Which Decade Is Tops For Pops? – Year 7 – the Number 6s.

OK, are we ready to genre-hop? Today’s selection takes us from blues to disco, and thence to new jack swing, commercial rap and… well, I don’t quite know what you’d call that last effort, but I’m sure you’ll be quick to tell me. So open your minds! It’s the Number Sixes!.

1969: Albatross – Fleetwood Mac. (video)
1979: Contact – Edwin Starr. (video)
1989: My Prerogative – Bobby Brown. (video)
1999: Enjoy Yourself – A+ (video)
2009: Broken Strings – James Morrison featuring Nelly Furtado. (video)
Listen to a short medley of all five songs.

wd09-06-69It’s difficult, nay impossible, to write objectively about this atmospheric instrumental from Fleetwood Mac, as it’s one of those pieces of music that is so deeply embedded within my childhood memories that I almost experience it synaesthetically. Indeed, its 1973 re-appearance inside the Top Ten must have occasioned one of my earliest experiences of nostalgia. Was this ever used on the BBC test card, I wonder? Because that’s one of the images which springs to mind: of still weekday afternoons in the school holidays, waiting for the children’s programmes to begin.

Consequently, I can’t place “Albatross” within a genre; to me, it sounds like nothing other than itself. I’d struggle even to quantify the feelings it expresses, “contemplative” and “brooding” being the best I can come up with.

It therefore came as quite a shock when K declared his irritation with it after the first twenty seconds (“Will this thing never end?”), as I’d have put money on his being similarly transported. He’s full of surprises. (See also his awarding five points to The Prodigy, who operate in a genre for which he has historically felt little but disdain.)

wd09-06-79In the absence of a good short-length video, I’ve linked to the extended 12-inch version of Edwin Starr‘s “Contact”. And it gives me great pleasure to do so, as this was the first disco 12″ single that I ever bought – largely on the strength of James Hamilton’s column in the back of Record Mirror, which I began following in earnest at the start of 1979. It may not have been a landmark release of its genre – indeed, there’s a whiff of corniness about it which I didn’t have the faculties to spot at the time – but on a personal level, this was a landmark piece of vinyl, which hastened the widening of my public school punk rocker’s tunnel vision.

The lengthy DJ-friendly percussion break was of particular fascination, as this was the first time that I became aware of dance music’s functional aspect; you weren’t necessarily supposed to listen to the whole thing from beginning to end, and I found this a radical new concept. And with its blend of mechanistic electronics and uncomplicated euphoria, perhaps this was also a pointer towards the hi-energy music of the early-to-mid 1980s which was to thrill me so much.

wd09-06-89Speaking of pointers towards the future, late Eighties “swingbeat” – soon to be re-christened New Jack Swing – helped form a bridge between the stark urban funk of Prince/Cameo/Janet Jackson and contemporary R&B.

Bobby Brown, Keith Sweat, Alyson Williams and their ilk didn’t play at all well on my dancefloor, but this didn’t stop me eagerly embracing the new sound, which struck me as a logical extension of the soul/funk tradition.

And so “My Prerogative” still has a touch of the Shock Of The New about it – even though I always preferred “Don’t Be Cruel” and the fabulous “Every Little Step”. Pity he turned out to be such a Whitney-wasting plonker, eh readers?

wd09-06-99But of course, the trajectory of urban music in the 1990s wasn’t always an upwards one, which brings us to this long-forgotten piece of drivel from some chancer called A+. (Sheesh, the lengths to which some people will go in order to be optimally alphabetised…)

Much as I enjoyed Walter Murphy’s “A Fifth Of Beethoven” (from the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack), the track has been shoddily appropriated, its only saving grace lying in imagining the appalled outrage that it must have caused amongst upper middle-class parents of wannabe b-boy sprogs. Oh, the travesty!

There was an awful lot of lazy, sample-heavy pop-rap around in the late 1990s – Will Smith, I’m looking at you – and this is a prime example. Eww to the power of Eww!

wd09-06-09I was going to award bottom marks to James Morrison and Nelly Furtado‘s dismal, life-sapping dirge – for if there’s one 2000s genre that I hate, it’s this kind of MOR/AOR mope-pop (Chris Martin and James Blunt, I’m holding you personally responsible) – but I’ve pulled back for two reasons.

