Slowly but steadily, the Which Decade tribe appears to be re-assembling itself – along with a couple of newcomers, whom we warmly welcome. Now, I’d hate to dampen anyone’s enthusiasm at this still formative stage – but after yesterday’s strong opening, today’s selections are… not all they could be, shall we say.
On the other hand – and seasoned regulars will back me up on this, I’m sure – we’ve had far worse. Far, far worse. So have at ’em, crew! It’s the Number Nines!
1969: The Way It Used To Be – Engelbert Humperdinck. (video)
1979: Milk & Alcohol – Dr. Feelgood. (video)
1989: Fine Time – Yazz. (video)
1999: Changes – 2Pac. (video)
2009: Day ‘n’ Nite – Kid Cudi vs. Crookers. (video)
Listen to a short medley of all five songs.
Gawd strewth, not him AGAIN? The annual appearance of dreary old Engelbert Humperdinck in the listings has become Which Decade‘s unique curse, I fear. But hold up, hold up: compared to previous excursions, this one’s not so bad. Sure, we’re still mired in expansively lugubrious “Soundtrack for a Suburban Divorce” terrain – but it does sound like one of Engelbert’s people might have been taking notes from that younger, edgier, more vital Engel – better known to the world as Scott Walker. Certainly, the orchestration is less soupy this time round: there’s more colour, more definition, and a keener sense of dramatic ebb and flow. None of which can altogether mitigate against the wearily corny weepalong sway of the statutory Big Chorus – but credit where it’s due, eh?
In the autumn of 1976, our boarding school’s so-called “underground” magazine polled us all for our favourite bands. A few hundred adolescent poshboys duly submitted their top tens, revealing two clear winners (and this just goes to show how popular culture distorts itself in the memory over time)… Santana and Dr. Feelgood.
Younger readers may never have heard a note, but The Feelgoods were a big draw in their day, even scoring a UK Number One with their live album Stupidity. Always more of a live band than a studio act, many felt that they never successfully captured their stage sound on record. And when it came to having hit singles, “Milk And Alcohol” was their only significant success.
Listening to it afresh, and finding less of interest than I was expecting – it’s a nifty enough pub-rock chugger, but little more than that – I find myself wondering whether the single’s success was largely down to a “Buggin’s Turn” vote of confidence in “the good old Feelgoods”, rather than a specific response to the merits of the track. Or am I being overly harsh on an unfashionable genre? Perhaps, perhaps.
At some stage in early 1989, I must have thought enough of Yazz‘s “Fine Time” to have bought the 12-inch – but twenty years later, I’m struggling to remember why. Sure, she had been the Queen of my dancefloor through 1988, thanks to the triple punch of “Doctorin’ The House”, “The Only Way Is Up” and “Stand Up For Your Love Rights” – but the languidly loping “Fine Time” was no floor-filler, and in retrospect it probably broke Yazz’s spell.
As I see it, there are three problems here. One: the song’s kinda blah in the first place. Two: Yazz just doesn’t have the requisite vocal chops to get the job done. She sounds thin, uncertain, exposed. And three: for all the tasteful elegance of the backing track, this kind of post-Sade wine-bar skanking was about to get buried for good by Neneh Cherry’s immeasurably superior “Manchild”, Soul II Soul’s nothing-short-of-epochal “Keep On Moving”, and all the glories which followed in their wake.
Perhaps it’s just that we finished Season One of The Wire last night, with the fate of some of its central characters still resonating inside my head – but anything that combines ghetto-toughness with wistful reflection and a twist of regret is currently scoring Big Points with me. With that in mind, I’m happy that yesterday’s TQ track has segued into today’s posthumous hit for Tupac Shakur: an artist who charted just twice in the UK before his death in 1996, and no less than fourteen times afterwards.
