Which Decade Is Tops For Pops? – Year 6 – the Number 8s.

It’s early days yet, but already the 1960s are establishing a commanding lead, with maximum points currently assigned to Brenton Wood and John Fred. As ever, this could all change in an instant – so if you’re late to the party, then please add your votes to the lower stack.

Today’s selection is something of a Brum Beat/nu-R&B sandwich, with a light AOR filling. Chow down, pop-pickers: it’s the Number Eights!

1968: Fire Brigade – The Move. (video)
1978: Mr. Blue Sky – Electric Light Orchestra. (video)
1988: Valentine – T’Pau. (video)
1998: You Make Me Wanna… – Usher. (video)
2008: Work – Kelly Rowland. (video)
Listen to a short medley of all five songs.

wd08-08-68A few weeks ago, as part of its Pop Season, BBC4 screened one of the few surviving 1960s Top Of The Pops recordings in its entirety. As luck would have it, the show in question was drawn from February 1968, with most of this year’s Which Decade selections featured – including this one from The Move.

Watching the show, I was struck by its unexpectedly primitive quality. For the Top 20 countdown at the start, someone had run a pair of scissors round each individual mug shot of each individual artist, and had stuck them to a piece of cardboard with Copydex. Possibly the very same pot of Copydex was then redeployed in the construction of both the stage sets and the artists’ hairdos, lending a distinctly ramshackle, steam-powered, make-do-and-mend air to the proceedings.

And then there were the mimed performances themselves: curiously static, disengaged affairs, with few of the artists showing much in the way of enthusiasm for the task at hand. Perhaps this was because, as Ian Gittins’ fascinating illustrated history of the show (Mishaps, Miming and Music) explains, they had all been hanging around the set since early morning, with nothing to do except get pissed at the BBC bar. This would certainly explain the uncertain gaits, the glassy eyes, the bored and/or cynical half-smiles, and the barely concealed corpsing – not least from The Move themselves, all lined up in their Carnaby Street finest.

But in this case at least, the uninvolving performance on screen masked an extraordinary performance on record. Fire Brigade is, well, just plain bonkers basically: a barely contained yelp of adolescent lust mixed with pyromaniac imagery, a gleefully unhinged, over-stuffed arrangement (typically Roy Wood, in other words), and a direct quote from a 1950s rock and roll tune (ditto), namely the booming, twanging “DOINGG-da-da, DOINGG-da-da” riff from Duane Eddy’s Peter Gunn.

(Side note: Glen Matlock has since admitted that said re-appropriated “DOINGG-da-da” was subsequently re-re-appropriated for the Sex Pistols’ God Save The Queen. It took me a while to work out where, but it’s there all right. No Peter Gunn, no Fire Brigade, no God Save The Queen. It all connects.)

wd08-08-78As chance would have it, the band which formed from the ashes of The Move was also in the singles charts ten years later – although in actual fact, The Move of Fire Brigade and the Electric Light Orchestra of Mr. Blue Sky only share one band member, drummer Bev Bevan. (Jeff Lynne had yet to join The Move, and Roy Wood had bailed out early from the ELO.)

From a 1978 perspective – and indeed from a 1988 or 1998 perspective – you could never have predicted that the dowdy old ELO would exert such an influence on the chart pop of 2008 (Hoosiers and Feeling, I’m looking at you). Most notably, Mr. Blue Sky‘s fingerprints can be found all over The Hoosiers’ wildly successful (i.e. my nieces aged 9 and 13 love it) Goodbye Mister A. And so, in the weirdest of ways, Mr. Blue Sky almost sounds contemporary.

