Are you ready?
I said: ARE – YOU – READY?!?!?!
Forget all inferior Johnny-come-lately knock-off jobs, for this is the Real Deal. Yes, we have reached Year Six of our marathon quest to determine which of the past five decades has produced the finest chart pop music of all.
When we last left our competing decades, the 1960s were just out in front, with the 1970s snapping crossly at their heels. This could all change by the end of the next ten posts.
For newcomers, the rules of the game are simpler than they appear when I try and explain them. But in essence, what happens is this. Day by day, we’ll be comparing the UK Top Ten singles from this week in 1968, 1978, 1988, 1998 and 2008, working through the charts from bottom to top. So today we’ll be comparing the records at Number Ten in each year, tomorrow we’ll be assessing the Number Nines, and so on.
I’ll be providing descriptive blurbs for each track, along with a short MP3 medley of each day’s contenders, and YouTube links wherever possible.
Your job will be to listen to the songs (five per day, one for each decade), and to arrange them in order of preference, leaving your votes in the comments box.
(When doing this, I do ask that you check your nostalgic prejudices in at the door, assessing the relative merits as objectively as you can. Otherwise it all gets a bit predictable.)
I’ll then be feeding your votes into a spreadsheet, churning out daily scores for each round, and feeding them into an accumulated score for each decade. However, voting will remain open for all songs, right the way through the fortnight-and-a-bit, so there will always be time to catch up.
Shall we get started, then? OK, let’s have this year’s batch of Number Tens…
1968: Gimme Little Sign – Brenton Wood. (video)
1978: Sorry I’m A Lady – Baccara. (video)
1988: The Jack That House Built – Jack ‘N’ Chill. (video)
1998: Together Again – Janet Jackson. (video)
2008: A&E – Goldfrapp. (video)
Listen to a short medley of all five songs.
I’ll say one thing for the Sixties: as an earworm-producing decade, they are unsurpassed. Every year, during the week of preparation that leads up to the main event, one song from our fifty contenders installs itself as an unshakeable earworm for the duration, and it’s always from the Sixties. Last year, Here Comes My Baby from The Tremeloes ran through my head on an endless loop for days on end, and this year the gig falls to minor league US soulster Brenton Wood, whose addictive Gimme Little Sign was totally unknown to me until just a few weeks ago.
This was Brenton’s only UK hit, and also his only significant chart placing in the USA (for who now remembers The Oogum Boogum Song or Lovey Dovey Kinda Lovin?). From the end of 1968 onwards, he would trouble the Billboard Hot 100 no further (although as his offical website proclaims, he “still makes frequent club appearances in the Los Angeles & San Diego area”… God, I’m in danger of morphing into Simon Amstell on the Buzzcocks identity parade). As such, Gimme Little Sign might well be his albatross – but as albatrosses go, this one bears a particularly fine plumage.
(I can’t believe I just typed that. Well, let it stand. It’s the best I can manage through this bloated post-prandial fog – as compounded by a birthday weekend spent mostly eating to excess, leaving K and I myself waddling around like a pair of whoopee cushions in sore need of a puncturing. As it were.)
Our next three selections are so BPM-compatible that I’ve been able to beat-mix them together, in best Non Stop Disco Party style. We start with Baccara, following up their 1977 Number One Yes Sir I Can Boogie in time-honoured Eurodisco fashion, by slightly jiggling around with its component parts and adding a few new lyrics along the way.
To those of us who thought at the time that disco music was Mindless Fodder For The Brainwashed Masses, this was a prime case for the prosecution, our innocent punk-rinsed sensibilities unable to discern the vast cultural chasm between Baccara’s inspidly campy port-and-lemon strut, and the sensual, radical, utterly sublime music that was simultaneously pouring out of the US black and gay undergrounds.
Thirty years on, it’s the camp factor which keeps Sorry I’m A Lady just this side of bearable, but in all other respects it hasn’t worn well. And neither has our first selection from the 1980s, in which the UK production team behind Jack ‘N’ Chill jump onto the first-wave “jack track” bandwagon over a year too late, trotting out a tinny Woolworths-own-brand take on the house sound of Chicago.