Although there’s something grisly and false about the whole 2Pac Heritage Industry, and the way that any old studio offcuts could still be passed off as new material over a decade later (Boy George on Elton John’s chart-topping participation with “Ghetto Gospel”: “She’s digging them up now!“), the Bruce Hornsby-sampling “Changes” is still seen by many as one of the rapper’s defining works, and it’s easy to see why. Every gangsta rapper needs their “What madness have we wrought?” moment, and 2Pac snatches the moral high ground with the best of them here. The BPMs are a bit on the swift side for total comfort, and there’s a lazy over-reliance on Hornsby’s hook – but the rapper’s flow is basically sound, and lines such as “We ain’t ready to see a black President” cannot help but take on an extra resonance in February 2009.
I don’t know about you lot, but when it comes to voting, I often find myself at the mercy of two equal and opposing forces: The Comfort of the Old, versus The Thrill of the New. In Kid Cudi‘s case, I’ve decided to allow myself to be thrilled. Will the Crookers remix of “Day ‘n’ Nite” sound tired and played out in a few months’ time? Perhaps I shouldn’t even try to form a judgement – but for now, it works a treat.
If the Crookers remix is all you’ve heard, then duty compels me to point you in the direction of Kid Cudi’s original version: an altogether starker, more sombre, more sinister affair, which effectively conveys the bleak mood of his “lonely stoner” lyric. (With this in mind, it’s no wonder that Kid Cudi was called in by Kanye West to collaborate on his equally strange, stark and sad 808s and Heartbreak album.) But for the European market, an Italian production team were drafted in to give the track some clubland clout – hence the electro-house thump, the vocal cut-ups, and – oh joy, I’m SUCH a sucker for this – the sort of Wonky Parping that was last heard on Fedde Le Grand’s 2007 output.
You could argue that the remix is a travesty – and even Kid Cudi himself might agree with you, given his angry reaction to the admittedly terrible remix video – but pop’s a dirty old game, and it’s the remix which the Eurokids are hoovering up in gleeful droves. It’s ugly, it’s wrong… and it totally works. Hey, what can you do?
My votes: Kid Cudi vs. Crookers – 5 points. Dr. Feelgood – 4 points. 2Pac – 3 points. Engelbert Humperdinck – 2 points. Yazz – 1 point.
Over to you. If you’re my age, then I’m guessing you’ll be leaning towards the Feelgoods. Or has Engelbert finally bludgeoned you into submission, after all these years? Nostalgists might be feeling more charitable towards Yazz, poptimists might be preparing their cases in favour of Kid Cudi… and I’m not sure who’s going to champion 2Pac, especially consdering the battering that most of you have already given TQ’s sublime classic… but then again, You Never Know. Go on, surprise me!
(Oh, and don’t forget: voting remains open for all rounds until I blow the whistle – so if you want to play catch-up with the Number Tens, then please go right ahead.)
1979: Milk & Alcohol – Dr. Feelgood. (158 points)
5 points. I’m sorry, I’m just a sad old rock chick. (Sue Bailey)
A great, stomping slice of late seventies rock, this song would without doubt feature heavily on the soundtrack of my youth. (Alan)
I loved this then, love it now, and not just because my baby brother* did a brilliant impression on air guitar. It’s passionate and entirely meaningless. (Gert)
Bouncy and energetic; a very efficient pop song. (Hedgie)
It was out of place in the top ten in 1979 and still sounds rough and refreshing now. I should point out that I had an evening paper round at this time in 1979 and to keep myself entertained, I would memorise the chart and sing the songs to myself, from #1 down to #10 or as far as I could go. This week has some corkers in it! I’ve wondered this for 30 years, but can anyone tell me what alcohol you would mix with milk and why? I’ve never understood the song, much as I like it. (Chig)
Chig – you’d make a White Russian with milk, and it’s jolly delicious too. Sort of like an alcoholic milkshake, which can’t be a bad thing can it? Though most probably the lowest of the low in the cool stakes… (LIzzy)
Nowt wrong with 70s pub-rock, especially when it’s got this much energy and a great snarling vocal. (Erithian)
