Which Decade Is Tops For Pops? – Year 7 – the Number 5s.

As ever on “Which Decade”, it’s the Key Marginals in the earlier rounds which can swing the whole match. So far, the big tussles to watch are Shontelle vs Driver 67 in the Number Tens, Moz vs The Prodge in the Eights, Adams/Chisolm vs Nash (also in the Eights), and Starr vs Brown in yesterday’s Sixes. Just one set of votes can tip the balance, earning or losing crucial cumulative points for certain decades. So if you’re late to the contest this year, don’t worry; your votes are as vital as anyone else’s.

Will today’s Number Fives yield another Key Marginal? Let’s line ’em up and see how they fall:

1969: Blackberry Way – The Move. (video) (live performance video)
1979: Don’t Cry For Me Argentina – The Shadows. (no video available)
1989: Love Train – Holly Johnson. (video)
1999: Boy You Knock Me Out – Tatyana Ali featuring Will Smith. (video)
2009: Take Me Back – Tinchy Stryder featuring Taio Cruz. (video)
Listen to a short medley of all five songs.

wd09-05-69I can’t say that it’s ever occurred to me before, but Wikipedia’s suggestion that The Move‘s Roy Wood composed “Blackberry Way” as a gloomy riposte to the location-specific optimism of “Penny Lane” is, on the face of it, quite a plausible one. From “there beneath the blue suburban skies” in early 1967 to “absolutely pouring down with rain, it’s a terrible day” in early 1969 – was this a Metaphor Of Post-Flower-Power Disillusionment For Its Times, or are we over-analysing again?

The Move were here last year, with the equally effective “Fire Brigade” – which, although it lost out to ELO’s “Mr Blue Sky” in that day’s voting, ended up being 2008’s tenth most popular tune. Something tells me that “Blackberry Way” is going to do just as well for them…

wd09-05-79…and perhaps significantly better, if this kind of dismal muzak is the competition. Oh Hank, how COULD you?

Then again, I think Hank knew what he was doing. This pointless cover of Julie Covington’s classic (a “Which Decade” winner from two years ago) might have surgically sucked all the soul out of the song – but it also returned The Shadows to the Top Five for the first time since “The Rise And Fall Of Flingel Bunt”, fifteen years earlier.

Thus emboldened, they charted again two months later with an equally icky take on “Cavatina” from The Deer Hunter – which once again showcased Hank’s new, weird and downright ridiculous “pluck a single string as if it were the pinnacle of artistic endeavour” technique.

I’d show you all this in moving images – but the shadowy cabal behind the fun-loving Shads are clearly a thorough bunch, making this the first of this year’s tracks which I was unable to source on video. Never mind, though; the brief snippet on today’s MP3 medley should suffice.

Dymbel and I will be seeing The Shadows in concert later in the year, reunited with Cliff Richard for their 50th anniversary tour. As long as there’s plenty of stuff like “Flingel Bunt” (go find it on Spotify, it’s GREAT) and a bare minimum of dreck like this, then we should be happy.

wd09-05-89Returning to Holly Johnson‘s debut solo single after a twenty year gap, my first impressions were along these lines:

Ee, this ain’t half dated badly. Did this really fill my dancefloor at Eden every week? Why did I buy the album? And how did the album ever get to Number One? What were we thinking?

Several plays later, and its simple charms have won me over again. The song may not look like much on paper, but there’s a smiling, un-selfconscious joie de vivre at work here, which it would be churlish to resist. Two years on from the anti-climactic demise of Frankie Goes To Hollywood, it was good to have Holly back on top of his game.

As it turned out, his commercial comeback didn’t even see him through to the end of the year – but I always felt that was Holly’s choice; to switch priorities and saunter gracefully off the public stage, before we started getting bored with him, and he with us.

wd09-05-99If it’s smiling, un-selfconscious joie de vivre that Tatyana Ali is aiming for with “Boy You Knock Me Out”, then I’d say that she almost, a-l-m-o-s-t, hits the target. But not quite. There are some agreeable touches, but at heart this is imitative rather than inspired, with Will Smith’s cursory contribution seemingly tacked onto the end by the marketing department.

