Gosh, is it that time already? Whereas most previous Which Decades have, barring the initial head-rush of Year One, unfolded over a relatively leisurely three weeks or so, I haven’t half been banging them out this year.
(There’s a reason for that: namely four gigs on four consecutive nights next week, AND an interview to write up, AND a 1200-word article for… well, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. But if I don’t get this post up by tonight, there simply aren’t going to be enough hours in the day.)
In terms of the daily decade-by-decade league tables, this year has been almost entirely free of drama. The 1980s, 1990s and 2000s have been fixed in their respective positions, while the only real action has occurred at the top of the league, with the 1960s and 1970s frequently swapping places or else drawing level with each other.
Nevertheless, and with just one more round to go, the pole position is still very much up for grabs. There are some extremely close border skirmishes lower down the league, and the three closest (Lighthouse Family vs The Feeling, Usher vs Kelly Rowland, Robbie Williams vs Rihanna, none more than two points apart) are all battles between the same two decades. Add that to the current one-point gap between Nickelback and the Ofarims, and you can see that the 2000s are still capable of snatching victory, for the first year ever.
Have I got you all worked up again, then? Because after those last two rounds, our collective spirits could do with some reviving. Once more into the breach we go, brave soldiers! It’s Friday night, it’s Top Of The Pops… it’s the Number Ones!
1968: Mighty Quinn – Manfred Mann. (video)
1978: Take A Chance On Me – Abba. (video)
1988: I Should Be So Lucky – Kylie Minogue. (video)
1998: Doctor Jones – Aqua. (video)
2008: Mercy – Duffy. (video)
Listen to a short medley of all five songs.
What is it with our insistence on reading non-existent “naughty” meanings into innocent cultural artifacts of forty years ago? There were no sexual double entendres in Captain Pugwash; Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds wasn’t about LSD; Bob Dylan’s Puff The Magic Dragon wasn’t about cannabis; and his 1967 composition Quinn the Eskimo (The Mighty Quinn) weren’t about no coke dealer, neither. (The song actually drew its inspiration from Anthony Quinn’s portrayal of an eskimo called Inuk, in the 1960 movie The Savage Innocents. God, I love Wikipedia.)
“Yeah, but he’s an eskimo, right? And where do eskimos live? In igloos! And what are igloos made of? Snow! And what does snow look like, eh? Eh? Eh? You’re a man of the the world, squire! Say no more, say no more!”
To which I say, look at the third verse, Tedious Throwback Drugs Bore: “Nobody can get no sleep, there’s someone on everyone’s toes, but when Quinn the Eskimo gets here, everybody’s gonna wanna doze.”
Must be pretty shite charlie, then. I rest my case.
Oh yes, the Manfred Mann version. (Stripped of its parentheses and its definite article, Fact Fans. These things matter.) The Manfreds had a bit of a “thing” for covering Dylan songs, having already scored Top Ten hits with versions of If You Gotta Go, Go Now and Just Like A Woman. Never having heard Dylan’s 1967 Basement Tapes original, I find myself quite unable to imagine what it might sound like – and indeed, I would never have guessed from the typically strident, straight-up, boom-thwack 1968 arrangement that this was even one of his compositions. Having subtracted its attendant – and considerable – nostalgic pull, I also find myself wondering how it ever came to top the charts. It’s pleasant, it’s curious… but, you know, what the f**k was going on here? He’s an eskimo! Who cares?
It’s always a bit boring when Abba songs come up on Which Decade, because everyone just goes “yadda yadda yadda classic”, and they get maximum points all round, and where’s the thrill in that? But then again, what can you can do when they keep knocking out material of this quality, except salute their genius?
As a love-struck teen with the most massive, all-consuming, and needless to say unrequited boy-on-boy crush on a fellow school mate (who still hasn’t shown up on Friends Reunited, and yes, I do still check from time to time), I found a considerable personal resonance within Take A Chance On Me – as indeed I did with just about every song on the radio for the full three years that we were at school together, up to and including Don’t Cry For Me Argentina, and believe me, that takes some doing. Listening to it again this morning, I had to smirk at lines such as “If you’re all alone when the pretty birds have flown, honey I’m still free, take a chance on me“, which cast me as some sort of lovelorn Mr. Humphries Junior – but we didn’t have much in the way of role models in 1978.
(OK, Tom Robinson – but I never really thought of him as gay in a fancying-blokes sort of way, just in an abstracted fist-punching badge-wearing way. I’m rambling, aren’t I? It’s been a long day.)