Brilliant record. Bounces along nicely. A touch punk-by-numbers, but a killer chorus and a elegantly ravaged voice. (SwissToni)
Well, it’s not what I remember the Feelgoods for, that will always the excellent “Stupidity” but against this opposition even this one stands out. (NiC)
Is it me or is this crying out to be covered by Joan Jett? OK, just me then. (Will)
A bit silly, but highly coverable and/or mash-upable. (Simon C)
Wow, this sounds far rougher than I remember. It’s been a while. (Matthew)
It sounds authentically agressive and dangerous to these (perhaps timid) ears. (Billy Smart)
A catchy riff, not sure I’d go as far as buying a copy, but it’s fun listening. (Adrian)
Promised more, but paled through over-repetition after the first chorus. (diamond geezer)
Loved this one at the time. In retrospect it’s a pale copy of early Beefheart and loses my interest fairly quickly. (Hg)
“Smokin in the boys room” in another guise. (jo)
Not nearly as good as their most memorable song “Back In The Night”. (Amanda)
It’s not as if it’s actually lasted well, but listening to it straight after Engelbert boosted its appeal. (Z)
I can watch Dr Feelgood on OGWT reruns and instantly understand why people like David Byrne would be inspired to follow their example (visually, if not musically) – in the young Wilco I even see Ian Curtis – and in my number one albums blog I will eventually have to write about them. Moreover they released an album in 1977 inspired by The Prisoner (Be Seeing You). Maybe when assessing them as recorded live I can come to a more reasonable conclusion about them but their studio work sounded parched and reactionary – punk for people who didn’t want punk – and “Milk And Alcohol” is a wearisome, hackneyed trudge which sounded in the way in 1979 and even more so now; its chart status, incidentally, is probably ascribable to the fact that the single came in tricoloured vinyl; black, brown and white. See what they did there? (Marcello Carlin)
Didn’t rate them at the time, see no reason to change my mind. (Dymbel)
Look, British pub bands trying to pretend they’re American blues/rock bands might be convincing on home turf but they’re like George Bush trying on a Cockney accent. The song is fine. The band is like fingernails on a blackboard. No really. It just GRATES. (asta)
2009: Day ‘n’ Nite – Kid Cudi vs. Crookers. (145 points)
It’s all in the hook, and this chugs with the hookiest. (diamond geezer)
One of the key singles this past year and if he is good enough for Kanye, he is good enough for you. (Lena)
5 points. Has to be really; as I’ve mentioned elsewhere, the lonely stoner (as evolution of the Greil Marcus/Robbie Robertson Worried Man) is likely to be an apt signifier for 2009 and this is his reluctant anthem – the languid abandon of East River Pipe meets Motorbass corridors, hurtling shafts of mirror at the unwary waver. (Marcello Carlin)
Yay for modernity! This is a much squelchier version in the medley than the one played a million times on Radio 1 (which isn’t the original, it’s just that there are many remixes available). I like it even more now. My colleagues probably like it less, given that I do sing “uh uh uh uh uh, at night” (and only that bit) out loud when this is on the office radio, which is a lot. (Chig)
Once again, the only song with some life gets my top vote. (Geoff Mild Peril)
It’s a long long way from Welcome to the Heartbreak, but there’s something in there that works for me. (asta)
Good stuff, although I’m mildly opposed to wonky parping. (Simon C)
Been enjoying this the past few weeks, and the video has me laughing. Flat as a pancake, in honour of the other day, natch. (Matthew)
Blippy and dislocated. (Billy Smart)
Not my sort of music AT ALL but I really like this. (Lizzy)
A very easy 5 points. Love it – although I agree its freshness might be giving it an unfair advantage. What’s his beef with the video?? – He ACTED in it, for goodness sake! I loved the self-deprecatory humour of it; not necessarily a quality one associates with this genre. (Hedgie)
Yes, I also wondered how Kid Cudi could mither about the video that HE ACTED IN. However, I’m with him – the humour detracts hugely from the lyric. (mike)
Loving the track. Wishing I hadn’t clicked the link to the video. (Sarah)
