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

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.

wd09-01-69Following 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.

wd09-01-79(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.)

wd09-01-89It 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.

wd09-01-99Well 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.

wd09-01-09Before “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…

Running totals so far – Number Ones.

1979: Heart Of Glass – Blondie. (152)

The album hit me with shock and awe. I still remember very precisely exactly where I was and what I was doing when I first heard it. HOG a truly epoch-defining song, and a worthy final winner of the Which Decade project. (Hedgie)

I’m almost tempted to revamp my comments on Fleetwood Mac’s “Albatross” for this: another song that is just so intrinsically perfect that any attempt at objective commentary seems almost superfluous. Has pop music ever produced a line that bettered “riding high on love’s true bluish light” for its marriage of ludicrous aspiration and sheer poetic delight? Unquestionably my favourite song of this entire run of Which Decade. (Hg)

Didn’t they come up with this by mistake? I seem to remember that they envisaged this as a reggae song and we rescued by the producer? If that’s true, then he certainly earned his fee, because this is a brilliant, timeless record that still shimmers as brightly as the day they first made it. (SwissToni)

I had a “thing” for Debbie too, Mike. Such an effortless voice. Nothing that isn’t perfect about this performance, including her slightly awkward dancing, which I’ve always adored. (Z)

I will always turn up the volume when this track hits the radio. Perfect then, perfect now. (jo)

I’ve loved it since the moment it was released and still love it, unwaveringly. (Sue Bailey)

I can remember a friend showing me the album cover and saying ” You have to hear this”. He played Heart of Glass. It blew me away. It still does, a bit. (asta)

A stone-dead classic from one of the three ideal women of my teens, the others being Agnetha and a certain French teacher who turned up at our school when I was 14… (Erithian)

Blondie were something like magic, weren’t they – think of that in both the Glaswegian and Borgesian sense of “magic.” Only Kate Bush kept them from having a number one a year earlier with “Denis,” but it should be noted that despite four British Top 20 hits in 1978, as well as the pre-post-punk-pop phenomenon that was and is Parallel Lines, “Heart Of Glass” was their first American hit of any size (and it was of the same size as here). Like Hendrix, Debbie Harry had to prove herself abroad (in Australia , and then Britain ). Like the Boomtown Rats, Blondie gained a reputation as the new wave band it was permissible to like – Proper Tunes, and all that – but there was infinitely so much more to the group who barely three years previously had been forcibly ejected from CBGBs as hapless no-hopers by Patti Smith; Kim Fowley might have helped steer the Runaways, but although Blondie initially had an albatross of a manager around their neck (and who it cost them substantial monies to get rid of), Debbie Harry and Chris Stein were always in control musically.

The 1978 run of hits – “Denis,” “I’m Always Touched By Your Presence (Dear)” (that parenthesis! The gorgeous flow into French and back!), “Picture This” and “Hanging On The Telephone” – was an irresistible body of work; girl-group pop firmly in the Shadow Morton tradition but fired up with a spirit which was indelibly punk; it spat as it caressed. And Debbie Harry was equally irresistible, though I must say that she and Bush were the first major female chart regular for whom I did not harbour kinky fantasies (even though Kate spends much of The Kick Inside eulogising masturbation – “L’Amour Looks Something Like You”?) – rather, I felt a genuine, grown-up love and respect for them. Of course I responded to Debbie in the leather raincoat winking, “One way or another, I’m gonna getcha getcha getcha getcha!” – ohhhh YES, come and get me – but it was a knowing wink, a do-right woman needing a do-right man, and all that, but also a residual feeling of wanting simply to have a drink with her in the pub. At fifteen, was I, heaven forbid, finally becoming An Adult?

But “Heart Of Glass” took everything forward, and in view of the foregoing paragraph I smile inwardly as I reintroduce the figure of Mike Chapman, who, specifically hired as a producer to make Blondie pop, tried to persuade Clem Burke that he didn’t have to impersonate Keith Moon at every single barline, cut down on the fussy frills but preserved the group’s intact spirit. It was only five years away from “ Devil Gate Drive ” and “Tiger Feet” but seemed to have stemmed from a completely new and different universe.