Yes, it’s a great tune, beautifully arranged – but if I might be permitted one pert parp of dissent, isn’t there also something rather studiously bloodless about it? Don’t get me wrong, for I love most of the band’s singles output from 10538 Overture to Xanadu – but for me, they didn’t hit their absolute peak until 1979, in the shape of the more disco-inspired material from the (oho!) Discovery album.

wd08-08-88From clever adult-oriented pop that I can get with, we must reluctantly switch to the dreary AOR of the tiresome T’Pau, who were following up the previous autumn’s chart-topping China In Your Hand with the oh-so-cannily timed Valentine. But hold up, hold up, and hold that seasonally appropriate purchase! This is no soppy paean to connubial bliss, but rather a Howl Of Anguish from the Other Woman! (“I see you every day with happy home and child, I look the other way, cold on the outside.”) Oh yes indeed! Much more Edgy and Interesting!

But, alas, still shit. There was a contingent within the “serious” music press of the day which, for reasons unknown, did their darndest to promote singer Carol Decker as somehow worthy of interest – for granted, she was indeed a Bit Of A Character – but it was an ultimately futile exercise. I’ve never been able to get over my natural antipathy to AOR power ballads, and I see no reason to make an exception in this case.

wd08-08-98From the prescient to the redundant, and – wa-hey! – we’re back with the prescient again, as the still teenaged Usher lands one of the very first hits of the modern R&B era. Sure, we’d had signs of what lay ahead – En Vogue, D’Angelo, TLC – but You Make Me Wanna… sounded bracingly, thrillingly modern, with its sparse acoustic-led instrumentation set against the dizzingly intricate metre and the relaxed, near-conversational vocal. For some, the 2000s began a year later, with Britney’s Baby One More Time – but I think there’s also a good case for planting the marker flag right here, inches ahead of Destiny’s Child’s chart debut a month later.

wd08-08-08Oh, did someone mention Destiny’s Child? Well, look who we have right here in 2008: it’s only former member Kelly Rowland, striking out on her own as an Independent Woman, a Survivor, and not a poor man’s Beyoncé at all, no sir, no way!

On the MP3 medley, I’ve decided to go with the UK remix by the Freemasons (featuring one half of the late 1990s commercial dance act Phats & Small), as this is the version which has been picking up most of the sales and airplay. On the YouTube link, I’ve gone with the more traditionally R&B flavoured – and vastly better – original album version. Nothing against the Freemasons per se, whose recent collaboration with Bailey “daughter of Judy” Tzuke (it’s a fine club to be in) on Uninvited made my Singles Of 2007 list, but the remix adds nothing and subtracts quite a lot.

As for the song itself, I can’t muster up much emotion either way. It’s a tolerably efficient little blighter, but the laboured fnarr-fnarr innuendos (“Put it in!” “Go hard!” “You gotta get it all the way in!”) do little for me.

My votes: The Move – 5 points. ELO – 4 points. Usher – 3 points. Kelly Rowland – 2 points. T’Pau – 1 point.

Over to you. There’s never been much of a pro-R&B brigade on here, has there? But perhaps you’ll surprise me yet. Votes in the usual place, please. And now I’m off to watch The Brits…

Running totals so far – Number 8s.

1978: Mr. Blue Sky – Electric Light Orchestra (155)

This is very near to pop holy writ for me for reasons too personal to talk about here but it is touching in its ruefully celebratory way. It points to both past and future – “Sparky’s Magic Piano” prepares to welcome “O Superman” – and it comes out of ideas posited in ’67 but presumes there will still be a now thirty years later; hence goodbye “I Am The Walrus,” hello Arcade Fire. “Please turn me over” makes me melt every time. (Marcello Carlin)

Class act. Quite possibly my most favourite band of whom I own zilch records. It really is about time I got a Greatest Hits of ELO. I suspect this might prove to be one of my favourites of the entire 100. Tune, orchestration, harmonies, words with meaning and that one can identify with. Plus, there was a time in the mid 80s that every time I heard this on Piccadilly Radio it was interrupted by “It’s a goal, United have scored” so much so that I was expecting that to break into it now! (Gert)

With this in the selection the other tunes didn’t stand a chance. I gave it 5 points before I started listening. Nostalgia getting in the way? Yes, and tough. (Sarah)

Bloody hell, why was I ashamed at owning this on blue vinyl only a few years ago? Excellent. (NiC)

