Which Decade Is Tops For Pops? – Year 6 – the Number 9s.

Ah, it feels good to be doing this again! Welcome back to those of you who have participated before, and warm greetings to those taking part for the first time. As usual, we’re getting a fair old spread of opinion, with Goldfrapp’s early commanding lead in the first round steadily eliminated by the Brenton Wood Barmy Army as the day has progressed.

Nothing too unbearably horrible thus far, I’d say – and that includes our next selection. Pipe ’em in! It’s the Number Nines!

1968: Judy In Disguise (With Glasses) – John Fred & His Playboy Band. (video)
1978: Love Is Like Oxygen – The Sweet. (video)
1988: Shake Your Love – Debbie Gibson. (video)
1998: High – The Lighthouse Family. (video)
2008: I Thought It Was Over – The Feeling. (video)
Listen to a short medley of all five songs.

wd08-09-68Any song which gets me spontaneously doing the Gizmo Dance at 8:30 in the morning is officially OK With Me, and so I have nothing but kind words to say about John Fred & His Playboy Band. Composed as a parody of Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds, this gave the Louisiana cajun musician John Fred a surprise novelty chart-topper in the USA, from which his career never quite recovered – but once again, as albatrosses go, this has mighty fine plumage. As befits the seasoned touring band that performed it, the arrangement is deft and inventive throughout, and packed with all sorts of pleasurable little twists along the way, right from the comedy “freak out” moment at the end of the intro (or is that an early under-the-radar example of that future pop standby, the Fake Orgasm?)

wd08-09-78By the time that Love Is Like Oxygen charted, it had been two years since The Sweet‘s last Top 40 hit, and despite continuing success in Northern Europe (particularly in Germany) most of us in the UK had written them off as a spent force. Featuring one of the most absurd extended metaphors in all of pop (because oxygen doesn’t work like that; it’s not poppers!) and with a hefty nod to the ELO in its arrangment, it was an archetypal “hope you like our new direction” moment… and, for a few weeks at least, it looked as if we did.

Twelve months later, singer Brian Connolly left the band, and the fortunes of all four went into free-fall. Thirty years on, the song might have enjoyed a brief moment of re-appropriation by the Guilty Pleasures brigade – but in truth, it’s no lost classic, but merely an unlikely postscript to the career of a once great “manufactured” pop band, whose desire for creative autonomy ultimately proved their undoing.

wd08-09-88One place above Jack ‘N’ Chill’s year-too-late jackity-jack-tracking, we find another curiously dated offering in the shape of fresh-faced Debbie Gibson‘s winsome attempt to channel the spirit of early Madonna. Shake Your Love is basically a simple hook linked by some instantly forgettable verses: a characteristic which is rammed home by its cart-before-the-horse intro (i.e. let’s get that hook in quick, before they re-tune their radio dials). There’s some OK clappity-clap-tracking bits here and there (for I was always a sucker for a clap-track), but that’s the limit of my charity.

wd08-09-98Cue The Lighthouse Family, and doubtless cue the “Habitat coffee-table soul” groaning from several quarters… but hold up, hold up, there’s something of merit going on here. Perhaps I’m just adding my own nostalgic bias – and you know what a dim view I take of nostalgic bias – but, well, let’s pause a while, as I share what High means to me…

Picture this: it was summer 1998, and our London friend J was staying with us in Nottingham for the weekend. He had a brand new man in tow – of less than 24 hours’ standing, as it happened – who had also planned a weekend in Nottingham, so there was a happy coincidence for you. J was (and is) a handsome devil – the sort that everyone stared at when were out on the scene together – and, well, let’s just say that he was habitually free with his affections. But M, the new chap, seemed markedly different from the rest, and K and I were struck by him from the off.

That night, we went dancing down the old Admiral Duncan – pre-refurb, when it was a shitty old dive, but it was our shitty old dive, and some of us had grown rather fond of lurching around to Insomnia in puddles of spilt lager and broken glass on the itsy-bitsy, ever-rammed dancefloor.

The longer we, ahem, “partied” (such a useful word), the more we realised that M was far, far too good a man to be summarily chucked into J’s emotional waste disposal by the middle of next week. At various intervals, one or the other of us would drag J to one side, fix him with Sincere Eyes, and tell him not to let this one go in such a hurry. And each time, J would nod with the same quiet resolve, in a way which we hadn’t quite seen before.

A long way into the night, and well past the point where we had stopped caring about the Cool Factor, the DJ spun the dance mix of High, and we all danced in a smiling circle, and I thought optimistic thoughts, but (untypically, given the particular state I was in) kept them to myself. It was just one of those moments when all the elements came together; not in an emotionally overwhelming way, but in a yes-that-fits way. Perhaps I was the only one who even noticed.