Firstly, I have an abiding horror of scoring the decades in exact reverse-chronological order, as this suggests a conclusion about the declining state of pop which I refuse to countenance. Secondly, there is at least some degree of crafted workmanship about “Broken Strings”, even if its effect causes my brain to blank the song out entirely, every time I try to listen to it. And that, my fellow voters, is as much rational critique as you’re going to draw out of me on this one.

My votes: Fleetwood Mac – 5 points. Edwin Starr – 4 points. Bobby Brown – 3 points. James Morrison featuring Nelly Furtado – 2 points. A+ – 1 point.

It’s neck and neck on our cumulative scoreboard, with only one point separating four of the decades. However, the 1990s are already sinking way behind the pack, with a yawning seven point gap that A+ is unlikely to close. OR IS HE? As ever, it’s over to you.

Running totals so far – Number Sixes.

1969: Albatross – Fleetwood Mac. (146)

Sometimes, once in a blue moon, a piece of music arrives, so perfect within its own internal frame of reference, that it doesn’t matter whether or not you “like” it – you just have to give it the respect that it deserves. I neither love or hate “Albatross” – it just IS. The world would be a poorer place without it. (Hg)

I once saw Peter Green play this in Rock City’s basement. Well, to be precise, I could just about see his head. Agree with Hg, it just IS. (Dymbel)

Yes – it’s like the theme of ‘The Archers’ isn’t it? I honestly can’t work out whether I like it or whether it’s just familiar and cosy. (JonnyB)

Absolute genius; gives me goosebumps every time. (Hedgie)

A proper Desert Island Disc. (diamond geezer)

The first notes cause my stomach to clench and sink in the same way that thinking about things that were or the feeling of seeing the boy you adored in school but never had a prayer of a chance with made me feel. It is also one of husband’s favourite tracks. It is often in the rotation in this house and it is beautiful. (jo)

Ah, 1969. Remember those idyllic instrumentals from the other end of the decade, “Stranger On The Shore” and ” Wonderful Land “? Well, here we are again, back at the same place – but what tragedies have the intervening half-dozen years wreaked on the landscape? Or what disappointments; the utopia which on close-up turned out to be a scrap metal merchant’s premises? So “Albatross” conjures to mind a sadder and wiser Shadows; the brushstrokes now slower, more delicate, more lament than anticipation. The rhythm is down to unison, deep tom-tom and bass guitar, throbbing like an anginal heartbeat, quiet and quieter by the second.

I saw a German TV performance of “Albatross” recorded at that time, and there was neither land nor shore to be envisaged; merely five introverted, long-haired chaps in scruffy jumpers and scuffed jeans who might still have been mourning Robert Johnson in the pungent basement of a Dutch strip bar post-lock-in. The life of the mind, such as it still existed; and at its cynosure, the doomed bastard Peter Green, responsible for not only Fleetwood Mac’s most successful year in terms of hit singles, but also for the most numbing and disturbing series of hit singles by anybody in any year.

With “Albatross” in particular, however, I think of Syd Barrett’s “Baby Lemonade” – Jerry Shirley on drums doing his best to follow Syd’s implausible tempo and mood changes, David Gilmour’s lead guitar fortunate enough just to be keeping up – and realise that subsequent Fleetwood Macs represent an absolutely necessary running away from this utter darkness; though of course they always kept it somewhere in the middle of their minds; “A landslide will bring it down,” and so, play on, just like those tender eight notes Peter Green sneaked onto the end of “Brown Eyes” on Tusk; the past is also allowed to run, if not quite catch up. (Marcello Carlin)

Again the 60s win by the width of the Pacific Ocean . I’ll take the Mac as blues band over their later incarnation too (Shake Your Moneymaker, Need Your Love So Bad – fantastic stuff). There’s an idea that the bass on this resembles your mother’s heartbeat as heard in the womb. Maybe that’s why it’s so relaxing! (Erithian)

Such a classic I thought I’d be disappointed, but I happily lost track of time. (Z)

It’s very unique that a relaxing instrumental piece like this should have reached number one. (Amanda)

Well it’s no Silver Apples or Stockhausen I guess, but this is a legendary Yoga classic. (John)