By this time twenty years ago, I had secured a monthly (and soon to be fortnightly) residency at the Barracuda club on Hurts Yard, where our alternative mixed gay night Get Happy was pulling in the emergent crowd that was forming itself in opposition to the newly announced Section 28 legislation. Sure, I played The Jack That House Built – but it was a dance floor filler with the accent on “filler”, and usually dispensed with in the first hour or so. There was plenty of better dance music than this in early 1988, not to mention a major musical paradigm shift which would change everything before the year was through, leaving this slender little cash-in track looking prematurely dated in the process.
Onwards we thrust to 1998, where we find three influential figures from the pre-house club scene of some twelve years earlier, proving themselves still more than capable. Aided by Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis on production and co-composition duties, Janet Jackson – sporting a bizarre new hairdo which looked as if it had been modelled according to the principles of fractal geometry – was on a major creative and commercial roll for most of the Nineties, and this was a prime example: a sighing swoon of a song, with a melodic and rhythmic undertow that was somehow deeply reassuring, like wrapping oneself in warm, freshly laundered towelling…
All drugged up in Accident and Emergency, our Alison seems dimly aware of the circumstances leading up to her admission – can we say “cry for help” here? – but her raw pain is buried beneath the numbing sweetness of the Radio Two-friendly arrangement, to such an extent that, as William B. Swygart says in his spot-on post on the matter (one of several that have recently sprung up around the music blogosphere), you could stick this on the soundtrack to a bank advert and most people wouldn’t even notice.
I’m glad that Alison has progressed beyond her Weimar Sex Robot phase; it was cool for its time, but there was always more to her than that, and now we’re beginning to see it again.
My votes: Goldfrapp – 5 points. Janet Jackson – 4 points. Brenton Wood – 3 points. Baccara – 2 points. Jack ‘N’ Chill – 1 point.
Over to you. A pretty decent opening selection, wouldn’t you say? Hardly the stuff of classics, but I’ll wager that the Goldfrapp track is going be one of the year’s stayers, and it has been good to re-familiarise myself with the Janet Jackson and to exhume the Brenton Wood. But hey, don’t wanna lead the jury! Tell me what you think! My pristine spreadsheet is itching to be filled!
2008: A&E – Goldfrapp (160)
Brilliant. Yes indeed it probably is the pills, dear. We middle-class westerners have embraced pharmaceuticals to a startling degree in search of numb. If we surround ourselves with enough stuff and pretty we can block out just about anything – for a while. (asta)
Kazuo Ishiguro remixes Marianne Faithfull’s “Sister Morphine” and Billy MacKenzie is somewhere in the shower. Staggering. (Marcello Carlin)
Gorgeous and slightly disorientating when you realise what she’s singing about.
First Goldfrapp record I’ve really enjoyed, actually. (Tom)
I was all set to take the mick out of Baccara’s dodgy rhymes – stranger/danger, lady/shady (FGS) – right up until Alison Goldfrapp dropped Saturday/slip away in front of me. And yet, the sheer classiness of her track means she carries it off where Baccara…really don’t. (Will)
This isn’t the theme-tune to a rebranded Casualty then? Shame. A fine progression from Felt Mountain (my only Goldfrapp CD). (Adrian)
I have been slightly disappointed by Goldfrapp since “Felt Mountain” (Top 10 albums of all time definitely), but this sounds like I might be buying the new album. (Stereoboard)
Know little about them but this has a nice, smooth and cultured sound. I like. (Stu)
Very palatable, and possibly the sound of Kylie in a year or two’s time. I swear that when I first heard “Two Hearts” I was convinced it was Goldfrapp’s latest. (Erithian)
I rather fancy The Seventh Tree is going to be on a lot of peoples ‘best of 2008’ hits on the basis of what I’ve heard so far. But “A&E”, while it oozes quality, still hasn’t grabbed me emotionally as yet. (jeff w)
It’s admirable. It’s low key. It has hidden depth. But is it really a great single? The depths are submerged beneath an ocean of blandness. I don’t know what to feel about it really. Is her hospital visit a result of a suicide bid or mere over indulgence? I can’t sympathise with something I do not understand. And I certainly can’t dance to it. (imsodave)