It wasn’t a simple case of Blondie “going disco” – rather, it was the mores of disco coming to them, and their reshaping them. “Heart Of Glass” has considerably more to do with the Bowie of Berlin than with anything going on in Studio 54 – though as usual we must overlook neither Moroder nor Kraftwerk. Its beat is minimal and processed (mostly it is Burke playing on the beat in tandem with a drum machine), its approach is clinical – subdued rhythmic lead guitar, glimpses of petrol station synthesisers, near-robotic Gregorian backing vocals – and it takes Debbie to make it human, though she still sounds encased within a primitive VDU. As with Madonna, one doubts whether the “Heart Of Glass” Blondie exists outside a wired-up terminal, but then that title is the clue; the song is about uncertainty within a relationship, condensed and controlled resentment (“Mucho mistrust, love’s gone behind”), about knowing that the love affair it’s deconstructing is a façade (“Lost inside adorable illusion and I cannot hide”), and yet still wanting to pull something human from the imminent wreckage (“Please don’t push me aside”).

In the end, though, resentment wins out over sorrow. “Once I had a love and it was a gas/Soon turned out to be a pain in the ass.” Debbie intones it as though flicking a half-inch of irritating ash off a thrice-smoked cigarette. Eventually, the words, and then the voice, disappear, leaving the beat to go on forever – Burke’s drums finally cutting moderately loose towards the end – and the beat was the key factor; the single version (especially the 12” mix) pushed the rhythm substantially forward, thereby emphasising the notion that we are dancing for no discernible reason, and that of course is usually the best reason. It was magisterial in its blue iciness; the lens of contact concealing the dried-up tears. (Marcello Carlin)

A song that sounds as if it could go on forever, and in fact pretty much has… (Lena)

This isn’t their best song IMO, but it is so much better than anything by all but a couple of dozen. Probably my favourite of the whole 50. (Gert)

It’s not Atomic, but it’s close. (The Lurker)

2009: The Fear – Lily Allen. (108)

Lily didn’t win me over on her first outing, but this is fucking fantastic. Contrary to my previous comments about lyrics being superfluous, the words here are great – who would have thought we could have such sophisticated wit in a pop song these days? (Hedgie)

Precious few singles from the last couple of years will be remembered for long, but this deserves to be one of them. Sprightly, confident, witty, great production. I haven’t heard anyone mention this, but like her father she’s featuring in a number one video set in a house, a very big house in the country… (Erithian)

I think this will prove to be a modern classic. (Amanda)

Much the best thing she’s ever done. (The Lurker)

Clever and sardonic and nicely delivered. I even like the glottal stops, but maybe I’m just in a good mood. Fuckloads of diamonds sound splendid. (Z)

“I am a weapon of massive consumption” Any lyrics I wish I’d written, get my points. (asta)

As the picture dulls and we are forced to drop the masks and, well, face up to being ourselves, “The Fear” summarises the regrowing darkness of 2009 as well as, well, “In A Lonely Place” did – for differing but related reasons – in 1981. Perhaps “In A Lonely Place” as Kim Wilde might have sung it, since there is a lot of Kim in Lily’s gleefully petrified vocal, the premature resignation glimpsed in “Water On Glass,” perhaps, or the grown-up child of “Child Come Away,” that eeriest and emptiest of 1982 singles which didn’t so much dodge as be dodged by the Top 40.

There’s also that PSB stateliness – how, 22 years after “Rent” and “Kings Cross,” could there not be? – and a hanging tang of Bananarama; the narrator of “Robert De Niro’s Waiting” who still won’t venture out of the house a quarter of a century later, at least not without a million masks to protect her. A Girls Aloud betrayed by bogus Promises – only just. And, in the midst of this Stygian calm of a bustle, there’s Lily, scared but still not deferent, working out that things can’t really be worked out.