This coming summer, ten years after that first weekend together, J & M will be registering their civil partnership (and yes, of course we’re invited). Every time I hear High – and it has been a fair few times in recent days – I think back to that first night, and forwards to the coming ceremony, and I think: yes, this song just fits. It fits perfectly, both as introductory overture and as roll-the-credits Richard Curtis rom-com finale, and what, pray, is so very wrong about that?

wd08-09-08Oh, were we in the middle of doing a music-based collaborative blog stunt? I quite forgot where I was. Onto The Feeling, whose appeal is significantly heightened, for both K and myself (in a rare show of unity), by the dreamboat dishiness of their lead singer Dan Gillespie-Sells (and he bats for our team, so theoretically There Is Hope). Having said that, Dishy Dan has been a tad over-styled in the video for I Thought It Was Over, particularly in the Hitler-helmet-hair department, and so our affections have been wandering somewhat (i.e. that guitarist’s not bad, or maybe we’ll just have to be ravished by all of them at once).

There’s a lot to like about I Thought It Was Over, provided you don’t listen too closely. As a piece of appealingly textured Drive-time Radio pop, it works more than fine – but in terms of matching the lyrics to the musical mood, it falls flat on its expertly tailored arse, those “look what we’ve been listening to!” ELO/Pilot/Elton John-style retro flourishes coming at all the wrong moments, in terms of articulating and sustaining an emotion. Which means that, after prolonged dithering, the wedding-disco gloopiness of the Light-Arse Famleh j-u-s-t knocks the, oh my sides, Tight-Arse Famleh into third place.

My votes: John Fred & His Playboy Band – 5 points. The Lighthouse Family – 4 points. The Feeling – 3 points. The Sweet – 2 points. Debbie Gibson – 1 point.

Over to you. Sixties kitsch-pop, Seventies pomp-pop, Eighties dance-pop, Nineties soul-pop, or Noughties meta-pop? The choice, as ever, is yours…

Running totals so far – Number 9s.

1968: Judy In Disguise (With Glasses) – John Fred & His Playboy Band (147)

5 points, since it stands several continents, not to say cosmos, above the rest of them – yes it’s something of a pisstake of its times but it still sounds smashing, especially in the context of the UK charts of the period which were already sinking slowly into the swamps of bellicose balladry. Great Northern Soul-type thrust as well. Sadly Mr Fred checked out a couple of years ago, although I dimly recall some attempt at the time of the 2004 Presidential elections to allege that John Fred was actually John Kerry. (Marcello Carlin)

What is it with the name Judy, which isn’t that common in swinging groovesters and hip chicks, and songs? Off the top of my head, besides this I can think of Judy Is A Punk, Judy Teen, Judy Blue Eyes, Judy And The Dream Of Horses and, well, Judy. Great proto-soul groove, and the unexpected attempt at a pathos ending is something to behold. (Simon)

Actually I think this is a great tune. It embodies a time in music when it was still appropriate to be seen to be having fun. Great hook, great brass. Catchy and memorable. (Stu)

I’ve always had a soft spot for this song. I love the kick drum and bass chase in the beginning. It’s just a really happy song. (jo)

Good inventive musicianship wins me over every time. (Alan)

The kind of stuff that gives bubblegum a good name. I might even have first heard this on Junior Choice. (Erithian)

It’s got pep. and.. um.. yeah, pep. One of my neighbours used to swear the lyric was ” Judy in the sky. Molasses.” (asta)

Dig that psychedelic video – with glasses. (Tina)

A proper Imperial Phase Radio Trent tune (Nottingham’sMr Sex‘)

1 point: I don’t understand what the rest of you like about this one! (Lizzy)

I’m with Lizzy. This is not a good song (and I love novelty tunes usually). Just about bearable in the Silicon Teens’ cover version, but the original just screams: smack me hard. (jeff w)

Another piece of proof that Sixties music is mainly overhyped and disposable. (Gert)

1978: Love Is Like Oxygen – The Sweet (130)

I think this is a classic. Mind you I also thought it was by 10cc, so what do I know? (Stereoboard)

5 pts – as long as it’s not the extended version with the horrible Mike Batt-like guitar solo. (Nottingham’sMr Sex‘)

Has a wistful pathos. (betty)

More ELO, more obviously…mixed with the vocal earnestness of Chris de Burgh. (asta)

They may be ripping off ELO (and to an extent 10cc?) but I like ELO (and, to an extent, 10cc). (Will)

One of my favourite 70s bands. Glad they had a last chart hurrah with this song, and it’s a decent tune… but it sounds just a wee bit pedestrian now. (jeff w)