5 points. The obvious choice but the right choice, even if the Hoosiers have done their best to handicap it for yer ultra-modern listener. (Tom)

Doomed by association with Sean Rowley’s anti-snobbery snobbery, but not only a great singles band but one who had plenty of ideas to go round, even if most of them were built on top of the Beatles back catalogue. The Hoosiers haven’t managed one yet. (Simon)

My favourite track by one of my favourite acts. I especially like the false ending followed by the jarring key change that heralds the coda. (jeff w)

The overblown ending almost loses it some points, but by then the battle is won. (imsodave)

Mr Blue Sky is the only track so far that I own. It’s also the only one so far that’s been in Doctor Who. It was played at a friend’s birthday party last year and the DJ almost got lynched for chopping off the last minute. All such nostalgia aside, it’s still marvellous. (Will)

I’m a bit surprised, but this tops today’s offerings. It’s not going to change the world, but who said pop had to? (Adrian)

I hated ELO as a young progger, especially this song. The lyrics couldn’t compete with Yes. I’ve grown to love them over the years. Roy Wood gets the nod over Lynne though cos at least he didn’t join the Travelling Pillsbury Dough Boys. (Geoff)

Very enjoyable, rather too much in it; slightly too clever for its own good – I was a little too conscious of the arrangement. (Z)

Not my favourite of theirs, but it’s got a railway crossing warning/alarm in it. Bonus. (asta)

One of those bands I have a closet, box set type of love for, but can only listen to handful of tracks before his voice makes me want to grate my eyes out. Also see Supertramp and Yes. (jo)

Yes, finely crafted and all that, but ELO are almost a reverse Guilty Pleasure for me – everyone says how much they liked them, yet I have to admit to finding them routinely over-produced and stultifying in places. (Erithian)

Second place but I always hated the bland Beatles copyists. Shame because they started so well with 10538 Overture early on. (Stu)

There are other singles I prefer by them. 10538 Overture and Strange Magic specifically. When they go overboard with the Sergeant Pepper influences it tends not to work so well. (betty)

Would have got 5, but nowadays it reminds me of a steaming argument I had with a mate in the Social over how better The Ballad Of Horace Wimp is. (Nottingham’sMr Sex‘)

Can’t agree with you here, for me this was a band that started off interesting and got progressively more dull with every pompous overblown release until they finally imploded under the weight of their own ridiculousness. (Alan)

Didn’t Take That write this? (SwissToni)

1968: Fire Brigade – The Move (142)

Solid Gold Classic. Roy Wood is a genius of pop. And I’m not just saying that because we once had a curry on the table next to him. (Geoff)

Yeah, Roy Wood, the only celeb we’ve shared a curry house with apart from Paul Shane (who ordered chicken tikka massala, like someone’s mum). I prefer California Man, but this is a stonker nonetheless. I can get away with using a word like “stonker” because I’m a thick Brummie. (betty)

Marvellous. That riff is worth the 5 points in itself. (Z)

Loving that cheeky “Ooh!” in the lyrics. And the siren noises. Brilliant and bonkers. (SwissToni)

Very easy decision today. Essentially it’s the DOINNNG-da-da bits that do it for me too. I was struck by the cut-and-paste heads on the TOTP chart rundown: without giving too much away, the top 20 was almost wall-to-wall groups, and the graphics gave it the feel of a fan’s scrapbook. And being almost the same age as you, Mike, it was my first image of the exciting world of pop. (Erithian)

And this is their best single too. That bit where Wood throws in the Duane Eddy twangy guitar for just half a bar and then cutting to the chorus is one of pop’s great “moments”. Against anything else we’ve had so far this would have got 5 points easy. (jeff w)

Unfortunate Brum clash here but superbly deranged pop(were any “mainstream” ’67-8 Britbeat group as fearlessly OUT OF IT as the Move? Ace Kefford’s behaviour at times made Keith Moon seem like Keith Potger!). Neither of these great pop singles is at all undermined by the trademark clunky drumming of top Tory drummer Bev “Bev” Bevan. (Marcello Carlin)

