There’s a quote somewhere in the Ian Gittins Top Of The Pops book – ah, here it is, page 71 – from Johnny Marr, talking about the special Christmas editions of the show:
“It was often a letdown, because the records I really liked tended to get to Number Eleven, not Number One. I would much rather have seen Mott The Hoople do All The Young Dudes than Don McLean singing bloody Vincent again.”
I know exactly what he means by that. And having feasted your ears upon the motley crew which comprise our Number Twos (was a Which Decade selection ever more appropriately named?), I fancy that you will too. Hold yer noses! In we go!
1968: Cinderella Rockefella – Esther & Abi Ofarim. (video)
1978: Figaro – Brotherhood Of Man. (video)
1988: I Think We’re Alone Now – Tiffany. (video)
1998: All I Have To Give – Backstreet Boys. (video)
2008: Rockstar – Nickelback. (video)
Listen to a short medley of all five songs.
(Sorry, a little Nottingham Textile Heritage In Joke there. The rest of you, please skip on by.)
Of all the songs in our 1968 Top 10, Esther & Abi Ofarim‘s novelty duet is the one that I remember the most vividly, doubtless because it was played on the radio shows that my parents were most likely to listen to. (I’m guessing Housewives’ Choice and Family Favourites.)
There’s period charm, I’ll grant you (especially in the video clip) – and I’m always partial to bit of yodelling – but, ecch, maybe I’m just a jaded old grump, as this stopped putting a smile on my face a long time ago.
From one Eurovision act (Abi Ofarim represented Switzerland in 1963, as did Celine Dion in 1988) to another. Whereas Celine shoved Scott Fitzgerald into second place, the Brotherhood Of Man, as any fule kno, triumphed in 1976 with Relax Missus, I’m A P@3do! – and two years later, there was still mileage to be extracted from their Woolworths Own Brand Abba act.
Not content with distilling the loamy essence of Fernando (and the piano riff of Dancing Queen) into the milky piss-water of Angelo, the sheer paucity of creative vision at the heart of BOM enured that, in best dog-returning-to-its-own-vomit style, the formula could bear one more reduction. Adios, ill-starred Mexican shepherd boy! And hola, medallion-clanking scourge of the Costa de Sol!
Believe it or not, this was voted Best Single of 1978 by the viewers of the ITV children’s show Magpie. Tsk, kids, eh? And we have the nerve to complain about bassline house on the bus?
(But I do still quite like the rising and falling bass vamp which underpins the chorus. There, I’ve said it. Fair and balanced, me.)
Much as I loathed it at the time, snobby little hipster that I was, you simply couldn’t keep a good song down – and I Think We’re Alone Now, whether by Tiffany in 1988, or Lene Lovich in 1978, or The Rubinoos in 1977, or Tommy James and the Shondells in 1967, or indeed Girls Aloud in 2006 (and I can do interpretive movements to the Girls Aloud version, as demonstrated in a Brighton gay club last May, hem hem, ooh I can still show them youngsters a thing or two), is a great song. So much so, that even Tiff’s generically tinny 1980s production job somehow ends up playing to the song’s strengths.
(And before we move on, I must pay a fond tribute to my long-lost friend Nik’s “alternative cabaret” version of this, as performed down the Old Vic on a Stop Clause 28 benefit night, which approached the song from the perspective of a pair of smug young marrieds. “We’ll tear down the walls! And build an archway to the dining room!” Ah, ’twas class…)
A couple of days ago, commenter Jeff W said of Bomb The Bass: “If we could play one joker in any one round each year, this is probably where I’d play mine.” Well, if I could play a joker in any one round, then it would be one that excused me from doing a blurb for one of the fifty songs – and the song in question would be this total waste of space from the Backstreet Boys.
Because, you see, there’s some sort of protective override system in my brain which absolutely refuses to ingest production-line boy-band ballads of this nature. I must have played All I Have To Give a good half dozen times in the last couple of weeks, in an attempt to reach an informed opinion – and every goddammed time, my brain detuned after the first thirty seconds.
So, all I have to give is this. Firstly, that this is an early example of the sort of ghastly straining-on-the-potty pop vocal technique that would come to dominate the early-to-mid Noughties (Enrique, I’m looking at you) – and secondly, that Louis Walsh, having already bludgeoned us into submission with Boyzone, must have been taking careful notes for his next project…
And so, dear MP3 medley listeners – and dear God, hasn’t this felt like the longest six and a quarter minutes in living memory? – to those unlikeliest of comeback kings: Nickelback, back in the Top 10 for the first time since 2003 with their, ahem, Wry Social Commentary.
For if you’re the sort of person who derived profundity from Everybody’s Free (To Wear Sunscreen) and an important history lesson from We Didn’t Start The Fire, then I’m guessing that Rockstar is your idea of Wry Social Profundity. But hey, with major cultural figures in the video like Gene Simmons, Kid Rock, Nelly Furtado and Ted Nugent, they must be doing something right, yeah?