As 2009 has compelled people to be people (why shouldn’t it be?) so a relatable Lily Allen has appeared and her chrysalis has turned out to be a fertile one; critically, It’s Not Me, It’s You works so well because she relaxes, holds back, even as her words are funny, scabrous, penetrating and frequently moving. It also bids the rest of us to pay due honour to Greg Kurstin – after what he’s done with Tash and Kylie, let alone Lowell George’s and Keith Allen’s daughters, how can his New Pop genius be further denied? – who sketches and colours Lily’s thoughts, reckless putdowns and thoughtful fuck-yous (even if “Fuck You” has been overtaken by events, it’s still one of the sparkliest of recent New Pop songs), mirrors her tears and suns up her laughs.

But here she is on “The Fear,” the computer and processed acoustic guitar ticking gently towards meltdown, caught between the wish still to be celebrating her things (that deathly ambiguous “fucking fantastic” strategically placed in the last line of the second verse) and the underlying knowledge and desire that everything really must go. She’ll go on banging her head against the fuckloaded diamond-studded wall while simultaneously figuring out a battering ram of escape. “And I am a weapon of massive consumption/And it’s not my fault – it’s how I’m programmed to function” recalls yet another 1981, of course, that of Solid Gold and Penthouse And Pavement, the fear (coupled with nascent pre-apocalypse excitement) that took a generation to spread down South, but just as Kim (and Marty and Ricky) co-opted “Shot By Both Sides” and turned it into pop with “Chequered Love,” Lily sounds absolutely naturalistic, her dread awkwardly touchable. The gold of autumn rays returning; the air knowing that this has to be taken down, all of it, so that we might know what is right (never to be confused with Right) and real once more. (Marcello Carlin)

I thought I didn’t like Lily Allen. In fact I seem to remember leaving a bit of a snide comment about her somewhere on a web log. I was wrong, and I now find that I am a bit in love with her. (JonnyB)

The fact that I actually thought about putting this above “Heart of Glass” tells you quite how good this song is. I loved it when I first heard it, then it grated and I thought it wasn’t half as clever as it thought it was, then I decided that actually, in spite of all that, it’s just a fantastic record. Adele made an interesting comment about Lily Allen the other day actually, she said that she was always the most likely of the Brit School to be famous, and that everyone was so relieved when she made it…. as though she was somehow destined for this. I’m not sure I like her personally, but why should she care about that if she keeps churning out records like this one. Shame the rest of her output rips other people off quite so shamelessly. Have you heard the one that sounds just like Take That’s Shine? Dear oh dear. (SwissToni)

Lily is the surprise for me – at the time (of Smile) I tired easily of her voice and became frustrated at her omnipresence – I lived outside of the modern pop world and yet I knew her, recognised her and became annoyed by her. The Fear is really good – sure the bshh-tss-tss-tss backing is annoying but the song is great and the delivery smart. (Andy)

Sure, she can be annoying. Yes, the voice is sweet, but the whispered delivery can get tiring. But she’s one witty bitch. (jo)

Brill. She is irritating though, and no matter how good her songs are, that prevents me from fully embracing them. Mean, aren’t I. (Lizzy)

I think I liked her first album better. Musically her later stuff is more sophisticated and appealing, but I worry that this apparently edgy social satire occasionally borders on Kaiser Chiefs let’s-all-laugh-at-the-chavs territory. The jury’s out… for now. (Hg)

Not unpleasant. I’m hardly desperate to rush out to a record shop and buy it, though. (Gert)

1989: Something’s Gotten Hold Of My Heart – Marc Almond featuring Gene Pitney. (85)

Although he was still registering Top 40 entries as late as 1974, the original “Something’s Gotten Hold Of My Heart” was Gene Pitney’s last UK top ten hit, reaching #5 at the tail end of 1967; fittingly, since the song seemed to provide his tortured story with a belated happy ending – and where else was there to go from there?

From “Town Without Pity” via “24 Hours From Tulsa” to “Backstage (I’m Lonely),” Pitney as a balladeer (as opposed to Pitney as a rocker, who did exist but hardly registered with British audiences) was never allowed to be happy; ignoble defeat in love and life was his thing, his tarnished beauty mark. Something like “I’m Gonna Be Strong,” one of his biggest records (#2 in the autumn of 1964), manages even to outdo Orbison’s “It’s Over” in its slow-dawning realisation that all is ash. When Frankie Laine recorded the song to Jack Nitzsche’s arrangement the previous year, he maintained poise and stalwartness; but Pitney made his voice move up, along with the chords ascending to his private hell, on the final extended “cry” (and thus was the missing link between Johnnie Ray and Godley and Creme). In addition, his high-pitched androgynous voice suggested other subtexts; the about turn in ” Tulsa ” has been interpreted in gay terms, though the happily-married grandfather Pitney would good-naturedly scoff at such a thought.