Does little for me and is actively irritating me and bringing on a migraine…. but still better than Yazz. (SwissToni)
Not bad, but a little bit pointless, the original is marginally better but only marginally. The sort of thing I would probably earworm for a day and then not be able to remember what it sounded like the next. (Alan)
The video’s lifted my libido this morning and the song’s sort of OK but I have no desire to hear it again… (Dymbel)
A bit like Shontelle; it sounds like bog-standard R&B to me. His comments on the video are VERY rude and well worth a read. (Erithian)
Preferred the unremixed version, which I would have put top. (Will)
The original is OK but I can’t find any coherence in the remix. (Amanda)
I love the original, hate this. (Z)
Complete shit. C’mon, even So Solid Crew were better than this, and how long ago was that? (Hg)
No way near as good as 2Pac, but still way better than the others. Original much better than the remix though. (oh – and Hg, of course So Solid Crew are better than this. 21 seconds is still one of the most exciting number ones of the decade) (Geoff Itinerant Londoner)
I’m sorry, I’m just a sad old rock chick, and I don’t get it. (Sue Bailey)
1999: Changes – 2Pac. (135 points)
I’m surprising myself here, dead-gangsta rap not generally being amongst my preferred genres, but this is pure class. (Hg)
Yeah, much of this is thanks to the sample. But what a great use of a sample, and the rap fits perfectly. Easy winner. (Geoff Itinerant Londoner)
I like to believe there’s a special corner of hell reserved for Bruce Hornsby, Christopher Cross, Kenny G and Rupurt Holmes. But this song works because of the milquetoast melody. The matter-of-fact spoken delivery of “That’s just the way it is” is heartbreaking. Great song from a less-than-his-press rapper. (asta)
Some things about it are great, others disappointingly weak, but it all adds up to a genuinely excellent whole! (Simon C)
Bored after a couple of minutes, but then it grew on me. (Z)
The various elements are brought together quite well. (Amanda)
I thought it was quite witty at the time, and I still do, a bit. (Sue Bailey)
I hate rap generally, and 2-pac in particular…although mostly this is because of his posthumous career, and that’s hardly his fault. The choice of sample makes this, obviously, but at least you can see the boy’s talent too. Actually really good, although he can keep his Thug Life, thanks. (SwissToni)
This is teetering on crossing into the overly-soulful Notorious BIG territory that I can’t stand, but manages to avoid going too far. (Adrian)
A non-committal mid-table position for the Jim Reeves of hip hop (stretch a case for Biggie as Sam Cooke); worthy and undoubtedly prescient but slightly ploddy and as far as Bruce Hornsby samples are concerned nothing can touch MC Buzz B’s immaculate and flawless “Never Change.” (Marcello Carlin)
In my head this was much better, I remember really liking it at the time, but listening back now it seems to lack something. Still head and shoulders above the average “Gangsta” tune though. (Alan)
I don’t hate this, which is pretty positive from me for a rap tune, but it’s mainly Bruce Hornsby’s contribution which I like. (Chig)
Somehow the rap just seems too fast. (The Lurker)
Nothing original in this song whatsoever. (Geoff Mild Peril)
Never understood the fuss, and I’m repulsed by gangsta as a genre and a notion. (Erithian)
What is it with dead rappers and snoozeable backing tracks? No, no, no. Thank you. (Sarah)
Dear god, not another one. I have never yet used this expression on the internet “I’m not a racist but…” My single biggest problem is that these male vocalists all sound over-earnest and yet as if they have no emotional involvement in the lyrics. (Gert)
1989: Fine Time – Yazz. (114 points)
Strangely I like this better than the hits that made her famous. I never was one for the hi-energi disco stuff, but this is nice, smooth and soulful. Yazz was the entertainment at a corporate Christmas party I went to about three years ago. She’s aged well! (Alan)
For some unaccountable reason this passed me by at the time, so I’ve just heard it on YouTube (first thing I’ve ever YouTubed, how last century am I?!) – anyway, sumptuous sound, likeable personality, lovely vocal, would have been one of my highlights of 1989 if I’d heard it!! (Erithian)