Still not sure what to think of this Alison’n’Will-go-Wicker Man-via-Kate Bush’s Wow route, and bar Alison’s ever inventive vocal stylings there’s already well established ‘folktronica’ (urgh) acts who do this kind of thing better. Winner by rote, I s’pose. (Simon)
I wouldn’t rush out to buy it, but it’s quite pleasant. She has a decentish voice, and there’s a nice ambience to the track. I haven’t a clue about the words, though – I’m in a backless dress on a pastel water. Yes dear, of course you are. (Gert)
I liked it well enough, but I forgot it as soon as it finished. I can’t remember anything about it and I only stopped listening five minutes ago. (Z)
Never got what the fuss was about, this is bland overproduced and truly forgettable. (Alan)
We’ll end up buying the album and I’ll play half of it and say, “Sorry, I can’t go on.” (Geoff)
1968: Gimme Little Sign – Brenton Wood (147)
A yearning plea for recognition that all can relate to. Brenton emits signs of being an obsessive stalker, but in a manner that cannot fail to win over the girl in question. I like a good begging song, and this will do for now. (imsodave)
It’s clambakes on the beach in August- beer in stubby bottles- and a flirting so sweet it gets laughed at these days. And, as you pointed out, catchy beyond belief. (asta)
Makes me dance and sing INSTANTLY. Catchy, great vocals, Timeless in my opinion. (jo)
5 points – not just for being a right sprightly piece of soul, but also for giving me the chance to tell my The Night I Met Paul Weller story. It was back in 1984 when I went to a National Film Theatre screening – they were having a Pop on TV season not unlike the one BBC4 just had, and this particular night they were showing the very edition of TOTP that was on BBC4 a few weeks ago. We’d spotted Weller, not yet the Modfather but then just a Style Councillor, in the queue, and once inside the cinema he spoke to me. He said, “Scuse me mate” as he squeezed past to take his seat. I imagine “Gimme Little Sign” was one of the songs he most enjoyed. (Erithian)
This song is a typical example of a genre that has some amazing one-hit wonders. The sound is dated but the tune remains instantly memorable. (Stu)
I played them all three times (don’t say I don’t take this just a little too seriously) and this was the only one I liked as much the third time as the first. (Z)
Keep the faith, in an Emperor Rosko kind of way (come to think of it, probably more in a Mike Raven kind of way). (Marcello Carlin)
Could this be from any other decade? harmless, tuneful, inoffensive fluff.
Still has signs of the fluffy-pop the earlier years of the 60s have given us, but the complexity of the music seems to have moved up a notch. However, I can see why I have no knowledge of either Brenton or his sign… (Adrian)
I’d forgotten this song, but it’s a good slice of sixties soul and head and shoulders above the rest of the pap in this selection. (Alan)
Sounds like it should be a Trunk Records curio rather than a hitmaking soulster from the name. Nice enough, but it feels like Atlantic Records filler. (Simon)
1998: Together Again – Janet Jackson (134)
Happy song, roof down in the car, sun on the face, wind in the hair everything will be just fine. (jo)
Funny, you thought of towelling and I thought of a warm scented bath deep enough to float in. (asta)
Never thought I’d be giving one of the Jackson clan four points, but this one really grew on me. It was one of a spate of songs (Tubthumping, Never Ever etc) that hung around the top ten for absolutely ages, and didn’t outstay its welcome. And 40-plus or not, she has an awesome body. I know that’s not among the criteria we should be considering, but it has to be said… (Erithian)
It’s perfectly pleasant, though I suspect that Janet is as flighty as the tune itself. No doubt, in between being back together with her man, she’s been pursuing other options. The heartless cow. But she was certainly, back then. Y’know. Sex-wise. Which helps. (imsodave)
Ah, once this starts I remember it. I wouldn’t leave the dancefloor if this started, but I wouldn’t be rushing onto it either. (Adrian)
As with Kim Appleby’s “Don’t Worry,” mourning’s pretence towards brightness undermines the song somewhat; compared with the devastating “Come Back To Me” this is rather lightweight but it has lasted better than the bottom two. (Marcello Carlin)
Don’t know about cool producers, if you’d told me it was Stock Aitken Waterman I wouldn’t have blinked. But gets second place just by dint of being catchy. (Alan)
It’s better than it should be with the drum machine basic programming and wafer thin nature of the lyrical message, and my recollection of a dance remix which Radio 1 played incessantly at the time. (Simon)