When Marc Almond came to tackle the song, it had been some five years since Soft Cell had fallen apart. Since then he had seldom troubled the Top 40 but had reined back on the life-threatening excesses of Soft Cell’s later days to reinvent himself as a respected songwriter and nearly matchless song interpreter (see, for instance, his 1987, lyrically unaltered reading of Cher’s “A Woman’s Story”) and established a comfortable and loyal cult following. In the wake of Nick Cave’s recording of “Something’s Gotten Hold” on his 1986 covers album Kicking Against The Pricks, Almond was inspired to have a go and, idolising Pitney, made overtures towards him to contribute at least some backing vocals to the track. Since Pitney’s teenage daughter’s bedroom was at the time covered with posters and pictures of Almond and Soft Cell, he didn’t need much persuading, and suggested turning the track into a full-blown duet.

It’s significant that “Something’s Gotten Hold” surfaced at the end of 1967, since it was one of several ballads of the period tinged with hazes of the remnants of psychedelia (though its writers, Roger Cook and Roger Greenaway, were quick to dismiss any notion of its being a drug song) – “painting my sleep with a colour so bright,” “turning me up, turning me down” – but it was also ideal as a “happy ending” for Pitney, since his slightly fearful delivery on the original record suggests that he’s been down and beaten for so long that love now appears to him as something alien and frightening – note the “cutting its way through my dreams like a knife” and especially “dragging my soul to a beautiful land” as though he has to be frogmarched back to happiness, rather than walking back.

Listening to Almond’s demo, Pitney was hugely impressed by the modifications which Almond had made to the song’s delivery, particularly the extending of “grey” and “blue” to three syllables apiece and the “you! You! YOU!” triplet at the song’s climax (“He’s made the song more singable,” Pitney said at the time). With this in mind he charges into the second verse, providing authority to underline Almond’s innocence, and is always prodding and supporting when he is not actually coming forward. He sounded more alive than he’d done for years.

Overall, the Almond/Pitney “Something’s Gotten Hold” was a dream of a record, in the Frankie “Power Of Love” sense; as with the latter, producer Stephen Hague builds it up in layers of angel wings, and aided by the sumptuously relevant string arrangement, the record seems to ebb, flow and peak in total concord with the two singers. Its triumph was a late miracle for New Pop, but also New Pop’s own “happy ending”; its magic had been acknowledged by, and absorbed into, the continuum of history, such that New Pop now formed part of the basic fabric of pop music as a whole. It was its ultimate, and nearly perfect, blessing. (Marcello Carlin)

I was so shocked when this came out; what was Marc Almond doing singing with an old man?!?!?!? Reluctantly liked it then: bloody love it now. As you say, perfect voice pairing. (Sue Bailey)

A rare example of a cover version that doesn’t trash the original. (The Lurker)

I love the contrast between their voices. I suggested to my then boyfriend this could be Our Tune; he said he hated it. We split up soon after. It is a good song well performed. What more do you want? (Gert)

This is where the arrival of Youtube has it all over a small sample. I have no history with this song at all. The first few opening bars left me wondering how this ever got to number one status, but then it opens up and the contrast between the two voices is just magic. Three points seems meager. (asta)

Ooh, the old drama queen…. and Marc Almond. The production is unmistakeably 80s, but the quality of the song (and the singing) shines clearly through that to make this plenty worth listening to. Would have been better with a little less Pitney and a little more Almond, for me. (SwissToni)

While always gorgeous, it sometimes seemed slightly over-produced. I like it when people don’t seem to be trying so hard. (Z)

I dunno exactly what it is that’s always bothered me about this song, but something’s missing. Too formulaic, maybe, albeit not a common pop formula. A brilliant song, but with a vague hint of ham. That might be it, in fact: the whiff of Andrew Lloyd-Webber in the background. (Hg)