I can see its flaws, but I still think this is pretty good. Must listen to some Lisa Stansfield again. (Hg)
I was horrified when this came out. I adored her first three singles came out, and then THIS. Ugh. Her voice is way to weak to carry this…and yet, perhaps because my expectations were so low, hearing it again isn’t quite as bad as I remember. (Geoff Itinerant Londoner)
Must admit to a soft spot for this soft, skanky and slightly troubled ballad; her shaky treadmill delivery works on a flotation truck level and any video from the late eighties featuring cameos from Big Ben (see also the hallucinatory promo for Rick Astley’s “Hold Me In Your Arms”) is more than fine by me. (Marcello Carlin)
It’s a nostalgia thing, but I do like the laid back rhythm, and the voice isn’t bad. (Clare)
Not so much my favourite as the one that I dislike the least. I’m most interested in the Marleyesque backing track. (Amanda)
*yawn* What? oh, right. It’s fine. I’ve never hear of this singer or this song before. It get a pass for the harmony in the chorus. (asta)
I was never a fan of Sade, and this is second-rate Sade, but it’s still not that bad. (The Lurker)
Yikes. This hasn’t worn very well, has it? Definitely pre-Autotune. It would sound so different if it were recorded now. (Chig)
Not only the weak voice, the whole arrangement is a bit all over the place. (Simon C)
This was the same person who did the iconic ‘The Only Way Is Up’? I’m sorry I don’t do bland. And it’s only by sheer fluke and matter of elimination that she gets 4 points. (Gert)
A bit more pace might have made it less tedious. (Z)
Rather dull. Ersatz classiness. (Billy Smart)
Still disappointing after all these years. (Sue Bailey)
Yazz did more than one record? How have I never heard of this before? Ah, because it’s shit. (SwissToni)
I love you Yazz, you know I do, but you don’t have the range. (Unlike Bruce Hornsby, obv.) (Will)
1969: The Way It Used To Be – Engelbert Humperdinck. (93 points)
The joy of this whole exercise every year is discovering songs I don’t know and this is the first one this time round. (I’ll hazard a guess that the 1969 #4 will be fulfilling that role for nearly all of us!) This was clearly designed for single saddoes like me and consequently I love it. I used to think Engelbert was a ridiculous caricature, but if you don’t have to look at him and his mutton chops, his voice is wonderful, as it starts off in his boots, then soars and then goes back down again. Marvellous. (Chig)
5 points. I CAN’T HELP IT. Mom played it, I still like the voice. The song she is schmaltz, but the voice is good. (jo)
Almost sumptuous and lovelorn – almost. (Billy Smart)
This is what a Las Vegas version of Lawrence Welk would be like. It’s got crescendos, a key change, Oo-La-la-Ah choruses and Strings! Oh, and he sings. (asta)
There’s some drama, even if it barely rescues a non-tune. (Matthew)
Hmmm, soundtracky. I’m a sucker for big strings. It’s all going quite well until the chorus. (Stereoboard)
Starts off well with a great sense of drama but tapers off quickly. (Amanda)
I was enjoying the verse, but then the chorus went all Delilah on us. Shame, it started so well. (Hg)
The overblown (yet simultaneously underpowered) chorus kills this. (Hedgie)
He takes a long time about it, doesn’t he? I don’t remember this, it passed by my teenage ear. I agree with the others, good verse, bad chorus. (Z)
Felt like a last, slightly desperate wave of the Old School in its February ’69 company when last I heard it in that context; Scott’s “Two Weeks Since You’ve Gone” steadily decaffeinated, let’s wither slowly in the present and pretend it’s still the past. Heavy handed in the sense that it knows it’s suffocating itself. (Marcello Carlin)
See what you mean about Scott Walker, despite which: mush. (Will)
Goodness, what a multi-faceted talent our Hump is. Not. Tom Jones, without the voice. Standard 60s plinky-plonky crooning with not enough of a chorus to rescue it. (SwissToni)
Oh dear, this sort of thing gives The Sixties a bad name. Bad backing track, bad doo wop girls. It has a not unpleasant tune, and his voice is rich and expressive. I think it helps if you listen to this while wearing a cheap perm and an even cheaper nylon dress. (Gert)
An overlong stretch of aural tedium. (diamond geezer)
I nearly fell asleep half way through. (Alan)