I don’t like it. It’s a waste of effort. No tune, uninspiring beat. Words poorly enunciated. Singing too breathy. Over-produced. It’s not like it’s bad, it’s just so utterly nothing. (Gert)
1978: Sorry I’m A Lady – Baccara (82)
I’ve only heard Yes sir, I can boogie before, but you can spot the similarities. I think I’d rather listen to this one though as Yes sir… has worn a little through popularity. (Adrian)
Look at that cover. I’m becoming a lesbian. Right now. (The commenter formerly known as)
Totally kitsch but the memory of the ladies themselves gives them a sentimental vote. (Actually I spent most of that era wanting to listen to The Clash and The Jam and trying to avoid this tripe on the radio.) (Stu)
Maybe the nostalgia is kicking in. But while this is trivial and disposable, it has the main elements of a half-decent pop song, catch tune, words with some semblance of meaning and a disco beat that was just the thing for Primary School discos. And back then, the poor pronunciation didn’t really come over on Medium Wave. (Gert)
Well after the stranger/danger rhyme I couldn’t figure out what the hell she was singing. Something about being sorry she was a lady? I’m sorry she recorded this. (asta)
Oh good heavens no. That accent is criminal. It’s like low rent Boney-M, if such a thing could ever exist. Hideous! (SwissToni)
Everything that was wrong with the seventies, just looking at the middle-aged people in the dinner jackets on the video tells you why this should never have been allowed within a million miles of the charts. (Alan)
Yes, they definitely needed a certain song, and this isn’t it. (Simon)
One more thing to add to the list of ‘what was wrong with the ’70s.’ Not nice, especially the Vaseline-on-cheeks look. (Yes, I know it’s the music that counts, but a woman can bitch once in a while, can’t she?) (Z)
Even I, a child of the 70’s and rather proud of it if you might ask, yet still I would not have missed this track either by it’s absence nor its is exit from the planet. (jo)
Strangely sinister. But still shit. No one would look good dancing to this. (imsodave)
Proof that “poptimism” has its inbuilt flaws. No, this isn’t a lost camp classic or a g**lty pl**s*r* – sometimes, folks, crap is just crap. (Marcello Carlin)
1988: The Jack That House Built – Jack ‘N’ Chill (78)
This is the only one I recognised by title alone! This early house stuff is always overshadowed by the acid house that followed, and I don’t understand why. Interesting to read the different takes; I guess it’s the difference between getting a residency around that time and getting old enough to go to Woolworths on your own around that time… (Adrian)
Entertaining enough in a Rod Hull House sort of way at the time but as with other late eighties hits of which I’ve recently been reminded (“I Love My Radio” by Taffy, anyone?) it doesn’t really stand up (whereas contemporaries like Krush’s “House Arrest” and even “Tired Of Being Pushed Around” by a Gift-less Fine Young Cannibals under a silly pseudonym – 2 Men, A Drum Machine and A Trumpet, wasn’t it? – have proved more durable). (Marcello Carlin)
All over the shop, but it has some snarl to it. (Tom)
I love the early years of House music but this isn’t one of the tunes I have any nostalgia for. Just a bit too empty and dated for me. (Sarah)
Oh the name! I see what they did there, but still…. unimaginative rubbish on a synth. Back when synths were thought clever and sophisticated, I suppose? (SwissToni)
Ooh look I’ve got a computer. It can make a drum track. I think this is one of the major contributors to my ‘all modern pop music is crap’ mentality. (Gert)
Yes, you’ve got some synths and drum machines. Now make them do something interesting. (Simon)
Someone probably shouldn’t have been given that Bontempi keyboard for Christmas. (Alan)
Someone’s been having fun with their drum machine haven’t they? (chris)
Reminds me of a music making CD ROM I used to have. (Geoff)
Jack ‘N’ Chill took some effort on my part as I wanted to switch it off after a few seconds, but forced myself through all the silly groaning and grunting on YouTube. (Will)
For a lovely moment there I misread it as “The House That Jack Built”, that lovely piece of nu-mod by Tracie earlier in the decade, but no such luck. This typifies a time when the charts were going down the crapper in a big way. (Erithian)
If ever there was background music, then this is it. Rubbish then and rubbish now. (imsodave)
It has ‘n’ in the middle, what more need I say. (The commenter formerly known as)
This made it onto a chart? I can only be thankful that it so utterly unmusical, that I’ve forgotten it already. (asta)