1999: Maria – Blondie. (76)

Watching the BBC’s Omnibus documentary on Blondie a little while back was a sobering and slightly dispiriting experience since Debbie Harry made absolutely no bones about the group’s less than neat dissolution in 1982 and the awful afterlife. The initial split coincided with, and may have been partially provoked by, Chris Stein’s prolonged and debilitating illness; when Harry checked the group’s accounts as preparation for taking a long-term sabbatical to look after him she was horrified to find that she and Stein were close to broke; ripped off by a manager they were too scared/couldn’t afford to fire, practically none of the royalties due them had come their way or had been siphoned off elsewhere. Thus began a long and weary course of legal action and concomitant penury; in the documentary Harry betrays nuances of years unspeakable in their quietened horror. Upon Stein’s recovery in 1985 Harry essentially worked to assignment for the best part of the following decade, quietly building up a parallel reputation as a film actress, issuing occasional, modestly successful solo records (Rockbird, Def Dumb And Blonde) with an eye on the bills and a heart not in it, and venturing out to do what she really wanted, as long-term vocalist with the Jazz Passengers.

Eventually the legal battles were won and the royalties finally reached their intended pockets; furthermore, regular compilations and reissues kept the Blondie name buoyant, not to mention the band and Harry in particular being repeatedly cited as an inspiration by seemingly every indie group with a feisty female lead singer. Towards the end of the nineties Harry, Stein, Clem Burke and Jimmy Destri, now feeling up for it again, opted to regroup under the Blondie name and a new album was recorded. “Maria” was its lead single, and if there were ever more uncomplicated and genuine goodwill bestowed on any pop artist’s comeback record I must have missed it. Twenty years after “Heart Of Glass” and just over eighteen years after their last number one, they were back – and the magic and relief are evident in every second of the single.

Debbie was by now 53, and so Cher ’s record as the oldest female artist to reach number one was very shortlived indeed – but both triumphs were richly deserved. Her voice was now slightly deeper and more lived in but its fluidity and flexibility was as evident as ever; note the six different meanings she can produce from the expression “ooh” throughout the song – her “ooh, it makes you wanna die” bears an innate sensuality which is more than merely admirable and her fainting “fool” in the phrase “Fool for love” is the kind of element which defies any art of timing. Although some of the song refers back to previous Blondie works – it wasn’t the first time she’d used the expression “walking on imported air” for instance – its undiminished rush is irresistible; the old parable of sex magnet as object of worship (“Latina! Ave Maria!/A million and one candlelights!”) is beautifully wrought (the counterbalancing “Go insane and out of your mind”) with all their best elements intact; the descending peal of bells on the second chorus onwards, the fancy drum fill which Clem can’t resist inserting into the fadeout. The girl had reclaimed her power. (Marcello Carlin)

That rattling intro, the soaring vocal – very much there on its own merits. Blondie are still stonking live too, and their newer material stacks up pretty well alongside the oldies. (Erithian)

I love what happened to Debbie Harry’s voice. Not as good as Heart of Glass, but damn close. (Sue Bailey)

I can barely remember this, and being up against HofG doesn’t do it any favours, but it’s surely so much better than all the rest of 1999. (Gert)

Actually, this stands up fairly well. I think I like it more now than when it first came out. Still nowhere near the heights achieved in 1979, but a creditable effort nevertheless. (Hedgie)

She’s got a fantastic, fantastic voice – I love the way it just LAUNCHES. But I always found this a bit ‘pub band’ in its arrangement. A bit ‘Debbie Harry with Blondie (featuring original members)’ rather than ‘Blondie’. Debbie, please forgive me. (JonnyB)

Also more of a UK hit than a North American one, perfectly good and I wish I could give it more… (Lena)

Ah Debbie, how the vocal chords can change. Still, I’d listen. (jo)

Fine, just not great, and the others are. I still love Debbie’s voice in it, but I can’t remember the song and I’ve just played it four times. (Z)

Would never have been a number 1 hit for a band with no back history. (diamond geezer)