Sorry, readers. I don’t know what’s got into me this evening. Perhaps we should leave it there. I’ll be Princess Fluffy again tomorrow, I promise.
My votes: Tiffany – 5 points. Esther & Abi Ofarim – 4 points. Nickelback – 3 points. Brotherhood Of Man – 2 points. Backstreet Boys – 1 point.
Over to you. I have suffered for my art, and now it’s your turn. Don’t all rush at once!
1988: I Think We’re Alone Now – Tiffany (147)
Ah yes. Pop genius, and following on from Debbie Gibson the other day, another of this year’s wholesome 80s starlets who got’em out for Playboy. God love her. There’s a great song in here underneath that production. It still sounds alright today, I reckon. (SwissToni)
Yay! I think this may actually be the best version of this song. (And before anyone says anything, this movie is not about me, OK?) (jeff w)
5 points, since out of this singularly sorry lot this is the only record which truly deserves any points. I liked the shopping mall marketing plan, though (and what was our equivalent in the UK of the late eighties? The late, lamented Don Estelle flogging his tapes and singing along to them in Arndale Centres up and down the land!), and she grasps the “children BEHAVE” motif in a way that Tommy James or the Rubinoos (being boys) wouldn’t have been able to do. Harmless fun and an obvious number one, although the Tommy James original with its hesitant pauses of chirping crickets – what happened to the concept of spaces and silence in pop? – is overall architecturally and aesthetically better as a pop record. (Marcello Carlin)
The first version of ‘I Think We’re Alone Now’ that I heard was by The Rubinoos and I still love their take on it, though I later acquired the fine original. (I always first think of Tommy James as ‘Crimson and Clover’ though, a key early record for me). I once named a short story after this song and, by implication, the mediocre Tiffany version is playing in the story’s final paragraph, so I guess I owe her. (Dymbel)
Proof that good music transcends genre. You see, it has all the Eighties trademarks (except scratching) that have pissed me off throughout this exercise, but actually it is a good song. Not great, but almost certainly in my top five for this year’s WD (which is damning with faint praise). I like her voice, especially the richness at the bottom of her range. Towards the top she’s a bit of a poor person’s Cyndi Lauper. (Gert)
Not a classic by any stretch of the imagination, but at least it’s reasonably well produced and inoffensive. (Adrian)
Like you said, it’s very difficult to screw up with a song like this. (Erithian)
Really never imagined that I’d ever give this 5 points. No-one who knows me in real life comes here do they? A bit of remixing and this could be quite something actually. (NiC)
5 Points – solely on the grounds that it wasn’t anything like as bad as I remember it. It’s still pretty f**king bad though! (Alan)
5 points to Tiffany, and I never thought I would say that, as I’ve alwas thought it unbelievably naff, but compared to the rest of this lot, it’s fantastic. (David)
Almost irresistibly catchy. Talking of comedy clubs, as Alan does below, I was in one of Nottingham’s scuzziest last Friday night and they played this track – the hen party from Barnsley and the big group of blokes from Hucknall did jiggy to it all over the place – complete with imitation lurex microphone which all and sundry sang into. (Tina)
The song may have its moments, but I don’t like her delivery at all. (Z)
1 point, because I’ve discovered she posed topless and I’m totally against that sort of thing. Oh, and it was a stinking pile of 80s turdiness. (Geoff)
1968: Cinderella Rockefella – Esther & Abi Ofarim (107)
5 points, because it reminds me of being tucked up in bed during one of my never ending childhood illnesses, feeling safe, secure, and best of all, listening to the radio because I’d had time off school. Plus, I’m still likely to start singing it when I’m drunk, so it *must* have a special place in my heart. Stands head and shoulders above the other four songs, gawd help ’em. (betty)
I’ve only got good memories of this. Genuinely strange and wonderful. Tiny Tim crossed with Lee Hazlewood. (Geoff)
Everyone I know, including my mum, still assumes this to have been a Eurovision entry, but no, that year’s winner, even beating Mr Forever Guy Cliff into second place, was Spain’s Massiel with the memorable “La La La” (although whoever wrote Andy Williams’ “Happy Heart” obviously remembered it).
Still, it can’t be under-emphasised that in a year when CBS were more prepared to put marketing resources behind Solomon King than the Zombies (can you believe that “Time Of The Season” was never a hit single in its native country?), that when the US number ones of ’68 included not only the aforementioned Archie Bell & the Drells (“from Houston TEXAS!”) and Hugh Masekela but the Rascals (“People Got To Be Free”), “Love Child” (top 20 only in Britain) and “Dock Of The Bay” (#3 in the UK), serious questions have to be raised in the house about the misleading (?) picture of music that the success of trifles like “Cinderella Rockafella” would seem to have indicated.
