finals are out of the way, there’ll be no stopping them.

(Yup – as of yesterday, Los Campesinos! are my new favourite band. Download both sides of their new single for free from their official website, and download four more tracks from the BBC website.)

Update #1: Local blogger Lord Bargain was also there last night as well – good to meet you at last, Lord B – and his decidely more measured review can be found here.

Update #2: I have Ben at Silent Words Speak Loudest to thank for alerting me to the band in the first place – and here’s an excellent interview which he did with them last month, for the final issue of a free magazine called Vanity Project.

Which Decade Is Tops For Pops? – voting deadline.

“Closing date for voting will be in a few days time. I haven’t yet decided when.”

Um… sorry for being picky, but this is screaming SETUP! at me.

Will your decision be based at all on the decades you fancy looking like they’re in with a chance? Hmmm?

Only joking. I know you wouldn’t do such a thing. But maybe an early announcement would prevent any more unsavoury speculation…

Very well, Clare. Let it never be said that Which Decade is ever anything but whiter-than-white.

The voting deadline for this year’s Which Decade is Sunday night (March 4, 2007).

Let the unsavoury speculations cease forthwith.

Inland Empire.

Yesterday, I attended a morning press screening of the forthcoming David Lynch movie, Inland Empire. An extravagant use of my precious annual leave entitlement, I grant you – but then I’m not often invited to these things, and it sounded like a fun little experience to tick off the list.

Although I make a point of never reading film reviews, in case they reveal more than I need to know, I was aware that Inland Empire is three hours long, complex, and plotless. I decided to take this as a challenge.

(Sitting on my own, in silence, for three uninterrupted hours, trying to concentrate on something impossibly complicated, without really having a clue as to what’s going on? Hmm, sounds familiar. Talk about taking a busman’s holiday.)

The film started with a few disconnected scenes, high on surrealism but low on tangible meaning. A needle on a scratchy record. A hooker and a john in a hotel room, their heads smudged out, speaking in an Eastern European tongue. A family of three, with rabbit heads, speaking in non-sequiturs, with an audience laughter track. That sort of thing.

This was all fine. The scenes were slow-moving, and I was primed for weirdness, and so I purposefully committed all the details to memory, for future reference. Weird bits at the beginning have a habit of making retrospective sense, don’t they?

And then, lo and behold, a story started developing. An odd story, to be sure – but rooted in narrative logic, and with properly drawn characters, and an absolute doddle to follow.

The story was about a successful movie actress (played by Laura Dern) being offered a lead role in a movie, and commencing rehearsals, and of an ambiguous relationship developing between her and her male co-lead. There was a supernatural mystery/suspense element, and some nice interplay between the outer story and the plot of the film-within-the-film. This being David Lynch, there was also a vague sense of looming peril. It was all rather enjoyable. Jeremy Irons was in it. Harry Dean Stanton played an amusing cameo role. William H. Macy made a fleeting appearance. There were even a couple of scenes where I was able to successfully predict what was about to happen.

At around the thirty or forty minute mark, I had a flash of insight, as the inevitable arc of the story suddenly became clear. This was followed by a stab of disappointment. Two and a half hours to go, and I basically knew what was going to happen, and why. How on earth were they going to fill the time?

Minutes later, the chaos kicked in, as Laura Dern’s character began to wander between different realities, with ever-decreasing connecting logic. Locations and time scales dissolved. Dern’s personal circumstances altered, as did her mannerisms, and indeed her whole character. Certain familiar faces re-appeared, in varying guises (but not Irons, or Stanton, or Macy, all of whom disappeared). The sense of looming peril ratcheted up a good few notches. All certainties vanished, to the extent that I found myself longing for the film to return to its original story. The longer that the chaos continued, the more my nostalgia for the opening thirty or forty minutes increased.

This bewildering entropy went on, and on, and on, for two and a half trippy, dream-like hours. My concentration lapsed, badly, to the extent where I kept chastising myself for my inability to keep a grasp of the details. If only I could have committed that scene to memory, then this scene might have made more sense.

However, for all the wheels within wheels and world within worlds, all the earlier dramatic tension was lost. Dern’s previously subtle, compelling performance was reduced to a clutch of stock expressions – in particular, an expression of uncomprehending, open-mouthed terror, which became progressively more irksome.

I stopped caring, and started yawning, fidgeting and clock-watching. Hours passed.

There was a fun little formation dancing scene, set to Little Eva’s “The Locomotion”.

Etta James’s “At Last” popped up on the soundtrack. It was nice to hear it again.

There was a suburban barbecue scene, slightly grainy and oversaturated, like an old home movie. Something happened at a circus. I forget what.

There were occasional pieces of relatively straightforward dialogue or monologue, which teased me into hoping that they might explain something or other. I would prick up my ears for a while, before slouching back into itchy exasperation, or glazed ennui. These sometimes took place in a grimy, low-rent office, with Dern explaining her plight to a man behind a desk, who never spoke.

Was there ever a resolution? Of sorts, yes. But only a partial one. I’m saying nothing else.

For about half an hour afterwards, as I ordered and consumed my late-lunchtime coffee and sandwich in the Atlas deli, I felt disorientated and spaced out. Everything had a slightly surreal sheen to it, as if I wasn’t quite physically present. I went shopping, caught a cab home, then mooched about on the computer for a bit.

My prediction: critical panning, commercial flop, cult longevity – especially with the sort of 19-year stoners who delight in spotting and swapping arbitrary and entirely accidental “clues”. (“But the number on the door was 47, man! Think about it!”)

No, I don’t recommend it. Glad to be of service.