I was never a fan of The Move but they were an influential and seminal sixties band. Good songwriting and not forgetting Roy Wood can play 3,058 instruments including the pipes (very badly). Nice catchy 45 though. (Stu)

I don’t think I’ve ever listened to the lyrics before, not that I’m much the wiser having done so. A solid sixties song. (Adrian)

I have dreadful memories of Cilla Black performing this on location one Surprise Surprise around the house and workplace of some long married fireman. Even if the bells in the intro is less “never a dull moment down the station” and more “bring out your dead”, it’s still tremendous British Invasion whimsy. Shame, really, that Roy Wood has never managed a pop cultural position greater than “man with large beard in 70s Christmas hit that isn’t by Slade”. (Simon)

What Which Decade has taught me is that most Sixties songs have the same beat and pretty much the same tune. The ones that don’t really stand out. This is a superior working of the formula but I don’t ever need to hear it again in my life. (Gert)

Sounds like (and could well be) novelty psychedelia. It could be so much more. (Stereoboard)

The musical juggernaut skips along relentlessly, but at about half-way I find myself wanting to get off. And not like that either. (imsodave)

Ok, I guess. That chorus would irritate the hell out of me if I had to listen to it again though. (Sarah)

It must be an English thing-like the taste for marmite. This got annoying as soon as the OOOO was over. (asta)

1998: You Make Me Wanna… – Usher (89)

Five points: It’s R&B that’s managed to move beyond Al Green while still remaining true to the cornerstone of the genre- slow and smooth love grooves. The drums aren’t too shabby either. (asta)

I thought, in the first few seconds, that I was going to hate it; but not at all. (Z)

I wasn’t expecting much from this, but it’s better than I expected. Has it been ten years already? (Adrian)

Pleasing slice of R&B from the king of R&B. (“Surely that’s John Lee Hooker” – Ed). (Geoff)

Yes, to me this felt like the first number one of the new millennium – way ahead of its time in both production and approach and it was underacknowledged as such at the time (1998, for those who care to investigate, was one of the great years for number one singles – lots of classics). (Marcello Carlin)

Can’t believe I’ve given high marks to nineties soul records two days in a row; I usually hate all soul recorded after 1971 but that’s because it always sounds overproduced, and I like the stripped back feel of this one. (Alan)

3 pts – Usher. Who I despise for being a nob and the poster child for women with Bestwood Facelifts who mill about outside Burger King, but this is passable. (Nottingham’sMr Sex‘)

Helped forge a path for the next few years of male R&B, but Jermaine Dupri is the most overrated producer in urban music this side of Pharrell. (Simon)

Far too smooth for his own good. (Stereoboard)

Somewhere in there is a melody, I’m sure. If this is indeed the symbolic start of a dominating branch of 00’s music, then it is everything that’s wrong about everything. Almost. (imsodave)

No points. You heard. NONE. Usher – cretinous no mark. You make me wanna what? eh? (SwissToni)

There’s only one thing this record makes me wanna, and it wouldn’t be pretty. (Erithian)

You Make Me Wanna stick pins in my eyes. Is it possible to take points away, Mike? In a word – garbage. (Stu)

2008: Work – Kelly Rowland (87)

Thank goodness for this one to wake us up at the end of the selection. Scuse me while I get up to dance around the living room. This would easily be at the top if ELO hadn’t made an appearance. (Sarah)

As overtly-sexualised, up-tempo, crowd-pumping, sports-tastic, leotard-clad, crotch-pumping, fist-in-the-air, sisterhood-empowering, pseudo-anthems go, this is a belter. (imsodave)

Nice vibe going on there, as well it might given its clear influences – the verse modelled on “Crazy in Love”, the chorus on “Hips Don’t Lie”. Nice girl, scrubs up well, but none too original. (Erithian)

I see we’re still following the Destiny’s Child trademark of singing really really fast. I like the gratuitous South Asian sampling in the remix. (asta)

Pleasing again and very pleasing on the eye as ever. Kelly is so much more gorgeous than Beyonce. (Geoff)