A last hurrah maybe, but not a bad one as last hurrah’s go. Oh and, by the way Mike, as a mountaineer I can confirm that when you decend rapidly from altitude to an oxygen rich environment, you can spend the next half a day feeling like you’ve smoked the world’s biggest doobie. (Alan)

Hmm. Guilty Pleasure time. I really like this but then – thanks to the dodgy musical taste of an ex-boyfriend – I have a soft spot for certain types of harmony-ridden soft-rock. (Sarah)

Ah, I’m a sucker for those guitars, and I’m even prepared to overlook those silly high-pitched vocals too. Awful lyrics, mind. (SwissToni)

4 points – though at least partly out of brand loyalty. They were MY band of the glam era – like many I moved on to Queen soon afterwards, but surely there was room for both. But compared to the Sweet glories of ’73-74, this one’s bilge. (Erithian)

Meh. A token three points, two of which are purely for Blockbuster. This effort is neither here nor there. (imsodave)

I suppose we’re getting near to the 80s now aren’t we. And this sounds like it could be from either decade. I wouldn’t have said it was the Sweet though. (Adrian)

I need to be careful here. In the seventies one could be drummed out of the Led Zeppelin appreciation society for admitting to liking…Sweet. The band self-professed their ‘we’re heavy really when we play live’ stance. but sold out to Chapman/Chinn in spite of a few memorable riffs. Extra points for Brian Connolly being the brother of Mark (Taggart) McManus. (Stu)

4 to the Sweet, though that’s no indication of superior quality; the song’s central metaphor is biologically and philosophically suspect (how exactly can you die from too much love, or was this a far-seeing premonition of Brian May’s “Too Much Love Will Kill You”?). Indeed the hapless Mr Connolly sounds like a stranded Freddie Mercury who’s missed his chance, and much the same could be said of the Sweet from ’74 onwards once Queen got going commercially. (Marcello Carlin)

This is not the version I remember hearing in the States, but close enough for government work. Child of the 70’s. Say no more. (jo)

Someone’s been listening to ELO. Not much call for facial glitter here. (Simon)

I feel there is a decent song waiting to get out of there, but not on this performance. I don’t care for it. (Gert)

1998: High – The Lighthouse Family (121)

This song made little impact over here, which is a shame. I can’t say I think all that much of the chorus, but the bridge leading into the chorus perfectly hits every “wistful yearning” note. “At the end of the day..’ is likely to stick with me. (asta)

5 points. I’ll probably regret this in the morning. Like asta, I found the “At the end of the day” bit appealing. And the competition isn’t up to much. That’s my excuse. (Will)

I rather like this, but it appeals to my cheesy side, which I’m not going to encourage. (Z)

Like Simply Red without the annoying ginger gimp, a nice bit of relaxing soul with a decent hook. (Alan)

I was never a big fan but always enjoyed them when they came on the radio. I like his voice although I suspect it would get very boring very soon. Nice atmosphere about the song. But to be honest, it only gets such a high ranking because the others are so bad. (Gert)

This should really be higher as it’s a good and tasteful tune. What turns me off the band are the extremely limited range in the slightly dreary vocals of the lead singer. Pity. (Stu)

2 to the tiresomely reliable Lighthouse Family, the band who still thought it was 1987 with smooth and vaguely soulcialist intentions – had to remind myself which one this was since they all were minute variations on the group’s one song. Not offensive but then again possibly offensive in its relentless inoffensiveness. (Marcello Carlin)

The epitome of effortless bland (diamond geezer)

Taupe, with big shoulder pads. (betty)

Cheesy choirs for a sentimental chorus? No, ta. Brings to mind a nasal karaoke singer. (Sarah)

I don’t seem to be able to get away from this song. I used to like it. Now it just makes me want to apply a brillo pad to my ears. (The commenter formerly known as)

Paroled maybe but not quite forgiven. (Tom)

Interminably dull. I’ve always found the singer’s voice to be particularly grating and, almost, tuneless. Even by 90’s soul standards, this is strangely soulless. Not something I would willing listen to for either motivation or pleasure. (imsodave)

God, I hated the Lighthouse Family’s iron-crease soul at the time. And, by the sounds of it, still do. (Simon)

2008: I Thought It Was Over – The Feeling (119)

This song annoyed me slightly when I first heard it but it’s grown on me a lot. And obviously I approve of what they’re trying to do. (I’m not sure why everyone’s citing 70s acts as their inspiration by the way. Duran Duran is who I thought of first!) (jeff w)

Lots of individual bits I liked, but all thrown together into a bit of a mess with a tedious refrain. Still can’t decide if I like their first album. (Will)