It is perhaps excusable in the light of the song’s author, Mason Williams, also having a much better hit in the same year with “Classical Gas” (which sounds like a lost Forever Changes backing track), and the excellent work that Esther Ofarim has done elsewhere (see for instance “Any Day Now,” her “guest” appearance on side one of Scott Walker’s ‘Til The Band Comes In), but really these 4 points are in Monopoly money. (Marcello Carlin)
They’ve chosen a direction and gone all out for it. In company like this such conviction, even if mis-placed, can lift you above the rest. (Adrian)
This amused me when I was fourteen, which allows me to give it a modicum of tolerance. (Z)
A fondly-remembered novelty rather than anything of great value (although their “One More Dance” had a haunting quality).(Erithian)
I don’t like novelty records. I wonder who was buying the records back in the Sixties, because I don’t see the chart being particularly Teens or even Twenties oriented. Unless young people were prematurely middle-aged. (Gert)
I really was hoping for a ” Young Girl” or Baby Come Back” or even “Lady Madonna” but no, this is what we get. Another f*^#*ing novelty act. I really think it’s got to be February. When we finish all the Februarys will you consider a comparison with July/August? Pretty please? (asta)
I always thought it was Mike Moran & Lynsey du Paul. (David)
Blimey. There’s not enough yodelling in the charts nowadays, is there? **seconds pass** Ah, okay, now I’m bored of this. The joke isn’t funny anymore. En Suivant! (SwissToni)
2008: Rockstar – Nickelback (103)
Hmm, you were praising with faint damns there, weren’t you Mike? I like this – not sure I’d ascribe profundity or wryness to it (and I hated “We Didn’t Start The Fire” as much as the next man) but it’s refreshing to hear a rock band intentionally sending up both itself and the “raaawwk” lifestyle. In the tradition of “Life’s Been Good” by Joe Walsh or Dr Hook’s early material (if you only know them for gloopy ballads try “Cover of the Rolling Stone”). And it’s still fun after it becomes familiar. Nice vid as well. (Erithian)
Just what is happening with the creepy voiceover stuff? Nickelback were never that good, but I was hoping they’d provide some guilty-pleasure-style respite. (Adrian)
Take your point, Erithian. It’s not for me in any shape or form, but I can see that it’s a reasonably accurate lampoon on an awful lot of people’s fantasies of the rock star lifestyle – but they could have taken it so much further, so I can’t help feeling that it’s a waste of a decent premise. (Those creepy voice-overs that Adrian mentioned were provided by a member of ZZ Top, by the way.) (mike)
For the first few bars I thought ‘not bad’ but then I just fell asleep, it is so boring. An unusual reaction, if I don’t like something, I still tend to react. (Gert)
I’m giving this 4 points? Oh sweet lord above. Now, the thing about this is that I’m absolutely convinced that although this is being seen as ironic, it was written with a perfectly straight face. Chad Kroeger has cut his hair. He has many cars. He is a rockstar (and is there any sadder an indictment of music than that?). I don’t know about the hookers and the dealers and stuff, and I know he’s canadian and all (sorry asta), but I’m prepared to take a wild guess that he didn’t have to look very far for his inspiration. (SwissToni)
Should be number one for 26 weeks in a Bryan Adams way. Would have been in the 80s. And the 80s were great, weren’t they? (Geoff)
I was in a comedy club a few weeks back, Tom Stade was headlining and because I was sat in the front (and because I look like, well, me) he naturally made me his buttmonkey for the night. And one of the first things he said was “I don’t know anything about you, except that you smoke a lot of dope and like Nickelback.” I really wanted to put him right on that second one. This is a band who started out by distilling everything that was great about bands like the Pixies, Nirvana, Soundgarden and the Smashing Pumkins, and then discarding that and using what was left over. Like I said with Rod Stewart, I’m a die-hard rocker from way back, and that’s exactly why I don’t like this. It isn’t rock music, it’s what someone who has had rock music described to them but has never actually heard it would create. (Alan)
With all the fabulously talented Canadian singer/songwriters out there, Nickelback is sitting in the number 2 spot? Outrageous. They’ve been recording the same paint-by-numbers song for seven years. Only the lyrics change. Oh lucky us, this one is a self-indulgent whine about MTV kids and rock star life. (asta)
Peter Robinson’s recent piece in the Guardian Guide was the definitive study of Nickelback’s true awfulness. Hey, even though he’s a rock star who lives the rock star lifestyle, he’s slagging off other people who want to be rock stars and live the rock star lifestyle! Way to go, dude! Gets three points because the singer is quite funny … for a few seconds. (betty)
At least BoM have the decency to be bland and know it (I imagine). This is bland posing as rock. Begone. (Stereoboard)