The only decent thing they ever did, but wow, a class of its own. The rest of today’s are so, so far behind. (NiC)

Unique, gentle and relaxing. Not convinced I would want to listen to it more than once every few years, mind. Given what it’s up against, an easy 5 points. (Will)

I’m overfamiliar with this from irritating M&S adverts, and it washes over me like the background music it certainly is. It’s very, very hard to get excited about this, anyway. Obviously Peter Green was a genius though, innit? (SwissToni)

I’ve never been a fan but I know this is one of their seminal tracks. Bores me stupid, but yet appears to be the best of a bad bunch. (Gert)

I can objectively see how amazing this is, but that doesn’t stop me finding it an opressive dirge to actually listen to. (Billy Smart)

I know there are people who adore this. To me, it’s just one small atmospheric doodle. Perhaps it’s because I love jazz. I love the exploration of a musical idea, the conversation between musicians, the experimentation, evocation of mood through notes. This is just too small to be anything more than okay. (asta)

1979: Contact – Edwin Starr. (116)

Owww! Get down and boogie. You were lookin’ at me. I as lookin’ at you. etc. He got the funk. (SwissToni)

All the disco tricks in the book, combined to vivacious effect. (diamond geezer)

Despite the Morodor overtones, this is a delight and just about perfectly sums up ’79 on a dance floor. (asta)

Now THIS is how to grasp the zeitgeist and twist it into attractively curly shapes! 1979 is still my favourite year for pop and how fine it was to see Edwin roaring back in style with this terrific, throaty shouter-stomper. And despite the composer credits listed on the label, the main composer – I can’t remember which of the two pseudonyms was his – of “Contact” was none other than Malcolm Roberts, late sixties Brylcreemed balladeer of “May I Have The Next Dream With You” fame. But that’s what it was all about in 1979; along with the new, many reliables coming back in unfamiliar disguises. Who’d’ve thought, for instance, that Mighty Baby would have changed the blue in the air? (Marcello Carlin)

I was never a fan of disco but did have a bit of time for this if only for the vocal – he means it, maaaann. (Erithian)

Excellent in parts, as the curate said to the bishop. (Z)

I don’t know enough about this to place it in any kind of historical context, but listening to it in isolation it doesn’t particularly inspire me. It just makes me want to hear “I Feel Love” again. (Hg)

It’s a classic track, I suppose, but it never quite sets me alight. It’s okay. Shrug. (Gert)

I once saw Edwin Starr sing ‘War’ (my big favourite of his, along with SOS) with Bruce Springsteen. Unfortunately, it was the worst Bruce gig I’ve been to (99 reunion tour) and this does nothing for me. (Dymbel)

Great singer, pedestrian song. (Amanda)

1989: My Prerogative – Bobby Brown. (114)

It’s clear from the video that human civilisation peaked in 1989 and we’re now heading steadily downhill towards the inevitable Mad Max scenario. Even though I hardly knew them, I do miss the 80s. (Simon C)

I had a major crush on him at the time (hey I was, likem 12!). It’s not as good as Keith Sweat’s “I Want Her” as far as swingbeat goes, but still a cornerstone record in the fact it crossed over. (John)

Not a track that I’d ever play out of choice, but it’s one of Mrs Hg’s teenage favourites so I’ve heard it many times over the years. One potential test of a “classic” song is how many different cover versions you can envisage. In this case, once my imagination gets going it’s hard to stop. (Hg)

I hated this at the time, but I can’t deny its vitality. (diamond geezer)

I’m a Boston girl, it was ever present in the 80’s, on every radio station, being blasted out of boomboxes on the streets, blaring out of convertibles and Camaros and TransAms cruising up and down Revere Beach. Now all we hear about is when he comes back to town to go to court for forgetting to pay some child support. Oh how the mighty have fallen. (jo)

I don’t understand the finer points of genre. This just sounds Michael Jackson inspired to me. (Amanda)

I never quite got Bobby. You would think I would have, and I can’t quite figure out why I didn’t. He fitted pretty well into the luminous 1989 pop picture but as far as New Jack Swing was concerned I’m afraid I was something of a dreary purist – why aren’t Guy or BabyFace having hits, I whinged at the time. Or maybe Word Up-era Cameo was still a wee bit too recent.