I bought their first album and every time a song comes up on random play I find myself hitting the skip button straight away. One of those I can enjoy in moderation. (Alan)

It’s got bits and pieces of Steve Miller guitar sounds, ELO arrangements, and what I think of as a Scissor Sisters pop feel with a the sincerity of Mika. That’s too many people for such a small song. (asta)

Annoyed that I didn’t hate this as much as previous songs I’ve heard by them … not that that’s saying much. (betty)

I don’t care for the faux-profound ‘You were there when the wall came down’. I assume most buyers of current pop music will not have a clue as to the reference. The best of a forgettable to bad bunch. (Gert)

Surprisingly effective dancefloor-filler, sounds wretched in its natural habitat on Costcutter Radio next to the Wombats. (Tom)

Caitlin Moran in “Pop on Trial” gamely championed the Noughties as encompassing all the influences of the previous decades, and here you might think she has a point – this could really have been from any one of the decades under review. (Erithian)

Ah, now what’s happened here is Dan Gillespie-Sells has bought another Guilty Pleasures volume since Twelve Stops And Home and got to the early attempts to cash in on disco tracks. Still, they’re not Scouting For Girls, and for that we should be grateful. (Simon)

Why are the 70s getting two entries? It’s the Sweet again, innit? The boy can write, but he really needs to escape his 70s fixation. (SwissToni)

70s-lite. The real thing is better. (The commenter formerly known as)

I actually don’t dislike this tune but found myself tiring of it after…oh…one and a half plays on the radio. (Stu)

Had you not told me so, I would never have guessed this is a current track. It can now slip into obscurity please. (jo)

1 to the Feeling, since the Lighthouse Family might have been monointentioned but at least they knew where they stood, rather than the abysmal 2008 trend of cut-and-paste for spurious exhibition of catholic tastes or facile nostalgia rather than singing about what they feel and believe. What are they hiding from? (Marcello Carlin)

This is the worst selection of songs ever. I didn’t think I would ever find a band as tiresomely dull as the Lighthouse Family, but The Feeling have managed it. After listening to the few seconds of them on your clip, I truly did wish it was all over. (Oliver R)

Yesterday I thought the 00s could make a comeback this year, but not with this. I thought it was over but it’s not. Yes, quite. Ah, it is now. (Adrian)

1988: Shake Your Love – Debbie Gibson (83)

I hated most late 80s chart pop when it was happening (and went around boosting the likes of My Bloody Valentine and similar Melody Maker-supported art rock bands instead). Boy was I stupid. This is brilliant. (jeff w)

There were a few posters of Miss Gibson adorning the walls of my teenage bedroom, but then it was the primetime of my buying Smash Hits… Not as dated as some of the other album tracks (she pops up on party shuffle from time to time). (Adrian)

Freestyle rip-off but that’s as close as we’re going to come to freestyle in this poll so it gets big points for its simple joy. (Tom)

5 points. It’s overwhelmingly sugary, but sometimes my ears have a sweet tooth. (imsodave)

I prefer Tiffany in the ‘Shopping Mall Rock’ stakes but I’m a handclap merchant so third place. (Stu)

3 to Debbie Gibson – this is a bit like Billie Davis doing Madonna at 78 rpm on the Freddie “Parrot Face” Davies Show but props to her for reading out the Melody Maker review of the Sugarcubes’ Life’s Too Good on American TV in full in protest against the US authorities’ decision not to grant Bjork a visa. (Marcello Carlin)

3 pts – only because it has the same intro as Play Your Cards Right (Nottingham’sMr Sex‘)

You could bottle this as the absolute essence of the late 80s, along with that clip they always show of the yuppie lasciviously fingering the wad in his top pocket (who IS he and I hope he’s selling the Big Issue nowadays). Not at all bad, but even then it was aimed at a younger audience than me and the competition’s strong today. (Erithian)

The wrong-footing of the title pronunciation at the end of the chorus is appealing in a very odd way, but here’s someone not yet willing to give up their Fairlight. (Simon)

Typically over busy ’80’s pop production. (betty)

Concentrated lollipop sickness (diamond geezer)

To think that ten years later she’d have been packaged as a Britney or a Christina, but here she’s just so wholesome and sickly sweet you’d get diabetes from watching too much of it. (Alan)

Hm. She did Playboy, didn’t she? This sounds a bit like something Gloria Estefan (wisely) rejected. (SwissToni)

Meh. All five of these would be right at home any big box store’s retail sound system- music to buy ratchets,toilet paper and 400-grit sandpaper. I’m surprised the Disney Channel isn’t using this tune as a Saturday morning programming lure for the under 10 set. (asta)

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