Thank goodness for Duffy, eh? Otherwise this might have got to #1. I knew there must be some reason for her existence… (jeff w)
1 point, because they’re Canadian and therefore should know much, much better. Because really I don’t care whether it’s supposed to be ironic or not. It’s a lump of overspent Mothers’ Pride bread blocking up the orchard of popular music development. I can’t abide Duffy but I do applaud her for keeping this muck off the top. Now come down, dear, and give H(two)) a chance. (Marcello Carlin)
1978: Figaro – Brotherhood Of Man (65)
It could be down to the fact that I’ve got a bad headache, but I’m now imagining what Brotherhood Of Man’s version of I Think We’re Alone Now would sound like. Oh, and I can remember The Barron Knight’s spoof version, which then leads me to remember The Barron Knights’ Boney M send up There’s A Dentist From Birmingham. It’s terrible and I’m probably having some sort of meltdown. (betty)
Pure nostalgia. This was the very first pop record I bought, for 69p. Objectively, I have to say it is pretty bad, low-rent Abba, over-produced vocals blah de blah, but the tune is so etched on my mind, it has the comfort of the familiar. And now I’m freaked out that Betty’s mentioned “Dentist in Birmingham”, because I brought this into conversation today at work, sight unseen, as a follow-on from a discussion of the Wurzels (you had to be there) but I couldn’t remember the name of the band so I googled it. (Gert)
I never liked Abba, so a second rate middle-class English imitation with mumsy looking women is quite painful. For some reason, watching the video made me think of Abigails Party. (Alan)
If you’re going to rip off ABBA could you at least put some effort into it? God, a highschool production of Mamma Mia could outdo this. (asta)
oh crikey! Amateur hour. Bjorn Again are probably deeply offended by this. I don’t even like Abba and I know I am. (SwissToni)
Motherhood of Bran, as we used to refer to them at school (why couldn’t it have been the Brotherhood of Breath, my all time favourite band in any genre of music?), and this was a truly terrible number one in a chart which also contained “What Do I Get?” and “Shot By Both Sides” (now THERE would have been a top-of-the-chart battle worth following). The subtext here: watch out for all those greasy foreigners who’ll steal your wife/your job/your house/swamped by alien culture &c. They were rightfully swept away one week later by the Harold Wilson to their Mike Yarwood (or, if you know your seventies Brit impressionists, the David Frost to their Peter Goodwright) – Abba. And if you think this was bad, what about the follow-up to “Save Your Kisses” – “My Sweet Rosalie” which seems to promote canophilia. (Marcello Carlin)
Yes, the horror that was “My Sweet Rosalie” – an earlier (and more metaphorically apposite!) example of BOM deploying the dog-returning-to-its-own-vomit, “if you thought the other one sucked, try sucking on THIS you suckers” trick. I am still scarred by the memory of their “Seventies medley” at the Royal Centre last year, in particular the segue from “Remember You’re A Womble” (complete with GLOVE PUPPET) to “My Ding-A-Ling”… (mike)
3 points: Brotherhood Of Man. Because I like the sentiments behind the group’s name. (Geoff)
1998: All I Have To Give – Backstreet Boys (58)
I dislike “production-line boy-band ballads” as much as the next man, but the Brit and Irish variants are 10 times worse than this. the BBoys are dodgy singers but the arrangement is lovely and the song’s OK; the melody in the chorus is pretty strong, actually. (jeff w)
I think you’re being unfair here Mike, they’re much better than Westlife. Mind you, so is having major bowel surgery without an anaesthetic. This is dull, bland and pointless, but it’s not awful, hence the four points, because frankly everything else is. (Alan)
Aside from the half-strangled mimicking of Prince singing a ballad, they’re not that bad. Let me be more precise- they’re better than a lot of other boy bands. O Town anyone? (asta)
I can’t believe that I’m placing this shit so high. Hmmm. There was a time when I was in Florida with a friend that every time I touched the radio dial, the Backstreet Boys came on with “I Want It That Way”. Now, I didn’t much like that song, but compared to this one, it’s Ivor Novello winning stuff. Lazy, unimaginative tripe of the kind now cranked out by Westlife. You can see them standing up as the song cranks up for a big finish. Awful. (SwissToni)
Oh god, painting my numbers. You’d have thought, when he wobbles, they’d have gone for another take. (Gert)
Completely unmemorable. Louis Walsh must indeed have been taking notes. A real letdown if compared to the awesome Everybody (Backstreet’s Back), the band’s In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida. (betty)
I wasn’t paying a great deal of attention to the charts at this period, but just the thought that this was an influence on the likes of W——e is enough to earn them a place in the bowels of hell. (Erithian)
1 (2) The 1970s (29)
2 (1) The 1960s (29)
3 (3) The 2000s (24)
4 (4) The 1990s (23)
5 (5) The 1980s (16)