For yes, there is a TV tie-in connection: for several years, Tatyana had played Will’s young cousin Ashley on the hit TV series The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, and towards the end of its run her character had been preparing for a singing career. Indeed, in the last ever episode, Ashley had enrolled at a performing arts studio in New York City. So, there’s a cute “life imitating art” angle at work – but does it make “Boy You Knock Me Out” any more interesting? Or does it underline the track’s more contrived aspects?

wd09-05-09It seems to be the pre-ordained fate of every UK grime act – Tinchy Stryder included – to have a surprise Top Ten hit with a genre-junking mainstream dance collaboration. Dizzee Rascal teamed up with Calvin Harris for “Dance Wiv Me”; Wiley sampled a classic garage house anthem for “Wearing My Rolex”; and now Stryder has joined forces with the successful jobbing hack Taio Cruz for “Take Me Back”.

So, does this work as well as the Kid Cudi/Crookers remix? Well, we’re on more familiar lyrical ground here, as Tinchy pleads forgiveness from his “pretty lady” for some hinted-at transgression. But as acts of contrition go, this one’s fairly transparent. You get the sense that he’s only admitting the bare minimum (“There’s me thinking I’m moving slyly, your friend was out there with both eyes on me“), and that his motivation is almost wholly self-interested. (“I need you back in my zone, ‘cos I’m sitting at home alone.“)

(Run, love! Run like the wind, and never turn back! He’s not worth it! Men never are!)

Perhaps it’s this laughable transparency which is the song’s saving grace. WE know he’s a bullshitting dirty dawg who got caught; SHE probably knows it; and HE knows that we ALL know. So, why not set the confession to a stonking Euro beat (there are shades of “Numa Numa” here, and a few Benidorm “woh-ohs” to boot), and have a bit of fun with it? Hmm, maybe this ain’t so bad after all…

My votes: The Move – 5 points. Holly Johnson – 4 points. Tinchy Stryder featuring Taio Cruz – 3 points. Tatyana Ali featuring Will Smith – 2 points. The Shadows – 1 point.

Over to you. The Seventies have nudged fractionally ahead, but I suspect that Hank and the Shads will cost them dear. The Sixties have made up a lot of lost ground, moving from fourth to third to second… and after today, maybe to first place? And barring a miracle, The Nineties might as well give up and go home right now. So come on, Tatyana! Do yer bit!

Running totals so far – Number Fives.

1969: Blackberry Way – The Move. (144)

“I’m incredibly down!” Surely one of the most accurately bedragged portrayals of misery to get to #1. (Billy Smart)

Ooh. Like the dark strings and the glumness. 5 points. (Will)

I don’t think I heard more than the chorus of this before, and I was surprised – this is fantastic! Must buy a Move album. (The Lurker)

Engelbert aside, this has been a really strong top ten so far. Another cracking song. (Erithian)

Blimey, 1969 is walking away with it in my neighbourhood so far! Am I really that ready for Radio Quiet Gold? Then again, so much of 1969, especially its number ones, were less than cosy, more portents of an impending apocalypse: what I heard was that Roy Wood intended ” Blackberry Way ” as a partial parody of “Strawberry Fields Forever,” but as one fruit is darker than another, so the song. The kind of record which really only could have been a hit in midwinter, ” Blackberry Way ” is a break-up song which sees its protagonist simultaneously breaking up. There was a Mellotron rather than a string section on the record, but its sinister pseudo-‘cello undertone (Joy Division playing the James Bond theme at quarter-tempo) and general air of weary loneness marks “Blackberry Way” as the first ELO record, even if Jeff Lynne was at this stage still the frontman of the Move’s main Birmingham beat rivals The Idle Race.