I watched Blondie’s so-called comeback with no small measure of confusion because I never saw a live performance where Deb looked as if she was the least bit interested. She couldn’t even summon the cool disdain she so brilliantly displayed in the early years. This song is similarly devoid of energy or commitment. (asta)

Always really disappointing. Her voice sounds great, but the music & lyrics are identikit new-wave verging on soft rock. Listening to this just reminds me exactly how special Blondie’s “classic” period was. I was utterly obsessed by Eat To The Beat for a very long time. (Hg)

Efficient and an acceptable-ish comeback, I suppose. But those awful cynical christmassy church bells? They pull back the curtain and show the wizard of Oz for what he really is. They should have left well alone because they were perfect, dammit. (SwissToni)

1969:(If Paradise Is) Half As Nice – Amen Corner. (59)

Good, albeit sounds like it was done by the Small Faces (or did they sound like this? Or did everything sound like this in 1969?). I recognised the song, even if I didn’t know the band. That’s not bad after 40 years, is it? (SwissToni)

I’d always wondered if the Amen Corner song was the original, or the Italian version, but given how often Il Paradiso still gets played (or was last year when I was in Torino) on non-oldies Italian radio, I’d even thought it was a modern re-working! (Adrian)

I don’t hate this at all and it must be more-or-less a classic given that it has lodged itself vaguely in my consciousness; but it’s up against quite stiff competition. (Hedgie)

It’s a 1969 song with a 1967 arrangement. (JonnyB)

I keep hearing Frankie Valli singing “Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You. There’s something in the melody that takes me right off into that song. Sorry. (asta)

The one disappointment of the five. (The Lurker)

Quite apart from any musical quibbles, the thing that lets this down is the description of paradise as something that is potentially “nice”. I’m not one of those people who has an issue with “nice” per se; in certain contexts, no other word will do. This is absolutely not one of them. (Hg)

Andy and his blathering on about Paradise does nada to convince me either of his happiness, and what if Paradise is only 1/3 as nice? 1/4?… (Lena)

Oh vision, deliver me from phalanxes of well-intentioned journeymen! Do I sound exhausted? Perhaps there’s a limit to how many nice little R&B bands turned teen idols one can take in the course of a lifetime. Amen Corner, as their name might suggest, were a pretty respected white soul group from Cardiff , though only their introductory hit, 1967’s “Gin House Blues,” gives you even the remotest idea of what that might have sounded like. Otherwise it was on to two years of moderately sunny pop – “Bend Me, Shape Me” (considerably de-weirded from the American Breed original), “High In The Sky” – and “Half As Nice” was their apex.

One can understand the little-boy-lost appeal of the strangulated whine of tiny, floppy-haired 18-year-old singer Andy Fairweather-Low; and the band performs the song with commendable gusto, complete with mock-Stax horns balanced by a funereal, hymn-like organ drone (with occasional comments on harpsichord) from keyboardist Blue Weaver. But the song itself is rank; a mundane Italian Eurohit with clumsy English lyrics appended. What breath be there of 1969 sex when the horn lines are answered by lines such as, “When you are around/My heart always pounds/Just like a brass band”? Brass band? Maybe that simply delineates insoluble differences between American and British pop; over there you have the Fifth Dimension singing and sounding like adults who’ve just learned to be children again (“Aquarius/Let The Sunshine In,” number one for five weeks in the USA at this time), and in dearer, older “I’m Backing Britain” (over a cliff?) Britain it’s a kid vainly trying to become an adult. With a brass band.

Fairweather-Low, as you might expect, went on to a blameless career, releasing some interesting mainstream soft-rock records in the mid-’70s before settling down as a session guitarist for hire (Eric Clapton, Pink Floyd, Tina Turner, Bill Wyman’s Rhythm Kings, and other veterans of his era). Pardon me if I momentarily passed out somewhere between the words “interesting” and “mainstream” there. Thankfully, in 1969 number one terms, things now started to get a little less brass band and a lot more interesting. (Marcello Carlin)

Decade scores so far (after 9 days).
1 (1) The 1960s (33)
2 (2) The 2000s (29)
3 (3) The 1970s (28)
4 (3) The 1980s (25)
5 (5) The 1990s (20)

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