Which Decade Is Tops For Pops? – Year 6 – the Number 5s.

Swings and roundabouts, folks. Swings and roundabouts. Yesterday, you got the learned, considered, well-researched treatise, which touched on The Very Nature Of Popular Song Itself. Today, you’re getting the hasty, top-of-my-head, Back From The Pub And Oh Shit It’s Ten Fifteen On A Sunday Night And I’d Better Bash This Out Quick version.

(Which I would have written earlier, had I not spent the best part of the day scaling the North Face of Gary Numan, and bricking myself about tomorrow’s 90 minute lecture about blogging to Dymbel’s Trent Uni Creative Writing M.A. course – of which more in due course, on both fronts.)

Let’s not fart about, then! Number Fives, please make yourselves known to the group!

1968: Bend Me Shape Me – Amen Corner. (video)
1978: Hot Legs – Rod Stewart. (video)
1988: Beat Dis – Bomb The Bass. (video)
1998: Cleopatra’s Theme – Cleopatra. (video)
2008: Chasing Pavements – Adele. (video)
Listen to a short medley of all five songs.

wd08-05-68For me, one of the defining features of 1968 pop is a certain new-found stridency of tone, as exemplified by the straight-up boom-thwack beat and the blaring, parping, stentorian brass of Amen Corner‘s Bend Me Shape Me. (Don’t you just love the cheeky, tush-wiggling, almost Carry On-style implied upward inflection – “Ooh-wa, Ooh-wa!” – on the final two notes of each brass riff? I know I do.)

Set against the buoyant Brylcreem bounce of the rest of the track, Andy Fairweather-Low’s vocals strike just the right note of restraint, with a delivery that suggests he’s almost too cool even to bother moving his lips. And it just my over-ripe imagination, or is this music for swinging wife-swappers, high on Mackesons and Cherry B, to fling their keys into the onyx ashtray, before casting off their natty sports jackets and 18-hour girdles and hurling themselves upon the Brentford Nylons? Mm, kinky!

wd08-05-78And speaking of the unsophisticated lusts of the suburban lothario, here’s their 1970s poster boy Rod Stewart (“Britt Ekland? Wa-hey, get in there son!”), with the aural equivalent of that Athena photo of the tennis player scratching her behind.

I have to say that Hot Legs, which I fully intended to pan, sounds a damned sight more enjoyable after an early doors skinful down the boozer – as I discovered less than three hours ago, re-connecting with my inner caveman as I Jagger-swaggered round the kitchen, pointing and pouting and feeling myself up in my notional skin-tight leopard skin leggings.

Sexist? Yes. Neanderthal? You betcha. But tossed-off, raunchy-arsed rock-a-beatin’ boogie has its place, you know?

wd08-05-88And before I torch what remaining stocks of Sensitive New Man Cred I possess, here’s some ideologically sound, GLC-approved, NALGO-Benefit-Night-sanctioned (and yes, I speak from direct experience), Lesbians-Gay-Men-And-Their-Friends-compatible, MA1-bandana-and-cycling-shorts-friendly Eighties Groove from Tim Simenon, aka Bomb The Bass – who originally put Beat Dis together as a coursework project, on a budget of about 20 pence.

Set against the transgressive likes of Bend Me Shape Me and Hot Legs, there’s something almost prim about Simenon’s invitation to party – but then again, I have nothing but fond memories of the way it used to fill the floor at my club nights: the natural successor to Pump Up The Volume, the 114 BPM bridge between hip-hop and house (and hence extremely useful in my DJ sets), and a record which, by getting in there seconds ahead of its legions of imitators (even if it did blatanly rip off the true pioneers such as Steinski and Coldcut, and boy, didn’t we quickly tire of those same old samples?), managed to encapsulate a precise moment in time.

Yes, it’s a “used groove” whose time will never come again – but dance music has never been burdened with the need to strive for longevity, and this is as neat an encapsulation of the ephemeral as you’ll find anywhere.

wd08-05-98Cleopatra! Coming atcha!” Hey, and you thought Beat Dis was disposable? There was a massive resurgance of capital-P Pop in 1998, and of GIRL-POWAH! pop in particular, as the revolution which the Spice Girls kicked off began to bear fruit in the shape of B*Witched, Billie, [spoiler deleted] and this bunch of happy-go-lucky teenage sisters from Birmingham.

As with the unseen Heaven 17/Scritti Politti fans behind When Will I Be Famous, the crew behind Cleopatra’s Theme clearly knew their stuff, and in this case I’d wager that at least a couple of Eighties Soul Boys must have been involved somewhere down the line. And as with Beat Dis, ephemeral disposability is no barrier to enjoyment. This is frothy, feisty and fun, and marred only by the painful memory of the girls’ Top Of The Pops appearance, in the exact same trendy beige combat trousers that I had bought in Covent Garden a week earlier, with which to go clubbing in Trade. Way to ruin a Hot Look, ladies!

wd08-05-08It’s getting late, the early doors booze is wearing off, and only Adele stands between me and beddy-byes. How quickly can I knock this one out?