The song sees Wood breaking at the break of dawn (“It’s a terrible day/Up with the lark”), his Other having precipitously fled him, though the couplet “Silly girl, I don’t know what to say/She was running away” suggests a somewhat more sinister scenario. The song’s threateningly ascending minor key creeps up on the listener’s neck like a wind of hate before mutating into a straightforward Brumbeat chorus (“Goodbye Blackberry Way/I can’t see you, I don’t need you”) and then back again to a picture through which the Nick Drake of 1969 might have wandered: “Down to the park/Overgrowing but the trees are bare/There’s a memory there/Boats on the lake/Unattended now for love to drown” though the throwaway next line (“I’m incredibly down”) seems to mock this Resnais-esque mise-en-scene.

Finally the singer too flees – “Run for the train/Look behind you for she may be there” – with imagery which could have come straight out of that other spring-into-winter record which emerged in 1969, Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks. No wonder that the Move’s original lead singer Carl Wayne had by this time had enough of Wood’s psychedelic fancies, preferring a straightforward, uncomplicated, unsensational career in chicken-in-a-basket cabaret – on “Blackberry Way” Wood is alone, in charge and already preparing for the astonishing outflow of Wizzard, early ELO and his own solo work throughout the early and mid-’70s which was to mark him as Britain’s own Todd Rundgren; thus the Move was his Nazz. (Marcello Carlin)

Roy Wood, the Lidl McCartney. But I suppose everybody is. I hate – hate – ‘Fire Brigade’. But this is marvellous and always has been. (JonnyB)

The Strawberry fields story is interesting, a catchy classic that’s much more fun than Albatross. (Dymbel)

The comparison and contrast with Penny Lane was apparent at the time, but you’re a lot younger than I am, Mike. Mind you, I was a mere child in 1969. Hem hem. (Z)

The musical response to Penny Lane is apparent and I like it.” What am I supposed to do now?” Fair question. (asta)

‘s all right I spose, if you like that whimsical 60s stuff. They had a bit of a thing about singing in that strange whiny way in the 60s, didn’t they? Glad that didn’t last. (Clare)

I’m finding it really hard to put these in an order of preference. Usually I listen to the medley a few times and then ask myself the following questions. Which song do I look forward to? Which song do I want to skip past? That gets me the top and bottom so all I have to do is impose some sort of arbitrary order on the remaining songs.

In this case, the song that I’m finding most irritating is “Blackberry Way” (it’s the whiny voice that puts me off) but I’m loathe to put it last as it’s undoubtedly more interesting than most of the others. I especially like the James Bond like touches in the arrangement. (Amanda)

Listened to your compilation track before reading your commentary; this fairly screamed “Penny Lane” at me. Sorry, loses points for being a weak Beatles copy. (Hedgie)

Did the Beatles sound like other bands of the time, or did they become so successful that we just assume that other bands copied them? I wasn’t there, so I can’t say, but this sounds like a terrible Beatles mememememe to me. To the point of parody, in fact. (SwissToni)

This is one of those songs that sounds very familiar. Because it’s familiar, I think I like it. Then I listen and realise it’s very irritating not least for the chugging clanking guitar. (Gert)

1989: Love Train – Holly Johnson. (105)

Sheer steaming joy. (diamond geezer)

I never owned the record but I absolutely loved it, and still do. Brings back memories of cruising the beaches of Cape Town in an open-top convertible one glorious summer long ago. (Hedgie)

A bit like the Village People at the start there, followed up by some ropey “work of art / Trevi fountain” rhymes. Huge chorus too. What’s not to like? Not his finest work, clearly. (SwissToni)

Before I listened, I was going to mark it down for being third drawer Holly, and it is, but it’s a good song, sung well (he has vocal personality in spades) and the ghastly late 80s computer track doesn’t diminish it too much. (Gert)