I enjoyed the perky bounce of “Every Little Step” but there’s something missing in “My Prerogative” and while I’m loath to use that shopworn term “studium” it does apply here – he’s making all the right moves, pushing all the right buttons, and it nearly connects with me but crucially doesn’t. Predictably, far and away my favourite BB hit was the remix of “Two Can Play At That Game,” which I suppose betrays the truth that in 1989 I was much more of a Deep Housey kinda guy. (Marcello Carlin)

The man is a waste of space. The swagger, even at the time of recording was obnoxious, but then so was 1989. Remember all the big hair and shoulder pads and flash money. Yeah it was like this. (asta)

It has a catchiness about it, but then, so does manflu. (Gert)

That hair, that look… you’re right, what a plonker. (Erithian)

Bilge. And I could never forgive those trousers. (SwissToni)

2009: James Morrison featuring Nelly Furtado. (62)

Potentially very bland, but I actually quite like this. I have a thing for Furtado anyway, and the boy Morrison is okay, actually. It winds up a bit obviously to the chorus, but this is alright by me. It’s catchy and it’s sappy, but I don’t mind this at all. Sorry Peter Green, but Nelly gets it. Wait… that sounds wrong. (SwissToni)

There is something about his voice that reels me in. I can’t help it, even if the songs aren’t great. I just like to hear him. (jo)

James is as thick as pigshit as anyone who saw the VH1 All Time Top 100 albums. But the lad is sweet and means well and has an OK gravelly voice. Furtado is above this though with her 00s defining last album but it’s a nice stop-gap. (John)

Smooth, quality, easy on the ear, glossy video, but just not that exciting. (Erithian)

OK it’s cheesy, it’s got hackneyed lyrics but I rather like the throaty charms of the Morrison part. Their voices don’t work together at all. (Amanda)

She should have got more than a feature, she put him up by a couple of notches. He was tedious. (Z)

The charts have been pretty splendid of late, haven’t they? True, the superb recent run of number ones is about to be broken by Comic Relief coming along to ruin my day (Suggest Charity Singles Chart Ban – and spell Vince Clarke’s name correctly while you’re at it; still, if nothing else, the Saturdays will ensure that Depeche Mode finally get a number one, albeit by proxy, and it should have been Nouvelle Vague’s version bah) but it’s one of those fabled Golden Ages, folks; GaGa, Cudi, Bouncy, T.I., the PCDs, Kelly C, Taylor S, Alesha, Lily, Kanye, Kevin Rudolf, even/especially Leonard Cohen – all very fine indeed.

But even in fabled Golden Ages there’s always the obligatory dull hit which hangs around, although I suppose it is necessary as The Thing That Everything Else Has To React Against. Think of early 1978 and all those superb new wave/punky/disco/leftfield hits and how you audibly groaned (well, I did anyway) whenever something dreary like “More Like The Movies” or “For A Few Dollars More” came on Solid Gold Sixty and droned away seemingly forever. And groan anew at how Dale Winton always seems scientifically to pick all the boring hits to play on POTP and skips past all the ones you were licking your lips in anticipation of hearing.

“Broken Springs” – sic, but it is the aural equivalent of Reg Holdsworth’s waterbed gone awry, minus the comedy – is That Obligatory Dreary Hit (but Chris Martin? Atkinson, my office, 9 am tomorrow sharp 😉 – you can’t blame ABC for Wet Wet Wet, etc….). It’s scrubbed and worthy and meandering and dull, relieved only by Nelly clearly ‘phoning in her vocal (you can picture the call from the record company: “uh, Nelly, if you’ve got half an hour, can you help this guy out?” “Yeah, OK, I’ll drop by the studio on my way to the grocery store”). A number two hit, so my wife will eventually have to write about it, but in Number 2 terms this is kind of the Derren Nesbitt. (Marcello Carlin)

The bland leading the bland. Oh Nelly, where did it all go wrong? (Hg)

I smell recording company marketing all over this. Shame Nelly. (asta)

What a terrible voice – part croak part whisper with a twist of tuneless squawk. It is actually painful to listen to, and would be getting minus points with better competition. someone gave this person a recording contract. And people buy it? (Gert)