OK, it’s like this. Having seen her on The Brits last week, I found myself quite warming to Adele as a character. Hyped to the heavens and beyond she might be (“Critics’ Choice” award, my arse), but I liked her warm, earthy and unexpectedly unspun quality, which put me in mind of a future Alison Moyet in the making.

However. The trouble that I have with Chasing Pavements is much the same trouble that I had with The Feeling’s I Thought It Was Over, a few days ago: namely that it is little more than an artfully assembled collection of tastefully retro-classic moments, which fail to plaster over the gaping void that they seek to conceal.

For what is Chasing Pavements about, and what emotion is it trying to convey? If you know, then please enlighten me, as all I can hear is a self-consciously “big” chorus in search of a song to support it. As an ad-break soundbyte, it works fine for about 10 seconds, but since when was that enough? And can I go to bed now, please?

My votes: Amen Corner – 5 points. Bomb The Bass – 4 points. Rod Stewart – 3 points. Cleopatra – 2 points. Adele – 1 point.

Over to you. Thanks to a strong showing by Rose Royce and a weak showing by Engelbert Humperdinck, the 1970s have overtaken the 1960s at the top of the pile, with the 1990s and 2000s close on their heels (for once). Can Bomb The Bass revive the 1980s’ fortunes? Could Adele send the 2000s shooting ahead? Or will Amen Corner give the 1960s the necessary shot in the arm? I’ll begin to find out in the morning. Vote wisely!

Running totals so far – Number 5s.

1968: Bend Me Shape Me – Amen Corner (157)

Have to admit I’m slightly biased towards ’68 as the time I first became aware of TOTP and pop music in general, and a lot of these songs take me back to that joyful, innocent time. This one’s no exception – love the brass. (Erithian)

I love finding out that the rest of the world knows an entirely diferent version of a song than me. I grew up with this version by American Breed – regardless of which version, I like the song and I’m rooting for the 60’s and this point. (jo)

Always liked this band and Andy Fairweather-Low’s vocals in particular. A good tune in a great era for chart music. (Stu)

Top marks to the brass section. They sound like they’re loving it. And who wouldn’t? Was a suitably geometric dance performed whilst listening to this? I hope so. (imsodave)

I’d never really thought what this was about before but it is a bit risque (for the time) now that you mention it, isn’t it? (NiC)

Smile Andy, you’re on the telly! Although it reminds me of the King Cone advert at the cinema, still a lovely bright pop song. (Geoff)

Ah, a classic 60s soul sound, and a classic 60s soul classic. Digging that groovy brass from these cool cats. (SwissToni)

Nice and bubblegummy. Way better than the extremely punchable “If Paradise Is Half As Nice”. (jeff w)

There’s something quite endearing about the fact that someone must’ve thought that it would be possible to make a pop version of a Stax soul review, with some weedy voiced Welsh singer, and it actually works. (betty)

Not the best that 1968 had to offer, but the best of today’s batch. (Z)

Listening to this takes me right back to childhood – but only as far as the 80s (IIRC). For some reason this can instantly summon memories of watching the Golden Oldie Picture Show – a rather poor and overly-literal cartoon video had been crafted for this, if memory serves. Doesn’t set my world alight, but doesn’t grate either. (Adrian)

4 points; not because I particularly like it but because the competition is so inordinately weak. Sticking points: (a) not as out there as the American Breed original; (b) Andy Fairweather-Low’s wino with asthma voice has always been a barrier for me. Good horn charts though. (Marcello Carlin)

I suspect I keep going on about how similar so many of the Sixties Merseybeat-inspired ditties are, and in a sense this is no exception. However, it is sufficiently different and catchy to make it almost memorable. (Gert)

Interesting to hear American Breed’s orginal for the first time. I have to say that I miss the “ooh, cheeky!” brass parps, but then I’m vulgar like that. As for Andy Fairweather-Low’s voice, I’ve long been rather partial. His 1976 hit “Wide Eyed And Legless” (wonder if they played that at Paul McCartney’s second wedding?) was a big favourite of my father’s, and a rare single purchase of his (along with Dr Hook’s “If Not You” – he liked the line about having somebody else iron all his shirts!), and so every time I hear it, fond memories are evoked. (mike)

I was all set to bop along to the sample- but it’s the wrong one. No, No, No — The American Breed did the better cover. (asta)

Spirited and not without charm, but really this is one of innumerable attempts at making British soul/Merseybeat records with equal eyes on the dancefloor and TOTP and falling between both stools. (Simon)