It sounds rather like a second-rate Erasure track, but it’s better than the rest. (The Lurker)

Not as good as “Americanos” I thought, but he was always a great showman and good for a quote. (Erithian)

Stoke it up! Unlike Bobby Brown or Bobert & Mazelle, it is true that it hasn’t dated terribly well, I agree. (Billy Smart)

Lucky to be up against such lame opposition. (NiC)

What happened? Big, welcome back comeback in 1989, complete with two huge hit singles and a number one album – and then it all trickled away. Not that I was or am particularly impressed by Holly’s first solo outing; all very efficient with its mild double entendre (“Stoke it up”) but coming after FGTH it bore the faint impression of a penitent recividist being paraded before a McCarthyite show trial; all the elements still there, but cleaned up and scrubbed so politely and fiercely that they resembled blanks. Now “Get Real” by Paul Rutherford from late ’88; THERE’S a tune… (Marcello Carlin)

2009: Take Me Back – Tinchy Stryder featuring Taio Cruz. (101)

This is the only thing in the selection with a bit of proper life to it. (Clare)

Just great in its discombobulation – the edifice of swagger smashed by a wrecking ball of regret. (Billy Smart)

Catchy and bouncy. And a wonderful name. (NiC)

Fun to see all the port-swilling snobs decrying the ghastly commercialisation of grime since we know that in some worlds fun isn’t as fun as being as miserable as possible. Whereas Calvin n’ Dizzee, Wiley n’ Rolex etc. are yet more manifestations of New Pop coming back (even if some of them don’t know it – how soon we forget the Fun Boy Three, eh?)! Tinchy’s is a bonzer track and his lyrical content and especially delivery remind me, of all people, of Terry Scott in his Curly-Wurly blazer; we instantly know that he’s fundamentally a naughty but lovable boy stuck in an adult’s body. (Marcello Carlin)

Oh God. Full marks to this, even though every fibre in my body is screaming an objection to the broken grammar in the chorus. “Misleaded you”? DUNCES. Catchy. mind. Best of a shit bunch of fives. (SwissToni)

Point deducted for irksome use of incorrect past participle of mislead. (Stereoboard)

In purely sonic terms the Tinchy Stryder one sounds great, but I imagine in 20 years’ time it’ll feel as dated as Holly Johnson does now. (Hg)

Despite the Lib Dem connection and its chart success, this was the first time I’d heard this. And it’s pretty good. (Will)

I agree with Hg above that this is probably instantly disposable but boy it works fantastically for now. (Hedgie)

More bog-standard noughties R&B by people even their mothers have barely heard of. Sorry, that must make me sound sooo fogeyish! (Erithian)

(is an anagram of Cry Trendy Shit) (diamond geezer)

I don’t think I’ll remember this ten weeks from now, let alone ten years. (asta)

1999: Boy You Knock Me Out – Tatyana Ali featuring Will Smith. (80)

Very professionally done; very pleasant but very bland. (Hedgie)

I expect if I were ten years younger I would like it. I’m not so I don’t. But in the context of this genre, it has merits. (Gert)

One of seemingly innumerable hits from 1999 which, when I hear it, immediately inspires the not very excited sigh, “oh, THAT one.” Timbaland and early OutKast aside, this seemed a fairly flat time for R&B and hip hop – getting paid followed by more getting paid, and both the Neptunes and 2000 clearly couldn’t have come soon enough. (Marcello Carlin)

First there’s the sample bed of What You Won’t do For Love by Bobby Caldwell to draw me in, and hints of the husky alto of Anita Baker, sadly with only the vocal power of a Janet Jackson. And then Will shows up to kill the thing TO DEATH. I should hate this but I don’t. (asta)

Forgettable but at least it’s not actually offensive. (NiC)

Blech – never liked that bland Smoooth FM nonsense. (Clare)

Bland. 1999 isn’t coming up very well out of this so far, is it? (Billy Smart)