The 5 points are really for the remarkable Freemasons. How they manage to make gold from really quite rubbish RnB tracks (see Beyonce) is amazing. I *heart* Freemasons. (Oliver R)

Competent enough, but nothing special. (Z)

Like title, like approach…reasonable standard issue R&Booty but nothing particularly special… (Marcello Carlin)

Wasn’t the bhangra-Knight-Rider thing done a few years ago? Is pop eating itself that quickly now? I quite like it though. (Adrian)

You’d be able to guess it was a non-Beyonce Destiny’s Childer whatever surrounded the voice, but the remix varying between retro electro and Mundian To Bach Ke doesn’t help. (Simon)

Alright, I suppose, but MY GOD is there only one song in the whole wide world of music that these people think is worth sampling? (SwissToni)

Yeah, the remix is a bit overrated isn’t it? Too early for 2002 nostalgia surely! (Tom)

I think this is meant to be a “return to form”. It’s okay, but there doesn’t seem to be a point to any ex-members of Destiny’s Child now we’ve got Rihanna. Er, in my opinion … (betty)

I truly believe you could play this record to me 100 times and tell me who it was every single time, and when I heard it the 101st time I still wouldn’t remember. (Alan)

The only decent members of Destiny’s Child were 1) Beyonce and 2) Beyonce’s arse. (Nottingham’sMr Sex‘)

So, “the kids” are opining that this is better than all but 7 songs around right now. My god, the rest must be dross. (Gert)

1988: Valentine – T’Pau (67)

Always thought they were harshly treated by the crits – somewhat underrated. (Erithian)

I wish I could’ve given this three points, but it’s been quite a strong selection this time. Endearingly rubbish, with the usual terrible lyrics. Ahem. I used to have hair a bit like that in 1988. There, I’ve said it. (betty)

The edginess of the lyric gave it the – er – edge. (Z)

Quite liked the naff rap sections of “Heart And Soul” but even Carol Decker in interviews of the period was keen to point out that she was “boring” and alas so was the music of the first (and last?) Salopians to top the chart. (Marcello Carlin)

Just because I sometimes like to get drunk and listen to T’Pau songs, it don’t mean they’re actually any good tho, innit. Well some are, but this is just a pretty power-ballad-by-numbers. (Oliver R)

Who was responsible for miking drums in the mid-80s? No wonder the Musician’s Union got worried, machines made a much better job of such things without sounding much like an actual drum being hit. Power grab-enabling ballad by rote, naturally. (Simon)

Ah the power ballad. Most of its power seems to have seeped away. (Adrian)

Not exactly in the class of China in Your Hand. I don’t even remember this. It has something of that pre-Black Wednesday feel of the late Eighties. All glamour and no substance. And yet later in the year, the pop charts experienced a mini-false dawn. (Gert)

You can almost hear their 80’s hair can’t you? I don’t remember this song at all though it does sound like the whole thing was made from “Chine in Your hands” out-takes. (NiC)

Sorry. I fell asleep while listening to this. One of my best friends at school had Carol Decker hair – awash with Body Shop henna. Does that qualify for an incisive comment? (Sarah)

Has not aged well. Unlike Carol herself. Would she have been viewed as so feisty if her hair wasn’t quite so red, I wonder? (imsodave)

I used to know someone who originated from Shrewsbury and was most proud of 2 things: the town’s status as most polite town in Britain and the birthplace of Carol Decker. It’s the most polite town because they are forever apologising for Carol Decker. (Geoff)

Incredibly bland and boring from everybody’s favourite Leicester housewife (not including Rosemary Conley obviously). (Stu)

Portentous, self-involved cobblers. (SwissToni)

Let’s face it, this lot were always terrible. This plods even worse than I remembered. (jeff w)

Excessive, and oblivious. It’s the musical equivalent of what happens when little girls get into their mothers’ make-up. (asta)

This is not nearly as bad as all the comments suggested. Emphasis on “as bad” though. (Tom)

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