I saw Andy Fairweather-Low at a blues club in Brussels about ten years back and he was superb. But this was just an identikit of all those sixties stomp-a-longs. (Alan)

A novelty record, surely – and only brings to mind those dodgy hot dog adverts at the local cinemas. (Sarah)

1988: Beat Dis – Bomb The Bass (129)

A clear winner. Much overlooked these days, but ground-breaking at the time. (Adrian)

Much imitated, rarely bettered. Loving their use of samples, like, er…. a digital alarm clock. (SwissToni)

5 pts. This is one of the rare ones I base on importance to myself, nostalgia and such. The song was around just as I graduated from liking what the radio fed me, and moved into the new and exciting realm of searching out and defining myself through music. Regardless, it’s a good one, still. (Simon C)

An urtext in the Jeffosphere of pop. If we could play one joker in any one round each year (now there’s an idea), this is probably where I’d play mine. (jeff w)

Clearly of its time, and already edging into “oh no not again” sample cliche territory but it still sounded excitingly less than legal when it came straight into the chart at number five (and back in ’88 that was still an achievement), plus Simenon changed music at the other end of ’88 with the aid of Neneh Cherry and Morgan McVey. I think it stands up. (Marcello Carlin)

I’d rather be listening to M.A.R.R.S or Coldcut, but I suppose I’ve got to give credit to this one because it reminds me of some good times when clubbing became fun again (pretty naff excuse, but there you go). (betty)

Seems delightfully amateurish in comparison to some of the ‘big beat’ dance anthems that were to emerge in subsequent ten years, but it has a playful charm that’s not often evident these days. (imsodave)

Music by numbers but in a good way. (Geoff)

A period piece and nothing wrong with that. (Z)

I like some of the samples, and it shows at least some attempt at originality. (Alan)

It now sounds more Big Beat than the acid house movement it helped usher in, and it’s certainly post-M/A/R/R/S and Coldcut, but all these hits from the early, less litigously/obviously minded sampling days are very much fine by me. (Simon)

Well, it’s got the requisite Big Hair sound, the computer-generated drum track, the necessary scratching. In fact it’s exactly the reason why 1988 was the beginning of the end for chart-oriented pop radio for me. (Gert)

1 pt, because there was proper hip-hop knocking about at the same town that didn’t even scrape the top 40, and when you could buy Marley Marl broadcasts on WBLS behind the counter at Arcade Records, why bother with tunes like this? (and it automatically remind me of Janet Street-Porter every time I hear it) (Nottingham’sMr Sex‘)

2008: Chasing Pavements – Adele (117)

Love her voice and if she manages to avoid Amy’s pratfalls she could be around for a long time to come. Who knew I would put a sung from 08 this high up in the ratings? (jo)

Five points. I forgive her an accent so thick it makes anywhere sound like anyway. The voice is an raspy echo of 60s soul singers. This isn’t a whole song; it’s a chorus with a couple of bridges- but it’s a really catchy chorus. (asta)

Hints of Amy Winehouse and Regina Spektor… I quite like this. (Adrian)

I like her voice; I loved Hometown Glory; I’m not enamoured of the Brit School (it’s all about creativity, right); I haven’t got a clue what she’s trying to say…but it still beats three of the choices today. Gawd help us! (Sarah)

There’s a decent song somewhere in there struggling to get out. (Alan)

I quite like her voice and it’s a not bad song. It’s not exactly making me rush out to buy the album, but this brief clip is enough to explain why she is getting so much attention. Although, I can’t help thinking that if she really is the best that contemporary pop music can offer, I’m well out of it… (Gert)

Has the sheen of quality and an undeniably fine voice, but am I alone in thinking this has started to grate surprisingly quickly? I agree with you about the over-reliance on a big chorus, and the video is utterly macabre. (Erithian)

Pleasant enough, but what the hell does “Chasing Pavements” mean exactly? It means bloody nothing, does it? It’s all too obviously all about the chorus too, even from the first chorus you can hear them cranking the volume up to get their hooks into you. Enough Amy Winehouse-lites already (not that you can get much liter than Ms Winehouse already is… certainly not if you’re Adele, anyway) (SwissToni)

Starts well, pity about the chorus. (Z)

I hate everything she (or the hype at least) stands for, and the lyrics are apalling. But the monster chorus, brilliantly sung, almost saves it. Almost. (jeff w)

Is it just me that thinks this could easily be a Melanie C song? It’s got the same kind of overly cheap and cheerful string arrangement and key change and there’s something in her voice that reminds me of Never Be The Same Again. (Simon)

3 points: See to what base uses I am come. I detest this prematurely pleased with itself photocopy of emotion. Not as bad as “Chasing Cars” but this is being measured on an Aitken/Archer scale. (Marcello Carlin)