The perfect embodiment of my very least favourite kind of music – warbly bland mush. (diamond geezer)

1979: Don’t Cry For Me Argentina – The Shadows. (50)

A long way short of their best, but the “plucking a single string” is at least rendered atmospheric by the production. (Erithian)

There’s a Shadows live concert playing on constant loop on one of the Sky channels – they play this one. I’m not sure it was that cynically done – they seem to enjoy it and find it moving. But yes – it’s Godawful. (JonnyB)

Squeaky clean & offensively inoffensive. (Stereoboard)

It’s baffling that Hank regards this cheese soufflé of a cabaret cover version his greatest recorded moment but then he did become a Jehovah’s Witness (apologies to any Jehovah’s Witnesses lurking). Maybe the Shadows should have quit for good after they first split in 1969 – the group was falling apart, there were stormy arguments and walkouts, miserable tours of working men’s clubs with boozy lads yelling out “Give us Apache!” and “When’s the stripper coming on?,” a collective ARGH! when “Albatross” went to number one (“why didn’t WE think of that?”) – but Marvin, Welch & Farrar did only respectable business (though Brian Bennett was quietly building up a parallel career for himself as a session drummer and composer of library/theme music – “Chase Side Shoot-Up” from 1974 is perhaps better known as BBC TV’s golf theme) and 1975’s call-up for Eurovision was not reluctantly accepted. Still, the 20 Golden Greats compilation was one of 1977’s biggest sellers, so they were keen to give it another try and their audience (more or less the same one they’d had fifteen years later) loved them anew – 1979’s String Of Hits saw them back at number one in the album lists but now they were content to churn out polite covers of vaguely contemporary hits as heard in cinemas when waiting for the film to come on.

So, no begrudging them for wishing to earn a living – and extra kudos to Hank for turning up alongside John Foxx and the Raincoats’ Vicky Aspinall to back Billy MacKenzie on the B.E.F. version of “It’s Over” in early 1982; he also appears on Sandie Shaw’s “Anyone Can Have A Heart” on the same album – but this was muzak toss to soothe over the worst winters of discontent. (Marcello Carlin)

It just shrieks of flame-stitch Santa Fe embroidery, peach walls, seafoam green carpet and shiny brass accents. Eeeeewww. (asta)

Hawaiian Luau background music. Ugh. (jo)

This version passed me by 30 years ago. It’s risible. (Z)

I thought it pointless then and I think it pointless now. Give me David Essex and ‘O what a circus’ any day. In fact, just give me David Essex (of ’79 vintage, I think he’s aged badly) (Gert)

Oh dear. So you say they did some good stuff? I thought it all sounded like this. I remember once being driven to the airport at stupid am by some taxi driver who played The Shadows at me all the way there. By the time we arrived I was ready to scoop his eyes out with a rusty spoon and stick them up his bum. (Clare)

So this charted? In my lifetime, even. It reminds me of a national psychosis back in the motherland sometime late 80s, when some godawful pan pipe dirge clung to the charts forever and ever. (Simon C)

Oh Hank, how did this happen? I know you’re a clean living boy so it can’t have been drug “inspired”. Are you sure this was really a) recorded and b) a hit, Mike? (NiC)

Lift Muzack. What’s the point of this, seriously? Without Cliff they’re nothing. NOTHING, dammit! (SwissToni)

A very reluctant 1 point. What they deserve is a firing squad at dawn for the blatant commercial band-wagon jumping. (Hedgie)

This whole thing is making me feel so old and so far removed from modern pop – I’m sort of grateful to the Shadows for showing that I can despise old stuff sometimes! (Andy)

I absolutely hate this song at the best of times, and this most certainly is not that. (Lizzy)

Decade scores so far (after 5 days).
1 (1) The 1970s (18)
2= (3) The 1960s (17)
2= (1) The 1980s (17)
4 (3) The 2000s (15)
5 (5) The 1990s (8)

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