Shouldn’t we be allowed to give negative points for this calculatedly bland crap? (Dymbel)

One day, when I’m old and grey, I expect to hear this played at a funeral. (diamond geezer)

This almost actually makes me sick. (NiC)

1999: Enjoy Yourself – A+ (57)

I quite liked it when it came out. For something that seems to come straight out of the mass production music mill, it’s not bad. (Simon C)

Stupidly obvious though the sample is, I actually have to concede that this is actually quite catchy. In a God-I-hate-this-annoying-shite kind of way, but it’s catchy nonetheless. (SwissToni)

I loved this at the time, but nostalgia can’t save its lack of originality. (diamond geezer)

The use of Fifth of Beethoven is enough to bump up the otherwise worthless A+ (Andy)

Utterly formulaic, but it does make me laugh, albeit at it. (Billy Smart)

Whatever merit this has is due entirely to poor abused Ludwig. (Hedgie)

This is all motion without movement — marketing manipulation x10 that is utterly unmoving. (asta)

1999. What a year. What year was it? I don’t remember much of it myself for well documented extramusical reasons; on looking up the charts and EOY lists I am happy to concede that 1998 is perhaps the most underrated of all years for music (and boasts one of the best runs of number ones) – but 1999? Much like myself in 1999, all over the place.

I do not recall this happening at all – crap proto-emo Lamacq-friendly band “A” are unlikely ever to be beaten for first entry in Guinness status (especially since Guinness don’t publish any more Hit Singles/Albums books, the contract having passed to dreary Virgin, complete with all the mistakes which marred the last edition of Guinness and many more, and minus the albums) – and can’t attest that my life is poorer for not knowing it. Hopeless, hapless, sapless and did punters really just snap up any single going for 99p in the first week at Our Price? Was I there? (Marcello Carlin)

The music sounds like a bad Stars On 45 cover version of one of the more forgettable tracks from ABBA’s “Super Trouper” album and the rap is just… meh. (Hg)

Absolutely not. ‘bag chicks’ puts me right off. Screw the attitude. (jo)

No no no. Sacrilege and musical murder accompanied by unoriginal ranting by a small man with an inflated sense of his own importance. Crime against humanity. (Gert)

These comments are directed to Rihanna, who sadly doesn’t read this.

5. Fleetwood Mac – you know, Peter Green went mad about a year after this and took up gravedigging and only in the 90s with Mick Fleetwood’s help did he come back to music. Going away from music doesn’t have to be such a drastic move, you know, but it’s not everything. Neither is Chris, for that matter (yes I can too talk like this, I am twice your age).

4. Edwin Starr – you see, this is how you survive. You can’t always be on top; in music, you have to adapt. Get with the new groove. Keep yourself in check and don’t let anyone push you around. Ahem.

3. Bobby Brown – Because you don’t want to become Bobby Brown, you don’t want to have everything and then have lost it, do you? Think of how Britney’s meltdown was preceded by her recording this song, complete with her ‘oh me oh my I am so off the chain’ video. And look at Britney now: successful, yes, but in invisible chains. You don’t want that either.

2. James Morrison and Nelly Furtado – Sure, this song might be bad, but hello, the word “broken” is in the title, and it seems to me you have a broken relationship. Go back to Nelly’s superior “Maneater” or “Say It Right” – do you think anyone could pull **** on Nelly? No, nobody could. Let’s hope this is the clunker on her next album, okay?

1. A+ – You are already about a kajillion times more successful than these folks, but happiness is not something that can be measured by chart positions, sales, or diamond bracelets. On the one hand, you have to do what makes you happy. That comes from self-respect and self-knowledge. I realize I am bossy but these are important for everyone – you, me, tout le monde. If you remember someone who is not here – J.Lo – and her song “My Love Don’t Cost A Thing” then maybe you would have steered clear of P.Diddy and anyone who is friends with him. Hard I know, but it would be typical of him to tell a certain someone that expensive gifts are a way of showing love. HAH. LOVE is the only way to show love.

Full Respect and Best Wishes,

Decade scores so far (after 4 days).
1= (1) The 1970s (14)
1= (3) The 1980s (14)
3= (4) The 1960s (13)
3= (1) The 2000s (13)
5 (5) The 1990s (6)

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