Incidentally, those of you watching the video should pay close attention to Agnetha’s small but significant pout at around the 2:17 mark, as this was the moment that totally slaughtered the lads in the school TV room on Thursday nights, just after supper and just before prep. I can still remember the anticipation (“Wait for it, wait for it!”) and the almost post-coital sigh which followed (“She just looks so… easy, you know what I mean?”) Hey, they didn’t get out much. At least my source material was closer to hand. (And I mean that entirely metaphorically.)
Have I really wasted 20 years of my life hating this record? Listening to it now, it all seems so…so… innocuous. How could I have expended so much passion loathing something that is ultimately this harmless?
I was too old for this back in 1988. Now, I’m not.
Because, you see, back in the days when Soap Starlet Kylie Minogue had yet to morph into SexKylie, DanceKylie, IndieKylie, PopKylie, SexKylie2.0 and BraveKylie, SnottyLittleHipsterMike was as yet allergic to her charms.
OK, I f**king DETESTED I Should Be So Lucky, despite having bought it as a “just in case” standby for my club nights. I only ever played it the once, at another benefit night down the Old Vic (I did a lot of benefit nights), this time to raise funds for a Lesbian & Gay Community Centre which, with the wisdom of hindsight, never stood a ghost of a chance of being opened. (And what’s worse, I accidentally played the instrumental version on the B-side. Oh, the cheek-burning shame of it! Hateful, hateful, song!)
Well, look. If you’d told us at the time that Kylie’s pop career would still be going strong twenty years later, with the artist elevated to the position of Much Loved National Treasure, we’d never have believed you. Besides which – and I know she’s never claimed to be the world’s greatest singer, but still – this has to be one of the most lacklustre vocal performances on any UK Number One ever.
Sorry, Kylie. Luvyaloads, you know that. And I also love the good grace with which you’ve worn this particular albatross: reciting it straight-faced at a highbrow poetry festival in the 1990s, reworking it as Ibiza trance on your 2002 tour, and most recently, with that deliciously slinky Jessica Rabbit cocktail lounge version, on Jools Holland’s New Year’s Eve show. Never was a turd more ably polished, I’ll grant you that. But you know, and I know, that I Should Be So Lucky is still… well… a bit shit, really.
No such taste-related problems befell me in 1998, as my extended Oh What A Big Fat Gay Cliché mid-life crisis reached its autumn years. By that time I’d have danced to any old rubbish, provided it was “gay” enough – as my Vengaboys collection alone would prove – but if truth be told, Aqua‘s Doctor Jones holds up rather well.
Oh, the new crop of snotty little hipsters hated it with a passion, of course. At the end of 1997, when Muzik magazine polled its best known DJs for their end of year round up, almost every single one of them named Aqua’s Barbie Girl as the worst single of the year – whereas, as I’m sure we’ve all come to realise, it was nothing less than Total Pop Genius. (I think the penny first dropped with the Goodness Gracious Me parody, Punjabi Girl.) And while Doctor Jones might not scale the same Olympian heights, it sure as hell comes close.
Actually, and before we go any further, shall we put all this New Amy Winehouse conspiracy theory nonsense to bed? For lest we forget, Amy only went stratospherically massive a few months ago, whereas Adele and Duffy have been in “artist development” for considerably longer than that. The time lines simply don’t fit. So let us hear no more about it.
I haven’t yet made my mind up about Duffy, whom I’ll be seeing at The Social in exactly a week’s time (and what’s she even doing playing such a tiny venue when she’s at Number One, anyway – so much for the carefully plotted Evil Masterplan). I heard a few selections from the new album earlier in the week and liked them – but having heard the full album this evening in a single sitting, I find that her voice grates badly after half a dozen numbers. Then again, as Tina said last to me last night, “She’s more Lulu than Dusty” (although Chig and I think she’s more Carmel than Lulu – follow these links and you’ll see what we mean) – and if you downgrade your expectations accordingly, then numbers like Mercy become a whole lot more palatable.
For when all’s said and done, and despite my increasing aversion to retro-ism in 2000s pop (hell, anyone would think they were chasing the Fifty Quid Bloke market!), I really like Mercy, even somewhat despite myself. I’ve been earworming it literally all day, and it hasn’t yet driven me bonkers, so that alone is a good sign – and hell, it’s just good plain, tongue-in-cheek, gently chiding, finger-wagging FUN. With the added bonus of some totally hot Mod boys dancing on their own in the video, which can only help…
My votes: Abba – 5 points. Duffy – 4 points. Aqua – 3 points. Manfred Mann – 2 points. Kylie – 1 point.
Over to you, for the last time. This is the Big One, folks. I’ll keep the voting open, for all selections, until midnight on Monday night. Have a great weekend! Sorry for rambling! I’m outta here!
Continue reading “Which Decade Is Tops For Pops? – Year 6 – the Number 1s.”