Horrible. The Pat Butcher of the 1983 revival “actually, I don’t listen to hoary old rock music, I listen to qualidee singers such as Etta James” movement. I wonder who the new Sade is going to be ? (betty)

Brit School Die Now. (Geoff)

1978: Hot Legs – Rod Stewart (97)

5 points: I’m sure I thought it was his career low at the time, but it is surprisingly actually quite boogily good. (NiC)

Reminds me of Bruce Springsteen on his River album for some reason. A lot better than I remember. (Geoff)

Ludicrously dumb, encapsulating a fantasy image that you suspect he has been attempting to live up to ever since. But if I ever wanted a boogified soundtrack to a suggestive swagger, then this would be a good choice. As would Rod be for a f*ck buddy, it seems. (imsodave)

Yeah, the video is a corker. I feel a bit cheap and nasty for liking this, but there you go. (betty)

A tad embarrassing but fun. Rod had left The Faces and things were beginning to change big time. Not for the better generally. (Stu)

Not one of his best, not by a long chalk. OTOH, it’s quintessentially Rod, love him or hate him. (Gert)

He’d hardly put a foot wrong since “Maggie May”, but the road to self-parody started in earnest here. (Erithian)

Already memories of mike twirling, kickabouts and John Peel on mandolin were fading fast. (Simon)

God. Sorry. I loved Rod in the 70’s and 80’s…LOVED HIM. After this though it was a long downhill slide to crapliness. (jo)

This one gets the “pushing past 60” crowd on the dance floor at the social club. Enough. (asta)

Not even after a skinful. Not even after a leopard-skinful. (Z)

1 point. “I love you ho-NAAAAAAAAYYYYYYA!!” = anti-Christ. (Marcello Carlin)

Oh, heavens, but he’s such a plonker. Oasis are largely modelled on the Beatles, it’s true, but there’s a hefty chunk of Rod in Liam too. Oh wait, that sounds like I’m starting a rumour… (SwissToni)

I don’t know if it’s just because it’s by Rod or if it’s because it’s called “Hot Legs” but I hate it. (Rebecca)

I think my abject loathing of Rod Stewart probably stems from the fact that he was my older brother’s favourite in the seventies, but also being a rocker from way back Rod was always like a cartoon character version of a rock star rather than a real one. Rock music for golf players. Utter shite. (Alan)

1998: Cleopatra’s Theme – Cleopatra (54)

Bless their cotton socks, these girls had a freshness and talent that I thought would last them longer than it did. Precocious without being stage-school brattish (yes, I’m thinking of the front few rows at the Brits). (Erithian)

3 points to them for that rhyme. There’s not enough ancient Egyptian inspired rhyming going down these days is there? (NiC)

The lead singer has a decent stab at some early Michael Jackson vocals, but the song is absolutely devoid of hooks, a decent chorus or any other distinguishing features. Probably not the best selling points for an out and out pop song. (betty)

The main one, who may even have been called Cleopatra, has been trying to relaunch herself as a post-Beyonce R&B diva for a couple of years now. Fair to say it hasn’t worked out as well as Billie Piper’s reinvention. Good on them for trying, but essentially it’s ‘street’ teens shouting. (Simon)

I’m very partial to girl bands with cleverly crafted but ultimately bland songs. This is more of the latter though. (Simon C)

Whenever I find the first couple of tracks on the medley a little uninspiring, I’m always excited that this will mean the more recent decades will have a chance to catch up. And then I hear Cleopatra. (Oliver R)

If the Spice Girls had been Elvis, Cleopatra would have been Tony Crombie and his Rockets. (Marcello Carlin)

Was Akon dressed as a girl and recording in the 90s? (Sarah)

Little girl groups can’t help looking like precocious novelty acts- because that’s what they are. (asta)

Haha oh dear, my girlpop love only goes so far, you know? (jeff w)

There is nothing to it at all. Is this the 1998 version of Debbie Gibson? I really actively dislike that tiny sound of over-over-over produced backing vocals (Gert)

Comin atcha, indeed! A band concept seemingly revolving around a very bad slogan. I had no memory of the verses or melody, so I suppose at least there was something that got its hook in me. It’s out now though, so i’m fine. Just fine. I’m ok. Thanks. (imsodave)

Truly awful. Noteworthy only for the “comin’ ‘atcha” thing. She can’t sing and the backing vocals are shockingly and charmlessly amateur. (SwissToni)

Dreadful. Children showing off their lack of talent. (Z)

The worst thing is, I’m sure I’ve danced to this with enthusiasm. (Rebecca)

Are you kidding me? This was a hit? I could have been FORCED to listen to this in my car? Get me the novocaine now! (jo)

Decade scores so far (after 5 days).
1 (2) The 1970s (21)
2 (1) The 1960s (18)
3= (3) The 1990s (15)
3= (3) The 2000s (15)
5 (5) The 1980s (6)

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