VOTING IS NOW CLOSED. I’ll be posting the results over the weekend.
And about bloody time and all! As we lumber, sweating and panting, up to this year’s finishing line, I can offer you one final incentive: this is a decent, respectable, clunker-free batch of Number Ones, and hence a suitably “quality” finish to this year’s concluding round of “Which Deacde”.
Yes, I said “concluding”. For once this year’s voting is over, and the final cumulative totals are tallied and announced, our seven-year quest will be officially over – and we shall know, once and for all, which of the past five decades really IS “tops for pops”.
And so, for the 72nd and last time, may I introduce you to today’s selections… the seventh and final Number Ones.
1969: (If Paradise Is) Half As Nice – Amen Corner. (video)
1979: Heart Of Glass – Blondie. (video)
1989: Something’s Gotten Hold Of My Heart – Marc Almond featuring Gene Pitney. (video)
1999: Maria – Blondie. (video)
2009: The Fear – Lily Allen. (video)
Listen to a short medley of all five songs.
Following the example set by The Move and Engelbert Humperdinck, Amen Corner become the third act from last year’s 1968 chart to re-appear in 1969. Although “Bend Me, Shape Me” comfortably won its round last year (against competition from Rod Stewart, Bomb The Bass, Cleopatra and Adele), I’m wagering that it will have a much tougher struggle this year – partly due to the strong competition, and partly because “Paradise” simply lacks the sheer bounce of “Bend Me”.
Yes, it’s a memorable melody – and as before, there’s a particular quality to Andy Fairweather-Low’s voice which transcends its bubblegum surroundings – but the song rests too heavily on a repeated melodic descent, which does negate much of the intended joyfulness. As for the lyrics, which have been translated from the original Italian (“Il Paradiso”), they strive manfully for the metaphysical – but Andy Fairweather-Low is no Andrew Marvell, and the conceit feels cumbersome and strained, as translations tend to be.
(I’ve written about Blondie‘s “Heart Of Glass” before, so let’s do a bit of judicious copy/pasting from Freaky Trigger:)
I’d be hard-pressed to think of a new wave/disco hybrid which pre-dates this, and certainly to my 16-year old ears this came as something shiningly new, deeply thrilling and quite without precedent. Blondie had always been fun, but with “Heart Of Glass” they stepped up and took ownership of pop, at least for the next 18 months or so.
It’s remarkable how fresh this record continues to sound, no matter how over-played – but then there’s something shrink-wrapped perfect about its glossy, immaculate sheen, which never wears off with age.
One of the more curious features is the insertion of a stray 3:4 bar in the middle of the instrumental hook – but even more curiously, not in every repetition of it. Perhaps it’s further evidence that the rule books of pop were being torn up like never before?
Oh, and for the record… despite being something like a 99.9% on the Kinsey scale, even I had a bit of a “thing” for Debbie. (Up to a certain point. Ahum.)
And finally, here’s a detail from the back cover of the 12-inch, scanned by my own fair hand, which has always tickled me. Can YOU spot the elementary error? (I’m guessing that the UK branch of Blondie’s label had to send a junior down to HMV Oxford Street in a hurry, in order to complete the montage.)
It feels slightly mean to point this out, but Marc Almond‘s three biggest solo hits have all been 1960s cover versions: Jacques Brel’s “Jacky”, David McWilliams’ “The Days Of Pearly Spencer”, and Gene Pitney’s 1967 hit “Something’s Gotten Hold Of My Heart”. Then again, Marc is both a skilful and an enthusiastic interpreter of other people’s songs, who suggested to me in 2007 that his days as a songwriter might well be numbered.
Sportingly, Gene Pitney is invited back for Almond’s cover – and the pairing of their voices is a delightful and successful one. You sense a genuine warmth and a mutual respect, without the whole affair turning into a Jools Holland-esque back-slapping jam session. I’m amazed at how well this stands up today: a thoroughly deserved Number One.
Well now, here’s a thing: twenty years on from their first chart-topper, the newly re-united Blondie made Number One all over again with their first comeback single. So, was the success of “Maria” simply the freak result of a collective wave of “Ah bless, they’re back!” goodwill, or did it deserve Number One status based on its own merits?
Listening to it ten years on, I’m inclined to pitch my answer somwhere between the two. “Maria” is frisky and feisty, peppy and pert… but ultimately it’s rather slight, and little more than a pretext for Blondie to resume being Blondie. Will any of you be marking it higher than “Heart Of Glass”, I wonder? I’d say: doubtful in the extreme.
Before “The Fear”, I’d never cared much for Lily Allen, an artist who struck me as the epitome of a uniquely Noughties celebrity culture: smug, shallow, slight, and bolstered by a delusional over-estimation of her talent. Her easy, instant success in 2006 felt like a foregone conclusion, and I could have spat at her sense of entitlement.
All of which merely adds to the power of this splendidy deft, wry and chilling single, which sees Lily not only mocking her own delusions, but travelling beyond mere self-satire to a bleaker place entirely. “I don’t know what’s right and what’s real anymore”, runs the hook line, placing “The Fear” as the darker flip-side to the cheery discombobulation of “Let’s Dance”, its immediate predecessor at Number One.
(And if you thought that the line about The Sun and The Mirror was lazy and glib, then listen again: it’s all in the prepositions, and you may wish to de-capitalise.)
My votes: Heart Of Glass – 5 points. Lily Allen – 4 points. Marc and Gene – 3 points. Maria – 2 points. Amen Corner – 1 point.
Over to you. This was a tough one to mark, as my top three choices are also three of my favourite UK Number Ones – but will YOU be similarly conflicted? I’m looking forward to finding out…
Continue reading “Which Decade Is Tops For Pops? – Year 7 – the Number Ones.”